Rustic Live-Edge Serving Tray


Rustic Live-Edge Serving Tray

Transform simple wood rounds into stylish rustic serving trays  

By Carole Rothman

If you’re looking for a new rustic accent piece that is as functional as it is stunning, then consider creating a live-edge serving tray. I created this single-ring tray that can be attached to a stationary or rotating base to create a dramatic and unique decorative addition to any home!

Note: The matching serving bowls project can be found in fall issue (#84) of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts. 

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Getting Started

Choose a round between 5/8″ (1.6cm) to 3/4″ (1.9cm) thick, and 8″ (20.3cm) to 11″ (27.9cm) in diameter. Stabilize the bark by elevating the round and applying shellac gently but thoroughly to the rough outer surface. Use cyanoacrylate (CA) glue to reattach any pieces of bark that break loose. Sand both sides of the round progressively through the grits to 320 with an orbital sander.

Making the Rings


Step 1

Draw the first cutting line. Choose the more attractive side for the inside of the bowl. Measure the diameter across the wood; do not include the inner bark. Since the round is unlikely to be truly circular, take several measurements to determine the largest diameter that will fit inside the bark area. Use this diameter to draw a circle on a sheet of paper. Cut the circle precisely and fold it sharply into quarters to create a template. Unfold the template. Position it on the round so that the wood surrounding the template is as evenly distributed as possible, and then secure it with small pieces of masking tape. Mark the center point with an awl and the endpoints of the fold lines with a pencil. Remove the template and connect the endpoints through the awl mark to create intersecting registration lines. Continue the lines to the outer edge of the bark. Place a compass at the center point and draw a circle with a diameter 1″ (2.5cm) smaller than the diameter of the template to create the first cutting line. Mark the top of the blank on the inner bark so it won’t be removed during sanding.  

Step 2

Cut the first circle. Mark a drilling point with an awl where the cutting line intersects one of the registration lines. Use a shop-made angle guide (see Tip below) and a #56 drill bit to drill a blade-entry hole, drilling directly toward the center of the blank. Note: The drilling angle depends upon the wood thickness: use 31˚ for wood 3/4″ (1.9cm) thick; use 33˚ for wood 11/16″ (1.7cm) thick; and use 35˚ for wood 5/8″ (1.6cm) thick. Tilt the left side of the saw table down to the same angle. Use a #7 blade to cut clockwise around the circle to complete the first ring. Mark the top of the blank to correspond to the top mark on the ring, placing it about 1″ (2.5cm) from the edge. This piece is the base.




Use an angle guide made from a scrap of wood to drill a hole at a specific angle. This guide can also be used to set your saw table to the desired angle for the cut.


Step 3

Tilt the table of the belt sander to match the cutting angle. Set the base on the table and rotate it evenly to remove blade marks and cutting irregularities. When smooth, draw a pencil line around the circumference, halfway between the upper and lower faces, to serve as a reference point for the bevel. Increase the table tilt to 40˚ and bevel the bottom edge. You can keep the bevel small or extend it to the line. Use a 2″ (5.1cm) flexible pad sander to soften the bevel into a smooth curve, then sand the side progressively through the grits to 320, being careful to remove vertical scratch marks. Soften the bottom edge by hand.

Step 4

Shape the inside of the top ring. Establishing the contour at this stage makes it easier to complete shaping when the ring is glued into place. Be sure that the top and registration marks on the inner bark remain visible. Use a pneumatic drum and coarse-grit sleeve for rapid removal of wood from the upper inside edge, then switch to the round inflatable sander for greater control. Sand the lower edge into a smooth circle, then sand the entire ring with the fine and extra fine sleeves. Be careful not to dislodge bark on the outside of the ring. When rough shaping is complete, refine the surface with the medium-grit sleeve. Remove any fuzzies or pencil marks from the lower inside edge.

Step 5

Remove the registration marks from the base, leaving a 1″ (2.5cm) segment at each end. Place the ring on the base, aligning tops and registration line segments. Make a small locating mark on each line segment, 1/8″ (3mm) from the edge of the ring. Remove the ring; the locating marks should all be about the same distance from the outer edge of the base. Completely remove the line segments; leave only the locating marks. With the base on a flat surface, position the ring on top. Follow the instructions in the Gluing from Live-Edge Rounds section (see below) to check for and correct spaces.

Step 6

Mix glue size as directed in the Gluing from Live-Edge Rounds section (see below) and apply it to the gluing areas of the ring underside and the base. Then apply full strength glue to the base only, keeping it about 1/4″ (6mm) in from the orienting marks to minimize squeeze-out. Position the ring on the base. Apply weight by applying a granite tile or heavy flat board to secure the bond. After five minutes, remove the unit and invert it carefully onto the flat surface. Use a toothpick to clean up squeeze-out, but also check for and remove any squeeze-out on the surface of the base.

If you’re not using an additional base, move onto to finishing the tray. Apply shellac to the bark surrounding the first ring, and to the inner bark on the upper face. This will heighten the contrast between the bark and the wood. Sand the inner bark on the upper face lightly with 320-grit sandpaper, to reduce shine and remove any shellac from the wood. If you are applying a water-based or solvent-based finish, apply it to all areas of the tray, except the outer bark. Once dry, smooth the surface with 320-grit sandpaper. Apply additional coats as needed. Smooth the surface between coats with 320-grit sandpaper, 0000 steel wool, or a well-worn 4″ (10.2cm) 320-grit sanding mop; do not use steel wool with water-based finishes. If you’re using beeswax and mineral oil, apply it sparingly; let it dry for 15-30 minutes, then buff to a soft sheen. If more than one coat is required, wait 24 hours between each coat. I used three applications of beeswax and mineral oil for this bowl tray.

