If you prize convenience, grilling can seem like a pain: Prep the food inside, haul it outside, traipse back inside for condiments and tools, step back outside to tend the meat; oops, you slopped some sauce — run back inside for paper towels....
No more. This handy cart keeps everything at your fingertips, and large wheels make it easy to move from grill to table. It has a tile work surface for preparing and serving food. A large lower shelf can hold a charcoal bin and a charcoal starter chimney or a spare tank of gas. Under the top is a holder for a roll of paper towels. Mounted on each end are three hooks for holding tools and mitts. At the front end there’s a tray for condiments, napkins or cutlery, and at the other end is a handle that doubles as a towel bar. All of this in a small footprint that won’t hog your deck space.
Building the cart is easy. No fancy joints, no odd shapes: All of the joinery is screwed or nailed together. I built it in about 16 hours at a cost of about $260. All of the materials should be available at your local lumberyard, hardware store and home center. If necessary, you can buy the wheels and the hooks online (see SOURCES in PDF below).
The cart is made of rot-resistant white oak to provide many years of service, and the screws and bolts are stainless steel to resist rust. For the work surface I used porcelain rather than ceramic tile because it’s stronger and better suited for outdoor use. Finishing the wood with a penetrating exterior wood sealer adds protection, though it’s not permanent. You’ll notice the wood aging over time, and that’s all right. Just apply a fresh coat of sealer every few years to rejuvenate the finish.
In addition to common shop tools, building the cart requires a table saw, a band saw or jigsaw, a few spring clamps and 24-in. bar clamps, a pneumatic 18-gauge brad nailer, a router and a 1/4-in.-radius roundover bit. You’ll find a planer/jointer and stationary belt or disc sander useful but not mandatory.
As you assemble the cart, it’s important to closely follow the construction steps outlined in the text and photos. Clearly label the parts to keep track of the front, back and top, and refer often to the illustration (below). The legs (A and B) have holes drilled from both sides, and the cross rails (E) and shelf side rails (L) have holes drilled from their insides. Work slowly and think before you commit to drilling a hole, routing a roundover or fastening parts. (I messed up a few times!)
All four legs are the same shape, but the front legs are 1 in. shorter than the rear legs, and they have a hole drilled at the bottom for inserting the wheels’ axle bolts. Laying out the leg shapes and holes is easiest when you use a template. Make a single template and first use it on the rear-leg blanks; then shorten it (at the foot) to make the front legs. This ensures that the holes are accurately located on all four legs
Waterproof glue is used to assemble all parts except for the lower shelf and the shelf end rails (L,M), which are screwed to the legs. This glue adds a lot of strength, but it’s hard to remove after it dries. Use it sparingly to minimize squeeze-out, and clean up any residue with a damp rag before it dries.
White oak is a relatively hard wood, so the screws need pilot holes. Applying screw wax to the screw threads helps the fasteners go in easier. Flag your pilot-hole drill bits so you can gauge the boring depth and avoid drilling through a workpiece.
I used scrap plywood and fiberboard spacers to align virtually every part of the cart before assembly. I’ve come to embrace this technique more and more over the years. Give spacers a try; I think you’ll find them useful.
Cutting, Drilling and Shaping
Cut all of the parts to size (see cutting list). Cut out the template for the rear legs (see illustration and photo 1, p. 10); then lay out the hole locations and drill a small hole through each. (Tape over the axle-hole mark for now; you’ll use it later on the front legs.) Trace the template and transfer the hole locations onto the rear leg blanks (A). The holes at the top for the side rails (D) are counterbored from the insides of the legs, and the holes at the bottom for the shelf end rails (M) are countersunk from the outside. Cut out the legs and sand the sawn edges (photo 2).
1. Make the leg template. A poker chip is perfect for marking the bottom corners. Use the template to first trace the rear leg (A) shape; then shorten it 1 in. and trace the front leg (B) shape.
2. Closely rough cut the legs; then align the tops and clamp the legs together to gang sand the tapered sides. Start sanding with an 80-grit belt and finish with a 120-grit belt.
Shorten the leg template and use it to make the front-leg blanks (B). Shape the rounded feet and drill the screw holes in the legs. Note: All of the holes for the cart’s flathead screws are countersunk except for those that go through the counterbore holes at the tops of the legs. Mark and drill the axle holes in the front legs.
