Woodworking can be intimidating but simple projects like this easy DIY wooden tray are accessible to all, including beginners. All you need is a few sheets of thin wood and some wood glue! The pieces can be cut by yourself if you have a jigsaw or by a relative if you’re not that comfortable with power tools. You could even have them cut to size in a hardware store for a few dollars.
The main feature of this japandi-influenced wooden tray is the ability to showcase any print of your choice under the clear protection sheet. I had hand-drawn an ink mandala I found so soothing to look at, I thought it would be perfect for a tea tray!
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For this DIY wooden tray, you’ll need…
- 6mm wooden sheets (I got some like these birch plywood sheets)
- Jute Twine 3mm
- Wood glue
- Wood clamps
- Mandala (hand-drawn, printed or any other design you like)
- Clear plastic sheet (I used a strong sheet used for binding)
Step 1: Cut the wooden sheets
To start, select 2 sheets of 6mm thick wood and cut them into the following pieces:
- 1 piece for the bottom of the tray: 28.5 x 19.8cm (11.2″ x 7.8″)
- 2 pieces for the long sides: 29.7 x 5cm (11.7″ x 2″)
- 2 pieces for the short sides: 19.8 x 5cm (7.8″ x 2″)
If you’re using a different thickness wood, make sure to amend the dimensions as they were calculated with a 6mm sheet in mind!
If you’re cutting the wood yourself, be mindful that the blade of your saw has a thickness ranging from almost nothing to a few millimetres. That might skew your measurements if you don’t account for it. I always leave 1mm between pieces when I draw them because that’s how thick my blade is.
Step 2: Glue on the print
When you have selected the print of your choice (look up Pinterest for great mandalas!), apply some glue or tacky spray to the bottom piece. If using glue, use a brush to spread it evenly on the sheet of wood. Work fast, the glue won’t be super willing to spread otherwise… Carefully drop your print on top and adjust to make sure it fits the wooden piece. It’s OK if it’s not perfect, as long as it’s not completely wonky!!
Step 3: Stain the wood
Next, you’ll start staining the pieces which make up the side of the tray (the bottom piece is hidden under the print so no need). I’m using my favorite method for staining wood: COFFEE! Plain old instant coffee gives white wood a rich colour I’m so in love with. Bonus, it’s non-toxic, unlike a lot of wood finishes it doesn’t contribute to indoor air pollution. I use about 2 or 3 tablespoons of coffee powder for 2 tablespoons of water. That makes for one thick unpalatable coffee but one great wood stain. Make sure it’s dry to the touch before continuing the project.
Step 4: Assemble the wooden tray
To glue the tray pieces together, start by laying down the bottom piece in front of you. Make sure you work on a surface that won’t mind a few drops of glue.
Take one long side piece and apply a thin line of wood glue on one face: on the edge of a long side (to glue it to the bottom of the tray) and the edges of the short sides (to glue it to the short side pieces) like in the picture 1 above. Press it against the bottom piece.
Next, apply glue on one face of a short side piece, only on the edge of a long side (see picture 1). Press it against the bottom of the tray and repeat with the other short side piece.
To finish the frame, glue on the last long side piece. You might have to adjust how the pieces fit which wood glue should allow you to do. It takes a while to dry so you have a few minutes to readjust. Once you’re satisfied, apply wood clamps, like in picture 2, and wipe away any glue drips. Let the glue dry for a few hours.
Step 5: Insert the clear plastic sheet for protection
Next, you will have to cut the clear plastic sheet so that it fits into the tray. Cut it to the same dimensions with a craft knife: 28.5 x 19.8cm (11.2″ x 7.8″). Heat up your glue gun and apply a single fat drop of glue into the 4 inside corners of the tray then drop the clear plastic sheet on top. Press the plastic corners into the drops of glue to secure the sheet in place. This will protect your print from occasional spills and let you wipe off crumbs easily.
Step 6: Attach the braided handles
Handles are totally optional but I loved the zen/rustic vibe with the mandala drawing. I braided some jute yarn then cut it into 2 pieces 9″ long. The ends were secured with a few drops of glue to ensure they wouldn’t fray. After drawing a line 2″ away from the sides (on the short sides) and applied a vertical line of glue. The braid was pressed into the glue to form a handle, making sure the ends of the braid was flush with the bottom of the tray.
You know I have a compulsive need to make sure everything I make is 200% solid, so I added a few brad nails into the braid, hammering them into the base. That ensured both the tray was more sturdy and the braids were securely attached.
And voila! Enjoy your easy DIY wooden tray: make yourself some coffee and grab a few biscuits to savour your woodworking victory. You might want to protect the wood in some way. It’s perfectly ok leaving it as it is but if you do want to protect your tray, I would recommend linseed oil as a non-toxic wood protection.