Who knew that trays for holding bath-time accessories were so popular? Certainly not Tom or Kevin, at least not until Tom’s daughter and daughter-in-law suggested that he come up with a better alternative to the ones they used at home. In addition to greater water resistance, the women’s extensive field tests determined that the ideal tray needed to be less narrow, so that items wouldn’t topple into the tub. As a bonus, Tom routed a recess for a wineglass to prevent it from taking a dive.
Besides offering the freedom to size the tray to a specific tub, this project presents an opportunity to experiment with exotic water-resistant hardwood. Attracted to the striped pattern for which it’s named, Tom chose African zebrawood. He discovered that the interlocking grain was prone to splintering unless his blades and bits were razor-sharp.
Zebrawood and other woods worth considering, including mahogany, teak, ipe, and tigerwood, can be found at specialty hardwood stores, premium decking stores, or online. Remember to order at least 15 percent more stock than the project requires. This extra gives you the opportunity to cut parts so that they take advantage of the grain and recover from any mistakes that happen along the way.
Before You Start
Use this pattern of the wineglass holder, affix it to a scrap of ½-inch plywood, then cut out the notch with a hole saw and/or a jigsaw. Clean the curves with a file, then attach it to your tray to guide the router bit.
How to Build a Bath Tray
Step 1: Cut the parts to size
After measuring your tub side to side, use a table saw to rip the parts to width, referring to the cut list at thisoldhouse.com. Make an extra rail for test cuts. Use a miter saw to cut the parts to length (see Tip), but leave the rails about an extra ½ inch long.
Step 2: Prep the rail fence
Chuck a ½-inch straight bit into your router, and set the cutting depth to 3⁄16 inch. Next, cut a 6-inch strip from the extra rail and attach it to the router’s base with double-stick tape, 3⁄16 inch from the bit. This strip will act as both a fence and a leveling block to ensure a straight groove in both rails. Make a test cut in the extra rail to check that the groove is centered.
Step 3: Rout the rails
Draw two lines, 9¼ inches from one end and 55⁄8 inches from the other, on the 7⁄8-inch-wide inside edges of both rails. Clamp a rail to your workbench, set the router’s fence against its edge, and tilt the bit into the wood. Rout the groove from mark to mark. Repeat with the other rail.
Step 4: Cut the mortises
To ensure the rails will be flush with the top face of the tray, flip the rails and end sections so that the good faces rest against the bench, and make mortises for loose tenons where shown in the illustration. (Alternatively, you can use a biscuit joiner.)
Step 5: Smooth and test-fit the parts
Use a random-orbit sander and 120 grit to erase saw marks, then hand-sand with 150 grit to soften any sharp edges. Next, dry-fit the assembly to ensure everything fits together and familiarize yourself with the assembly sequence.
Step 6: Assemble the tray
Apply glue to a rail, insert the tenons, and then quickly attach the ends, slats, spacers, and remaining rail. To avoid the chance that the glue could stick, or seize, in midassembly, insert the slat spacers on the second side of the tray after the rails have been clamped together.
TIP: Backup for small parts
Tom built this jig to ensure that the spacers are the same length; it also keeps the blade from grabbing and rocketing small pieces across the shop. Glue two boards together, clamp the assembly to the saw so it bridges both fences, and make a shallow cut to locate the blade position. Measuring from the kerf, attach the stop block and cut the spacers.
Step 7: Even up the ends
Use a miter saw to cut the rails flush with the ends. Tom intentionally left the rails long to provide a margin of error in the event of a problematic glue-up.
Step 8: Make and attach the wine-holder template
After making the template (see Tip), position it flush with the front rail so that the notch starts 3 5⁄8 inches in from the edge of the long end. To affix the template without clamps, which could interfere with the router, tilt it up and attach it with two long strips of painter’s tape, creating a hinge.
Apply a few drops of cyanoacrylate (CA) glue on the bottom strips and a spritz of activator on the top. Fold the template into position, and apply pressure for a few seconds.
Step 9: Rout the notch
Chuck a templating bit into your router, and adjust the bit to make a 1⁄8-inch-deep cut. With the notch facing toward you, set the router on the left-hand side of the opening and run it clockwise around the template. Continue routing in 1⁄8-inch increments until you’ve cut all the way through the tray. Tap the template free with a hammer.
Step 10: Attach the cleats
Chamfer the bottom edges of the cleats, then drill pilot and counterbore holes 1 inch from the ends. Position the cleats according to the width of your bathtub. Center the cleats on the bottom of the tray, and attach with 1¼-inch-long screws.
Step 11: Give it a final sanding
Use a detail sander with 220 grit to soften sharp edges in the tight spots; follow with a light hand-sanding with 220 grit.
Step 12: Apply your finish
To enhance the color of the wood and offer a little extra protection, give the tray a coat of oil or an oil/varnish blend. To apply, wipe it on, give it a few minutes to soak in, and then wipe away the excess. For a more waterproof finish, consider polyurethane or spar varnish.
- One 7⁄8×8×60” board
- Six 5×30mm loose tenons
- Piece of ½”-thick plywood (for the template)
- 1¼” stainless steel screws
- 120-, 150-, and 220-grit sanding discs
- Painter’s tape
- Double-sided tape
- Cyanoacrylate (CA) glue and activator
- Exterior wood glue
- Water-resistant finish (optional)