Introduction: Custom Tea Organizer
My wife loves tea. And I mean LOVES it. As such, we have an overabundance of tea boxes, spilling out of drawers and cabinets. It's time for a new solution.
We've tried other tea organizing products in the past, but they have never fit all of our needs. My criteria for our new tea organizer are:
- Big enough to hold the amount of tea we have
- Makes it easy to see the different types of tea
- Each slot is large enough to hold an entire box of tea bags
- Aesthetically pretty
After a decent amount of online research, I couldn't find something that fit all of these criteria. Due to the poor selection of options, I decided to design my own tea organizer. I hope you enjoy and perhaps draw some inspiration for a similar piece for your own tea situation!
- 1x8 common boards
- One 2'x4' sheet of 1/4" plywood
- Pack of corner brackets
- 1/4" wooden dowel
- Plastic containers
- Chop saw (optional)
- Circular saw
- Jig saw
- Pocket hole jig (optional)
- Wood glue
- (A table saw would be SO helpful for this project, but I don't have one)
Disclaimer: I have spent the past few years doing woodworking projects in a series of small apartments and rentals. I do not have a lot of tools and I do not have a big shop. I recently moved to a place with a garage which has allowed me to tackle some bigger projects. But I wanted to offer some encouragement to anyone thinking of tackling this project who doesn't have the best set up. You can do this project and many others with very minimal tools and space if you are creative and persistent. I used to only have a jig saw, and you could totally complete this build with just a jig saw and drill. Having the other tools makes it easier to get straight lines and cleaner edges, but its not impossible without them. Good luck!
Step 1: Design
In order to fulfill the four criteria, I knew the design would need to center around the containers used to hold the tea bags. I wanted to be able to transfer an entire new box of tea bags into the organizer easily and quickly. Each container would have its own slot, and be able to be clearly seen.
I thought I could make a pattern of interlocking slats that would create a grid of cubes, each the size to hold one container. A simple wooden frame around the outside would hold the grid together. I determined that a grid of 24 slots would be necessary. I also planned to have a bottom shelf, for additional storage. But in order to start determining how many boards to purchase, I needed to know the dimensions of the containers.
After a lot of internet sleuthing, I discovered these small plastic bins (see supplies list for Amazon link) that were the correct height and width to hold a tea bag, and the correct length to hold a whole tea box. With this determined, I began drafting my materials list, cut list, and overall dimensions.
Step 2: Cut Boards to Size
The first step was to cut the boards to size, both the outside frame (made out of 1x8 boards) and the grid (made out of a sheet of plywood). I had to plan carefully to make sure I could fit all of my grid panels in one sheet of plywood, but doing so saves material and money. Since this will be a nice piece in our home, I tried to pick a nice sheet of sanded plywood, not a cheap piece of OSB. Ideally the grid would be made out of hardwood, but doing so would dramatically increase the cost, as well as the difficulty of the grid. Plus, the plywood is thin and lightweight and helps keep the unit down in size and weight.
For the grid, 3 panels were long (for the vertical slats) and 6 were short (for the horizontal slats). All panels were the same width.
Side Note: I haven't included my exact measurements for this project, partly because I forget what most of them were, and partly because I built this piece to fit in a specific space in our home. You should modify it to fit your needs. However, the individual slots in the grid were roughly 4"x4" and the overall dimensions of the frame were roughly 18"x34". The width of the panels in the grid were determined simply by working backwards after determining that I needed to cut 9 panels from one sheet of plywood. There was a fair bit of calculations, as I had to factor in the added thickness of the plywood and the kerf of my saw blade. But drawing lots of diagrams and measuring everything twice definitely paid off, as everything fit together perfectly in the end.
Step 3: Slice Some Slits in the Slats
The next step was to cut slits in the grid panels that would allow me to interlock them together. This took a fair bit of precise measuring, as you need each slit to be the thickness of the plywood. Each slit goes halfway through the width of the panel. The long panels got 6 slits (one for each horizontal panel), and the short panels each got 3 slits (one for each vertical panel).
A pro tip for cutting plywood is to lay tape where your cut will be, to help prevent chip out.
