Introduction: Mini Fridge for a Camper Van or Desktop!

I wanted to make a mini fridge to use while working in the workshop or in the office, but it could also fit nicely for a camper van!

Supply list:


Take care when dealing with electronics, especially mains power. Make sure you know what you are doing, or consult an expert. If the AC power plugs connects with the aluminium foil or anything else that conducts power, it may be lethal if touched.

Step 1: Planning the Electronics

It's always important to plan and test the electronics before actually making the build, so I made sure to hook everything up like in the schematic before starting to build the fridge. When I knew how to connect what, I could move on to make an appropriate design.

Step 2: Cutting the Styrofoam Pieces

As you can see from the sketches, I'm not having it stand upright as most of the other mini fridges I've seen, and this is because I want to try to avoid letting the cool air flow out every time I open it. With this design and the lid on top, most of the cool air will stay inside the fridge, and it won't take long to cool it down again.

The first thing I had to deal with was the styrofoam insulation that would make the whole inside of the fridge. The first shape I created was the one shown in the second picture, which would be the main room. It should be just big enough to fit 5 half litre bottles of soda.

I built a styro slicer mainly for this purpose, and I'll probably need it for later projects. It's an awesome tool, it cuts foam and styrofoam like butter, and it's easy to use. If you want to know how to build this tool, you can check out King of Random's video on how to make it here.

This particular styrofoam that I chose to use is very thick, so I had to split it in half, making sure to push it against an angle so the cut became straight.

Step 3: Gluing the Main Compartment

When I had all my pieces for the main compartment, I had to glue it together. I found this glue called Multibond that in addition to gluing also fills any small gaps, and it works on most materials. It had to dry for a couple of hours before I could deal with it further, so in the meantime I had time to cut and split some more styrofoam that I could use later.

Step 4: Cutting the MDF Bottom Piece

I also had time to make a bottom piece out of MDF. I began cutting a square that fit my measurements, and then I had to cut and drill some holes in it. Four holes in each corners for the legs, first of all. To figure out where to cut holes for the fans of the cooling modules, I had to line them up properly.

Step 5: Figuring Out the Positions

Just testing out the placement of the main components of the build before continuing.

Step 6: Fitting the Cooling Modules

When I had lined the fans up properly, I had to cut some holes in the styrofoam where they would enter the main compartment. This was easily done with a utility knife. I made sure to make extra space around them on the inside as well.

Step 7: Making Space for a Snack Shelf

Nice, the fit looks pretty good. I just had to make one more cut in this piece before gluing it on. This will make room for a snack shelf right above the cooling modules. I glued it on, making sure to get the Multibond into all the cracks to avoid air leakage later.

Step 8: Cutting Holes for the Fans

Now that I had the proper placement of the fans, I could finally mark them up on the MDF, and cut the center circles out. That's quickly fixed with a drill and a jigsaw. The warm air will now be able to escape through the holes on the bottom.

Step 9: Finishing Up the MDF

Here are the "legs" I used, which are actually just knobs for cupboards. I'm going to use a couple of aluminium parts that'll match, which I think will look really good in the end. I fastened all the legs, and now on to the lighting.

Step 10: Making the LED Channels

I wanted the fridge to light up whenever I opened the door, and therefore I need some lighting that's well incorporated in the design, so I chose to use these angled channel holders for LED-strips. I just used a tiny piece of styrofoam to cover the top, and I could cut them to the right size with a hacksaw. I chose to use regular cold white LED strips for this, and attached a couple of long wires to it.

Step 11: Fastening the LEDs

The cables needed a path to the outside, and the soldering iron did the job. Before attaching the LED channels, I added this aluminium tape to the corners. This will cover the whole inside eventually. I pushed the wire through the hole, glued the channels to the corners, and then the tiny styrofoam piece at the top. Finally, not forgetting to push as much multibond I could into the hole to prevent air leakage, again.

Step 12: Aluminium Tape

This is the difference with and without aluminium tape. The reason I'm using it is both because it looks a lot better and because it is heat reflecting. I'll cover the whole inside with this tape eventually.

Step 13: Making Paths for the Cables

Here I'm just making some paths for the cables so it will sit flush against the MDF when I'll glue this whole compartment to the bottom. I'm also checking what the lights looked like (don't worry, I made sure to check if they actually worked before gluing it in place). As this main compartment is done, I can glue it to the MDF with the Multibond.

