Saturday, December 4

Tray Table: Tray Rails

Today, woodworking friends, we will make and install the rails that frame the table tray and form the ever-so-helpful “lip” that keeps things from sliding off as you carry the table.

You may recall that when I made the rail stock, I “unwound” thick pieces of cherry by resawing them and turning them inside out so the grain patterns will match almost perfectly.  To keep this process going I must keep the pieces oriented properly and paired up.  I work with one tray table at a time, cut the rails, fit them and set that one a side with rails dry fitted to the tray panel before starting on the next.

I start by setting the miter saw to 45° left and attaching a simple jig to the saw.  The right end of the jig has a 45° bevel on the front corner – this serves as a backer to prevent tear out and as an aid for lining up a cut in mid stick - the other end is marked for the correct finished length of both the long and short rails. I cut a miter on the end of one stick.

Then flip the stick over (always keeping the groove facing out so I’m cutting inside miters) and place the miter I just cut on the line, I miter the other end.  This cuts the first piece free of the stick.  This was a short rail, the next will be a long rail, then a short rail and the final long rail, wrapping the pieces around the tray as I cut them off.

This is where the genius of “unwinding” a thicker piece of wood comes in; ALL four corners will grain match.  I could do this with a long stick of wood, and it would be much simpler to mill, but only three corners will match well.  The fourth corner will be formed from opposite ends of a long stick.  Using the box-maker’s trick of unwinding the wood means that even the final corner will match well.

Here is a shot that helps to illustrate the expansion gap I leave in the long-grain sides of the panel.  The end-grain sides need no such gap and are cut to fit tightly in the bottom of the groove.

Gluing the rails to the panel means working quickly enough to get the tray done before the glue tacks up, but working carefully enough not to get glue where I don’t want it.  This is tricky and I use a small artists brush to apply the glue.  I take one rail off of the dry-fitted assembly, apply glue and put it back on, then take the next rail off for gluing, working my way around the tray.

These parts are far too delicate to allow screws or even nails.  The glue joints have to be perfect.

When all rails have been glued and are properly aligned, I apply clamps to draw the corners of the rails together snugly.  This should not take a lot of pressure.  I will leave the clamps on over the weekend so the glue has a chance to reach maximum strength before I work with these further.

One more step and the table tops will be done.  Please join me again on Monday.

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