How to Build a Bar

It’s Time To Belly Up At Home

How to Build a Bar

Story & Photos by Romie Holl, Wisconsin

I want to thank my co-worker Steve Zwolinski for letting me tell his story of how he built this bar.

There was always an unused corner in this area of the house that seemed to become the “drop off” area for the kid’s items when they were living here. Now, they have moved out and taken all their stuff away, (They came back once, but maybe this one will take. Ha!). I decided I would build a bar, something I thought that should have been there when I built my house, especially when I have friends and family over.

After measuring the area, I decided to go with a “U-Shape” bar, eight feet on two sides and five feet the last side. This will give three feet to walk through, plenty of room to bring in a keg for the beer tap that will be located on the bar.

buildbar-2Building Base Frames
I decided to build out from the wall first, and instead of a straight 8-foot, I went with a 6-foot section; this will allow me to put a 45-degree corner on the bar, not only giving the bar a little more character, but allow more room for people to walk around the place.

I am using standard 2-by-4s to frame it in. I use a nail to hold it in place (along with a clamp), and then I come back and screw the wood together. You don’t have to do it this way, but I wanted to make sure it is as strong as I can get it. (I tend to over build things, but this also means it doesn’t break on me).

buildbar-3Since I decided to put in a 45-degree corner, which changed the 5-foot section of the bar to 3-foot, this setup is enough room to have one person on the 3-foot section, one person on the 45-degree corner, and two people on the 6-foot section of the bar. Since I have four tall bar stools, this will be perfect.

Getting the 45-degree corner was a little harder than it should have been. (I came up a little short a few times, but I finally got it after making sure the miter saw was clicked on in the 22.5-degree mark, half of the 45-degree corner.)

Connecting The Structures
After the base frames were done, I put the 2-by-4s on the top of bar. This not only gives support for the top of the bar, but it ties in the three frames into one solid structure. It also means this bar will never leave the room, since my doors are not wide enough to accommodate it being moved (the bar is 40 inches tall).

Building a Bar

When I was walking through a Restore (Habitat for Humanity) I came across a really nice Kohler sink with matching faucets, and since it was only $25, I bought it, and will place it where I think it should go after the bar is done. Before this, I was unsure if I wanted this to be a wet bar, but I couldn’t pass it up.

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Adding The Trim
I knew I wanted to stain the bar (instead of just painting it) so I chose to put on Birch Plywood. It was a little more expensive than other types, but the wood is clear without any knots, and it takes stain very well. Cutting the plywood was easy straight cuts, and the corners will be hidden behind trim, so I didn’t have to worry about trying to make an angle cut.

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I wanted the main structural part of the bar to be dark to help contrast the wood style flooring (Pergo), and the trim to be halfway between the dark color of the bar and the floor color. Because I like seeing the grain of the wood, I decided to use oak. The corners will be 4-by-4s that were run through a table saw to make the 45-degree corners. The rest of the trim is standard 1-inch by 4-inch boards on top, and 1-inch by 6-inch boards on the bottom. It is easier to the stain the wood before you cut the pieces to install it. True, you will have to touch up the cut wood, but the majority of the wood will be done and you won’t have to worry as much about drips on the rest of the bar.

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Once I had the dark color on the bar and the stain on the trim was dry, I installed the trim with an 18-gauge finish nail gun. I like using this size of nail gun when installing oak because you do not have to predrill it. You just place the trim (using a level and/or a tape measure to get it in the right spot), and pull the trigger. When the trim is in place, you can return and stain the cut, bare wood. By doing it this way, you can make sure to get all the bare wood the same color, and it will “flow” better. The top of the trim was placed 1.5 inches above the 2-by-4s; this this is so the top of the trim will be level with the finished bar.

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Creating The Bar Top
I used two sheets of standard  3/4-inch plywood for the top. These were glued (PL400), and then screwed in place between the trim boards. This leave a 3/4-inch gap between the plywood and the top of the trim. I wanted something around the bar that would look like “coasters,” but would also be very durable. After visiting various tile shops, I found a nice 4-inch by 4-inch inch tile at a local discounter. The tile is only 3/8-inch thick, and because the tile will be level with the top of the trim, I needed something that is 3/8-inch thick, to make up space. 

