Introduction: Make Some Nice TV Trays

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first to…

Pictured is one of a set of TV trays I made for my wife.  Most sets contain four trays.  She wanted six.

Materials required are--

1/2 inch A-D grade fir plywood
Plastic countertop laminate
Plastic laminate adhesive
Good hardwood of your choice for legs and trim
Hardwood dowels
Wood glue
Aluminum bar stock
Brass woodscrews
Wood and sheetmetal screws
Varnish or shellac

Tools required are--

A tablesaw or a radial arm saw
A router with a corner rounding bit and a laminate trimming bit
A bandsaw or a sabre saw.
A drill
A chisel for scraping
Screwdrivers (straight and offset straight)
An inexpensive paint brush for applying laminate adhesive
A hammer and a wood block
"C" clamps

Step 1: Making the Tray Top

Commercially available TV trays always seem a little small to be really useful in my estimation.  I made these TV trays 16 1/4 inches by 22 1/2 inches (finished) on top.  This provides a nice working surface for more than just eating in front of the television.  My wife does all manner of projects on them.

Begin by cutting pieces of 1/2 inch plywood 14 3/4 inches by 21 inches, one piece for each TV tray you want to make.  Some solid wood trim will bring the tops up to the dimensions mentioned in the paragraph above, but that is for a later step.  The edges of the plywood should be smooth.  There should be no splintering or kicking up of the grain on the top "A" surface of the plywood.  I chose to have the "A" side up so the plastic laminate would be glued to a nice smooth surface. 

Step 2: Attachment Pieces

Two pieces are needed for attaching the legs to the tray top on each tray.  Begin with a piece of hardwood 3/4 inch in thickness and 1 1/2 inches wide.  Make cuts at 15 degrees that are 2 1/2 inches apart.  I had some pieces of beech wood that I used.  It was well cured and has a nice tight grain structure with no knots.

Step 3: Prepare and Fasten to the Tray Top

The photo shows one of the pieces that attaches the legs to the underside of the tray.  I did this project a few years ago, so I cannot show photos of the steps in progress.  With a rounding bit in a router give the outer edges of the attachment pieces a nice finished look.  Drill for woodscrews to go through the plywood tray into the attachment pieces.  Countersink the screwheads so they are flush with the top surface.  You may also add some wood glue to make them doubly secure.  Fasten one attachment piece near each of the rear corners of the tray top. 

Step 4: Attaching the Laminate

Big box home improvement stores have some plastic laminate in stock, but it may not be the color or pattern you want, and you will certainly have to buy a full 4' x 8' sheet.  Find a cabinet shop that has some leftovers from which you may choose, or will order the pattern you want.  There really are dozens and dozens of different finishes available in laminates.  Hopefully you will not need to order a lot more than you will use.

You can cut plastic laminate with any circular saw blade.  Use a blade with as many teeth as possible.  Cut so the teeth of the blade come into the finished surface rather than exit it.  This is in order to reduce chipping the finished surface as much as possible.  Cut laminate pieces oversize for at least a 1/8 inch overhang on each side of the tray top.  A little more than that will give you extra protection against damage to the finished tray top area from chipping.     

Step 5: Painting on the Cement

Paint the top surface of the plywood and the underside of the laminate with plastic laminate cement. You want a smooth, even application on both surfaces.  It is great if you can apply the cement with a power sprayer, but most of us do not have the ability to do that.  The best home procedure is to use an inexpensive paint brush about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Dip the brush into the cement about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Paint an area about 2 inches in length with one stroke. Begin about 2 inches in from the edge and paint toward the edge (black arrows). Do not attempt to brush it out by going back and forth with the brush as you might do with actual paint. Repeat this process until you have covered the width of the surface. Then begin about 2 inches inward from where the brush first touched the surface and paint back toward where there is already glue.  See the partial brush stroke in the 2nd row.  Keep doing this until you have covered all of both mating surfaces. Set them aside and allow them to dry completely.  Do not allow them to touch each other yet.  You will know they are fully dry when you can touch the glue surface with your finger or with paper, and nothing sticks to the dried glue or feels tacky.

Step 6: Positioning the Laminate Before Adhesion

Plastic laminate cement is a contact cement.  When the dry surfaces of the two pieces to be joined touch each other, they will bond instantly and permanently.  I will give my favorite strategy for controlling how and when the surfaces mate.  You will not be able to move or adjust anything once they touch. 

Some recommend dowel rods to keep the glue surfaces apart until they are ready to be mated, but dowels can roll out of position.  If they do roll, the laminate moves out of its desired position, too.  I prefer to use sheets of newspaper.  In the graphic, the rectangle is the plywood tray top (side view).  The heavy black line is the laminate.  The blue line is a larger piece of newspaper.  The gold line is a shorter piece of newspaper.   

