Tea Tray Base Part 1 of 3

Length of Project:
Project theme:
Suitable for grades:
Tools & Materials
Material List
  • if tiling, two 1' x 1' porcelain or ceramic tile mesh-backed squares (made up of small square tiles)
  • 8' x 1" x 3" SPF (Spruce-Pine-Fir)
  • 1/4" x 1'6" x 2' plywood
  • wood glue
  • twenty-four wood screws, #6, 1 1/2"
  • sandpaper (100-220 grit)
  • Optional

  • stain, varnish, or chosen finish
Tool list
  • safety glasses
  • ear protection (if using power tools)
  • utility knife
  • measuring tape
  • pencil
  • framing square
  • speed square
  • backsaw (or table saw and cross-cut saw)
  • clamps and/or vise
  • hand drill
  • driver bit (or screwdriver)
  • 3/32" countersink twist bit
  • rag or cloth
  • Optional

  • sander with varying grits 100-220

    Tile layout (skip this step if you won't be tiling the bottom of your tray)

  1. Lay out your tiles to determine how big your tea tray will be, 10"x15" or so, depending on how much tile you have and the size of the small tile components. Keep in mind that a larger tray can become quite heavy after the tiles are added. Cut the tile backing with a utility knife and rearrange tiles as necessary to achieve your chosen rectangle shape.
  2. Over the following steps you will determine the dimensions of your plywood and 1x3 boards.

  3. Make a list to record the following dimensions as you work through the steps: length of tile rectangle, width of tile rectangle, thickness of 1x3, plywood base length, plywood base width, long 1"x3" sides, and short 1"x3" sides.
  4. Determine plywood base dimensions

  5. Use a measuring tape to measure the length and width of your assembled tile rectangle. Measure the thickness of your 1"x3" (1"x3" are nominal, not actual dimensions, so it will be less than 1" thick).
  6. Plywood base length = thickness of 1"x3" + 1/8" space + length of tile section + 1/8" space + thickness of 1"x3". Add the sum and note your answer. Note: the 1/8" spaces allow space for grout between the tile and side panels as shown in the photo.
  7. Plywood base width = thickness of 1"x3" + 1/8" space + width of tile section + 1/8" space + thickness of 1"x3". Add the sum and note your answer.
  8. Determining the length of your side boards:

  9. The long 1"x3" sides will be the same as the length of your plywood base.
  10. The short 1"x3" sides sit between the long 1"x3"s, and will be equal to: the width of plywood base MINUS 1"x3" thickness MINUS 1"x3" thickness (see photo to help you visualize the dimension calculation).
  11. Make the plywood base

  12. Use a framing square and measuring tape to measure and mark your plywood base length and width on the 1/4" plywood.
  13. Put on your safety glasses now, and leave on for the remainder of the steps. If using power tools, put on your ear protection as well.
  14. Cut out the plywood base with a table saw or hand saw.
  15. Make the four 1"x3" side boards

  16. Measure and mark the length of your LONG side board on a 1"x3", and continue the line with a speed square.
  17. Cut your first long side board to length with a hand saw or crosscut saw.
  18. Repeat the previous two steps to make a second long 1"x3" side board, and again to make your two short 1"x3" side boards.
  19. Finish the surfaces

  20. Sand your four 1"x3" pieces and your plywood base until smooth using a sander or sandpaper and a sanding block. Start with 100 grit and move up through the grits until 220.
  21. Assemble the tea tray

  22. Dry fit your 1"x3" sides. With a pencil, mark your screw hole placements on the ends of the long pieces, two per corner, 3/4" away from the top and bottom and ~3/8" in from the sides (so the screws will drive into the centre of the ends of the short boards).
  23. Secure the dry-fit sides together in place with a vise or clamp, and drill pilot holes at your marks with the 3/32" countersink twist bit. Countersink only as far as needed for the screws to lay flush (practice this on a scrap of wood first if needed).
  24. Put the 1"x3" sides together to form a frame: one joint at a time, spread a thin layer of wood glue on both surfaces, then put them together and insert screws with a drill and driver bit, or a screwdriver.
  25. Wipe off any glue squeeze-out with a damp cloth.
  26. Add the plywood base

  27. Place your plywood base on the bottom of the 1"x3" wood frame. With your measuring tape and pencil, mark out three or four evenly spaced screw hole positions on each side, ~3/8" in from the edge of the plywood. Make sure the screws won't collide with the other screws already in place.
  28. Secure the base in place with clamps, or have a partner hold it firmly. At each mark, drill pilot holes with the countersink bit through the plywood and into the 1"x3" sides below. Clean up the entry of the holes with sandpaper if needed.
  29. Apply glue to the 1"x3"s and edges of the plywood base, then insert your screws. Remove any glue squeeze-out with your damp rag.
  30. Optional

  31. Apply your chosen finish to your tray, keeping in mind that the bottom of the inside of the tray can be left bare if you're planning on tiling it.
  32. Try the Tea Tray Part 2 to tile the inside bottom of your tray.
  33. Try the Tea Tray Part 3 to make copper handles for your tray.
Extension Challenges
  1. Salvage thin boards to use as side pieces, then design your tea tray dimensions around these pieces.
  2. Set your plywood base into a ¼" x ¼" groove cut into your side pieces. Cut the groove ¼" up from the bottom of the side pieces.
  3. Set your plywood base into a ¼" x ¼" dado cut into the bottom of your side pieces. Secure in place with counter-sunk screws from the bottom up through the plywood into the side pieces.
  4. Experiment with different types of corner joints: mitred with splines, finger joints, or dovetail joints.
  5. Make your tea tray hexagonal, or octagonal, or steam bend a piece of wood to make an oval or circular side wall.
  6. Instead of making metal handles (see Tea Tray Part 3), you could cut handles out of the side panels: use a Forstner bit to make two holes about 3” apart on the short side panels, then cut the material away with a jig saw or coping saw to make an oblong hole. Round the edges with a quarter-round router to make them easy on your hands while lifting the tray.
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