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How to Build a Folding Serving Tray

Use slim oak material to build a custom serving tray for less than you'd spend on a fancy breakfast.

Hint: There's no need to wait for a special occasion to serve a certain someone breakfast in bed. First, you'll need a good tray—one with legs that will keep it steady on a sea of bedding and then fold up so that the tray can be slipped inside a cabinet or drawer.

If you want to go all out on the presentation, you can build a tray, like the slatted one here. The frame is formed from inexpensive oak scants—½-by-2-inch pieces stocked near the hardwood moldings in home centers. Look for the ¼-inch oak slats in the same area. Staining gives the oak a refined look, though you'll want to treat the surface with a food-safe finish, such as mineral oil or shellac, to protect it from spills. Once you've christened your new tray, you may want to break it out every Sunday morning as a matter of routine. We're just saying.

Shown: B. Smith With Style Acacia Bed Tray, about $30; available at

Step 1

How to Build a Folding Serving Tray

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Cutting grooves requires a steady hand, but assembly is simple.

Download a cut list to Build a Folding Serving Tray here.

Step 2

Cut the Frame Pieces

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Use a miter saw to size the pieces according to the cut list here. To form the sides, glue the short piece to the inner face of the long one, leaving a ½-inch rabbet at each end.

Step 3

Cut the Grooves

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Lay the frame pieces faceup on a bench, pairing the double-thick side pieces together and the thinner front and back pieces together. Wedge the pairs tightly between lumber scraps of the same thickness, and screw the scraps to the table to hold the frame pieces in place. Use a straightedge and a router with a ¼-inch straight bit to cut a square groove, or dado, along the inside of each frame piece, ¼ inch from the top.

Step 4

Install the Slats

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Use 60-grit paper and a sanding block to ease the long edges of each slat. Install the slats, fit the end pieces to the assembly, then glue and tack the corners with a brad nailer and 1-inch brads. Glue a supporting slat along the midline, underneath.

Step 5

Install the Legs

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Round the tops of the legs with 60-grit sandpaper. Drill a ¼-inch hole 1 inch from the bottom of each leg. Use dowels and glue to join the legs. With a ½-inch spade bit, bore holes ¼ inch deep into the frame's outer face, 1½ inches in from the corners. Drill through the center of each hole with a ⅛-inch bit; make matching holes ½ inch from the top of each leg. Attach the legs with nylon washers and machine screws. Cap the holes with oak plugs.

Step 6

Stain and Finish

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Sand the tray lightly with 220-grit paper, tack it clean, then apply stain. Once dry, seal the wood with a food-safe finish.

Shopping List

  1. ½-by-2-inch oak scants for the tray frame Get two 4-foot lengths.
  2. ¼-by-2-inch oak scants for the slats Get three 4-foot lengths.
  3. ¾-inch oak square dowel for the legs Get one 3-foot length.
  4. ⅜-inch oak dowel for the stretcher between the legs Get one 2-foot length.
  5. 1-inch brads for securing the tray frame
  6. ¼-by-1½-inch machine screws to secure the legs to the tray Get four.
  7. ¼-inch nylon washers to place between the legs and the tray Get four.
  8. ¼-inch metal washers to place between the machine-screw nut and tray leg Get four.
  9. ¼-inch lock nuts Get four.
  10. Wood glue
  11. Wood stain
  12. Food-safe finish, such as mineral oil or shellac