Organize your picnic flatware with this handy DIY tote

Published: July 9, 2019

Raj Chaudhry

Planning a picnic this summer or simply entertaining somewhere outside of your cottage? This DIY tote is a helpful way to both store and transport the flatware and other items you might need to enjoy your meal. It’s a fun weekend project, too. Here’s how to make yours.

Sides (Part A) and ends (Part B) create a frame, which is fastened to the bottom (Part C). A handle (Part D), running the length of the tote, is attached to the bottom and housed in dadoes at each end. Unlike the condiment carrier, the flatware tote has two partitions along its length (Part E) which create long, narrow compartments on either side of the handle. You can use these for napkins, grill tools, small paper plates or to hold a block for sharp knives. The flatware tote also features two dividers (Part F) that sit in dadoes in each side and long partition. They create three compartments per side for utensils, bottle openers, cork screws and the like.

A free download of measured shop drawings is available here.

Start with the frame

1. Rip stock for the sides and ends to their finished width of 4”.

2. Plane frame parts to 5/8” and the handle stock to 3/4”. Use gauge blocks for each as described in the condiment tote instructions.

3. Crosscut the sides to 10” and the ends to 7-3/8”.

4. Following the measurements shown in the shop drawings, plough 3/4” dadoes 3/16” deep centred on each end. Cut flanking 5/8” dadoes, also 3/16” deep, in the ends for the long partitions.

5. Plough dadoes, 5/8” wide and 3/16” deep, in the sides for the short partitions.

6. Sand the inside faces of the sides and ends through 150 grit. Remove dust.

7. Mark for the four screws on each side. The holes are 1/2” from top or bottom edges and 3/8” from each end. Drill counterbores for screw plugs with a 3/8” bit, 5/16” deep. Drill 3/32” pilot holes for the screws through the centre of the plug holes.

8. Clamp the frame square and use the holes you’ve drilled in the sides as guides to continue the pilot holes into the ends. Unclamp and apply glue to the mating surfaces. Screw them together with No. 6 x 1-1/4” long screws. Wipe off any glue that squeezes out with a damp cloth.

9. Cut plugs with a 3/8” plug cutter. Glue them in place. Let the glue dry, and trim the plugs. Plane or sand them flush.

Raj Chaudhry

Cut and attach the bottom

1. Measure your frame and cut a bottom to fit.

2. Mark for screws, 5/16” in from each edge, two per side and three down the center.

3. Countersink for the screw heads, and drill 3/32” pilot holes.

4. Sand the inside face of the bottom through 150. Remove the dust.

5. Tape or clamp the bottom in place, with edges flush. Mark bottom and frame so that you can replicate their alignment. Continue pilot holes from the bottom into the frame.

6. Remove the bottom. Apply glue to mating surfaces and screw the bottom to the frame with No. 6 x 1-1/4” screws. Wipe off any excess glue with a damp rag. Clamp and allow to dry. Moisture from the rag will have raised the grain, so sand the inside surfaces lightly with 150 grit sandpaper. Sand the outside of the box through 100 grit. Remove the dust.

Make the handle and long partitions

1. Crosscut your lumber for the handle and long partitions to finished length – which should match the outside length of your box (10” on paper). Leave the boards a little wider than their finished dimension, but make sure the top and bottom edges of the partitions are parallel.

2. Draw the curves. Using the dimensions in the shop drawing, mark the points on each part where the top curve intersects the edges of the board, and lay out the handle slot. All of the curves have a 9” radius. On the long partitions, the origins for the arcs will extend beyond your wood. If using a compass, draw a centre line down the middle of your board. Tape the wood down and butt a piece of scrap of the same thickness against your part. Tape this down as well. Extend the centre line of the part across the piece of scrap. You now have a place for the point of your compass. Draw the arcs.

3. Cut the handle curve on the bandsaw. Cut outside the line and sand to it. As mentioned earlier, you can avoid the compass work and use the handle of the condiment tote as a tracing template or even use it to cut the curves on a router table with a flush-cutting template bit. For now, leave the tops of the long partitions square.

4. Draw the notches in the handle and long partitions where they fit into their corresponding dadoes and extend over the ends. Measure the inside height of your frame, the outside box length, and the distance between dado floors. If these measurements vary at all from the shop drawings, mark cut lines for the notches that match your actual box dimensions.

5. Using a 2” diameter Forstner bit, bore end holes for the handle slot. Cut out the wood between to finish the slot, and perfect it with a rasp or sanding cylinder.

