You wouldn’t think the sight of a bicycle wheel attached by its fork to a wooden stool could be life-changing, but that’s exactly what happened when I clapped eyes on a version of artist Marcel Duchamp’s installation piece called Bicycle Wheel. In an instant, my perception of the world changed–I knew I’d never look at an axle the same way again.
Duchamp’s playful messing around with the usual functions of ordinary things struck me like a bolt out of the blue! Yes–inspiration in fastener form! Bolts and fittings and brackets–oh my!
Since that day, my imagination runs amok, transforming pipe clamps into bottle holders and flanges into candelabra, pallet scraps into…well, you get the idea. When I’m out with friends for a day of shopping, they beeline for haute couture, and I head for hardware–or even better–a salvage yard or thrift shop if there’s one nearby.
When I found myself in need of an outdoor serving cart for patio season, I shopped around but was underwhelmed by the generic styles on off er and their startling price! I wanted something more eclectic–maybe with period elements of some kind or re-purposed materials that were unusual or striking to give the cart some character.
Oddly enough, it was (again) a wheel that inspired me to design my own cart. I came across an old-fashioned steel wheel that looked like it belonged on an 18th-century wheelbarrow and I loved the look of it. A passion for pipes and fittings took over, and my design morphed into a bar cart that, instead of having “all the bells and whistles”, had all the “nuts and bolts”–reclaimed wood, angle irons, U-brackets, drawer pulls, steel wheels, and other easily obtainable materials. The cart would look rugged, industrial–and trendy. My salvager’s heart sang.
To bring my design from page to patio, I was going to need some help. Since my workplace has no shortage of woodworking experts, I approached my co-worker, Andrew, to partner with me in building the cart. Andrew’s expertise with tools, materials and construction techniques (and his good sense of humor) gave me confidence that my design could be fully realized as I’d imagined.
You can see by our materials list that we chose mostly inexpensive materials that were easy to find at hardware and box stores. We did splurge a little on a really classy appliance handle for pushing the cart, and on those way-cool traditional steel wheels. If you have the knowledge and skills needed for the safe use and handling of power and hand tools (see tools list), you could build this cart from our plans or adapt the project to suit your own designs and preferred materials.
As for me, I know just the spot on my patio to park my serving cart. Can’t wait for BBQ season!
Cut angle iron pieces for the frame to length using an angle grinder.
Just as when buying wood, we tried to find straight pieces of iron with no twists or bends. Conventional wisdom says "measure twice, cut once", and this certainly holds true for cutting the iron—too long and you put the frame out of skew, too short and there won’t be enough material to drill through for fastening bolts. Before cutting, we sanded the angle irons using a coarse grit (80) for a rough, textured look to match the wheels. If you don’t have access to an angle grinder, you can use a hacksaw which makes a cleaner cut but takes longer. Remember to sand out the burrs after cutting.
Cut miters on all horizontal pieces of angle iron.
We used a combination square to layout the miters on the ends of all horizontal pieces so they’re on the same plane without overlap. This allows the shelves to rest flat on all four “arms” of the horizontal frame.
Measure and mark the angle irons for holes; drill using a drill press.
When measuring to position the middle shelf, be sure to take into account the thickness of the recessed shelf as well as the thicknesses of the bottom and middle shelves; if you simply put your hole halfway up the frame, the spacing between shelves will not be equidistant!
Mill up wood for the bottom and middle shelves, the top recessed shelf and the removable tray.
We chose to use dressed barn board for our cart because we like the well-worn look of it, but other kinds of wood suitable for outdoor use could also be used. If you decide to work with salvaged wood, be sure to keep health and safety considerations in mind. Inspect wood closely for imbedded nails or fasteners that can damage tools, and always wear a mask/respirator when milling and sanding to guard against chemicals, mold and other unknown substances that may have made their home in the wood over time.
Glue up shelves as well as the bottoms for the recessed shelf and removable tray.
Because our shelves are 18” wide, we needed to glue up several boards to get our width. We used three pieces at 6” wide, and made sure to rotate the orientation of the end grain during glue up to help prevent warping. We used the same principle for the bottoms of the tray and the recessed shelf.
Cut shelves when dry to finished dimensions.
Cut front, back and sides for recessed shelf and removable tray to finished dimensions.
Cut 1/4" wide 3/8" deep grooves 1/4" from the inner bottom edge on all sides of the recessed shelf and tray Both the recessed shelf and the removable tray are made using floating bottoms.
This allows the wood to expand and contract freely, without causing warp or damage. Dados (or grooves) are cut all the way around the interior of the front, back, and sides, and rabbets are cut along all four edges of the bottoms. The bottoms then slide into the dados during assembly. We used a table saw for this step, but a router is another alternative.
Cut bottoms of tray and recessed shelf to finished dimensions.
The finished sizes of the bottoms of the tray and recessed shelf need to be 1/2" longer and 1/2" wider than their respective openings. This is to account for the rabbets you will cut in step 10.
Cut 1/4" deep x 3/8" wide rabbets along all the edges of the bottoms of the recessed shelf and tray.
Glue up and clamp the recessed shelf, securing the butt joints with screws, and the removable tray by mitering and gluing.
Originally, we made the recessed shelf and removable tray of the same material thickness, but we ran into trouble when the bolts that secure the shelf to the frame poked through the sides of the shelf, interfering with the seating of the tray in the recess. We preferred the look of the thinner material but we switched to thicker wood to absorb the bolts–then we retraced our steps.
We weren’t happy that you can see some endgrain peeking around the angle irons attachment points if you look closely. (We’ve chosen to believe this adds to the rustic charm of the cart.) Next time, we’ll use thicker material from the start, and miter both the recessed shelf and the tray.
Attach vertical and horizontal angle irons using carriage bolts.
Be sure to orient the angle irons so the bolt doesn’t interfere with the way the angle irons cradle the shelf.
Attach the recessed shelf to the top of the frame using lag bolts.
The top of the tray should be flush with the top of the angle irons.
Fasten a piece of 3/4" x 3" x 18" hardwood to the underside of one end of the cart and install casters.
With the casters installed, you can prop the opposite end of the cart up until level, to allow you to install the steel wheels.
Measure, mark, drill and install steel wheels using a 3" bolt and 2 nyloc nuts as an axel.
Drill holes for the shelves.
First position the shelf in place on the frame, and then drill three holes through both the wood and the frame at both ends of each shelf. Remove the shelf and make the two matching outer holes in the frame 1/2” larger than the bolts. This will allow the wood to expand and contract without cracking.
Attach shelves to the frame using carriage bolts.
Install the appliance handle on the outside of the recessed shelf, at the same end of the cart as the swivel casters are located.
Install drawer handles on the removable tray. Bore out 1/4" wide holes, 2" deep into the underside of the removable tray walls to accommodate screws for the drawer handles.
Install glass hangers and U-clamp bottle holders on the underside of the recessed shelf.
We used an oil based Early American stain on the barn board. It gave the wood a slightly darker look which nicely complements the industrial effect of the angle irons. As a finishing coat, we used linseed oil for a clear, satin protective coating, and for the final touch, we applied a gun blue on all the nuts and bolts to give them a weathered look.
With this combination of finishes, the cart needs to be covered when not in use to protect it from rain and snow. There are exterior grade polyurethane clear coat finishes on the market that are better suited for outdoors if proper storage is not available.