Instructables

DIY- Portable Toolbox Grill- Improved!

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My idea of a great family vacation doesn't include fancy hotel rooms or fine dining.  Hubby and I are literally happy campers sleeping under a ceiling of stars and a quiet campfire to light the night.

Every Fall, we take a roadtrip south-of-the-border to sunny Baja California Sur.  The 3-4 day trek often involves overnight camping, and outdoor-grilling goes along with the territory... no matter where the territory is.

When I first saw a portable Tool Box Grill online, I loved everything about it.  I wasn't at all surprised to hear a familiar inner-voice say "You can make that!"... and the rest is history.  Well... my history, anyway. ;-)

Here's how I built my new/old, 100% recycled, portable $8 $19 Tool Box BBQ Grill with the improvements documented in Steps 9-12.

Special thanks to Jan Halvarson for featuring my Portable Toolbox Grill in the Summer DIY Projects article published at WIRED.COM.   I am honored! ;-)






 
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Step 1: Materials and Tools

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Here's the list of materials and tools I used to build this project, along with the price breakdown.

Materials:
  • 1 old Steel Tool Box- local Thrift Store- $2
  • 2 Steel grates*- Recycled (Free)
  • 4 Stove bolts, 4 washers, 8 nuts-  Husband's stash
  • Aersol Paint Remover- Hardware Store- $5
  • Heat-resistant Stove Paint- leftover from previous project
  • Sugru- Prize from Instructables!
  • 2 Pot Holders- Dollar Store- $1
  • Magnets- craft stash
  • 4 Rubber stoppers- craft stash
Tools:
  • Safety Glasses
  • Reciprocating Saw
  • Drill and bits
  • Right angle drill
  • Paint scraper/putty knife
  • Wire brush
  • Wrench
  • Ratchet and Socket
  • Elbow grease ;-)
*Safety Precaution: It's a good idea to thoroughly fire/burn a grill grate that's been repurposed from a freezer or refrigerator before grilling food on it.  Above all, stay upwind and don't inhale smoke from any burning substance.  It's just common sense, really. ;-)

Step 2: Sizing Down the Grates:

I love my Dremel rotary tool... but I have visions of impending death when it comes to operating large, hateful, limb-severing power tools.  It's a good thing my DH (dearheart) is a retired builder and highly proficient with these flesh-eating electrical beasts.  Besides... somebody has to take pictures, right? ;-)

The grill grates used in this project are recycled.  Both are steel.  One was hacked from the warming rack of an old BBQ grill and the other came from an old freezer.  Both appliances were already DOA, so it's all good! 

Time to power up the menace-tools!  

Safety glasses on???  CHECK!!!

The interior of the tool box measures 8" by 17" at the top and 8" by 19" on the bottom.  It has a nifty compartment welded inside that will work great for holding a pair of tongs.

DH used a reciprocating saw to cut both grill grates down to size accordingly and remove the excess cross bars.

The lower charcoal grate needed short "legs" to raise it up off the bottom of the tool box.  To accomplish this, he clamped 1" of the bar end in a vise, then he bent the whole grate over.  Easy-peasy... at least he made it look that way. ;-)

Step 3: Positioning the Grilling Grate:

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I wanted ample clearance between the grilling grate and the closed lid of the tool box.

2 pairs of parallel holes were drilled 2" down from the top of the tool box; one pair at each end. 

To position:  The grilling grate is inserted into the holes at one end and pushed through. Then the other end of the grate is dropped down, inserted into the holes on the opposite side and pushed through.

The grilling grate has a clearance of  2+" so I can grill with the lid closed on most meats.  

(Sorry if my instructions here are as clear as mud.  Please see the pictures.) 

A right angle grinder with a sanding disc was used to smooth the sharpness left from drilling.

Step 4: Paint Removal:

Initially, I thought I'd only be dealing with a couple coats of spray paint.  I was so excited when the aerosal remover started to work it's magic... until it stopped cold at paint layer number 3... or was it 4?  I lost count.  

This tool box had multiple paint layers that weren't "spray" paint at all... and they weren't going to leave peacefully! 

I scraped, I wired and I fired the tool box with less-than-satisfactory results. 8-/

Time to pull out the big guns... which is what I probably should've done in the first place. (Live and learn!) 

The right-angle grinder and sanding disc made quick work of the stubborn residual paint inside and out.  Except for the inside corners where the disc couldn't reach, the tool box cleaned up beautifully.

