Introduction: DIY Bar Countertop
I've spent the last 2 years researching home bars and DIY counter top options. There are not a lot of DIY options and the ones I found didn't interest me enough to take the plunge. Although I love the idea of a stone counter-top, the expense is not always in the budget. The trick with this project was to ensure I kept the cost reasonable and avoided spending as much as I would to purchase a nice new stone counter top. I have completed plenty of do it yourself projects in the past where the cost ended up greater than buying new would have. After months of mulling it over I decided to complete a metal, concrete, and wood counter-top with an epoxy finish to provide a smooth texture and easy cleaning. I researched sizes of metals available and liked the flat ones used for welding the best. Supplies needed for this project include 1" x 4" x 8' pine boards, 1" x 3" x 8' pine boards, 1" x 3" x 8' cedar, 4' x 8' of OSB, 1/8" x 3" x 3' flat weldable steel (x 2), 1/8" x 1" x 6' flat weldable steel (x2), self leveling concrete, construction adhesive, clear caulk, 3 different colors of stain, bar top epoxy (2 gallons), 1.5" screws, 1" x 1" x 6' pine boards, 2" x 0.5" x 8' pine trim, 1/8" x 0.5" x 3' flat weldable steel (x2), foam brushes (multi size pack), torch/lighter and rags for wiping off stain. The stain colors I used were special walnut, dark walnut and Jarrah. You can use any colors you choose. I recommend testing them on the wood type you'll be using to ensure they go together well and look good on the wood you use.
Step 1: Base
In preparation I drew out my design in a graphing book and colored it in to get an idea how the end product would look. I do this with every project to ensure the colors and layout will work. As you can see in the drawing I planned to place the sink in the middle, but Kendra gave the great advice of placing it off to the right to allow more prep space for sitting and standing at the bar. I can verify that this was the right choice after a few months of use. The initial step after getting the cabinets installed was to get the measurements for the bar top. We decided to have 12 inches of overhang on the front of the bar for people to sit comfortably at. I also chose a 0.5 inch overhang on the other sides. I had the OSB cut to these dimensions at Lowes to save the mess and make transporting it home easier.
Step 2: Layout/Pattern
We cut out the hole for the sink after installing the OSB. Next it was time to layout the design and determine where the metal and concrete would go. We varied our seams the way you would when lying a hardwood floor. It took several hours to get it designed in a way that looked good and separated the concrete and metal in an eye catching pattern. Take your time laying it out. The finished product is totally dependent on this. We used the 6' flat metal pieces along the top and bottom edge, just inside the trim (you won't see the trim until the final steps). Each of the metal pieces had wood of the same size lying under them (shown in first picture above) so they were high enough to be even or close to the boards that surrounded them. The boards they sat on were nailed into the OSB. We glued the metal to the boards using construction adhesive and clamped them down for a few hours before releasing the clamp. The wide metal pieces in the center were glued down with construction adhesive and we placed heavy objects on them to hold them down, since they weren't in a great spot for clamping. The 0.5" x 1/8" x 3' metal pieces were placed on the short ends just inside the trim, allowing for metal trim all the way around the top. We waited to glue these on until the trim was installed. We tried to keep the seams to a minimum in the spaces designated for concrete.
When laying out the boards, it's okay to have the horizontal seems line up, but you don't want the vertical cuts on boards to match up. These should be staggered. For example, if you had a 6 foot span you could start with a 2' board first and then a 4' board to finish the first row. In the next row you could use a 3' board and then another 3' board. In the following row you could use a 4' board and then a 2' board. That would give you staggered seams vertically. You could continue that same pattern, starting over with a 2' board, followed by a 4' board. That's a basic and easy way to stagger seams vertically that will turn out nice every time. I used the same type of pattern for the white wood wall on the front of the bar. Lowes has videos on their website of installing laminate or wood flooring. These videos tend to have good examples of how to stagger seams.
Step 3: Staining
The stain colors I used were Special Walnut, Dark Walnut and Jarrah. I did additional coats of stain on some boards and fewer coats on others. Apply the stain in even coats, following the grain of the wood with a foam brush. Stain all sides except the bottom of the board. Let it sit for a couple minutes (not more than 5) and then wipe the stain away with a clean rag. If the color isn't as dark as you like, apply another coat, wipe away and stop once happy with the color. I stained board by board so I could see how the colors looked in the pattern as I went.The colors deepen even further when the epoxy is applied, as you can see if comparing these stained photos with the finished product. Be sure to apply the stain in a well ventilated area.
