I’ve been going to my friend John’s family cabin with him since we were roommates in college – some 35 years. When I first joined him at the lake, the stairway that ran from the cabin to the lake (maybe 20 steps) seemed to be in need of replacement. A couple of months ago, John and I went “Up North” to repair a shore deck we had built 15 years ago or so - it had been damaged by the ice flow last spring. John’s dad is in his 80’s and still enjoys the cabin when he is well enough to make the trip. So… since we had all of the tools with us and finished the deck faster than we thought we would, we decided to stabilize some of the stairs and railing – As much as his dad loves the lake place, we didn’t want disrepair to be his demise.
On to the stairway we went; as we started removing some of the rail supports, we noted how heavy they were, almost like lifting a thick steel bar. We looked a little closer and determined they were rough sawn white oak, painted but not otherwise treated. Amazingly, other than the section of the boards that were buried, the integrity of the boards was phenomenal for wood that had been outside for 50+ years with minimal maintenance.
Anyway, I took a couple of the 2×4 x ~2.5’ home with me to play with (I like reclaiming lumber and always like free) These boards had been rough planed and measured about 1-3/4×3-3/4 – and they weighed a ton. After skimming off the paint layer and inspecting the grain, it was clear I had old growth white oak lumber. (I can’t stop thinking about the retaining wall at that place with 20’ long 1×12 oak boards covering a 60’x15’ tall embankment, reportedly all this same white oak).
Fast forward a couple of weeks, John asked me to help renovate his deck, framing out an expansion and replacing all of the redwood deck with a PVC deck product. Fortunate for me I got paid to help on this one, and also got to recycle some of the redwood that came off the old deck. A couple of pieces are 6×6” posts about 3.5’ long (those are not part of this project). What I did use were a few 1×4 tongue & groove pieces. Judging from the tightness of the grain, I’m thinking the redwood may also be OG. His house is around 100 years old, so it’s possible/likely.
As a thanks for the extra cash and as a new deck warming gift, I decided to make a serving tray, using both the white oak and the redwood.
The bottom of the tray is striped Redwood and white oak with the frame and handles from white oak. Over all dimensions are 14” x 20” x 3”
Oak, redwood and glue for supplies
Tools: table saw, band saw, power miter saw, drill press with 1" forstner bit, router table, belt sander, RO sander, chisels, clamps.
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Step 1: Preparing the Stock
I re-sawed everything on my table saw, joined on my router table.
The first step was to create one straight edge on the oak board. I placed the board on a flat table to determine which side was most stable (not rocking), there's a little warp in almost every board. Placing the most stable side down, I ran one side through the router to make it relatively square to the "stable" side.
The redwood boards started off as tongue & groove, after ripping off both sides of those, they were short enough to be resawn in one pass on my table saw (and didn't need squaring with the router. I trimmed off two pieces of the oak at full thickness (~1-3/4") at 3/8" for use in the bottom of the tray. This brought the oak to just shy of the max cutting depth of the TS (~3-1/4"). The final design was influenced by knowing I wouldn't need any pieces wider than that, which allowed me to make multiple passes through the TS in the same orientation.
I attached a tall, long extension to my TS fence to help with stabilizing oak when trimming off the first painted side. Placing the routed side down and the "stable" side against the fence extension I ran it through until I had square with the bottom, Then I turned it around and trimmed off the paint on the second side.
The 5th and 6th pictures in this step show my homemade jig used to help hold boards tight against the fence when resawing thin strips from tall stock - nothing fancy but is sure helps with keeping cuts plumb.
The last picture shows the treasure I found inside the oak board - I was able to incorporate this into the ends of the tray - and show off as much of the figure as possible.
All boards actually cut to about 5/16" thick, except the frame that was 3/8".
