Introduction: DIY Mid-Century File Trays

About: I am a self taught woodworker, and I learned everything I know from watching YouTube videos. I enjoy it so much I started my own channel. Go check out Jonny Builds and please subscribe! I make a wide range of …

File trays (or paper trays if you will) are normally boring and plastic. Let's change that. I wanted something cool and functional for the desk at my day job. I came up with this mid-century modern style walnut & maple three-tiered hardwood tray. My workspace was immediately made more classy. Thanks for checking out this project. Shoot me any questions you might have, and check out the video for further details. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel to see all of my projects. Thanks!

Step 1: Milling the Boards to Proper Thickness & Rough Dimensions.

I had some left over 6/4 maple and 6/4 walnut, so that is what I used. You can use any species of wood you'd like. You could even build this project on the cheap using construction grade pine. I used a piece of walnut that was about 18 inches long by 5 inches wide. The maple was also about 5 inches wide, and I used a couple pieces that totaled about 5 feet in length.

  1. I used my jointer to get one flat edge and face on all the boards. You can skip this step if you don't have a jointer by using just a hand plane or planer sled.
  2. The walnut ended up about 1 1/2 inch thick. Set your table saw fence to the same dimension, and rip (4) 18 inch long strips. These will be the legs.
  3. Cut the maple into 15 inch long blanks on a chop saw.
  4. Resaw 1/4 inch planks for the tray bottoms. You'll need 6 at 5" wide. I used my table saw, but only because my bandsaw was acting up. A bandsaw is the preferred method, and you'll save a lot of material for future projects this way.
  5. Resaw 1/2 inch planks for the tray sides and backs. You'll need 5.
  6. Plane all the tray bottoms to even thickness (I ended up at 3/16"). Plane all the tray sides and back to even thickness (Mine were 7/16ths)

Step 2: Building the Trays.

  1. Rip the 6 boards for the tray bottoms to 4 1/2 inches wide.
  2. Glue the 6 tray bottom boards up into 3 panels for the three trays. I used painters tape on the glue seam, and then covered with a scrap board and weights to prevent bowing.
  3. Rip the tray sides and backs into 2 1/4 inch strips.
  4. Rip a 3/16" groove to fit the tray bottoms into all the tray sides and backs about 1/4" up from the bottom edge. Just nibble away bit by bit until the tray bottoms fit good, but not too tight.
  5. Tape up 3 sets of two tray sides so that the bottom groove faces inwards. Draw a quarter round radius on the front of the tray sides.
  6. Cut these out on the bandsaw.
  7. Tape together the 3 sets of tray sides to sand smooth and even all at once.
  8. Cross cut the tray bottoms. 1 at 12 inches, 1 at 13 inches, and 1 at 14 inches.
  9. Insert a tray bottom into a tray side. Using a tray back mark the length of the tray side. Cut this on a miter sled at a 45 degree angle like you would a picture frame. Repeat these steps for the three sides of the tray for all three trays.
  10. I like to use the tape method for these types of glue ups. Add a few strips of tape to the outside of the two seams.
  11. Flip the trays sides over and add a bead of glue in the tray bottom groove.
  12. Insert the tray bottom, and fold the tray sides around. Clamp in place and wipe away any excess glue.
  13. Repeat for remaining trays.
  14. I used a palm router to add a 1/4 inch round over to the top of the tray sides and back.

Step 3: Building the Legs.

If I had to do this over again I would work from the top joint down on the legs. What I did was use a 10 degree angle for the back leg, and a 30 degree angle for the front leg. That makes the top joining angle some funky unknown angle that you have to try to match on the miter gauge. My top joint wasn't perfect, and I had to fill in the gaps with epoxy and saw dust. I recommend cutting the leg pieces to the top joint angle of your choice, and then cross cutting the bottom to sit flat using a square. I am sorry if that is confusing. Below I will walk you through the steps to do it the way I did since that is what my pictures document, and its a bit easier to explain.

  1. Set your saw blade at a 10 degree angle. Cut two of the leg pieces at this angle cutting off as little material as possible.
  2. Set the saw blade to 30 degrees, and cut the remaining two legs pieces at this angle again making sure to remove as little material as possible.
  3. I used my cross cut sled to have a 90 degree flat surface to reference off of. Lay out the 10 degree leg in the back, and the 30 degree leg to the front flat against the a 90 degree edge as shown in the picture. Mark where these pieces meet on both legs.
  4. Find the appropriate angle to correspond with your marks on the leg pieces. Cut each leg to length.
  5. Set your saw blade to half the width of the leg pieces.
  6. Cut out the half lap joints on the table saw to the width of the joining piece. Its important to mark which piece is which to ensure you cut out the right side.
  7. I don't have a flat kerf saw blade, so I had to clean up the joints with a chisel as shown.
  8. Glue and clamp the angled half lap joints together.

Step 4: Final Assembly and Finishing.

  1. Sand the legs and trays up to 220 grit.
  2. I used two 3/4 inch plywood scraps the place the bottom tray. I used CA glue (super glue) to hold the trays in play while I drilled holes for the dowels. The next two trays were spaced 2 1/4 inch above the next one below.
  3. Mark out the dowel hole location by measuring to half the height of the joining tray, and then measure to the center of the leg piece. Center a 1/2 forstner bit on these marks and drill a hole that goes through the legs and 1/4 inch into the tray sides.
  4. Add glue to the dowel hole. Insert a half inch dowel (I used maple) though the leg, and into the tray side. Each tray gets two dowels on either side. Repeat this step 11 more times.
  5. Flush cut the dowels once dry, and sand the entire file tray.
  6. Add finish. I used two coats of clear danish oil.

Thanks for checking this project out! This isn't the most practical thing I have built, but its super cool and very functional. Check out my other instrucable projects and videos on YouTube.