Step 4: Concrete
After staining we took the clear caulk and lined all seems around the bottom and sides of the spaces for concrete. Make sure to seal around them well. Let the caulk dry before pouring concrete. We used a self leveling concrete because we didn't want to get the surrounding wood dirty troweling in concrete. We covered the counter top in plastic so we didn't spill on the stained wood or metal. Then mixed the concrete in a bucket and used a cup to pour into the spaces. Concrete shrinks when dry, so get as close to the top of the wood without it spilling over as you can. The concrete will be darker to start and lighten over the next couple days. The epoxy darkened that up a bit as well. There are a lot of concrete colors if you desire a color other than gray. I had left over self leveling concrete from another project and used this. It didn't take much to fill these spaces.
Step 5: Sealing & Trim
Next cut the trim piece to go between the front and back at one end of the board with a 45 degree inside angle. Then install the trim on the long edges followed by the short edge. There are tons of youtube videos to guide you through cutting/installing trim if you haven't done this before.There's nothing like a good youtube tutorial to teach you something new.
Step 6: Epoxy Application
After the outside edging trim was applied we caulked around the bottom where the trim met up with the OSB. This is to prevent epoxy dripping off and out of the counter top. I did not apply caulk around the top where the trim met up with the metal because I didn't want it to impact the look on the top of the bar. Next we applied the thin metal trim strips on the shorter sides of the counter top with construction adhesive and clamped it down for about an hour. You can see this thin metal strip in the 3rd picture above, it meets up with the wide metal on the front and back of bar edge. We also applied junk wood that would later be removed as trim around the edges where the sink would fit, so there was a lip to prevent spill off inside of the cabinet. Caulk was applied here along the inside edge to keep epoxy from running between the trim and counter top.You can see this in the first picture above.
If you have never applied Epoxy before I recommend having help during this process. We actually applied a base layer of 1 gallon first and then layer 2 of the second gallon a few days later. You will need a couple large buckets, 2 paint sticks, 2 foam brushes (4 inch) and lighter or torch (preferred). Follow the epoxy instructions carefully when mixing and don't pour onto the counter top until it's clear (no longer hazy) and you can see to the bottom of your mixing bucket. You have a limited time to pour and spread it out once it's at this clear stage, so have a plan ready. One of us poured while the other used a 4 inch foam brush to spread out the epoxy and work it toward the edges/uncovered areas. The epoxy will continue to level itself out as it dries, but you want to get it to all the edges and spread it to an even coat while it's still wet. After you have an even coat you should take a torch or lighter to the top to pop the bubbles. I use a BernzOmatic Torch that I purchased at Menards a few years ago. This is what perfects the clear coat of the epoxy. There are bubbles so small you won't even see them, so ensure you've done this to the entire top before walking away to let it dry. Keep the torch moving so you don't get one area too hot.
The first picture above shows the junk wood after the epoxy was applied and dried. We used a multi tool to cut where it was stuck to the epoxy, and vacuumed while cutting because we were inside the house. Then pulled/pried the wood away so it was ready for sink installation (the wood was installed with small nails and was easy to pry away.
If I were to do this project again I would have completed the counter top down to the OSB in the garage and applied the epoxy there, so the spill off was in a controlled area instead of in our nice basement. We had plastic under it, but it's still more of a mess and smell than I'd want in the house. If you listen to any recommendations from my Instructable, this is one I would take to heart. Apply the epoxy in a garage or outdoor space and let it dry before moving inside and attaching to your cabinets.
Step 7: Sink and Faucet Installation
Prior to the applying the Epoxy we did a dry fit to ensure the sink and faucet would still fit after the boards were installed on the OSB. Make sure you do this because it's easier to cut excess wood before than it will be after Epoxy is on the wood.
Once the epoxy dried for a day we removed the junk boards, dropped the sink into the hole and completed the sink/faucet installation. I plumbed it myself to save on cost. I won't go into these steps because they are beyond what you need for this counter top tutorial. I found an amazing deal on a high quality used faucet on Craigslist, making the total for the sink and faucet around $120. The total cost for this project including sink and faucet was about $360. The 2 gallons of epoxy ($120), sink($85) and welder metal($60), and faucet ($35) were the most expensive parts, but all worth it to get the aesthetic I desired. Once the sink is install it was finished and ready to enjoy. There are a lot of nice aspects in our basement, but this counter gets rave reviews from everyone who sees it.