Introduction: Home Bar With Reclaimed Bowling Alley Bar Top

About: I am a work in progress, but I'm working on it. No rush.

The Dream. I have been dreaming of building my basement bar for about 10 years. My friends all have heard me say, "I’m working on my bar…bla bla bla" since my 20s. I’ve been building parts to go in the bar for years. I’ve assembled materials and vintage pieces for just as long. After a couple of setbacks, physical injuries and missed start dates I finally, in the second half of 2014, built my bar. Hope you like it. I really do.

Step 1: ​Materials

Table Saw
Chop Saw
Plunge Router
Various hand planes
Cordless drill
Wood screws
12' of Select 1x6 pine
12" of quality 1x6 piine
8' 2x6s as needed for your design
8' 2x4s as needed for your design
8' 2x2s as needed for your design
8' of corner trim
12' of baseboard trim
Urethane and stain to your liking
Orbital and belt sanders
Sponge Brushes, tack clothes, masking tape, various grits of sandpaper
Various hand tools, hammer, files, carpenters pencils, wood clamps, utility knife etc.
5' of counter top. (Habitat ReStore)

I found my 8' bowling alley boards on It had been stored outdoors and was grey but the wood was
solid. This section is from the middle of the lane so it is pine wood.

Step 2: Remove Supports

On the bottom side of the bowling lane there were 3 pieces of angle iron holding it rigid. Once I removed that the lane was fairly flexible. Not floppy but there was definitely sway and give between the boards.

Step 3: Pry and Pull

Pry apart all the boards and pull all the nails. There were a LOT of nails. I just threw them in my steel recycling bin. They are the old square twisted type of nails that really hold well. Makes me wonder if anyone would
have a use for them. I do not. I have a pile of a few hundred. Remember to look for additional tacks, nails and brads on the bottom side. I found a couple of these pretty late in the process and I'm just glad I didn't' ruin a saw or planer blade on any of them.

Step 4: Clean and Surface Prep

In this step I took just took a wire brush to all the boards to remove sand and grime that was between and all around the boards. Then I sanded the flat faces and filed the nail holes so they would nest nicely again once I glued them back together.

Note: They did not glue together nearly as smoothly as they came apart. Even thought they are tongue and groove. This was where I realized how much planing and sanding there was going to be.

Step 5: Build the Skeleton Frame of the Bar

With a lot of research I decided how I wanted to layout and frame the bar. I want it heavy and sturdy with not a lot of wasted space. I wanted this bar not to budge. If someone were to fall off their bar stool and cling to it on their way down, I wanted it to hold solid. Not likely, but who knows.

Create the base out of 2x4 lumber. Butt join all corners. Make sure all opposing sides are the same length and corner to corner is the same length. Making sure everything is as square as you can will help in every following step. My base is basically three feet by eight feet. Adjust yours to your space.

Box out the base for shelving and supports and walls with 2x6 boards.

Build the side walls. My bar is flush to the wall on the left side so it is not symmetrical. I installed the wall on the left side to be further to the outside. The left side will not need to accommodate arm or foot rails. The top of the bar should be 42". The thickness of the bowling alley boards are about 2.5" tall. So I made these side walls 39.5" tall.

Join the side walls with a long 2x4 at the top and a 2x2 at the bottom. This makes a very sturdy framework for the bar.

Then I cut the bottom shelf to nest in the 2x4 bottom space. This is 3/4" plywood to be a sturdy base for anything I put on top of it like the mini fridge, beer cases, a microwave etc..

On top of the plywood base I framed out 2 shelving supports out of left over 2x4s. I spaced them to accommodate the minifridge to the side not against the wall. Screw on a 2x2 self support on the left side wall level with the 2x4 boxes.

Cut and install a plywood shelf to rest on the 2x4 frames and the 2x2 support. I chose the height of this shelf to allow space for most 1.75 liter liquor bottles.

Step 6: Sheathing

Cut and screw 1/4" plywood sheathing to the exterior 3 sides. I just set the plywood in place on the foot rest boards and scribed a trim line along the top. I have a lot of left over drywall screws. I used these to fix the plywood to the 2x4 frame.

Step 7: Creating the Reclaimed Bowling Alley Bar Top

Layout the boards how you want them to appear on top. I didn't want any of the cross grain seams to line up too close together so I was very careful about this.

After I was certain about the layout I glued a couple of the rows of boards together. Repeat with a couple of more rows after that and so on until you have glued up the entire long run together.

