THOUSANDS NOW DIY who never thought they could…join my newsletter

How to Build a Modern Serving Tray that Stops Spilled Drinks and Stained Carpets

Build a Serving Tray

Do your parties end with carpet stains and strange odors?

Unfortunately spills happen. I know all too well.

A few years back we had everyone over to cheer on the Steelers when they played the Packers in Super Bowl XLV.

Our beloved Steelers didn’t fair so well.

And in the process  beer was spilled on the family room carpet. If I had a nice serving tray for drinks this catastrophe could have been avoided.

When your team loses the Super Bowl and you have to clean up a hoppy mess it’s okay to shed a tear or two.

If you want a talking point for your next party and don’t mind a little woodworking then this simple serving tray project is for you.

As a bonus, you’ll learn several carpentry tips that you’ll use on future DIY adventures.

You can build an awesome tray with a few things from the home store and be done in a day or two.  It’ll take you about 3 to 4 hours of actual working time.

Here’s the complete Supply List:

  • 1 x 12 x 24 inch Red Oak Board (1 @ $12.96)
  • 3/4 x 2 1/2 x 48 inch Red Oak Board (3 @ $6.47 each)
  • 36 inch Bar Clamp (optional but costs $39.98 each)
  • 120 grit sandpaper ($3.98)
  • 220 grit sandpaper ($3.98)
  • Tack cloths ($2.09)
  • Minwax Wipe-on Poly ($11.97)
  • Minwax Staining Cloths ($8.97)
  • 6d Finish Nails 2 inch in length ($3.98)
  • Titebond II Wood Glue ($2.98)
  • Drill and Drill bits (Free or borrow)
  • Hammer ($0.00)
  • Nail Set ($1.98)
  • Random Orbital Sander (optional but can be bought for $29.00 on up)
  • Circular Saw (Free or borrow)
  • 60 tooth Circular Saw Blade ($15)
  • Speed Square 12 inch ($7.98)
  • Rags (free)
  • Latex gloves ($1.98)
  • Respirator ($5.00)
  • Protective Eye Glasses ($10.00)
  • Scrap 2 x 12s (usually in the lumber section of home stores and can be purchased cheaply)

I’ll be the first to admit that my list is intimidating.

But you might already have a lot this stuff hanging around the garage.

I guarantee you that many of these items will come in handy for other home improvements. And, hey, who doesn’t want a Speed Square? They’re awesome!!

By the end of this tutorial you’ll learn a new way to stain wood, pickup several carpentry tips and feel way more comfortable with your next project involving wood.

Alrighty, let’s get started :)


The first step in making a cool modern serving tray is to cut the wood you’ll be using.

What’s the easiest way to make a straight cut into wood?

All you need is a circular saw and a 12 inch speed square.

Use a Speed Square

Good circular saws can be bought for $40 and you’ll want one if you’re going to do any DIY around the house.

My serving tray doesn’t require miter cuts (a 45 degree angle cut at the edge of a piece of wood). And I purposely did this so that you don’t have to fiddle with them.

Grab your two pieces of scrap 2 x 12 boards. Lay them on a flat surface.

The 1 x 12 x 24 inch red oak board in the supply list will be the base of the tray. I actually bought a board that was 48 inches in length because Lowe’s was out of the 24 inch size.

No worries though.

If a 24 or 48 inch board is too big for you then  trim it by placing about 75% of the board on top of the 2 x 12s.

Make the circular saw blade depth 1 1/4 inches since the thickness of the board is 1 inch. Do this so that your saw’s blade will only go 1/4 inch beyond the oak board.

This helps prevent the board from splintering when you cut it.

Speaking of splintering . . . you can pretty much eliminate it by using a circular saw blade that has 60 teeth.

Use 60 Tooth Circular Saw Blades

It’s well worth it to buy this kind of blade. Especially if you’re going to be doing other carpentry work that requires a nice finished look (think shelving, cabinets, etc.)

Okay, back to your tray base.

Determine how long you want the base to be.  Then make a straight line across it using the speed square and a pencil.

Slide the speed square to the side of the pencil mark. Grab your circular saw and butt it agains the square until the blade lines up with your mark.

Put your body weight onto the portion of the oak board that’s resting on the 2 x 12s. And with both hands on the circular saw make your cut with a nice smooth easy pace – not too fast and not too slow.


You’ve got yourself a beautifully cut piece of oak. I made my base 24 inches long.

You can do this exact same process for the 4 rails that will make up the sides of the tray.

I bought 3 (3/4 x 2 1/2 x 48 inches) red oak boards for the rails.

You can decide how you’d like the rails to look on the tray but I chose to make the short sides the same width as the base, so roughly 12 inches.

Since each short rail is 3/4 inches thick the total length of the long rails need to be 1.5 inches longer than the base.

