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How To: Creating an Outdoor Kitchen

Steve Watson "takes it outside" with a custom outdoor kitchen.

Add some style and function to your back yard with an outdoor kitchen. In this project, Steve Watson and crew turn an ordinary grill area into an outdoor kitchen with prep area and cabinets.

Before: The dated add-on solarium has ceased to be a functional part of this home.

Materials and Tools:

3/4" BCX grade plywood (7 sheets)
1x2's (48; 8-ft.)
caramel-colored cultured stone
casters (12)
2" carriage bolt sets (48)
mortar
air compressor with hoses
table saw
power miter box
brad gun
framing nailer
brick trowel
measuring tape
pencil
safety glasses

The cabinets for the outdoor kitchen are covered in cultured stone and topped with a butcher-block style work surface.

Basic Design

Once you've decided on the basic layout that will work for your space, take measurements to design a suitable work are. In the case of our project we built around the existing grill, so we fashioned matching "wings" to form two work surfaces adjacent to the grill, each with cabinet storage underneath. The two wings were placed symmetrically on either side of the grill, with one side providing easy access to storage and the other concealing a refrigerator. The cabinets were built from plywood, then sheeted with a caramel-colored cultured stone exterior. Cultured stone is lightweight and easy to apply to most surfaces.

We built the cabinet units on lockable casters to make them mobile. Note that the final height of the units will include the height of the casters and the thickness of the countertop material used. In our case, the casters added four inches of height, and the cabinets were topped with two-inch thick countertop.

Building the Cabinets

Assemble the pressure-treated plywood pieces so that there is a ledge on the bottom to accommodate the stone. (In our case, we left a two-inch ledge on the sides where stone would be installed.) Assemble the boxes using wood glue and a brad nailer. Install the casters.

Figure A

Installing the Cultured Stone

Once the cabinet boxes (the "carcasses") are assembled, you can start laying the stone. This type of stone can either be glued on using construction adhesive or set in place using mortar. The construction adhesive method is faster, but we opted to set the stones using mortar.

First, Steve recommends applying a coat of chemical-blocking primer top the wood boxes. Since these cabinets will be used in an area where food is being prepared, the primer will help ensure that no chemicals will seep out of the pressure-treated wood.

Once the primer has dried, we applied metal lath to the exterior of the boxes. The lath, secured to the wood surface using staples, provides a better surface area for the mortar to adhere to and results in a stronger, more sturdy structure.

Figure B

With the lath secured, begin mortaring and laying the stone on the two-inch ledge you created at the bottom, and continue to the top of the box.

Finishing Touches

For the work surface on the cabinets, we installed a two-inch thick butcher-block style countertop. With the stone applied and the surface and casters installed, simply roll the grill and the cabinets into place, and you're ready for entertaining.

Don't Sweat It Pro Tip: Plywood Alphabet

CDS, ACX, BCX? Just what do all those letters mean, anyway?

The letters you frequently see associated with plywood are the ratings for different grades of wood. The "X" in plywood ratings signifies that it is exterior grade plywood meaning, among other things, that it's made with exterior-rated glue. The first letter in the series refers to the finish side (i.e., the "good side") of the plywood sheet, with "A" being the highest rating — meaning that it is the finest finish. The second letter refers to the back side, and is typically "C" except in the case of cabinet-grade plywood.

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