Serve drinks in style this season with this easy-to-assemble tray. The simple wood dowel “cleats” hold the base of the tray firmly in place while the square-cut corners create strong, reliable joints. With the addition of a stencil pattern, this quickly becomes an eye-catching way to serve guests in style.


Cost: $20

Time: 2 hours

Difficulty: Easy. Square cuts and simple assembly make this an approachable beginner project.

Tape Measure

Framing Square

Miter Saw

Circular Saw

Pneumatic Nail Gun

(1) 1 x 3 x 6 to make the tray sides

(3) ½ x ½ x 3′ to make the cleats and handles

(1) ¼ inch Plywood. Get a 2-by-2-foot Project Panel at the Homecenter

1¼ inch finish nails to attach the cleats and assemble the sides

Wood Glue

Wood Filler

1 x 3 Sides – 2 @ 18 inches

1 x 3 Sides – 2 @ 16½ inches

½ x ½ Cleats – 2 @ 16½ inches

½ x ½ Cleats – 2 @ 15 inches

½ x ½ Handles – 2 @ 4 inches (We beveled the ends of each handle at 45-degrees)

¼ inch Plywood – 1 @ 16½” x 16½”




1. Cut the Parts


Using a miter saw and the cut list above, cut the 1×3 pieces and square dowels to size. Mark cut lines on the face of the plywood using a framing square. Place painter’s tape over the cut lines, and then mark them again–this will keep the plywood from splintering as you cut. Cut along the lines using a circular saw. Lightly sand the cut edges of all the parts to remove burrs.

TIP: Get straighter cuts with your circular saw using our simple DIY Cutting Fence Tutorial.


www.Build-Basic.com2. Attach the First Set of Cleats


Position a 16½-inch cleat on a 16 ½-inch-long side flush with its bottom edge and ends. Apply a bead of wood glue to the cleat, reposition it on the 1×3, and then nail it in place using a pneumatic nail gun. Repeat this process to assemble the remaining short side of the tray.

3. Assemble the Remaining Sides


Position one of the remaining cleats on an 18-inch-long side flush with its bottom edge and centered on its length. This should create an 1½ inset on each end. Mark the ends of the cleat with a pencil. Remove the cleats, apply a bead of wood glue, and then reposition them. Secure the cleats in place using a pneumatic nail gun.

4. Dryfit the Sides


Set all the sides upright so that the cleats run along their bottom edge. Set the shorter sides inside the longer sides.

5. Position the Joints


When correctly assembled, the short sides should set into the inset on the long sides as shown.  Separate the joints and apply wood glue to the ends of the short sides. Nail through the long sides and into the ends of the short sides to secure the pieces.

6. Install the Plywood


Apply a bead of wood glue to the top edge of each cleat. Position the plywood inside the frame on the cleats.

Tip: If you’re staining or stenciling the tray like we did, we found it easier to finish the parts before installing the plywood piece.


7. Attach the Handles


Center the handles on the outside of the short sides of the tray. Apply wood glue, and then nail them in place. Decorative hardware like bin pulls could also be substituted. Fill the nail holes with wood filler, sand the pieces and apply stain. Finish with a coat of polyurethane.




3 thoughts on “Build a DIY Drink Tray

  1. SM Sara

    Yet another project made so simple with clear instructions… Thank you Jenn.

    Qq, how do we get that finish, how many coats of varnish/how many coats of poly, what brand do you use/recommend.


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