Step 14: Clean Up and Attaching the Cooling Modules

The electronic refrigeration modules had 4 red and 4 black cables each that made a bit of a mess, so I cleaned that up using shrink tubes. I added a terminal at each of ends of the groups of 4. They looked a lot better with after the clean up.

At the opposite end of the terminals, I added another cable that'll extend to the thermostat. At this point, I could fit the modules in place and screw them to the MDF. There was a tiny gap at the bottom, and to make sure all the warm air flows through to the bottom, I added some tape and hot glue around them. I hot glued the foam around the front to the styrofoam as well.

Step 15: Hooking Up the Thermostat

Time to hook the modules to the thermostat, and you can see clearly how to do that in the schematic above. I hooked up both the modules, and a separate cable that'll go to the power supply. As you can see I'm splitting that wire in two, so the power supply can power both the thermostat and the modules. All of them are connected to a common ground. The placement of the thermostat is just temporary, by the way. I moved it later.

Step 16: The Power Supply

This is the cable that will be the main power source for the fridge, and it will go to a power inlet of the same type that's used in computers and computer screens. I stripped the wire, and added this wire terminal that's easy to connect to the power supply. The supply I'm using is a 12V 15amps AC to DC power supply. You can find that above in the supply list.

Step 17: Finishing Up the Electronics

Here I've hooked up everything to the power supply. I ended up adding a momentary push button to the LED strips later, which you can see in the schematic. There's also one loose cable there, which will go to another power inlet that'll take 12v. I also made sure to place the sensor of the thermostat inside the main compartment close to the bottom before continuing

Step 18: Completing the Snack Shelf

Let's move on to the snack shelf. I just made sure to get the right measurements, and then the same process went here, with the styro slicer and multibond. To give it some support I added two tiny pillars to keep it in place. Now that the whole styrofoam shape is finished, I could cover the entire inside with the aluminium tape.

Step 19: Acrylic Glass Exterior

The whole thing will be covered with 5mm acrylic glass, and I used this scoring knife to make nice and straight cuts. When I thought the cuts were deep enough, I could line it up against the edge of the workbench, and give it a hard push with a plank to make it break. It worked every time. It didn't take long before I had the four pieces that would make the exterior.

Step 20: Designing a Logo

I want our channel name on the front, so I downloaded the font I wanted, typed in our YouTube channel name and made some small changes in Photoshop before printing it out. I should have printed one regular and one mirrored version, and you'll see why in a second. I cut all the letters out mirrored in white sticker paper.

Step 21: Taping on the Letters

The reason I made them mirrored is because now I can stick them to the inside of the acrylic pieces, and this way the outside surface is plain glass that'll look shiny and be easy to clean.

This is where I should have had a mirrored printed version, because it would be easier to line up the letters when taping them on. I managed to tape them on correctly anyway, so it wasn't a big issue. As a final touch, I'm adding some wave shapes to give it more detail.

Step 22: Drilling Air Holes

On the back I need to include some air holes to let the air through. I made a grid, and drilled holes at every cross. I thought this would suffice, but later I figured I had to include holes on the left and right sides too to keep it cool enough. If I had known, I'd do it at this point.

Step 23: Painting the Acrylic

I clear coated it first, and when it was dry I had to paint over the stickers with white acrylic paint because they were a bit transparent. After that I used red spray paint for automobiles, and finally a thick layer of clear coat.

Step 24: Preparing the Fridge for Gluing

While the paint dried, I could prepare the fridge for gluing. I removed the aluminium tape on the top square to further prevent the cold from escaping. Also adding more tape to the outside for insulation. On the front part I added 4 magnets that'll push the lid down, and covered it all with white tape.

Step 25: Final Drilling in the Acrylic

Now I got the plug in the mail, I could mark it and make a hole for it. The small hole on the left will be a power socket where I can connect a 12V power supply, and a car battery for example is perfect for this inlet. The other one, which I'll use more, is the AC input. Also making a hole for the thermostat display, as I'm moving it, like I said before.

Step 26: Gluing the Acrylic

All I have to do now is attach the front and side pieces, and let it dry. I'll make the back piece detachable so I can access the electronics. Overnight I tested four different types of glue, and after pulling them apart, only one was standing, so that's the one I'll use. It's a glue meant for plastics like acrylic.

Step 27: Completing and Attaching the Back Piece

I fixed up a couple of angles with a spacer and nut, and glued those with strong metal epoxy, making sure not to get any on the screw. In the meantime, I could cut some aluminium angles with a hacksaw, and glue them to the acrylic front with plastic glue.

