Skip to content

Simple DIY Projects for a quaint cottage feel

Home » How to Make a Tray out of a 2×4

How to Make a Tray out of a 2×4

  • by

I’ll show you how to make a wooden tray with custom wood handles from one 8 ft 2×4! But get this; you have enough to make two 36″ long trays with wood handles. Making something custom and saving money is always the best of both worlds in my books!

If you’re new to woodworking and prefer a more straightforward approach or don’t have a table saw, I have this same tray tutorial using standard wood from a building supply store.

Hi! I’m Lisa from The Old Tree Cottage. Creating beautiful but simple, rustic decor out of wood is my passion. Along the way, trays and boxes became my specialties.


This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission at no cost to you if you make a purchase through a link.


  • 5- 8ft Lath* strips (bottom and sides, handles)
  • 1- 2ft 2×2’s (for the end pieces)

*Lath comes in bundles of 10 in different lengths. It measures 3/8″ thick by 1 1/2″ wide, making it a lighter alternative than a 1×2 board.

All the other supplies

I like this brad nailer powered by a compressor to assemble the tray. You can get this type of brad nailer that doesn’t need a compressor.

1. Let’s Make a Tray!

Cut your pieces to size.

  1. Bottom: Cut a 36″ long piece off of the 2×4.
  2. Set the guide on the table saw to 3/8″ wide, then cut eight strips 3/8″ x 1 1/2″ Note: the 8th piece is to be used for the optional feet.
  3. Sand the top edges of the boards to give them a rounded look. This will also help to give some definition between each board.
  4. Sides: Cut a 2×4 34 1/2″ long
  5. Set the guide on the table saw to 1/2″ wide then cut 2 strips 1/2″ x 1 1/2″
  6. Ends: Cut 1 2×4 10 5/8″ long.*
  7. Set the guide on the table saw to 1 1/2″ wide. From that one board, you will get both end pieces 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ x 10 5/8″ long.

*It’s always a good idea to line up your bottom boards snugly to each other and measure the total width before cutting the end pieces. This is the measurement you’ll use for the end pieces. (It should be close to 10 5/8″ wide).

Assemble the bottom boards into the end pieces

For the bottom of the tray, you’ll be adding glue on one edge of each piece (except the first and last piece). Gluing the edges together gives the bottom of the tray strength once the glue is dry.

  1. Apply glue to the bottoms of both 2×2 end pieces for the tray. Set aside until you do the next step.
  2. Take the first 36″ long 1×2 and attach it to the 2×2, then attach the other end to the second 2×2 piece. Tip: make sure your first board is flush to the end and the side of the 2×2, and the glued edge is facing towards the next board you add.
  3. Apply a bead of glue down one side of the second board.
  4. Place the glued edge snugly to the first piece that you just attached.
  5. Tack into place on both ends.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 for the rest of the boards.

Add the side pieces

  1. Take your side piece and add glue on both ends and the bottom. 
  2. Make sure it’s sitting flat on the base.
  3. Attach it from the underside of the tray.
  4. Drill a pilot hole 3/8″ in from the outside edge of the end piece and centred top to bottom.
  5. Use a 2 1/2″ screw to attach the end to the side.
  6. Tip: If you have a bit of gaping where the side meets the ends, this is where the wood filler comes in handy!
  7. You can fill the screw holes with wood filler or… my favourite way, cover it with a faux mortise and tenon joint. Huh?! See the photo below.
  8. Here’s how: Rip a small length of scrap wood used for the base to 3/8: wide. Cut four pieces 1″ long. Cut a few spares in case one splits!
  9. Glue and tack the piece over the screw or just use hot glue since this is just decorative.

2. Optional: Add wooden feet

  1. Cut 4- 7″ pieces using the extra 3/8″ x 1 1/2″ x 36″ board (from when you cut the pieces for the bottom of the tray).
  2. Mark 3/16″ more or less, depending on your preference, from the underside of the edges of the feet. This will make it easier to align the feet when you attach them. See the photo below.
  3. Flip over, then apply an even amount of glue all over the top side that will touch the bottom of the tray. Note: too much glue causes the foot to slide all around – not fun!
  4. Flip the tray upside down. Place the marks on the feet, even with the outside edges of the tray.
  5. Hold the feet firmly so they don’t slide around, then tack in place with 1 1/4″ brad nails. Note: only attach with brad nails on the outside edge and end. Otherwise, your nails will poke through the tray.

3. Sand the Tray

  1. With an orbital sander, use 150-grit sandpaper to sand the tray all over. You’re not looking for perfection. Instead, the goal is “perfectly imperfect.”
  2. Sand off any sharp edges on the tray to give it a more worn look.

4. Make Custom Handles

Rustic tray with wooden handle and faux mortise and tenon joint on the end. White tray with mint green inside.
Optional: use a router to add something extra to the handle, as in the photo above.

Download and print the pattern for the handles.

The handles will take more work than buying some drawer pulls, but the result is worth it! Once you see how easy they are to make and how custom they look, it will be a game changer!


  • 2- 9 1/2″ long leftover scraps from side pieces (1/2″ x 1 1/2″) or from a 1×2
  • Jigsaw or bandsaw
  • Wood glue
  • 4 Roofing nails with the big heads
  • 150 grit sandpaper

Tracing and cutting out the handles

Once you’ve traced the pattern, use a jigsaw or bandsaw to cut out the handles. Begin with the inside curve and then cut the outside curve. Repeat for the second handle.

