Go ahead, leave your fresh eggs on the counter in this handmade wooden tray
Newly laid, unwashed eggs can be kept out, but store-bought or washed eggs should go in the fridge.
One of the perks of living in a semi-rural area is the availability of fresh eggs. At least four people I know have hens roaming their yards, so my wife and I get all the eggs we can use, and then some. They end up in a wooden egg holder that sits right out on the counter.
That’s right, freshly-laid eggs don’t have to be refrigerated and can be kept at room temperature for weeks. Indeed, in many places around the world, eggs typically aren’t refrigerated at all. In the US, though, both the Federal Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend always refrigerating eggs. However, that’s not directly because of the eggs themselves—it’s to prevent bacterial illnesses, specifically salmonella.
Do eggs need to be refrigerated?
Although they seem solid, eggshells are actually porous, says Cole Trager, supply and quality specialist at Walden Local Meat Co. in Massachusetts. These pores let gases into and out of the shell, but can also allow bacteria like salmonella to get inside, causing the egg to spoil faster and potentially sickening anyone who eats it.
Freshly laid eggs have a natural defense against bacteria: a protective protein coating called the cuticle, or “bloom,” says Jacob R. Tuell, assistant professor of animal science and food science at Northwest Missouri State University. The bloom seals up those pores, preventing bacteria from sneaking inside. Research has shown that the cuticle is effective at keeping salmonella at bay for about three to four days after laying, he explains. After that, its effectiveness begins to deteriorate. In the US, commercially produced eggs are washed to eliminate any possible salmonella, but that washing process also removes the protective bloom. This, in turn, speeds up the spoiling process and necessitates refrigeration. Elsewhere, eggs often aren’t washed before being sold, so the bloom remains in place, sealing out any bacteria. In short: if you bought your eggs at a store, are unsure how fresh they are, or don’t know if they’ve been washed, put them in the fridge.
However, flocks raised in US backyards don’t have the same washing requirements, Trager says. “If you keep the coop clean and have good bedding, there’s really no reason to refrigerate or wash the eggs.” As long as the bloom remains intact, eggs can last for weeks at room temperature without spoiling, he explains.
[Related: Why you should build a swing for your chickens]
As your eggs age, you can test them for spoilage in a bowl of water before cooking them, says Tuell, who’s also a member of the Institute of Food Technologists’ Muscle Foods Division. “An egg has an air cell that gradually increases in size during storage. When placed into water, an older egg may float, while a fresher egg would sink.”
And of course, there’s no reason you can’t store fresh eggs in the refrigerator if that makes you more comfortable, washed or unwashed. Once they go in, though, they have to stay there. However, Trager cautions against storing washed eggs on a wooden tray. Wood is too porous to be properly sterilized and may transfer contaminants through the pores of the bloom-less eggs, he explains. So if you’re planning to make this wooden egg tray, only use it for fresh, unwashed eggs.
Warning: DIY projects can be dangerous, even for the most experienced makers. Before proceeding with this or any other project on our site, ensure you have all necessary safety gear and know how to use it properly. At minimum, that may include safety glasses, a face mask, and/or ear protection. If you’re using power tools, you must know how to use them safely and correctly. If you do not, or are otherwise uncomfortable with anything described here, don’t attempt this project.
How to build a wooden egg holder
- Time: 1 to 2 hours
- Material cost: $5 to $20
- Difficulty: easy
- A 2-foot-long, 1-by-4-inch board (any kind of wood you like)
- Wood glue
- (Optional) ¼-inch dowel
- Miter saw
- Table saw
- Speed square
- Tape measure
- Orbital sander
- Sanding discs (120-, 150-, and 220-grit)
- Drill press (or drill)
- ⅛-inch drill bit
- 1 ¼-inch Forstner bit
- (Optional) router
- (Optional) chamfer router bit
- (Optional) ¼-inch drill bit
- (Optional) chisel
1. Mill your lumber to size. This is one of those projects where having flat, square boards will make your life easier. We have a comprehensive guide to milling lumber, but it’s a straightforward process. Start by cutting the pieces of the egg holder to rough length on your miter saw: one board of 13 inches and two of about 5 inches each. Then run them over your jointer to flatten one face, and again to flatten and square one edge.
Next, take them to your planer to flatten the remaining face, and trim them down to final width and length on your table saw. When you’re done, you should have three boards, all between ½ and ¾ inches thick:
- 1 (12½-by-4-inch) board
- 2 (5–by-4-inch) boards
If you purchased pre-milled, square wood, you may be able to skip this step. But double-check that everything actually is flat and square.
2. Measure and mark the egg hole locations on the longest board. Before measuring the centers of the 12 holes on this board, use a square to draw a line across what will be the top of your egg holder, parallel to the end of the board and a quarter-inch in. This represents the depth of the dado where this piece of wood will sit inside the two shorter boards—we’ll worry about cutting that slot in Step 6. The distance between those two lines should be exactly 12 inches.
