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AW Extra - Nesting Trays


Eye-catching and practical, these handy carryalls are sure to please.


by Tim Johnson





Here’s your chance to cut lots of corners and still get great-looking results. These sturdy trays are easy to build, thanks to their simple box joints and template-routed curves. You don’t need a super-equipped shop, just a tablesaw with a dado set, a router table and a drill press. You’ve probably saved enough scrap pieces from other projects to build the trays and the jigs, but even if you buy lumber and plywood, you can make this trio of trays for less than $60. 






Cut the Box Joints


1. Prepare your stock, including extra pieces for test-cutting. Cut blanks for the ends (A1, B1 and C1, Fig. A, page 67) and sides (A2, B2 and C2) to length, but leave them 1/8 in. oversize in width. All the ends must be squarely cut.


2. Arrange the pieces for each box and then mark the bottom edge of every one. When you cut the box joints, these marks will correctly orient the pieces in the jig. 


3. Box-joint jigs index the workpiece for cutting sockets. (Photo 1). Cutting a series of sockets creates the pins. To make the joint, one piece has pins where the mating piece has sockets (see “Tablesaw Box Joints,”). 


4. Cut test box joints to dial in a precise fit. This is fussy work, because the tolerances are tiny. The pieces should slide together without binding or rattling. The best jigs have built-in adjustment systems. 


5. Cut all the box joints. On the end-piece blanks, cut sockets only as far as their curved profiles dictate. The side-piece blanks are oversize, so you’ll have to make an extra pass to complete the top sockets. 





Rout the Ends


6. Use the end profile of the large tray (A1, Fig. C, below) as a pattern when you make the routing jig (Fig. B, below). First, transfer the curved edge profile to the jig’s base. Then drill 1-in.-dia. holes with a Forstner bit to establish the ends of the handle hole. Finish rough-cutting the handle hole with a jigsaw. Then rough-cut the edge profile.


7. Smooth the edge profile using an oscillating spindle sander or a sanding drum in your drill press. Install a 3/4-in.-dia. spindle or drum to smooth the handle hole. 


8. Use a large end-piece blank to position the jig’s fence. Each end has six pins. Fasten the fence so the top pins are flush with the base’s curved profile.


9. Install the stops after centering the large end-piece blank. Mount the toggle clamps (see Sources, below).


10. Draw edge profiles and handle holes on all the end blanks after installing them in the jig. Make spacers (W, X, Y and Z, Fig. B) to position the medium and small blanks. 


11. Rough-saw all the curved profiles about 1/16 in. away from the pattern lines. To rough out the handle holes, drill 7/8-in.-dia. holes and use a jigsaw to saw out the waste.


12. Rout the edge profiles with a top-bearing flush-trim bit (Photo 2). Then rout the handle holes (Photo 3).





Assemble the Trays


13. Saw grooves for the plywood bottoms (A3, B3 and C3). On the side pieces, the grooves align with the top of the first pin (Fig. A). On the end pieces, they align with the top of the first socket. Because 1/4-in.-thick plywood is often undersize, you can’t use a dado set. Use your regular blade and make two passes. Adjust the fence between passes to widen the groove. 


14. Assemble the boxes without glue to make sure everything fits. Rip the sides to stand 1/32 in. above the ends. 


15. Disassemble the boxes for sanding.


16. Glue the boxes together. Spread a thin layer of glue on all the pins and sockets. Use a brush and glue with an extended open time. Squeeze a thin bead of glue into the grooves for the bottoms, too. 


17. Clamp each box using blocks to fully seat the joints (Photo 4). Make sure the boxes are square.


18. After the glue has dried, remove the clamps and knock off the blocks. Dampen any paper that remains attached; after about a minute, it’ll scrub right off. Check for any remaining glue—the moisture makes it turn a ghostly white color. Simply scrub the surface to remove it. Use a chisel to remove any glue inside the tray. 


19. Cut plugs (D) and fill the holes in the ends of the trays (Photo 5).


20. True up the sides and ends (Photo 6). 





Spray on the Finish


21. Go over the boxes again with fine sandpaper; the grain will be raised in any area that has been wet. Slightly round all the sharp corners, especially those around the handle holes.


22. For small projects like this one, I prefer aerosol finishes. Spray on at least two light coats. Let the finish dry and sand lightly between each coat. Urethane finishes provide the best protection. 




The ends of the trays match, so you can comfortably carry all three.






Photo 1: Great-looking box-joints are easy to make. I used a shop-made jig and my tablesaw, but these sturdy joints can also be cut on a router table or with a dovetailing jig.






Photo 2: Rout the curved ends of all three boxes using the same jig (Fig. B, below). The large box’s ends exactly fit the opening. Spacers center the ends of the medium and small boxes, so the profiles and handle holes all match. 






Photo 3: Rout the handle holes after making sure the workpiece is securely held. With the router unplugged, center the bit inside the roughsawn opening. Hold the jig steady so the bit spins freely when you power up. Then rout counterclockwise.






Photo 4: Protect the end grain when you glue the tray together. Paper towels absorb squeezed-out glue, so it doesn’t soak deeply into the wood. Because of the towels, the clamping blocks knock off easily after the glue has dried.






Photo 5: Fill holes left by the bottom grooves with end-grain plugs. Once cut and sanded flush, they’ll match the end-grain pins.






Photo 6: Level the sides and ends with a block plane or by sanding.









This story originally appeared in American Woodworker September 2005, issue #116.

Source information may have changed since the original publication date.






September 2005, issue #116

Purchase this back issue.






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Techniques wrote Tablesaw Box Joints
on 11-03-2009 2:23 PM

A shop-made jig with micro-adjust guarantees perfect joints. by Tim Johnson Box joints are the savvy