Who loves a good upcycling project? Yes, I see a few hands rising. Honestly, what more joy can a DIYer get than buying some supplies and turning an old item into something brand new for a few dollars? I wouldn’t want to spend hundreds on a modern bamboo tray or a minimalist serving platter when I can just makeover an old tray, would you? OK, this DIY wooden serving tray is one pretty extreme makeover! If you scroll down you’ll get to see this started as a classic serving tray. The kind you can find anywhere, you probably even have one in your home already.
Once you have located the tray about to receive a serious makeover, all you need is some flat rattan reed. It’s actually super easy to get hold of it on Amazon and is a cheap material. It comes from a climbing vine that grows at incredible rates and renews easily so it’s a sustainable material. A word of advice: save yourself the trouble and get it from a reputable seller. I get all my materials from Commonwealth Basket, they stock a good variety and have never failed me!
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For this DIY wooden serving tray, you’ll need…
- Old wooden serving tray
- Flat rattan reed (don’t buy round reed, these will not work well for this project)
- Sanding sponges
- Glue gun
- Optional: matte white spray paint
Step 1: Sand the tray
This is the tray I started with. What a beauty… But I saw some potential! This is the most common type of serving tray you can find, with elevated side and holes for the hands. Take a trip to the nearest thrift store and you’ll almost always find a pile of these in the corner – for pennies! Mine was unfortunately painted all over. If you managed to salvage a plain wooden tray, you’ll save yourself most of the sanding effort.
Even if your serving tray has not been painted, it’s a good idea to give it a light sanding. To smooth the surface but also to remove grime. It’s very easy for wooden surfaces to accumulate layers of dirt and dust. Use heavy grit sanding sponges to remove paint and pick a small grit to achieve a smooth finish.
It can get a little tricky to sand the inner corners. I tried using my dremel tool but it was actually better to just use the sanding sponges ( and elbow grease…)!
Step 2: Cut the serving tray’s top off
When the sanding is done (or when you want to take some time off!), use a saw to cut the top off. On the sides where the handle are located, measure the distance from the handle hole to the bottom of the tray. Mine was placed 1 1/2” (about 4cm) which I guess is a common placement since all these trays look pretty much the same. I drew a line all around the tray 1 1/2” away from the bottom and used that as a guide to cut off the top. This will remove the handle hole part and give the tray a much more modern shape.
I used a jigsaw but you can also achieve this with a handsaw. It’s a good idea to keep a handsaw if you don’t want to invest in power tools or if making noise is not an option. DIYing around babies, anyone? Hand tools are a life saver!
It was a lot easier to sand the corners once the top was off. I also decided to not sand the bottom because there was about 3 generations’ worth of layers of paint… Not worth the effort. The alternative was to spray paint the bottom of the tray with white paint so the green color wouldn’t peek between the reeds.
Step 3: Cut the rattan reeds
Next, start prepping the reeds. The rattan material should have been shipped in a roll to prevent it from tangling. I like to keep it that way and cut as I go because if you release it, it’s a nightmare to get it back into a roll. Because it’s long. REALLY long. Each reed can be several yards. Imagine that in your living room…
Usually, it’s necessary to soak rattan before you work with it but that’s when you’re weaving. You need to be able to bend the material without it breaking and that can only happen when it has been soaked to become pliable. For this DIY, we only need to glue the rattan reeds flat on the surface so there is zero need to soak it!
To start, measure the inside of the tray, that’s the distance between the 2 long sides of the tray. Mine was 10 1/2” but this may vary from tray to tray.
To prepare the reeds, cut one length with the dimension you have just measured. Use this as a guide to cut the other reeds. I did this in batches, grabbing a bunch of reeds, making sure the top was level, and cutting them all in one go. You can use pliers or a pair of scissors for this, with scissors being a little easier to use when cutting a bunch of reeds.
In total I cut a large handful of reeds in about 10 minutes (the bunch was about 3″ (7 to 8cm) in diameter) and I didn’t need to cut anymore after that.
Step 4: Glue reeds to the bottom of the tray
Here comes the fun part. This is very absorbing, relaxing work! Glue the rattan reeds to the bottom of the tray with your glue gun. First, place one reed on the tray and hold it in the middle. Lift the reed to apply a line of hot glue. It’s all about having a light touch: draw a very thin line of glue. It doesn’t take much to get the reed to stick to the tray. If you apply a thick line of glue, it will get squeezed to the sides when you press the reed in. That’s OK, if this happens, just wait until the glue has cooled down and scrape it off.
Start from one side of the bottom and work your way to the other side, placing reeds as close to each as possible. You want to reduce the gap between each reed. Try to make sure your rattan reeds are well aligned. This didn’t happen for me but they could start slanting at some point which would throw the design off. You can draw vertical straight lines along the bottom of the tray to act as guides!
Step 5: Glue rattan reeds to the side of the tray
Now, work your way up the short sides of the tray (where you would normally grab the tray with your hands). Continue gluing reeds vertically, all the way to the top of the tray. If the last reed doesn’t quite reach the top of the tray, it’s ok. This won’t affect the design as the sides will be sanded later on.
Next, it’s time to take care of the long sides of the tray. Before you begin, measure the distance between the 2 short sides so you know how long the tray is. Cut a small bunch of reeds with those measurements.
Unlike the bottom and the short sides, the reeds will be placed horizontally. To start, glue a single reed on the bottom of the tray to hide the uneven ends of the reeds you glued to the bottom. Make sure the reed is placed as close to the side as possible.
Then, work your way up the sides, gluing reeds horizontally. These long reeds are actually easy to work with. I worked in thirds and started by gluing in the middle before gluing one end, then finished by gluing the other end. This helped me keep the reed in place.
Finally, glue a small bit of rattan reed in the corner to hide any even ends where the other reeds meet. It’s super hard getting reeds to be the exact same length and even the smallest millimeter gaps are quite unsightly. This tiny length of rattan will help cover that. Simply glue it in place then use a craft knife to cut the top off once the glue has cooled down.
Step 6: Sand your DIY wooden serving tray
To finish off, give the top of the tray a light sanding to round out the edges. Don’t be afraid of sanding over the reeds a little, this will help blend them into the wood of the tray. The reeds should have been well secured onto the tray with the glue so if any falls off while sanding, that’s your cue to rework that reed with a little more glue.
And voila! A brand new tray for almost free. Who knew you could make such a modern design out of a classic item like your everyday serving tray?
Finally, my boyfriend can get his breakfast tray back! I took it away WEEKS ago to start tweaking it, so he remained tray-less for quite some time… Oh the joy of living with a DIYer!