Tatami-Inspired Cutting Board/Serving Tray

Introduction: Tatami-Inspired Cutting Board/Serving Tray

About: An engineer by trade. I love to tinker, design, and build things. I thought it might be fun to share some of the projects I have done with the Instructables community. My Motto: Don't buy it, make it!


One of my sisters (lets call her Jane) is getting married in the next few months and as part of the bachelorette party, my oldest sister (lets call her Sarah) is hosting a big fancy dinner thing. Now you need to understand Sarah, she is the kind of person who goes big for family events. Cooking dinner for thanksgiving? Obviously two turkeys, a ham, and perhaps a chicken are necessary. Only 300 cookies made at Christmas? Ruined holiday. A few weeks back Sarah came to me asking if I could make her a cutting board/serving tray for cheeses and other finger foods for the bachelorette dinner event. She wanted it to be 2 ft by 4ft..... At this point I slowly explained to her the difference between a table and a serving tray and managed to scale things down a bit. She gave me alot of freedom on it so I decided to make a series of large cutting boards that could be joined together to form a larger tray, if desired.

The Design:

With this general working idea, I set out to design something. I thought about making several cutting boards that joined together like puzzle pieces but this didn't seem like it would fit Sarah's style. I then remembered about a Japanese method of laying out Tatami mats. Tatami mats are a type of mat used as flooring in traditional style Japanese rooms (I believe, I'm no expert haha). There is a specific way to lay out the mats so that you avoid having four corners meeting at one point. Each mat has a length to width ratio of 2:1. Depending on how many mats you are fitting together there are specific patterns you can follow to achieve the traditional orientation. (see the picture if this isn't clear.)

I decided to make three separate cutting boards with the 2:1 ratio and use magnets to allow them to join into one larger solid tray. The magnets would be placed in counter sunk holes in the sides and then hidden with a thin wood veneer.


- some scrap white oak and cherry boards I had lying around for the cutting boards.

- Walnut edge band veneer (pretty cheap off amazon)

- Small magnets


Table Saw



Drill Press

Forstner Bits

Orbital Sander and sand paper

Combination Squre

Dowel Markers

Titebond III

Danish Oil

Step 1: Individual Cutting Boards

First thing to do is get your individual boards cut out and squared up.

Following the 2:1 ratio I decided on a board length of 18" and width of 9".

- First use your chop saw or circular saw to cut the boards to rough length (I went around 20" I think)

- Now, square up one edge of each piece on your jointer (or use a jig on a table saw or router table).

- Now that I have a good edge I like to rip things down to width (again go slightly bigger, you can always trim material off but you can't add it back on)

- Now you can feed them through your planer.

Cool, you should have three large rectangles of wood now.

Step 2: Squaring Everything Up

Now we need to take extra care that the individual boards are perfectly square so when you mate them together into the Super Board there are no unsightly gaps.

Using my miter gauge on the table saw I carefully ripped everything down to the appropriate length and width with good 90 degree angles on each corner.

Step 3: Mounting the Magnets

Now is a good time to lay them out and figure out where you want specific boards to be in the configuration. One of my oak pieces had a little live edge on it so I positioned that side on the perimeter.

Mark out which sides of which boards will be touching each other.

Now to mount the magnets we need to drill small holes into the edge of the board, ideally these are very close in size to the diameter of the magnets. Drill some test holes first in some scrap to double check things will fit and the depth you need to drill to.

I decided to mount a magnet at two inch intervals along the edges of the board. Measure carefully and mark out where the holes need to be drilled.

On my drill press I played with the bit travel in the z-direction until it was going to drill a hole just deep enough for a magnet to sit in.

Now work the board down the drill press drilling in the holes every two inches.

Next take the board it will mate to and drill matching holes. These need to be aligned very closely so the magnets can grab each other. As long as you have measured carefully everything should line up nicely.

*Pro Tip: You can buy these dowel markers that fit into a hole and will leave an impression on the other piece to help you locate the matching holes. Useful little things*

Repeat this with all of the boards that have sides mating up.

Step 4: Magnets and Veneer

Put a dab of glue down in the hole and then press a magnet in. I just used gorilla glue but pretty much anything should work.

Once you have mounted all of the magnets you can put the veneer cover over everything.

Step 5: Veneer

There are a few different kinds/ways of putting a veneer on a piece of wood. I bought a 1" wide 12ft long roll of black walnut veneer off of amazon. It comes with a heat activated glue already applied to the back.

The way to attach the veneer is to cut a piece (scissors or a razor will work fine) that is a little longer than the area you are veneering. Take a clothes iron and set it to about medium heat (you can go hotter as you get more comfortable, you just don't want to burn the veneer). Slowly run the iron along the veneer pressing firmly as you do so. Just take your time and keep moving the iron back and forth.

I found I needed to press pretty firmly but otherwise this works really well. As long as you keep moving you won't burn the veneer.

Once you take the iron off you can continue to press on the veneer with your hands or a flat scrap piece for 15-20 seconds while the glue fully cools. Then you can take your razor and cut off the excess bits at the end. Honestly, this was so much simpler than I thought it would be. Literally only took 30 minutes to do all of it for this project and that was with some prep sanding.

Step 6: Finishing Touches

So we are just about there now. I chose to round over the edges to give it a little more finishes look and make them nicer to hold. Just grab your trim router and do that real quick. You could run pretty much whatever edge profile you would like though.

Then it was just sanding and finishing. I worked from 80 - 400 grit with the orbital and then gave it a few coats of danish oil.

My sister sent me a few photos of the boards in action. She was super happy and said they were perfect for the event. The magnets were also an entertaining party trick.


The magnets worked great for grabbing and holding the pieces together; however, they are small magnets so you are limited. If you pull firmly they will break apart. What I am getting at is don't expect to be able to do rapid movements of the super board or lift the boards up together. I would consider slightly bigger magnets in the future if I do this again (mine were 3 mm diameter).

I am pretty strapped for time right now so unfortunately I didn't get the chance to do anything cool with the actual boards themselves (laminating in strips of different wood, cool patterns, etc). Definitely would like to do that in round two. Might be neat to see how you could integrate the magnets into that to avoid the veneer step.

Some kind of cool pattern (maybe pyro?) across the three surfaces would also be neat.

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