Sanding the handles

  1. Sand each handle until it feels smooth, but don’t worry about it being perfect! You want it to have an authentic worn look. For a fancier look, sometimes I’ll take a router to both sides and give a groove along the edges.
  2. Next, take 150-220 grit sandpaper and hand sand it all over, making sure you dull the edges and smooth the underside.
  3. The final step is to mark each handle 5/8″ from both ends and drill a hole through with a drill bit that will allow your roofing nails to slide through.

Attaching the handles to the tray

  1. Before gluing, centre the handle on the tray’s end and mark each side’s end onto the tray.
  2. Apply a small but even amount of glue to the flat underside of the first handle.
  3. Place the handle on the marks you made, hold the handle, and lightly tap it until it grabs the wood. Do the same for the other end.
  4. Before you tap the nails all the way in, double-check to ensure the handles haven’t moved out of alignment. Now is the time to make adjustments if it’s moved. If all is good, hammer the nails in.

5. Make a quick aged wood stain

Add more or less paint depending on the look you want.

Part of the aging process is making the base look like old wood. I’ve found that applying black paint and water stain is the easiest way to do this. It can get messy, so protect your workspace if needed. What I mean is I’m messy when I do this. You might not be!

  1. Mix 1 cup of water with 2 tsp of your preferred brand of black paint.
  2. Mix thoroughly. The stain will look grayish brown when dried.
  3. If you want a darker base colour, add extra black paint.

6. Apply the old wood stain as the base coat

  1. Cover the tray with the paint and water stain using a rag or a brush. Make sure to do the underside.
  2. You may have areas that won’t take the black water stain because of dried glue on the wood. If we were leaving it a stained look, we’d have to fix it, but we’re painting over it, so don’t worry!
  3. If you’re not opposed to putting the tray in your oven (on the lowest setting), it’s a great way to dry it quickly. Don’t ever crank up the heat because it could cause the wood to warp or crack. Hmm… I wonder how I learned that lesson?!

7. Paint the Tray (finally!)

Here’s where the magic begins.


  • Your choice of white paint
  • Spray can of a clear lacquer or stain blocker like Zinsser Lacquer (optional)
  • Second colour for the inside of the tray (optional)
  • Heat gun (optional)
  • 150 grit sandpaper for hand sanding
  • Protection for your work surface
  • Paintbrush
  • Paper towel or rag

I like to put a couple of coats of clear lacquer or some sealer on after I’ve done the black water coat and before I paint the tray. This will stop the wood from bleeding through when working with white or light colours. After all of your hard work, you don’t want it ruined down the road because the wood was bleeding through!

  1. Assuming you’ll be painting the outside of the tray white, you’ll also paint the handles white, applying a nice solid coat. Don’t skimp on the paint in this step!
  2. Paint the inside as well, either the same or a coordinating colour.
  3. Just to throw another idea out there, you can always leave the inside with the black water stain.
  4. You can leave the underside of the tray as is or paint it once the top side is dry.
  5. Next is to work on giving the handles a worn, aged look and then age the paint on the tray.

8. Make the handles look aged

3 wooden handle samples; vintage gray, vintage wood, vintage white
L: Black Water, Whitewash, M: Black Water, R: Raw Wood, Whitewash

While the paint is still wet, take a slightly damp rag or paper towel and rub the paint off the handles. You don’t want it perfect; You want it to look aged and worn. Perhaps there will be white paint left in some parts, or maybe there won’t. It’s up to you! The colour of the handle will look grayer once it has dried. You can always go back and play with the look by adding a bit of paint, sanding and drying with a heat gun.

9. Age the Painted Finish

I use a heat gun on the paint to give it texture because it helps it look old. But it’s your project, so you do you. It’s not like I will be checking up on you!

  1. You always have the option to let the paint dry, sand the edges a bit or leave it as is. Of course, that’s a personal preference and one I sometimes do. But this bad boy will look a little older and worn!
  2. Before the paint dries, grab your heat gun because we’re about to age this tray!
  3. Hold the heat gun fairly close to the tray as you move it from side to side. Once it starts bubbling, move to the next spot.
  4. Tip: The paint will burn if you stay in one spot too long with the heat gun. If this happens, paint over it.
  5. You don’t need every area of the paint to bubble, but if you have a big patch that isn’t, it just means your paint isn’t thick enough. So add some more paint to the area, then apply the heat.
  6. Apply a second coat of paint all over and let dry.

10. Distress the Tray

  1. Use 150-grit sandpaper to hand sand in the direction of the wood grain.
  2. When you hand sand, keep it organic, meaning you don’t want matching areas because it looks fake. Instead, think perfectly imperfect!
  3. If you accidentally sand down to bare wood, add a whitewash over the wood or carefully apply a bit of black paint stain over the area with a small artist’s brush.
  4. Almost the last step! With the same sandpaper, run it along the grooves on the tray’s base and the flat bottom. Remember that the distressing shouldn’t be all matching.
  5. I always hand sand the bottom of the tray by following the length of each board from one end to the other, giving it a more worn look. But this is your tray, so do what feels right for you!
  6. Protect your tray with a couple of coats of your favourite clear coat. A matte or satin finish works well. Make sure it’s water-based because an oil-based clear coat could yellow the white paint. Sometimes I opt for beeswax.
Rustic white tray with a glass pitcher of lemon water and wine glasses with lemon water and lemon slices with slices of lemon sitting on a wooden table

And now, my friend, you are done!

Let me know how it went and what colours you used! Will you be making more, or is one enough? If you’re like me and love making trays, check out more of my DIY tutorials for ideas for your next project because, with us DIYers, there is always the next project!

Leave a Reply