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