Introduction: Pallet Wood Tray

I've been wanting to make a pallet tray for my girl for quite a while but couldn't find the time. I glued up a few boards waaay back, planed them down, but never got to finish the rest. Last week, I finally got to it. Here's how we went about it.

For this instructable I used a LOT more tools than I really needed for the job, since I was cleaning out my toolshed at the same time. I'll list the tools I used in each step.

Step 1: Setting Up Your Boards

We'll need:

  • 5-7 boards
  • clamps
  • glue
  • a workbench/table with options to clamp your workpiece.
  • a (hand) planer. The longer the better.
  • (belt) sander

For this step we'll need between 5-7 boards/planks, depending on what size your pallet tray will be. The size determines if you can get the sides out of a single board, or if you need a board for each side. In any case, I used 3 boards for the bottom.

I don't have pictures of this step unfortunately, but it's pretty straight forward. I took 3 clean boards that matched up properly. Since I didn't have a jointer and no time to setup and mess with a router or table saw, I just carefully sanded the sides to keep them square. Then I glued and clamped them together.

After they were glued I used the longest hand planer that I had (bought in a yard sale) and started to plane the boards down. The length of the plane determines how straight your end result will be. If you use a smaller planer, electrical or manual, you'll still plane, but you'll follow the curvature of your workpiece, which is not what you'll want. You'll want to get your boards as straight as possible in this step.

To clamp the pieces down I used my workbench (you can find out about the MTI-workbench here) and some bench dogs. I made a few cam-clamps to help as well.

Step 2: Cutting Them Down to Size.

We'll need:

  • Saw (table saw or circle saw or whatever saw you like to use)

After the boards were done (and by now I had a small table saw) I put them through the table saw to clean the edges up properly. You don't really need a table saw for this step. Any kind of saw and some careful measuring will do the same thing. A table saw if just a handy way to go about it, but you can just as well use a circle saw with a (DIY) track guide. It's a hassle for me to setup my table saw. So I often use my circle saw anyway.

I made a box joint jig that unfortunately wasn't as accurate as I'd hoped, so I had to trim the edges down a few times. Initially, because I tried to use box joints, I had cut everything slightly oversize, so the fingers would overlap a bit. This meant I had a bit more sanding down to do in a later step, but this wasn't a big deal.

I'll probably make another iteration of the box joint jig with instructable later on once it works as it should.

Step 3: Creating the Handles

For this step we'll need:

  • Drill + a way to drill straight down (some kind of drill press setup)
  • A jig saw and/or router
  • Measuring tape

It goes without saying that you always need some way to measure, but since this is the first step I really had to lock down measurements, this is where I mention that you'll need a tape measure. To create the handle you measure the center of the boards, and add/distract several cm on each side to find positions to drill holes. Again, I used a drill press with a 22mm drill to drill the initial holes for the handles.

After the holes are drilled, you'll need to connect the 2 holes and cut out the space between them. There are several ways to do this. I tried it with a router because I can't make really straight cuts with a jig saw, so I thought that a router with the fence on (every router/circle saw comes with some kind of add-on fence) would help to route along a straight path. Unfortunately a router is fairly tricky to keep very straight all the time and it chips away wood very quickly, so start from the inside and work your way outside once you get more comfortable with how the router handles.

It would probably have been easier to cut the remaining wood out with a jig saw along some sort of guide rail clamped down. If I had to do the handles again, I'd probably use a jig saw instead.

After this I did a dry fit and measured out the fingers to cut on the box joint jig. Since this step failed I later had to cut the fingers off again (You can see the pictures for that in the previous step).

Step 4: Glue and Screw Together

For this step we'll need:

  • Glue
  • screw driver + screws
  • (counter sink drill bit)

I added counter sink drill bit as a tool because depending how far you want to take it you'll want to counter sink your screws. I planned to put dowels in after the glue had dried instead of the screws, so I measured if the head of the screws were wider than the dowels. Or rather, I picked screws that had heads that were no larger in diameter than the dowels I planned to use.

workflow for this step was quite simple:

  1. clamp workpiece
  2. drill pilot holes
  3. add screws
  4. unclamp
  5. unscrew (but leave enough sticking through so the screws will "slot" in their holes)
  6. add glue
  7. slot the workpieces back together and tighten the screws again.
  8. If needed, add some clamps

Step 5: Replacing the Screws for Dowels

For this step we'll need:

  • Screw driver
  • Drill bit the size of your dowels
  • wooden dowels
  • wood glue
  • saw (like a multitool or japanese saw)
  • (Wood putty)

Once the glue has dried you can remove the screws. I never remove all the screws in one side at once though. I take it 1 or 2 screws at a time, drill the holes big enough for the dowels, and once the dowels are glued in, take out the next few screws.

The sides were thicker than the bottom, so I used different rods to make dowels. The thicker ones were for the sides and handles, and the thinner ones were for the bottom. Like I just mentioned, my workflow was:

  1. Take out (couple of) screws in a side
  2. Drill out a hole big enough for a dowel
  3. Cut a dowel that's large enough to stick out a little bit
  4. Add glue to the dowel and hole
  5. Hammer the dowel in (gently to prevent splitting the wood)

If need be, add some wood putty around the dowels, and/or holes in the boards. At this stage I had sanded down the boards a few times. I had collected the sawdust and mixed with some wood glue made for good wood putty. I particularly wanted to close the nail holes in the bottom of the serving tray. If any food would spill, I wouldn't want it to leak, so I sealed all holes I could find with wood putty.

Once all the glue had dried we cut off the parts of the dowels that stick out flush with a japanese saw or multitool.

Step 6: Sanding and Rounding Everything Down

For this step we'll need:

  • Some way to clamp your workpiece without damaging it
  • power sanding tool (belt sander, but anything that sands will do)
  • router (Not required, but easy to evenly round the corners)
  • Files, chisels, small planes.

This step is pretty straight forward. It's mostly just a lot of sanding. I decided to round over the edges as well with the router. For the bottom of the tray and the front of the handles this was no problem, but for the inside parts this was more difficult. Especially on the rounded are of the handles. If your router strays off course just a little bit it takes a big bite out of your handle. Which I had to "fix" by manually grinding down the area with a file.

Next time I would either round those parts in advance, or just keep them straight.

Step 7: Finishing Up

For this step we'll need:

  • cloth to clean the saw dust
  • your favorite kind of stain (check for food safety)

I made a big mistake here. I didn't check in advance for food safety. Turns out it was okay though, so no harm done, but before you stain, make sure it's not toxic in some way.

I used an oil I bought in some random sale, gave a nice finish and protects the wood. I applied two coats and once dried/soaked into the wood, water didn't penetrate anymore.

There you go. A nice serving tray from pallet wood.