Since staying home more these days, I’ve been spending a lot of time in my backyard. It’s been great motivation to invest in some new furniture—patio chairs, a side table, and a fire pit—but I’ve also been wanting to mix things up. Since a tropical vacation isn’t an option right now, I decided it’s my job to bring that experience to my own backyard—in the form of a tiki-themed tropical party for my family. I love themed parties and decorating for them, but I don’t like spending a lot of money for a one-time event. Every so often, I end up with a lot of boards from leftover projects that I just can’t seem to find a use for. I was in the middle of one of these seasons when I thought about having a tiki party, and I decided it was the perfect way to utilize that extra wood.
This kind of party can easily be thrown indoors with low lighting, tropical plants, and fishing nets hanging from the ceiling—but it can also be moved outside for a “tropical oasis” theme with tiki torches and leis. I planned to have my party outside. I set the tiki bar up with some classic tropical cocktails, and I decorated the backyard with string lights, tiki torches, and a fire pit. We spent the evening eating, drinking, and playing pineapple bowling—a fun game where you bowl cantaloupe balls at pineapple pins. The added bonus was chopping up all of the pineapples afterward and freezing the fruit for future piña coladas.
No matter where you throw your party, it’s sure to put smiles on your family’s faces. So, let’s get started!
Step 1: Evaluate materials
Because I was building this project for a one-time event, I wanted to use materials I already had. If you have extra lumber lying around your house, this is the time to take inventory and consider how you can build this project. You could easily swap out the two-by-two posts for two-by-threes, swap out the one-by-six and one-by-eight boards for one-by-fours, or replace the cedar with white wood. This project is easily customizable to whatever materials you have on hand.
This is also a great project to mix species. I usually try to avoid mixing spruce with cedar or cedar with Douglas fir, but this tiki bar lends itself to a rustic, natural look. Mixing species can have a fun effect, especially if you make it look a little more intentional with a pattern. While you change things up, keep in mind that the dimensions of the booth are important because they were made economically. The length of the bar is 32” so three lengths can be cut out of one 8’ board, and the depth of the bar is 16” for the same reason. Because these measurements don’t leave any room for kerf (the small section of wood removed by the width of the saw blade), I cut these lengths differently than I normally would. Instead of measuring and cutting each piece individually, I measured and marked all of the cuts on one board and made my cuts centered on those marks rather than on one side of the saw blade.
Depending on the materials and space you have, you may need to scale this project. Take stock of your inventory and figure out what works best for you.
Step 2: Cut wood
Now that we’ve decided on what wood we’re using, we’ll cut all of the pieces to length. I did this with a circular saw, using a speed square as a guide to make sure my cuts were straight. You can also make the cuts with a handsaw—it will just take a little more time (and elbow grease). To mark the 32° angles for the two-by-two posts, use the pivot point on the speed square (if you're not sure how to do that, check out this post). Make all the cuts as follows:
- Cut five 32” pieces and eight 16” pieces from the one-by-eights
- Cut three 32” pieces, one 30 1/2” piece, and four 16” pieces from the one-by-sixes
- Cut one 32” piece from the one-by-twelve
- Cut two 7’ pieces with one side cut at a 32 degree angle and two 74” pieces with one side cut at a 32 degree angle from the two-by-twos
Step 3: Mark for nails
Because the nails will be fairly prominent on this project, I measured out their positions and marked them on all of the boards before assembly. For the 32” boards that will make up the front of the tiki bar, I measured the nail placement 1 1/2” in from the ends of the boards and 1” in from both sides. For the side 16” pieces, I marked the placement on one side 3/4” in from the end and 1” from both sides.
Step 4: Assemble bar front
Lay out the 32” boards on top of the shorter two-by-two posts so the tops of the posts with the angled cuts slope down toward the front of the bar. I laid out my 32” boards in a pattern starting with a cedar one-by-eight, a spruce one-by-six, two cedar one-by-eights, another spruce one-by-six, and a final cedar one-by-eight at the top. Whatever pattern you’re using, make sure to only use the 32” boards meant for the front of the bar, not the 32” boards meant for the top. For me, these tabletop boards were a one-by-eight and a one-by-twelve.
The 32” boards should overhang the two-by-two posts on both sides by the width of the side boards (3/4”). The easiest way to do this is to use a scrap one-by-two board (or a thin cut of another one-by board) on the outside of the posts to line up the ends of your first board.
