Serving trayYou don't always have to make enormous size wood projects to create something impressive. Sometimes smaller items can be every bit as impressive if you add some creative elements to them, in fact, often they can be better because they can be more portable and used more often, such is the case with our serving tray.

In this article and video we create an ordinary serving tray, but make is a bit more extraordinary by combining different woods and creating a rudimentary inlay in the tray bottom. Remember that this is the kind of an item that will show off your woodworking projects every time it is used so take time to make a good job.

In our case, we started of with 3 kinds of wood. The sides of the tray are something called Locust wood. A hardwood with a prominent yellow tinge to it. For the tray bottom we wanted to use a plywood product because it is more stable and will move only slightly. To add a bit of a WOW factor we selected Holly wood for the inlay as it will contrast nicely with the Mahogany Plywood tray base.  We wanted this project to be

stand apart which is why we selected the inlay feature. Serving trays are often called upon to hold heavy loads so we decided that using box joint corners for the sides would help keep the tray strong and sturdy.

Since there is no standard size for a serving tray, we made up our own measurements, and how we did this was hold our arms out as if we would be holding a serving tray and take the measurements from that. We ended up with a size of around 9 by 20 inches, with an 1 1/2 inch side height.

The first thing we did was ensure the tray sides were cut to length and that bottom side of each side was jointed and flat, because next, these pieces would be put in the box joint jig to cut out the sides of the box. We cut all the sides in 2 passes with the box joint jig and ended up with perfect box joints.

Before we can glue the sides, they need to be cut to height, with the end pieces left taller in order to incorporate a handle. The 2 long sides were trimmed to a width of 1 1/2 inches and the sides were cut to 2 1/2  inches. Cutting a handle into the ends is easy, but time-consuming. We started off by measuring where were would drill 2 - 1 inch holes, then drilled the holes on a drill press. The wood between the holes was removed with a fret-saw then cleaned up with a wood rasp and sand paper. For the sloping sides of the ends that would make the handle stand proud, we used a jig saw to rough cut these, then cleaned these up with a belt sander. And now that all the sides are prepared, we applied glue to all the box joints corners and glued the frame together.

While the side component dried and hardened, we started working on the inlay pieces. We had selected Holly wood because it is such a white wood. We cut the inlay strips on the table saw using a 7 1/4 inch high quality 40 tooth circular saw blade. We selected this blade because it makes a smooth fine cut and has a very narrow kerf. To select the width of the strips we installed a shop made jig with an adjustable bolt in the end that is used to control how wide the strips are. We cut the strips at 3/64th of an inch, or slightly shy of 1/16th of an inch. The width of the Holly strips were trimmed to be 1/4 inch which would match the 1/4 inch spiral bit on the router that would be used to cut the dados for the inlay strips.

After the sides were glued and the frame was firm, we trimmed the Plywood Mahogany to fit the frame. Once this was done we set up the router to cut the dados for the base. We made a couple of test cuts to determine the exact depth we wanted and to see how the plywood would tear out along the cross cut, which it did, somewhat severely. We decided to try an old woodworkers trick of laying on painters tape on the cross cut to see if this would help reduce the tear out and it worked like a charm.

We cut the dados for the inlay strips by simply selecting a bit distance that was about 2 inches from the router fence. This was used for each dado cut to give us a uniform look. Before gluing in the Holly inlay strips we wanted to dye the Mahogany plywood to give it a bit darker look so it would contrast better with the white Holly inlay. When the dye was dry, we simply glued in the inlay strips that we had previously checked for width and height.

After the inlay strips were glued and dried, we gave all the components of the tray three coats of Tung Oil to help protect and seal the wood. The final action was to glue and nail (or pin) the bottom on to the frame sides. With this done, our serving tray was complete.

We didn't feel that putting more inlay on this project would help the tray much more because serving trays always have dishes, cups, cutlery etc on them, so making too much inlay is only going to be obscured by what will be on the tray. In the end, we were very happy with the project. It looked elegant and useable and recommend this kind of project to anyone who wants to subtly show off their woodworking skills and projects ... it's one of those hidden gems we come across.

Copyright - Colin Knecht