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In this instructable I'll be showing you how to turn an old broken refrigerator into an awesome rustic cooler, great for parties, bonfires, and all of types of outdoor festivities. This project is easy to tackle and best of all it doesn't cost a lot to build as most of the materials are recycled or reclaimed. This is also a great weekend project as it should only take a day or two from start to finish and doesn't require any specialized tools beyond standard wood working tools like drills, drivers, and saws.

Features:

  • It can be used as a small or large cooler depending on the size of your party. Intimate get together with friends? Just use the freezer space to chill a few beverages and some snacks. Big Ol' Shin Dig? Open both the freezer and fridge spaces to create a huge cooler to chill all sorts of beverages and goodies. Just add ice.
  • Sturdy flat topped lids are just the right height to double as an impromptu table or food preparation area.
  • 4 heavy duty casters allow for the cooler to be easily moved
  • When left open, the indoor fridge shelves serve as a great place to sort condiments or extra stacks of cups.
  • After use the cooler can easily be drained of melted ice via a drain value installed in the bottom of the cooler.
  • it looks great!
  • It's only $40 to make (if you happen to have an old broken fridge laying around, if not hit Craigslist).
  • Front chalk board lets guests know what you have to drink/eat.
  • Sturdy handles and rope lid supports make the cooler easy to open and keep the lids from opening to far.

And if you enjoy this project please consider voting for it in the "Before & After", "Summer Fun", and Summer Food and Drink" Contests. Thanks!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Materials

One of the best things about this project was the cost of materials, pretty much nothing! The broken refrigerator was left in the basement of my little sisters new home, and the pallets for free to take from a local business. Really the only things that had to be purchased were a few cans of spray paint, some caulking, a few plumbing fittings, two 2" X 4"s, and some casters. All told, the cost of this project was somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 and considering how big this project is I think that's pretty cost effective.

Old Refrigerator - Make sure the Freon has been properly removed, more info on this in step 4.

Pallets - You'll need about 4 pallets to get enough wood for this project.

Screws - 1 1/4" wood screws work well for this project

Caulking

Liquid Nails

Casters - To make it move.

2" X 4"s - For framing in the bottom of the fridge and to build the base the cooler sits on.

Misc PVC/Brass Fittings - Used to construct a drain at the bottom of the cooler for easy draining after use.

Rope and Eye Bolts - To keep the cooler lids from opening too far.

Black Spray Paint

Tools

The tools for this project are pretty standard and are things that most people who like to dabble in making and wood working probably already have sitting in their workshop.

Drill/Driver - Pilot holes and driving screws.

Chop Saw - Useful to cut perfect 90 degree ends on the prepared pallet boards.

Circular Saw - For breaking down pallets.

Sander - for knocking down rough edges on pallet wood and for roughing up the fridge for painting.

Caulking Gun - For plugging holes in the refrigerator to make it waterproof and for applying liquid nails.

Pry-Bars and Hammers - For breaking down pallets into usable lengths of wood.

