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How to Make an Industrial Serving Tray

The industrial style became popular when urban pioneers began converting old warehouses and factories into living spaces and offices. Characterized by exposed brick and pipes, weathered wood and a utilitarian vibe, the industrial style has transcended architecture, influencing furniture, light fixtures, graphic design and even fashion. Build this serving tray to add a piece of this style to your home.

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industrial trayPhoto: D. Thomas Treadwell

Pipe and Barnwood

This industrial serving tray is constructed of vintage oak barn wood and trimmed with black iron handles. Hardwood pegs add a touch of hand-wrought charm.

If you can operate a saw and drill, you can make this industrial serving tray in few hours.

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trayPhoto: D. Thomas Treadwell

Materials Needed to Make this Industrial Serving Tray

  • 1 Barnwood board: 9-1/2″ wide x 1″ thick x 10′ long
  • (2) 3/4″ black iron pipes, 8″ long
  • (4) 3/4″ black iron floor flanges
  • (4) 3/4″ black iron elbows
  • (16) #8 slotted steel wood screws
  • (1) 3/4″ #8 wood screw
  • (2) 1/2″ hardwood plugs
  • TSP, salt, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide
  • Wood glue
  • Stain
  • Spray polyurethane
  • Can polyurethane
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finished barnwoodPhoto: D. Thomas Treadwell

Tools Needed for Your Industrial Serving Tray

  • Table saw (or circular saw with straightedge guide)
  • Radial saw
  • Carpenter’s square
  • Biscuit joiner (optional)
  • Orbital sander with 120-grit disks
  • Drill with 1/8″ bit
  • 1/2″ spade bit
  • Hammer
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Slotted-tip screwdriver
  • Wood clamps
  • Flush-cut saw
  • Soap or candle
  • 220-grit sandpaper

Approximate Cost: $45 plus lumber

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barnwoodPhoto: D. Thomas Treadwell

Inspect the Board

We are working with a single board of white oak, reclaimed from a barn in Minnesota that was destroyed by a tornado. If you plan to use authentic barnwood for your industrial serving tray, be sure to carefully inspect the boards for nails and remove them. Make sure the wood is sound throughout, and not rotted and powdery.

If there is paint on one side of the board, assume that it is lead-based. Dust from lead-based paint is toxic, so you should not sand paint from the board. Using the instructions in “How to Remove Lead Paint Safely,” scrape off any loose paint. When it’s time to apply a finish, just brush on a topcoat to that side. Whether it’s the top or bottom of the serving tray is up to you and the effect you’re going for.

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marking barnwoodPhoto: D. Thomas Treadwell

Square the End

Use a carpenter’s square to make a perpendicular cut on one end. This gives you a baseline so the rest of your cuts can be square.

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marks on barnwoodPhoto: D. Thomas Treadwell

Cut the Pieces

We were able to get all the necessary pieces for our industrial serving tray from a 9-1/2″. x 10′ board. If you’re working with a similar size board, cut the pieces out as shown, being careful to preserve the naturally distressed edges on most of the cuts. You should end up with the following lengths:

Two 4-1/2″ x 26″ boards, each with one natural edge

One 4-1/2″ x 26″ board with clean edges

Two 3-1/2″ x 13-3/4″ boards, each with one natural edge

Ripping long boards is much easier with table saw! If you don’t have one yet, see “Best Portable Table Saw Reviews” before you buy.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Arrange the Boards

Arrange the three 4-1/2″ boards as shown. The board with the clean-cut edges goes in the middle. Barnwood boards may be warped and uneven, so experiment to find the order that works best. If possible, keep the most characteristic, beautiful texture on the same side. That will be the top of your industrial serving tray.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Mark the Joins

If you’re using a biscuit joiner, make a mark every few inches across the boards where the biscuits will go. If you don’t have biscuit joiner, see these instructions on edge joining with glue.

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using joinerPhoto: D. Thomas Treadwell

Cut the Slots

Cut the biscuit slots at each mark. If you’re not familiar with biscuit joiners, see this great article on how to use one.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Insert the Biscuits

Dip the biscuits into wood glue and insert them into the slots on one side of the pair of boards that you will be joining. Apply a thin layer of glue along that board’s edge. You’ll want to be sure there’s no glue on visible wood, so see this info on how to apply glue and clean away the excess.

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clamping barnwoodPhoto: D. Thomas Treadwell

Clamp Tightly Together

Put the boards together and clamp firmly. Wood scraps on the end will help keep the boards level and prevent marks from the clamps. Let the glue dry for 24 hours. See these tips on how to clamp like a champ.

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sand barnwoodPhoto: D. Thomas Treadwell

Smooth the Wood

Depending on your tastes and the condition of the board, you could skip this step and simply seal the rough barnwood once the pieces are attached. (Remember, if your barnwood is painted, it should not be sanded.) We are going for a smoother, more hand-worked appearance for our industrial serving tray, so we’re using 120-grit disks on an orbital sander to remove the oxidized surface and smooth away splinters.

