Having a bar at home is every alcohol lover’s holy grail. What’s more fun than having a convenient watering hole right next to your living room or in the basement? You have full control of everything — from the guests, the bartending, music and entertainment, to the last call for drinks. Building a DIY bar from scratch can be costly, but it will help you save money in the long run.
If you’re like most people, you believe that the “new normal” is going to change the way we spend time in bars, even after this global health crisis is over. People are doing more and more of their usual stuff at home, so this is probably the most opportune time to learn how to build a bar.
Building on a budget: How much will it cost to build a bar?
The cost of a home bar will mostly depend on what kind of bar you want and what route you’ll take to get there. You have three options:
Option 1: Hire a professional contractor to build the bar for you
If you plan to go with Option 1, you’re looking at spending around $6,000 for a small-scale bar and around $12,000 or more for a full-scale one. It will also depend on the scope of your bar project, the materials, finishes, the location and area of your house, and the contractor you choose.
Option 2: Purchase a manufactured bar unit
Option 2 might be able to save you a few thousand dollars if you want to do the wall framing and sheetrock yourself, but buying the pre-made bar alone will cost you well over $2000 for a simple bar unit and up to $10,000 for high-end models.
Option 3: Start a do-it-yourself home bar project
With this option, the cost will range from $500 to $750 depending on the materials you want to use. It will take 2-3 days to finish the bar, assuming you’re willing to devote at least 6 hours per day working on it.
Option 1 is expensive, while Option 2 removes customizability. This guide will focus on Option 3. Building a bar based on an existing, modified, or new blueprint will cost way less than the first two options. Plus, it gives you more control over its look and functionality.
Anatomy of a bar
Ideal measurements for a home bar
According to Hardwoods Incorporated, these are the standard specifications of a typical DIY home bar:
The ideal bar height from the floor to the top of a bar top (excluding the bar rail) should be 42 inches. This allows for a standard 30-inch high bar stool to seat your guests comfortably at your bar. The 12-inch difference between the seat height and the bar top is common in most applications including breakfast bars or desks.
The bar top overhang should be a minimum of 8.5 inches and could be as much as 10 inches so your knees do not hit the bar front. For guests who are above-average in height, the 10-inch overhang may be necessary.
When determining the length of your bar, the safe measurement is about 2 feet wide per person or bar stool.
Tools required for this tutorial
- 1/4-Inch Impact Driver
- 3-inch Outdoor Screws
- Small 1-inch Finish Nails
- 2 ft. Level
- Table Saw
- Miter Saw
- 25' Tape Measure
- Carpenter Pencil
Building a home bar: Step-by-step
For this guide, we will teach you how to build a dry bar. Essentially, a wet bar includes a sink with running water that means there is plumbing involved. A dry bar has no sink; it’s just a place where you can prepare and serve drinks.
Again, this is a DIY tutorial. It’s going to require some basic knowledge of woodwork and the usage of tools. If you have no experience in building something from scratch, you might want to start with simpler woodworking projects for beginners and then work your way up to more advanced designs.
1. Planning your home bar
The first step is to decide which area of your home your bar is going to be constructed. How large is the bar area and what shape do you want it to be?
In most cases, homeowners already have a pretty clear idea of how their bar is going to look like. But in case you need inspiration, you can always check Pinterest and other online sources. Home renovation company Houzz has a great gallery of home bar ideas to get the ball rolling.
2. Building the bar’s frames
Now that you’ve decided where you want to put your bar and how you want it orientated in the room, you can start laying out the groundwork. Measure how far you want the bar to come off of the wall. For this, the bar’s length distance from the wall is 7 feet.
- Using a miter saw, cut two (2) 2x4 pieces at 7 feet. These will be your bottom and top plates.
- Now you have two identical 2x4s. You are ready to layout where your vertical framing needs to go and which sheathing will be attached. Mark both the bottom and the top plates the exact same with a pencil every sixteen inches. Square the lines across the 2x4.
- Let’s say you decided that your bar will be 4 feet tall. Doing some basic math 48" - 3" (for the top and bottom plates) - 3/4" (thickness of MDF board) = 44 1/4". This will be the cut for the vertical framing or “studs”. Make as many cuts as you need to meet all the marks you’ve made on your top and bottom plates. Once you’ve made enough, screw these studs between the top and bottom plates, making sure they are lined up.
3. Erecting and securing the framework
At this point, you will now need to erect your frame. The key is to make sure that it comes out nice and square off the wall.
- Once you’ve made sure that your frame makes a 90-degree angle, you can fasten it to the wall by screwing through the end stud into the wall. Use your level to ensure the frame is perpendicular and plumb.
- You will also need to add some support. Make three (3) pairs of 10-inch 2x4s. These will serve as the top and bottom plates for the support structure. Also, cut three (3) pairs of 23-inch 2x4s.
- Assemble rectangle-like structures out of the four 2x4s (two 10-inch pieces and two 23-inch studs). Once you have these screwed together, screw them to studs from the mainframe.