Lay out and drill the holes in the handle (C), side rails (D), cross rails (E), and shelf side rails (L). Cut the notches in the handle (photo 3) and the center and outer tile supports (G and H). File the notches in the center and outer tile supports so the tile-support bar (I) fits (photo 4). Shape the 1/2-in.-radius corners of the side rails (D), shelf side rails (L) and hook-support cleats (O). Rout the 1/4-in.-radius edges of the handle (C), cross rails (E), end rail (F), shelf end rails (M), hook supports (P) and hook guards (Q). Finish sand all of the parts, but don’t ease the edges yet.
3. Cut the notches in the ends of the handle (C). Use a band saw with a fence or a good-quality handsaw.
4. Fine-tune the notches in the center tile supports (G) and outer tile supports (H). Use a file to increase the depth so the tile-support bar (I) fits flush with the tops of the interlocking supports.
Assembling the Top and Shelf
Begin by assembling the top and the shelf. For the top assembly, screw the side rails (D) to the cross rails (E) and the center tile support (G; photo 5). Glue and nail the outer tile supports (H) to the end rails, and then glue and nail the tile-support bar (I) in place. Before assembling the shelf unit, ease the edges of the shelf slats (N) using sandpaper, a router or a block plane. Position 1/4-in. spacers between the slats and glue and nail them to the shelf side rails (L; photo 6).
5. Assemble the top. Use spacers to align the parts on the side rails, and use 3/4-in.-thick risers to position the height. Drill pilot holes and drive the screws; then disassemble, apply glue and reassemble.
6. Assemble the shelf. Separate the shelf side rails (L) with 18-3/8-in.- long spacers. Clamp and check that the rail ends are square to each other. Glue and nail the shelf slats (N) in place starting at the center.
Building the Cart
Screw the legs in place (photo 7). Attaching the first set of legs to the top is easy, but adding the second set requires another pair of hands. Have a helper support the top assembly with the attached legs above as you glue and screw the second set of legs to the other side of the cart top. Stand the cart on its feet when you’re done.
Attach the legs to the cart top. Drill pilot holes; then glue and screw the legs to the cross rails (E) and side rails (D). The spread between the holes for the shelf end rails (M) must be 29-5/8 in.
Glue and nail the end rail (F) to the front legs between the side rails, and glue and screw the handle (C) to the rear legs. Glue and nail the hook-support cleats (O) to the legs. Use a 5-in.-long spacer to position their height relative to the tops of the legs and use a 1-1/4-in.-wide spacer to position their width relative to the outsides of the cross rails. Mount the hooks to the hook supports (P). Glue and nail the hook supports and hook guards (Q) to the hook-support cleats.
Attach the assembled shelf by screwing the shelf side rails (L) to the legs (photo 8). Next, screw the shelf end rails (M) in place. Flip the cart over, ease the edges of the tray slats (J) and then glue and nail the slats and the paper-towel mount (K) to the underside of the cart top.
8. Screw (but do not glue) the shelf in place. The bottom edge of the shelf side rail is 5-1/4 in. above the ground. To get the alignment correct you need to prop the front legs 1 in. off the work surface.
Remove the hooks. Complete any remaining finish sanding and ease all exposed sharp edges; then apply exterior finish. When the finish has cured, adhere the tile (photo 9) and apply the grout (photo 10). If you’ve never used tile caulk as grout before, practice on cheap tiles first — it is not easy to apply and tool. Note: The drying times for the finish, silicone and caulk can vary greatly based on temperature and humidity. Don’t proceed to the next step until the previous application is completely dry.
9. Use silicone caulk to adhere the tiles to the cart top. A small bead of adhesive is all that’s needed. Position the tiles; then adjust them so the margins are equal all around.
10. Apply sanded ceramic-tile caulk as grout between the tiles and around the edges. This is fussy work. Squeeze the caulk into the grooves, let it dry for 15 minutes and then smooth it using a clean, damp sponge.
Attach the paper-towel holder and reattach the hooks. To seat the carriage bolts in the front legs, insert them through the holes, placing one washer on the back, and then drive them in by wrenching down a regular 3/8-in. nut (not the nylon locknuts). The square part of the bolt head should embed in the leg. Remove the regular nut, and then mount the wheels using the nylon locknuts. Tighten the nuts so that the wheels spin freely with minimal slop. All that’s left is to load up the cart and fire up the grill.