Using your square and a tape measure or ruler, draw lines 1 inch, 3 inches, and 5 inches from those dado lines, moving toward the center of the board. Then make two marks on each of these new lines, 1 inch in from the long edges of the board. Those 12 intersections are where the centers of the egg holes belong.
3. Drill pilot holes in the board. Anytime you use a Forstner bit to drill all the way through a board, start with some pilot holes. Forstner bits are known to blow out or chip wood as they exit, so the best practice is to drill halfway through from the top, then turn the board over and drill the rest from the bottom to prevent tear-out. The easiest way to line those two cuts up is with a pilot hole.
If you have a drill press, drill the 12 small holes with that, using a ⅛-inch bit, or whatever size in that range you have. If you use a hand drill, make sure it’s straight up and down. You can use a speed square as a visual reference, or you can make a quick drill guide to keep the hole perpendicular to the face. If the drill bit wanders or leans, the two Forstner holes may not line up properly, and you’ll have to do a lot of sanding to fix it. No one wants to do any more sanding than they need to.
4. Drill the full holes. Change the ⅛-inch bit out for the 1 ¼-inch Forstner bit. Again, a drill press is best for this cut, but a handheld drill can do the job if you’re careful and use a jig for alignment. Center the bit in a pilot hole, and start to drill. Stop when you get just past halfway. Drill all the holes halfway through on one face of the board, then flip it over and drill from the other side.
5. (Optional) Chamfer the edges of the holes. To help the eggs sit better and reduce the chances that they’ll crack on sharp edges, chamfer the top edges of each hole. The easiest way to do this is with a router and a chamfering bit. I used a router table to make this cut, but if you don’t have access to one, you can use a palm router. Make sure to clamp your board securely to the work bench if you do.
- Note: If you don’t chamfer the hole edges, at least thoroughly round them over with sandpaper.
6. Cut dado slots into the legs. There are many ways to cut dado slots. My preferred method, and the one accessible to most people, is on the table saw with a crosscut sled. If you have a flat-cut table saw blade, like one that comes with a dado stack, use that, but it’s fine if you just have a normal blade. You can use a full dado stack to make this cut faster, but I wasn’t comfortable using mine on such a small board so I made multiple passes with a single blade.
[Related: How to refinish a scratched wooden cutting board]
Mark a line ¾ of an inch from the bottom of the leg, then make another line above it so the distance between the two is the thickness of the tray board. Set the height of your blade to a quarter-inch, and start removing the material between those lines by making one cut on your crosscut sled. Keep moving the leg over about ⅛-inch to make additional cuts. Repeat this as many times as you need to in order for the tray to fit in the slot.
If you use a standard blade for this, you’ll probably wind up with little wedges on the bottom of the slot. Trim those flat with a chisel.
7. (Optional) Cut curves on the corners of the legs. This is purely for aesthetics, but I love the way it looks. Draw a small arc at each corner of every leg board. You can use any cylindrical object to trace these—I used a spray paint bottle cap. Then remove the wood outside of that arc. I cut mine first with a band saw, then rounded it over with a sander, but a jig saw or coping saw will work as well. You can even just jump right to the sander, though that will take a bit longer.
8. (Optional) Add dowels for stacking. If you’re planning to make more than one tray, you may want to consider stacking them. Of course, you can place one on top of the other, but there’s always the risk that it will slide off and splatter your eggs. To give it some support, drill a ¼-inch hole in the top and bottom centers of the legs. Insert a dowel in the top of the bottom tray legs, and then you can slide the top tray onto that dowel, locking it into place. Round over the ends of the dowels with 120-grit sandpaper to make them easier to slide in and out.
9. Sand everything to 220-grit. You’ve heard me say it before—sanding is the difference between a good product and a great product. Sand all of the pieces with an orbital sander, working through the grits—start with 120 and finish with 220. The hard part of this build is sanding the holes and chamfers, if you made them. You can use your fingers to get inside everything, or you can use a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. Of course, if you have a spindle sander, use that and save your fingers.
- Pro tip: If you use a dowel, you can open the chuck of your power drill all the way, stick the dowel in, and tighten it up. Then you can wrap the dowel in sandpaper and use the drill to spin it quickly inside the holes.
Before you finish sanding, slightly round over all sharp edges with 220-grit sandpaper to keep them from splintering or breaking later.
10. Apply the finish of your choice. I used spray-on shellac for this project, because it’s easy, cures well, and there should be no reason it will come in contact with alcohol, which ruins a shellac finish. And most importantly, I had a can left over from another project that I needed to use up. The type of finish doesn’t matter much on a low-contact build like this, so use what you like and have available, making sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
And with that, you’re done. Load it up with a dozen fresh, unwashed eggs, and be amazed by what a talented woodworker you are every time you go to make an omelet.