Introduction: Sturdy Bar Counter With LED Lights
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A friend of mine wants to buy a cool beer dispenser for his man-cave, and ask me to build a full bar counter to go with it. Since we are two little kids in the body of adults, we obviously started to project it like an indestructible fortress with lights and laser cannons.
But more realistically, we decided to create something super sturdy that would last years and years, with some cool RGB LED lights around the top corner for a nice atmosphere.
He gave me sizes:
- About 210cm length
- From 100cm to 120cm MAX height
- 80cm deep
and sets a budget of 250 - 300€ in material, which is relatively cheap considering the cost of wood here in Italy (much, much higher than the US).
I live in a urban area in center-north Italy, so it was impossibile to recover enough wood of decent quality from scraps, landfills or local factories. We decided to go for shop-new material, and the woods of choice were the ones with the best price-sturdiness ratio available here: fir wood and pine wood.
Some words about Fir Wood and Pine Wood
Fir is a conifer, and it's widely available in Italy. Here is the main choice when it comes to building projects like houses, patios, garden structures, roofs... thanks also to a great compression resistance. Obviously, it doesn't have the quality of hardwoods like mahogany, durmast or oak, but It's quite cheap and very easy to work with.
Pine is also a conifer and similar to Fir in a lot of ways, but it's usually more robust and little bit more expensive. It's a scented wood: when fresh cut, it release a strong and nice smell. Pine wood processed in autoclave is a very common choice for outdoor projects, since it's usually life long lasting against weather, bugs and parasites. Also, autoclave pine is softer and so harder to split with screws and nails.
Step 1: Start With a Good Project
I'm a fan of pen and paper. I usually prefer to make a simple sketch of my projects and then list all the material I'll need.
But this bar counter is significantly bigger than my classic weekend builds, so I decided that this was a good occasion to learn a little bit of Google SketchUp. It really is an awesome software, with a lot of video tutorials to start with, that you can find easily on the sofware website or around the web, in DIY forums and communities. I highly suggest you to spend some time to learn it, the basics are quite simple and it's highly rewarding.
Having a 3D model of your project is useful for many reasons:
- you can provide a better view to your friend/customer and to yourself
- you will have a better understanding of the building process while you create the 3D, realizing what you really need in terms of material and skills
- you will have a 360° view of the final build all the time, useful for listing materials and take measurements (thanks to the Ruler tool of SketchUp)
...and much more. There are also tools (that I still have to learn) that can lay out the entire 3D project in a complete data sheet full of sizes and material lists. Isn't that convenient?
If you like this particular build, you can download my SketchUp file here!
IMPORTANT NOTE: I ALWAYS change my mind a little during construction progress, so the SketchUp progress you see here is NOT the final version of the build. I've changed a lot of details: colors, part of the frame and even the top. This is just an example to see how a good 3D project can help you with a long build.
Step 2: Shopping List and Tools
Now that you have your project and budget, it's time for a shopping list.
As I said before, wood can be pretty expansive where I live, especially if you are far from rural areas where it's more available. So, considering the budget, I dediced to purchase everything online, from the good boys of Brico Legno Store.
They have a wide selection of high quality wood at lower prices than any "physical" shop of my city.
For my Italian followers (since they don't have international shipping), you can click on the links below to find the shop page of every product on the list!
Note: I will just give you the list of list of the main material that I've used, the final measurements will be different depending on what you need for your spaces.
So, here's what came out from the SketchUp project:
- 10x10cm fir (horizontal feet) - link
- 8x8cm fir (legs) - link
- 6x6cm fir (main frame) - link
- 10x1cm tongue-and-groove joint fir (front and side coverage) - link
- 1,6cm MDF (bottom and middle shelf) - link
For the table top, I've used these pieces of 20mm planed fir (link):
Other things that I've purchased:
- Water-based transparent wood protector
- A pack of beech dowels - link
- A lot of screws, including some longer ones of 12cm - link
- Large steel angles - link
- Little steel angles - link
- Black lack paint
- Wood wax (if you can find pure Bees' wax, that would be awesome. But also a finishing wax is good)
And, of course, a 5 meters RGB LED STRIP. This one from Amazon.
I already had wood glue, I like to use Titebond III. It's not so easy to find in Italy, but thanks to Amazon it's not impossible.
Regarding tools, I've used what I already had: not much, unfortunately. My workshop is in a little garage, so no space for a table saw or other big machinery. One day, maybe, with a bigger space ;)
- Miter saw
- A pocket screw jig (the classical Kreg jig is great, I've used a Wolfcraft one)
- Random orbital sander (optional, but doing all the sanding by hand is exhausting!)
