Introduction: Stackable Pencil Trays

My wife is an artist and, as many of you may well know, art supplies can be quite an investment. She asked me to create a set of trays to store her colored pencils safely. She can now organize her pencils however she likes, with them spread out in a workable area that is still big enough to let her see what she has. For those creative and visual individuals like my wife, you know how important it is for her to be able to see her supplies all together. When she is not using her pencils, the trays stack together to save space and frustration (there's nothing more frustrating than trying to store odd shaped containers from all different brands/companies). Now she knows her supplies are safe and at the ready when she sits down to create.

Tape Measure
Speed Square
Table Saw
Miter Saw
Router/Router Table
Band Saw (or a coping saw)
Belt Clamp
Complex (not), hand-drawn, chicken-scratch plans on scrap paper (see photo). LOL

White board (6ft. x 8in. x 3/4in.)
Oak Plywood (2ft. x 4ft. x 1/4in.)
Poplar (12in. x 3in. x 1/4in.)
Wood Glue
Spray Adhesive
Painter's Tape
Spray Lacquer

Cut List:
(for two trays)
White Board:
4 - 17.5in. x 1in. x 3/4in.
4 - 9.5in. x 1in. x 3/4in.
10 - 8in. x 1/4in. x 1/2in.

2 - 15.5in. x 8.5in. x 1/4in.

Step 1: First Cuts

So, first off, we are going to cut off a couple chunks off the full board. I wanted to make sure the end was squared up so I cut a sliver off the end of the board. We now need a piece cut to 17 1/2 in. and a piece cut to 9 1/2 in. I used a cross cutting jig made for my table saw (made in 5 mins with some scrap).

Next, we want to cut the two smaller boards into 1 in strips, which was made short work of by my table saw.

Now for the Oak plywood. We need a piece that is 15 1/2 in. x 8 1/2in. We need the extra for when we cut a 1/4in rabbet into the strips in the next step. Our first cut is 15 1/2in x 2ft., then that piece will give us two 8 1/2in pieces.

Please use caution when cutting small strips. A guard and push stick are always a good idea!

Step 2: Dado and Miter Cuts

More caution is advised!

This involves a complicated cut with smaller pieces. Use your better judgment to keep you safe.

Now we want to cut a rabbet into the 1in strips 1/4in from the bottom. So I used my speed square to measure the blade height at 1/4in, set my fence to 1/4in as well, then ran all 8 strips through on the long side. I found that by moving my fence over just one tooth of the blade over my strips fit snugly onto the oak ply. With the saw off, I just eyeball it to line up the fence so the saw blade will run right next to the previous cut. Run all 8 pieces through again. Make sure you have all the pieces oriented in the same direction, you want there to be 1/4in. on the bottom half of the strip. Also if you have a thin remnants of wood in the rabbet, just use a small flat head screw driver to clean that out (fancy tools not needed).

Now we can cut the 45 degree miters. I used my miter saw set to 45 degrees. I suggest doing some test cuts to make sure its as close to 45 deg. as can be, or the joints of the box will be slightly misaligned. Also, make sure to cut with the rabbet facing out and cutting both sides of the strip with the miter facing outward.

When done cutting all 8 pieces you can match 2 long and 2 short to make two rectangle boxes. To help line up the boxes, I clamped my framing square to my workbench. With any luck or pure skill you got a perfect box. Mine was good enough! meh!

Step 3: Glue Up and Clamp

First, do a dry fit to make sure all is good and all the pieces are oriented the same way with a wider band at the top and shorter on the bottom.

Spread a thin layer of wood glue in the rabbet and fit onto the ply. Repeat for all pieces. Once all sides are glued with the ply in the middle, press it into the framing square to line it all up. I used tape on one box and a belt clamp on the other. I would say that I liked the belt clamp for being able to press the joints a lot tighter together. But the tape worked just about as good.

Drying time...

Step 4: Joys of Splines

This was a first for me! So lots of mistakes were made, but a lot was learned, and most importantly, all was covered up!

More Advice to be Safe! High blade! Please BE SAFE!!