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I bought 1/4-inch dura-rock board (needed two sheets), and after cutting 4-inch-wide strips, I glued and screwed it into the plywood. The mortar will take up the rest of the space that I need 3/8-inch tile and a 1/4-inch board leaves 1/8-inch mortar space). I used a 1/8-inch trowel when installing the tiles. Because I like the “seamless” look that comes without the grout lines, I didn’t want any space in between the tiles. I also think it makes it easier to clean up the bar without the grout lines between the tiles. I was able to just butt the tiles up next to each other until I got to the corners, these required me to use a wet tile saw and a few (okay quite a few) cuts to get it to fit properly, but I think the look is worth the extra time. It is also the reason you should buy at 10 percent more tile then you think you will need.

After the tiles were dry, I cut away any extra mortar or material sticking out of the tile. I needed the space to be as smooth as possible. Once I was satisfied, another trim board (3/4-inch by 3/4-inch) was cut, stained the same as the other trim boards and installed. This was done to help “frame” in the tile and the rest of the bar top.

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The reason I installed the trim on the outside of the bar the way I did was so I could use wood flooring for the top of the bar. I decided to use raw wood flooring for the rest of the bar top (oak to match the trim). Yes, you could buy prefinished wood flooring and install it. But if you look at the prefinished flooring, you will find there are little bevels on the edges, and when installed on the floor and it is not as close, it is not a problem, but on a bar top you will notice it much easier. Plus, I wanted the top to be as smooth and seamless as I could get it.

Build A Bar

When installing flooring, you want to overlap the joints by at least 6 inches, and not have the joints at the same spot unless there are at least two boards between. This will create the strongest structure possible, and it also helps it not to pop loose. I have been using a compound miter saw on all my cuts, when I was cutting the 2-by-4s for the structure, you want to have your blade to have less teeth (usually around 40 teeth for the 10-inch saw blade). This makes fast work for cutting that type of wood. But if you use this blade for cutting flooring (or trim), this blade will “tear” the wood and you won’t have the nice clean cut you want. I usually put in an 80-tooth blade for trim and flooring, and it provides the type of cut I want without sacrificing speed (the higher the tooth count, the slower you have to go so you don’t burn the wood).

Build a BarAs I cut the wood, I install it in the bar using the same 18-gauge finish nail gun when you use flooring as a floor. Most people rent a floor nail gun, and nail every 12 inches or so. I don’t own one, but using my 18-finish nail gun every 3 inches works great. Remember to use a “scrap” board to help tap in the wood to get as tight a joint as possible without damaging the wood. It took a few tries to get the corners right, but I liked how it looks.

Once the top is fully installed, it is time to sand. Starting with a 36-grit you go cross grain to help level out the individual boards. Then you switch paper and put in 500-grit and start cross grain again, but once you are happy that the top is flat and level, then you sand with the grain, and you will keep sanding with the grain for the rest of the grits (80, 100 and 120 grit). The reason you go with the grain is you will not see the sanding marks when you stain, and it will look like a natural part of the grain of the wood. If you keep sanding cross grain, you will see “lines” between the boards when it is stained.

When I am happy with how it looks I sand one last time, but this time I use a dual-action sander. It is called this because it moves in two ways, back and forth and in a circle. This type of sander will not leave any sanding marks at the higher grits (I finished the top with 150 grit).

Staining The Bar Top
Before staining the top, you will have to remove all the dust that the sanding caused; if you don’t then you will see “grit” in the bar top and it will ruin the look. So after sweeping as much as I could to clean it, then I start with damp (not wet) paper towels, which will pick up any remaining dust. I use the towel like this: I make one swipe, then I fold the towel and make another swipe and keep going until I have to get another damp towel. It takes longer, but I am not spreading the dust. Once the top is dust free, I let is sit for at least 15 minutes so any water from the damp towels dries.

Build a BarUsing painter tape, I cover the walls and the tile. The top will get at least two coats of stain, and since I want a reddish dark brown color, the first coat is a mahogany stain. When you apply the stain you always go with the grain of the wood, for the same reason you sand with the grain. Also use long strokes with your brush, if you use short strokes you will see where you stop and start and the color won’t flow the way it should.

Once the first coat was dry (let it stand overnight), a dark walnut color was put on the same way as the first stain was applied.

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After the stain was done, I applied three coats of semi-gloss polyurethane to the top, between coats I used Double O steel wool to smooth it out.

Time To Party

The bar is done (for now), so it is time to decorate it for Cinco De Mayo party. I bought and added LED lights on the bottom of the top (they change color with the remote). In the future, I will install the Kohler sink and a wine glass cabinet will be built and installed.

Build a Bar

Published in the November/December 2016 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal.

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