- You can also create more stabilizers by adding several 2x4s to the top of the bar. Make a spot to fasten the MDF board to. Cut enough pieces that you can have one stabilizer (one board) over each stud on the main framework. Cut 10 inches for the portion of the bartop hanging over the front and 8 inches for the bartop hanging over the back.
4. Building and installing the bar top
If you’ve been waiting for the step where all the work comes together and it’s going to start looking like a real bar, this is it. Making cuts in this stage will require the use of your table saw, so please make sure to get assistance from someone.
- For the width, base your dimensions on the size of your top and bottom plates. Meanwhile, for the length, use the size of your stabilizers you just cut in the previous step.
- To hold this board in its proper place screw from underneath the stabilizers up through the MDF board.
- You also have to decide whether your bar top is going to be edged by some rounded finishing pieces. Go with a Chicago Bar Rail for people to rest their elbows on when at the bar. It’s $12 per foot. This will also require two pieces of 3/4” plywood one on top of each other. Get a regular standard sheet for the bottom and an oak veneer sheet for the top.
- To add your bar rail to your bar top, you have two options: go with rounded corners or with mitered corners.
5. Installing the front panel and making the shelves
A lot of people use oak veneer plywood on the front but you could use a pine veneer or a metal diamond plate. It all depends on how much you’re willing to spend and the overall look you want to go with.
- With the type of material you chose, measure the dimensions you need to cover the entire front face of the framework.
- After the piece is cut using the table saw, fasten the board to each stud with finish nails.
- Now you’re ready to make the shelves. For the interior shelves, screw-in 1x1 oak or pine strips to serve as shelf support.
- Clamp the shelves to the top of the bar frame and use a jigsaw to create the U cut opening that fits around the 2x4 central dividers.
- When you’ve had the shelving placed inside, use 1/4″ oak veneer slats to cover the visible sides of the 2x4 support. Attach them using wood glue and clamps.
- Then use 1x2 pieces to create a facing lattice on the cabinet insides to hide the seams.
- Now the cabinet insides are finished. You can now add the facing boards on the outside. Use 1x4 pieces, except for the vertical end pieces which will be wider.
- You can also install doors on your shelves!
6. Adding color and shine to your bar
This is the final stretch, so you’re almost there! This is the part where you sand and stain to give your bar that final look.
- Sand the entire structure using medium-grit sandpaper. Then wipe it down using a damp cloth to raise the grain. This is important because the stain will raise the grain in the wood and wiping it with a damp cloth will keep that from happening.
- Then sand the entire bar down again this time using fine-grit sandpaper.
- Next, stain the entire bar and back bar.
- After that, you need to apply an epoxy finish on the bar top. This is to protect the bar top from spills. First, make sure your bar top is clean and dry. Mix up exact equal parts of epoxy just enough to harden. Stir slowly so as not to create bubbles in the epoxy. Spread it all over with a plastic scraper or use an old credit card.
- One quart is enough to cover an entire bar top. Let that dry completely and rough it up with some sandpaper.
- After your bar top has dried, brush on your polyurethane to the Chicago bar rail and the rest of the bar. After the first coat dries, sand it down using 0000# steel wool and then put on another coat.
Does a wet bar add value to your home?
We’ve already established that a wet bar includes a sink. Not only is this very useful for the people living in the house — no need to go back and forth from the bar to the sink — but it's also a great way to increase the resale value of the home. In fact, remodeling your home to add a wet bar can boost its value by up to 70%. It turns a living room into an entertaining space where having the drinks close to the party allows the homeowner to play host, pour the liquor, and join in the fun.
How to Build a DIY tiki bar
A tiki bar is decorated in a simulated Polynesian theme that usually serves exotic cocktails. You can convert a room into a tiki bar or build one in your front or backyard. You can start with a tiki party bar hut.
If you want to do it right, the goal is to aim for an authentic island feel, with just enough make-believe to turn the bar into your private paradise. For starters, decorate the tiki bar with things you’d find in Polynesia — people often confuse it with the Caribbean, so they stuff the place with pirates, flamingos, and treasure chests.
Make sure that the bar’s bare essentials are solid. You want it to be a fully-functioning tiki bar rather than just a place of decorative materials unless that’s your intention. And most importantly, you must have the right glasses and mugs when serving your exotic drinks.
Here’s a great DIY tutorial on how to build an outdoor tiki bar:
Did you feel stirred — pardon the pun — thinking about how to build a bar at home? Creating a venue for countless intimate drinking sessions with friends at the comfort of your home is a thrill, and it’s high time that you consider starting a major project like this in the coming year.
Building a bar is an investment of money, time, and effort, but it’s a lot of fun and the payoff is a degree of satisfaction that will last a long time. After delving into this project, you can also try your hand at making your own alcohol. So, what did you think about this tutorial? We’d love to hear your thoughts.