Once I had the width I needed all glued together I routed a channel on the underside and installed steel braces to make sure everything holds sturdy.

I have 2 additional short runs that get glued to each side so the top wraps around the bartender's work space. Glued and planed those up separately, then glued them to the main bar top.

After all the pieces are glued I set up a straight edge perpendicular to the run of the boards and cut the ends off so all bowling alley boards are flush on the ends. I did this with my circular saw and finished it off with my cross-cut hand saw.

Step 8: Plane, Plane, Plane and Glue

I had to plane the long run of the bowling alley boards a LOT. It took forever. My father helped me with the whole project. I got him in one action planing shot above. He was very glad to only help one day of planing. I recommend finding access to a large sander or planer to clean up the surface. It took a couple of weeks for me to do it after work with a couple of old hand planes. I mostly used an old Stanley 606 Bedrock. It worked better than the newer smaller planes.

As much as it was a pain to hand plane all of this it felt good to stand on the shoulders of guys who did this sort of thing their entire lives. The olde timey ways are good to experience. But thank goodness for progress.

Once these were all glued, planed and sanded I attached them on top of the frame just using steel angle brackets.

Step 9: Install the Exterior

For the exterior around the sides and below the foot rail I used laminate flooring. I was able to get a good deal on some dark flooring. I chose it because it would be very durable, wouldn't show marks and scuffs and because it contrasted the top very well. After all the prying, planing, sanding, urethane etc. really wanted the top to stand out and be the focal point of the project and room.

The flooring snapped together really easily. It is held on with a couple of finishing nails at the top and bottom of each board.

Step 10: Glue and Support the Armrail

I Used a select 1"x6" for the top and glued it to a quality 1"x6" board on the bottom to fabricate the arm rail. Then I sanded all sides smooth. With scrap piece of this rail and bowling alley board I mocked up the joint between the two (see the first photo above). Once I was happy with the angle and the strength of the joint I ran the finished long boards through the table saw. The rail fit nicely on the edge of the bar. Underneath I supported the rail with scrap 1x3 boards every 18 inches or so.

Step 11: Sand, Urethane, Repeat

To put a nice finish coat on the bowling alley I started by sanding with 80 grit and worked my way down to 300 grit. I cleaned all surfaces with mineral spirits. Then I applied interior oil based gloss urethane. Make sure to do this in a well ventilated space. Then let it dry, lightly sand with 600grit or 00 steel wool , tack cloth, urethane again.

Let it dry, lightly sand with 600grit or 00 steel wool , tack cloth, urethane again.

Let it dry, lightly sand with 600grit or 00 steel wool , tack cloth, urethane again.

As many times as it takes...

Step 12: Footrail

For the footrail I just used 1"x6" quality lumber. It went pretty smoothly.

Cut the miter and cut to length with the chop saw. Then sand down to 300 grit, stain according to directions. As before, urethane, lightly sand, tack cloth, repeat as needed.

Install with glue and a few finishing nails.

Step 13: Glass Rail

To make the glass rail I just used 1/4" plywood. I glued and tacked a spill rail to the edge of it. Then did the usual sand, sand, sand, urethane, urethane, urethane. I screwed in on from below and then applied one more coat of urethane so it would be sealed. This way spills won't run between the glass rail and the bartop or off on to the shelving and appliances below.

By this point I had moved in bottles. You can see in a couple of these images I was already using the bar for it's intended purpose. Never drink and do 'ibles or use tools. Safety first.

Step 14: Counter Shelf

You can see in these pictures I no longer have the shelf made of plywood. I bought a piece of counter top for the shelf. I cut it to length and depth using my circular saw. I just set it on the plywood and supports and fastened it in place with wood screws from below.

Step 15: The Finished Bar

The last thing I did was measure and cut corner trim to cover the exposed edges of the laminate flooring. I cut trim for the bottom seam between the laminate and the foot rail too. Sand, stain, urethane and tack in these pieces with finishing nails, push it up against the wall and the project is done.

I'm really happy with how it turned out.

I built a sink surround (out of left over bowling alley boards) to make this a wetbar. Didn't document any of that. This is 'ible about the bar project. That really helps it be a functional, useful bar though. I will eventually put in shelving in the back bar area, add wall mount bottle openers and decorate the space to finish it off. Hopefully I will add pictures when that is done.

Thanks for reading. And thanks to Instructables and it's community of members for fueling my creativity.