Introduction: Cake Decorating Organizer Trays.
My wife bakes and decorates cakes, and she has a ridiculous amount of tools, tips, cutters, pans, bags and other supplies, and they're always disorganized. It drives me crazy. (If you live with a cake decorator, can I get a "testify!"?) One day, when I was complaining that watching her spend 10 minutes looking for a particular icing tip in the jumbled mess she keeps "meaning to organize" was going to give me a stroke, she retorted "well, if it bugs you so much, why don't you make me something to organize with!". "I will!" I foolishly said. The thing about saying things like that to your wife... she's going to hold you to it!
Naturally, I put off making something, and stopped complaining about the disaster area, so we were both happy...for a while. Finally I couldn't take it any longer and I snapped! I broke down and made these cake decorating organizer trays to fit in one of the plastic 4-drawer organizers we bought from Superstore a few years ago. If you don't already have one of these kicking around, they are widely available, and are in the $15-$20 range.
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Step 1: Gather Your Materials.
To make these organizer trays, or ones like them, you'll need the following items:
1/4" plywood, 2'x4' sheet
1/8" hardwood, 2' x 4' sheet
scrap wood (to use as backer board when drilling holes)
Table saw or band saw (or hand saw if you're really good -I'm not.)
Drill press and/or hand drill
Sandpaper and drum sander bits with fine grade paper (1/2", 3/4" & 1" sizes)
3/4" forstner bit
1" spade bit
1 1/8" spade bit
1 1/2" hole saw
2" hole saw
2 1/8" hole saw
hammer & punch
12" straight rule
all the stuff you want to organize
Your mileage may vary: It's unlikely you're going to make the trays with exactly the same layout. I mean, that's cool if you do, but you probably have at least a slightly different assortment of items to organize. As such, the sizes of holes that I cut were for my needs, and might differ from the sizes you need. No worries! The concept is what matters, and that the end result works for you.
Step 2: Measure Your Drawers and Cut Your Inserts
I wanted a perfect fit, so I took care to measure the inside dimensions of the drawer's bottom. I laid my 12" straight rule along the inside, pushed tight to one end, and put my try square at the other end. You can see in the close-up shot of the rulers that the try square goes beyond the straight rule by 1/4", giving me a measurement of 12 1/4".
Applying the same idea to the short side, this time I used my try square and quick square, and they just happened to fit *perfectly*. I took them out of the drawer and measured them together with the straight rule (see photo), getting a measurement of 8 7/8" plus two hairs. I rounded up to 8 29/32".
I first ripped two lengths each from the plywood and hardwood sheets 12 1/4" wide, and then cut two 8 29/32" (I'm not kidding, I managed it!) pieces from each strip, giving me 4 plywood boards and 4 hardwood board that fit *EXACTLY* into the bottom of the trays, with zero play. Seriously, I peeled one of my business cards in half and couldn't get it in between the boards and the drawer walls. I was pretty proud of myself.
Step 3: Making the Trays: Tray #1 - Icing Colour Jars
The first step to making the organizer tray is figuring out (1) what items you are going to be organizing, and (2) the layout/quantity of the items. For the first tray I decided to organize the icing colour jars. I laid them in the drawer to figure out how many I could fit, deciding on 35 in a 5x7 configuration.
Holding the bit up to the bottom of the jar, I decided to use a 1 1/8" spade bit to make the holes. It looked right, but we'll get to that...
The next step is to figure out the spacing of the jars. I wanted it to look nice, so I took a moment to figure this out. The critical dimension here is the spacing between the rows, and I figured it out by a 2-step process:
(1st) hole size X quantity = space used by holes + edge space = total space needed for holes
(2nd) board width - total space needed for holes = leftover space / number of spaces between rows = space between rows
So for the colour jars, it worked out like this:
(1st) 1 1/8" X 5 = 5 5/8" + (3/8" X 2) = 6 3/8"
(2nd) 8 7/8" - 6 3/8" = 2 1/2" / 4 = 5/8
(1st) 1 1/8" X 7 = 7 7/8" + (1/4" front + 1/2" rear) = 8 5/8"
(2nd) 12 1/4" - 8 5/8" = 3 1/2" / 7 = 1/2"
So, from all this I was able to determine that my rows needed to be 1/2" apart, and my columns 5/8" apart. This spacing worked out well and didn't seem too far apart, because the lids are wider than the base of the jar.
