Refinishing an Outdoor Bar

When I pinned this awesome outdoor cooler, I thought that even though it was a big project, I could do it.  Do you know what’s better than building it?  Buying it for $20 at a garage sale!  It was in pretty good shape when we got it, completely usable – but with a little elbow grease I thought I could make it something amazing.


Step 1 – Wood Brightener

The first thing I did was clean the bar with a wood brightener.  I didn’t know such a product existed, but it’s like a magic elixer.  You apply it (diluted) to wet wood furniture, let it soak, then scrub it.  See how it went from dark and dirty to bright and clean?  Isn’t it great?  The wood feels fresh and raw, ready to be finished.


Step 2 – Unwarp Wood (or Bend it Like Villa)

One of the planks of the lid had gotten warped from sitting outside.  We thought of leaving it,  or replacing it, or adding braces to it.  Then we decided to try to bend it back.  Did you know you can bend wood?  My mom gave me this tip.  She remembers her dad, who was a carpenter, did it all the time.  First you need to soak the wood, to make it malleable, then you need to apply pressure to bend it.  I soaked the blank in the bathtub and covered it in weights overnight.  The next morning the plank was pretty flat.  I took the plank out of the water, but left the weights, so it wouldn’t warp when it dried.  Ta da!  It’s flat again.  How will I prevent from bending again? I’m going to seal it.  Once it’s sealed, and water can’t penetrate, it should remain warp free.

Step 3 – Stain It

All the of the craft sites recommend gel stains, so that’s what I went with.  Gel stains are thick, like pudding, so application is easier and less messy. One crafter said gel stains are so amazing that you don’t have to remove all the old stain.  She lied.  As you can see the lid now has a “unique patina”, but I can live with it.  I used an old pair of sweat pants cut into rags to wipe on the stain.  Don’t forget to wear rubber gloves (latex will melt).  I decided to only stain the top, because I didn’t want the project to start getting too labour expensive.  After three coats, I was pretty happy with the results.

Gel Stain

Step 4 – Seal It

We need to protect all our hard work!  Especially if it’s going to survive outside.  My friend is a furniture maker, and he recommended Varathane Diamond Wood Finish.  It looks cloudy, but it dries clear.  I sealed the entire bar, with several coats.

Step 5 – Finishing Touches

Last, but not least, I added new knobs and installed a cool bottle opener/cap catcher some friends gave us. Voila! Now we can enjoy cold beverages in the hot weather.  (Let’s pretend I’ve posted this in the summer!)

Refinished Outdoor Bar

Refinished Outdoor Bar


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