Hate sanding? Here are some ideas on how to get through the job faster.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

But Keep Some Texture

We don’t want to lose all that beautiful character, though, so we’re careful not to sand off the saw marks and the other natural distressing characteristic of the industrial style.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Position the Top Boards

Place the 3-1/2″ x 13-3/4″ boards perpendicularly on the top surface of your industrial serving tray, keeping the clean cut edges to the outside. Make sure they are flush on the top, bottom and side edges. Find the center of the board, measuring side-to-side and lengthwise, then drill a 3/4″ deep hole with a 1/8″ drill bit.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Drill a Countersink for the Peg

Use a 1/2″ spade bit to drill a 1/4″ deep hole in that spot.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Attach the Top Boards

Lightly glue the underside of the boards, then attach them using a 3/4″ #8 wood screw. Here’s how to drive screws perfectly.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Clamp Overnight

Clamp the top boards to the industrial serving tray. Clean off the excess glue. Allow the glue to dry at least overnight before removing the clamps.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Clean the Iron Pipe and Fittings

Use TSP (trisodium phosphate) to clean the pipe fittings. This will help strip off the waxy coating often found on black iron pipes. Rinse thoroughly and dry by hand.

TSP is also great for cleaning woodwork prior to repainting. See more tips on how to paint a room fast.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Corrode the Screw Heads

In keeping with the vintage, industrial look, use steel slotted screws instead of Phillips head screws. To avoid a shiny, new appearance, soak the screws at least overnight in a solution of vinegar, salt and hydrogen peroxide. If the screw heads are resisting corrosion, buff them lightly with fine-grit sandpaper, then spritz them with the salt, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide solution, allowing them to air dry. Repeat if needed.

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industrial style trayPhoto: D. Thomas Treadwell

Position the Handles

Assemble the handles and position them on each top board, centering side-to-side and lengthwise. Make sure you rotate the flange so the holes are accessible with a screwdriver. Mark and drill the screw holes using a 1/8″ drill bit for the #8 wood screws you’ll use later.

Tip: You may want to mark the underside of the flanges to indicate which handle goes on which side of the industrial serving tray.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Seal the Handles

Lightly coat the handles with a satin polyurethane spray to give them a consistent soft shine and protect the metal from corrosion. Two light coats are better than one heavy one, which could cause drips.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Peg the Holes

Put a drop of glue inside the holes and tap a hardwood plug into each. Allow the glue to dry. If the plug protrudes above the board, cut it flush with a flat serrated blade, such as a flush-cut saw.

You can find hardwood plugs at most hardware stores. If you’d like the pegs to blend in with the surrounding board, use plugs cut from your project scraps and line up the grain.

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Distress the Clean Edges

Use a wood rasp to roughen the clean edges of the top boards on your industrial serving tray.

If you’re working with new boards from a lumber store, now’s the time to add distressing to give your serving tray a vintage look. You’ll find several interesting techniques for aging wood here, including alternatives to staining.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Final Sanding

Smooth the rasped edges and anywhere else on your industrial serving tray that might still have splinters. Keep in mind that the tray may be placed on a bedspread or upholstered ottoman, so pay particular attention to the bottom side and sand down any areas that might catch on fabric.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Choose a Stain Color

Use scraps for testing stain colors. Remember that the surface texture and topcoat (varnish, polyurethane, etc.) can alter the final appearance, so be sure test on sanded scraps and apply the topcoat before making your decision.

Here’s more on how to get the stain color you want.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Apply the Stain

The good news is that a rustic, industrial serving tray like this looks better when it’s not perfect, so don’t sweat the staining. We used one coat of a water-based stain from General Finishes called Antique Oak. Just brush it on and wait a few minutes before wiping it off with a rag. Let the stain dry for 6 to 8 hours.

Here’s more info on staining wood.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Finish with a Topcoat

We applied two coats of Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane in a Clear Satin sheen, with a light hand-sanding using 220-grit paper in between coats.

Always stir polyurethane well before using—never shake it, as that can cause bubbles. Here are more tips on how to get a smooth polyurethane finish.

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Photo: D. Thomas Treadwell

Screw in the Handles

It’s easy to accidentally strip slotted screws, especially when working with hardwoods. And if your screw threads are rusty, they’ll be even more difficult to drive into the wood. A little bar soap or candle wax in the threads will make it easier.

Want more tips like that? See “15 Revolutionary Techniques for Driving Screws.”

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industrial style serving trayPhoto: D. Thomas Treadwell


Your finished serving tray will be a solid, beautiful statement of industrial style that will last for years to come.

Devon Thomas Treadwell
With her deep experience in brand creation, Devon brings a strong sense of brand purpose to the content she writes on behalf of clients. Quick to understand complicated subjects and reinterpret them for all audiences, Devon has written various types of pieces across many industries, including technology, manufacturing, health care, consumer packaged goods, financial services, entertainment and nonprofit. Her personal passions include photography, current events and volunteering for animal-related causes. Devon is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.