Introduction: Awesome Rustic Cooler From Broken Refrigerator and Pallets

Picture of Awesome Rustic Cooler From Broken Refrigerator and Pallets

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.


  • 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

Picture of Tools and 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


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


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.

Step 2: Breaking Down the Pallets

Picture of Breaking Down the Pallets

Breaking down the pallets can be a bit of a challenge considering how well they're put together. The method that seems to work the best or me is to cut through the deck boards where they attach to the side stringer boards of the pallet. This leaves only the middle stringer and the deck boards attached and with a bit of leverage and some hammering you can easily separate the deck boards for use in your project.

Step 3: Processing the Pallet Wood

Picture of Processing the Pallet Wood

Once the pallets were dismantled, the next step was to process the deck boards so that they were 25.75" long (the width of the refrigerator. To do this we assembled a quick jig for the cop saw that allowed us to index the boards to the correct length quickly so that all of the wood could be processed as efficiently as possible. We also left a few deck boards uncut so that they would be long enough to use for trim pieced in a later step.

Step 4: Taking Apart the Refrigerator

Picture of Taking Apart the Refrigerator

Dismantling the refrigerator is a pretty straight forward process, basically just take out the screws and most of the electronics and shelving pull right out. One very important thing to be aware of though is the Freon lines. It is Illegal to cut Freon lines and allow the gas to escape into the atmosphere! Getting caught doing so will warrant a hefty fine, and more over, it's just a bad idea as you're polluting the air and the environment. In our situation the refrigerator we used was left in the basement of my sisters newly purchased house and the previous owners decided for some reason to cut the lines before leaving so we didn't have to contend with Freon removal. However if you're thinking about tackling this project and don't already have a busted Freon free refrigerator at your disposal fear not, there are safe ways to deal with the Freon. Check out the links below to learn how to safely remove Freon from your refrigerator. I think these guides were built for the purpose of scraping the refrigerator for metal, but they'll work just fine for this project too.

Refrigerator Freon Removal Guide

Refrigerator Cooling System Removal Without Cutting Refrigerant Lines

Once you have the refrigerator stripped down you're ready to start the next step, painting!

Step 5: Painting the Refrigerator

Picture of Painting the Refrigerator

Painting the refrigerator isn't a necessary step, the reason we chose to do it was because the bright white enamel of the refrigerator was very visible where the unfinished edged of the pallet boards came together and the white showing through the boards made the project look very unfinished. If you're lucky enough to have a black refrigerator for this project then you can skip this step otherwise, grab a sander to rough up the surface of the refrigerator and about 4 cans of flat black spray paint and get to work.

Note: try to avoid spraying the gaskets that seal the refrigerator doors. The paint may cause the gaskets to seal less effectively making your refrigerator/cooler less effective.

Note: Don't worry to much about getting a perfect coat of paint. most of the refrigerator is going to be covered by wood, the only goal of the paint is to cover up the thin spaces the will be visible where the pallet boards don't quite meet. The last picture on this step is the finished paint job we moved forward with and as we you can see, it isn't all that pretty.

Step 6: Adding the Pallet Wood Siding

Picture of Adding the Pallet Wood Siding

With the refrigerator painted black, the next step was to start covering the sides, top, and bottom of the refrigerator with the reclaimed pallet wood. We started by laying out the cut pallet boards to see how they would fit together on the side of the refrigerator. Making them fit together, and making everything look good, took a bit of time as some of the pallet boards had to be fit together like puzzle pieces. Once everything looked good we started attaching the boards using a combination of liquid nails and 1 1/4" wood screws. The screws were long enough to go through the outer casing of the refrigerator, but not so long that they would puncture the inside cooler compartment, the screws also provided clamping pressure to ensure a good bond between the liquid nails, wood, and refrigerator.

The top and sides of the refrigerator were very easy to cover with wood, (the only small hang up was accommodating the door hinge on the top of the refrigerator which required a bit of router work to make one of the boards fit properly). The bottom of the refrigerator proved to be a little more work as we had to frame some parts of it in with 2"X 4"s before we could add the pallet wood siding.