I am proud to inform you that I stripped the paint off all by myself!   I managed to overcome my Ergalilektriphobia (Fear of Power Tools with a name I can't pronounce either) ... and it was actually rather fun... kinda like temporary insanity! ;-D

The stripped tool box was so pretty... and so shiney!  

lol... TOO shiney!  Time to repaint the outside with high-heat stove paint and add some legs. 

Step 5: High-heat Painting:

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I used high-heat (to 1200° F) stove paint on the outside of the toolbox. I wanted to keep this prototype as simple/low cost as possible.  I know... flat black is a little boring, but I already had this Rustoleum product on hand.

There are several brands of high-heat enamel and ceramic engine coatings (paints) on the market. They come in all different colors and finishes, but they are a bit more spendy than almost-free. ;-)  

Be sure to check the temperature specs before purchasing any high-heat paint.  This is not a one-size-fits all product.

Certain fuels, such as lump charcoal, burn hotter than generic charcoal briquettes.  Seasoned wood (like mesquite and oak) also burn hotter... and faster.

That said, if my Tool Box Grill ever gets run over by a semi-truck or swept away by a tornado, I'll definitely fancy up the new build with a glossy red or blue ceramic finish. 

Step 6: Leg Construction:

DH drilled 4 holes into the bottom of the tool box; one at each corner. 

He fastened the stove bolts "legs" through the holes using a ratchet, a socket and an open-end wrench; leaving a  4" rise between the ground and the bottom of the toolbox.

The bolt legs were sturdy, but they were also slick-footed.  Not-so-good for the tailgate grilling I had planned.

What the feet needed were skid-proof "boots" that would withstand some heat.

I found some heavy rubber plugs in my craft stash.  They fit snugly on the feet, which was a huge plus.  I heat-tested one in a 400° F oven for 12 minutes.  It came out only slightly worse for the wear; a tiny bit misshapen but still pliable after cooling.  

The rubber "boots" were going to work just fine. (she said with her fingers crossed. ;-)

To help keep the boots from getting knocked off, I worked Sugru into the well around the plugs and let them cure overnight. (Sugru is heat-resistant to 365° F)

For the sake of clarity (and sanity), some pictures in this step are tagged. ;-)

Stove paint (sprayed on the the bottom of the tool box and the legs) was all that was needed to complete this project... almost.

I still had some small finishing touches to add. →

Step 7: Finishing touches:

Ventilation:  2 holes were drilled into each end of the Tool Box Grill, positioned just below the charcoal grill/rack inside.

Secure the grilling grate:  The upper grilling grate is removable and slides into place from the inside of the tool box.  Actually keeping it securely in place was the challenge I faced.  Just "being careful" wasn't going to cut it.  I'm not exactly graceful

The easiest solution was a magnet insert, placed inside the compartment where the grate bar slides in.  The grate bar butts up against the magnet insert and stops. The opposite end of the grate bar is then effectively "locked" securely in place.  

When the grate needs to be removed, all I have to do is push the magnet insert aside and slide the grill grate back and out. Problem solved.

I also wanted to be able to seal off the ventilation holes during transport.  Magnets seemed like the best choice for this, too.

More Sugru:  To make the magnets more visible (and help keep them from getting misplaced), I applied a thin coat of white sugru around them.

Potholders:  Since this grill is a little more hands-on than your average Weber, potholders will undoubtedly be my BGF.(Best Grill Friend).  

Unfortunately, potholders get lost... potholders get misplaced... and occasionally, potholders get stolen!  (j/k. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention ;-) 

To 100% insure I wouldn't ever be without my BGF's, I gorilla-glued a magnet to each potholder as shown. In the event the gorilla glue* doesn't hold, I shall perform delicate potholder surgery and sew the magnets inside.  

*Update: The Gorilla glue did not survive the heat test. Surgery successful. ;-)

Step 8: Fire in the Hole!

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Grilled Top Sirloin, cotc and baked potato... it's what's for dinner! 

My Top Secret Rub (steak brushed with EVOO, sprinkled generously with Garlic seasoning salt and rubbed with 1 T brown sugar on both sides) really is top secret.  I'm sorry... I just can't reveal everything

I can report that my Tool Box Grill produced beautiful results!  I think I can let the pictures speak for themselves. ;-)

Special Thanks to my husband... and to Instructable Members: Steveastrouk, Burf, Vyger and Iceng for helping me bring this fun project to fruition!