This was the most difficult step in the build for me, since I only had a circular saw and a jig saw to help me make the slits. A table saw would be perfect for this step, with a cross-cut sled. However, I don't own a table saw (yet) and had to make do. It's a lot of cuts and becomes very repetitive. My end result was fairly messy, and my lines weren't perfectly straight. This meant that I had a lot of fine-tuning and clean up work to do with a file and sandpaper. I had erred on the side of "too small" rather than "too big", so I needed to take more material off the edges of my cuts to expand the slits to the thickness of the plywood sheet.
Step 4: Assemble the Grid
Once all of the panels have their slits, you can interlock them together. Here are some pictures of how it all fit together. Since we've only cut the panels halfway through, when they interlock, the vertical and horizontal panels all arrive at the same width.
I should also mention that the bottom horizontal shelf was a bit tricky. I decided to let the longer, vertical panels extend slightly past the bottom shelf, and the slit is simply very close to the bottom of the vertical panels (see pictures in step 3). Just take your time with those slits, since they are more fragile and could snap if you aren't careful.
Step 5: Frame Design
The next aspect was how the frame would come together and how the grid would be mounted within the frame. I went through several different designs, including one with rabbets cut into the frame that the grid panels would slide into (another idea that would be possible with a table saw, or a router). But I instead opted for a series of pegs that would hold up the grid, similar to how adjustable shelves work in a cabinet.
I measured and drilled holes in the frame boards, and cut pieces of dowel that would stick out as tabs for the grid shelves to rest on. It's not the cleanest design, but it was easy to do and required very little work to complete.
Next I drilled pocket holes to attach the top of the frame to the sides. This helps give the frame a clean appearance from the outside, hiding any hardware from view. I figured it was unnecessary to add pocket holes to the bottom, since I could simply drive screws up from underneath and no one would see them.
Step 6: Sanding and Staining
These steps are annoying, but are important to finish a project and make it look good. I sanded the frame pieces down to 220 grit, but left the plywood as is. You don't want to sand plywood too much as the interior layers start to be exposed and you lose the nicer exterior layer you are paying for!
I used a stain that matched some other woodworking projects I already had displayed in the house.
Step 7: Assembly & Mounting
Once all of the pieces are cut, sanded, and stained, it is time to assemble!
Due to how everything fit together, it became important to assemble everything in the correct order, or certain screws wouldn't be accessible. I first set up the grid, by interlocking all of the panels. Then I screwed the pocket hole joints together in the frame, as they wouldn't be accessible with the grid in place or the dowels in their holes. Next the bottom of the frame could be attached, leaving us with a rectangular frame. The dowels were then glued in place with some wood glue into their holes. Once these dried, I slid the grid into the frame and rested it on the dowels. Everything fit perfectly!
Regarding mounting, I planned on attaching the unit to the wall. I picked up some simple, black, metal brackets from the store and attached them to the inside of the top of the frame. I figured that a container of tea will normally be filling all of the slots, so the brackets won't be visible most of the time. The unit isn't that heavy, and will only be holding bags of tea, so the brackets didn't have to be super heavy duty. However, since there were no studs where I planned to mount it, I made sure to drive some drywall anchors into the wall before attaching the brackets to the wall.
Step 8: Final Thoughts
This project came out amazing and fulfills all 4 of my criteria. It can hold 24 full boxes of tea, plus a shelf for packages of loose leaf tea and supplies. The teas are clearly visible, and you can locate your favorite brew with a quick scan. Each slot and container can hold an entire box of tea, so any new tea box that is brought home can be quickly added to the organizer by simply opening the box and dumping the entire contents into a container - no more splitting a single box of tea into multiple containers. And I think it looks pretty great too! The color matches my other projects, including a wine rack made out of pallet wood, which I built using a design I found on Instructables!
This piece looks great in our home and is a serious help in our quest to clean up the stacks of tea boxes in our kitchen. I hope this inspires you to be creative and design some custom pieces that fit your home. And to go brew yourself a fresh pot of tea!
Step 9: PS: Choose B Corp!
Clearly my wife and I enjoy a wide variety of teas. However, one common element among many of them is that they come from certified B Corporations. These companies are working to make the world a better place, by having ethical supply chains, paying their workers fair wages, and focusing on their environmental impact. Stash, Pukka, Numi, Traditional Medicinals, and Bigelow are all examples of B Corps selling tea that are found in many grocery stores. Next time you go shopping for tea, look for a B Corp, and you can help make the world a better place!