<p>First, this was NOT a cheap project. Despite locating a fridge and 7 pallets for free on Craigslist, and already having three 8' 2x4s, and some spare 2x6s and 2x12s, I spent well over $100 on the odds and ends. The casters alone were almost $40 and are already grossly inefficient. I had some screws, but you go through at least a 1lb box of 1 1/4&quot; wood/drywall screws to attach pallets to the fridge. I used enough 2&quot; and 3&quot; screws to need to buy another box of each. To increase the interior volume, I removed the fiberglass shelves attached to each door. This left exposed fiberglass insulation. I covered it with looks like a plastic version of fiberboard (found near Plexiglas in big box home stores). I chose this because it was the cheapest material that was more rigid than cardboard. The 3'x6' sheet was about $17. Two tubes of silicone sealant (that I haven't used yet) were about $13. Two cans of flat black spray paint. In the event that I want to use this, and not fill it with hundreds of pounds of ice, I built some stands out of spare lumber, where I've set some closely sized bins. I found a 40qt bin for the freezer side, and used a pair of 66qt bins for the larger fridge side. Tack on another $25 for the bins.</p><p>The second thing I'll note about this project is its weight. I don't have the specialized tools to legally remove the freon running though the system. Because of this, I didn't remove anything from the fridge except for the door shelves. I could move the fridge by myself before I started. I could roll it around my garage. I was able to lift enough to get it on my tailgate and drive it back and forth from my garage to my shed in the back of my yard. But once I've added 7 pallets worth of wood, and 2x4 framing, I cannot lift this thing. I was hoping I'd be able to roll it from my garage around the grass covered side yard and onto my stone patio. The instant those front casters hit the grass, this thing dug in. I attempted to lift one side, to see if getting it onto my tailgate would be possible...no dice. I considered tying it to my lawnmower and dragging it to the backyard, but I'd very likely have a pair of tilled up drag marks across my lawn. This is going to take at least 2 if not 3 strong men to hoist on a tailgate. I used a pair of screw eyes, and 3 pieces of paracord for a door catch. They'll be fine for the smaller freezer section, but that fridge door is pretty heavy. I used 3 eyes (2 on the base and 1 on the door) for this door. Time will tell if it holds.</p><p>I do really like it though, and am looking forward to the first time we get to use it. </p>
<p>I just so happen to have an old (10/1996) frige that I am getting rid off, however it has FRENCH DOORS!!?? I totally love this idea and I have an outdoor summer party every year that this DIY idea would be great for! But my old frige has french doors any specs on how to do the same to a french door frige???? </p>
<p>Regarding the questions about building ice shelves or filling the whole thing with ice...and this maybe a dumb question...but is there any reason why you can't NOT dismantle the fridge? Could you build all this cladding on a working fridge, plug it in and allow it to keep your (few) bags of ice and food cold? Would attempting to operate the fridge outside and on it's side cause a problem (other than the obvious, don't leave it plugged in and running during a rain storm)?</p>
<p>just get an old freezer (not an upright type) that still works and dress it up the same and you can plug it in and keep everything frozen all the time on your deck</p>
There is actually a reason that you cannot operate the fridge on it's side, it has to do the the coolant pump. when the fridge is tipped on it's side it messes up the pump so that it doesn't circulate the coolant properly. I'm not sure of the exact issue or mechanism at play that causes this, but if you buy a new refrigerator this is the reason that the box says not to tip the fridge.
<p>don't forget to mount a bottle opener on it.....</p>
Sounds good might make it
<p>That would also be use as a cold smoker on the big side, plug in the cold smoke adapter from bradley, and you got yourself a pretty asome unit</p>
What would you do with a side-by-side fridge?
<p>This project is amazing! Thank you so much for showing us how basically easy this is to do! </p>
<p>Please give me suggestions on how to use the larger part. I can see where the formerly known as freezer part comes in; but the larger sized one... In short I'm going to try to sell this idea to my bosses at the retreat center where I live, they'll want to know what I'm thinking. (The only thing I can see so far is having more ice at the bottom, overlaying a water proof item, and keeping larger food items cool).</p>
<p>I am thinking that a couple plastic storage containers could be placed upside down in the bottom before adding ice. Then all you'd need to do is put your large bowls of salads, etc. into the ice for perfect buffet style serving, with drinks in the small side. The storage containers would serve to keep paper and plastic products, tablecovers, party lights, etc in easy storage inside the cooler between parties.</p>
<p>Ok! I'll run it past them!!</p>
Suggestions on how to get rid of the water when it needs to be emptied?
<p>You can recycle it using a long straw, offered to your guests</p>
<p>Gonna search for a Dorm Fridge. Thanks Awesome Job.</p>
Awesome, only downside to a fridge that big is all the ice it would take to fill it. 8)
<p>Well you could just use the freezer section for ice and main body for storage for the smoker or grill :)</p>
<p>The electric motor in an old fridge is very recyclable. It's full of valuable copper wire. You could even get dinero for it by taking it to a metal recycling yard. </p>
<p>It's a great idea. But, looking back I didn't see any mention of safety to keep a child from getting trapped in it when not in use. I would suggest using a hasp and padlock to secure it. Use a hasp longer than needed, so when locked it will also support the door open slightly to allow the cooler to dry and prevent mold.</p>
Most Refrigerators don't have a locking feature. Only much older models would. Just push up and it will open. For safety sake or to make you more comfortable just drill a couple of 1/2 inch holes where you can't see them to insure air can get in.