When the metal epoxy had dried I could remove the screws, and glue the angles to the inside of the box. With a piece of large paper I could mark the holes, and drill them in the acrylic back piece. It fit, and I could add the corner angles here too, making sure to not get any glue on the sides.

Step 28: Connecting the Wires and Power Plugs

I added another type of terminals to the wire on the AC input. These will be easy to connect to the power inlet, and they're fixed firmly in place with a crimping tool. Now I could just insert both my power inlets and hook them up with their wires.

The thermostat is supported by spacers, and I made sure that I was able to see the display from the other side when gluing it on with hot glue.

Step 29: Hinges for the Lid

The lid will be kept in place by some hinges, and I just have to make space for them at the top of the back. To remove mass I used my Dremel, and finished off the shape with a file. When I had the right fit I could glue it on with the plastic glue.

Step 30: Creating the Lid

The lid will consist of two pieces of acrylic attached together with double sided tape. I quickly cut two pieces and drilled holes for the hinges on one of them.

I wanted the logo on the lid as well, but this time I used our Silhouette Cameo 3 to cut it out instead of the scalpel. As shown already you don't need this tool, but it makes cleaner cuts. I attached the letters on the bottom layer of acrylic, so it sits inside the air seal between them.

Finally I added the double sided tape and the top acrylic piece, drilled the holes through, and the lid is finished!

Step 31: Sealing It Tight

To seal the lid tight enough I used self adhesive rubber seal meant for sealing doors and windows. Then I added magnets on top of the other ones, that I could cover with glue before putting on the lid. The lid was fastened to the hinges with screws, spacers and nuts. I made sure to remove the rubber seal undetneath the screws to be able to push it shut, and then I glued on an aluminium door handle.

Step 32: The Momentary Push Button

The only thing left for me to to was to hook up the momentary push button that I'd got in the mail, and you can see how and where it's hooked up in the schematic above. The most important thing is that it's normally closed. Its function is to make the lights turn on only when the lid is opened, and turn them off when it's shut. This means I'm actually finished, and I can finally enjoy peeling the plastic off!

Step 33: Final Thoughts

So I have been using the fridge for a while now, and it reaches temperatures around 6 celsius degrees in about 30 minutes without anything in it. When there's something that needs to be cooled, it takes a little longer, and the other way round; when you put something cold in it, it cools down faster.

The thermostat saves some energy, but I wouldn't consider this particularily energy efficient, but I imagine it is something that will be useful on a desk, on LAN-parties, or in a camper van. If you really pay attention to the insulation, I think its possible to get it to a decent energy efficiency, and I could probably have done more to really optimize it.

Overall I think it's a nice and useful mini fridge, and I'll probably use it when working long hours in the workshop or in the office, for example, but I probably won't leave it on permanently. Thanks for reading, hope it was worth your time!

Comments

author
CraftAndu (author)2017-08-20

Awesome!

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Rsoba (author)2017-08-19

But how much money you spent? You Can buy mini fridge in amazon for 90€ and you aprox spent more

author
salmansheikh (author)2017-08-14

Incredibly detaled build. I'll vote for it

author

Detailed

author
jerry.ericsson2 (author)2017-08-14

Looks very cool indeed. I had planned on building one for our water bottles in our motor home when we are on the road, save opening the fridge when on gas, but while I was awaiting some parts from China, the wife drug me to a garage sale, and I found a nice 12 volt system for twenty bucks, could not pass that one up, and it does a wonderful job on both 12 and 120 volts in our rig. We winter in Arizona so cool water is a must even in the winter time.

author
hafizan89 (author)2017-08-14

Great instructable!

Reminded me of my little peltier fridge project I did when I was in college.

Yours was far FAR FAR better than mine.

I did have major problems with condensation here in the equator.

I did move towards a liquid cooling solution and that one had a meltdown due to leaks.

hahaha

author
RichardK47 (author)2017-08-14

Keep in mind that Peltier units only cool to about 40 degrees (F) BELOW AMBIENT TEMPERATURE. This means that if it is 100 degrees Fahrenheit in your camper van on a hot summer day, it will only cool down the contents of this "fridge" to about 60 degrees. So probably not a good idea to put perishable food in it during the summer. Sodas/shelf-stable stuff only!

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dimjimc (author)2017-08-14

Wow! Love it. Thanks for the submittal. Superior presentation.

