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How to Build a Bar

How best to finish a space for entertaining? Grab some stock lumber and specialty molding, and cozy on up to this project

If the notion of building a bar conjures fond and fuzzy memories of hammering 2x4s into some makeshift cup stand back in college, terrific. But that experience won't help you much here. This is a real piece of furniture, as you can see from the trimmed panels, sturdy oak bar-rail molding, and stainless-steel foot rail. Follow along as This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers and colleague Douglas Adams build this handsome rec-room centerpiece. And if you want to break out the toga when it's finished, well, that's entirely your call.

Paint: Valspar's Royal Garnet.
Stain: Minwax's Jacobean.
Bar-rail molding: Bar-rail profile #375; Dykes Lumber.
Foot-rail assembly: Brushed stainless-steel foot-rail tubing, brackets, and caps; KegWorks.

Download the cut list for this project.

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Steps // How to Build a Bar
1 ×

Building a Bar Overview

 
Step One // How to Build a Bar

Building a Bar Overview

building a bar overview
Illustration by Doug Adams

Day-to-day Timeline
Prep Day: Build, trim, and assemble the bar's side panels (Steps 1–7).
Saturday: Install the shelves and corner stiles, and create the bar top (Steps 8-12).
Sunday: Install the bar-rail molding and optional foot rail (Steps 13-16).

Download the cut list for this project.

CUT LIST TO BUILD A BAR

½-inch plywood: 1 @ 60 by 42 inches
½-inch plywood: 2 @ 24 by 42 inches

Lauan sheathing: 1 @ 60 by 42 inches
Lauan sheathing: 2 @ 24 by 42 inches

1x2 framing: 11 @ 37 inches
1x2 framing: 4 @ 24 inches
1x2 framing: 2 @ 60 inches
1x4 nailing block: 2 @ 6 inches

1x4 stile: 5 @ 31¼ inches
1x4 corner stile: 4 @ 42 inches
1x4 corner stile: 2 @ 42 inches (Rip ¾ inch off the board's width.)
1x2 stile: 2 @ 42 inches

1x4 rail: 1 @ 54½ inches
1x4 rail: Scribe 2 to size.
1x8 rail: 1 @ 54½ inches
1x8 rail: Scribe 2 to size.

Panel molding: Miter 32 to size.

1x2 shelf supports: 1 @ 54 inches
1x2 shelf supports: 2 @ 6 inches

¾-inch plywood bar-top substrate: Cut 2 to size.
¾-inch plywood bar-top substrate: Cut 2 to size.

1x12 bar top: Cut 1 to size.
1x12 bar top: Cut 2 to size.

Bar-rail molding: Miter 3 to size.

 
2 ×

Lay Out the Three Sides

 
Step Two // How to Build a Bar

Lay Out the Three Sides

assemble the three sides while building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Using a circular saw, cut the ½-inch plywood to size for the bar's front and side panels. With a miter saw, cut the 14 framing boards to length; use them to line the panels' perimeter, and arrange three more, equally spaced between the side boards, as shown. And if you plan to install brackets for a foot rail, add 6-inch nailing blocks to what will be the lower corners of the front panel. Apply construction adhesive to the back of each 14, and nail them in place using a pneumatic nail gun and 1-inch nails. Mark the location of the vertical boards on the edges of the horizontal boards so that you can pinpoint them once they're covered.

 
3 ×

Cut and Attach the Sheathing

 
Step Three // How to Build a Bar

Cut and Attach the Sheathing

cut and attach the sheathing when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Place the lauan finish-face down, and cut it to size with a circular saw. Apply construction adhesive to the framing and affix the lauan. If your pneumatic gun accepts staples, use it to fasten the sheet along the framing with ½-inch staples; if it doesn't, turn down the air pressure, use ⅝-inch nails, and tilt the gun slightly so that you don't shoot straight through the lauan.

 
4 ×

Place the Corner Stiles

 
Step Four // How to Build a Bar

Place the Corner Stiles

mark the corner stiles when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Using a miter saw, cut the 14 stiles and rails to length. For the front corner stiles, shift a 1x4 to overhang the panel edge by ¾ inch, using a block to set the space, as shown. Mark the inside edge of the stile on the panel. Do the same at the back edges of the side panels.

 
5 ×

Miter and Insert the Molding

 
Step Five // How to Build a Bar

Miter and Insert the Molding

miter and insert the molding when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Lay pieces of molding one by one inside the recessed panels created by the stiles and rails, and mark their length. Using a miter saw, cut the ends at a 45-degree angle, then nail each one in place with 1¼-inch nails. Hold off on the pieces alongside the corner rail for now.

Tip: For a tight fit, miter one side of a long piece of panel molding, hold it in place, and use the panel's corner to mark a precise cutline for the opposite miter.

 
6 ×

Attach the Stiles and Rails to the Front Panel

 
Step Six // How to Build a Bar

Attach the Stiles and Rails to the Front Panel

secure the stiles and rails on the front wall when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Lay the top and bottom rail on the front panel between the marked lines, and position three equally spaced stiles between them. Glue and nail the stiles and rails in place with 1¼-inch nails. Set the corner stiles aside until the panels are assembled.

