Make a Veneered Serving Tray
This stylish serving tray features solid wood handles made from pau ferro glued and pinned to a curly makore veneered panel. Use this project to showcase your veneering skills with some special veneer. You can use different species for the opposite sides of the tray and you can even experiment with marquetry or parquetry.
This tray looks stunning with figured veneer on its main surface, but you could also use a pre-veneered piece of plywood if you’re not comfortable with veneering.
Bedrosian uses Titebond original on the inside faces of the 3mm Baltic birch plywood panels; he applies glue to the core, not the veneer.
Remove the Air
The three-layer sandwich is clamped in his vacuum bag veneer press. The sheet of veneer between the plywood is needed so the grain direction of each layer is perpendicular to the next. The alternating grain direction will continue when the face veneer is applied.
Solid Wood Edging
The sides of the panel are edged with solid wood before the face veneer is applied. The edging is oversize in thickness and in width to make it easier to work with. Blue tape provides plenty of clamping pressure and a wooden caul clamped to the panel ensures it’s flat. Once the glue dries, level the edging so it’s flush with the plywood.
Make a template for the shape of half of the handle. Be sure the top section and the end section are parallel to the bottom. Use a router with a flush trim bit to transfer the shape of this template to both sides of a router sled with a fence.
Trim Some Waste
Use your band saw to remove the majority of the handle’s waste.
Drill the Handle
A drill press will remove the majority of the waste for the handle slots. Bedrosian cut close to the line with his scroll saw, then turned to his router table to finish off the slots.
Pattern Rout the Handles
Finish up with a pattern bit in your router. To avoid routing into the grain, you can flip the workpiece over and only rout with half of the sled.
Soften All Edges
Bedrosian uses a 1/8" radius round over bit to ease the edges of the handles. Note the black line where the round over should stop. This is where the handle gets covered by the outer faces.
Glue the Faces
Bedrosian clamps a temporary fence to the handle, ensuring there is a consistent offset from the bottom. The portion of the handle with the finger slot isn’t visible in this photo, as it’s underneath the temporary fence.
Tape to the Rescue
Blue tape keeps any squeeze-out from sticking to the temporary fence. Glue on the outer faces one at a time, being sure they register tightly against the fence.
Just Enough Glue
Apply glue sparingly to the inside of the faces; you want to avoid squeeze-out getting on the veneered panel.
Clamp Everything Together
Light clamping pressure should be enough to bring the parts together. Be sure the center of each handle is aligned with the center of the panel.
Add Decorative Pins
The glue joint between the ends and the veneered panel is strong enough to support the tray so the pins aren’t required, but they enhance the look. Bedrosian makes his own 1/8" dowels out of maple and glues them in place.
Add a Lip
Glue a small lip of wood flush with each edge of the veneered panel between the handles. This keeps things from sliding off the tray.
Protect the Wood
Bedrosian uses an Osmo finish on this tray to bring out the rich colours and offer protection.
Glue the core
The tray starts with two pieces of 3mm Baltic birch plywood glued together to form a stable core for the veneer. It’s best to glue a piece of veneer between the two plywood sheets with the grain running perpendicular to the plywood so each layer has alternating grain direction. Cut the veneer and the plywood oversize by about 1″ in length and width to allow for some misalignment when the pieces are glued together. For my tray, I cut the plywood to 17″ by 20-1/2″. If your plywood is cupped or twisted (as is often the case with Baltic birch) orient the two pieces to try to cancel out this distortion when the boards are glued together. A vacuum bag is the easiest way to clamp the three layers together, but wooden cauls and clamps can also be used. Apply an even layer of glue to the inside faces of the plywood and align the three layers before inserting the sandwich into the vacuum bag for at least an hour.
Add solid wood edging
The sides of the panel are trimmed with solid wood before the faces are veneered. The ends don’t need edging since they will be hidden by the handles. Start by cutting the panel 1/4″ narrower than the finished width, making sure that both edges are parallel and ready for glue. When finished, the edging on each side will be about 1/8″ wide, making up the full width of the panel. I find it easier to work with thicker edging, so I machine solid wood 1/2″ wide and slightly thicker than the panel. I chose a piece of makore to match the veneer, but you could use a contrasting wood instead. Blue tape works well to clamp the edging to the plywood while the glue dries. Use any combination of a router, hand plane and sander to flush the edging so it’s the same thickness as the panel.
At this point, the panel should be about 3/4″ wider than the finished width and 1″ longer. Cut the veneer for the front and back of the panel to just under this size and glue it in place. Be sure to spread glue all the way to the edges of the panel to get a good bond.