So in this case that makes them 1 1/2 inches plus 24 inches = 25 1/2 inches long.

All in all, you have to make a total of 5 cuts. A pizza has what, like 8 cuts for a small or 10 cuts for a medium. So 5 cuts is child’s play.

With all the boards cut the next step is to stain them. I’ve got a NEW easy method for doing this without all the fumes!!!!



I’m always on the look out for new and exciting products while shopping at the home stores.

And I found one: Minxwax Wood Finishing Cloths

Minwax Wood Finishing Cloths

Here’s the deal, I did this project in my garage. As such, I wanted to keep the fumes to a minimum so that my family wouldn’t kill me and we’d all live to see the next day.

As you might know I love Minmax’s Polyshades because it’s a stain with polyurethane in it. You don’t have to add the polyurethane after the staining process.


But Polyshades needs a lot of ventilation and it can be messy to use.

Those are two reasons I used the Finishing Cloths instead of Polyshades.  The cloths come in a resealable packet and cover about 50 square feet.

Cleanup is with soap and water versus mineral spirits (like with oil based stains).

Before using the Finishing Cloths I sanded all the pieces of wood with 120 then 220 grit sandpaper.

Sand Wood with 120 and 220 Grit

Admittedly it’s a lot easier if you use a random orbital sander. Trust me, you’ll use it for all kinds of painting projects.

Sanding the wood will expose the grain and prep it for the stain. I also used the 220 grit to sand down the sharp edges. It gives the project a warmer tone and feel.

To ensure a good stained finish rub the boards with a tack cloth. This will remove all the fine bits of dust and debris.

With your gloves on you can apply stain to your boards using the Finishing Cloths. Apply the stain in the direction of the grain. The finish will dry in 1 hour.

This is another great advantage of the Finishing Cloths – DRYING TIME!!!

In my case, the finish was dry in about 30-45 minutes but I still waited the full hour before applying successive coats.

I chose to apply 3 coats for a deeper and richer look.

Apply Minwax Stain

With all the wood stained and looking good you can assemble the serving tray.

I’m going to show you the lazy man’s way of doing it though!!!



Here’s a little story.

I told my wife our existing serving tray was broken and I that I wanted to build a new one.

Her reaction was not exactly warm and cuddly.

What does a guy do who is passionate about DIY and loves sharing ideas: DISOBEY HIS WIFE (feel free to add your thoughts on this in the comments).

I knew that I’d have to be quick with this project. There would be no time for fancy joints.

That’s where clamps, wood glue, and finishing nails enter the picture my friend.

Add a bead of Titebond wood glue to the short edges of the tray (the 12 inch edges), push the 12 inch boards into the glue and clamp them tight.

Titebond Wood Glue adds Strength

Now you can drill holes along the edge of the 12 inch boards. Hammer the 6d nails in place. For a nice finished look use your nail set to get the 6d nail heads slightly below the surface of the wood.

If you’re meticulous about your work you could leave the clamps on the wood overnight and allow the wood glue to setup. That’s what I did because it was Saturday when I did this project and we had nothing going on Sunday.

Once you have the short 12 inch boards good to go you can attach the longer boards that make up the other two sides of the serving tray.

Glue the Rails

Again, add Titebond glue to the bottom edge of the base then attach the longer boards using clamps. You can stagger the clamps in order to drill holes equidistant from each other.

Clamp the Rails

Each long board’s vertical edge, 4 total, also had 2 holes drilled into the them.

Drill holes into rails

This allowed 2 nails to be sunk into the short 12 inch boards, linking the entire unit together.

Hammer finishing nails

You can use stainable wood filler on all the nail holes. Allow the filler to dry then stain the filled holes with a Finishing Cloth.

Apply wood filler

I know there are better ways to make the joints. But Titebond is a great wood clue. That coupled with the nails and clamps will make your serving tray strong enough.

Unless you’re planning on stacking the tray with 50 pounds of beer and salami, I doubt it will ever break apart!!!

Here’s the complete video tutorial with all the step-by-step instructions. I added a nice outtake at the end if you like beer :)

[tubepress video = “ihsf09FYCjk”]

How to Build a Serving Tray


Hopefully you learned a few things from this tutorial. Here’s what you should remember:

  • Make straight cuts in wood using a circular saw and speed square
  • Minmax wood Finishing Cloths help you stain without stinky fumes
  • Titebond glue, 6d Penny Nails and clamps make wood projects STRONG

Maybe you’d like to add your 2 cents, go ahead in the comments. I’m sure I missed some tip that you know about. Please leave your comment so that we can all learn :)


Many thanks to Lowe’s for their continued support and making me a Lowe’s Creative Ideas blogger.


They provided some dinero for this project but all the opinions about spilled beer and Super Bowl crying are from me.

