High Tea

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Try your hand at this simple, lovely tea tray with a carved piecrust edge. It’s a great first step toward creating period furniture reproductions, as well as a tasteful way to showcase your carving skills.

For the past five years, I have been teaching beginning woodworkers and carvers how to make this tray, with great student success. It’s a simple but rewarding project, requiring minimal use of power equipment and a small array of carving tools. It’s my pleasure to recreate my classroom instructions here on paper, and I think even the least experienced carvers will find this pretty little tray surprisingly attainable.

Of course, you don’t have to use your tray for tea; it would look great displayed alone, or set on a stand or table, inviting attention to whatever its contents might be. But in the 18th century, a tray of this sort would most definitely have been used to serve tea. Various sizes (usually 12" to 22" in diameter) and shapes of trays were made and used, but I find the piecrust to be one of the nicest. 

In the May 2005 issue of The Magazine Antiques, Morrison H. Heckscher mentions two Newport-style round trays, referred to as “tea boards.” He indicates that numerous tea boards were made, but few survived, presumably because they were made into stands. This would explain why there are few antique tea trays in existence today. 

You probably recognize the scalloped edges of this project from the tilt-top tea tables that many English and American craftsmen produced in the late 1700s. Although most piecrust tabletops were considerably larger than our tray – typically anywhere from 24" to 36" – the carved edges were very similar. Mahogany was the wood of choice for such tables, but they were also made from a variety of hardwoods such as cherry, walnut and maple.

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