Next, determine the first hole's position using the formula
border width + (hole size / 2) = centre point
which for me ended up being... 3/8" + 9/16" = 15/16" in from the side edge, and 1/4" + 9/16" = 13/16" in from the front edge. Once you have this first centre point marked, you simply add the "hole size" + "space between row" to determine your next centre point, depending on whether you're marking rows or columns. Make sure you are marking your rows and columns in straight lines! Mark the centre points of each hole with a pencil, and then use the hammer and punch to mark it for drilling. Drill out each hole. Don't forget to use a backer board to reduce chip-out on the bottom of your holes!
Pro tip: Mark your straight rule with tape at centre point intervals for quick marking!
I decided to space the plywood board 1/2" above the hardboard bottom, to prevent the jars from tipping when the drawer is opened and closed, so I ripped two 12 1/4" plywood strips, and glued them between the plywood and hardboard. I clamped it with the fancy clamps. After the glue set, I loaded the tray up and put it in the drawer to admire it. Then I took it out, emptied it, and sanded it smooth with a sanding block for that flat surfaces and a drum sander bit on the inside of the holes. I didn't take any pictures of the sanding because we all already know how glamorous that is. And because I was super dusty and didn't want to be playing with my phone, taking pictures at the same time.
Step 4: Tray #2 - Russian Flower Tip Set and Medium Sized Tips
The process for the second tray was pretty much the same as the first -layout, determining row & column spacing, marking and punching the board, drilling out the holes, and sanding it smooth. But there were a couple of notable differences that I'll mention.
Determining the space between boards:
The tips have a different shape and centre of gravity than the jars, so I needed to experiment with board spacing. First try, no spacer: fail. Second try, 1/8" spacer: fail. Third try, 1/4" spacer = win!
So I ripped a couple of 1/4" strips from the plywood and first glued those to the underside of the plywood, and then once the glue had set, glued the hardboard bottom on. Again with the fancy clamps.
Marking and drilling 2 different sized holes:
Notice that I covered part of the board with tape? I covered the holes I didn't want to drill with that bit size. That's because I don't trust myself to not accidentally drill the wrong size hole in the wrong spot. Worked like a charm.
Oopsie on the spacing:
I messed up on the spacing between the two sizes when I was marking and punching the board (I forgot to add column spacing between the two sizes). You can see that it's too close when I lay the spade bit down in line with the punched mark. It's an easy fix, though. I just punched a new row a little bit over, and once drilled out, the mistake disappeared.
Step 5: Tray #3 - Small Icing Tips
Again, here I followed the same steps as before to determine layout, hole spacing, board spacing, etc. The only difference this time around was that because I was drilling so many holes, I decided to nail the backer board to the plywood to make the process a little easier, using the punched hole marks at each corner. After I was done drilling the holes, I removed the backer board and nails. I decided not to drill out the holes where the nails were because I liked the way it looked, so I screwed small screws (#5 x 3/4") into the holes for decoration. (Note: the screws are not securing anything and poke through the bottom of the plywood, safely out of the way.)
Step 6: Tray #4 - Misc. Items
This tray was a bit different, in that I only had a few tips left to organize, and my wife wanted a bit of space to put random items that wouldn't fit in a hole. So after laying out the rest of the items to organize (keeping in mind to stay on one side of the tray), marking and punching and drilling the holes, I cut off the remaining unused plywood. Because I cut the plywood so close to the holes, I had to use a very thin plywood spacer and glue the spacers on one at a time, and then the backer board afterwards, in order to ensure the spacers didn't shift or twist while gluing it all together. I just know you're jealous of my fancy clamps.
Step 7: Done!
And that's it. Now present it (fully loaded) to your cake decorator and revel in their amazement and praise. You're awesome!
And if your cake decorator's area is anything like mine, you barely made a dent in the mess. But don't worry -you can always make more trays!
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