Trays (not from Muskogee)

It so happened, recently, that I received an order that involved a variation on one of my proven designs.  The call was for two serving trays, which I normally make out of painted softwood with nailed-in bottoms.  But this request was for two made from solid hardwood, with a transparent finish.  This meant that a floating panel bottom was required.  Now, we went over how I put in a floating panel bottom when we made our canning jar box.  But in that case, we worked straight through and then plugged the resultant holes after the fact.  In this case, it was to be as seamless as possible, without even the modest discontinuity that a plug would present.  So for these two trays I would need to make a stopped groove.  No problem.

The first part of the process is ripping out the required stock for the sides from a piece of red oak.


This piece was thick enough that I was able to resaw it further, splitting it down the middle of the board to make two sets of perfectly matched sides.  The process of dovetailing them together and making the rasped out handles and side curves is just the same as when making a softwood tray…except that it’s not quite as fast when you’re working with oak instead of white pine.

The big difference with these trays comes when we put in the bottoms.  Now, it would hold the bottom in just fine if I were to nail through the oak.  I actually considered using a series of forged nails.  But I decided to go for the cleaner look of a floating panel.  The sides get their grooves plowed quickly with my old Stanley 45.


But it’s the end pieces that are the real difference.  Instead of plowing right through the pins (and plugging later), we’re going to have a stopped groove.  If we were to work across the grain, then it would be a stopped housing dado, such as is common for putting shelves into cabinets.  It’s a very similar process in both cases.

First we have score the outer edges of the groove.  I use a mortice gauge for this.  Set it to mimic the dimension and placement of the grooves in the side pieces.  Take care to stop short of the ends, so the effect won’t be ruined by errant gauge lines.  Then, start by chopping a series of stop cuts across the grain in your prospective groove.  Now, when you carefully begin to run a bevel-down chisel in between your gauge lines, maybe with little judicious malleting behind it, it will cleanly pop out all these little chips, rather than potentially peeling out great stringy chunks that go under the scored gauge lines and tear craters out of your work.


Continue doing this until you get close to the depth you want.  Then, again carefully, use a narrow blade in a router plane (my Stanley 71 in this case), and nibble away at the groove until you get an even, smooth groove that goes most of the way to the end.  You should be leaving a piece of wood at the terminus of the end grooves that is just long enough to give you an even groove all the around the tray.  Since I’m using 3/8″ stock, and my grooves go halfway through, that means that I needed to leave 3/16″ at the ends of my stopped sections.  BE CAREFUL when you cleaning out the groove bottom with the router plane.  By the time you get close to being done, you can be…excessively enthusiastic with

your planing in anticipation of having all the grooving done.  It doesn’t take much to push the router plane a little too hard into that fragile little stub of wood and splinter it right off (invariably into the pile of shavings, never to be seen again).  This will require a noticeable patch job and you will be excruciatingly irritated.  Go ahead, ask me how I know this…