Introduction: Cat Food Trough From Pallet Wood

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Our cats like their dry food - the chunky stuff that they need to give a good chew. I have been told that it is great for their teeth, too. While they also enjoy "wet" food, there is always a bowl or trough with dry food available to them - if we know what is good for us. A while back I made one for exactly that purpose, but it had straight walls, which turned out to be a problem.

I invite you to check out my video, where my pal Paw-l gives a short demonstration of what they started to do, but suffice to say, they spilled more than they ate. So I made a new trough with angled walls to remedy that, and I made it from pallet wood.


  • Pallet Wood Cutoffs or any other kind of wood from virtually any source. I worked with short pieces of board due to a pallet that would not be pried apard - I used the circular saw on it instead. If you want to go with something larger that it perfectly fine, too. You just need to pay attention to where you are cutting (as always), and maybe do some steps a little differently to account for the fact that you might have enough material for several sides in one piece, as opposed to here where the length was pretty much determined by the dimensions of the chunks I used. Also, this is supposed to be a pet trough. No need for fancy hardwoods or anything. They will not care as long as you keep feeding them.
  • Wood glue - you might have seen that one coming.


  • I used a Table Saw for most of the cuts, and since a few of them are about cutting off small strips from already small-ish pieces, I can only recommend this one. A circular saw simply cannot cut it in this respect, at least not safely.
  • I also employed a Mitre Saw for the angles on the tapered section, but you could cut those on the table saw as well with mad mitre gauge skills. On the other hand, I think that some of the other cuts are impossible to make safely on a mitre saw, but maybe you feel differently about that.
  • A jointer can and should be used to flatten the pieces as needed, but in my case I used chunks that were straight enough already. Just like with the material, it is what it is, a trough, so do not go too far overboard.
  • A sander might come in handy - I used a Random Orbital Sander, but you can use any sanding solution there is, powered or not, from a disc sander to sand paper, and even planes if you feel so inclined, to smooth over what little there will be in terms of sharp edges.

Also, the mandatory (and necessary) safety warning: if something seems dangerous to you, do not do it. Try to find ways to make it safer, and if you cannot do that, do not do it. Ultimately, you are solely responsible for your own actions and safety. In this special case, use a good pushblock (like the one I described in the Fruit Basket Instructable just to be on the safe side.

Step 1: The Base-ics

While keeping dry food contained on the sides is a valiant task, it is doomed to fail if there is no base or bottom to the trough. And while a bottomless trough would make for an interresting yet messy prank, I want mine to go all the way to provide a pleasant chewing experience to our cats with as little spill as possible.

Take two pieces of pallet wood and stand them up on the small side, as seen in the first picture. The idea here is to resaw it, i.e. cut it along its widest dimension to yield two boards of roughly half its thickness. This is traditionally done on a band saw, but mine does not have the guts to make this cut so I am going for the table saw instead.

Set your fence to roughly the center of the small side. You can take measurements, but you might as well save some time and do it by eye since there is a neat trick to get a good fit for the board we want to make, and will use that anyway.

Raise the blade to the full height of the piece, although there is a chance that it will not go that far (just like mine). In this case, raise it to slightly above the halfway point. Now run the two pieces through your saw. If your blade extends high enough then you are done with this step. If not, you need to flip the pieces over and run them through again.

Attention! Keep the face that rode along the fence the first time firmly against the fence the second time - do not flip it any other way. This is important to remove any fence-misalignment from the equation.

Step 2: Base-Magic

Two boards come together, so what? Why does this deserve an extra step? Because there is one more thing you need to do in order to get a flat and fitting base. The question is "why did we just resaw two pieces when we could make due with one?"

The answer is that you are right, we would only need one in a perfect world where we can set the fence exactly so that both sides are of equal thickness. I know some guys out there can do that, but I cannot - or maybe I just cannot be bothered, since this trick makes it a lot easier. We have resawed two pieces so we can pair them up and pick two slices that are of exactly equal thickness.

Why is that? Imagine that your table saw fence is slightly off-center in relation to the piece. For the sake of the argument, let us assume that the right side is twice as thick as the left. Now you resaw both pieces, and you get two thick slices and two thin ones. Thick and thin together will not look too good, but if you take the two thick ones (or the two thin ones), you will have an exact match.

Magic, isn't it?

Step 3: Wall Design I

Two decades or so ago, I had a guinea pig. This guinea pig had a trough (made from a clay-like material), and it never spilled, because the rim was tapered inwards. At least that is what I deduced. Maybe this guinea pig was just less hasty or more careful when it came to eating. Either way, I chose to create a tapered brim for this trough to prevent spilling. The guinea pig story just serves to lend this idea some credence.

I picked an angle at random - somewhere around 15° - with the intention of checking and changing it as necessary. Of course the reality was that I just rolled with it and, fortunately, it worked out okay.

Set your table saw to your personal favorit angle and the fence so that you slice that angle off the side of one of your chunks of pallet - as seen in the first picture. Run it through, then move the fence about the thickness of wall you want to use. This is, once again, an arbitrary choice. I would recommend something between 1 cm and 1/2 ".

In the video you can see that I actually cut the first piece too thick and had to saw it in half. This was not the most pleasant operation, but it serves to emphasize the need for a safe push solution.

All things considered you will probably need four angled pieces for the wall taper, unless your trough is less than half as wide as it is long - meaning you could cut one angled piece in two and they would still be long enough for the shorter sides. But trust me, even then you want a fourth one just in case you hit a snag when fitting the taper.

