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