Great job, Matt! I'm going to keep my eyes open for a busted fridge and make one too!
<p>A simply brilliant idea. Thanks for such an informative video. Well done!</p>
Norris720 how do you make clearance for door when attached to fridge door?
<p>This is a great idea to recycle an old fridge... was thinking it would be great for storing outdoor furniture cushions when not in use. When using as a cooler, your would be using the cushions anyway! Love it! Thanks!</p>
Heckuva nice project! This is quite inspiring and a super recycling opportunity. Thank you for sharing. Additionally, your Sandlot t-shirt is AWESOME!
<p>There are no words for how badly I need this on the back deck. Now I know what to do with the &quot;spare&quot; fridge when it finally dies on me. Great work on this!</p>
<p>Awesome tuto, with all the details needed, thank you!</p><p>It's really a shame I don't need to build it, although I will bookmark the idea.</p>
<p>I called around to have a broken fridge removed from my basement.. NYC estimates came in around $100 - $150 to remove.. WTF.. After extensive search (aka google) for a solution I stumbled on this pix read every word. Two weeks Im almost done. </p><p> later..A few minor touched this weekend and I am done. This Idea ROCKS!!!!</p>
<p>This would also be an attractive unit to pack with insulation and use as a Wonder Oven and remembering our family get togethers this would have had numerous dishes cooking or staying hot and handy (a turkey/ham, Baked Mostaccioli etc). I would opt for using chopped straw pillows rather than foam pellets though... Reusing with Style and imagination! </p><p><a href="http://www.backdoorsurvival.com/slow-cooking-with-the-amazing-wonder-oven/" rel="nofollow">http://www.backdoorsurvival.com/slow-cooking-with-the-amazing-wonder-oven/</a></p>
<p>has anyone asked about what you do to deter mold? I have a fridge in the garage that i hardly use and if i store it with the doors closed it gets mold.</p>
<p>Mold grows where there is food for the mold. if you're getting mold in an unused fridge, it's feeding on old food particles. It just needs to be scrubbed and sanitized with bleach, 1 Tbsp/gal water will be fine and food safe, and should deter any new growth.</p>
<p>We have an old fridge and an old freezer, both rarely used. Simply chock the door open a few inches with a board or rolled up towel, then loosely tie a rope around the fridge door to hold it in place and keep the door from swinging open. It only needs to be open far enough to let air go in and out so that it will dry, and you will be mold-free!</p>
<p>We have an old fridge and an old freezer, both rarely used. Simply chock the door open a few inches with a board or rolled up towel, then loosely tie a rope around the fridge door to hold it in place and keep the door from swinging open. It only needs to be open far enough to let air go in and out so that it will dry, and you will be mold-free!</p>
<p>Wouldn't cladding a little, or massive, chest freezer, already leak proof with a spring loaded door in place be a better appliance to use?</p>
here's my take on it, ply as the sides and angle iron to frame off the lids
<p>I agree with themanwoaname's question. What to do to deter mold in the future??? Aside from that...excellent instructable! I definitely plan on doing this :)</p>
<p>We have an old fridge and an old freezer, both rarely used. Simply chock<br> the door open a few inches with a board or rolled up towel, then <br>loosely tie a rope around the fridge door to hold it in place and keep <br>the door from swinging open. It only needs to be open far enough to let <br>air go in and out so that it will dry, and you will be mold-free!</p>
<p>I have an old fridge and this looks like a project for me... I'm looking forward to the finished result yah!!!</p>
<p>I made this one out of a camp trailer fridgerator.</p>
<p>I voted for it! Very neat idea! Cant wait to try it out myself! </p>
<p>Congratulations on the win :~)</p><p>Well done!</p>
<p>Thanks CraigRJess!! And thank you very much to everyone who voted, commented, and supported this project, you guys rock!!</p>
This 'ible is an AMAZING idea!!! I am extremely excited to try my own version out :-D (I'm also extremely tempted to head out to the kitchen right now and &quot;accidentally&quot; break our refrigerator so I can build one, but I'm pretty sure my wife would ground me from ever going in there again if I did lol). The question of ice was brought up before, my refrigerator is 14.25 cubic feet, and if my math and the information I was given is right, that's about 280 pounds of ice... Did you happen to have an ice shelf in yours?
<p>Haha, I'm glad you liked the project! Yea probably not a good idea to break the fridge, when I explained the hot sand bending process to my fiance' the first thing she said was that I'd be grounded from the kitchen if I ever used one of her good pans for something like that, so i'm sure the wrath from fridge destruction would be much more severe. Oh and yes I did build a shelf inside my cooler to take the pictures as I wanted the food and beverages to sit up high so the cooler would look really full. normally I'd just fill the cooler 1/4 full, or fill it with a combination water and ice, or I'd fill plastic totes with ice and then set them down inside the cooler, all three of which would be great solutions and would prevent the need for a dump truck full of ice. Thanks for your comment!</p>
Thank you for your 'ible :-) This is, to date, one of the absolute best I have come across :-D my boss, two of my coworkers, brother, wife, and I ABSOLUTELY love it :-) (I've been telling everyone I know about it lol)
<p>Voted! I was going to do this with a cooler, but I love this idea way more! Great job!!</p>
<p>Project looks great and would be a fun deck addition. I was wondering however how much ice is required to fill the fridge up to the top? Did you fill it completely or did you build shelves or something to reduce the overall volume?</p>
<p>that is really awesome! I love the rustic look, and its so useful. great job man! </p>
<p>I think this is wonderful! Thank you</p>

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