"Do It For Pop"

Wall attachment
Fly End
Bartop Layers
Bartop Base Layer
Dimension Buildup Layer
Subsurface Layer
Surface Laminate
Elbow Rail
Scarf Joint
Installing The Elbow Rail

~ With in depth instruction and lots of pictures heres ~

How To Build A Bar
(click to enlarge)

This bar went smoothly with standard woodworking techniques and after several years of commercial use it's still strong and stable.

There are all shapes and sizes of bars. Hopefully this will help you with the fundamentals for what you have in mind for your project.

Do what I did. Go to a lot of bars and ask them if you can measure, look under, and around. See how strong and sturdy they are.

Ask the bartenders what works and what doesnt.

~ Planning ~

We began by getting a feel for the space by outlining the general shape on the floor with adhesive tape.

This helped immensely as we could immediately see that our first idea for size and shape was crowding a doorway uncomfortably.
If you look closely you can see the original outline where the tape sat in the foreground.
After changing the plan to suit the reality we had a shape that fit the room like a glove.

You need to know your stool or chair height to be sure your legs comfortably fit under the bar and the bar top wont be uncomfortably high. 42" is a standard bar height for stools but they make them taller and shorter. Lounge type bars are often normal chair height and Lunch counters are in between.

Once you know your finished height you have to know what all your individeal bar top layers add up to (More on that later) and subtract that number from your total height to get your framing pony wall height. That is, the height of the short framing stem wall that the bartop structure sits on.

At one end the bar attached to the wall

and at the other, it was a "fly end" and had to be bolted down into the floor joist.

All this had to be considered with location and length adjusted so that the pony wall ends could attach to framing members in the wall and floor.

The bartenders area has to be deep enough to accomodate drink wells, sinks, and backbar counter/cooler space and still leave enough room to work. Sometimes two people have to get by each other.

In our case this worked out to be about seven feet from the inside edge of the bar top to the back bar wall. This means that from the customers back to the backbar wall takes up quite a bit of the room so lay it out thoughtfully.
Most basement bars wont require or have this much room, but for a commercial bar in a full size room this is fairly standard.

~ Framing ~

Begin the framing as you would any framing wall.

If your not familiar with that kind of work, google-- "framing layout" or "stud wall layout".

Briefly, framing starts with a "Sole Plate". A long 2x4 that attaches flat to the floor, cut to lengths so that its ends each fall half on a stud so another Sole plate can join it on the other half of the stud and continue on, and "laid "out" (marked in measured incraments) for the intermediate studs.

Then "Studs", upright 2x4s of equal length, nailed to the plates at intervals that allow an 8' sheet of wall covering material (Sheathing ply, sheet rock, etc) to fall half way on a stud so the next sheet joins it and has something to nail its edges and its mid areas down to. Usualy this interval is 16" or 24". Either will add up to 4' or 8'.

Next up is the "Top Plate". A lengthwise 2x4 that nails to the top of the studs, again laid "out" the same as the sole plate so that its ends fall half on a stud at each end so another plate can butt into it and join it over the other half and continue.

Usualy, at the start the top and sole plates are held together on edge and marked exactly alike ("laid out"), then spread apart the length of the studs and stocked with studs for nailing. The trick here is to cut the plates to a length that falls "On Center" to a layout of 16" or 24" centers (intervals). For instance either 48" or 96" plates would fall on center for either spacing.
That way you can go for a mile and have both edges of sheet after sheet of 8' plywood fall on the center of a stud.

I've tried to repeat all this information a few different ways here. I hope I havn't made it more confusing for it.

Finaly the "Upper Plate".
(Top plate and upper plate can be confusing. The upper plate goes above the top plate.)
The upper plate is another length of 2x4 that spans all the breaks between top plates, tying them ridgidly together (just as the floor ties the lower plates together) and creating a "Strong Back", itself breaking over a stud (but never where the top plates break. "Stagger The Breaks".) so that its ends can nail through the top plate and into a stud below it.

To determine your framing wall height you will have to take your final bar height and subtract all the layers of plywood and surface material from the total. That gives you your framing or "pony wall" height. After that subtract 4 1/2" for your three plates and that gives you the length to cut your studs to.

~ Wall attachment ~

Note the attatchment to the wall.

This piece is as much the foundation for the bar as the sole plate is.
It is both the mount and the brace for the whole bar and should be thought through very carefully.

This end position to the bar was selected for its proximity spanning two wall framing studs for two separated attatchment points so the bartop couldnt "teeter".

The top plate of the pony wall was cut back the width of the wall attatchment 2x2 to tie it in to the frame and allow the flush bartop mounting surface to continue to the wall.

Note two screws in each end.
This stabilizes the whole bar and keeps it from wearing a "rub spot" on the wall as well.

The bar width totals have been figured ahead and the piece was cut at a bevel to hold well short of the outside edges. Visually and for a little more knee room.

