This instructable will outline the steps for creating your own beautiful bar-top from common lumber. Using mostly 2x4's you can create a stand-out piece that will get visitors talking! It may be made from common materials, but it'll be a unique addition to your home by the time you're done.
Glue (gorilla glue and titebond)
Stain (I used red mahogany)
Power Sander/Belt Sander
Let's get started!
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Step 1: Creating the Design
I sketched up a few initial ideas in the early phases of my design and finally ended up settling on the one shown. I like the "Herring-bone-esque" look of the one I chose with the staggered planks of wood (herring-bone has for a long time been my favorite pattern).
The overall length was 128" on the long side and 35" along the short end (coming out of the corner). The width is 13". You, of course, can adjust the dimensions to fit your space. The general steps outlined here will still apply, but you'll have to figure out the dimension specifics on your own.
The bar top is made from four 2x4's glued length-wise so that their 4" face (actually 3.5") is showing and the 2" face (actually 1.5") is defining the thickness of the bar-top.
With a general design figured out it's time to start cutting!
Step 2: Cut Some Wood and Make Some SAWDUST
There is a lot of wood to cut, 128" long on one end and 35" on the corner length is 163" of 2x4's. Of course you need that length x4 to get the width of the bar which comes to: 163x4 = A WHOLE LOT OF WOOD TO CUT
I bought 60 ft of 2x4's.
NOTE: there are 2 types of common lumber: Green and Kiln Dried.
Green lumber is wood as it came out of the cuts...it is still wet and prone to do things like: warp, shrink, or bend as it sits on the hardware store's shelves waiting to be bought. Because of this, you need to be extra picky when selecting wood for this project or any other where you want to use common lumber and care about things being straight.
Kiln Dried Lumber has been cut and then placed into a furnace to remove the excess moisture from the wood. This results in wood that is much more true and straight. It also has the extra benefits of being lighter and void of any little critters that may have been living in the wood (they are killed in the drying process).
If you can, get kiln dried wood. It will greatly simplify later sanding/shaping steps.
For my design, I wanted each plank to be the same length and then just offset them by the width of the plank (~3.5"). That made cutting up the pieces easier since I just had to remember one length: 31.75"
I cut a lot of 31.75" lengths of 2x4. I mean a LOT. I mean, enough to make you think you'll never never see anything again besides wood and sawdust. Enough to start calling for help the only way I knew how...
If you experience any of that then... great!....you're about halfway done cutting.
Well back to it, I'll see you in step 3.
Step 3: Adjusting the Width of Each Piece....and Cutting More Wood!
So by now you have a huge stack of 31.75" 2x4's, a ringing in your ears from the droning of the saw (possibly), and a few pounds of wood dust in your hair and clothing (probably).
If you look at each of those pieces, they will be about 1.5" thick and 3.5" wide. You'll also notice that the edges of the 2x4's are rounded. This rounded edge is good for avoiding splinters but is terrible if you are going to be gluing pieces of wood side-by-side to create a bar top. These rounded edges guarantee that the surface will have lots of tiny grooves where debris can get trapped -- no bueno!
In the images you can see an example of two pieces side by side demonstrating the problem. I solved this by cutting 1/8" off each side face so that the overall width went from 3.5" to 3.25". This created a hard corner and allowed the pieces of wood to be brought together without the grooves forming on the top surface as they had before.
Now do that for every piece you just previously cut.
I'll admit, I may have blacked out here... I was just in a wood-cutting fury and everything faded together. I'm pretty sure I came out of it ok. (The man who lives in my finger told me so)
Step 4: Gluing the Wood Into Sections
Now it's time to glue the wood pieces together to make the different sections of the bar-top. Since I went for a design with a stair-step type pattern throughout, I needed a way to repeatably offset the wood pieces. I made a simple tool by cutting 3 pieces of wood, each 3.25" longer than the next (the distance of the desired offset). This left me with pieces 3.25, 6.5, and 9.75 inches in length. After making sure they were each 3.25" wide (to match the pieces being used for the bar-top) I glued the pieces together (as shown in the image)
To use the offset tool, I clamped a stray 2x4 segment to my work table and lined up the tool to the face of the 2x4. I then clamped the offset tool in place and got ready to glue.