Step 7: Letting the Surfaces Mate

Clamp the laminate to the plywood where you see the red arrows.  Be certain there is about 1/8 inch of overhang on all sides of the tray top.  Gently lift the opposite end of the laminate where you see it curved upward in the graphic.  Remove the shorter piece of newspaper (gold line).  Allow the laminate to come into contact with the plywood.  The laminate is now set in place and will not move. 

Step 8: Mate the Rest of the Laminate

Remove the clamps. Lift the end of the laminate where the clamps were. Remove the rest of the newspaper. While holding the laminate upward with one hand, use the palm of your other hand to roll the laminate smoothly down onto the plywood where the laminate meets the plywood.  See the red arrow.  This is so there are no air pockets caught under the laminate. 

If you have a hand roller, you can go over the whole surface of the laminate to make certain the glued surfaces are in full contact. I always used a small wooden block and a hammer.  I moved the block over the entire surface of the laminate while tapping on the block with the hammer. 

Step 9: Trim the Laminate

The easiest and best way to trim the overhang from the laminate is with a trimming bit in your router.  These have a bearing collar that assures a flush cut.  It is possible to file the excess laminate away with a hand file, but this is a lot of work and the results are not as precise. 

Step 10: Edge Treatment

The edges may be finished any way you wish.  I framed the tray top in solid hardwood to match the legs and the pattern in the tray top.  This meant making pieces about 9/16 inch by 3/4 inch, cutting them to length, mitering them, and gluing them around the edge of the tray top.  Then I scraped the top edge until it was even and smooth with the top surface of the laminate.  This is a slow and careful effort.  I did not want to damage the finished surface of the laminate.  Finally, I rounded the corners with a router. 

Step 11: Legs

Four legs are required for each TV tray.  They are from stock 3/4 inch by 1 1/2 inch.  Make each 28 inches long.  Round one end of each leg with a bandsaw or a jig or sabre saw.  The "X" marks the center.  The red arrow indicates the radius.  Round all edge corners with a router as was done with the leg attachment pieces in step 3.  You may cut the bottom end of the legs at a 20 degree angle as shown in the graphic.  This is optional, but makes a nice touch.

Step 12: Attach Two Legs

Drill a hole at the end of each of two of the legs for a #8 woodscrew.  The holes should be on the center of the radius used to round the upper ends of the legs.  Attach the legs to the inside of the attachment pieces with brass screws.  The legs should mount as close to the underside of the tray table as possible.  Place a small washer between the leg and the attachment piece.  I used 1 1/4 inch #8 flat head brass screws.  Counter sink the heads so their tops are flush with the surface of the legs.  See the red arrow.   

Step 13: Assemble Legs and Dowels

The other two legs are joined together in a framework joined with three hardwood dowels 1/2 inch in diameter.  I drilled all of the way through the legs to mount them on the dowels.  One of the dowels is on the center of the radius used to round the leg ends.  See the previous step.  Measure from the center of this first dowel 16 1/4" for the center of the second dowel.  The third dowel is 8 inches on center from the second dowel. 

The photo shows the finished TV tray table folded for storage against a vertical surface.  For the length of the dowel pieces, measure between the inner faces of the two legs already attached.  Allow for the thickness of a metal washer on each side where the legs cross when the tray table is opened and standing.  These washers prevent the finished legs from rubbing against one another and scratching the finish.  Glue the dowels into the legs.  Sand the ends of the dowels flush with the surface of the legs.

Step 14: Join the Leg Framework to the First Two Legs

The legs mounted to the attachment pieces in step 12 with flat head brass screws are now fastened to the leg framework with #8 brass round head screws 1 1/4 inch long.  Drill holes for #8 brass round head woodscrews through each leg in the leg framework.  Drill 14 inches from the bottom end of the leg framework.  Drill holes to fit the threads of the screws at 14 inches from the bottom end on the legs attached first, but do not let the hole penetrate through the outer finished surface.  Align the leg framework with the legs mounted to the tray top earlier.  Insert two screws. Now the legs can fold so the TV tray can be stored flat.  But, the tray table is not yet ready to stand by itself.

Step 15: Travel Limiter

The travel of the leg framework needs to be limited so the TV tray can stand when in use and so the legs slide nicely to close and to open.  I bent a piece of 1/8 inch by 3/4 inch aluminum bar and screwed it under the tray table.   Perhaps this one piece centered would have been sufficient.  I wanted to keep the leg assembly from twisting, so I added an "L"-shaped piece on the opposite side.  The screws are short sheetmetal screws turned into place with an offset screwdriver. 

Step 16: Mask and Varnish

The hardwood parts of the TV tray table should be given a finish.  Mine were varnished with a friend's sprayer.  It was important not to allow the laminate's finished surface to receive any varnish.  I used masking tape and paper to cover the laminate, but not the wood.  The tray tables were taken apart for varnishing. 

In the photo you see the TV tray table in use.