- A drill (also used as a screwdriver)
- Dowel holes jig (optional, but EXTREMELY useful)
I've used different hand tools too, but nothing fancy: planer, clamps, rulers, a square... just the regular things.
Why the steel angles, you may ask? I know, there are better ways to join together two pieces of wood, in particular when they are just straight boards like in this projects. But I needed to create a sturdy structure in no time, with a relatively low budget and few tools, so the combo woodglue+steel joint is a valuable one. I've used them also with pocket screws.
Plus, these ugly but strong joints are not visibile from the outside. Next time I hope I can manage to create some more advanced joint like mortise and tenon.
One big plus for me was buying a set of board that are tongue-and-groove joint ready, a kind of joint almost impossibile to do with my tools on such long boards.
Step 3: Main Feet
The 10x10cm fir board was used to create the two main feet of the counter.
This was the thicker fir square board available on Brico Legno Store(thicker ones are available only in laminated lumber), and the 2 meter piece was enough to create the two feet.
I've cut the wood with my mitre saw, ending up with 2 pieces of 10x10x80cm fir.
The overall design of the counter is squared, without soft angles or curves, to pair better with the existing furnitures. I've maintained the same design on the feet.
I've traced a 45° angle at the end of each feet, starting at 5cm from the base, and cut along the line with the miter saw set at the same angle.
I've refined all the edges with a cheap planer, and then used my random orbital sander to smooth everything out a bit.
NOTE: all the wood that I've used for the frame (feet, legs and main frame) is COARSE, not planed fir. That is an intentional choice! Here I'm using the sander just to take out the bigger wood chips, but I want to maintain a rough look and feel.
Step 4: Legs and Main Frame
The 8x8cm fir boards were used for the legs and the 6x6cm for the main frame.
This step is very simple, I've just cut the wood at length with the miter saw, as you can read in step 2:
- 4pcs 8x8x90cm fir (legs)
- 6pcs 6x6x190cm + 13pcs 6x6x44cm fir (main frame)
Then, I've used the planer to cut off a bit of the edges and give a quick smooth with the sander, just as I did for the 10x10cm feet.
About the 6x6 boards
- the six 190cm pieces are the horizontal ones that will also provide the main support for the shelves and counter top
- the thirteen 44cm pieces are used to connect legs, feet and other horizontal 6x6 togheter, completing the sturdy and robust frame
We will use wood glue, steel angles and pocket screw to assemble everything. I pre-drilled all the pocket screws hole in each board ends.
I've used a standard wood protector on all the legs/frame wood, nothing fancy. This will also soften the surface a little, avoiding any splitting from the screws.
Note: I've ended up using some extra pieces out of scrap wood (pallet) to reinforce the frame. We will see later how.
Step 5: Internal Shelves
The two internal shelves are made from 16mm thick MDF.
MDF is really, really heavy (about 750kg per cubic metre), especially when in big&thick panels like these ones. This is good, because the shelves will be more stable and the whole structure heavier.
The guys from Brico Legno Store where kind enough to provide me the MDF already cut at lenght, which was convenient, because the main panel is 250x140cm... really difficult to cut in a small shop like my garage.
They provided me with two 190x50cm MDF shelves, just what I needed.
Since MDF is weak to moisture/water, I've covered the panels with a couple of layers of wood black varnish, to add an extra level of protection. Just a standard water resistant varnish, nothing too fancy. The counter will be always indoor, and the most exposed part is the top (that we will cover with a high quality finish and wax), so this paint is only to keep te moisture out from the MDF.
Step 6: Front and Side Coverage
The side and front coverage are made out of tongue-and-groove joint pine wood.
This kind of wood is very common here and usually used for wall facing. This particular quality that I've bought is very good, and thanks to the finger joint it can be glued together piece by piece to create a strong wood-wall.
The standard boards are 10x300cm and 1cm thick, enough to obtain the 10 pcs of 190cm and 18 pcs of 44cm that I need.
I've cut everything at lenght with the mitre saw.
As you can see in step 1, the original project includes a dark brown coverage, but in the end we decided to go for natural looking wood on the coverage and dark brown for legs and feet.
I've pre-glued the cut boards 2 by 2, and then glued everything togheter.
I've also used a couple of layer of tung oil for a better finish.
Step 7: Top
The top is the most tricky part, but also the most rewarding!
I wanted to create a structure with multiple fir boards joined together, but without visibile screws, so I've chosen to glue each side of the boards together, reinforcing everything with wood dowels.
I've used 8mm beech dowels, very strong and cheap.