Step 7: Covering the Doors With Wood

Picture of Covering the Doors With Wood

Covering the doors of the cooler with wood is pretty similar to covering the sides with the only real difference being that it takes a bit more craftsmanship to keep everything looking nice. We started by covering the edges of the doors, cutting the pieces so that they were 3/4" wider than they needed to be. This extra width worked to hide the cut edges of the 3/4" thick pallet boards that were used to cover the front faces of the doors. Lastly once the front faces and edges were covered, trim boards were added along the edges of the doors to give everything a finished appearance.

Step 8: Building the Base

Picture of Building the Base

One of the most important considerations when building this cooler was a way to make it portable so that it could be taken to different parties or events as needed. no that end, there is an under-structure made of 2" X 4"s that supports the weight of the cooler and also provides mounting points for casters.

Step 9: Water Proofing

Picture of Water Proofing

One of the bigger challenges of this project ended up being waterproofing. Believe it or not, refrigerators are not built to be waterproof when laid horizontally, there are holes for wiring, holes for attaching ice makers, and apparently just some holes for no other reason than to make the process of water proofing a refrigerator just a little bit harder. Never the less, with a little time and a lot of caulking we were able to seal everything up nice and tight. The smaller holes were easily sealed with a dab or two of caulking, the larger holes required a combination of PVC plugs and caulking, and the largest hole ended up being used to create a really handy drain so that the cooler can be emptied of melted ice and water by the twist of a handle. Once everything was sealed and the caulking was given sufficient time to cure, the cooler was filled with water to check for leaks, any leaks found were fixed with more caulking and once everything was water tight the cooler was almost ready for use.

Step 10: Adding the Finishing Touches, Handles, Chalk Board, & Rope Lid Support

Picture of Adding the Finishing Touches, Handles, Chalk Board, & Rope Lid Support

With all the major work done, the last step of the project is to give the cooler a little character and charm. Heavy duty handles were added to both the cooler bay lids to make them easier to open, rope catches were added to keep the lids from opening too far, and a chalk board was added to the front to let people know what would be available inside the cooler.

Step 11: End

Picture of End

Thanks for taking the time to check out my instructable on how to turn an old refrigerator and a few scrap pallets into an awesome rustic party cooler. This was a really fun project to work on and it has already proven to be a useful addition to our summer evening cook outs and other parties, not to mention that it also a great conversation piece and really catches people off guard when they open the cooler like to find what use to be a refrigerator.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them in the comments section below, I enjoy hearing from you guys so don't be afraid to post! Also, if you enjoyed this project please consider throwing a vote my way for the "Before & After", "Summer Fun", & "Summer Food and Drink" Contests.


RickBlacker (author)2016-07-31

Awesome, only downside to a fridge that big is all the ice it would take to fill it. 8)

dwleo (author)RickBlacker2017-12-10

make a stand inside with mesh so the ice and items are above the bottom of the fridge/cooler. Depending on size, you could only use half the ice of an open one.

RobC5 (author)RickBlacker2016-07-31

Well you could just use the freezer section for ice and main body for storage for the smoker or grill :)

jgderuvo (author)2017-03-28

That's brilliant. But you'd have to have a lock on it to prevent little ones from climbing inside.

Smees69 (author)jgderuvo2017-04-06

No you wouldn't. One reason is that this does not lock like old fridges, and also, there would be holes where the melted ice escapes from.

pjbuilds (author)Smees692017-07-07

Yes, it should absolutely be locked for safety. When putting a fridge out on the street for disposal pick-up, you'll be advised to remove the doors even in the upright position. A small child could get into this and be unable to open the door, especially with it placed on it's back. The small (possibly closed) hole for water drainage might not be sufficient to prevent suffocation. Additionally, heat stroke or hypothermia are also possibilities in periods of extended entrapment. Better safe than sorry.

rosscop (author)pjbuilds2017-07-09

Fridge doors with magnetic strips do not even remotely resemble the old fridges from the 40's...50's...60's. Those fridges were definitely a safety issue when disposing as were deep freeze units. The doors had a positive lock that only opened from the outside. Today's fridges and freezers do not apply.

jef400dread (author)2017-02-23

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)?

Matt2 Silver (author)jef400dread2017-02-23

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.

spagel (author)Matt2 Silver2017-07-07

The compressor has oil in it, and when you turn it on its side, the oil doesn't lubricate the compressor motor properly (like if you ran a lawnmower on its side). Also, the oil is more likely to travel throughout the refrigerant lines and contaminate the expansion valve. So, while it may work on its side, it probably won't work on its side for very long.