Once the glue cures, use a crosscut sled to cut the panel to the finished length. Be sure the edge you reference off is free of any glue squeeze-out. Follow a two-step procedure to cut the panel to width. Adjust your rip fence to cut away all but 1/8″ of the solid wood edging on one side of the panel, then flip the panel around and adjust the rip fence to cut the opposite side, leaving 1/8″ of edging. Leaving this small width of solid edging lessens the chance of any seasonal changes in its thickness telegraphing through to the veneer.
Make a router sled
The ends of the tray are made from three layers of wood sandwiched together. The middle layer is the handle with a cutout for your fingers; it’s the same thickness as the veneered panel. The face pieces are narrower and are glued to both the veneered panel and the handle to hold everything together. Normally, this cross-grain glue joint would cause issues, but since the panel is made from plywood, there will be no seasonal expansion and contraction across its width, and the joint will stand up over time.
You can freehand shape each handle, but I chose to make a simple router sled that I could use with a pattern bit in case I decide to make more of these trays. The opposite sides of each handle are mirror images so you only need to cut and sand the shape of half of the handle on a piece of MDF or plywood slightly wider than half the width of the tray. Use this template to make the router sled which should be at least 1″ wider than the veneered panel.
Attach a fence about 3-1/2″ back from the top of the sled and draw a perpendicular center line to the top of the sled. Temporarily fasten the template to the sled so you can flush trim that half of the handle. Flip the template over, referencing off the center line of the sled, to do the same for the other side. I drilled 7/8″ diameter holes at each end and then scroll-sawed closed to the line and followed up with my spindle sander to create a smooth opening. Complete the sled by securing two toggle clamps to hold the workpiece when it is being routed.
Shape the handles
Resaw the approximately 1/4″ thick stock for the handles from a 4/4 board. The thickness of the handle must match the thickness of the veneered panel within a close tolerance. Plane, scrape and sand the wood until you are a few thousandths of an inch thicker than the panel. A dial caliper works well for this, but your fingers are also a good gauge. Place the handle against the panel and you should feel a difference in height about the thickness of a piece of paper.
Once you’re satisfied with the thickness, use the router sled to mark the handle shape including the finger opening. Leave the handle longer than the width of the veneered panel; it will be trimmed to final size after everything is glued together. Remove most of the waste at your band saw and finish up the profile at the router table with the sled and a pattern bit. Drill overlapping 3/4″ diameter holes for the finger opening and clean up most of the waste using your scroll saw. Rout the finger opening flush to the sled, paying attention to the rotation of the router bit so you are not climb cutting.
The two pairs of outer cleats that secure the handle to the veneered panel can be any thickness, but for convenience I used the same thickness as the handle. Rip these 1-1/2″ wide and leave them 1″ longer than the finished length. Install a 1/8″ round over bit in your router table so you can soften the edges on the three pieces that make up each end. Round over the two outside long edges on the 1-1/2″ wide faces of the outer cleats, as well as both sides of the finger opening. The handle needs a stopped round over that ends where the handle joins with the two outer faces. Do a dry fit of the pieces and mark these transition points so you don’t rout too far.
Gluing the three end pieces together can be a challenge since you need to keep them aligned as you apply clamps. A wooden fence clamped to the handle helps with this task, as does gluing one face at a time. Since the boards are long, you only have to focus on keeping the face tight against the fence. Remove any glue squeeze-out that could interfere with inserting the veneered panel between the faces.
Put it all together
You’re now ready to glue the ends to the panel. Do a dry fit to be sure the panel bottoms-out against the handle at each end; any gaps will be visible in the finished tray so you want to get this right. If needed, you can pare down the ends of the panel as long as you only remove wood from areas that will be covered by the handle. You want a snug fit but not so tight that you risk splitting the faces on the ends when you apply glue.
Mark the center line of the veneered panel near each end and also mark the center line of each handle. Glue one end at a time using just enough clamping pressure to close the joint. Use your table saw to trim the ends of the tray flush with the veneered panel. Keep in mind that the solid wood edging on the panel is only 1/8″ wide so you have very little room for error. Sand the corners round and follow up with the 1/8″ round over bit on any parts of the end pieces that need it.
Add decorative pins and trim
If you want to jazz up the handles, you can add wood or brass pins to the faces at each end. I glued in 1/8″ wooden pins made from maple, which contrasts nicely with the pau ferro handles. After you decide which side of the tray is up, glue two strips of wood flush with the edges of the veneered panel. These stops prevent things from rolling off the tray. After applying your finish of choice, attach small plastic bumpers on the bottom of the handles so the tray doesn’t sit in water if it’s placed on a wet counter.