First, I placed a piece of wax paper down on the exposed work table. This prevents the excess glue that drips out while bonding from curing on the work table surface (and bonding the bar-top section to the work surface)
Next, I grabbed four of the pre-cut 2x4's and, using titebond, applied a generous helping of glue on the faces of the wood to be bonded.
Finally, I brought the pieces together and clamped along the length and let them cure.
1) When applying the glue, make sure not to accidentally glue the wood sections to the offset tool. Leave the pieces of the wood that actually contact the tool bare.
2) Make sure as you position the wood and begin to clamp that the wood stays in contact with the offset tool. Don't let the pieces being clamped shift around and keep them all pressed down flush on the work table.
3) When clamping, you want to apply enough pressure that glue starts to squeeze out between the pieces of wood, this ensures that you have good coverage of adhesive through the entire bond face.
So that was pretty straight-forward. Once the glue has cured, you have one of the sections that will be assembled to make the bar-top. You need to repeat the process to create enough sections to make the full length of the bar-top. In my case, that meant 6 total sections -- requiring 5 more iterations or the above steps.
Once all the sections of the bar are made, it's time to assemble them.
Step 5: Assembling the Sections
Here I take two of the sections I just glued together and glue them to each other.
Basically, lay out the two pieces end to end and apply gorilla glue to the exposed ends. Allow the glue to harden and then move on to the next section and bond that on as well. Slowly you grow the length of the bar until the full length has been created.
Normally I favor the use of titebond adhesive as I have found it to be a little stronger then gorilla glue, however in this case I chose to use gorilla glue due to its expanding formula. For a bond to reach maximum strength there needs to be pressure across the bond while the glue dries. Normally this is achieved using clamps. In this case, however, this would have been difficult because the clamps would have needed to run the length of the sections being glued. So instead, I ended up bringing the sections together and clamping them down to the work table to keep them from moving. The bond pressure was generated by the expansion of the glue during cure.
When gluing the sections that went in-line with each other, in addition to clamping them to the work table during cure, I also placed wood segments against the outer faces of the sections being glued and clamped them together across the width of the bar (kind of like two makeshift rails). This sandwiched the pieces being glued between the "rails" and kept them in-line with each other. Doing this each time I bonded a new section to the bar made sure that the bar-top stayed straight.
If your design includes a corner as mine did, the process is very similar. You just don't use the extra wood pieces to force the bar sections in-line but rather use a guide to make them perpendicular to each other.
Step 6: Sanding and Shaping
Now that you have the overall length and shape of the bar-top, it's time to make it pretty!
Here is where you use the magic of the belt sander to transform the rough shape of the bar. I cycled through 40 grit, 80 grit, and 120 grit sanding belts on both sides of the bar top. This left me with a smooth surface ready for stain and final treatment.
I made one final sanding pass with a power sander using 220 grit on the top surface of the bar.
During the sanding process, I made sure to "break the edge" on the front faces of the bar. I do this by holding the belt sander at an angle about 45deg from vertical. and running it along the length of the edge. This creates a chamfer angle that I then continue to refine and smooth until it rounds into a smooth contoured edge.
At this point, the ends of the bar-top still have a stair-step shape. You need to cut off the ends to have a straight edge. I did this with a circular saw and a saw guide. Using a square, I traced a straight line across the bar-top at each end. Then I clamped a straight-edge to the wood to act as a cutting guide and cut off the excess material with the circular saw. Be sure when you place the cutting guide it is spaced far enough away from the line you traced so that the blade of the circular saw is in the correct place when you cut. After the cut, clean up the cut edges with the belt sander.
With the grunt work behind you, time to get to the fun part and really bring out the beautiful final look of the bar-top!
Step 7: Prepping and Staining
The staining process is where the common lumber will be transformed into something special. Select a stain that you like -- I went with red mahogany which had a deep color with red tones mixed in.
You'll need to stain both sides of the bar top. I would suggest starting with the bottom so that you've worked out any kinks in the process before doing the top surface.
