I’m making a serving tray in a woodworking course. I designed it to have a “fence” running along the length of the board and attaching the handles between the two fences. As you can see from the picture below, the handle consists of 2 pieces with an arc. The upper piece is quite thin (min. 12mm, max. 18mm).

Perspective view of the serving tray Side view of the serving tray, viewing the handles

My question is about how I would go about constructing the handle pieces.

I thought about making the handle in one piece as if the top of the handle is attached to the bottom part, adding about 3mm to account for the saw blade (see picture below). Then, after routing the arc, I could cut the pieces apart. This seems like a good way to provide some stability for the handheld router OR provide more safety if I’d use a table router (not sure on which tool to use, either).

Serving tray handle construction in one piece

If I’m going to use a router, I’m also not sure about how to create a template for this. I could just draw the arc line on the wood, so I can “eyeball” it… Is there a better way?

I could also just draw the shape of the arc onto the wood and use a chisel…

Any advice or comment is appreciated.

  • 2
    You didn't ask, but it appears that you have a frame/panel sort of setup for the bottom. You could skip that and simply rabbet the sides to receive the bottom slats. The advantage would be that you now don't have a lip around the edge of the bottom that could tip tray contents. The downside is that it forces you to have sturdier joinery around the sides. Plus, a stopped rabbet is a little harder to do. May 6, 2023 at 13:12
  • 1
    A finger joint is one of the possible options here, but I don't think we could say it's better. Some people will consider it better, some won't (and some of this second group will be advocating the use of some kind of dovetail rather than defending the use of through-dowels....). I'm a fan of finger joints and also of through-dowelling, both add a lot of strength as well as a decorative element. But the second is far easier to implement in a wide range of circumstances, takes less equipment and essentially no setup and doesn't require extra length in the original workpieces.
    – Graphus
    May 7, 2023 at 5:45
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    Finger joints are prettier if you think they're prettier ;-) There's a consideration here, but I have to preface it with some commentary. I have no idea what the teaching style of your instructor is, some teachers want students to stumble into problems so they can see how the student handles the situation (rather than the class being primarily about achieving the best outcome) so just in case.... remember if you go forward with the idea of finger joints that these are now virtually always done in a jig, on the TS or router table, and require reference surfaces on the workpieces. [contd]
    – Graphus
    May 9, 2023 at 6:41
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    This might mean the fingers have to be cut before the curves, and then protected from damage during subsequent operations. The alternative, again, if finger joints, is to cut them by hand and this can obviously be done post-curves. But many are of the opinion that if you're cutting fingers by hand you might as well go just a tad further and just do dovetails; they're almost universally considered to look better, and offer a distinct mechanical advantage. And don't forget, with either fingers or dovetails, ALL end pieces need to be longer by approximately double the thickness of the sides.
    – Graphus
    May 9, 2023 at 6:46
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    Thanks again @Graphus! I'm taking that into consideration. I was thinking about doing it by hand, after the curves have been done, indeed. I'm eager to try dovetails and this might be a good chance for that. So I'll probably end up doing that!
    – Wouter C
    May 21, 2023 at 19:06

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure why your mind went to the router here but I don't think it's the way a lot of people would choose to do this (although it can absolutely be done that way). If the ends here were single pieces and the openings were extended ovoids then a router would arguably be the way to go, after getting rid of most of the waste by other means1.

Since it's just the one tray I think the curved edges you need are within the scope of "I'm OK with doing these individually" for most people.

However, saying that, there's a more efficient way of doing it and that's ganging the pieces together2 for some or all of the operations and working them all at once. Naturally this will also help ensure greater uniformity in the end result, if that's something you particularly want.

  • For ease of workholding I would make all four pieces the same size initially, then cut or plane down the narrower top pieces to size. This could even be done after installation in the tray if desired.

  • Don't attempt to draw the curve freehand by eye; this is far more difficult than it seems and rarely works as well as one hopes. Instead use a very old method, bend a thin strip of wood (or a steel rule) and mark along it, something like this:

Marking a smooth curve, bent lath


  • You only need to draw the curve once if you're ganging the four pieces together and working them all together.

  • If you want or need to do them individually then mark only one piece, work it to completion them mark the other three pieces from the first. This is considered best practice for uniformity of results in many woodworking operations.

  • If a bandsaw is available, you'll have all four pieces ganged together and will saw close to the line using it. If you're nervous you might want to aim to be about 1/8" (3mm) from the line, but with care — working slowly and being prepared to back up a bit and change angle as needed — you could aim for 1/16" (1.5mm), leaving a lot less excess wood to remove in the next step.

  • Work down to the line initially using sanding, using very coarse paper (60 grit or even coarser!) if you have to do it by hand. If an oscillating spindle sander or drum sander in a drill are available, use them. You could conceivably also do this using the toe of a belt sander, but you'd need to be very careful.

  • Finish off the surface either by hand sanding in the direction of the grain up to 180 or 240 grit (the most common finishing grits), or by scraping.

  • If a compass plane is available consider doing the entire operation using it. You can just use a curved-bottom plane to do some or all of the final smoothing, but there isn't a great deal of wood to remove here so it's quite possible to do the whole job with the plane, saving multiple operations and setups.

1 Drilling a sequence of holes with e.g. Forstner bits, or drilling two holes and joining them with jigsaw or coping saw cuts.

2 Using the tape + superglue trick, good carpet tape or hot-melt glue to temporarily tack them together.

  • 1
    Thank you so, so much for this!! I don't know how I could forget about the bandsaw, but yes I have one available at the shop, so it seems like it would be a good choice. Will definitelly also try the curve drawing technique you mentioned above!
    – Wouter C
    May 6, 2023 at 12:36
  • Agree with everything here, but the router is (imho) viable: take the time to build one template -- make it perfect -- and repeats are nearly ready to use off the router table. (Maybe I just hate sanding.) May 6, 2023 at 13:05
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    @AloysiusDefenestrate, no you're dead right; as I say it can absolutely be done that way. I'm just taking my lead from a few of the other woodworkers I know who say how much they hate making jigs :-) "Maybe I just hate sanding" You and me both. It's why I learned to scrape early, and why I scrape as much as possible. Even without formal scrapers scraping can a valuable addition to the workflow in almost any workshop.
    – Graphus
    May 7, 2023 at 5:36
  • +1 to scrapers. They are vastly under appreciated. I’ll even pull a blade out of my utility knife and scrape with it every once in a while! May 7, 2023 at 13:20

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