Introduction: Patio Caddy

One of my sisters and her husband are kind enough to open their lake cabin (in northern Wisconsin) to the entire family for the Independence Day holiday week. This year there were 19 people in their space for a couple of days… As indicated in some of my other posts, I like to make useful things to express my appreciation for people putting up with the noise and chaos of my family with three teenage girls.

Over the winter I was thinking about what to make for them for this event. Considering the disarray generally present on the patio table at meal times, the constant threat of wind blowing things around and the hassles of getting plates, utensils, napkins and condiments from the kitchen to the table and the square footage occupied by all this stuff, I decided on a caddy to organize, transport and store all of those things.

I had some dog-eared rough cedar fence boards cluttering up my shop for a different project that hasn’t happened yet and decided to use a couple of them for this little project. All joints are butted with water-proof glue. I had originally thought to make this from a hardwood like ash; but, the likelihood of this being left outside in the elements is pretty high...

I finished with ebony stain and a couple of coats of wax.


Cedar fence boards

Waterproof glue

Sand paper




Table saw

Band saw

Miter saw


Sanding block



Step 1: Determining Dimensions

I wanted one side of the caddy to hold common condiments and utensils, the other side holds plates, napkins and salt/pepper. I found a condiment package at a big box store with same sized bottles for ketchup, mustard and relish, the rest of the stuff came from a dollar store. Paper plates come in a few different sizes – it’s better to make it to accommodate the largest plates you think will be used.

I mention the stuff that goes inside the caddy at this point as the dimensions of the contents determined the dimensions of the caddy (to some extent).

I planned for 6" napkins , condiment bottles slightly larger than what I
had (they buy ketchup in the quart size) at least 1.5" for salt and pepper and as much room as you can squeeze in for utensils.

Final dimensions were ~13” wide x 11-1/2” x 14” tall.

Step 2: Prepping the Fence

Cedar fence boards have some variability in thickness and are rough. They also tend to be cupped.

After cutting the boards to rough length, I laid them on a flat surface to determine which side was convex and marked that on each piece. For the most part, the boards sat pretty solid with the concave side down. With the concave side down, I ran the boards on the table saw to square the sides with the “down side” and adjusted the width to slightly less than 2x the max height of my table saw blade.

I attached the fence extension to my table saw, placed the down side against the fence and ‘resawed’ the rough part of the convex side off and flatten the side. After squaring up the ‘upside’ on all the boards, I turned them over and cut the rough from the other (down) side and flattened them. I then chose the thinnest of the boards as a guide to trim them all to the same thickness. (I started with boards that were pretty flat to begin with, these ended up at just under 1/2” thick).

I made the inside dividers from cut-off pieces from the other boards, again using the table saw to a thickness of ¼”

Step 3: Making the Handle

The center vertical piece was built by edge gluing three board, squaring one end and cutting the other end to 14” on the miter saw. I then found the center of the middle board and measured 6” to one side. I ran this though the table saw and then adjusted the fence to cut the other side at 12” (giving me 6” on each side of the center line.

The hand slot is then cut by measuring down from the top 1-3/4” with a 4” long horizontal line to mark the center of the handle cut out. I used 1-1/4” drill bit in a press to cut the slot (multiple plunge holes) and then a chisel and file to clean up and straighten the line. Make sure your chisels are very sharp, the cedar fibers will bend over instead of being sliced off. Use a file or sand paper to soften the edges and help keep slivers down. I then cut the corners of the top to reduce some of the bulky feel and provide a little more interest than just horizontal and vertical lines. Care should be taken to leave enough wood on either side of the handle to reduce the risk of the handle piece cracking off – another reason for the grain to run vertically.

Step 4: Assembly

To make the bottom, I glued 12”x 5” boards to the bottom of the center piece – this left an end grain strip down the center of the bottom of the box. I did this as I think the fibers of the cedar will resist shearing better than pulling out on the end grain (and no one is going to look at the bottom). And this is a semi rustic piece…

The plate divider (7” wide total) and sides (7” wide plus the thickness of the bottom of the box) are 13+” boards edge glued to get to the desired width. You could glue three pieces together and rip down the center to make the sides or glue them separately.

I tend to use more clamping force than maybe necessary, and the edge glued boards sometimes want to buckle. I found a nice group of friends with the <$2 4” bar clamps at HF. My process is to lay two parallel 2x3s perpendicular to the glue line and then clamp on both edges of each board before bearing down with the lateral clamping force (see pic).

I cut the side that holds the condiment bottles (front) and utensils to sit 4” above the inside bottom, straight across the entire side.

One of the side pieces was then clamped to the bottom/center glue up and scribed to provide the profile for the band saw cut-out (4” above bottom for the front side) and 7” up from the bottom of the back side.

The 7” section runs about 1-3/4” out from the center and then drops to 5” for the napkin spot. I laid both sides together and cut out what I didn’t need on the band saw. At this point, the napkin side is done, the ‘spice’ side still need only rises 3” above the bottom (salt and pepper shakers tend to not be too tall), so the section after the plate vertical is taken down to 3” instead of the 5” for the napkin side.

The back end piece is ripped to 5” and then decreased to 3” about 7” in. This accommodates 6” napkins with ½” side and ¼” interior divider.

The utensil and spice dividers were placed in the middle of the available space.

The assembly sequence:

  1. Glue up all boards for width.
  2. Size, shape and cut handle slot in center piece
  3. Glue bottom pieces perpendicular to the center vertical (on the opposite end from the handle) – sandwich the vertical between the horizontal boards.
  4. Mark and cut the sides
  5. Cut the plate divider
  6. Glue the sides and the plate divider at the same time to the bottom/handle assembly.
  7. Glue on the Front and back pieces and condiment/utensil divider.
  8. Glue in the utensil and spice dividers.
  9. Stain
  10. Seal

Step 5: More Assembly?

Two more steps:

11. Give it away

12. Make another one (or three)

The caddy was a hit with the attendees at the cabin. I came away with requests for two more, one
configured for paper towels instead of napkins – better for bar-b-que and camper camping, I guess. I also plan to make a fourth for one of my friends with a new deck - using redwood I salvaged from his old deck.

If you decide to build one (or more) please share pics I'd like to see what others do with this.

Thanks for reading.

Step 6: Variant #1

October 8, 2020

I finally got around to making the requested variant designed for paper towels, instead of napkins - that's better for fish fries, evidently.

Barbecue Challenge

Participated in the
Barbecue Challenge