Also, since you are using common lumber you are working with a soft wood (either douglas fir or pine). You need to take a few extra steps to make sure the staining process goes well. This is because softwoods have a more open grain structure (like "pores") that will absorb a lot more stain than hardwoods typically do. This can lead to splotchy, inconsistent color. This can be avoided by applying a pre-stain conditioner. This works by filling some of the "pores" so that the wood doesn't over absorb the stain. Make sure to follow the specific details of the conditioner and stain you will be using but the general process is as follows:
1) Wipe the surface clean with a damp rag to remove sanding debris
2) Brush on the pre-stain conditioner and allow to absorb for a few minutes
3) Wipe off excess with a clean paper towel
4) Sand the surface (220 grit) in preparation for staining
5) Brush on the stain
6) Wipe off excess with a clean paper towel
A NOTE ON STAINING:
For those who don't have as much experience staining, there is a big difference between painting wood and staining it. While they both are done using brushes they a very different beyond that. Painting deposits a thin layer of material on the wood surface while staining it placing a "pool" of pigment on the surface for the wood to absorb. While staining you are trying maintain a thin puddle of stain on top of the wood. Keeping a wet brush and not re-visiting places you've already stained is important...otherwise you don't allow the stain to settle in a single spot and be absorbed into the wood. After a few minutes you wipe away all the excess. Unlike painting, you don't want to leave stain to dry on the wood. After giving an opportunity to be absorbed, remove the excess stain. The color of the wood is changed by what was absorbed rather than by a colored film that is cured on the outer face (as with painting).
Keep working all the faces of the bar top until you have got the color you want on all the exposed surfaces. You may need multiple staining passes until you get the look you want. Once that is done you need to seal the wood.
Step 8: Sealing and Finishing
Now that you've assembled the bar-top, shaped it, and got the color you want -- it's time to seal the surface. There are a lot of different options for sealing wood but I tend to prefer polyurethane. It is very durable and the sealing process is pretty simple.
Select a polyurethane that is compatible with the stain you used on the bar-top. Be sure to read all the instructions/guidelines on the polyurethane you select. I had a left-over batch from a previous project I was going to use until it mentioned that it was not compatible with red mahogany stain (the color I'd used). A quick google search later revealed that those who had gone forward to use the polyurethane anyway had ended up stripping the color from the stained wood and having to start again!
Needless to say I went and bought a fresh batch of polyurethane (and a slightly different blend) that was compatible with my selected stain. I didn't have any problems.
Again, consult the sealer you use for specific details but the general process is:
1) Brush on polyurethane
2) Allow to dry then lightly sand (220 grit)
3) Wipe away sanding debris
4) Re-apply polyurethane
To have a durable top coat of sealer, you'll need to put down at least 3 layers of polyurethane. Once completed, wipe down and touch up as needed.
THAT'S IT! The bar is built. Now you just need to install it.
Step 9: Installing and Gloating
You are only a few hours away from having a bar-top that you can use! Almost there!
The first thing I did was use saw horses to simulate the installed height of the bar. I then marked the height along the wall and began to drill pilot holes for the hardware. It is CRITICAL that the brackets holding up the bar be screwed in to studs. Use a stud finder to locate the studs along the wall and mark their location. Then you can drill in preparation for the brackets with confidence that you will be attaching to a stud.
The brackets I used are 90deg, cold-rolled steel, 3/16" thick. I ordered them from a custom bracket fabricator that allowed me to call out the height and length of the brackets. I went with 11" long (length coming out from the wall) by 5" tall. I used 6 brackets spaced at roughly 2 foot intervals along the bar-top.
With the height of the bar marked and the pilot holes drilled, fasten the brackets to the wall.
Next, lay the bar-top down on the brackets and fasten the brackets to the bar-top. You need to make sure you get good, strong, fasteners for this. I used size 10 screws that were 2" long for the wall and 1.5" long for the bar-top. Each bracket had 4 fasteners (2 to the wall and 2 to the bar-top)
You may need to do some slight adjusting depending on any variance there may be in the wall or the bar-top itself but aside from small adjustments, the bar-top is now in place.
CONGRATS! Now you can kick back and soak it in. Feel free to gloat a little too... you did, after all, just make a bar-top from common lumber.
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