Who among us hasn't stood in awe at the local sporting goods store, taking in the mountainous stack of ruggedized ice chests blocking most of an aisle? All of a sudden, ice chests are something we care about, right? Nobody used to give them a second thought, but now, out of nowhere, ice chests have emerged as the one piece of outdoor gear by which our manliness is gauged. Forget your skinning knife, camp hatchet, and trailer hitch toilet seat. Ice chests are the new barometer of cool.
Then you look at the price tag.
SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR AN ICE CHEST!!! Are they smoking crack? Yeah, it's bear proof, and yeah, it keeps ice longer, but I can replace a LOT of ice and ice chests for $600!
By way of this Instructable, I will let you in on a little secret: You can actually make these things yourself. What is more, you can do it almost entirely out of garbage! That's right, you're basically saving $600, which can then be spent on other overpriced outdoor gear. Let's kick this mule!
Step 1: Get Your Styrofoam on
I live near a municipal recycling collection point, where the city has huge dumpsters for cardboard, plastic, and paper. I go there when I need a box for shipping or gifting.
Pretty much every time I'm there, I see Styrofoam shipping containers in the cardboard dumpsters. I don't know what they were used for. Probably medical waste or something.
So for this Instructable, I went down there and found two Styrofoam boxes. These are medium in size, but you can pick whatever size you want. One box is small enough to fit inside the other box. Unfortunately, the bigger of the two did not have a lid. Or at least I couldn't find it. It doesn't really matter all that much anyway.
Step 2: Integrate and Insulate
Center the smaller box inside the larger box. Fill the gaps between the two boxes with expanding foam.
I got this expanding foam as a graduation gift from my friend Karen. She's an archaeologist who specializes in animal remains. She has a large collection of animal skeletons, but was in need of a raccoon. I found a road killed raccoon recently and smuggled it to Karen in a student's laundry bag. Karen was thrilled. The student was not. For reasons that still make no sense to me, Karen decided to store the dead raccoon in my large ice chest until she could deflesh it. She later washed the ice chest out, but I told her she could keep it. So this Instructable is dedicated to Karen and her raccoon, and the finished product will be donated to her for the future storage of dead animals ("nature's garbage").
Anyway, once the gaps were filled with expanding foam, I let it sit over night. By morning, the foam had expanded above the rims of the now-joined Styrofoam boxes. I got a plastic, serrated knife out of the trash and used this to cut away the foam until it was flush with the box rims.
Step 3: Armoring (vertical)
Now, if you just wanted a run-of-the-mill ice chest that will keep ice frozen for up to a week in 100+ degrees, you would be done at this point.* However, it does not yet look very ruggedized, militarized, or kick-assedized. Enter the exo-skeleton armor.
I went back to the recycling collection center and found a bunch of angled cardboard pieces. I don't know what to call them. If they were metal, they'd be called "angle iron," but they're not metal, so maybe we should call them "angle cardboard."
Cut four pieces of angle cardboard to fit vertically onto each corner of the ice chest. Using Liquid Nails or some other epoxy and affix one brace to each corner. Use duct tape to hold them in place while the epoxy dries.
*Not a reasonable estimate
Step 4: Armoring (horizontal)
Now cut some angle cardboard to fit horizontally along the upper edges of the ice chest. Glue and tape these in place.
Ideally, I would have done the same thing around the bottom edges, but I didn't have enough angle cardboard left. I was really kicking myself because I thought for sure I grabbed enough, even though there was a lot more. I toyed with the idea of going back to get more, but didn't. I told myself that I didn't want to take the time to drive over there, but the truth is that some guy was giving me the stink-eye on my last trip, and I think there's some ordinance against taking things out of the recycling bins. Heaven forbid someone recycle stuff from the recycle bin!!!
Step 5: Texturizing
You now have a fully functional, ruggedized ice chest, but it looks like it's made out of garbage.* Time for a little rattle-can razzle-dazzle.
I went straight to Plasti Dip because I had part of a can left. Turns out Styrofoam just soaks this stuff up. In retrospect, I should have maybe used a brush-on primer, followed by some truck bedliner or something along those lines. In fact, I'll do that in the future and post an update.
Anyway, you can see the finished product here. Pretty damned impressed, aren't you? That's right. You too can build one of these testosterone-packed, envy-inducing ice chests for next to nothing.
*It is made out of garbage
Step 6: Evaluation
Once the ice chest was complete, I tested it out to make sure it performed as well as the $600 ones.
Criterion 1 - Is it rugged and protective?: Yes. I lugged the chest up onto the roof, filled it with Fabergé eggs, and threw it off. No damage.*
Criterion 2 - Does it keep things cold?: Yes. I opened it and found a penguin living inside.**
Criterion 3 - Is it bear proof?: Yes. A koala bear cried, pounded his tiny little fists on the ground, and passed out after several unsuccessful attempts to make entry.***
* This didn't happen
**Not true. Do not seal penguins in airtight containers.
***That's a complete lie, and koalas aren't even really bears. No koalas were made to cry during this Instructable. The ice chest made of garbage actually is very well insulated and should keep ice frozen for long periods of time. It's January, so I can't really test that, though. If suspended from a long branch in a tall tree, the ice chest should be bear proof.