“The Right Stuff Redux”
Well, all right, then, I get to talk about the finished project now, the Margarita Bar for our backyard. At the risk of repeating myself I will say that I designed this a few weeks before we had a party for my wife’s office. We served a home cooked Mexican meal and decided to also serve our own Gold Cadillac Margaritas, made with fresh-squeezed lime juice and the best of ingredients. We didn’t actually have anything like a bar back there, but truthfully any table pressed into service would have done just fine. But given the amount of work that had already gone into the venture and the specialness we wanted the evening to have, a Margarita Bar seemed like just the ticket, so I sketched one out a few weeks before the party while we were sitting in bed on a Saturday.
As it turned out I wasn’t able to finish it in time, so I used one of my work tables by simply throwing together a quick shelf that dropped over the stretchers and wrapping the table on three sides with a tablecloth. We could have gone on using that, of course, but by then I had already purchased the Formica and had cut the pieces for the sides, shelves, and top, so the only sensible thing was to finish out.
One of the things I have learned about design over the years is to design within the capabilities of one’s medium. For my own self I like to reach a bit higher than the previous project, but in doing so one must still remember the limitations of one’s medium. It’s a lesson that was brought home to me some forty years ago when I operated a small-quantity print shop. The printer I had did a terrible job of reproducing long horizontal lines, but if I kept that in mind and worked around it, I could get some truly excellent results. The same is true of this little bar.
The Margarita Bar is made of Medium Density Fiberboard, which is much heavier than plywood. It is five feet by two-and-a-half and weighs close to 200 pounds, which means there is no way in this world I could pick it up and move it. Casters would work wonderfully well, as they do for my work tables, but the Margarita Bar is destined to be in storage most of the time. It would be difficult to roll it in and out of a shed that has an elevated entrance and is surrounded by gravel. The obvious solution was to put it together with what they call RTA (Ready To Assemble) fasteners. That way I could move it place to place one element at a time (three shelves, two sides, a front, and a top) and then put it together with bolts.
In choosing this method, though, I wanted the assembled bar to have the look of a permanent structure, to not show the fasteners at all. I also wanted it to have a finished look. Had I elected to simply butt the front to the two sides in a traditional box construction, it would have had a most unfinished appearance. You would see the raw end of the MDF, and even if I sanded it out to a fare-thee-well, it would still have that essentially unfinished look about it. Also, life being what it is, those corners may not have come together with the absolute precision needed. With a corner like that, it is dead right or dead wrong. There is no leeway whatever.
The solution was to simply extend the front panel an inch or so beyond the true corner on either end. To avoid the clunky square ends thus created, I merely glued poplar to either end, then routed a bullnose profile onto it. We now have a front panel with a nice grace, and those corners are eliminated altogether. The sides butt dead into the front panel, and with a total of twelve bolts to secure the front, those sides will always have a firm connection.
I should also mention the wood edging around the bar top, as this sort of thing adds a lot to Formicainstallations. Really, it’s simplicity itself. One simply edges the countertop with the wood of one’s choice prior to applying the Formica. Once the laminate has been glued down, it’s a simple matter to route a profile around the edge. The results can be stunning, but it’s a method that is well within the reach of any cabinetmaker.
Finally, I want to talk a little about the wonderful splash of color, where I got it, and why I chose it. Our backyard, by design, is a riot of color, which is why we wanted such a bold color for the Margarita Bar. It’s a dry bar that can clearly be used for, well, pretty much any purpose we care to put it to, but the truth is we really will use it primarily for that purpose, for serving Margaritas and sangria at outdoor parties. Which is to say it will surely never be used in any other place. I picked up the same off-white I used throughout the yard and the red I always wanted on at least one structure back there. The other part of that color is what it’s made of, namely Formica.
This is designed to be taken apart and stored in the storage shed most of the time. A painted surface for both shelves and top would have resulted in a lot of scratches and smudges to that white surface. More than that, it would have been hell to keep it clean. Parties being parties, we’re bound to have an occasional spill of sangria. Two words: red wine! I really do not think simple paint would ever survive that, whereas it wipes off Formica immediately. I also want something that can be cleaned up in a jiffy, and again, Formica is just the stuff for something like that.
And, finally, there is the durability I have alluded to in all three of these blogs. I said earlier that I have used Formica to good effect in my shop for that reason, so I know that it will do just what I want it to do during what I hope is a lot of uses over the years. Every time I use that Margarita Bar I will take it out of the shed, carry it to its place in the yard and assemble it. When the party is over, it will be disassembled and stored again. All of which is to say that I expect to give this item some very hard use, but I do not expect to damage the Formica in any way. Years from now new guests to our home will be admiring that bar wondering how I have managed to keep that red so vibrant and true down through the years, to which the answer will surely be, start right, finish right.
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