54 Foot Solid Oak Bar Top Input Needed


From original questioner:

I have a customer that requires a 54' solid oak bar top. Any ideas on how to deal with the expansion and contraction problems, I'd like to make the top in 8' sections and tongue the ends together. I'll screw from the bottom sub strait using slots that should allow for expansion and reduce any buckling. FYI the solid top will slot under the Chicago bar rail. Any help is appreciated.

From contributor Ke

The end to end expansion should not be much of an issue, though at 54' it might be wise to make your cross-grain screw slots a bit loose relative to the screw shanks. and use washer-head screws or pan heads with reasonable size washers. We like to use zip-bolts in conjunction with Dominos or tight-fitting plywood splines at the butt joints. Your overall plan seems reasonable.

From contributor Pa

I did this a few years ago. I built it on site using 4" wide boards that I jointed and planed at the shop. Staggered them like flooring and clamped and glued with biscuits. Sanded with a 6" rotary followed by 5" RO.

I used a Festool Domino to drill the slots in the substrate. There are multiple ways to handle the Chicago rail depending on how the bar is constructed. It can be attached to the solid top unless the top turns a corner. Otherwise it can be attached via its vertical face to framing that supports the top. The rail usually has plenty of overlap with the top, so you can hide your top movement underneath.

If you're doing a drink rail (or "gutter"), you need to consider how it will be attached as well. If you can, I'd advise getting it fabricated from stainless or you can buy some modular parts. I used wood and it took a beating. If you go with wood, it needs to be solid (ply will delaminate), and you need to caulk the joint where it meets the top, so you have to think about wood movement there, too.

I did the finishing by hand. Stain followed by 5 coats of marine varnish. If you can get a few coats of varnish on the underside of the solid top, that will certainly help resist cupping of the top. Areas of the top that span sinks and ice bins can be a problem from all the moisture.


From contributor ka

I love tops. They kind of restore my soul in the wake of the necessary drudgery we all endure at some point in the process of making money to keep the doors open. I've built - and repaired what others have built - a bunch of solid bar tops. As Kevin says, your expansion concern isn't so much along the grain as across it, but it is still wise to think about and plan for it - which you are clearly doing.

In a perfect world you would build it and finish it in the controlled environment of your shop, truck it to the site and hire 40 temps to lug it in place. Since you more than likely don't live in that world, you'll have to either build it in place or make it in sections and assemble it on site.

I've always done the latter, as I like to spend as little time on site as possible.

The single most important thing you can do is good prep. I won't demean you with things you probably already know, but my milling sequence is a little different than some: I "open up" the faces on the jointer, rip/mill whatever widths I want, and then spend way too much time arranging them. Then I glue up into one half the required width - or, if its huge, the widest size my planer will allow (20 inches). I never force the lumber flat. This requires some hand planing when the clamps come off to get a flat side for thicknessing, but it assures that lumber has been glued up the way "it" wants to go, and doesn't introduce stress that wasn't there before. Like lots of guys, I also let the glue-ups "settle" overnight about half way through thicknessing - as I would with individual boards in a big entrance door. Then I glue up to final width.

I use biscuits or splines for alignment, and have recently started using zip bolts to draw them close (it may have been Kevin who suggested them). I epoxy those butt edges. I lay wax paper on the substrate wherever I have epoxy, and come back the next day and make sure the bar is free.

One thing I've found, though, is that as careful as I am, I still get occasional misalignment. So I've started putting the last coat of finish on at the site, toning and touching up where I've had to sand a bit. Sounds dangerous, but I've never had a problem using catalyzed finishes. Its an extra day of install, but it doesn't hurt too bad if you plan for it.

These things are so danged heavy that they don't need much in the way of fasteners. I rarely use more than two screws. One in either end, in the center - even if there is a 90 at some point.

I don't like the substrate to be the same width as the bartop - I like to minimize spaces and cracks where moisture can accumulate. Not much you can do about buckling - if you don't respect the immutable rules of wood movement, that monster will buckle and more, if it wants to. Horror stories abound (including in my shop) of huge glue-ups destroying cabinets and profits. But most of those can be traced to something in the process. If you are careful in your selection and prep, and provide for balance in the panel, you should be ok.

Best of luck!

From contributor Jo

I would do this just like they lay - install a hardwood floor. In fact, I would contract this directly to a flooring contractor and just mark it up.

From contributor La

Joe, I've got to disagree. A wood floor has all the cracks open to absorbing water from the frequent wet downs a bar gets. Finish both sides and ends. We've used epoxy successfully.Three years ago we did a 24' with a 90 degree radius return of about 8', in one piece. 1 3/8" thick! Heavy as hell and took a lot of guys to get into the bar. I looked @ it about 6 months ago and it still looked good.