Liquor is riding a pop-culture wave right now, propelled by a TV show about a conflicted, emotionally unavailable ad man and a resurgence in cocktail consumption. Bar carts have sprouted up everywhere, lending a low-key bohemian air to even the drabbest studio apartment. Nice mid-century carts are way too expensive, so I made my own version with some salvaged Douglas Fir and scraps of electrical conduit. The big orange box store provided some fittings and wheels, and I was in business.
The structure is very simple: two parallel ladder structures are bridged with three deep shelves. Lengths of galvanized electrical conduit add lateral stability and keep things from sliding off the shelves. Two casters are paired with a stationary end for a good mix of stability and mobility. On the back, a sleek aluminum X-brace keeps it all in line. With about half the material salvaged, I spent about $50, with the bulk of that going into wine glass holders and casters.
You will need these materials:
- Approx. 15' of 1-1/2" square Douglas Fir or similar (I ripped mine out of some 2 x 8 salvaged ceiling joists)
- 2 8' 1x10 of clear white pine or similar
- 3 22-1/2" lengths of 3/4" electrical conduit
- 4 16-1/2" lengths of 3/4" electrical conduit
- 4 1-1/4" x 1/4" dia. machine bolts
4 1/4" dia. nuts
- 8 1/4" dia. cut washers
- Handful of #8 Spax-brand MDF screws
- Pickling stain
- Lacquer thinner
You will need these tools:
- 6 heavy-duty 24" clamps
- Table saw with crosscut sled or miter gauge
- Combination square
- Tape measure
- 1/2" chisel
- Hand plane
- 1/4" drill bit
- 3/4"- Forstner bit or spade bit
- 11/16" Forstner or spade bit
- Angle grinder with cut-off wheel
- Needle-nose vice grip
- Hand screw driver
- Orbital sander
- Sanding block
- 100, 150, and 220-grit sandpaper
- Paint brush
- Rubber gloves
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Step 1: Shelf Lamination
Instead of just using sheet goods for the shelves, I wanted to make them from solid wood. (This could be eliminated to save time and money if you just make the shelves from plywood, melamine, or MDF.) I used clear trim-grade white pine from the store, but you could substitute a cheaper cut or salvaged wood if you prefer.
Rip a thin strip, approximately 1/8" to 1/4", off of each edge of each 1x10. Place flat on scrap wood or cauls on top of a workbench. Run a thin, even layer of yellow wood glue down the facing long edges of each board. Clamp together, alternating clamps over and under the lamination to prevent bowing. Scrape up excess glue squeeze-out with a putty knife or damp rag.
Once the glue has dried, use a hand plane to smooth any mis-match between the boards and sand smooth.
In the meantime, set the glue-up aside for a few hours and begin the frame.
Step 2: Frame Cuts
Rip down your frame stock -- 2 x whatever-you-salvaged -- into 1-1/2"-square blanks at least 36" long on the table saw. Using a stop block for accuracy, cut two blanks to 36" long and two to 31-1/2" long. Cut four blanks to 18". Please note that the length of the shorter blanks -- 31-1/2" -- is calibrated to the height of the casters I got plus the thickness of a mounting block so that the total assembly adds up to 36". Casters vary; measure them carefully and adjust the length of the shorter blanks accordingly.
For the lap joints, use a square to pull a line across at 1-1/2" down from each end of each blank. Use a miter gauge or cross-cut sled to rabbet the ends at 3/4" deep. Set the four 18" pieces aside.
The dadoes for the shelves a are a bit tricker to figure out. Layout marks should the on a face that is 90 degrees to the face that just had the rabbets cut out of it. The dadoes should also be mirror images with their mating pieces.
On the 36" blanks, measuring from the top down, the dadoes start at 4", 18-1/2", and 29-1/4". On the 31-1/2" blanks, measuring from the top down, the dadoes start at 4" and 18-1/2". Use the table saw with a miter gauge or cross cut sled to cut the dadoes to 3/4"-wide and 3/4"-deep.
Knock the waste wafers of wood out with a hammer and clean each joint up with a chisel. Sand each piece thoroughly with 100-grit sandpaper.
