Armrest Tray

  • Armrest Tray

This mini table can hold a cuppa and a snack, as well as the remote control, while taking up hardly any room. 

Coffee tables are useful for drinks, books and remote controls but can take up a lot of floorspace, especially in a narrow room. 

An end table is a good alternative, but if squeezing it in means having a shorter sofa most of us would go without to be able to stretch out. 

The space-saving solution is to abandon traditional tables altogether in favour of a tray that is designed to fit over the armrest of a sofa or chair.  

It could be made industrially out of moulded plastic, sheet metal or steam-bent plywood but we simply used lengths of 8mm dowel and 18mm thick plywood finished with timber stain applied using a cloth.

This armrest tray may look like a high-end designer homeware but it’s very quick and easy to make. And if you have plywood offcuts and stain left over from other projects, you just need to buy the dowels for $40.  

TIP A flat, square-shaped armrest works best for this type of tray. 

Working with plywood

Plywood is a versatile material, with the grain of each successive ply or layer running perpendicular to the last. This allows it to be cut into irregular shapes without splitting along the grain. 

For furniture and pieces that will be on show like this tray, use quality plywood of at least BC grade. 

To make an armrest tray to match your lounge, measure the arm width and the drop down the side required for easy access to the storage tray. 

Next, draw a half-template grid that is easily reversed to make a full template, with the arm hook and storage tray the same width. 

TIP Test-fit the cardboard template on the sofa arm before you cut out the plywood, making sure it’s snug

Step 1. Prepare the blanks

Enlarge the diagram, transfer it to cardboard, cut out and test the fit. Stack two offcuts of 18mm plywood cut roughly to shape, called blanks. Temporarily join the blanks with screws, attach the template using tape and trace it in pencil.

Step 2. Drill dowel holes

Use a centre punch to mark the hole locations for the dowels, remove the template and drill the holes with an 8mm brad-point bit, using a drill guide to ensure they are perpendicular. Work from both sides to minimise breakout. TIP You can also use a drill press.

Step 3. Cut the tray sides

Clamp the blanks and cut out the sides with a jigsaw, using a drill and 25mm spade bit for the curves. Switch off the pendulum action and go slowly so you don’t bend the blade. TIP Insert dowels in the curves to prevent shear movement.

Step 4. Round over the edges

Use a belt sander to make the two clamped tray sides into perfect copies, then separate and round over the edges. Start with a random orbital sander then finish the details by hand. TIP Roll abrasive paper into a cylinder to round over the internal curves.

Step 5. Cut the dowels

Gather the dowels into a bundle and tie tightly with elastic bands and masking tape. Use a mitresaw with
a fine-tooth blade, and a stop block clamped at 340mm from the edge to cut the dowels. Let the saw spin up to full speed before cutting the dowels.

Step 6. Assemble the tray

Insert the dowels in one side so they protrude about 15mm, leaving a few key dowels flush with the outer face. Align the other side, insert the key dowels and clamp the assembly. Apply PVA adhesive to the dowels and push them into place, fitting the key dowels last.

Click on the cutting list

Click on the cutting list to see what materials you need for this project, and in what sizes.

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