How to Build a Fold-Down Murphy Bar
Project details Skill 3 out of 5 Moderate The lap joints and dowel work require careful routing and drilling Cost $250 for the cedar, not including the hardware Estimated Time 6 hours over two days
Call it a Murphy bar. When the guests start arriving, fold down the cabinet door to create a neat and sturdy work surface. Made of naturally rot-resistant cedar, it also happens to be safe for food handling. You’ll need to use a router and a doweling jig to build the door, with its inset slats, but don’t sweat. This Old House contributor Christopher Beidel, owner of Pernt, a handmade-furniture company in Brooklyn, New York, shows you how.
NOTE: Cedar boards can be ordered at most home centers and are stocked at most lumberyards.
Overview for How to Build a Fold-Down Murphy Bar
Download a cut list for How to Build a Murphy Bar
Murphy Bar Cut List
1×4 cedar back slats: six @ 36 inches
1×4 cedar door slats: four @ 29 inches (cut to fit)
1×8 cedar box vertical pieces: three @ 22 inches
1×8 cedar shelf: one @ 16 ⅞ inches
1×8 cedar box bottom: one @ 36 inches
1×8 cedar gable ends: two @ 36 inches
1×10 cedar roof pieces: two @ 22 inches
1×10 cedar box top: one @ 36 inches
5/4 x 4 cedar door-frame rails: two @ 36 inches
5/4 x 4 cedar door-frame stiles: two @ 15¼ inches
¾-by-¾-inch cedar shelf cleats: two @ 7¼ inches (ripped from 1×8 scraps)
Assemble the Box
On a miter saw, chop all the pieces, save for the door slats, according to the cut list
Out of scrap, cut four L-shaped blocks with right angles to help clamp the corners. Arrange the cabinet pieces with the sides and vertical divider captured by the top and bottom. They’re all 1×8s except for the top, which is made of 1×10 to overhang the back slats and the closed door. Apply glue to the bottom ends of the vertical pieces, and clamp the bottom piece in place with your L-shaped blocks. Rest this assembly on ¾-inch spacers to create the overhang for the top, then glue and clamp the top in place, as shown.
Screw the Box Together
Use a drill/driver and a countersink bit to make two pilot holes in each of the six butt joints, as shown. Then secure the joints with 1¼-inch deck screws. To make the shelf, apply glue to the shelf cleats and use a brad nailer and 1¼-inch brad nails to tack them in place, halfway up the right-hand compartment. Tack the shelf to the cleats.
Make the Gable: Lay Out the Gable Ends
To lay out the triangular gable ends for the roof, set a bevel gauge to 12 degrees and mark the angle at the bottom corners of the 1×8 blank, as shown. Use a straightedge to extend the angle lines until they cross, forming the peak of the gable.
Make the Gable: Cut the Gable Ends
Stack the marked board on top of the other blank to get identical pieces from one cut. To set up the straightedge, first measure the distance from the circular-saw blade to the closest edge of the shoe. On the board, draw a parallel line at that distance outside the cutline, and clamp the straightedge along the guide line. Adjust the blade depth to reach through both boards, and run the shoe along the straightedge to make the cut. Hang on to the cutoff pieces for now.
Assemble the Roof: Cut the Roof Pieces
The roof consists of two pieces cut at 12-degree angles where they meet at the peak. It’s easiest to use a dual-compound miter saw. But to make the cuts with a circular saw, first set a bevel gauge to 12 degrees, and mark that angle on the short edge of the board. By eye, adjust the blade angle to that mark and lock the shoe in place. Clamp one roof blank hanging off your work surface and crosscut the end, as shown. Repeat the process for the other roof board.
Assemble the Roof: Attach the Gable Ends
Apply glue to the bottom edge of a gable end and stand it on top of the box, flush with the outer edge of the top piece. Nest the V-shaped cutoff piece from Step 2B on the peak to help clamp the gable end in place, as pictured. Countersink pilot holes up through the top piece and into the glued edge of the gable end. Then use 1¼-inch deck screws to secure the pieces, as shown. Remove the clamps and install the other gable end.
