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Woodworking with P. Michael Henderson


Making a Rectangular Serving Tray

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I teach veneering, and for years I had my beginning students make a veneer "panel," maybe 9" by 12," as their first project. 

Recently, my wife, Judy, took my beginning veneer class (she did very well, by the way) and suggested after the class that I teach my students to "make something useful" rather than just a panel. The picture below is her panel and shows what I have my students do in the beginning class. They create a four piece match of some veneer (here, it's quarter sawn ash), put a decorative banding around it (here, bloodwood), and a border of walnut veneer. The finishing and the cutting of the profile around the outside was done later, outside of class.



I often make serving trays for friends and clients, using some decorative veneer on the main part of the tray. Judy suggested that the panel of a serving tray is very much like the student panel, and if the students made a panel for a tray, they could take it home and complete the tray - leaving them with something useful instead of just a "student panel". I liked the idea and will introduce it in my classes. This tutorial covers how to make a rectangular serving tray, from laying the veneer on the substrate to making the sides and applying the finish.

This project is somewhat long. There are a lot of steps, and you have to wait between some of the steps (such as letting the veneer tape dry). After doing your own serving tray, perhaps you'll appreciate this story. I had a woman contact me about my trays. She wanted several as gifts for friends. After I told her the price, she was aghast - "I thought they'd cost about $35 each" she said. Needless to say, she didn't buy any trays.

If you find this tutorial valuable, I'd appreciate if you'd send me an e-mail at just so I can know that people are using the tutorial. Just put a subject line of "Rectangular Tray". This section of the tutorial covers laying the veneer for the panel.

To start, let's see where we're heading. The picture below shows the panel that I'm going to demonstrate how to make. I'll also demonstrate how to make the sides of the tray after the panel is completed.

Like the student panel, it consists of a four piece match of quarter sawn ash, banding of bloodwood (and holly - students will not be required to include the holly), and a border of walnut. One thing that doesn't show in the pictures is that the student panel is laid on a 3/4" substrate, while the tray panel is laid on a 1/4" substrate. The tray panel is also larger, close to 20" by 14".

Just as a note, quarter sawn ash is very easy to work with, and that's why I use it for the beginning veneer class. If you're experienced in working with veneer, you could use a more difficult veneer, such as a burl or waterfall bubinga. Both make a beautiful tray.

Let's get started!  You'll need the following tools and supplies for this project:

  1. 1/4" MDF for the substrate, approximately 20" by 14".

  2. Four consecutive pieces of field veneer. Here I'm using ash.

  3. Veneer for the banding. I used bloodwood and holly.

  4. Veneer for the border and back. I used walnut.

  5. 3/4" blue tape.

  6. Veneer tape.

  7. A sponge in a container of water to wet the veneer tape.

  8. A 24" rule. If you use a "center finding" rule some of the measurements will be easier.

  9. A straight edge about 24 inches long. Used when cutting the veneer.

  10. A filleti guide for cutting the banding.

  11. A 45 degree triangle, about 10 to 12" long, with a scribe line down the middle.

  12. A veneer saw.

  13. A knife or knives for cutting the veneer.

  14. A sharp chisel about 1/2" wide.

  15. A sanding block.

  16. A small combination square is valuable for laying out the pattern.

  17. A pencil.

  18. A hinged mirror is helpful.

  19. Glue to attach the veneer to the substrate. I used regular white glue.

  20. A veneer pressing system. I used a veneer bag and a vacuum pump.

Before we get started, let me remind you of the two rules of veneer work:

  1. Always work (cut) from the glue face.
  2. Veneer tape ONLY goes on the show face. When you go to glue the veneer, there should not be ANY tape (blue tape or veneer tape) on the glue face.

I didn't have any ash that was wide enough for the tray panel so I made up pieces by putting two pieces of veneer together. A four piece match requires four pieces of consecutive veneer. This picture shows only one "layer" of two pieces, which will be joined together. I arranged the two pieces of veneer to get the best grain match between them so that the joint will not be noticeable.

I sanded the edges to get a good joint, then taped them together. I also applied veneer tape to the show face, but I'll discuss that later. I did the same for all four pieces. When finished, I had four pieces of consecutive veneer.

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D. R. Barton

L. & I. J. White


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