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Building a Bar? Here's How to Choose & Install Bar Rail Molding

bar rail molding install

Visually and functionally, installing bar rail molding (aka Chicago bar rail or wooden bar arm rests) adds professional polish to your DIY home or commercial bar project. Its primary function is to give your bar a finished perimeter and support your guests’ arms comfortably whether they are seated or standing. Additionally, arm rests create a lip that can help keep glassware and spills contained to the bar top and off the floor.

Choosing the Wood for Your Arm Rest

Bar Arm Rail Molding Finishes

Our wooden bar rail molding is available in four types of wood: cherry, hard maple, red oak, and poplar. Each option offers a different color, density, and grain pattern.

  • Poplar is generally creamy white though it is prone to dark streaking. It is easy to cut and sand, and takes paint very well. On the downside, it is softer than the other hardwoods we offer, which leaves it somewhat more susceptible to dings and scratches.
  • Hard maple is off-white with yellow-brown and pink hues and has a moderately close grain. It is our second hardest of our arm rail options, which makes it good at fending off dents and wear.
  • Cherry is prized for its rich, reddish-brown color and smooth, close grain, making cherry an ideal hardwood for your natural finish arm rail. It is resistant to humidity, so warping is not generally an issue, but exposure to sunlight may cause its color to darken over time. It takes stain very well.
  • Red oak is light brown in color with a slight red tint and a more open grain. Its extra-durable nature and ability to hold nails very well makes it a common material for furniture construction. It is our hardest and most popular arm rest material.

All of our wooden arm rests come unstained so that you can match the arm rest to your bar or choose a complementary stain or color if you are looking to create contrast. Be sure to stain, varnish, or paint all of the molding in the style of your choosing and allow each piece to dry completely before installing.

Mitered vs Rounded Corners

bar arm rest corners
Before you tackle your arm rest project, you need to consider how you will navigate your bar’s corners.

When it comes to wooden arm rests, there are two options for handling the corners of a bar. The simplest and most cost effective approach is a mitered corner using two straight-run molding pieces.

The second option is installing a radius or rounded corners. Rounded corners add polish and customized style to the final look of your bar and reduce the likelihood of accidents by removing sharp corners from your bar setup, but they are more expensive.

The high price point of radius arm rest molding is a testament to their craftsmanship. They are expertly milled from a single piece of hardwood to match your arm rest straights and come pre-trimmed and ready to install. Prices vary depending on the species of wood (cherry, red oak, or hard maple) and the radius (1.5", 3" or 6") you choose.

Tips for Catastrophe-Free Installation

1. Give Yourself Enough Length

If your bar is 12 feet long, don’t just buy 12 feet of molding. Buy some excess length to give yourself room for cuts and errors.

2. Measure, Measure, and Then Measure Again 

Triple check your numbers before you start cutting. Trust us on this one.

Installing Your Wooden Bar Rail Molding

You received your arm rest order and are ready to install. Here’s how you go about it.

1. Gather Your Tools

You will need an electric drill, screws, a miter saw (chop saw), clamps (for securing your molding while you drill), wood glue, and a measuring tape.

2. Ready Your Bar Top

Our wooden arm rails rest at an angle over two pieces of stepped wood. The top piece of wood is your finished bar top; the bottom piece of wood juts out further and provides structural support.

bar rail molding installation figure 1As you can see in the figure above, the bottom piece of wood should measure ¾ inch thick and extend three inches past your finished bar top. Your finished bar top should measure 1 ¼ inches thick. If your bar top is a thinner, shim it with a piece of unfinished scrap wood (you won’t see the shim when the installation is complete). Use glue and pneumatic staples to adjoin the structural wood, finished bar top, and any shim you might be using.

3. Cut Your Molding to Your Finished Lengths

Our wooden arm rails come in 2', 4', and 8' lengths. For each straight run of your bar, we recommend buying the next largest rail length and cutting it down to size. This will reduce the number of seams in your finished product. If you have a run longer than 8', you will need to seam two pieces of rail together.

If you are seaming together two lengths of arm rest in a straight run, we recommended using a scarf joint. This requires cutting a beveled edge so that the two pieces fit together at an angle, making for a tighter seam.

If your bar has a corner or corners and you decided to go the miter joint route, cut the ends of your adjoining molding at a 45 degree angle. Note that arm rest has a wide profile, so cutting it to a precise 45 degree angle is difficult. If you are new to woodworking, you may want to seek the help of someone more experienced. You might also find this video on cutting precise miter joints helpful.

If your bar has a corner or corners and you opted for radius corners, you could cut a beveled edge to form your seam. However, cutting a radius corner on a miter saw can be particularly difficult. Instead, we recommend a simple butt joint. You may choose to cut clean ends, but no special cuts are necessary.

4. Dry Fit Your Cut Pieces

You want to be sure everything fits together as intended before you start drilling and glueing. Don’t skip this step.

5. Pre-Drill Your Holes

bar rail molding installation figure 2

Wooden arm rests are fastened in regular intervals from the underside (see above figure for screw placement). You’ll want to pre-drill your holes, taking care not to drill all the way through your wood. Use clamps to keep your molding in place as you drill.

6. Assemble Your Arm Rest

Once your holes are drilled, you can begin attaching your molding. We recommended running a bead of wood glue at least on the seam where the arm rail meets the finished bar top to ensure there is no gap. Once your glue has dried, insert screws in your pre-drilled holes for mechanical support. This is also the time to scrape off any excess glue that may have squeezed out onto your bar top.

If your arm rest runs don’t end at a wall, you’ll want to attach bar rail molding end caps for a finished look. These should be glued on to avoid visible nails.

Voilà. Your arm rest is now installed. Your forearms are going to thank you.



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