Serve patio guests from a deck island

This handy island has room for storage and can double as a bar

By Adrian Jones

deck island

Photo by Roger Yip

Think of your deck as a roofless, part-time room with several full-time jobs. For many of us, it’s sometimes a kitchen, and it’s been known to turn into a tanning spa on a sunny day, then change into a family room for a warm summer night.

My portable island can help with all the demands placed on a deck. It takes centre stage during meals, provides counter space next to the barbecue and offers hidden outdoor storage for condiments, sunscreen and the latest bestseller you have on the go.


Getting Started

Begin by preparing stock for the outer sides of the project, including the stiles and rails that form the two back frames, the front frame and the two doors. I used 4/4 rough cedar for all these parts, planed down to 13/16". You could substitute standard 3/4"-thick lumber if you need to.

At this stage, either side of each frame could face in or out. The choice is still yours. Decide which faces look best, then rout the opposite ones with a 3/8" rabbeting bit all around the perimeter. (This side will be the inside of the frame.) The 5/16"-deep x 3/8"-wide rabbet will accommodate the acrylic panels you'll add to the frames later.

Prepare the legs, which you will glue to the assembled frames. Cut five legs in all, each 1 1/2" thick and 32" long. I used 8/4 cedar (a full 2" thick when rough) for this job, but you could glue up thinner wood if need be.

Trim both edges of the assembled centre frame to a 45º angle on your tablesaw, then fasten one front leg to each edge using #20 biscuits and glue. Continue by joining the other legs and panels in the same way.

If you're working with rough stock, dress it smooth and square, then cut each piece 2" longer and about 1/4" wider than the listed length to allow for dressing the edges and ends later.

I made a point of picking 6"-wide boards for this project, since the stiles and rails are 2 3/4" wide. This way you can efficiently get two slats out of each board, with only garden-mulch shavings as waste. Cross cut the stiles to 29 1/4" long (they're the same for both the doors and back frames), the back frame rails to 16 1/4" long and the door rails to 7 1/4" long.

All inner stiles are a little thinner than the surrounding members-11/16" instead of 13/16". This separates them visually from their surrounding frames by creating a shadow line. It's a subtle difference, but worth the trouble at the planer.

With all of the frame parts prepared, glue them up into five separate assemblies using a single #20 biscuit at each joint. Be sure to use weatherproof glue.

When the fifth frame is clamped up, start cleaning glue squeeze-out off the first one. Tackle this job now, while the glue is soft; cedar is delicate, and you could easily cause damage if you try to scrape off fully hardened glue.

Frame it Up

The top frame comes next. It's made of five pieces of cedar, arranged into a frame joined with #20 biscuits at the mating edges. Start making the back corner by gluing the top frame right and left side pieces together so they form a 90º angle.

The side top frame pieces run parallel to the back two, but you need to cut 45º mitres on their front ends before attaching them. Then add the front top frame piece to finish. You need to end up with a frame that's the same size and shape as shown in the plans, with notched corners. Don't move to the next part of the project until you get the top frame right.

Bottom to Top

The bottom of the cabinet is made from 5/8" exterior plywood. Although it is a rough construction material, I chose it because it's water-resistant. The completed polygon top frame makes a great template for the bottom. Both need to be exactly the same size and shape. Trace the top frame onto the ply, then cut the shape.

Glue up enough cedar for the 20"-diameter round shelves and saw them to shape.

The shelves on the inside of the island spin on a lazy Susan bearing. To keep this round idea in mind, I made the shelves circular.

There are two jigs that will help you to make a perfect circle. The first is for your router. It is an extended base that allows the router to swivel around a centre point. The second option is for your bandsaw. This jig features an adjustable rail that will guide the blade to cut

Cut the eight shelf arms and central post. Fasten them together using #20 biscuits, and when the glue is dry screw the assembly onto the shelves. Support the shelves by adding the 3/4" x 1 1/4" vertical filler strips glued to the central post and the edges of the shelf arms. Set the completed shelf assembly aside for now.

Consider giving the bottom a little attention with a belt sander before you install it. Not only did I sand it, later on I also covered mine with a 1/4"-thick slice of cedar, which I cut on my bandsaw.

Attach the top frame to the bottom with the leg-and-frame assemblies, using #20 biscuits. As you work, ensure that the top frame sits 1/16" below the top edge of the assemblies. This makes for a tighter fit when you screw down the top from the inside later.

Prepare the top of the project now. Remember to orient the grain of the top so it runs parallel to the front edge of the island. Rout the edges to smooth away the sharpness by adding a chamfer. These details look good, reduce damage to the deck island and save you from bumps during use.

Working with Acrylic

Next, cut sheets of acrylic plastic (Plexiglas is one popular brand name) to fill in the frames and doors. This material is available at hardware stores. You can cut acrylic plastic on any tablesaw, but you need to be careful. Be sure to use a featherboard to hold down the material during a cut, as the plastic tends to lift as you slide it over the blade. A 80-tooth triple-chip blade in your saw will cut well.

Be sure to leave the protective paper on the acrylic until you're ready to install it. Unlike cutting wood, a slightly faster feed rate produces a better cut. I always use a mask when cutting acrylic because of the smell, and I schedule the work at the end of the day, to let the odour dissipate overnight.

The corners of the acrylic panels are square, and they have to be rounded to fit into the router-cut rabbets you milled to support them. A belt sander is ideal for this. I rounded one piece to test for fit, then I clamped a bunch together in the vise and belt-sanded them all at once to the same shape. This speeds up the job and offers a wider surface for the sander to sit on.

You can make the acrylic opaque, as I did, by using a random-orbit sander spinning a 220-grit disc. Consistent movement and light pressure creates the best results. Sand and oil the wooden cabinet parts before installing the acrylic panels. When ready, secure the panels with a bead of clear silicone caulking. Orient the sanded face of each panel inward.

Final Details

Slip the shelf unit in from above, set on a 12"-diameter lazy Susan bearing. Install the doors (I used 2 1/2" zinc- plated hinges), and fasten the top with #10 x 2" screws driven up through the top frame from inside the cabinet. I installed a magnetic push catch to hold each door closed. This eliminates the need for a door pull.

When you have finished, place the newest member of your deck team in its place by the barbecue.

Tools & Materials

Part Material Size (T x W x L*) Qty.


Top cedar 1 1/4" x 26 1/4" x 26 1/4"** 1
Legs cedar 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" x 32" 5
Back panel rails cedar 13/16" x 2 3/4" x 16 1/4" 4
Top frame right side cedar 13/16" x 2 3/4" x 23 1/8" 1
Top frame left side cedar 13/16" x 2 3/4" x 20 3/8" 1
Side top frame pieces cedar 13/16" x 2 3/4" x 14 3/4" 2
Front top frame pieces cedar 13/16" x 2 3/4" x 9 1/2" 2
Outer stiles cedar 13/16" x 2 3/4" x 29 1/4" 10
Door rails cedar 13/16" x 2 3/4" x 7 1/4" 6
Inner stiles cedar 11/16" x 2 3/4" x 23 3/4" 9
Bottom exterior ply 5/8" x 23 1/8" x 23 1/8" 1
Panels acrylic 5 mm x 2 7/8" x 24 1/2" 14

Inner Shelf

Shelves cedar 3/4" x 20"-dia. 2
Central post cedar 1 1/4" x 3 1/2" x 12 3/4" 1
Shelf arms cedar 1 1/4" x 3 1/4" x 4 1/2" 8

* Length indicates grain direction

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Serve patio guests from a deck island

Illustration by Len Churchill

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