How to Build an Outdoor Bar

Summer is filled with outdoor dinners and backyard barbecues, so make the most out of your outdoor gatherings with this do-it-yourself outdoor bar! The concrete top gives it an industrial feel while the wood brings a natural, warm touch to the bar. Spend a weekend making this project, and then invite your friends and family over for drinks and dinner!

Outdoor bar with concrete top.
credit: Caitlin McGrath
Close up of outdoor bar with concrete top.
credit: Caitlin McGrath
Side view of outdoor bar with concrete top.
credit: Caitlin McGrath

To Make the Concrete Countertop

For this project, you'll create a concrete tabletop and a wood base that you can customize any way you like. Let's begin with the concrete portion of the project first.

Step 1 Build the Concrete Mold Frame

Use a circular saw to cut melamine board to create the sides and bottom of the mold frame. A straightedge guide attached to the saw will help you make straight cuts. The sides should be cut to a width that equals the thickness of the bottom board plus the desired thickness of your bar top. Cut the sides to length so that they form a square around the bottom—two of the sides will be the same length as the long side of the bottom. The other sides will overlap the ends of the first piece, so will be 1 1/2 inch longer than the short sides.

circular saw cutting melamine board.
credit: Manda McGrath

At 3/8 inch from the bottom edge of the side, drill pilot holes to attach the sides to the bottom of the mold form. Drill pilot holes in the ends of the short sides where they will attach to the longer sides.

drilling hole in board.
credit: Manda McGrath

Drill pilot holes in the side pieces where they overlap the bottom.

drilling boards together.
credit: Manda McGrath

Screw the sides of the form to the bottom of the mold.

Step 2 Prepare the Concrete Mold Frame

Wipe the frame clean. Place painter's tape around around inside edge and up the corners, leaving an 1/8-inch gap. Caulk the inside edges and the corner seams.

caulking boards.
credit: Manda McGrath

Smooth out the caulk and let it dry. Once dry, remove the tape, pulling it back toward itself. Set the frame on a flat surface, making sure it's level. Coat the inside of the frame with olive oil, which will help the concrete release from the frame after it dries.

Step 3 Mix and Pour the Concrete

bag of concrete mix.
credit: Manda McGrath

Pour the concrete mix into a mixing container. Gradually add in water and mix until it is about the consistency of oatmeal.

mixing tub of concrete.
credit: Manda McGrath

Pour concrete to fill the frame to half its depth, and smooth it out.

smooth concrete in mold frame.
credit: Manda McGrath

Vibrate the outside edge of the frame with an orbital sander to get the air bubbles out.

orbital sander alongside concrete mold.
credit: Manda McGrath

Cut the wire mesh to so that there is a 3/4-inch gap between the mesh and the sides of the frame. Place the wire mesh into the form, centered on the layer of wet concrete. Add more concrete over the mesh until it is flush with the top of the frame. Screed off the top surface with a scrap board, using a back-and-forth sawing motion as you draw the board from one end to the other. Vibrate the sides of the form with the sander to settle air bubbles.

leveling concrete with 2x4 board.
credit: Manda McGrath

Step 4 Let Concrete Dry and Remove the Frame

Once the concrete has dried so the watery shimmer has just disappeared, use a trowel to smooth it out. Make sure not to trowel too excessivley, as this will weaken the concrete surface. Place a sheet of plastic over the top and let the slab dry completely—usually at least overnight. When the concrete has dried, remove the screws holding the form together, and take off the sides. Lever the concrete slab onto its side, and pull away the bottom board.

concrete top with board being removed.
credit: Manda McGrath

Sand the edges of the slab to slightly blunt the sharp edges. If needed, let the slab dry for another 24 hours outside of frame.

To Make the Bar Base

While you're waiting for the concrete to dry, you can begin working on the wood base of your outdoor bar.

Step 1 Cut Wood to Size for Bar Base

Using a miter box and table saw, cut all boards to length, using the following cutting list.

Cutting List: For the legs:
• 2 1/2 x 31 1/2 inches (4)

For the shelf frames: (two frames are 36 inches x 22 inches and one frame is 18 inches x 22 inches)
• 2 x 36 inches (4)
• 2 x 18 inches (2)
• 2 x 20 1/2 inches (6)

For the middle shelf support:
• 1 x 12 1/4 inches (1)

• 2 1/4 x 20 3/16 inches (18)

Slat Supports:
• 1 1/4 x 34 1/4 inches (2)
• 1 1/4 x 16 1/4 inches (2)

miter box cutting pine board.
credit: Manda McGrath
table saw cutting pine board.
credit: Manda McGrath

Use a power planer to clean up the blade marks from the table saw.

power planer on wood.
credit: Manda McGrath

Step 2 Build Shelf Frames

Your bar base will have three horizontal frames: one for a full-sized bottom shelf, one for a partial middle shelf, and and another full-sized frame that will support the concrete countertop.

