This simple dining tray design caught my eye as it would allow me to gain some practice introducing curves into my pieces and to put to work my refurbished Stanley 51 spokeshave and recently purchased Gramercy rasp. The design is from an article published in Woodworking Magazine (Spring 2006) that appears to have been adapted from Ejner Handberg’s “Shop Drawings for Shaker Furniture & Woodenware Vol. 1” (Berkshire House). The piece was to be a gift to my mother who introduced me to Shaker designs early in my childhood. One of my first memories of a family vacation was as a four-year-old traveling from Illinois to the Pleasant Hill Shaker Village in Kentucky (interestingly not too far from where I now live).
The piece was constructed using 1/2” yellow-poplar and headless cut brads. I glued up the boards for the handle and bottom, planed them to size once dry, and set to work building the tray’s frame. I laid out the curve in the handle using a French curve, roughed it in with a coping saw, and then finished it with my spokeshave, modeller’s rasp, and some sandpaper. I was satisfied with the end product but it sure showed me I needed some more practice tuning, setting-up and using my spokeshave. After laying out the handle hole, I cut in the curve parts using ¾ auger bit. I did as much of the rest of the shaping with chisel and then switched finally to a rasp then sandpaper. The frame is nailed butt joints and bottom and handle are nailed from underneath. I recently refurbished a Stanley 60 1/2 block plane and was glad to have it when trimming the butt joints smooth. With such a narrow piece even my smoothing plane (Stanley No. 4) can be a bit awkward.
Once together I again planed the surfaces with my smoothing plane in preparation for painting with barn red milk paint. Following the instructions in the Anarchist’s Design Book (Lost Art Press), I wiped the piece with a damp cloth, let it dry, and sanded using 220 grit paper. Next I mixed the powered milk paint in a 1:2 ratio with warm water. Two coats of paint were applied sanding between coats with a 320 grit sanding sponge. I followed the paint with
two coats of Danish oil to bring out a bit of richness from the paint. Without a top coat, this milk paint was a bit chalky and dull. After each coat of oil was cured, I rubbed (“sanded”) with a brown paper bag. I was at first discouraged by the milk paint color but when complete this process turned out well.