Easy Modern Inlayed Wood Tray

12 Materials
2 Hours

Six years into Zest and I am still a junker at heart. There is something so darn rewarding about grabbing something that has been discarded, and giving it a chic new life. Sam and I started Zest it Up way-back-when with the purchase of a bottle of Gorilla Glue, paint and some screws. Pulling furniture off the side of the road in Los Osos, CA, we breathed new life into literal trash and sold it at local consignment stores. Since those days, we have watched Zest grow and bloom into a passion driven company with a heart for makers, creativity, community, and learning. In all honesty, Zest is a way of life for us. It is how we see the world. So, when friends and clients find little junker-treasures that they are dying to give us for transformation, like this tray, I am blown away at the culture we are having fun creating!

Photo Cred: Anya McInroy
  • old tray
  • chalk paint or acrylic in white and grey
  • 2 wood stain colors, one light and one dark
  • 1 pack of paint mixing sticks
  • Gorilla Glue wood glue or E6000 for waterproof adhesion
  • exacto knife
Challenge is on!  It is not that this tray lacked its own unique vibe, but it was looking a bit ragged and definitely did not mix with our industrial influenced Zest studio.  So, I opted for a cleaner geometric appearance for it, starting with a coat of fresh paint.  You can obviously use acrylic paint, but I liked that the chalk paint did not require a coat of primer or sanding for excellent coverage.
Once the tray was dry, it was time to cut my paint sticks for a cool inlay design.  This is actually way easier than you would think!  The wood is so soft and thin that you do not even need a chop-saw!  Instead, you can quietly do this project with a simple little Exacto blade (razer blade).  Just measure out the paint sticks, mark with a pencil, and then run your Exacto blade along the pencil mark a few times until you can easily snap the wood along your cut line.  It’s a snap!
I measured some of my sticks out to be 8.5″ long and some to 6.5″ long, so that they would create a nice overlapping pattern inside of my 15″ long tray.
Next up, I played with color!  I wanted a random feeling pattern, so I choose three colors for my paint sticks: a neutral grey, a mahogany stain, and a clear coat varnish.
Make sure to cover the sides and ends of the sticks, as well.  
You do not want any untreated wood messing up the finished look of your tray…and it is way easier to accomplish this before gluing the pieces into place.
Once the paint sticks were dry, I used some Gorilla Glue wood glue to adhere them into place (I know, a nice full circle from my beginning days of Zest, right?)
Once all the pieces are in place, let them dry according to package instructions.  Then, give a hefty coating of clear varnish to protect all your hard work!
Yup, I am kind of patting myself on the back right now.  Hahaha, this is a far cry from gilded palm trees! Simple and pretty darn rewarding.  I think it is safe to say that this guy has been Zested!
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Zest it Up

Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

1 question
  • Diane Scharin
    Diane Scharin
    on Oct 23, 2018

    Where is pic of final project?

    • Jane Casteel Young
      Jane Casteel Young
      on Apr 13, 2019

      I love this! Is there a pic of it without the napkins and silverware? I wanted a better look at how the different colors of wood pieces were spaced.

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