This Instructable project doesn't claim to be the best way or the only way to build a homemade portable Tool Box Grill... it was just my way.  I'll keep checking the local thrift shops for another grilling grate in case the freezer grate doesn't hold up... knock-on-wood. ;-)

If you have suggestions or comments (beyond "Don't quit your day job!"), please feel free to share them. ;-)

UPDATE! Thanks so much for stopping by and thanks for visiting again!  

The next few steps are the improvements I've made.

Step 9: Adding a Wooden Handle:

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The metal handle of this grill got really hot... even just sitting in the sun.  That definitely needed a remedy.

I cut a section from an oak broom handle and hollowed it with a drill . Next, I used a dremel to cut notches on the underside.

The metal handle was cut diagonally in half and reattached through the oak handle with a syringe filled with JB Quick Weld. I used a sturdy rubber band to act as a vise.

Taaa Daaa... new, safe, heat-proof handle! 

Step 10: New Paint Job:

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I've been so happy with the performance of this grill, I decided a new paint job would be part of this much-deserved make-over.

I found red Rustoleum Caliper (engine) Paint that was heat resistant to 900 degrees. 

Not wanting to strip the existing paint (again),  I tested the underside of the grill, spraying several coats of caliper paint right on the top of the stove paint.  After a hot test-fire there was no peeling or bubbling. (yay!;-)

The color of the caliper paint changed from bright red to brick-red, which I actually liked better!

Step 11: Improved Lid Control:

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The original design limited my ability to control the grill's air flow.

I only had two choices... either open or closed.... and I wanted a happier medium.  (I prefer "happy".) 

I drilled a hole though the side of the grill and attached a small open-end wrench inside with a stove bolt, washer and nut.

The lid can now be safely propped open and I can control the air flow much better.  Since this grill is portable, I can position it with regard to directional wind and even rain! 

Step 12: Last step: External Thermometer

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I'm a pretty decent grill cook, but I've had a lot of practice.  My husband is an entirely different story.  The man's got a million amazing skills, but grilling isn't one of them.  He can ruin the most beautiful piece of meat without even trying! (Sorry, honey... but it's true.)

To assist him in sharing the grill duties, I bought a $5 grill thermometer and attached it to the front of the grill with JB Quick weld.  It won't guarantee me a wannabe-medium-rare Rib-eye, but at least it's a step in the right direction! 

Enjoy your Summer and Happy Grilling! 
This looks great. Good job! I have made a few ammo can grills from another users post. I gave them as gifts to some camping friends of mine. I will be making one of these for my mechanic at work.
bajablue (author)  mattbrown7771 year ago
Thanks so much, Matt!

If you get a chance, check back on this project next weekend. I've got some great improvements in the works.
nthumbsucker6 months ago
i made mine with an ammo can. Great to see a like minded people.cheers! :)
bajablue (author)  nthumbsucker6 months ago

Agreed! ;-)

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Does this last?... Like does the bottom eventually "burn out"?
bajablue (author)  Improvisation1 year ago
Hey Haughy... my vintage toolbox is heavy-duty... it's still in great shape after dozens of fires!
Tfs271 year ago
Cant wait to go tool box hunting at the flea market this weekend!! love it!
bajablue (author)  Tfs271 year ago
That's half the fun! Good Luck! ;-)
This is soo cool.. Nice work!
bajablue (author)  SlickSqueegie1 year ago
Thanks, Slick! I am honored you approve!!! ;-)
Very clever design. I thought you did some amazing work adding that wooden handle. Thanks for the inspiration.
bajablue (author)  stripedstarfish1 year ago
Yikes! Sorry for this tardy reply, stripedstarfish. I don't know how the heck I missed your comment... but in 2 words: Thank you! ;-)

Mihsin1 year ago
Great Instructable, great idea, and nature loving tool when not using charcoal in it. I always use wood scaps and building lumber etc. I shall start using this plan from scratch.
Best regards.
bajablue (author)  Mihsin1 year ago
Thank you for commenting, Mihsin. I had a lot of fun building this grill... I hope you do, too! I'd love to see a pic of your finished project!