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Flyinseamnky (author)2017-08-14

Awesome!

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PaulG97 (author)2017-08-11

I would love to have you make me one. I think that it is a great thing

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JohnE12 (author)2017-08-11

Great 'ible; thanks for sharing..very professional appearance... gets my vote. Thank you.

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Pa1963 (author)2017-08-10

Does this cool/heat to lower/higher temp than the Peltiers used in most store-boughten electronic coolers? Those will usually cool or heat 40 deg. above or below ambient temperatures. Nice 'able!

author
Asger1002 (author)Pa19632017-08-11

This is a regular peltier module but with heatsinks on both sides. The beefy one on the hot side, and small one on the cold side. It will likely cool similarly.

author
amgleft (author)2017-08-10

Very cool! How much did it cost to make when it was all done?

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Natural Nerd (author)amgleft2017-08-11

Hmm, I don't have a total. All the products I used are in the first step, the things that don't have a link is really of varying price depending on where you live. Like glue, MDF, acrylic, etc. Some of it I had before as well, so its hard to make an accurate estimate

author
BobH160 (author)2017-08-11

Absolutely brilliant, I like the lights you installed, they made all the difference.

A tool you may be interested in is a Blind Rivet Nut gun it rivets nuts into a material to provide a simple method of attachment. The problem with the cooling units mounting and leaving a space could have been alleviated by using adhesive PU closed cell foam tape.
You did a great job, very professional and liked that you wore a mask for protection when using adhesives that give off fumes. 5 stars

author
BobH160 (author)BobH1602017-08-11

ps, when using fans and have to work out the number of holes to drill. Take the area of the fan blade housing as that is the sqmts it will move and drill enough holes to equal that area. Hope that helps.

author
RobertT68 (author)2017-08-10

Great product huny~!

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danys_ (author)2017-08-10

Very cool project!

What was the minimum temperature you could log into the fridge?

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Natural Nerd (author)danys_2017-08-10

Thank you!

Lowest was about 5.7 degrees celsius. I could've probably gotten it even lower if I insulated the lid and really tried to optimize the insulation

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danys_ (author)Natural Nerd2017-08-10

Cool!

Do you think that if I use more electronic refrigeration modules 3 or 4 the temperature becomes negative?

author
JeremyM108 (author)2017-08-10

Very well done design, photos, instructions and product! You have my vote in any contest for sure. Thank you for sharing this.

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Natural Nerd (author)JeremyM1082017-08-10

Thank you so much!

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jrjohnwood (author)2017-08-10

Very impressive from design to building. Neat, intelligent thought went into this. Perfect size, and using dual Petlers is effectively efficiency over store built.

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efoster6 (author)2017-08-10

Very well laid out structable I have built similar but much larger container to house my homebrew so that it has a controlled environment to maintain a consistent temp but it still struggles in our summers

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Jedi_zombie85 (author)2017-08-10

Very cool buddy

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vishnumaiea (author)2017-08-09

Wow! What a well put instructable. Hoping to see this at the contests ;)

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Natural Nerd (author)vishnumaiea2017-08-09

Thanks a lot, appreciated. Submitted to two of them now!

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vishnumaiea (author)Natural Nerd2017-08-10

You have my votes ;)

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batvette (author)2017-08-10

As anything with refrigeration will produce condensation and mdf/particle board does not tolerate moisture well, anyone duplicating this build would be well served to spend a couple of extra bucks and make that base out of plywood.

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Natural Nerd (author)batvette2017-08-10

There's no condensation problem with the MDF on the outside of the insulation. It's only function is to give the aluminium legs something to attach to. Sure, if your room is moist, it would be better to use any other material, but not specifically because this is a fridge. Give it a layer of paint, and I'm sure it will be fine.

author
PipzUK (author)2017-08-09

For those in the USA (it's expensive enough there but far, far, worse anywhere else) it's worth being a real nerd and considering Aspen Aerogel instead of the foam, 6mm should be much more efficient than the foam and leave so much more space in the box - and oh so "spaceage"!!!

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Natural Nerd (author)PipzUK2017-08-09

Cool tip! Wish we had that here

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DrewP39 (author)2017-08-09

What about in areas with 110v ac? Can a converter from 110v to 12v 30a be substituted? Otherwise this looks awesome and I'm definitely gonna give it a whirl for my desk!

author
Natural Nerd (author)DrewP392017-08-09

That shouldn't be a problem!

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