Assemble the Roof: Install the Roof
Apply glue to the sloping edges of the gable ends. Set the roof pieces in place so that the beveled ends meet neatly at the peak. Secure them with 1¼-inch brad nails, as shown.
Install the Back: Lay out the Back
The back slats give the box lateral strength, and the topmost piece doubles as half of the French cleat that will allow the box to mount on the wall. Place the first slat flush with the bottom edge of the box, then use spacers (ours are large paint stirrers) to create even gaps between each slat. Use a brad nailer and 1½-inch brads to tack all but the top slat into the edges of the box.
Install the Back: Make the French Cleat
Mark a cutline on the top slat face 1⅜ inches from an edge. Clamp the board to your work surface, set your circular-saw blade to 45 degrees, and orient the saw with the blade angling toward the center of the board. Rip along the cutline. Position half of it as the top slat, with the bevel facing in and pointing down. Countersink pilot holes, as shown, and secure it with two 1¼-inch deck screws at each end.
Build the Door Frame: Rout the Rabbets
The door frame is made from 5/4×4 boards, with the two stiles routed to create a sturdy half-lap joint with the thinner 1×4 inset slats. First, clamp one of the stiles to your work surface, as shown. Chuck a ¾-inch straight-cut bit in your router, and set the fence to keep the cut at that width. For the depth, start at ⅛ inch and make several passes, adjusting the bit until the channel is ⅜ inch deep.
Build the Door Frame: Drill the Dowel Holes
Clamp one stile and a ⅜-inch doweling jig to your work surface, as shown. Using a ⅜-inch twist bit, drill two holes 1 inch deep to accept the wood dowels. Repeat the process on the other end and on the other stile, making sure to keep the jig flush with the unrouted edge. Then make matching holes on the rails by clamping the jig flush at each end of a rail and drilling a pair of holes into the inside edge.
Build the Door Frame: Assemble the Frame
Apply glue to one end of the dowels and insert these into the holes in the stiles. Next, apply glue to the exposed ends of the dowels. Fit the rails and stiles together and clamp them into a frame, as shown. Before tightening the clamps, use a rafter square to make sure each corner is 90 degrees.
Make the Door: Rout the Inset Slats
The ends of the inset slats must be routed to complete a half-lap joint with the stiles. First, measure and cut the slats to fit between the routed edges of the stiles. Then clamp the four slats together edge to edge, and clamp the assembly to your work surface. With the same router bit, create a ¾-inch-wide by ⅜-inch-deep rabbet, as shown, across both ends of the assembly.
Make the Door: Attach the Slats to the Frame
Lay the slats into the frame, rabbet to rabbet, and use spacers to keep them a uniform distance apart. At the end of each slat, countersink two pilot holes through the face and into the half-lap joint. Then use ⅝-inch brass screws and a screwdriver to secure the slats.
Make the Door: Install the Hardware
You’ll need to install hinges on the door, as well as latch hardware to keep the door closed when not in use. In order to support the lid and any heavy items that might be placed on it when open, we installed shutter pulls and used Quick Links to attach stainless-steel chain. Use a rafter square to set the door at a right angle, then measure how many links you need, and attach. (To shorten the chain, clamp the link that needs to be removed in a vise and cut it with a hacksaw.)
Tip: Remember to use brass or stainless-steel fasteners with cedar; regular or galvanized steel will discolor the surrounding wood.
Install the Bar: Mount the French Cleat
Hold the bottom half of the French cleat against the wall, with the bevel facing in and pointing up. Use a level to position it, then drive a 3-inch deck screw halfway into each end. (For brick or concrete-block walls, use a masonry drill bit and masonry anchors.) If your house has clapboards, as shown, drive shims in from the top of the cleat to bring the face plumb—and keep the cleat from trapping moisture against the siding—before sinking 3-inch deck screws every 8 inches.
Install the Bar: Slide the Bar in Place
Simply slide the bar onto the cleat, as shown, and you’re ready to entertain.
Use cedar lumber and a doweling jig to create an outdoor piece that can handle its share of liquor