Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Project: Bunker Relocation

For quite a few years now I've been collecting whiskey, primarily bourbon. To clarify, I mean a collection to drink, not to shelve or sell. Said collection has been sitting on storage shelves (as seen in the pic roll) in my basement storage room that whole time. Recently, I decided it was high time to put the collection out on full display. I had recently disposed of a pool table and ended up with a large space in half my basement that could serve as space for a Bunker Bar.

Now, let me state right up front that I am not a carpenter, cabinet maker or professional wood worker. What I am is an avid reader and tinkerer and have done small wood working projects over the years. The Bunker Bar is by far my largest endeavor.

The space selection for the Bunker was easy as I had a large wall to work with. I determined the center spot where the bar would go, marked the walls and laid out the base framing using standard 2x4 studs.

For the cabinets and bar, I used 3/4 inch oak plywood. When selecting the panels, I was somewhat picky looking for veneer that was detailed with unique grain patterns. For the trim I used solid oak 1x2 inch and 1x4 inch boards for the bottom and top trim.

The shelving units measured 4 ft wide, 7 ft tall and 18 inches deep. Due to the width of the shelving, I had to accommodate for weight and sag. Anything over 36 inches in length needs to have additional support. My design consisted of a honeycomb pattern for the shelves producing a cubby hole effect.

After building the initial cabinet frames, I cut panels that would sandwich the shelves between measured panels (as seen in the drawing to the left) which would provide support and accommodate for the 1x2 inch oak trim.

Going back to my opening statement that I'm not a professional wood worker, my first mistake was not checking to see if the wall was plumb; it was not which affected the bar cabinet forcing me to make shims and cuts along the way to ensure everything was level.

After everything was assembled, I began the staining process using MinWax Colonial Maple giving the wood a more reddish hue over the typical golden oak. At first I wasn't sure I liked it but as I progressed, the color started to grow on me. Now that it's finished, I really like the color overall.

After the staining was completed, I allowed it to dry overnight. I contemplated applying a second coat but I had allowed the stain to penetrate a full 15 minutes which allowed for a deeper color saturation. I used a shop vac to vacuum all the surfaces of the shelving and cabinet and then used a tack cloth to wipe down everything to ensure there was no debris left behind in preparation for polyurethane application.

I used a water based polyurethane for two reasons; smell and cleanup. I really can't tell that much of a difference in application or final finish between water and spirits based so I took the easy way out. When applying poly on wood for the first time, you will notice after drying that the wood feels rough to the touch like it needs sanding. This is because the poly soaks into the wood raising the wood fibers which causes the rough surface. Using a 320 no load sandpaper, I gently sanded all surfaces after allowing for the full drying time. After the light sanding, I repeated the shop vac and tack cloth process to remove all dust from the sanding. I applied the second coat of poly, allowed to dry and then inspected in order to determine whether I wanted to go for a third application. I decided to stop at 2 coats in order to avoid too much of a mirror shine from the wood as I was going for a more natural look.

After final very light sanding and clean up, it was time to start loading up the bottles. It took a couple of passes and moving bottles around to get everything to fit. My initial calculations on how many bottles would fit were slightly off but for the most part, everything fit on the shelves. I added a mini fridge that will hold some craft beer and the cabinet next to the mini fridge will eventually be converted to a humidor (later project). The last addition was a barrel from Four Roses that came from one of our barrel picks from last year.

The final touches included a leather couch and loveseat with ottoman, an "Ali Baba" throw rug and track lighting to illuminate the hoard. I'm happy with the overall results although there are some mistakes that I'm not happy with but I figured the bottles will keep attention away from the little things I did wrong. It was a fun project but quite a lot of work. In the end, worth the money and time investment.

1/18/13: Made a minor modification shown here.


  1. A really cool bar, Greg, which will give you pride and joy for many years to come! It does't get more manly than that -- both building it, and the way it looks in your den. I am worried, however, about those 80%+ empty bottles of good stuff, they won't last too long before the whiskey goes flat and lifeless. If the whiskey is still good, save it in some small bottles (see, and bring those custom-bought bottles of good stuff from your Kentucky pilgrimages to the fore. Kudos, once again!

    1. Florin - you make a very valid point. I do have quite a few bottles open and I do reduce to smaller bottles at times but not nearly enough. I have friends and family over often enough that those bottles do get emptied at some point. I'm headed to KY the week after next and will certainly have a box of bottles to bring and share.

  2. Awesome work Greg! It turned out beautifully, and the hoard is as impressive as always.

  3. Duuuuuuuuuuuuude!!!! That looks awesome! Huge tip of my cap to ya. The hoard is even more impressive when properly (and prominently) displayed. Makes my collection look pretty weak hahaha.

    I gotta ask though... You state that the collection is to drink - with all that you have on those shelves there, is the hoard like a "retirement hoard"? What I mean is, does there come a day where you just stop "hoarding" and just live off what you've collected, one bottle at a time? Sort of like retiring? Or, if you have children, does the hoard get passed on?

    1. Steve - As I've said many times "It's never cheaper than it is today". That's one of the main drivers behind my purchasing. Your assumption is correct, the hoard will take care of future drinking well into retirement. I actaully did a unscientific calculation of my current rate of drinking against the amount of whiskey I have in the Bunker and it came out to something like 34 years on the shevles. My yearly rate of consumption is something along the lines of 8 bottles or so yet I add somewhere in the neighborhood of 40+ bottles to the bunker each year so I'm simply adding additional years at this point. In the end, when I'm well into retirement, I'll be enjoying and sharing great whiskey.

    2. Love it! Congrats again on a great project.

  4. Awe inspiring on many levels. I'm just speechless... and jealous...

  5. Nothing beats the satisfaction of finishing a project like this- and only you will lice whatever small mistakes you made, so don't point them out! The hoard looks great on display, good work.

  6. That is beautiful woodwork and a wonderful collection. Congratulations on a successful project.