Introduction: A Modern 3-Tier Paper Organization Tray

About: I'm just a guy who likes to make things and share it with the world. Subscribe to my Youtube to stay on top of my full builds and follow me on Instagram to follow along with what I'm currently working on: www.…

Seems like the word "organization" has been on everyone's mind this year. Even though it's 2019, I still find my desk cluttered with documents. I set out to try to find some desktop organization options that fit my style but ultimately...I decided to make my own. And with the amount of scraps I had laying around the shop, it actually helped me to clear out my shop a bit too! For the build, I used scraps found in my shop, but I've written out the dimensions for the lumber you will need to make this.

If you like this project, please vote for it in the Organization Contest!

Be sure to check out the Youtube video above, which should help with better understanding each step.

Walnut Hardwood: 55"x8"x3/4" (LxWxT)

1/4" Plywood: 13"x31" sheet

1/2" Plywood: 12"x20" sheet

Epoxy w/Slow Hardener: (Optional)

Sheathing Tape:



White Marker:

Jointer Push Block:

Microjig Gripper:

Bandy Clamps:

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Step 1: Milling "Blanks"

The first step is for us to cut the lumber down to size to make the sides of the paper tray. For a lack of a better term, I will call these "blanks". Since I used scraps for my build, I've included an image of the cut list for those of you starting the build with a single piece of lumber. My milling process is as follows:

1) Crosscut the pieces down to their rough lengths.

2) Flattened one face and squared up an adjacent edge on the jointer.

3) Brought all the pieces down to their final thickness of 3/4".

4) Lastly, I ripped all the pieces down to their final width of about 1-1/8"

Step 2: Route Groove for Tray Bottom

I used the router table to cut a groove into each blank in order to receive the tray bottom. The groove is roughly 1/4" from the edge on the longer side and 1/4" deep. I used a 1/4" router bit for this.

Step 3: Cut Miter Joints for Tray Sides

With all of the 12 individual pieces laid out to form the four sides of three paper trays, I marked out the direction of each miter cut on each piece. As I mentioned in the video, this step is pretty important even though it doesn't seem so. With so many pieces that look alike, it's really easy to mix up the orientation of a piece as you feed it through the table saw. Not that it's happened to me, of course :D

With the table saw blade set at 45-deg, I set up the stop on my miter gauge and cut miters on one side of each piece. Then I flipped each piece over, reset the stop block and cut the miters on the other end. With all the miter cuts marked out, the cuts goes by really fast and you won't have to second guess yourself!

Step 4: Paper Tray Glue-up

Sometimes I feel that painters' tape was made for woodworkers! It's surprisingly how much clamping pressure a simple strip of tape can have on a glue joint. Here, you see me gluing up the miter joints using this method. I applied one strip of blue tape on either end of one of the long side pieces. Then I butted up the two short pieces right to the edges of the long piece, taking care the edges are tightly touching. Next, press the two short pieces down on the tape. With glue applied to the miter joints, I simply folded the two short sides up. Using a small square, I made sure the corners were square, and then pulled the two short sides together using one long piece of tape to hold the pieces at 90-deg while glue dried.

With the three sides glued up, I measured for dimensions for the tray bottom. Simply measure the inside distance between the sides, then add in the depth of the grooves cut with the router earlier. Cut the tray bottom slightly smaller to the bottom to slide in easier, and space for glue.

Note: This would be a good time to sand the tray bottoms since it'd be harder to sand the corners after the trays have been glued up. Since the tray bottom is plywood, I started with 180 grit and sanded to 220 grit.

After the bottom was cut, I applied glue in the grooves and slid the bottom in. Glue is optional though. I've received some comments about wood movement, and allowing the tray bottom to float. But I've always built drawers and other types of frames this way, without ever having any issues. I also don't like the way tray/drawer bottom feels if they float in the grooves.

With the tray bottom glued in, simply close up the tray with the fourth side. Once again, use tape to clamp the corners.

Step 5: Cut Bevels

After the glue has cured, now it's time to cut the bevels. Each side of the tray will receive two bevels, one on top, and an opposite one below. The top bevel will be larger, while the bottom one is smaller. When laying out the bevels, make sure neither bevels will cut through the dado that's holding the tray bottom. I've included a cut diagram to show this.

After the bevels have been laid out, tilt the blade at 45-deg and the fence set, I first cut the larger bevels along both of the long sides of each tray. Then I rotated the tray over, reset the fence and cut the large bevel along all of the shorter sides.

With the blade still tilted at 45-deg, flip the trays over and repeat the above process to cut the smaller bevel on all sides.

Step 6: Sand and Apply Finish

With the trays completed, I sanded the the beveled trim around the tray to prep for finishing. I started at 80 grit and sanded up to 220 grit. For the finish, I used an oil finish with wax sealer. Now you can set the trays aside and start on the structure that holds the trays! Let's just call it the "enclosure" from here on out, for a lack of a better word.

