DIY Paper Tray Organizer Tutorial

I’m baaaack! I’ve been out of the blogging game for several years now because life got hard and to be honest, I didn’t have the desire or energy to keep up a happy, peppy blogging facade. I am not really planning on updating my blog too often, but since launching my social media accounts, I can see how useful it is for longer posts such as this one.

A week or so ago, I posted a picture of a DIY project I made for my classroom using the Target Dollar Spot paper trays. Ever since, I’ve received quite a few messages asking specifics about it, so I figured it’d just be easier to write up a long, detailed post for those of you who were interested in trying to make your own. I’ve included as many pics as I could, but I didn’t take that many during the building process (sorry!) so hopefully my poorly drawn images will help it all make sense! It really isn’t that difficult once you understand the vision. This project took about 2 hours from start to finish, not including paint drying time.

🚨 Before you begin, I’m going to throw a little disclaimer in here. As much as I wish I was, I am not Joanna Gaines. I am also not an experienced woodworker in any way. I don’t know the proper lingo for much of this stuff, but I did my best to explain it as clearly as I could. Sometimes I just see things and think, “I could probably make that” and it happens to work out through trial and error. My husband did all the sawing and plier work on this project. You might also want someone to help you. You may have to make adjustments to the directions below to make this project work for you. I explained the steps I took to make this work for the materials I had. If you are using different brands of things, then I can’t promise it’ll turn out. Please use common sense and safety precautions when taking on a DIY project involving potentially dangerous equipment.


•1 wooden crate (be sure to get one with slats on ALL sides) *

•4 wooden posts as close to the size of the wood on your crate as possible (The length depends on how many trays you need your organizer to hold. I bought 24” long posts from Lowe’s that were just a smidge thinner than the crate wood and this was perfect for holding 5 trays and storing a sixth underneath. You’ll need longer posts if you want more trays.)



•Philips head screwdriver

•measuring tape

•hand saw



•drill (not necessary but it’ll make the project faster and easier)

•paint (I used black matte spray paint)

•screws (1 1/4” length are perfect)

(*If you’d prefer to just cut or buy the wood pieces as opposed to using the crate, you’ll need: 10 pieces of wood roughly 1″ wide and 11″ long, 5 pieces of wood roughly 1″ wide and 11.25″ long. The height of the wood pieces doesn’t really matter as long as all your pieces are uniform.)



  1. Preparing the Wood: Use a hammer to carefully disassemble the crate. The wood was soft enough that I was able to pull most of it apart by hand with a lot of jiggling. Use pliers to remove the metal staples. This works best by straightening the staples and then hammering the board onto a solid surface until the backs of the staples pop up enough so the pliers can easily grab them. (You could always just clip the staples as short as possible and hammer the sharp edges into the wood, but I was worried they’d interfere with the screws later on.) Separate the wood pieces into groups by length.  (NOTE: The crate I used gave me 8 short pieces of wood that I used for the frame sides, but I needed 10 total. I just cut two of the longer crate pieces to the same size to get the last two I needed. See left pic in step 2.)

  2. Making the Tray Frames: Place one of the trays you’ll be using on a flat work surface. Get two wood pieces from the shortest pile (about 11″ long) and set these so they’re flush on either side of the tray. They should be shorter than the side of the tray. Grab a wood piece from a different pile (any will do as long as it’s not one of the shortest ones!) and position it behind the back of the tray so it’s touching the other two wood pieces. The back piece needs to be cut down so use a pencil to mark off where you’ll need to cut it in order to make the tray frame. Mark a 
    hole on either end for a screw. Drill the holes and then screw the pieces together. You should end up with a sturdy U shape frame that a tray can slide easily onto. If your tray can’t slide easily, you’ll need to make the frame wider. If your tray falls through the frame, then it’s too wide and should be made narrower. (I actually screw the wood together while the tray sits inside just so I’m sure it’ll fit when I’m done.) If you’re using the Target Dollar Spot trays, then pay attention to the little plastic piece at the corners of the tray. These shouldn’t be popping up above the frame (see pic). I repeated this step until I had 5 equally-sized frames.


  3. Attaching the Outer Posts: Take one of the completed tray frames and the four 24” posts. Mark an inch and a half to two inches from the bottom of each outer post. This is the height where you’ll attach your first tray frame. Drill a hole at the mark in the center of each post and then screw the posts onto the sides of the tray frame about 2 inches from the frame edges. (If you try to put the posts flush with the frame edges, you’ll run into the screws in the frame.) I screwed in one outer post and then put a level on the tray frame as I attached the others to make sure my frame didn’t end up slanted. After the first frame was attached, the rest were easier because the organizer could stand on its own. I attached a tray frame every 4 inches and was left with about 5 inches hanging off on the top. You could cut this excess off, but if you flip the whole stand over, you can actually fit another tray in that empty spot. It won’t be on a frame, but it’ll sit on the table and look nice. That’s what I did with the green tray in my finished product picture.

  4. Finishing Touches: Sand rough areas and paint if desired. I used two coats of spray paint on my organizer. Wait for the paint to dry and then add your trays! All done!

If you make your own organizer, please tag me on social media so I can see how they turn out!