Counter-top Mail Tray

Introduction: Counter-top Mail Tray

It seems like no matter how good our intentions are to go through our mail regularly, time always seems to get away from us, and by the end of the week our countertop is piled with mail. My wife said we needed to come up with a better system, and I decided to try making something. I invite you to follow me on my journey.


Sketchup (for designing the tray)

2 Craft panels – 12” x 24” x ¼”

Wood Glue


Brad Nailer (Optional – See Below)

Stain of your choice

Shellac or other wood finish

Step 1: Step 1: Designing the Tray

I’ve been a follower of Instructables for several years, and knew it was a great place to start. I saw several great ideas for repurposing old items to make wall-mounted organizers, but I wanted something we could still keep on our counter, but without taking up as much space (or avalanching onto our floor). I’ve been trying my hand at Sketchup, and decided to give it a try. I will not go into detail on how to use Sketchup. There are many people on here with much more experience in this area.

First I had to determine the amount of counter space I wanted to take up, and then decide how many levels we might need. Wanting something big enough to hold magazines, newspapers, or larger envelopes, I went with dimensions of 9” x 12” x 6”, with three tray levels. I decided to give it a softer look with rounded corners.

Showing my wife my idea, she suggested standing it on end so that it took up less counter space. By grouping everything together, I was able to rotate it vertically, which I have to admit does look a lot better. I then proceeded to break all of the parts down and line them up so I could determine my cut list.

A copy of the Sketchup file is included below.

Step 2: Step 2: Cutting the Parts

Using my cut list from Step 1, I cut all of the parts out of ¼” craft panels from my local hardware store. Most of it I was able to do on my table saw. The parts are as follows:

· (2) Sides – 9” x 6”

· Bottom – 12” x 6”

· Back Panel – 9” x 11.5”

· Divider 2 – 7” x 11.5”

· Divider 1 – 5” x 11.5”

· (2) Front Slats – 1” x 12”

For the sides, I cut the “steps” by hand using a mitre saw. It was at this point I decided that rounded corners were beyond my current skill level. So I kept them square.

I finished up by sanding the corners with 80 grit and 120 grit sandpaper.

Step 3: Step 3: a Slight Change in Plans

At this point I reached a dilemma. I knew I was going to stain the wood, but I also knew that once I put it together, I would have a hard time getting the stain inside the compartments. After asking for advice from a beginning woodworker group, I decided to stain and shellac all of the pieces before assembly. One of the concerns that was brought to my attention was that once the wood was stained and sealed, it would be more difficult to glue the pieces together, as the glue would not adhere to the wood as well.

In order to prevent it from falling apart, a thought occurred to me, and I changed my design slightly. On the side pieces, I added grooves and rabbets to nest the bottom, back, and dividers into. My hope was that this would help the glue to bond better, and would also form a tighter fit to all of the pieces. I used a ¼” straight bit and my router table for this. As you can tell, my first attempt didn’t quite go so well, so I used that as a practice piece until I figured out what I was doing.

Step 4: Step 4: Staining and Finishing

After the parts were cut and sanded, I applied two coats of stain and a couple of coats of shellac, following the directions on the cans and allowing plenty of drying time. I made a couple of "stands" to hold the pieces up while they dried.

Step 5: Step 5: Assembly

Assembling the tray went a lot smoother than I expected, although I did make some mistakes that I wish I’d done differently.

I applied wood glue to the grooves on the side panels and attached the two dividers, setting it all on the bottom and clamping it together to let the glue dry. I also added glue on the back rabbet and attached the back panel, but waited until that had all dried before gluing on the bottom.

I was still afraid that the wood might not stay together in the long term, so I decided to add finishing nails to reinforce the joints. I recently received a pancake compressor kit with several attachments, so I thought this would be a good chance to put it to use.

Unfortunately, my aim was not the greatest, and using as thin wood as I did, many of the nails didn’t go in as straight as I had hoped. Since I had already put some holes in it, I figured it was too late to turn back, so I fixed what I could and tried to hide the damage as best as I could. I also discovered that I had both misplaced one of the front slats and cut the other one too short to attach on the outside of the tray, but too long to attach inside. After trimming one side down a bit, I was able to glue and nail it in place.

I also took the rubber feet off of an old computer at work and glued them onto the bottom of the mail tray to protect the wood and the counter.

Step 6: Conclusion

I think this was a great learning experience for me, and in the end I came out with something my wife appreciates and I can be proud of. I hope my experience will help others as well, and I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

Happy making!

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