 
7 ×

Attach the Shelf Cleats

 
Step Seven // How to Build a Bar

Attach the Shelf Cleats

attach the shelf supports when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

On the interior side of each panel, mark two horizontal lines 1½ inches and 24 inches from the bottom. Cut 11 cleats to length, leaving room for the side panels and their cleats to butt against the front panel. Install the cleats along the lines by countersinking pilot holes every 8 to 10 inches and driving 1¼-inch screws in place.

 
8 ×

Assemble the Walls

 
Step Eight // How to Build a Bar

Assemble the Walls

assemble the walls when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Apply glue to the front edge of a side panel. Set it upright, butt it into the front panel, and clamp the pieces together. Mark a line along the front panel to help you center your screws into the edge of the side panel's framing. Drill pilot holes and drive 3-inch screws one at a time, working your way from one end to the other so that you can align the corner as you go. It helps to have a partner.

 
9 ×

Make the Shelves

 
Step Nine // How to Build a Bar

Make the Shelves

inset shelf when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Using a circular saw, cut the two shelves to length. For the bottom shelf, cut a 12 to length and glue and nail it underneath the front lip. Set the shelves in place, and nail through them and into the cleats, which will keep the panels square.

 
10 ×

Attach Corner Stiles and Clad the Sides

 
Step Ten // How to Build a Bar

Attach Corner Stiles and Clad the Sides

attach corner stiles and clad the sides when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Now apply glue to the two front corner stiles and set them in place: snug against the rails and overhanging the edges by ¾ inch. Rip ¾ inch off the width of the side corner stiles, since they butt up against the overhanging front pieces. Apply glue to the back and nail them in place. Overhang the stiles at the back of the side panels by ¾ inch, and glue and nail them in place. Hold the top and bottom rails between the side stiles to scribe them. Cut, glue, and nail them in place. Attach a center stile on each side and trim it—as well as the untrimmed corner stiles—as in Step 6. Butt a 12 against the overhanging stiles to finish the side panels.

 
11 ×

Size the Bar-Top Base

 
Step Eleven // How to Build a Bar

Size the Bar-Top Base

sizing the bar-top base
Photo by Ryan Benyi

To determine the width of the three plywood-base layer pieces, hold a section of bar-rail molding against the long edge of your plywood and snug the 112 oak bar top into the notch. Mark the plywood along the back edge of the board, as shown. Rip two lengths of plywood to this width.

 
12 ×

Install the Base

 
Step Twelve // How to Build a Bar

Install the Base

installing the bar-top base
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Cut one of the plywood lengths into two pieces for the sides that, when flush at the back, overhang the front by 6 inches. Arrange them to overhang the sides by 6 inches, too, then measure between them to get the length of the front piece. Cut it to length. Secure the base with 1¼-inch screws.

 
13 ×

Set the Oak Bar Top

 
Step Thirteen // How to Build a Bar

Set the Oak Bar Top

cutting the 1x12 oak bar-top
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Measure the inside edge of the plywood side pieces and cut two 112 boards to that length. Set them flush with the inside back corners, and measure outside edge to outside edge to get the length of the front 112. It will overlap the seams of the base layer. Cut the front piece to length. Set the boards in place, and use 1¼-inch nails to secure them. Finish the inside edges of the bar top with an oak 12 nailed on edge.

 
14 ×

Miter the Bar Molding

 
Step Fourteen // How to Build a Bar

Miter the Bar Molding

miter the bar molding when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Pad out the saw deck with two strips of scrap plywood to fit in the notch of the molding and keep it level. You'll have to cut the padding to width, from the first notch of the molding to its back edge, as shown. Miter the end of one length of molding at a 45-degree angle.

 
15 ×

Dry-Fit the Bar Molding

 
Step Fifteen // How to Build a Bar

Dry-Fit the Bar Molding

dry-fit the bar molding when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

On the bar top, use a combination square to draw 45-degree lines from the front corners. Take a piece of molding with one mitered end and hold it up to the front edge of the bar; line up the mitered end with the 45-degree mark. Snug the molding up against a mitered scrap to make sure you have a tight corner. Then, at the other end, carry the 45-degree line from the bar top over the molding's uncut end, and miter the piece to size. Install it by screwing through the plywood underneath with 1¼-inch screws. Miter and cut the remaining sidepieces ¾ inch long to overhang the back of the bar. Finish the back edges of the bar top by cutting a 12 to fit the open notches of the molding with a saw.

 
16 ×

Attach the Brackets

 
Step Sixteen // How to Build a Bar

Attach the Brackets

attach the foot-rail brackets when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

On the front wall, mark vertical lines over the nailing blocks, equidistant from each edge. Place the brackets on the marks, and screw through the brackets' holes and into the wall and nailing block.

 
17 ×

Install the Foot Rail

 
Step Seventeen // How to Build a Bar

Install the Foot Rail

install the foot rail when building a bar
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Slide the rail into the brackets, place a cap on each end, and run a set screw through the rail and into each cap. Fill the fastener holes on the bar with wood filler and caulk any open joints, then sand and paint the inside and outside of the walls and shelves. Sand the oak bar top with 220-grit paper, wipe it and the rail with a stain, and finish with a coat of polyurethane.

 
 
 

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