Start at the bottom and work your way up, securing each 32” board with glue and nails. I used 1/4” plastic shims to space out my boards, but you could use a board cut to 1/4”, a scrap piece of 1/4” plywood, the width of your speed square, or just eyeball it. Precision is not an important part of this project—enjoy it.
Step 5: Assemble tiki bar sides
Now, position the 16” boards along the sides of the bar, perpendicular to the front. Secure them to the two-by-two posts with glue and nails. I found this easiest to do on the first side by leaning the front of the bar against a sawhorse so I had something somewhat close to a flat surface to work on. For the second side, the bar can rest on the first side you just attached.
I like the look of matching the front pattern of the bar on both sides (and that's what I wrote out the materials for), but in actuality I only matched the pattern on one side. Because I was using what I had on hand, on one side I added a one-by-twelve piece as well as some one-by-six cedar boards. For this project, it’s really about making it work with what you have.
Step 6: Attach back posts
Once both sides are attached to the front of the bar, stand it upright and position the taller two-by-two posts on the end of the side boards so the angled ends slope toward the front of the bar.
Most likely, not all of your side boards will be the same length. Don’t worry about it. Apply glue to the top and bottom boards, as well as the ends of any other boards that are long enough, and leave the others alone. Then, secure the two-by-two posts by driving 3” screws through the posts and into the ends of the side boards. Drive one screw into the top board and one screw into the bottom board. If you have any other boards that are wobbly, you can add a screw to hold them in place. If you have a long clamp to hold the back post in place while you drive the screws, you may find that to be helpful.
Step 7: Add tiki bar top
Now it’s time to add the bar top. First, line up your tabletop boards (the one-by-twelve and one-by-eight 32” lengths) and mark the position of the front two-by-two posts on the front board. Cut out these notches with a jig saw or coping saw (the hand tool equivalent of a jig saw). Fit the one-by-twelve and one-by-eight in place for the bar top and secure with glue. It’s OK if your bar top overhangs the front of the bar.
Step 8: Add roof supports
Place the 30 1/2” one-by-six along the top of the front posts and secure in place with 1 1/2” screws (or nails). You can clamp a scrap piece of wood to one post to hold the board in place while securing the other side to the first post.
Repeat to attach the 32” one-by-six to the back posts (I used a one-by-three, but unless you have one lying around it makes more sense to use a one-by-six).
Step 9: Sand
Run a sanding sponge along all of the cut edges to remove any large splinters. I focused on the front corners, the edges of the bar top, and the bar top itself.
Step 10: Stain
Apply stain to the entire tiki bar. Because spruce and white wood are lighter in color than cedar, you’ll want the stain to sit on the wood for the full recommended time before wiping it off (15 minutes for our stain). But be careful not to go over—spruce isn’t as absorbent as cedar, and it will get sticky if the stain isn’t wiped off in time. I ran into this problem, but it was quickly solved by running over the sticky sections with a rag dipped in mineral spirits. Be sure to dispose of your rags correctly when you're done.
Step 11: Attach canvas roof
This roof was also designed using what I had at home. I had planned to use a dried grass table skirt from a previous party for the roof, but that didn't pan out (the lesson learned was don’t store things you want to save in garbage bags or someone will throw it away). I had to come up with a last minute alternative, and I happened to have some extra canvas from the teepee we made last year! If you didn’t make the teepee last year and kept the leftover canvas like me, you could alternatively use a canvas drop cloth, or other fabric that you might be able to spare.
Cut the canvas to approximately 34 1/2” x 24”. I love cutting canvas because it easily tears in straight lines. Position the canvas on the tiki bar roof so it evenly overhangs each of the sides. Fold over the corners and staple them to the posts.
Step 12: Install lighting hook
The final step is adding a hook in the center back of the roof for a light. Pre-drill with a 5/64” drill bit and twist in the hook. Add a second hook on the side of one of the posts to hold the cord, and hang your light. We chose the geometric hanging light project from last year.
That’s it! Just grab your favorite drink recipes, any other decorations you want to add, and your family, and you’ve got yourself your very own tiki bar party. For more fun projects for your backyard, check out this nesting chair, these string lights, and this all-terrain bar cart.