Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Tight Fit

John and I registered for a gorgeous utensil tray at Crate and Barrel. Someone got it for us, but sadly, it was to big for our drawer. This is when I realized that our drawers are strangely narrow, and none of the pre made trays would fit. I went to The Container Store and picked up some interlocking trays that you can configure to fit the space you have, but they looked cheap and were too short for the knives to fit in. So, what could I do? Make my own, of course. That, or just stick all of our silverware in the drawer willy nilly.

First, I cut a piece of paper to fit the drawer.

Next, I placed one of each of our 5 pieces of silverware where I wanted them to go and marked off each area.

I got a sheet of 2'x4' plywood for the base and 2.5" wide poplar boards for the sides. My mitre saw isn't big enough to cut such wide plywood, so I took it to Home Depot and had them cut it to the size my paper was.

I just measured and marked the side pieces and got to cutting.

After I had all of my pieces, I used Elmer's Wood Glue and some finishing nails to attach the pieces. 

First, I attached the outer pieces.

Then, I put in the dividers and glued and nailed them the same way.

Lastly, I glued and nailed the bottom on (I wiped up that excess glue you see oozing in the corners).

Moment of truth... did it fit? It did! Perfectly!

There are two drawers on the other side of the kitchen that are on either side of the oven. They're more of a normal size and would therefore fit a pre made tray, but I figured that since I was making one I may as well make two more. Since we don't have all of our cooking utensils yet, I'm not sure where the best place to put the dividers is yet. So for now, I just have the perimeter made. Once we get everything we need I'll add the dividers wherever works best!

Now, as you can see in the picture below, I used a pencil to mark where the dividers would go (see it on the bottom piece?).

I did this because I was initially planning to paint the trays with the same white paint our cabinets and shelves are painted with, so it wouldn't matter if I put marks all over them. The cabinets and shelves are painted with oil-based paint, which is the type that's best when painting wood, so it would make sense to use it on these trays since that's what they're made of. The only issue is that oil-based paint does a lot of off-gassing. I'm no expert on off-gassing, but to the shallow degree that I understand it, I understand that it's bad.

{If you want to skip a little educational moment/backstory on my experiences with oil-based paint, just scroll down to the next picture}

Our house smelled like paint fumes for a solid month after the painting was over due to the off-gassing that was taking place. Things were fully dry about 5 days after they were painted, but they had a lot of toxins still to release. We literally kept the fans on and the windows open 24 hours a day 7 days a week for the entire month of February. There wasn't much to steal since we had almost nothing in here, and we just turned off the AC/heat and let the weather dictate the temperature in the house.

Point being, oil-based paint has VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in it (which, again, I don't pretend to understand) and I couldn't find any conclusive information online about whether it's food-safe or not. I know spray paint isn't food-safe (meaning you should not spray paint a plate and then eat off it), so I decided to err on the side of caution and not use it. I actually emailed John & Sherry about it, and Sherry wrote back! Let me tell you I was pretty surprised, because when I emailed them I got an auto-response saying that there was no chance they'd respond because they're so busy. I totally understood and expected nada. Instead, I got this!

She suggested using a regular food-safe oil that you'd use on butcher block, or using Acrylacq, which is a non-toxic sealant. The only issue with Acrylaq is that you have to order it... Home Depot doesn't carry it. And, true to form, I was too impatient to order it. You have to understand that when I have like 900 things on my to do list, starting a project and not being able to finish it in the time frame I thought I would is torture. So, set backs like ordering are avoided at all costs. 

I decided to go the food-safe oil route and picked up some mineral oil (not to be confused with mineral spirits, which is highly flammable) and got to it. Luckily, all of my pencil marks were on the outside of the tray, so no one would see them anyway because they fit so snugly against that drawer.

I think the outcome was actually really awesome. The mineral oil brought out the richness in the wood and now it almost looks like the trays are built in!

With utensils...

Total success. Here's one of the ones on the other side that will get dividers after we get all of our cooking utensils.

This was a really fun project. Turns out I really like working with wood! Who would have thought... given that my grandfather is the grandfather of woodworking. All of the materials cost under $30 and I still have about half of the plywood leftover, compared to $30 per utensil tray at Crate and Barrel. Plus, it fits my drawer and utensils perfectly. Bam!

So, what do you think? Worth it to custom make them or overkill? Any suggestions for where to put the dividers in the big trays? Is it nice to have a specific place for every tool, or is it better to have big compartments and let things go wherever works?


  1. Amazing! You have many talents. Nice job and they look very rich.

  2. Could just making the dividers without the perimeter and without the base work? Just gluing them to each other? I'd like them to be removable, but I think they'd look more custom without the outer pieces.

    And do you think I could cut the pieces with a hand saw instead?

    1. You could definitely make it without the perimeter and base by using glue, but only if you had the right clamps. They would probably have to be very, very long. The difficult thing about glue is the time it takes to dry, so you'd need to have consistent pressure on it the whole time. Using a fast-drying glue like super glue may not work on wood--but I'm not totally sure.
      Using a hand saw is doable, but it will take a long time, especially depending on the wood you get. Even something that thin can take a long time to cut, and when you multiply that by all of the pieces it really adds up. If you have the time, though, then go for it! Let me know how it turns out :)