Mary
osusssster1 year ago
You need to stay upwind not downwind of any possibly dangerous smoke.
bajablue (author)  osusssster1 year ago
Of course you are right!!! Major fopah that I shall rectify now. Thanks so much for the heads up!!!!
sunshiine1 year ago
Thanks for sharing this. It is small and very functional!
Sunshiine
bajablue (author)  sunshiine1 year ago
It'll work as a portable campfire, too!

Thanks sunshiine!
My son-in-law will appreciate that!
Jayefuu1 year ago
Lovely build!
bajablue (author)  Jayefuu1 year ago
Hey! Thank you so much James!!!!!!!!
this is a cool idea. thanks for sharing
bajablue (author)  redknight19711 year ago
Thank you for your nice comment, redknight! :-)
SpagoPizza1 year ago
It really looks cool and you can really impress your friends with that :-)
bajablue (author)  SpagoPizza1 year ago
Thank you Spago... I'll be improving it over the weekend, so stay tuned if you're so inclined. ;-)
Einarjon1 year ago
How are these magnets holding up?
I always hear that magnets lose their magnetism permanently if they are heated up beyond a certain point. Some googling says that even 15 min in a 300F/150°C oven can greatly reduce it. What's your experience?
bajablue (author)  Einarjon1 year ago
Hi Einarjon,

I've grilled in this toolbox twice.  The insert-magnet is still holding strong.

Since I don't have a thermometer on the tool box grill, it's hard to gauge the temperature/heat that's been generated.  

I decided to test an identical magnet (from the same blister-pak) in my oven, which is accurately gauged. :-)

The magnets I used measure 3/4" in diameter and are 3/16" thick.

I preheated the oven to 350° F for 10 minutes.  The magnet was attached to a stainless steel bowl and baked for 15 minutes.

After cooling to room temperature, here's a picture of the results. The magnetic ability is still very much intact.
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ehudwill1 year ago
I love this kind of project. Making a grill portable using a tool box...genius!
bajablue (author)  ehudwill1 year ago
You say the nicest things, MrH.  

I just wish I was the original genius! ;-)

Thanks for commenting!
Dorado391 year ago
I like this very much.
bajablue (author)  Dorado391 year ago
Thanks so much dorado... I do, too! ;-)
Youngberg11 year ago
just a word of caution... Some refrigerator/ freezer racks contain chemicals that are poisonous when heated over open flames. I am not sure whether this is over the long term or short term, but I think that I would not chance it if it were me... a viable option is to get a replacement grill sold in the outdoor section of any walmart or home depot/ lowes

Cadmium poisoning
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1929634/
bajablue (author)  Youngberg11 year ago
Thanks for your comment, Youngberg! I'll be sure to include your caveat in my edit later this week.

I've grilled 2 meals and all is well... no dead bodies. ;-)

I did some research and found that cadmium "inhalation" can cause toxicity. Obviously, it's never a good idea to inhale any fumes from any burning source.

Did you know that cigarette paper contains cadmium, too? Another good reason for smokers to quit!

I'm particular about breathing fresh air, so no worries here. ;-)

Clever! I love it... Its cute as heck. :-)
bajablue (author)  canucksgirl1 year ago
Hey... Thanks CG!!!! ;-)
iceng1 year ago
Very nice job and your DH too, for assisting with the limb threatening power tools..
Does this mean you will no longer be listening to your toolbox while grilling ?  
Or is that where you get your hot ideas ?

A
bajablue (author)  iceng1 year ago
Dang... I forgot to say "Thank you", so here goes:

Thank you, Iceng! ;-)
bajablue (author)  iceng1 year ago
lol... my beloved Tool Box has gone into hiding. He must have been eavesdropping when I told DH I wanted to hack a tool box into a BBQ grill.

Poor thing probably thought I was talking about him! ;-D

I miss my DREMEL and screwdrivers. He'd better come back soon!
Supposedly the only way to destroy a magnet's magnetic properties is to heat it. I've never tried but let us know if the magnets hold up in the BBQ.
bajablue (author)  caitlinsdad1 year ago
Hi Caitlinsdad,

I considered that and researched it. Heating above 270 degrees F can affect the magnetic lifting power of a magnet by 22-25%.

I figured since I wasn't using the magnet to "lift" anything, it was worth a shot.

So far, so good! I just took a picture of the magnet insert... and it's still functional.

I uploaded the pic four dang times, but unfortunately there's an annoying system bug that likes eating them. 8-/