Step 4: Wall Design II

While you coud make the wall from the tapered pieces alone I wanted a little more volume for my trough. You could stack two tapered pieces, but that would make it harder to get to the good stuff inside.

Using the width of the small sides of the taper - the vertical wall thickness, if you will - and set your fence so that, with the blade back at 90°, you can cut off slices that are of the same thickness. Confused? Hopefully the images do a better job at explaining this.

The resulting strip would raise the rim too high, though, so unless you have huge cats I recommend cutting them in half. Again, if you do not trust your table saw fence setting skills there is a neat trick you can use. Set the fence to slightly less than half the material. After you ran the strip through once, creating two smaller pieces, you take the one from the "slightly larger" side and send it through the saw again, trimming it to "slightly less", which now takes both to the same size.

And let it be known, there is no way to do this without a good push block.

Now you should have a pleasing combination of straight and tapered pieces.

Step 5: The First Glue-up

To cut the straight pieces to length I used my table saw crosscut sled. There are a number of Instructables on how to make a crosscut sled, and they come in handy for operations that would otherwise be tricky and/or dangerous to perform on a table saw. You could also use a mitre saw for this, though.

I decided to forgo any complex and fancy joinery here, but if you want to go artsy, then by all means, treat your cats to some half-blind dove-tailed fox-wedged goodness.

Cut two of the straight pieces to the length of your base-to-be, and two more to the width minus twice the thickness of the slats you are currently working with. The idea is that the small pieces should fot between the longer pieces once they are glued to the base.

To do the first glue-up, which serves to turn the two smaller boards into one larger one, I chose to also glue the short side pieces in place since they will bridge the gap and keep it straight. Sicne it is a glue operation that needs to be done anyway, this works out to our advantage.

Apply glue to the mating faces of the two boards - the small one, not the big one that we actually resawed on. Press them together and apply glue to the two short straight wall pieces. Place them on the small sides of the base, taking care not to misalign anything here. You want sufficient space on both sides for the long pieces to fit later on. Now clamp them down to your heart's content.

Once the glue has dried remove the clamps and glue the long pieces in place. There you go, base and half of the wall done in one swoop, fel or otherwise.

Step 6: Fitting the Taper

This step might seem a little daunting, and it sure felt that way to me when it occurred to me that I would have to cut something resembeling a compond mitre thingy.

But fear not! This is actually pretty simple to achieve. The secret is that you need a cut-off from the pallet piece to "translate" your taper angle to a right angle. If you do not have such a piece, you can still make one by setting your sawblade to the taper angle (using a tapered piece as a guide) and cut a slice from a chunk of wood that looks like the one seen in the first picture.

This piece serves as a "fancy translatory fence supplement" which allows you to safely and consistently put the tapered piece against your mitre saw's fence.

Since the tapered section needs to be mitred in order to make for a good fit set your mitre saw to 45° and make the first cut near the end of one tapered piece. Then hold that onto the bottom section and place the mitred end exactly into a corner. You could also cut two pieces with the angles on matching sides to place a complete corner if you want some additional reassurement. You will have to switch from 45° on the left and on the right side of your saw several times anyway.

Once you have a piece placed correctly, mark where the other cut needs to go, as seen in the second image. Aim for the inside of the corner for this..

Now comes another neat feature of the auxiliary fence. To make the second cut, first lower your mitre saw blade (without turning it on) and butt your fence up against it. You might need to make a cut, though, if the angle is facing the wrong side. Now hold it in place and raise the blade up again. Place the marked tapered piece against it and align it so that the mark is at the very edge of the fence - you might need to look at it from behind for this. Just make sure you do not move the auxiliary fence, and you should be set for a precise cut.

Repeat this process for all four sides, and you will find it much less daunting once you are through with it.

Step 7: The Last Glue-up

The time has come to bring it all together. Apply glue to all the meeting faces - the top of the straight section of the brim, and the mitred corners - and fit them together on the base. They should go and stay together reasonably well, but you can and should put some weight on top ot if to hold it in place.

Use a flat piece that is large enough to cover the whole trough and carefully place it on top of the tapered section once you have it aligned properly. Feel free to add additional weight to it, too.

Let it sit for a while for the glue to dry, and once that has happened, you are almost done!

Step 8: Some Finishing Touches

If you performed valiantly during all the previous steps, this one is not for you. If you, on the other hand, chose to value character over precision, you might need to do some clean-up on the finished piece like I did.

I had some minor misalignment on the glue-ups - nothing major, but noticable on the outside. To fix this, I used my mitre saw, but the table saw would work as well. Just take a very shallow cut along the sides, removing only as much material as strictly necessary. If your trough is not quite square, this will likely result in a tilted taper line, but your cats will probably pretend to forgive you if you keep the trough filled at all times.

I also chose to give it a quick sanding to smooth over all the corners and angles. There should be nothing actually harmful or dangerous in this design, and so you can get away with not doing this at all, but we all love sanding, right?

Step 9: Done!

Congratulations, you made yourself a wooden trough with tapered walls, and your cats happy. Or, as cats go, at least a little less malcontent. And of course, this design works well with all manners of creatures, including, but not limited to, dogs, guinea pigs and, possibly, birds.

I hope you enjoyed this Instructable. If you did, please consider voting for it in the Pallet Challenge. You might also want to check out the video that goes along with this. You can see Paw-L in action there.

Thanks for checking it out, and remember to be Inspired!

Oh, forgot to mention - it worked! No more spillage of the dry-food kind!

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