~ Fly End ~

At the other end this bar had a free standing or "fly" end ---

-- that needed careful consideration.

We wanted it to be as rock solid as possible without having to build a bulky end wall or post to support it.

In order to attain that you cant just nail the end of a 2x4 to the floor and expect the bar surface to be stable.

The solution was to build a narrow "T wall" (Down by the girl, under the cup) ---

-- into the framing (or in this case an "L" to keep the customer side open) and bolt it through the floor into a joist (again planning the end wall to fall over the joist.) and building a gusseted box end that once bolted down to a joist, transfers that ridgidity to the bar surface.

This serves to hide the drink well and workstation utilities as well.

~ Bartop Layers ~

The layers that you build the top up with need to suit both their individual purposes, (ie, base layer, dimension layer(thickness buildup), subsurface layer, and surface laminate) and add up to fit the two elbow rail seats so that they seat evenly and level.

If you have to err, slightly less thickness would be better than more. If its too thick the bar rail lip that sits on the surface would rock open and be a grime & moisture catcher.

~ Bartop Base Layer ~

The lower layer needs to mount solidly to the frame, be the sturdy base for the elbow rail,

and yet be thin enough that it doesnt project too far below the rail and become a knee (nylon) snagger.

This last will depend on the depth of the base mounting seat of the rail, and its not very deep. A good grade of 1/2 or 5/8 ply is about right.
Mine was a little too thick and the lower edge protruded below the bottom of the rail so I routed/rounded it off before I ever flipped it over and mounted it.

This first layer and its connection to the frame is probably the single most important area and needs strength.

Dont use particle board.

Apply constuction adhesive (lots!) between the base layer and the framing.

Mount this base layer to the framing with carriage bolts and washers drilled down through both 2x4 plates and secure with a washer and nut under the plates. That way if it works loose with wear over time you can open the wall sheathing and retighten them, but its the best way to insure that it wont work loose at all.

Alternativly you can stagger screws to the outside edges of the plate every four inches or so.

Dont use nails! They'll work loose. The bartop will act like a pry bar.

The bartop to pony wall connection will take constant and severe wear over the years.

People will sit on it, pound on it, and dance on it.
Thats a lot of leverage. So build it to take it.

If the bolt heads protrude above your base layer you can drill holes in the second layer over them for relief.

Once you put sheathing on the outside of the framing, ---

-- it then ties both plates and the studs together to make it all one very solid piece.

The top of this first layer measured to your final surface (remember to allow for your laminate) will equal the seat to seat measurement of the rail as it mounts.

You should know exactly what size and style of rail youre going to use (there are many)
and try to get a sample to work out your design with.

Think it through carefuly before you ever buy the wood.

~ Dimension Buildup Layer ~

The next layer depends on your choice of final surface.

If it is to be a solid wood bar top, subtract the thickness of the surface layer (eg. 3/4") from your seat to seat rail dimension to get the thickness required for your middle layer.

This middle layer, in most cases, is just dimension filler and can be a cheap grade of ply or particle board.

It doesnt even have to be solid and can be only an inner and outer edge a couple of inches wide of ripped scrap leaving a hollow through the center.
Just enough to mount the top to.
(Although I wanted a bar you could dance on so I went with solid layers.)

~ Subsurface Layer ~

The surface layer in my case was 3/4" particle board for setting formica to so I had to subtract the thickness of the formica as well.
Even though its very thin its enough to make the rail rock open if you dont allow for it.

The same would be true for wood veneer if that were your choice.

~ Surface Laminate ~

A work in progress here. Hopefuly i'll get something put up soon

~ Elbow Rail Molding (also known as) Arm Rail Molding ~

When you shop for the bar elbow rail molding also known as arm rail molding be very picky.

It should be just as straight as you can get.

Its very thick, usually hard wood, and very difficult to straighten out.

Look closely at the surface lip.
Its very thin there and an easy place for gouges breaks and splintering to occur.
Protect this area when transporting and storing it.

Store it flat, up off of concrete in a dry protected area untill your ready to use it. Consider taping some 1x1 into the lip seat for protection. Or wrap it in cardboard. Its easy to get trampled and dinged in a work environment.

Most big box stores wont have arm rail. Standard lumber yards might not.

Most larger cities will have hardwood and finish wood specialty stores. Call around.
Its good to buy locally if available so you can visually inspect before you buy.
Otherwise there are plenty of options and alot more variety online.

Be kind to yourself.

Its very expensive so get what you want.

~ Scarf Joint ~

This was a long bar so two pieces had to be joined with a "scarf joint" to
make it one long solid piece.

If you zoom in to the left of the clamp you can see the scarf joint.

A scarf joint simply put, is two boards cut at exactly the same angle along their length and then glued together.