First of all, I've cut 5 pcs of 20mm planed fir at a 210cm length. These boards are 14cm wide, so the top will result in a solid 210x70cm table, with some extra centimeters for the ledge that will also provide space for the led strip.
I've used a Wolfcraft dowel jig for this job, ending up with a flawless result.
I've equipped my drill with a 8mm wood bit and drilled a hole deep a little more than half the length of the beech dowel, with the help of depth stop (a simple metal ring that prevent your drill to go deeper). You can also use a piece of tape on the drill bit to mark your depth.
Then, I've put dowels on one board and glued the other one in place with Titebond. Dowels will help you not only to create a stronger joint, but will also keep the boards aligned during gluing process.
Trick: to prevent the glue drippings from sticking on the top surface, you can put a large strip of paper tape on each long side of the boards. Then you'll just have to peel out the tape. It's easier than using a plane to clean all the glue, especially a strong one like Titebond III.
Note: I've created the dowels' housing on the long sides of each board, except one side on two boards. I suggest you to create all the housing BEFORE gluing the boards, 'cause working with two pcs of wood at a time is easier than working with a larger and larger board.
Step 8: Top Frame
The edge frame that you see around the top has two functions:
- aesthetics: it adds a nice stylish touch to the overall design
- LED ledge: it provides a coverage for the LED strip that will be glued upside down the top, near the edges
I've cut three pieces of 20mm planed fir:
- 1pc 216x14cm
- 2pcs 72x14cm
Note: That sleekest choice here would have been a 45° mitre cut on the corners, to create a picture-frame like joint. But unfortunately my mitre saw can't take 14cm boards in height and I don't have a table saw. So I've ended with two end-grain exposed.
I laid down the completed counter top and glued the frame in position, securing it with some pocket screws and small steel angles. I've used little blocks of wood as spacers to position the frame in a raised position, like an old school bar top.
We won't see the angles in the finished counter, because the top will be flipped upside down.
Let the glue dries for the entire night. I've smooth everything out with my random sander, and this time I've used fine grit paper to have a nice, sleek surface. The top+frame was then covered with a high-quality water based wood protector (walnut color) and finished with furniture wax.
Now it's soft at touch and waterproof.
Step 9: Assembly Part 1: the Vertical Frame
Now we have all the pieces set up for the assembly. I've done this "cut everything - build later" timing in my project because we had to move the wood to my friend's house with regular cars (no trucks, dammit!).
The first thing to assemble is the frame, which has nothing to envy to a classic, genuine workbench! (except for the steel angles that should be tenon and mortise... oh, well)
1) Legs to feet
I traced the distances of the 8x8 legs on the 10x10 foot. Then I've marked the center on the other side and drilled a 1-2cm break-in with a Fostner bit. That will make us sure that the long screw that we'll use to secure the leg to the feet won't scratch on the ground.
Then, I put some glue on one 8x8cm foot and secured it in place with a 12cm screw. When the glue is dry, we will have a really strong joint.
Repeat this step on all the two feet ends (4 legs total) to create the main vertical frame.
2) Connection between legs
I took my 6x6x44cm pieces and created a connection between the two legs. The main structure is becoming more and more sturdy as we're completing it. I've used steel angles for this part.
I've then added pocket screw holes on scrap wood and created a sort of "cross" between the legs. This will leave us with vertical support for coverage boards.
I took my side coverage pine boards (all glued togheter), put a lot of glue on the cross between the legs and lay down the pine. I've added some nails to keep everything in place.
It's starting to take shape, lads!
Step 10: Assembly Part 2: the Horizontal Frame
We moved everything to my friend house. Further assembly will start to take a lot of space.
I've started with connecting the two finished feet/legs wit the 6x6x190cm boards.
Then, I reinforced the boards with the 44cm pieces perpendicularly. I've used pocket holes and steel angles for this part.
I laid down the black and heavy shelves, they fit just right.
I then go up vertically by adding spacers and a second "floor" for the second shelf.
The 3rd and last floor will hold the top!
Everything connected well, thanks to the Sketchup project that helped me a lor with precise measurements.
Step 11: Assembly Part 3: Coverage and Leds
Now that the whole structure is ready, the front coverage is just a matter of glue and nails.
I've added board by board of tongue-and-groove pine, reaching the top.
As you can see, the last part is left without coverage: that way the led lights from the top frame will light up the internal shelf!
Then I've glued the led strip on the internal corners of the top, face down. Some CA Glue (or Super Glue) will keep le strip sticked on the wood.
You can also use epoxy glue if you like it.
Step 12: Top And...ready!
Last, I connected the top with some steel angles on to the structure.
And here we are!
The bar counter is ready and we are too for a nice party!
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