You know what’s swanky? A bar cart! You know what’s even swankier? A Mid Century Modern Bar Cart! A few months ago I created the plans for Season 8 of The Builders Challenge, but I of course couldn’t keep well enough alone and designed another one for my own dedicated build. It’s mine, no one else can build it… that is until now!
I ended up using mostly Walnut Wood for this build from my secret stash. But then a little Shedua and Canary Wood I had received from my friends at Woodworkers Source to make it really pop!
Bar Cart Build Materials & Supplies
*measurements are actual and not nominal
- Legs – (4) 3/4″ x 6″ x 30.50″
- Top Tray Support (2) 3/4″ x 4.50″ x 12″
- Box Sides – (4) 3/4″x 3″ x 24″
- Box Ends – (4) 3/4″ x 3″ x 14″
- Box Bottom – (2) 3/4″ x 23.25″ x 13.25″
- *You can use 3/4″ plywood or a glue up of 3/4″ boards
- Quarter Sheet (2’x4′) of 3/4″ MDF
- Circular Saw
- Jig Saw
- Miter Saw (optional)
- Table Saw (optional)
- Hand saw (flush cut saw)
- Drill or Drill Press
Supplies & Materials Used
- 1/2″ Hardwood Dowel
- 1/2″ Brad Point Drill Bit
- Flush Trim Router Bit
- Round over Router Bit
- Walrus Oil Furniture Finish
- Walrus Oil Furniture Wax
Step 1 Build A Tray Frame
First up we’re going to build the tray. Actually, we’re going to build two! I’m going to give you the measurements for building one, just remember you need to duplicate this step.
Cut two pieces of 1×3″ (actual measurement, not nominal) to 24″ with 45 degree mitered corners. For my tray I used mitered joints with splines. If you go crazy and cut dovetails or box joints you’re on your own. Ha! Cut two more pieces of 1×3 to 14″ with mitered ends.
You’re not done yet. On the bottom inside edge you need to cut a 3/8″ deep x 3/8″ (0.375″) tall rabbet. There are a couple ways to do this, I used my router table and a 3/8″ straight cut router bit. It took a few passes to get the right height and avoid tear out. You can also do the same with a dado blade on a table saw or two passes on the vertical and horizontal with a table saw. With the rabbets cut, glue up your mitered joints and make a frame!
Step 2 Add A Tray Bottom
Once your frames for the trays have dried, it’s time to add the bottom of each tray. The exterior dimensions of the trays should be 24″ x 14″. The interior dimensions from the rabbets should be 23.25″ x 13.25″. Using a sheet of plywood or gluing up several pieces of wood, make a bottom that’s 3/4″ x 23.25″ x 13.25″. Sound familiar?
Using the same method as the rabbet on the tray frame, cut a rabbet on the tray bottom that is 3/8″ deep and 3/8″ tall. You might want to back off the 3/8″ cut slightly and then dry fit the bottom into the frame. You don’t want it so tight it busts your frame apart, but you want it to fit snug.
Once you have the right fit, glue and clamp up the bottom into your trays. When the glue up is dry, I went back and hit all the outside edges with a round over bit with my router. I then sanded the surfaces from 150 grit to 400 grit. If you have any gaps, you can easily clean those up with a little sawdust and wood glue, then another sanding clean up.
For the next few steps when cutting out the legs and the top tray supports, you want to trace out your pieces on to MDF. Once you have the MDF pieces to the right size and shape, you can then use them for templates. If you haven’t used a template before, check out this quick video I made for another project showing how they work! You just trace the template onto your real material, rough cut it out, then clean up the excess with a router.
Did you watch the video? You’ll need a jig saw, a router and a flush trim router bit to do this. If you want to make repeatable pieces this is the best method to do so. Think you’re going to be doing a lot of templates? You absolutely should pick up the WhiteSide Ultimate Trim Combination Bit! It’s costly… but you’ll never need another bit and it will cut through EVERYTHING.
Step 3 Top Tray Supports
To get the shape and size of the top tray support, you’ll need to cut a board down to 12″ x 4.50″. Then trace a circle to on both ends. Use a jig saw to cut out the final shape. If you’re using the template
Using a table saw or jig saw, notch out a 1″ x 7″ section of the tray support for the legs. If you have a table saw, you can make multiple passes to make the cleanest cut.
Step 4 Bar Cart Legs
In order to make the bar cart leg template, cut a half sheet of MDF down to 12″ x 27.25″. You’ll have some waste, but this is the easier way to get repeatable legs instead of using a taper jig.
Mark the top of the leg that will fit into the tray support socket at 3.50″ wide. Mark down 1″ for the outside leg notch. For the inside top of the leg, mark 4″ from the top. Now go to the bottom of the leg in the right hand corner and mark out 1.50″ for the foot. You’ll now use a straight edge to connect the outside edge at 27-9/16″ (don’t worry about the fraction, just connect the points). Then on to the inside edge that will be 25.50″.
Cut this template out of the MDF, then use it as a template on your leg material. Because of the length you’re spanning be sure to cut as close as possible with the jig saw to the template tracing. If you leave too much meat on the leg material and run it through the router, you’ll get large pieces of tear out.
Step 5 Assemble The Legs
If you trust wood glue… which you should, glue two pieces of legs together. Once they dry, attach the tray support with wood glue as well. If you’re not confident in the strength of the glue bond, you can always biscuit, pocket hole or even use a bow tie inlay to connect the three pieces.
Step 6 Assemble The Bar Cart
Before you add dowels, I recommend attaching the trays in a glue up first. The bottom tray will line up evenly with the outside edge of the bar cart’s feed. The bottom of the tray should be spaced 2-3/8″ from the bottom of the foot. From tray to tray the spacing should be 21-3/4″. When the tray is centered on the tray support there is a 3/4″ overlay on the top and the bottom. Glue the legs onto the trays and then clamp to dry.
When adding the support dowels, I recommend keeping the bar cart clamped just in case the glue up has not completely cured. Use a 1/2″ brad point drill bit to pre-drill through the legs and into the tray. You might want to mark the drill bit with a piece of tape so you don’t puncture through the inside of the tray. You should go no deeper than 1.25″. But why a brad point drill bit? It has a sharp point that lets you be more accurate with placement. Once your dowel holes are pre-drilled into the legs and tray support, add some glue, hammer in your dowel a cut off the excess with a flush trim saw.
Finishing & More
What about the Bar Cart final looks? I sanded the entire piece in various stages from 150 grit with a random orbit sander all the way to 400 grit by hand when finally assembled. After cleaning with a tack cloth, I applied Walrus Oil Furniture Finish and then Walrus Oil Furniture Wax. It really makes the walnut and shedua pop!
But what about that canary wood inlay and the splines? Ignore that inlay on the tray support… it’s an unnecessary step. If you really want to attempt it, I cut a 1/2″ x 3/8″ rabbet on the top of the leg and glued up the legs in place. I then added the 1/2″ x 7″ x 3/8″ piece of canary wood inlay. It serves zero purpose and caused more heartache than it was worth.
As for the splines on the trays, I used a basic spline jig for my table saw that you can get a better look at in my Trinket Box Tutorial at the 5:40 mark. It’s a basic design you can find plans for all over the web. I cut a pair of splines the width of my table saw blade into each corner. I then glued in thin stock of canary wood. Let it dry. I then came back with a flush cut saw to cut off the excess and then cut smooth with a flush trim bit. The splines add strength to the mitered corners, but the tray bottoms do as well.
Liked this Mid Century Modern Bar Cart Build? You should check out my mid mod walnut end table!