ScottJ129 (author)jef400dread2017-03-02

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

mmcmullen1 (author)2017-07-07

Love this! Could see a business where customers can select wood, hardware and finishes. Upcycled refridgerators and wood to make a cool cooler!

TomB27 (author)2017-07-07

I would just turn the compressor upright in relation to the fridge and plug it in,the coils on the back(now bottom)would be elevated from the ground with a new base,the coils will work in any position but the compressor needs to be standing up.

qorlis (author)2017-07-06

Two things that occur to me are: because of the size an weight, this should be placed in a position where it won't need to be moved much like, say, a deck or patio. As the author said, the casters were not appropriate for the grass surface on which he tried to move it due to the weight of the unit. The other thing that I thought about is: why put a spigot on it to drain it? Wouldn't a drain hole with a plug to keep vermin out work? Allowing it to drain as the ice melts would save some work and possibly money. Also, it would keep food from getting waterlogged from melt water leaking into it.

ourdawntreader (author)2017-07-06

Possibly installing padlocks for safety reasons when not in use ?✌

JenniferDawn (author)2017-03-16

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????

JeffD172 (author)JenniferDawn2017-05-10

The french door thing would make it awkward to open and reach in. I would scrap the doors and build you own. It's not as if these thing are designed to keep you milk from spoiling. Some thin plywood, foam insulation and a couple of hinges would do the trick, ok I over simplify but you kinda get the idea.

jef400dread made it! (author)2017-03-19

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" wood/drywall screws to attach pallets to the fridge. I used enough 2" and 3" 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.

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 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.

I do really like it though, and am looking forward to the first time we get to use it.

desertdwlr (author)2017-03-01

don't forget to mount a bottle opener on it.....

ShielaW1 (author)2016-10-02

Sounds good might make it

Frédérik-AndréS (author)2016-09-23

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

Fixerupher (author)2016-09-20

What would you do with a side-by-side fridge?

DianneS25 (author)2016-08-27

This project is amazing! Thank you so much for showing us how basically easy this is to do!

AJLM (author)2016-07-31

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).

LibbyB2 (author)AJLM2016-08-01

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.

AJLM (author)LibbyB22016-08-01

Ok! I'll run it past them!!

AshleyC129 (author)2016-07-31

Suggestions on how to get rid of the water when it needs to be emptied?

AndyM46 (author)AshleyC1292016-07-31

You can recycle it using a long straw, offered to your guests

RobC5 (author)2016-07-31

Gonna search for a Dorm Fridge. Thanks Awesome Job.

LesB (author)2016-07-31

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.

bparrot (author)2016-07-31

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.

Radardog (author)bparrot2016-07-31

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.

amariller (author)2016-07-31

Great job, Matt! I'm going to keep my eyes open for a busted fridge and make one too!

alastair.stewart.7146 (author)2016-07-31

A simply brilliant idea. Thanks for such an informative video. Well done!

norris720 (author)2016-07-31

Norris720 how do you make clearance for door when attached to fridge door?

netcdigiam (author)2016-07-31

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!

loony1 (author)2016-07-31

Heckuva nice project! This is quite inspiring and a super recycling opportunity. Thank you for sharing. Additionally, your Sandlot t-shirt is AWESOME!

Rowan_Winterhaven (author)2016-07-31

There are no words for how badly I need this on the back deck. Now I know what to do with the "spare" fridge when it finally dies on me. Great work on this!

StephanePicher (author)2016-07-31

Awesome tuto, with all the details needed, thank you!

It's really a shame I don't need to build it, although I will bookmark the idea.

WMB106 made it! (author)2016-06-30

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.

later..A few minor touched this weekend and I am done. This Idea ROCKS!!!!

Geralyn_D (author)2016-02-09

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!

themanwoaname (author)2015-10-02

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.

byrdman997 (author)themanwoaname2016-02-08

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.

DanS74 (author)themanwoaname2015-11-15

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!

DanS74 (author)themanwoaname2015-11-15

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!

ILykMakin (author)2016-02-07

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?

bsoons (author)2015-12-31

here's my take on it, ply as the sides and angle iron to frame off the lids

wthwaites86 (author)2015-10-21

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 :)

DanS74 (author)wthwaites862015-11-15

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!

LorrieD1 (author)2015-11-14

I have an old fridge and this looks like a project for me... I'm looking forward to the finished result yah!!!

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