A mid-century modern serving tray is perfect for sharing cocktails at a party, bringing snacks to the backyard, or just corralling items on the coffee table. And trays can be fairly simple to make.
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Mid-Century Modern Serving Tray: The Easy Way
Want to keep it simple? Just pick out a ready-made cutting board, and attach modern handles and feet.
Pick a Wood Cutting Board
There are circles, rounded rectangles and other cutting boards that make a stylish base for your serving tray. You probably want to avoid the very thick boards (like three or four inches) because it will be harder to attach the handles.
Select MCM Handles
Next choose the handles for your serving tray. I’ve shared my favorite mid-century modern hardware here. These two would work well.
Choose Your Tray Feet
You’ll need some kind of furniture feet to raise the tray enough so that the screws from the handles can’t scratch any table surfaces. (You could also flush-mount the screws, but this is supposed to be the easy DIY here.)
Consider tapered or hairpin legs for MCM style. Longer legs will give you more of a TV tray function, which might be nice for the deck. Or if you want to stay low-profile, some furniture pads will do the trick.
Put It All Together
Once you have all the pieces, attach your handles and legs. Then it’s time for your swanky cocktail party!
Mid-Century Modern Serving Tray: The Custom Way
If you want more of a custom (PITA) look, you can choose your own tray shape and stain color. My tray was a Christmas gift for Eric, so it had to be high maintenance. 😉
- Tape measure
- Unfinished butcher block cutting board (mine was about 13 x 22 inches)
- Jig saw and blades
- Safety gear (gloves, goggles, mask)
- Assorted sandpaper (I used 120, 220 and 400)
- Electric drill and bits
- Bamboo strips (optional: tin foil and pot of boiling water for bending them)
- Small saw
- Wood glue
- Stain and/or sealer in your preferred finish (I used dark walnut Danish oil)
- Foam brushes
- Clean rags
- Mid-century modern handles and screws
1. Cut Your Board
I modeled my tray after the Dansk “surfboard” tray. To get this look, keep the two shorter sides flat, and draw a slight curve on the two longer sides. You can create a cardboard template for symmetry.
I kept it flat in the very middle of the long sides, and just cut four curved corners. Refer to step 5 below to see a picture of what the cut corners look like.
Once you’ve drawn your cut marks with a pencil, use a jig saw to cut the wood. My cuts weren’t perfect, but you can make up for it in the next step with lots of sanding.
Note: Keep the pieces that you cut off. They will come in handy in step 5.
2. Sand, Sand, Sand
Now sand your board for ages and ages. If you have a vice, that can help hold it in place while you sand.
Since my jig saw cuts were a little jagged, I started with a power sander going back and forth on these curves until they were smooth and fairly symmetrical.
Then I took the board out of the vice and laid it flat to sand the top and bottom. Once you’re happy that you’ve got the shape you want, you can move down to finer sandpaper grits.
Sandpaper grits are like sheet thread counts: the higher the number, the softer the result. I sanded my tray with medium 120 grit, then smoothed it with fine 220. And then I got really crazy with ultra fine 400, like Egyptian cotton.
3. Drill Holes for Handles
Now is a good time to decide where you’re going to place your handles. Center them on the short ends of the tray and drill holes. I used these handles and drilled the holes 3/8-inch from the edge.
Sand over the holes to make sure the board is still smooth. Test that the handles fit, but then remove them until step 9.
4. Cut Bamboo Feet
If you want to make these bamboo feet like I did, you can use a small saw to cut a bamboo strip in half (or to the size needed for your tray).
Then sand the cut edge until it’s smooth.
5. Curve Border Strips (Optional)
These bamboo strip borders were probably the worst part of the whole project, but maybe you have more patience than I do. I added these to look like the Dansk tray, and I am happy with how they turned out. But they were a pain.
First, you need to curve them. You can steam them in boiling water or cut “saw-kerfing” slits. Both methods are described here.
I chose to steam them by wrapping them in aluminum foil and boiling them on the stove for two hours. You will need two bamboo strips, but I recommend steaming extras in case some break or don’t curve as well.
Once they have enough give, then you need to mold and train them into a curve right away. This is when you’ll need the cut pieces from step 1.
Curve the bamboo strips centered on the long sides of the tray. Use the matching cut pieces to hold the strips in place, and clamp them down. Then leave the strips there for a day or two to train them into a curve.
Here’s how my curved border strips looked after two days, next to the short and straight tray foot strips.
6. Attach Bamboo Feet and Border Strips
Now glue down the border strips and bamboo feet one at a time.
I started with one of the curves. Use wood glue, center the strip along the curve, and place it about a quarter inch inside the edge.
You’ll need to put pressure on the strip to get it to match the curve of the tray. I started with a clamp in the middle, then on one side, then the other, and finally two more to hold that curve down.
Spring clamps were perfect for this.
Try to remove any excess glue. Let it fully dry, then remove the clamps and repeat with the other border strip.
Next center and glue down your bamboo strip feet. Make sure they won’t be in the way of the screws for your handle. Mine are two inches from the short ends of the tray.
7. Sand Some More
After all the glue is completely dry, you’ll want to sand the tray…again…all around your bamboo strips and any surface that may have wood glue on it.
If there’s any exposed glue, it will interfere with your stain. Work through multiple grits of sandpaper again to sand away the glue.
Wipe down your board and make sure all the sanding dust is completely gone before staining.
8. Stain Your MCM Tray
There are tons of options for finishing your mid-century modern serving tray. I had a hard time deciding, but ultimately I just love the look of Danish oil. It’s probably the least practical choice for a serving tray, but very authentic MCM.
I started with a coat of medium finish Danish oil. The result was a lot lighter than I wanted. So the next day I added a coat of dark walnut finish for the exposed top and sides of the tray.
Brush on the Danish oil, leave it for 30 minutes, then brush more on and wait 15 minutes, according to the instructions. Wipe it dry with a clean rag, and let it sit overnight.
You might prefer these other finishes depending on how you want to use your serving tray.
Stain and Scratch Resistant Finish
If you want a tough, sealed finish that can handle the coldest drinks on the hottest day, you might be a polyurethane person. You can brush this finish over paint or stain to give your tray a protective top coat.
Food safe Finish
If you are planning to have food directly touching your tray, you might want to skip the stains and varnishes, and just use a pure food grade oil like this butcher block conditioner.
9. Attach MCM Handles
After your tray is dry, attach the mid-century modern handles. Just screw them in as the finishing touch, adding instant style and functionality to your tray.
Now Serving Hot Cocoa
Serving trays are nice to have any time of year. In the colder months, try loading up your tray with hot cocoa, peppermint candies and brandy-filled chocolates.
And full size marshmallows.
In the warmer months, take your tray to the tiki bar or deck for a tropical escape.