Introduction: Beech Tray for Salt & Pepper Mill

I made this salt and pepper caddy from a piece of beech, specifically to fit the Cole & Mason salt and pepper grinders that my Mum owns.

Trays like this one are commercially available but those I've found are a loose fit and I wanted to make ones that fit better to keep the grinders from getting salt and pepper dust on the dining table between uses.

There are LOADS of ways you could make this simple little tray, I chose to use a router and a custom template with a solid piece of beech so that I can make multiple trays with less effort.

Step 1: Tools & Materials

Here are the tools and materials which I used for this project. I have split the tools into two lists, the first of which contains those that are essential for this project. I have included a second list of tools that I also used, but are not essential to get the project done, they just make it a little easier or quicker. I decided to split the list to try make it clear to readers early on whether they have the tools to attempt this project.

Tools (minimum):

Tools (nice to have):

  • Scroll saw. Or laser cutter. Anything to make the template more accurately/neatly.
  • Hand plane to flatten your stock. It depends on your material.


  • GOOD double sided tape
  • Piece of beech approximately 140 x 80 x 20 mm.Any hardwood to match your S&P grinders will do.
  • Piece of ply, mdf or any materialthe same size as above to make the template.
  • Mineral oil finish

The above Amazon links help support the content I write on Instructables. I only link to products I use personally and recommend.

Step 2: Design

I decided that I wanted the outside of the tray to hug the figure-8 profile of the salt and pepper mills when they are standing next to each other. To produce an outline to use for cutting a template, I used SolidWorks to 3d model the part. This gave me a good idea of what the shape would look like.

Once I had a 3d model of the tray SolidWorks allows easy creation of a 1:1 scale 2d drawing which can be printed and stuck to the template material as an outline.

The template ended up 140 mm long and 80 mm wide. The inner and outer radii are 30 and 40 mm respectively. A copy of the template is included in the next step.

Step 3: Making the Template

Next, print the template. I have included a copy of the template as a PDF in this step. If you need to change the scale to create a bigger or smaller template, a DXF of the template is also attached to this step. It can be opened easily in Inkscape which will allow you to check the size and scale it easily if you need to. Inkscape is free and great!

Stick the template on your template stock. This should be thick enough so that your top bearing flush trim bit doesn't go all the way through the beech when the bearing is on the template.

Use a coping saw or scroll saw to cut your template. It's worth spending a long time sanding and filing the template to get it perfect as the outline of the finished tray with be an exact copy of the template. Any bumps, low or high spots on the template will be transferred to the tray when you use the router.

I was running out of time to get this project finished as a present and my coping saw skills are TERRIBLE. At this point I chose to email the DXF to my friend Kiteman, who I paid to laser cut me a thin template.I then copied this to a thicker piece of MDF as seen in the photos.

Step 4: Routing the Top

This step entails routing out the internal pocket for the mills and routing half depth around the outside.

Start by firmly clamping or sticking your stock to you work surface. If your piece of beech is much bigger than the template you can clamp it down so long as the clamps do not get in the way of the router. If your stock is not much bigger than the template, stick it down with some good double sided tape.

If you choose to tape your stock to hold it firm, be sure to choose some GOOD tape. I have used this TESA double sided mounting tape for lots of projects and am confident it's not going to fail on me mid-project. Keep in mind that your router bit is spinning at 20,000 RPM with a 2 HP motor behind it. If that tape fails, your part WILL fly. Please make your own mind up on whether you're confident doing this. The tape must be a good brand and both the surfaces must be clean, flat and dust free.

Having secured the stock, now tape the template on top. At this point I like to hog out most of the internal waste using a forstner bit, being careful not to go too deep or the point of the forstner bit will leave a mark at the bottom of the tray.

I use a 3/4" diameter, 1/2" shank, 1" long top bearing flush trim bit to follow the template, taking 5 mm depth passes each time. It's very important to make sure you're push cutting not climb cutting at all times, or the router can run away on you, which is pretty terrifying! A nice new, sharp router bit will ensure you don't get tear out despite push cutting. Remember that your direction of cut to maintain a push cut will change depending on whether you're routing an outside or inside profile. This article explains it nicely.

Due to the small size of the part, I also use a homemade "foot" on my router which stops the router tipping away from the work piece.

Step 5: Routing the Bottom

Carefully remove the half routed part from the template and the table.

Tape the tray top side down and use a bottom guided flush trim router bit to trim the remaining outside profile to the same size as the top.

Again, I like to use a homemade stabilising foot at this point as with nothing to support it, the router likes to tip away from the part.

Step 6: Sanding

Use sand paper to clean up all of the sides of the tray. With a sharp bit I get minimal tearout from conventional not climb cutting. So long as I remember to keep my router bits clean between uses I don't get too many burn marks. Once these are corrected, work up through the sand paper grits until it's nice and smooth.

Step 7: Finishing

I finished the tray by rubbing a few coats of mineral oil on, allowing each coat to soak in before applying the next.

This was a really fun project to do, it's just a shame that so much of the pretty grain is hidden when in use! I learned lots about using my router.

Please leave questions and feedback in the comments!

Homemade Gifts Contest 2016

Participated in the
Homemade Gifts Contest 2016

Epilog Contest 8

Participated in the
Epilog Contest 8