Step 3: Frame Assembly
Use the angle grinder and a cut-off wheel to cut the pieces of conduit to the lengths described in the intro. Make sure to grind off any burrs to a nice bevel.
At the center of the back side of each rabbet, drill a counterbore with a 3/4" bit 3/8" deep. At the center of the counterbore, drill through with the 1/4" bit. Make sure to support underneath the rabbet with a sacrificial block to prevent blow-out from the drill bit.
Drill a 3/4"-deep hole with the 11/16" bit 2" above each of the two lower shelf dadoes (the ones starting at 18-1/2" and 29-1/4") and centered side-to-side.
For assembly, all of the parts kind of have to go together at once. Some clamps may help here. lay out all the parts as shown in the fourth picture. Coat the insides and shoulders of the rabbets with a thin, even layer of wood glue. Seat the conduit into the holes on one side of the frame, the the other. Put the 18" cross bars in place at the top and bottom and through-bolt each lap joint with a machine bolt, two washers, and a nut. Only finger-tighten everything first; check for square, then tighten down with a screw driver and a vise-grip. Measure out and pre-drill through the ends of each piece of conduit and secure with a screw.
On the bottom of the shorter leg assembly, add the casters. I had to add a wider poplar mounting strip to the bottom of mine in order to accommodate the width of the casters. This could be avoided with pin-type casters.
Once the glue dries, sand the faces of everything and ease the edges.
Step 4: Shelf Finishing
With the frame now complete, the glue-up of the shelves ought to be nice and cured. Scrape up any excess glue with a sharp putty knife, knock down the seam with a plane, and sand smooth with an orbital sander and some 100-grit paper. Use the table saw to rip a little bit off of one side, then set the fence to 16-1/2", flip the piece, and cut again. Use a chop saw to cut it into three 24" sections.
Hit it with another pass of the orbital sander at 120 grit to polish it up. I also eased the edges, except where they would be seated in the dadoes, with a light run of the hand plane (shown in third photo). For the bottom shelf, take out a notch in two corners that is 1-1/2" x 3/4" in order to fit around the frame.
To increase the contrast between the frame and the shelves, I used a pickling stain on the shelves. Pickling stain is a watery white wash that unifies and blends the tones of the wood without fully obscuring the grain of the wood.
Step 5: Final Assembly
Much like the two ladder frames, the whole cart comes together all at once. Before assembly, measure 3" above the dadoes in each side of each frame, on the face perpendicular to where the galvanized pipes are already seated. Drill a 3/8"-deep hole with a 3/4" spade or Forstner bit to accept the back rails.
Lay the pieces out on a flat surface. Seat the 3 pieces of 22-1/2" electrical conduit into the holes on one of the ladder frames. Tap the other ladder frame into/onto the ends of the conduit until they are joined. Flip the frame (carefully, it will be very wobbly) so the back is facing up. Measure, pre-drill, and pin the conduit in place with Spax screws. Seat the three shelves, starting at one end and carefully tapping into place with a hammer and a block. The shelves should be perfectly flush with the outside of each ladder frame. Screw the front and back faces of the frame to secure the shelves.
You should now have a bar-car-looking object, but it will probably be a bit laterally insecure since it is made up of a series of parallelograms. Brace the back side with an X-brace made of 3/8" aluminum rod or similar. Grind a little flat spot at each end, drill a pilot hole, and secure to the frame. Measure diagonals (should be equal) across the back to make sure the frame is square. Once the X-brace is in place, the whole assembly shoudl stiffen up nicely.
Run the whole thing over again with some 120-grit sandpaper and coat with finish of your choice. I used a high-build, very hard brushing lacquer since the cart will face some moisture. I did two coats on every surface, and 3 coats on the top of each shelf, which will see the most wear. Once the lacquer is dry, knock down any slightly rough patches with 3-400 grit sandpaper, then add a coat of paste wax for extra protection.
Secure the wine racks on the underside of the top shelf according to the manufacturer's directions. Set it up, stock it out, and enjoy! As a cocktail neophyte, I relied on The 12 Bottle Bar for good starter instructions.