Collector's Display Tray
This gridwork shadow box highlights a few of your favorite things.

DIMENSIONS: 16¾" W × 1 ½" D × 32 ¼" H

Approximate materials cost: $65

87 compartments for your tiny treasures


Back in the o-l-d days of publishing (our Editorial Content Chief had just started at WOOD® magazine, sweeping the shop), printers sorted lead blocks of lettering for printing presses in trays such as this one, earning the drawers the moniker “printer’s trays.” As technology made this storage obsolete, the compartmentalized trays became prized by collectors to display miniatures and other small items.

Finding an authentic antique printer’s tray in good condition can be difficult and costly. Luckily, with a few evenings of work, you can create a new one.

Start With a Super-simple Box

1 Cut the sides (A) and top and bottom (B) to size [Materials List, Exploded View]. Rabbet one edge of all pieces, then rabbet the ends of the sides. Finish-sand the inside faces.

2 Glue the top and bottom between the sides. To ensure the frame sits square, check for identical dimensions when measuring diagonally across corners.

3 Cut the back (C) to fit the rabbets in the frame, finish-sand it, and glue it in place.

4 Cut the major dividers (D) to fit in the frame, finish-sand them, and glue them to the back [Exploded View].

Learn five ways to cut rabbets.
On the packet for parts L, make the outermost cut, then butt the opposite end of the workpiece bundle against the fence and repeat. Because this isn’t a through cut, you can safely use the miter gauge and rip fence together. Reset the fence for the next set of dadoes on L and repeat the process.
Note: The dado spacing on part G matches that of part E, so bundle them together. The same goes for parts I and F.
Tip! Dry-fit the assemblies to check their fit in the frame. Disassemble and glue the dividers one by one.

Divide in Multiples

1 For the dividers (E–M), prepare at least 31 linear feet of ¼"-thick stock 1 ⅛" wide [Cutting Diagram]. Cut the dividers to length, making sure parts E, F, L, and M fit snug in the frame openings [Exploded View].

2 Gang like parts together with the ends and edges flush and secure each bundle with painter’s tape. Label each bundle with its part letter and lay out the slot locations on the outside faces of the bundles.

3 Set up a ¼" dado blade in your tablesaw and position the rip fence 2 ¼" from the blade. Cut one dado in parts F/I, and on both ends of E/G and L [Drawing 1, Photo A]. Then, cut the remaining dadoes on parts L [Photo B]. Use the same end-for-end method to cut the dadoes in M. For the remaining parts, simply cut to the layout lines.

4 Separate the packets, keeping the parts organized by part letter. Finish-sand the dividers. Then, assemble each of the three grids as shown in the Exploded View, using a drop of CA glue (super glue) at each intersection. Center dividers H, J, and K in their openings.

5 After the glue cures, ease the top edges of the dividers with sandpaper. Spray on a finish (we used aerosol satin lacquer), then glue the divider grids to the back (C) using drops of CA glue at several intersections.

6 Screw sawtooth hangers to the top (B)[Exploded View]. Screw the pull [Sources] to a side (A), centered, then drive screws into the wall for hanging your tray.