Revamp a Basic Shelving Unit Into a Do-It-All Outdoor Bar

Give your outdoor parties a splash of style with this DIY project to turn a slim shelving unit into a multilevel bar table with a basin for chilling drinks.

After rehabbing the deck of their suburban Des Moines, Iowa, house, Jessica and Kirk Eno were almost ready to celebrate. The missing ingredient: a place to set up snacks and beverages. A $60 outdoor metal shelving unit that Jessica, an art director for BH&G Do It Yourself magazine, spied at a discount home goods store had the slim profile she wanted. "I decided to reposition the top as a shelf, put on a bar top to make it look more like furniture, and add some sort of cooler," Jessica says. Two hours of tinkering and about $40 in supplies and she had her bar—with a cedar top that matches the planks the couple installed over a section of vinyl siding.

Bar cart against wooden wall
Jason Donnelly

How to Create a DIY Outdoor Bar

Jessica turned the slatted top into a shelf, installing it to leave a few inches of space under the 6-inch-deep basin, which she spray-painted black.

Step 1: Choose the Base

Because she used a ready-to-assemble shelving unit, swapping out the top was simple. Slatted shelves keep water from pooling. Jessica's unit (no longer available) is 40" wide, 30" tall, and about 14" deep.

Drinks in sink filled with ice
Jason Donnelly

Step 2: Add the Basin

Jessica used a stainless-steel steam table pan (the kind used on buffets) as a drop-in beverage tub. Find them online or at restaurant supply stores.

Step 3: Install the Counter

Jessica cut a 1×8 cedar board into two pieces the width of her unit. With a pocket hole jig and a drill, she drilled holes along one long edge on the bottom of one of the boards then screwed the two boards together. Pocket-hole joinery ensures a flat, strong surface without exposed screws. For the cutout, she marked the dimensions of the basin (below the lip) on the wood top and cut it with a jigsaw.

Step 4: Apply Wood Sealer

To protect the wood, Jessica applied a clear waterproofing sealer. The base has a powder-coated finish designed for outdoor use. If yours doesn't or is an indoor piece, spray it with a clear protector that will resist rust and decay, such as Stops Rust Clear Enamel from Rust-Oleum ($7, The Home Depot).

close up outdoor bar
Jason Donnelly

Step 5: Assemble the Unit

The original top and shelf on Jessica's piece screw into the legs, so she drilled a new set of holes 10 inches down, installed the top as a shelf, then attached the new top using L brackets and the original holes. She screwed a cup hook into the wood as a towel holder and dropped the beverage tub into the cutout. The lip rests on the wood top and covers the hole's raw edge.

Step 6: Protect the Outdoor Bar

To extend the life and look of her bar, Jessica stores it in the garage off-season. Still, she says the top has weathered a bit. To restore wood, scrub off dirt and the old finish with a soft bristle utility brush, then brush on a clear sealer.

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