Make This DIY Industrial Bar Cart for Less Than $40

Stash your booze in style with this cheap, easy, and classy bar cart.

“Nice-to-have” furniture isn’t very high on the list of things the paycheck has to cover. Especially for something like a bar cart – a place to organize your libation ingredients and prepare cocktails – when the cabinet above the stove holds the bottles equally well.

That’s why it’s ludicrous that even the Wal-Mart / Target options for carts are $60-$100 plus. I knew there had to be a more affordable way to have a sharp looking cocktail station. Just as you don’t have to spend a millions bucks to dress like a million bucks, you don’t need to pay Restoration Hardware prices to have a smart, intentional place.

Bar carts are a smart option because it allows you to tuck away your spirits if you’re expecting company that may get the wrong impression by your glorious assortment.  It also allows you to wheel the entire liquor collection and mixology tools to wherever you want it; on a balcony or deck, a second room during a party, or right in the kitchen next to the counter.

As you may have noticed, I feature a lot of apartment items tagged “industrial”. Sure, it’s a trend and trends don’t last forever, but the industrial aesthetic is perfect for guys for a couple of reasons. First, it has a rugged appeal which is fun to surround yourself with. But it also lends itself to finding some very affordable alternatives to high-priced designer wares either used or in unexpected places.

Take for instance these industrial-inspired bar carts from a few common retailers:

DIY Bar Cart Inspiration

Some pretty slick looking carts, for sure. But a few hundred dollars? A thousand? Hell no. Even Ikea’s options are surprisingly expensive.

I stumbled upon a simple but sharp shop cart at Harbor Freight. For the uninitiated, Harbor Freight is kind of like the dollar store for tools – what you get there isn’t as good as its full-priced brethren – but depending on what you need it to do or want to use it for, it may be perfect at a great price.

Take this shop cart. Supposedly it has a max working load of 220 pounds. Now, used as a shop cart, a true craftsman would probably have this thing squeaking to the dumpster on three wheels in a matter of months. But as a bar cart? It’s a steal; one that will probably last you for as long as you want it to.

There are actually three options for this project. The two shelf version shown here ($37 full price), a three shelf option ($50 full price), or two shelf with a drawer ($75 full price). Depending on how much stuff you have and how much you want to spend, you may find one of these other options suits you better.

The reason I listed the full prices next to them is because just like Banana Republic, you never have to pay full price at Harbor Freight. They’re always having sales and such, but more importantly, they advertise in about every men’s magazine on the racks. You’ve probably seen them. They always include a coupon for 20-30% off. Using one of these on the two shelf cart brings the price down to around $28, which you can’t even get a plastic cart elsewhere for. If you don’t have any magazines with the coupons in, it would even be worth going out and buying one just for it. I know Men’s Health usually has one.

These ads are pretty easy to spot when flipping through magazines. If you don’t have a HF near you, they ship for $7.

Getting Started: Wood Shelf Liner

This is one of the easiest DIY projects to date on Primer. We’re adding a stained wood liner to the shelves to class it up a bit, but other than that, we’re just assembling the cart as usual.

For my cart I used floor underlayment. It’s essentially super-thin plywood, and it’s really cheap. You can get four feet by four feet for less than $10 at Home Depot.

We’ll need the shelf liners sanded and stained prior to assembling the cart. You won’t be able to get them in after the cart is together because of the way the bolts stick out.

You can cut the two pieces yourself, or have Home Depot do it while you’re there. For the 2 shelf version, we need two pieces that are 29” x 15.25”.

Give each piece a couple of passes with sand paper to smooth it out and take off any sharp edges. From there, you’ll need to choose a stain color based on where you’re putting it and the style you’re going for. I went with a Red Oak. I prefer liquid stains to gel stains; I find gel stains are hard to push around and leave dark blotches.

Staining wood couldn’t be any easier. Simply brush the stain on in the direction of the grain, wait a few minutes and wipe off the excess. You can add more coats until you reach the desired color, leaving a few hours in between.

After you’re satisfied with your stain, add two layers of polyurethane to protect it from spilled liquids – which are likely after you’ve made a couple of cocktails on it. Wipe on the poly with a foam brush or clean piece of cloth in the direction of the grain, making sure to thin out heavy spots as you go.

Assembly

Once the shelves have dried, you can begin assembling the cart. It’s really simple and straightforward; just a bunch of nuts and bolts. You’ll need to insert the wood shelf liners before inserting all of the bottom level bolts on each shelf. No glue or screws required. The bottom level of bolts will keep it in place just fine.

There are a few additions you can make as well. I used ‘s’ hooks on the handle to hold a lime press and bottle opener, and you could get a wine rack to hang underneath the shelf from Amazon for a few bucks. (If you do that, I would recommend installing it before putting the wood liner in.) You could also install a wall-mounted bottle opener to the side. The handle is a good place to hang a bar towel.

It’ll look great next to your industrial side table under your bar light.

Tighten everything up, add your bottles and shakers, and mix up a drink. Cheers!

Andrew is the founder and editor of Primer. He's a graduate of American University and currently lives in Los Angeles. Read more about Primer on our About page.

  • Kevin J

    Great idea, finally putting on my big boy pants and moving into my first place without roomates in a few months and I will be using this idea

  • Casey

    Great idea. I think I would take it a step further and paint it a more industrial color. There are many metallic and “hammered” spray paints available that would do the trick perfectly.
    One of the main benefits of gel stain is the tendency not to blotch, especially on blotch-prone woods like pine, cherry and maple. Your final sanding should be be no higher than 180 grit. Any finer and things get wonky with the color.
    Keep up the good work!!