Step 2: Joining and Glue-up
I joined the boards using my router table. When joining on the router table, I generally put a piece of tape on the "up" side of the boards to help keep the sides of the boards parallel to each other - regardless of any inconsistencies in the flatness - not only do I not have a joiner, I don't have an electric planer (which would have been immensely helpful for this project). After finishing the edges, I routed a 3/8" shoulder on each of the boards to allow for lap joining the oak to the redwood. (Use scraps to fine-tune this step for both width and depth of cut, you want them to lap perfectly.) The redwood was cut with the tape up, while the oak was cut with the tape down.
The board for the bottom are lap jointed with the oak 1” on top and 1-3/4”on the bottom – I'm hoping that may add some strength and rigidity if there are a lot of drinks on the tray.
The last pic for this step show some of the scrap I used to test the router set up for this joint. The scrap was kept to use as blocking when gluing up the bottom (I glued in sections to help with keeping things flatter)
Step 3: Framing the Tray
Unfortunately, I forgot to take pics during this step...
Fortunately, the most interesting figure in the oak was deep enough into the boards that I could center the ends on this interesting visual and provide a little symmetry to the appearance. I trimmed the two sides to 2" wide and the end we left at their full width ~3-1/4". I then rough cut the ends to around 15 " to make them a little easier to work with. Finding the middle of one of the end boards, I measured down from the top 1" and drew a horizontal line just a little wider than my hand where the fingers meet the palm (4" line) and then drew vertical lines at the ends. I lined up the two end boards, and fastened together with strong two-sided tape.
I then chucked a 1": forstner bit into my drill press and cut the two outer holes with the center of the bit on the horizontal line and the outside edge of the bit aligning with the vertical line on each side. I then made a series of holes between the initial two with the forstner bit as close to the prior hole as I could and still have the bit hold position on the board (I put 5 or six holes on that line). I was using a brand new forstner bit and still burned the oak - make sure to slow your drill way down when running through hardwood.
I clamped the oak to a table (still taped together) and drew a straight line touching the top of all of the holes on bothe the top and bottom of the slot. After a precautionary sharpening of my 1/2" and 1" chisels, I pared away the bits of oak that remained in the slot and finished off the slot with files, rasps and sandpaper.
I then laid one of the side pieces on the end and transferred that width to the end, for later cutting to align the corners. With the ends still taped together, I free handed a gentle curve on both sides of the slot from the top to the line indicating the side depth. The ends were then roughed in on the band saw and then back to the vise for more raping, filing and sanding to remove everything down to the line.
I used my 12" miter saw to cut the sides and ends (separated by now) to the proper lengths with 45° ends. I then cut a slot in the inside of each piece about 1/8" from the bottom and the thickness of the bottom of the tray, using multiple passes on the table saw (sneak up on the width of the slot). I don't know what the expansion and contraction of these two woods will do over time - and considering this will likely go from cool inside to being set in the sun for periods of time; so, I decided to float the bottom in the frame, rather than gluing everything together.
I thought about splining the corners; but my miters turned out so well, I didn’t want to detract – and I think the glue will hold well enough for this application. If you haven't done it lately, check your miter say for square to your fence and adjust if needed - be as precise with this as you can! I've made a number of really poorly fitting corners and this adjustment made all of the difference - perfect the first time.
Step 4: Finishing (and Lighting)
In an effort to try to keep the red in the redwood, I tried spar urethane and tung oil on some cut-off redwood. The spar turned the redwood brown and the tung oil turned it almost burgundy – it was a nice color but didn’t preserve the natural color of the redwood. I settled on Rust-Oleum Clear Top Coat – supposed to be UV resistant (we’ll see) - and no, I don't get sponsor points for this mention, I name the brand because I did a fair amount of searching to find this finish for this project.
The result was as close as I was going to get to the red of the untreated lumber – essentially both the oak and redwood look like they do with a little water on them.
The first picture is the finished tray in the artificial halogen lighting in my basement taken only a few minutes prior to going outside in natural light - pics 2 and 3. Man I hate yellow lighting!
This is a fairly straight forward and fun little project. If I had a thickness planer this would have taken me about two afternoons with overnight glue curing and a sporadic day applying multiple coats of spray finish.
Now, show me yours!