Its common in wood boat building, but they use a longer angle for strength.

I cut mine at 45 degrees, glued it, and temporarily mounted it to the bar with clamps to make sure it would dry straight.

Before I clamped it I tacked it together with two tiny staples with my finish stapler so It wouldnt slip and slide along the glue surface as I clamped it.

This scarf splice isnt absolutely necesary. The two sections could just butt together since it all screws to the base plywood layer but it gives it a much more clean and polished craftsman look and can be almost invisible if done right.

~ Installing The Elbow Rail ~

I had some miter cuts to make to the rail which were compound angles.

I always like to take some scrap wood and make practice cuts to see how things will work out.

I'm no math wiz so I had to get a little inventive.

I took my time and ripped a piece of 1"x material ---

-- to exactly the height that would put the rail at its correct angle with its seats level and its base resting on my miter saw bed.

Remember this is not the lower notch but the lowest point of the rail (the tail of the rail) on the saw bed when positioned at its seated angle.

This is how it will "sit" on the saw as you cut it not as it "seats" on the bar so it has to be a little higher.

The tail hangs below the lower seat.

This sits pretty stable but you could temporarily screw it to the rail for the cuts.

This method also lets you make these cuts with a miter saw if you dont have acess to a compound miter saw.

Use extreme caution!

Anytime you make compound cuts the wood has all the more chance to slide a little and bind and jump so propping it up like that adds another dimension yet.
You dont want your hand to be drawn into the blade with your expensive wood.
Take your time and set up a solid stable system to make these cuts.

I clamped mine down for the cuts with a proper support system holding up the long ends and cut slowly with a sharp finish blade and had no problem.

This is an expensive piece of wood so the more care and preperation before the cuts the better.

More on these joints in a bit.

Once the surface laminate (formica or veneer) is installed ---

-- the elbow rail can be attached with the upper lip seated on the finish bar surface and the lower seat resting on the lowest layer of ply, attached with two rows of screws up through the bottom layer of ply without glue, so that if the surface ever needs to be replaced the elbow rail can be carefuly removed, the surface replaced, and the elbow rail reinstalled without damage time and again if necessary as the years go by.

Select your screw length very carefuly so that theyre well short of coming through the surface of the elbow rail.

Here also is where you join your angles if you have any.

As you screw the rail down, glue and pin your angle joints that you've pre cut and tested.

I made a safe keeper/slide with some blocks and clamps that allowed the rail to slide left and right but not fall off its seat, crashing to the floor while your trying to secure your precision joinery.

Here is where an army of clamps can come in handy to work out any warps and bends and hold your joints tight as you secure the rail with screws.

A few well placed screws will get you through if you dont have a toy box full of clamps.

Since these joints are the most critical area you can tack the rail lengths down by only putting a few screws in and concentrate on getting the joints done right.

If you find a joint is acting up on you, you can romove the tack screws and make adjustments while the glue is still wet, and then finish screwing down the rest of the run when all the joints are proven good.

I put a row of counter sunk screws 3/4" in from the ply edge about every 4 inches and a second row of longer screws farther inward from the edge up through the void between the tilted elbow rail and the base layer, to draw the upper seat lip down tight to the surface laminate.

You can start these a little farther in and tilt them through all the layers, but its not necessary and you dont want to wedge them between the layer edges and the rail.

In either case set the outer row first to position the rail and straighten out any bad spots, and then draw the lip down to the bar surface with the inner row of screws.

A word of caution here, its not impossible to draw it down overly tight and snap the lip off.

Just good and snug so you dont compound the tension screw after screw.


Finaly, the brass boot rail. Maybe not an esential but a very classy look and very practical.

Being able to raise a leg up and put your foot on something rests the back and allows you to stand comfortably for much longer periods of time (at the bar --- drinking --- spending money --- get it?)

Even with stools, a boot rail alows more people to comfortably squeeze into the remaining spaces and shorter people (ladies are half your business) to easily and more gracefuly get on to a stool.

Many bars (especialy taller ones) have hooks installed to hang a purse from.

It gives the ladies a place off of the floor or bar to keep thier purses safe and out of the way.

Put these as high as you can, while still visible.

These can also be a knee or shin banger in a tight area. Try it out with a stool to see how your situation works.

I've been a woodworker all my life. I make no claim for the information here to be perfect, authoritative, or the only way to go.

From the very start be sure to research and understand your local health, fire, liquor, and building codes from planing to opening and all the way through.

Such mistakes can be extremely expensive. Get it right the first time.

Well thats the esentials for now but Its still presently a work in progress and I'll be adding and updating from time to time so check back in.

I'm not much at responding, but if you see something that needs covering or clarifying please let me know. I welcome your comments. Email To

If you've found all or part of this helpful or interesting or would like to use the pictures please link to them and link to this site.


How To Build A Bar

How To Install Laminate Countertops