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Mid Century Modern Tray


So what is YOUR oldest surving woodworking project?

The other day I was thinking about some of my older woodworking projects and I first thought about these basic bookcases that I built back in 1995. They were kind of the start of my woodworking hobby as an adult. But then I remembered that I had an even older project.

When I was a kid we actually had shop class in our school district. Kids in Grade 7 and 8 were bussed to a central school in our area and the girls went upstairs to Home Ec, and the Boys went down to the basement to do shop class. (It was the seventies… fat ties, disco music and gender segregated shop classes!)

So back in the seventh grade my class made this mid-century modern serving tray, and I still have it.

So how did it last me so long? It wasn’t hidden on a shelf, that’s for sure. I was a kid when I made it so I gave it to my parents. For many years this was used every evening as mum or dad would make some tea and cookies and bring it into the living room for their evening snack. Years later, Shortly after my wife and I married, my parents gave it back to me and it’s been in use in my kitchen ever since. It's just a good simple and solid design.

The base is a piece of mahogany plywood, and the sides are strips of pine. They arch in the middle and have a back-cut-angle at each end. The curves and angle add some visual interest so it’s not so much just a rectangular boxy thing.

The other unique touch is that none of these pieces touch each other. Theres no complicated joinery. In fact theres no actually joinery at all. The sides are just attached to the base piece of plywood. So it’s a really good project for a beginner, or in our case, a class full of 11/12 year olds

As I was thinking about this project I briefly thought that I might make some plans available. But the design is just so simple I just didn't think it was worth my time -- nor did I think people would be willing to pay for it. So instead, let me just provide the basic dimensions

The tray bottom is 11-3/4 by 17-3/4, and 3/16" thick. The finger cutouts in the bottom are 1-1/2” by 3”. The sides are 15” long and 1/2" thick. They are 1” tall in the centre, and they taper to about 5/8” tall at the ends. The handles are 9” long, 1-7/8” tall at the centre, and 3/4” at the ends. The handles have a 3-1/2" long by 7/8" tall finger cut out.

The sides were glued down and we nailed them from behind and then filled the nail holes with putty. Now that I know a lot more about woodworking I would probably not bother with nails at all, given how strong modern glue is. I suspect that the teacher had us use nails to save time, and because they probably didn’t have enough clamps for all of us.

Actually maybe I would use 23 gauge pin nails...

And really none of these dimensions are critical, as none of the pieces interlock at all. So if you make the ends a bit longer or shorter, or thicker or taller… it won’t affect anything but the looks. So you can tweak this design as you like and make it your own.

That’s what makes this a great starter project, or a kids project. None of the cuts are that tough. You don’t need a whole lot of tools, and there is no intricate joinery. As I recall, I cut most of this out with a scroll saw when I was age 11.

What may be the biggest challenge, if you decide to build something like this, is finding the plywood for the base. As mentioned before, My tray uses a piece of 3/16” mahogany plywood. That’s not exactly something you’re going to find at the big box store. (at least I only see maple and oak plywood in my local big box hardware stores, and even that is usually 1/4" or thicker.)

If you wanted a matching piece I think you’d need to look up a specialty plywood distributor in your area. OR you could try making your own by using some 1/8” plywood and then gluing some hardwood veneer on the front and back. That of course immediately takes this out of the "beginner project" category!

Of course you could use oak or maple plywood for the base; I just think the dark base really contrasts nicely with the lighter side pieces. I wonder if you could maybe go to a door supply company and ask for a mahogany door skin? Those are pretty thin, and if you glued two of them back to back that might do? There are probably places that you can buy specialty plywood pieces online... I'll leave that up to the reader to figure out for themselves!


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See Also:

Serving Tray

Headphone Holders

End Grain Coasters

"Mirror" Image Cutting Boards