Step 7: Milling Lumber for Tray Enclosure

To make the tray enclosure sides, I dug through my scraps pile and found a couple of boards left over from all the Harry Potter bookshelves I built over the past few months. Please see the cut list from the first step to determine how much material you need for this. I first crosscut the boards down to length on my table saw (miter saw will work as well, but I don't have one), then I jointed and planed the boards down. Since the boards I used had a lot of imperfections, I didn't bother squaring up the last edge since I decided to use some epoxy to fill in all the imperfections and add some color "pop" to the whole thing.

Note: If you don't want to use epoxy, skip straight to step 10

Step 8: Prep for Epoxy Pour (Optional)

Since I used scraps, there were lots of imperfections in the work pieces. One had a live edge and the other had cracks. If I cut the live edge off, the board would be too short to be useful. To fix these problems, I decided to use epoxy.

To prep for the epoxy, I first used a chisel to clean up all the loose material off of the surfaces that the epoxy will adhere to. After chiseling, you can also sand the rough edges down using 80 grit.

Next, I cut some MDF panels down to make the form for the epoxy pour. The size of the panels will depend on the size of your work piece, so I won't put any dimensions on here. To keep the epoxy from bonding to the form, I covered it up using sheathing tape. There's a link to the tape in the materials list on the first page. Finally, I just used some brad nails to attach the sides of the form to the bottom. To close up the gaps between the sides and bottom of the form, I used some clear silicon for sealing windows.

Step 9: Epoxy Pour (Optional)

I used was Total Boat 5:1 epoxy to fill the imperfections. I used the 5:1 mixture instead of the 2:1 mainly because I like the amber hue it has. I like the warmth it adds to the green pigment. There are links to these in the material list on the first page.

After a day, I used a pry bar to remove the boards out of the form. Then I ran the boards through the planer to remove the overflow epoxy off of the boards.

Step 10: Cutting the Miter on the Enclosure

Next, I stood the enclosure sides up and stacked the trays to figure out how much "lean" would look good. I also had the trays sit about 1.5" proud of the front of the front edge of the enclosure. Then I marked one point on the bottom of the side and another point at the top. I connected the two dots using a bevel gauge so that I could transfer this angle over to my miter gauge and cut the sides at the table saw. Coincidentally, this angle came out to be exactly 25 degrees (Yes, really!).

Step 11: Cutting the Runners

Since the trays have a double bevel design made from two 45-deg sides, I cut three triangular slots through each side of the enclosure that will form the runners to allow the trays to slide in and out.

I planned to have the bottom of the enclosure sit about 1/2" above the bottom of the enclosure, and then I added another 1/4" on top of that for the gap between the bottom tray and the enclosure bottom. Then between each tray, I used a 3/4" MDF as spacer. Finally, I marked out the location of each runner.

To cut the runners, I set up my blade at 45 degrees and set the fence so that the tip of the blade lines up with the mark I drew earlier. After the first set of 45-deg cuts have been made, just rotate the sides to cut the opposite angle. At the end, you should end up with 90-deg grooves like the ones you see in my video.

Step 12: Dado for Bottom and Back Panel

I didn't want the bottom of the enclosure to be visible when the trays are sitting on my desk, so I used my router table with a 1/2" bit and a stop set so that the dado does not go all the way through the sides. Afterwards, I used a chisel to square up the rounded ends where the router bit stopped. Unfortunately, there aren't any square router bits yet :(

With the 1/2" bit still set up in the router table, I adjusted the fence so that I could cut a full rabbet to the back edge of each side panel.

Step 13: Adding Bevels Around the Sides

Before gluing everything up, I set the blade to 45 degrees and ran the side panels through to put a bevel along each of the exposed edges. This step is optional, it won't add or remove any functionality of the paper tray, but I feel this simple step really adds a lot of character to the overall part.

Step 14: Prepping the Bottom and Back Panels

I used 1/2" ply for the bottom and back panels. After cutting the pieces down to size, I cut some walnut hardwood for edgebanding. To attach the edgebanding, I used glue and some bandy clamps. Once the glue was dry, I used a hand plane to flush up the edge banding to the ply, and then trimmed the edges flush. The last step to do on the bottom panel was to cut a rabbet on the back edge for accepting the back panel later.

Step 15: Final Assembly

Next, I applied glue to the dados at the bottom of the side panels and slid the bottom panel in position. I used a couple of right angle clamps to keep the panels square to each other after I clamped the panels down.

I waited until the glue has dried before doing a dry fit of the back panel. With the back panel in place, I marked where I needed to cut it to get the top edge of the back panel flush to the side panels. Then I made the corresponding cut on the table saw.

Once the fit was good, I glued the back panel in place.

Step 16: Finish

Phew! You've reached to the end of the project! Now just apply your favorite finish and be ready to turn some heads in your office!

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