How to build a sand tray for sand tray therapy

Sand trays allow patients to explore their emotions and express themselves through the freedom of play. Developed by Jungian therapist Dora Kalff in the 1950s, sandplay allows the client to create a richly symbolic miniature world that reflects his or her inner state. Through the arrangement of sand and objects in creative play, unconscious processes are made visible. It can be rewarding to build your own simple wooden sand tray.

Building the tray

Measure 50.6 cm (20 1/4 inches) on the shorter sides of your plywood sheet and make a small mark on each edge with your pencil. Draw a straight line connecting these two marks. Repeat this process along the longer sides, this time measuring 73.12 cm (29 1/4 inches).

Cut the plywood sheet along the lines you have measured using your circular or hand saw. The dimensions of this rectangle should now measure 50.6 cm (20 1/4 inches) by 73.12 cm (29 1/4 inches).

Measure and cut the two shorter craft boards to 48.75 (19 1/2 inches) long. Cut the longer boards to 73.75 cm (29 1/2 inches) long. If you wish to match traditional dimensions of sand trays exactly, trim the width of all boards to 7.5 cm (3 inches).

Attach the two longer boards to the plywood base with wood glue, making sure that the edges of the boards are flush with the base. Measure 4.5 mm (3/16 inch) from the outer edges to guide the finish nail placement. Secure corners and roughly every inch along the perimeter with nails. Use a nail set to drive nails below the surface of the wood.

Insert remaining boards between the two longer boards on each side to form a rectangle, again securing the edges with wood glue and finish nails. Allow the glue to dry.

Sand edges with medium sandpaper to smooth rough spots, progressing to fine or very fine sandpaper to ready the sand tray for finishing. Remember to follow the grain of the wood when sanding.

Wipe wood with the tack cloth to remove dust.

Finishing touches

Apply a coat of water-based enamel primer and allow to fully dry.

Apply a thin coat of medium blue latex paint to inner surfaces of the sand tray and let dry, then repeat with another layer and allow to dry. This simulates sky and water in the miniature world of the sand tray.

Apply a thin layer of water-based polyurethane to all surfaces and let dry. Sand lightly with superfine sandpaper and wipe with the tack cloth to remove dust. Apply another coat of polyurethane to finish the project.

Select fine-grain sand for your tray. If you purchase it, Grade 30 is best because it is easily moulded. If you collect it from the ocean, rinse it several times with water to remove any salt that could dissolve the paint on your tray.

Choose a wide array of objects, figurines and toys that are appropriate for sand tray therapy. You should select a variety of animals, human and fantasy figures, rocks and shells, buildings, vehicles, foods, barriers, spiritual objects, plants or anything else that appeals to you.


Consider scaling down the size of your sand tray for very young children to make play easier. Drill guide holes for your finish nails to preventing cracking as you hammer them in. Use a second tray if you wish to use damp or wet sand in your practice -- a kitty litter box or paint mixing tray is ideal as it will not warp or leak, unlike wood.


Always wear protective goggles and a dust mask when using a circular saw and when sanding to filter particulates during woodworking.

Things You'll Need

  • 1 plywood sheet, 60 cm x 1.2 m x 1.2 cm (24 x 48 x 1/2 inch)
  • 2 pine craft boards, 10 cm x 60 cm x 9 mm (4 x 24 x 3/8 inch) each
  • 2 pine craft boards, 10 cm x 90 cm x 9mm (4 x 36 x 3/8 inch) each
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil with rubber
  • Circular or hand saw
  • Wood glue
  • Hammer
  • 3.8 cm (1 1/2 inch) finish nails
  • Nail set
  • Medium sandpaper
  • Fine or very fine sandpaper
  • Superfine sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Synthetic bristled paint brush
  • Water-based enamel primer
  • Medium blue latex paint
  • Water-based polyurethane
  • Fine sand
  • Toys and figurines
  • Drill (optional)
  • Safety goggles
  • Dust mask
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About the Author

Leanne Stack's articles on mental health, personal wellness, and decorating and design have been featured on eHow. She has a Master of Arts degree in counseling psychology and trained as a psychologist before becoming a freelance writer. Stack currently resides in Illinois.