You can get more inspirational home improvement ideas by clicking over to the Creative Ideas website. Here’s the link

If you’re a Pinterest fan, Lowe’s also has a ton of pins for home projects (3,545,565 people like their boards and I’m guessing you might too).

Thanks, as always, for reading, watching, and being interested in DIY. I love it and hope you get struck by Cupid’s arrow just like me.


Jeff Patterson




14 comments… add one

  • SheilaG @ Plum Doodles January 10, 2014, 12:46 PM

    Great tips! I didn’t know about the finishing cloths, will have to check them out.

    • Jeff Patterson January 10, 2014, 3:10 PM

      They are awesome Sheila.

      The number of finishes are limited because I think they’re still a bit new.

      But I was very impressed because of the lack of fumes and the quality of the finish.

  • Celia Albert January 10, 2014, 1:34 PM

    I am so glad I stumbled upon your web-site and enjoy them! I’m a carpenter want-to-be I think. I love decorating and craft projects but see furniture all the time I want to get real cheap and refinish and give a new life. I’ve done a little of that. I want to invest in a saw and actually try building something myself and your step by step directions and pictures are great for those like me! Thanks so much and will look forward o your future projects!

    • Jeff Patterson January 10, 2014, 3:09 PM

      Thanks Celia. I bet you’d be a great caretaker of furniture that needs some TLC.

      It’s amazing what you can do with a little patience and some supplies from the local home store.

      And these days the tools aren’t all that expensive. Go for it!! And I’d love to see your projects :)

  • Leslie January 11, 2014, 5:29 AM

    I’ve been thinking about getting some power tools the more I read blogs like yours. I’ve been holding back because of the cost; however, I think it’s totally worth it when the finished product is as good looking as yours :)

    • Jeff Patterson January 11, 2014, 8:43 AM

      Let me know Leslie if you have any questions about power tools. Like what brand, which ones, etc.

      I’d be happy to help you out.

      And thanks for the nice compliment :)

  • John @ AZ DIY Guy January 11, 2014, 9:03 AM

    Great small project Jeff. Something you can finish in a few hours very cool. In my case, I think the kickback from the wife when contemplating a new project is due to the extended duration it takes to actually complete it, usually with some section of our house in complete shambles (like it is now!). I’d been thinking about building a butler’s tray project for some time; maybe this will get me going.

    1) Now that you’re done, what’s your feel about the adhesion of the wood glue over the finished poly? Did you scuff the edges up before gluing?

    2) Is it 100% technically necessary using your design to display it on an air-hockey table? Will it work on ottomans or coffee tables? I don’t have a hockey table and am afraid this will scuttle the idea for me.


    • Jeff Patterson January 11, 2014, 10:39 AM

      LOL, you always make me laugh John.

      Air hockey tables are unnecessary to be truly happy with this project. The resting place for our tray will be the family room on the ottoman. Very convenient for beer during the big game or Star Wars movies. I mean, who wants to miss Yoda using the Force to pull the X-Wing fighter from the swamp. Not me!

      Titebond adhered perfectly to the finished wood. Clamping the pieces together helps a ton with improving the strength of the bond. I didn’t scuff the finish and still got the adhesion I wanted. Finish nails helped a lot too.

      Don’t worry John, right now our bathroom is kind of in shambles. I can identify with your spousal woes.

      • John @ AZ DIY Guy January 11, 2014, 11:05 AM

        I forgot to ask if your local Lowe’s supplied that imortant driveway snow for the project. I can’t find any around here.

        • Jeff Patterson January 11, 2014, 2:49 PM

          They did but the delivery charge is out of this world.

          I highly recommend just loading the snow from the Lowe’s parking lot into your car. Way cheaper.

  • Jan Elizabeth January 11, 2014, 12:57 PM

    That’s a beautiful tray! Those stain wipes look SO convenient. I don’t have a garage and so often stain in the house. Those look fab. Were they very expensive?
    I just finished putting up two shelves in our guest nook. I conquered my fear of the drill! 😀 One thing I did differently from what you did was I didn’t use the wood filler over the nails. Maybe I will do that, as it looks much better.

    • Jeff Patterson January 11, 2014, 2:51 PM

      $8.97, that’s how much the staining clots are Jan. Not bad at all.

      Great job with confronting your fears. Drills are awesome these days. Especially with all the different accessories.

      I’d love to see your project. If you have pics email them to me :)

  • Terri Hughes January 12, 2014, 8:12 PM

    Great job, I love the tray, very nice. Thanks for all the tips and I didn’t know Minwax made stain cloths. Learn something new everyday. Have a great week!

    • Jeff Patterson January 13, 2014, 5:36 AM

      Thanks so much Terri. I didn’t know about the finishing cloths either until this past week.

      They’re a nice option for small projects that need to be done inside the house.

      Hope you had a great weekend.

Leave a Comment