Weekend Renno Project 2: Crossing the Bar

The previous house owners had built this bar, which consisted of a mosaic of that unsightly 90s tile that’s like $.10 s/f nowadays. They had used minimal tile, and the bar itself was uneven and lumpy, the grout got dirty easily which wasn’t a good fit to either the two teenage boys and all their friends which constantly eat on it or their cleanliness OCD mom. To make things worse, the previous family had personalized the bar top with initials and crosses, etc. Really cute for the first family, but an eyesore that just didn’t work anymore. It needed to go, and had for a while, but it seemed like such a huge undertaking that we had shied away from it for quite a while.

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After having refinished the pot rack, we were feeling pretty confident at 10:30pm or so. The sister asked what I would think would go better on the bar, for the 20th time at this conversation I said that butcher block or reclaimed wood would be the best thing. Then, for the first time out of the 20 times that we had had the conversation, she went to the utility drawer, pulled out a flat head screwdriver and a wrench to use as a weighty object to beat it with and started demolishing the bar top. Believe it or not, alcohol was in no way involved with this venture.

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As we learned technique, we made progress. The only cool part of the previous bar was this neat but not particularly well-executed Texas Star that matched the front door.

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Eventually the racket gained the interest of one of the nephews, with three people working we made good headway. However, with three people and honed techniques we got about a quarter of the job done in two hours. Luckily for us, the brother-in-law had a killer air gun tool that took the rest out in no time the next morning.

Problems:

Uneven Keel: the adhesive they used for the tile was so strong that one of two things kept happening 1) the tile would break around where the adhesive was, leaving a lump of powdery tile innards, or 2) pulling up the adhesive also pulled up a section of the plywood base, leaving a divot in the surface.
Pointy Bits: tile bits flew EVERYWHERE and since it’s coated in glass, they were super sharp. When the brother-in-law used the air gun, pieces of this terrifying shrapnel cut his skin (seriously, several nicks on his hands, arms, and one on his FACE) so be careful, wear shoes and eye protection, and don’t forget to sweep.
So. Much. Dust: the act of demolishing with a powertool created a lot of dust, and when we sanded later we made super fine dust, it was just not something you would want on carpet and I suggest taking your furniture outside.

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Because of the unruly surface, we sanded the base with carbide sandpaper. This helped make smaller mounds of tile remnant, but created super fine dust that got everywhere.

Then we needed the wood. We originally wanted to do re-purposed antique wood (her house is made with antique doors/windows/accoutrement) but the inset that we had to work with was all of 1/4″ and it’s hard to find wood that is so thin. We also tried the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, several Flooring Liquidators/Outlets, but the flooring that we found was often veneered and would take water damage and scratch too easily for teenagers to be abusing it daily. We went with oak craft wood planks from Lowe’s. These are usually used to put a veneer on furniture. We bought all the planks they had in the depth desired and we had some space left so we filled in the center stripe with poplar, as a wood it is less dense and does not stain up as well because of the fine grain, but we needed a wider piece because the bar was a bit of a wonky size. We cut the poplar center pieces to fit and at the time hoped the stain would take well enough.

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Here you can see both our initial layout for the wood and the uneven surface below. We laid out the boards to see how long we wanted to cut the pieces to stagger them appropriately.

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Almost all laid out, cutting the corner on the last piece. Note the obvious difference in the two types of wood.

Problems: Some of the wood was bowed and we had to flip pieces over several times to decide which side we thought would be easier to tame. We came up with a solution that I will share in a minute.

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We then applied adhesive to the back of our wood, piece by piece. We used a generic super adhesive for half of the bar and Liquid Nails Extra Strength for the other half. I found the Liquid Nails to be absolute garbage for this application, despite applying weight to the boards to lock them down, many just didn’t stay on that side and we had to get creative.

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We applied weight to the seams of bowed boards to help them take the adhesive.

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All done, we let this dry overnight. Did I mention that the brother-in-law collects crocks?

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This corner bit is how you know this wasn’t a professional job. The angle on the edge here was roughly thirty-seven degrees. I think it gives the whole bar character.

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The next morning, we sanded the uneven edges, creating more dust. This is when we noticed the mediocre job of adhesion on the Liquid Nails side, so we decided at this point to use finishing nails on all the edges. Honestly, this added a lot of character to the bar and made it look like an antique hardwood floor, which we all liked.

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We then stained it for three coats on the oak, five coats on the poplar with Minwax Ipswich Pine. On these woods that stain turned out much redder than the sample. Luckily, they had used this stain on other parts of the house so now the wood all matches because had the wood turned red instead of honey, it would have been hard to tone it back down. Never forget to test your stain on slag wood the night before to give it plenty of time to dry and finish. We tested Ipswich Pine, Redoak, and Colonial Maple overnight to make sure the color would look right on both woods.

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Here’s a close-up of our nailed ends which solved our uneven base problem. If you had a flat surface you wouldn’t have to have them, but they added quite a bit of character.

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After the last round of stain, we ended up with this color.

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Can you tell which one is the poplar in this picture? Remember that you may need more coats if you use a less dense wood, here we used two extra coats on the poplar to give it a similar look.

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I then used Rustoleum Ultimate Polyurethane to finish the top, this pic is after about 5 coats with me applying one coat every two hours. I picked this product for several reasons, first it’s highly scratch resistant and the kids will be brutalizing this bar each and every day, second it cleans with soap and water, and third I needed a super thick coat to fill in the gaps between the wood. Over the next week, the brother-in-law is going to add a few more coats to give it a nice thick poly layer of protection.

How’d We Do Costwise?
The board for this project cost about $80
The stain was FREE because we already had it
The poly was $10
The brush for the poly was FREE because we had it
The labor was FREE because we did it ourselves
The nails were FREE because we had them
and the adhesive was $3
With Taxes included this project cost right at $100.00

Do you think we hit the nail on the head bringing rustic charm to the kitchen?

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