Swirlend tray

Ohhhhhhh, gosh! Simply amazing. One question: are you selling your designs anywhere?

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Another awesome piece! I don’t see any darker edges in your finger joints or butt joints. How did you get them so clean? Sanding could throw your fit off. Alcohol washing?

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As a designer I applaud your decision. I very much prefer simplicity. Nice work!

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Nope but I appreciate that you think it is good enough that I could. :slight_smile:

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I tend to cut my finger joints a bit long, then sand them flush. This one is no exception. Also I rounded these corners, which also requires sanding and would tend to make them lower contrast.

I don’t clean up the edges of my inlay cuts. Maple tends to end up honey gold on its edges, wenge is darker but it blends really well with the dark color of the wood. In general I don’t notice a black border on my inlays, if it’s a nice tight fit it tends to end up looking pretty seamless.


OK so since I’ve been asked a couple of times…

The process is basically this:

Cut your tray sides, assemble them, essentially making a hollow frame. I glue mine up, so I use corner clamps to keep things square while everything sets, and weigh the corners down to keep the entire frame flat. The end result is a nice hollow tray with no back.

Now I cut two layers for my bases. They should be made to fit pretty exactly on the inside of your tray frame. The bases have screw holes in the corners for rubber feet on the bottoms (see simple tray in the OP for pictures), but for now they are just convenient registration (alignment) holes.

You have choices at this point. I choose the slower, more precise method, but will touch on the shortcut at the end…

Remove masking (if any) from the facing surfaces between your base layers. (I actually only mask one side of one of the base layers, which I then put on the very bottom of the tray. This makes it easier to clean up later, no worries about glue).

I apply glue between the base layers, then screw them together. The screws do a great job of keeping the two layers aligned. Clamp and/or weigh it down, you want this to dry flat and well-adhered.

Once that’s set, I can then insert it into my frame. I am dead-set on not getting glue inside my frame, so I take it slow. Be sure you’ve removed any glue that pressed out of the seams between the base layers (best to do this while it’s drying, easier than removing fully set glue), it will interfere with your fit otherwise. Remove the screws.

First, a final fit test: I set the base down on a work surface, then gently try to slip the frame over. I’m going for a tight glue fit, not a friction fit. If it is a little too snug, I will take the base and sand the edges down a tiny bit. Be patient, oversanding can’t be undone, so take it slowly.

Prepare your work surface. Place something that can get glue on it on your work surface. I use wax paper with a layer of paper towel on top for some cushion and “give”. You should have your work area prepared now, because you’re about to have to move fairly quickly.

Once I am satisfied with the fit (this one went together on the first shot), then I get a brush and apply glue in a thin even layer all around the edges of the base. I try not to get any glue on the surfaces of the base (though your bottom surface should still be masked if you’re doing this step by step with me). You’re going for as little glue as possible while still getting a nice even layer on here, more glue is more cleanup. As such, it’ll dry quickly, so you’ll have to be even quicker.

Place the base on the work surface, bottom-side down. (You did remove the screws, right?)

Carefully slide the tray frame down around the base. This should have the effect of pushing a small amount of excess glue down, and prevent any squeeze-out of glue up into your tray.
I like to take a second to carefully wipe off as much glue as I can from the bottom at this point, glue is much easier to handle wet than set.

Then I put it back on the dead-flat work surface, weigh it down. I put weights inside the tray on all the corners and in the middle, then weigh down the corners of the outer frame. The end result should be a totally flush, level fit for the base into the frame.

Let it set, and you’re all done except for the finishing.

There is a slight shortcut method: You can glue the bases together and into the frame in one shot, and let both the bases and the overall tray set at the same time. Personally I think a lot can go wrong when trying to hurry – and especially when working with glue – so I tend to do it the way I described.

I don’t have a huge list of glues I’ve tried, but titebond classic has worked very well here. I would stay away from glues that expand (gorilla glue, etc), too hard to control where it ends up.

So, there you have it. Too many words for what is really a pretty simple process. “Glue it in” would probably have sufficed. :slight_smile:

EDIT: I suppose an even better shortcut would be to cut the base out of 1/4 material, but I don’t have any. Maybe I should get some, it’ll make the basing process a lot simpler.


No, that would not have painted the same picture.


ROFL. Sometimes you just feel like chatting. :smile:


He was asked ‘how’, and so he gave the blow by blow exacting procedure of that, which gives a glimpse of his mental discipline - and that comes as no surprise.


Oh, I quite understand. I get that way once in a while. (Should probably give folks warning before I do.) :rofl:


Thanks, that’s quite a compliment.

I think that the important part in a lot of this is the why, so I took the time to get into it. Again, it might have been simpler to say “Glue it in but be sure to not get glue on any visible surfaces” – I’m not sure what I am doing is much beyond common sense, nor am I sure it’s the best way to do things, but here we are. I love a good process description, so I feel should take the time to give back :slight_smile:


We all view our world through the lens of our own perspective, and what is ‘common’ to some is uncommon to others.
You are a great addition to this community, and your inspiration is infectious. :crazy_face:

Me too! I write much better than I speak (I guess because I actually have to think about it), but I enjoy it when I actually succeed in conveying a thought accurately. That doesn’t happen often enough!

There is an ancient thread here somewhere for showing our work spaces. I would really enjoy seeing yours!


It’s a tiny space. Think submarine-based mad scientist chic and you’re pretty much there. It’s not super photogenic :wink:


Thanks. This was the intersection that I worried about.

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Have you thought of cutting the first layer to = the outer dimensions, then the second layer to the inner one? That way you’re gluing on to two different surfaces of the “sides”…

My brain says that should be a better hold, but, not being a life long carpenter… :slight_smile:

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Yup but then you’d see it. This is a pretty light-duty application, I don’t think it’s much of a concern. Aesthetics win out over strength.

If I integrated handles into the sides and made it more of a carrying tray I would be more worried and would definitely do some testing/redesigning.

This is what caused me to ask in the first place - the look is perfect without the visible bottom but I wasn’t sure how you were getting strength. But for light-duty use, it is likely plenty strong enough.

From a woodworking perspective, if you want more strength without a visible bottom or fingers, the solution is usually just a grove cut in each side with a table saw or router - pretty much the way the majority of mass-produced drawers work. Main challenge is if you want to not have the grove show, you pretty much need to use a plunge router and careful measuring - but it then doesn’t require any glue at all to hold the bottom in since it is just trapped by the grove. (And, if this is the only need you have for a router, there are small ones that would likely work great.) A bit more detail for those that care: https://www.thewoodwhisperer.com/articles/stopped-grooves-for-dovetailed-corners/

if you just want the groove and you’re patient with it, you can engrave it out and not need the router. i’ve done small channel slots for a sliding lid a couple of times. takes more time to figure out than a router, but i don’t have to buy a router since i’ve only done it a couple of times.

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There are other possibilities. Decorative pins that are drilled into the glued tray, cladding a traditional finger jointed box with an outer layer, incorporate the base into the short ends to give you a shelf on one pair of sides.

Besides if you really want to go with fingers, any number of decorative finger jointing techniques can make the whole thing look more intentional.

In the end for this size piece I bet solid gluing technique will be as strong as any other method that doesn’t have captive fingers or pins — which is sort of cheating because it’s just a reinforced glue joint. Modern wood glues are incredibly strong.


Oh, absolutely - but most of those would change the way your tray looks - the groove is the most straightforward to do without changing the look. Although I do like the idea of only putting it on two sides since you could then hide it in the gaps between fingers and not have to do a stopped groove.

And, you’re also correct that for this situation, a glue joint should be fine without anything additional.

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