6. Sand the handle and long partitions through 150 grit. Check regularly as you sand to make sure you don’t remove too much and end up with loose dado joints. Once you’ve achieved a good fit, avoid sanding the edges further. Wipe or blow off the dust.

7. Dry fit the handle into the frame. Turn the tote on its side and continue the 3/32” pilot holes through the bottom into the handle. Remove the handle.

8. Apply glue to the dadoes and mating surfaces on the handle. Also spread a very light coat of glue along the bottom edge of the handle. Slide the handle into place and make sure it is firmly seated against the bottom. Fasten with No. 6 x 1-1/4 screws. Wipe off any excess glue with a damp rag. Let dry, and touch up the surfaces with 150 grit sandpaper.

Raj Chaudhry

Cut the short partitions and stopped dadoes

The short partitions are housed in full-width dadoes in the sides and captured by stopped dadoes in the long partitions. Stopped dadoes are slots that don’t extend fully across the width of a part. The short dividers have notches at the top. The notched portion hides the round top of the stopped dado.

1. Slide your long partitions into their dadoes. Measure the distance between the bottom of the dadoes in each side and the face of the long partition. This will give you the width of your short partition along the top (between dado and notch.)

2. Rip 5/8” thick scrap stock to your dimension from Step 1. (Length isn’t critical, maybe 5” long.) Slide this test piece into place, with one end in the dado and the other against the long partition. Fine tune as necessary. Make sure that the piece is seated in the dado and square to the side. Trace the outside edges of the scrap piece where it butts against the long partition to locate your stopped dado. Project each dado in this fashion. Extend the dado lines around the bottom face of the long partition.

3. Route the four stopped dadoes, 5/8” wide, 3/16” deep and 3-9/16” long. You can use a table-mounted router or hand-held compact router. The router table method requires two pencil lines: one on the back of the workpiece to mark the end of the dado; and one on the table, or its fence, where the router bit ends. Use a miter gauge with a long fence and a stop. Simply feed the part into the cutter until the pencil lines converge. To accomplish the same thing with a hand-held router, draw lines across the dado marks where the cuts will end. Measure the distance between the edge of the router base and the edge of the router bit. Draw a line offset by this distance from the slot to be cut. Use double-sided tape to attach a straight strip of wood along this line. It should be square to the bottom of the piece. With the router against your temporary fence, sand off any fuzz left by the router bit.

4. Rip the stock for your short partitions to the dimension you measured in Step 2 plus the depth of your stopped dado, 3/16”. Crosscut to match the width (height) of your sides. Mark the corner notches, which are 3/4” deep and 3/16” wide, and cut with bandsaw or handsaw.

5. Cut the curved tops of the long partitions, staying outside the line then sanding to it. 6. Sand the short partitions through 150 grit, testing their fit in the dadoes as you go. Blow or wipe off the dust. Make sure the finished short partitions slide far enough into the long partition dadoes that their bottoms can sit flush when assembled.

Complete assembly and finish

A note on glue: Because of the number of parts that are glued concurrently in these final steps, you’re better off with a Type III wood glue than with a Type II adhesive. The Type III gives you a little more time to work. Type III has an open time — the time before the surface of the glue starts to skin over — of 8 minutes to 10 minutes. That compares to an open time of 3 minutes to 5 minutes for a typical Type II glue.

1. Assemble the tote without glue to ensure everything fits. First, slide two short partitions into the stopped dadoes in one long partition, then gently work the whole assembly into the side and end dadoes. Use your best judgment. If everything lines up, and it feels like the parts will fit with a little persuasion, but you are worried about being able to get the tote apart again, it may not be worth seating everything fully. Repeat the test fit for the other side. If you are happy, disassemble for gluing.

2. Glue up one side at a time. Apply glue inside the dadoes, and to the mating portions of one long and two short partitions (including where the long partitions overlap the ends). Slide the short partitions into the dadoes of the long partition. Then push this unit all the way into the end and side recesses. Wipe off any glue squeeze-out with a damp cloth. Cotton swabs can help in tight corners. Repeat this procedure for the other side. Clamp the box lightly in both directions and allow to dry.

3. Ease all of the edges and corners with sandpaper. Fill any small gaps or imperfections with a mix of glue and sawdust. Allow to dry. Sand the outside of the box through 150 grit. Wipe down or use compressed air to remove any dust.

4. Finish with two coats of milk paint, following the manufacturer’s directions. For a worn, casual look, sand with 220 grit sandpaper emphasizing the edges. Allow the paint to cure. Then apply several coats of a low-gloss water-based polyurethane. An aerosol clear coat will save you the trouble of working with brushes inside the small compartments.

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