“Carving” a Floor Grate

Some good friends are renovating their home and have lovely wood floors, but they are left with an ugly metal grate covering the cold air return in the floor. I had a similar situation with a home I renovated in Saskatchewan. At that time, my father and I created a floor grate in oak to match the floor. My dad came up with the plan and showed me how to do it. It worked quite well, and so I shared the idea with our friends and suggested I could make one for them.

Their floors are light coloured and the cold air return is in a high traffic area, so I chose maple, as it is both light coloured and one of the strongest woods available. After taking measurements of the opening in the floor, I cut strips in the maple to be 1/2″ thick by 1 & 1/2″ tall. Then I laid out the grate on the strips so that it would have 3/4″ holes.

Floor Grate Laid Out
Floor Grate Laid Out

The black Xs mark the sections which will have the wood removed to half the height of the strips. I clamped the strips together and cut out the waste sections with multiple passes on my table saw (I don’t have a dado blade). When I did this in Saskatchewan, I used a router, but found that protecting against tear out took too much work and made the job slower.

Next, I test-fitted the pieces and found that I had cut the strips to have tolerances that were too tight and didn’t allow enough wiggle-room for such a puzzle-piece as this. In this next photo, you can see that the strips didn’t quite slide together enough. I could have forced them a little more, but I was afraid of breaking them and also wanted to leave enough room for the glue to do its work.

Too Tight!
Too Tight!

So it was back to the table saw to cut a few slivers off the slots, which solved the problem nicely.

Maple Floor Grate Fitted
It Fits!

Next up is test-fitting the grate in the hole in the floor. I made it a wee bit larger than the hole measurements, so I anticipate running the whole grate through the table saw to take a few slivers off the outside edges until the grate fits. Then it’s just a matter of staining it to match the floor, spraying a polyurethane finish on it, and dropping it in the floor.

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