Tea Tray

Another day and another piece is ready for the Furnish exhibition in July! 8) It’s a tea or ‘serving’ tray made from a contrasting combination of brown oak and regular English oak. Sides are angled or ‘canted’ at 20° and, while it may look deceptively tricky to do; trust me – with a sharp blade and a half decent saw, a simple frame with compound mitres like this is a doddle to cut! Gluing it up, however – not so easy!

A few weeks earlier [before painting the inside of the garage door, behind me in this shot!], I cut the sides from my remaining length of 3in square brown oak. I had a 2.1m length of 70x70mm left over from the cabriole legs I did last summer. By cutting off a 1.2m length, I had enough length to give me one side and one end (600mm + 400mm + waste), meaning I had to make two cuts. The reason I avoided this part of the originally 9in-wide board last year was because of some severe splitting and shakes where the heart and pith was present in the oak. Therefore, I had no qualms about cutting my requirements for this small project from this length and then binning the rest (it worked out almost perfectly).

Ripping the sides from a length of brown oak.

If you were a follower of my previous blog at UKworkshop [still unavailable to view, unfortunately], you may recall that I built a drawer-leaf extending dining table in English oak, late last summer. Not only that but, I had some difficulty machining the 1in sawn boards for the top and, in the end, had to take another trip towards Bath to buy some more oak. These boards (which were rift-sawn) had some figuring that was quite spectacular, where the medullary rays were present. Sadly, with some of the knots, the wild grain and where it may suddenly change direction (branches, I suppose?), the boards were so badly distorted along their length that I would never have achieved the 19mm finish I was after. This was very difficult to spot at the yard, as all the boards had two waney-edges. So, having since regarded these as “¾in sawn” boards and left them aside for a future project, I decided I would put them to use here, by thinning them down to 10mm for the tray base.

20mm thick and still badly distorted!

While the wood was acclimatising indoors, I spent a few hours on Google SketchUp; trying to finalise certain details of the design and also to determine to angle of the sides. Eventually, I decided that, for once, this computer program couldn’t do enough so, I cut up some 12mm MDF and made a pair of mock-ups.

This was my first idea, where the ends remain vertical:

And this is the one I settled on; with all four sides canted at 20° are the two longer sides given a concave edge:

I’ll skip many of the construction details, here, as I don’t wish to give too much away, at this time [it will hopefully appear in a future issue of British Woodworking… ;-)]. I’m sure some of you will have ideas as to how I did it, though. 😉

After a lightly stressful glue up and a bit of sanding, I finished the tray off with three coats of Chestnut’s Hard Wax Oil, which is still relatively new to the market. Again, it’s really bought the grain out in this oak and it’s ideal for open-grained timbers like this. It is not rated as food safe but, as it is toy safe, my understanding is that it will be fine for serving food and teas, provided that nothing ‘wet’ is bought in to direct contact with it… Fruits, maybe?

At college, I’ve started finishing my arm chair with Osmo’s Polyx hard wax oil. Before I started oiling, I did some test pieces in a few scraps of ash to compare the Osmo oil against this one from Chestnut and, as far as the appearance goes, I certainly couldn’t tell them apart […without reading what I had written on the back of each sample! :-D]. I still maintain that the Chestnut oil is slightly thinner, which makes it easier to apply on small items, without leaving too much of a sticky excess to wipe away.

Once the frame was glued up, I reinforced all the compound mitre joints with bandsawn splines, cut from regular English. This’ll no doubt improve the bond that was otherwise essentially end-grain to end-grain but, it doesn’t stand out as well as I was hoping…

Should I have used sycamore, instead?

One last gratuitous shot; showing the tongue-and-groove (T&G) oak boards I machined up for the base:

So, yes, this is one of my pieces that’ll be going in to the first of two exhibitions in July… <gulp!>

For me, the big question is – who would want to pay between £150-200 for one of these?!

If I discount the small amount of time (less than one hour) making the templates to shape the ends, sides and hand-holds, I reckon I could make one of these within five-hours, including an allowance for sanding and three coats of oil. That may not sound too bad to a hobbiest but, that’s still £100 for labour alone! Although I’ve yet to sit down and work them out, the material costs (including a wastage allowance) could easily reach £50-60. I’m assuming I would have to buy 1½in sawn boards – the most economical choice, unless ¾in sawn is available… Perhaps I should stop looking at this as a piece I want to sell and, instead, see it as an example of what I can do. I think this would have even greater appeal as a batch-produced product, which would also help to reduce the price.

Another way to look at this would be to reduce the amount of shaping (and, at the same time, labour costs) and “simplify” the design; let the wood do all the talking!

As always, thanks for reading.

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