Splines are made by cutting into the corner of the box. I made my spline jig to fit over my fence, to move around easily. With the box top facing outward I first raised the blade to what I thought would be a good height - just eyeballing it with the box there to figure out depth. Then I lined the box up to cut just ever so slightly closer to the bottom of the box. Run that cut for each corner of the box, being sure to keep the top facing outward so your cuts all end up in the right places. For my splines, I chose to grab a small piece of Poplar. You can get really fancy and decorative with splines, and choose wood with more contrast and all that. Fun stuff!

I cut small triangles out of the Poplar using the band saw. The triangles need to be bigger than the space they will fill. Glue them up and insert in the rabbets created. You can see that I clamped mine with some spring clamps. When dry, trim them off with the band saw. You can also see where I had to fill some of the space with wood filler. Like I said, mistakes were made. Lessons were learned. lol

Now that the holes are filled, ahem, one way or another... sand the splines to be flush and smooth with the tray. This is the perfect time to do an all over sand, too. Sanding... and more sanding...

Step 5: Making Stackable

On to the Routing table!

With lots of testing and patience this will turn out really good!

The way these boxes stack is by cutting a small rabbet on the top of the boxes and a wider rabbet on the bottom. So for my boxes I am cutting a 1/4in by 1/4in rabbet on the top and a 1/8in deep by 3/4in wide on the bottom. This is made easy with the speed square. For both the top and bottom cut I used a 3/8in straight bit. On the top cut I raised the bit to 1/4in then measured from the front of the bit back 1/4in, set the fence there. After some test runs with scrap, run both of the box tops though.

The bottom is a bit different, we need to do a plunge cut near the edge so it doesn't show on the outside. So I set the fence back 1/4in from the back of the bit. Then set the guards on the fence 1/4in from the bit on both sides to act a start and stop for the box. Test and practice to get the best results!

One of the problems I ran into after both the top and bottom of the boxes were routed out was that the corners on the top were pointy and the bottom was round. To fix this I just used a piece of sand paper wrapped around a 2x2 scrap. With the corners rounded on the top the boxes stack nicely.

Step 6: Cutting Out and Gluing the Spacers

Just as a note: When I measured my wife's pencils, I decided that about every 1in equals about 3 pencils. My wife wanted five slots that held nine pencils, so that would be four spacers at three inches. Thus the size of the box! Your box may be divided differently, if you choose.

The band saw seems to be the easiest way to make the spacers but a table saw could be used if you are very careful!

For these spacers I just used the waste from when we cut the 1in strips at the beginning. We are looking to get our spacers to be 1/4in wide x 1/2in tall. On my band saw table, I set up a fence with a block of wood (mine didn't come with a factory fence) 1/4in away from the blade. After running enough of the scraps through to get about 10 spacers, I moved the fence over to be 1/2in away from the blade and ran the pieces again. I do want to note that, in my experience, it is best to try to run the flat side of wood on the fence because (for me at least) the band saw cuts kinda wacky. Also after all the pieces are to size some sanding is needed to get the saw marks off. Measure and cut the spacers to 8 inches long. Once again it is better to cut them a little longer and sand them down to size. For this sizing and even the sanding, I held my sander upside down,running the ends on the sander until they fit.

Time to measure out the spacing of your spacers. Since our spacers are 1/4in and we need 3in, we are going to measure from one side 3 1/4in, four times. Starting from the left, I measured 3 1/4in, then marked a line to the right showing where the spacer needed to go.(see picture 6)

YAY! more glue

But before that make sure you lay out all your pieces how you want them. Then spread glue on one at a time with your finger. I tried to get as much of the glue off as to not have any ooze out, it seemed good enough just to press them and hold for a minute. After an hour or two they were good.

Step 7: To Stain or Not to Stain

By no means, am I good at this, but I think it turned out pretty good, nonetheless.

As far as I know, staining is just applying a bunch and wiping it off again. Just had to get into every knook 'n' corner and wipe it away.

After a couple of hours, it was time to put a few coats of lacquer on there. I use gloss spray lacquer, adding another layer about every 20 to 30 minutes.

You could do just lacquer if you wanted, or paint them, etc.

Step 8: Final Touches

The only thing left is to add in some felt to cushion the pencils. Originally, I thought self adhesive felt would be easiest, but I ended up going this way. Just cut the pieces to fit in each section. Spray a thin coat of spray adhesive to the felt and apply to the tray.

Then add all the colors!

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