Canadian Woodworking

Serving cart

Author: Danny Proulx
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: April May 2004

This cart provides ample room to place your sauces, utensils, and other Bar-B-Q essentials.

The idea for this project came to me while I was helping a friend Bar-B-Q hamburgers and hot dogs for a little league baseball team that he coached. As with most Bar-B-Q’s, there were two small side tables, attached. Those tables provided only room for the food that was cooking.

It became obvious that we needed a serving cart. One of those fancy dining room tea wagons would be ideal, but would have to be adapted for outdoors as it would take a fair amount of abuse from the weather. It would also need to be designed so that the wheels would be large enough to roll easily across many different surfaces.

This serving cart provides ample room for all of the things that you will need when you are preparing your food. It also provides a very convenient method of getting the prepared food to the table. There is a lower table for even more carrying capability. A condiment rack is built on the top tray to hold bottles of sauces and relishes needed both at the Bar-B-Q and the table. The rack also holds bottles, so it can easily be used as a portable bar for deck parties.

Since most of this project is built with 1 1/2″ wide material, I salvaged all the boards from my pile of ash and birch. The serving cart is constructed using very simple butt joints. The majority of joints are secured with glue and screws.

Other than a lathe to turn the wheels, you don’t need any special tools to build this cart. If you don’t have a lathe, you could simply cut the wheels with your jig saw. Cut the two main side rails.

Slightly round over one end of each rail with a belt sander.

Locate a point 3/4″ from the edge and 3/4″ back of the rounded end of the side rail. Drill a hole in each side rail (1/4″ deep, 1″ diameter). Use a 1″ spade bit to drill the hole. The spade bit’s point will slightly exit the other side of the rail when you reach the 1/4″ depth. That will mark the centre of the hole.

Cut dowel rod to size. Inset the rod into the rail holes. Drill a pilot hole using the spade bit exit mark as a guide. Counterbore the pilot hole. Insert the screws, and plug the holes. Sand the wood plugs flush when the glue has dried.

Cut two cross rails. Attach them to the side rails. Glue and screw the assembly.

Make sure to counterbore the screw holes so they can be filled with a plug.

Sand all wood plugs flush and final sand the rail assembly. Round over the outer surfaces of the assembly (top and bottom) with a 1/4″ round over bit or sandpaper.

Cut the two front legs and the two rear legs. Note the different leg lengths and their position on the frame assembly. These are cut to specific lengths to accommodate the cart’s wheels.

Round over and sand smooth all edges of the legs.

Attach the two 34″ legs inside the front cross rail. Attach the two 33″ legs inside the rear cross rail. Use 1 1/2″ long screws, glue, and wood plugs to secure the legs. Install two screws per leg, one through the side rail and the other through the cross rail into the leg. Slightly stagger the screws on the rails so they won’t hit each other when driven into the leg.

Install an additional cross rail midway between the two end rails. This centre rail will help keep the side rails parallel to each other. Install the two lower side rails to the inside of the front and back legs. That will support the lower platform.

These two rails are set back 3/4″ from the outside edge of each front and rear legs. They are 7″ up from the bottom of the rear legs and 8″ up from the bottom of the front legs.

The 3/4″ lower rail is set back to allow installation of the lower rear cross rails, between the cart legs. Cut the two rails and install.

Turn two 3/4″ thick by 8″ diameter wheels on your lathe. Alternately, you can cut them out them with a band or jig saw. Drill a 5/8″ diameter hole in the centre of each wheel. Block the rear legs of the cart with a 1″ thick spacer so the cart is level on the work bench. Place the wheel in position, mark the legs, then drill a 5/8″ hole in the centre of each rear leg. Use a 5/8″ spade bit to mark the centre of the hole on the rear legs. The flanges of the bit, through the hole in the wheel, will force the drill bit’s point to centre.

Enlarge the holes in the rear legs with a wood rasp. You’ll want your piece of dowel to act as an axle for the wheels, and to turn freely.

Apply polyurethane glue to the holes in the wheels and press them onto each end of the dowel rod. The moisture cured polyurethane glue will expand and lock the wheels securely to the dowel.

Prepare 15 pieces to be used as top shelf slats. Sand and round over the top surface with a 1/4″ round over bit. Three additional pieces are needed to complete the top shelf. They are 1 1/2″ shorter, so we can install the condiment rack.

Install the slats with a 1/4″ space between them. Start with a 1/4″ overhang on the front cross rail. The 15 slats overhang the side rails equally on both sides.

The 19″ rails are installed flush with the outside surface of the side rails. Use 1 1/2″ screws to secure the slats, one per side. Counterbore the holes and install tapered wood plugs.

The bottom shelf slats are installed in the same manner. Cut 14 boards to be used as top shelf slats. Cut two additional slats at 14 5/8″ long. These will be installed between the legs as the first and last board for the shelf. The spacing between the slats is approximately 1/4″. Lay all the boards in place and verify your spacing before securing them to the bottom rail. Plug all screw holes and sand them flush.

The condiment rack is simply four pieces of 3/4″ thick by 1 1/2″ wide by 6″ long stock. They are installed vertically, two per side.

The horizontal frame, supported by the four vertical boards, consists of two long boards and two shorter ones. Assemble, round over the inside and outside surfaces and attach.

That completes the construction of the serving deck. Now all you have to do is finish it off. The deck serving cart is complete and ready to be stained. I stained the cart with Sikkens Cetol 1 #014 Driftwood exterior stain to even out the colour of the wood. I applied three coats, and added a little extra stain to the areas were water would collect.

This serving cart is a great weekend project, which is sure to serve you well at all your outdoor Bar-B-Q’s and parties.

With spade bit, mark hole centres on side rail

Inset rod into rail holes

Attach legs inside front cross rail

Install lower cross rails

Block rear legs wih 1” spacer and mark legs

Apply glue to holes in wheels and press onto dowel ends

Install slats with ¼” spacing and ¼” overhang

Condiment rack is supported by four pieces of vertical stock

Horizontal frame consists of 2 long and 2 short boards

Construction Notes

Pay special attention to the width of the shelf slats. A 1/64″ increase or decrease in slat width will add up over 18 boards.

Use any width slat, as long as you dry fit the boards before securing them in place. Even if you’re sure of the slat width, it is always wise to dry fit.

Regarding the process of hole counterboring: Invest a little money in a carbide tipped drill and counterbore bit. It will cut clean, perfectly round holes in the slats and allow you to tightly fit the plugs. After sanding, the holes/plugs will be almost invisible.

Take your time enlarging the holes for the wheel axle. If possible, use a fine rasp and gently file the hole so that it remains round but still opens up a little to allow the rod to spin freely. If you have a 16 mm metric drill bit, try a test hole in a scrap piece of lumber as this bit is slightly larger than 5/8″.

Variations and Options

This cart can also be used as a gardener’s potting cart. You may want larger diameter wheels if your terrain is rough. The rear legs can be shortened by another inch and twelve inch diameter wheels could be installed. The cart can be equipped with commercially available wheels. The axle for commercial wheels is normally a bolt that can be attached to the rear legs.

The slat width and board width is easily changed for special applications. The width of the cart can also change to any dimension without causing any major changes to the cart’s frame.

A heavy duty model could also be built. Increase the side and cross rail widths to 3 1/2″ and you’ll dramatically increase the load capacity of the cart.

This deck serving cart can be built of any wood species you prefer. If you already have outdoor furniture, use the same or a matching wood. You might even want to paint it. If you plan on using this cart as a Bar-B-Q accessory, change the side board slats on your Bar-B-Q to match the cart – it’s a nice touch.

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