Begin by building the bottom and the top frames. On the ends of the 36-inch boards measure and mark pilot holes for screws at 5/8 and 3/8 from the edges. Using a countersink bit, drill pilot holes.

drilling a piece of wood.
credit: Manda McGrath

Spread wood glue on the ends of the two of the 20 1/4-inch boards, and assemble the frame box with the longer pieces overlapping the shorter pieces, and screw the frame pieces together. The overall dimension of this frame should be 22 x 36 inches Repeat this process to create the second full-size frame. Finally, assemble the two 18-inch-long and two 20 1/4-inch-long boards to create the 18 x 22-inch frame for the middle shelf.

two wooden frames, one small and one large.
credit: Manda McGrath

Step 3 Attach the Slat Supports

The shelf slats will rest on slat supports attached to the inside edges of the long sides of the shelf frames. Using wood glue and a nail gun, attach the slat supports to the long sides of the bottom shelf frame, so that the bottom edge is flush with the bottom of the frame, with a 3/4-inch space above.

Repeat this process to attach slat supports to the long frame sides of the middle shelf.

nailing a piece of wood to wooden frame.
credit: Manda McGrath

Step 4 Attach Legs to Shelf Frame

On each of the legs, measure and mark the locations for three screws to attach the legs to the top frame, and another three screw holes where the legs will attach to the bottom shelf. For the top attachment, the center screw hole should be centered 1 3/8 down from the top of the leg, while the flanking screws should be set 5/8 inch down from the top and 1/2 inch in from the edges. For the bottom attachment to the lower shelf, one screw is centered at 4 1/8 inch up from the end of the leg, while the flanking holes are 4 7/8 up from the end and set in 1/2 inch from the edges. Drill countersunk pilot holes at all marked locations.

drilling three holes into wood.
credit: Manda McGrath

Now, mark the location where the legs will attach to the bottom shelf. Draw a line on the side of each leg, 3 1/2 inch up from the bottom; this indicates the top of the bottom shelf. Next, on the long side of the frames, make marks at 1 1/2 in from the ends; these marks indicate the outside edges the legs.

Attach the legs to the sides of the lower shelf frame, aligning the pieces with the marked lines, using wood glue and screws. Begin by attaching with just one screw. Use a carpenter's square to make sure the legs are square to the frame, then drive the remaining screws.

two pieces of wood with square tool.
credit: Manda McGrath

Step 5 Attach Slats to Bottom Shelf

Starting in the center with a space, nail the slats onto the slat supports. Use a 1/2-inch spacer between each slat as you set them in.

nailing wood slats into place.
credit: Manda McGrath

Step 6 Attach Middle Shelf Support

Measure and mark the location for the middle shelf support onto the bottom shelf. This vertical support is set at 16 7/8 inch from the end of the shelf and10 7/8 from the front of the shelf. Drill a pilot hole at this spot.

drilling hole into wood board.
credit: Manda McGrath

Screw in the shelf support, driving a screw up through the bottom of the bottom shelf through the pilot hole and into the end grain of the middle shelf support.

piece of wood nailed into wooden slats.
credit: Manda McGrath

Step 7 Attach Middle Shelf to Legs

On two two legs at one end of the bar cart, measure and mark three screw holes for the middle shelf. One screw will be centered 13 5/8 inches down from the tops of the legs, while the flanking screws will be 14 3/8 inches down from the top and set 1/2 inch from the edges. Mark a line at 13 inches from the top on the sides of the leg to indicate the top edge of the middle shelf. Drill countersunk pilot holes at the marked points on the face of the legs.

drilling hole into piece of wood.
credit: Manda McGrath

Position the middle shelf inside the leg assembly and attach to the legs and shelf support with wood glue and screws. Align the shelf with the marks on the legs, and make sure the shelf is level before permanently attaching it to the legs and to the shelf support.

putting screws into piece of wood.
credit: Manda McGrath

Step 8 Attach Slats to Middle Shelf

Add slats to middle shelf, starting in the center with a space, nail the slats onto the slat supports. Use a 3/8-inch spacer between each slat as you set each slat in.

Step 9 Attach the Top Frame

Attach the top frame to the top of the cart, so it is flush to the top of the legs, and extends past the legs 1 1/2 inch on each side. Use glue and countersunk screws in the same manner as used to attach the lower and middle shelves.

Step 10 Sand and Apply Finish

Sand all wood as needed. Apply polyurethane finish to the wood, following the directions on the can.

can of outdoor finish with paint brush in it.
credit: Manda McGrath

Step 11 Mount the Bar Top and Seal the Concrete

Apply silicone caulk to the top edge of the top frame, where the concrete top will rest.

tube of silicone caulk being applied on piece of wood.
credit: Manda McGrath

Set the concrete countertop onto the the frame so it overhangs the frame equally on all sides. Press down to bed the countertop into the silicone. Apply concrete sealer to concrete, following directions on can.

outdoor bar with concrete top.
credit: Manda McGrath
bar with concrete top.
credit: Manda McGrath
bar with concrete top and drinks on it.
credit: Manda McGrath
outdoor bar with concrete top and drinks on it.
credit: Manda McGrath

The Merrythought

Caitlin McGrath and Manda McGrath are the bloggers behind The Merrythought - a lifestyle site devoted to simple living. Their work has been featured in Apartment Therapy, BuzzFeed, Design*Sponge, Refinery29, and Better Homes and Gardens. They have partnered with companies such as Home Depot, Michael’s, West Elm, Kodak, and Fossil.