How to make a tin-sign serving tray

Have an old sign lying around? Use it to add a personal touch to this project

By Raj ChaudhryRaj Chaudhry


Photo by Laura Arsié

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Loaded with snacks or leaning against the wall, this serving tray will make friends and family smile. The tray features a nostalgic tin sign, backed with plywood, in a white-oak frame. A pair of keys—small triangles of contrasting wood—reinforces each mitred corner. Tin signs vary in size, so be sure to adjust the panel and frame dimensions to fit yours.

What you’ll need

  • ¼”-thick plywood
  • ½”-thick white-oak frame stock
  • Scraps of walnut, cherry, or other contrasting wood, approx. 1″ wide
  • Tin advertising sign
  • Water-resistant or waterproof wood glue
  • Polyurethane, semigloss
  • Sandpaper, assorted
  • Contact cement

Preparing the panel

1. Cut ¼” plywood to match dimensions of tin sign.

2. Adhere sign to plywood with contact cement.

3. Seal sign and backer with polyurethane.

4. Rip ½” oak to 2½” wide. Using a table saw with a dado blade (an adjustable blade that cuts a wide kerf) or a router, plow a groove in the frame stock ¼” from the bottom edge, ¼” deep, and just wide enough for the plywood-backed sign to slide in.

5. Crosscut the sides and ends to final length with your table-saw blade tilted to 45°. Make test cuts in scrap to ensure the mitred corners will meet cleanly, without gaps.

Mark and cut the slots that form the handles

1. Drill two 1¼” holes with centres 3″ apart and 1 and 1/8″ from the top edge, then make saw cuts connecting the two holes, and smooth with sandpaper or a rasp.

2. Round over the edges of the handle cut-outs and the top inside edges of the frame with a 1/8″ roundover bit in your router. Sand the inside faces of the frame to 220 grit.

3. Dry-assemble the tray with the panel in place to ensure that everything fits, then disassemble.

4. Apply wood glue to each mitred surface, reassemble, and clamp together using frame clamps or mitre clamps.

5. Wipe away excess glue. Allow to cure.

6. Cut slots for the mitre keys using the table saw. Each corner of the frame must be held point down as it passes over the saw blade.

7. With the jig in place, set your fence and blade to cut slots in the frame corners 1/16″ deep and 1/8″ from the nearest (top or bottom) edge. Place one corner of the tray in the jig and slide the jig along the fence to cut the slot. Repeat, making two slots per corner.

8. Cut keys by re-sawing narrow stock (1″ wide is plenty) into thin strips (about 1/8″ thick) that fit snugly in the corner slots. Crosscut these strips into pieces an inch or so long.

9. Glue into the slots, with grain running across the mitre joint. After the glue has dried, trim the keys flush, forming triangles.

10 . Rout 1/8″ roundovers on the outside edges (top and bottom) of the frame. Sand to 220 grit and top with several coats of polyurethane.

Tin-sign serving tray

Photo by Laura Arsié


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