    • http://sweetsciencecoding.com Dan Martin

      If one were to paint it as suggested, would you still recommend using wooden shelf liners and staining them? Thanks.

      • Casey

        I can’t speak for Andrew, but I would still add the wood. It would certainly add a finished touch to the cart.

      • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

        I think I would – it adds a nice balance to an otherwise utilitarian item.

    • Chris

      casey, I love this cart except for the red color. Are there any tips for how to spray paint over steel enamel? Do I need to sand first?

      • Casey

        Sanding is always a good idea. Use 220 sandpaper (good paper, don’t buy the cheap stuff). Make sure you clean all the dust off. I would spray a coat of primer first. Keep the can about 9″ away and get a nice even coat. Too close and you’ll cause runs. Several light coats are better than one thick one. After that is dry, use the same method with your paint of choice. Again, buy good materials. They will cause you a lot less frustration and result in a better end result. Take your time and all should work out nicely.

  • Ryan Jones

    the coupon says that carts are excluded from the coupon. How did you get around that or did they not even question it?

    • Casey

      Most Harbor Freight stores are pretty liberal with their coupons. Even though they say 20% off one item, more often than not they give me 20% off my entire purchase (even items that were already on sale).

      • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

        That’s been my experience as well. I used the coupon in the photo on te cart I bought, and the clerk gave it back so I could use it again some other time.

        • Ryan Jones

          Sounds good. I will try tonight. My father has had one of their carts(with the drawer) for 3-4 years and its no worse for the wear. Just assemble them correct with the lock nuts and good to go.

  • Ron Macoon

    excellent! I love the idea of repurposing stuff at hardware stores. its fun just to walk around harbor freight sometimes

  • jerimi

    Harbor Freight = nice prices

  • Mike

    Great idea! You could use wood laminate samples along with furniture sliders to make a stack of coasters for your bar as well! It’s almost free!

  • Doug Davis

    I used code 11051881 which gave me 25% off

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Nice! Thanks for sharing!

  • bar guy

    What book is on your bar cart?

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  • Yusuf

    Question about adding a wine rack. Would you just screw that in to the metal or use some kind of adhesive? Wouldn’t adding screws or bolts create an uneven surface for the wood shelves?

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      I would use screws with the head on top, coming down through the shelf. Using flat headed screws should allow the shelf liner to sit on top without too much wobble.

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  • jen

    Im making this and im wondering about what you did for the wheel screws…. do they get in the way of the wood piece on the bottom shelf? In the picture I saw on harbor freights website it looks like they go right through the bottom, shelf and stick out a little

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Nope! The wood sits securely right on top. I haven’t had an issue with the wood bowing or anything.

  • Oliver

    Can you paint it and if so what paint do you recommend

  • Seth

    Looks snazzy. How thick was the underlayment that you used?

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      The thinnest they had, quarter-inch maybe?

  • Randi Durham

    Thanks! I made it!!

  • Jeff

    Made mine this past weekend. What a great project! Where did you find your s hooks? They seem to have an antiqued look to them.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Nice! They’re from IKEA, in the kitchen storage area.

  • Les Smith

    The bottom shelf of this cart has bolts connecting the wheels. They stick out of the floor. So how did you handle this? If you just laid the plank over the bolts it would quickly sag.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Hi Les,

      I think I mentioned that, the wood sits right on top of them. I was worried about bowing, but it hasn’t been a problem at all. If you really wanted to, you could drill holes in the wood and put the bolts through them, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

  • Camille

    This was one of my favorite DIY projects this year! It was inexpensive, and super easy to do. I loved it so much I decided to film the project to share with my friends. Here is the video!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      That’s awesome!! Thanks so much for sharing it!!

  • Jorgen

    Where is that lime press from?

  • skykidone

    Just finished my cart yesterday. I used a piece of stainless instead of wood for the bottom shelf and painted it green instead of the mechanic red. drilled small holes in the wheels and stripped the handlebar to match the stainless bottom shelf.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Very nice! Cool modifications, thanks for sharing!

  • Jarrett

    I took Casey’s idea of using a hammered spray paint to make the cart more industrial looking. Very pleased with how it turned out. It’s a little cluttered at the moment but that’s not necessarily a bad problem to have right?

    • Jake

      Can you post a photo of how the hammered paint turned out?

  • Jarrett Rinehart

    For some reason the pic didn’t attach…

  • cam

    So I’m a 20 year old girl and I’m going to take this a different direction..

    1st off: spray painting it glittery gold all over! (yes! just so yes!)
    2nd: My liner? Mirrors!

    seriously almost bought a $550 cart!! thank god for this article!

  • Sammy

    Just bought the cart to do this DIY but wanted to spray paint the red a nice antique brass or copper. Should I be using a certain type of spray paint (i.e. water-based, oil)? Also what type of primer? A bit of a DIY newbie and looking for some help.

    • Brandon R

      I used modern masters paint

      • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

        Nice! Looks great!!

  • Thomas White

    That’s about all that cart is good for we have one at work its just very flimsy and cheaply made( but what do you want for the price tho)

  • Jeremy

    here is one i did for a friend

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Awesome, thanks for sharing!

  • Brandon R

    Finally finished!!!

    • Brandon R

      Oops! pic!

      • RichV

        OMG Brandon R, that looks incredible – just like Zinhome

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