As is usually true for this time of year, Seattle is in the middle of a weird almost-spring-but-still-cold-and-rainy weather pattern. In the last month alone, we’ve had more than one day that starts with snow and ends with sun as we stumble towards spring. This project (and the two posts to follow) are for everyone who’s still getting good use of their rain boots. This is the beginning of a series of three entryway (or mudroom) themed projects that are our transition from out-in-the-garden to inside-the-home.
Step 1: Make the Cuts
Cut plywood to a 14” by 30” rectangle with the circular saw.
There are two broad categories of plywood: construction grade plywood (meant to be used where you don’t see it) and a range of appearance-grade plywood like we used, that has a beautiful hardwood finish. Within the appearance-grade group there is "shop grade". It's the lower grade of the pretty plywood which, in my opinion, often makes it the perfect balance between quality and pricing. Think of shop-grade as "seconds" with some minor blemishes.
The point of a boot tray is to keep floors dry, so we used a single sheet of plywood instead of individual boards, because I didn't want a seam in the middle of the tray. If you have two boards put together, water can fall between and pool on the floor or sit in the seam. There are definitely ways around this, but I liked the look of the smooth plywood finish.
The sides of the tray are made of Douglas fir. We built a double wall, so there are two pieces that make up each vertical. The copper fits into the inside wall and butts up against the outside board. (We drilled holes through the inside wall, but not the outside wall.) We also made the walls with straight end cuts for aesthetic reasons, but a mitered corner works just as well.
The 1/2” x 3” Douglas fir will be the inside wall sitting on top of the plywood. Cut two pieces to 30” and two pieces to 13”.
The 1/2” x 4” Douglas fir will be the outside wall wrapping around the plywood and inside wall. Cut two pieces to 31” and two to 14”.
Step 2: Drill the Wood
Drill three 5/8” holes for the copper pipe in the 13” - 1/2” x 3” pieces.
Measure across the 13” piece and mark it at 3-1/4”, 6-1/2", and 9-3/4”. (That’s just the board divided evenly into four sections.) We drilled with a spade bit about an inch from the top of the wall to create the holes, and used a scrap piece of lumber beneath the board when drilling. This will give the back end of the hole a cleaner edge and help prevent the board from splitting.
Step 3: Sand the Wood
Sand the cut ends and edges of the plywood so there are no splinters coming off. (We didn’t sand the surface of the plywood or the surface of the boards because they're smooth enough for our purposes already.)
Step 4: Stain the Wood
Stain the wood with a foam brush, or other applicator; allow the stain to soak in before wiping off any excess. Then allow it to dry.
I usually gravitate towards dark stains, but I knew the color of the copper pipes would influence what color looks best on the tray. I looked up some pictures of projects online, which use copper, to see what colors of stain work well. Generally, I found stains with cooler undertones (grey stains or stains with blue undertones) and lighter stains as opposed to darker stains complement the copper nicely.
Ultimately, we decided on a Minwax stain, in Golden Pecan.
Step 5: Finish the Wood
Because the copper pipe will get in the way later, we finished the wood before assembly. Lay the boards down on plastic and spray them with finish. Allow to dry.
The finish protects the wood while helping it hold up when exposed to water. We used the same one on the door mat we made. It’s one of the toughest spray-on polyurethane products we sell at Dunn Lumber, and it's formulated for indoor/outdoor use—so it’s good for wet, muddy boots!
Step 6: Cut the Copper Pipe
Clamp the pipe and cut to 30” with a hacksaw. Cut just a hair under 30” to be sure that it will fit inside the tray. Sand down the ends with 90 grit sandpaper. To polish the copper and make it brighter—use extra fine steel wool.
I know cutting metal probably sounds intimidating. I felt intimidated the first time I did it! But as it turns out, cutting copper is so easy. It’s a soft metal, so it’s way easier than even cutting wood. It literally takes 10 seconds to cut a piece of copper pipe with a hacksaw. It’s just a little tricky because it’s round, so you just have to clamp it to a table so it’s not rolling around while you cut it.
There will be little bits of metal sticking out from where you cut it, so use sandpaper to smooth out those rough ends. Sand them down until they fit into the holes in the wood smoothly. Depending on the look that you like, you can polish the copper with steel wool to make it brighter.
Step 7: Assemble the Boot Tray
Fit the pipe into the pre-drilled boards that will be the inside walls of the tray. The inside frame is going to fit on top of the plywood bottom (flush with the edge of the plywood). The outside frame is going to wrap around the plywood, flush with the bottom.
Make sure you offset the nails from the inside wall to the outside wall so you don’t nail on top of other nails.
To attach the bottom, start with the tray upside down. Pre-drill with a 1/16” drill bit, and nail from the bottom of the plywood into the Douglas fir. The 1/16" drill bit is a tiny little thing you have to be careful not to break off. (If it does break off, just pound it in like a nail and leave it there. That’s why I always keep a bunch of extra ones around!) Then, hammer in the finish nails.
When the inside wall is attached, flip the tray over to attach the outside wall. Secure to the inside wall with glue, and nail through the bottom of the outside wall to secure to the plywood. Now nail together at the corners. Clamp the walls together to keep them snug until the glue dries.
I’m super excited we featured this project at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, and a bunch of people commented that it was like nothing they’d ever seen before. I love hearing that, because it’s always my goal to come up with something unique, rather than copying what other people may have done on Pinterest. I think our tray is a great balance of form and function. It’s really pretty, and it’s also super practical. Most of the boot trays you see on the internet are just plastic trays with rocks thrown in. We wanted something that looked good, was built to last, and could also be shaken out and vacuumed—and we succeeded!