Gluing from Live-Edge Rounds

Given the unique characteristics of rings cut from live-edge rounds, it’s not surprising that a successful glue-up requires some deviation from standard procedures.

The first step in the glue-up is to eliminate spaces between the rings that could result in unsightly voids or visible glue lines in the finished bowl. The standard procedure is to stack the rings, look for spaces, and then remove them by sanding the high areas with a sanding tile until the rings lie flat against each other. (I make mine from 150-grit sandpaper glued to a 12” [30.5cm] granite tile.) Although it may seem that clamping pressure alone should be sufficient to force the rings closed, this seldom happens with rings cut from standard boards. In addition, if excessive pressure is exerted, this can force glue out of the joints.

By contrast, rings cut from live-edge rounds tend to be springier and more flexible. While this makes sanding more difficult, it increases the likelihood that small gaps will close once the glue-up is clamped. Since you can’t predict the behavior of these rounds, I’d suggest starting with the sanding tile if voids appear when the rings are stacked. If you can’t remove them completely by sanding, stack the rings and exert moderate downward hand pressure. If the spaces disappear, you can confidently proceed to the glue-up. If they don’t, continue with the tile and try again. Once the rings have been glued together, they gain rigidity, and sanding should be more effective in eliminating gaps when the base and top ring are added.

Another change from standard procedures is the use of glue size. The end grain faces of bowl rings cut from tree rounds are porous and absorb glue rapidly. Glue size, made by mixing water and glue in a 2:1 ratio, reduces their porosity and prevents weak, glue-starved joints. To use it, remove sanding dust from the gluing surfaces and apply the glue size with a brush. Let the pieces sit for a few minutes, then apply full-strength glue to one of the gluing surfaces. Clamp and remove squeeze-out as with any tray.

Adding a Wooden Base

To add a wooden base, draw a circle about 2″ (5.1cm) smaller in diameter than the underside of the tray on a 3/8″ (1cm)-thick piece of matching wood. Cut the circle, sand the sides with a belt sander, soften the lower edge, and sand the piece progressively to 320 grit. Center the base on the underside of the tray; mark the gluing area and mask it with blue painter’s tape. Finish the tray and upper and side areas of the base as directed in Step 6, then glue the base into place, using downward pressure to secure the bond.

Adding a Rotating Base 

I added a rotating base that could be screwed directly into the underside of the tray with #8 flat-head wood screws, drilling and testing the fit before applying the finish. Intended primarily for movable displays, this mechanism, available online, consists of two concentric 1/2″ (1.3cm)-wide rings, each containing four rubber feet wedged into countersunk holes. To screw it to the tray, you must first remove the feet from the inner ring. This is most easily done by drilling through the feet from the countersunk side. Use the largest drill bit that will fit; mine was 1/6″ (4mm) in diameter. Once complete, center the base on the underside of the tray. The countersunk side of the small ring should be facing you; secure the ring with small pieces of double-sided tape to prevent movement as you mark the holes. To ensure accuracy, I marked the center of each hole by inserting a #10 screw into the hole and tapping it with a hammer to create the drilling point. Once the holes are marked, remove the base and drill pilot holes with a 3/32″ (2.4mm) brad-point bit, drilling halfway through the wood’s thickness.


These are placed between the bottom of the tray and the rotating mechanism, allowing it to turn freely. Here are three options:

  • If you drilled completely through the rubber feet when removing them, you can now glue them back into place with CA glue. Once the glue has set, you can re-drill the holes, if needed.
  • Drill a hole with an 11/64″ (4mm)-dia. bit through a 2″ (5.1cm) length of 7/16″ (1.1cm)-dia. dowel. Cut four even slices from the dowel, each about 1/4″ (6mm) thick. They are secured by the screws when the mechanism is attached.
  • From a 1/4″ (6mm)-thick piece of wood similar in color to the tray, cut a circle that matches the outer diameter of the smaller ring. Mark and pre-drill pilot holes with the 11/64″ (4mm)-dia. bit. Place the circle between the mechanism and tray bottom, aligning pilot holes, when you attach the mechanism to the tray.

To determine screw length, measure the combined thickness of the mechanism and spacers and add half the thickness of the tray. Place the spacers over the pilot holes, position the mechanism on top, insert the screws and turn them in rotation just until tight.



  • Live-edge wood round, 5/8” (1.6cm) to 3/4” (1.9cm) thick: curved-sided bowl, 8” (20.3cm) to 11” (27.9cm)-dia.
  • Shellac
  • Finish of choice, such as shellac, polyurethane (solvent or water based), or mixture of mineral oil and beeswax
  • Glue: cyanoacrylate (CA), wood
  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Sandpaper: assorted grits to 320
  • Steel wool: 0000
  • Tape: painter’s (blue), masking, double-sided
  • Granite tile
  • Heavy flat board
  • Rubber rings: 1/2″ (1.3cm)-dia., 2 each  
  • #8 flat-head wood screws, 4 each
  • #10 screw, 1 each


  • Scroll saw with blade: #7 skip-tooth
  • Hammer
  • Ruler
  • Compass
  • Awl
  • Shop-made angles
  • Drill with bit: #56 wire size; 1/6″ (4mm)-dia., 3/32 (2.4mm) brad-point
  • Sanders: drum, belt, random orbit with assorted grit discs to 320; round inflatable with assorted grit sleeves; 2″ (5.1cm) flexible pad (standard pad) with assorted grit discs
  • Paintbrushes: assorted



About the Author

Carole Rothman of Pawling, N.Y., is a retired psychologist and college professor. She is also an award-winning cake decorator. Visit Carole online at You’ll find her books, Creative Wooden Boxes from the Scroll Saw and Scroll Saw Wooden Bowls: Revised & Expanded Edition, at


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