I love to grill over charcoal whenever I can. So most weekends when it’s nice outside, I try to get one dinner done on the grill. My problem over the years has been that the grills themselves can last a long time, but the charcoal trays rust out in a couple of years… and try to find a replacement tray at a reasonable price – not going to happen. I have replaced more than one grill just because the charcoal tray disintegrated into dust and there was nothing to hold the charcoal in. So last year when it came time to make a decision about what to do about another rusting hulk of a charcoal tray I decided to make a replacement.
This Instructable talks about making a replacement charcoal tray in about 1 hour for under $20. The example in this Instructable was made in the middle of last summer. So after 3 months of use and 3 months of winter, it seems to be holding up pretty good.
Materials Used In this Instructable:
- 24" x 24" Expanded Metal Mesh Screen
- 5/8" perforated angle iron
- 1" washers
- 1/2" Steel Pop-Rivets
- Safety glass for all metal cutting!
- Gloves are nice if you don't like getting your fingers and hands sliced up.
- Hearing protection when you are using a power tool for cutting.
- Hearing protection for your wife and kids if you forget to wear gloves.
Step 1: Measure the Old Tray
First things first - Take out the old tray and measure it. You may not be able to duplicate the size exactly, but you want to get as close as you can. In my case, the old tray measured 13" deep x 26" long.
Step 2: Expanded Metal Mesh Replacement Tray
I found a 24" x 24" expanded metal mesh screen at one of the big box stores that was only around $15. There may be larger sizes available, but this is what they had and I thought the price was right for this project and the size would be reasonably close.
Before I did any measuring or cutting, I needed to determine which mesh orientation gave me the best strength. Since I know I would be adding support along the long sides, I needed the mesh to be orientated to give me the least amount of bowing from front to back. In this case (and you may not be able to tell from the pictures), when the longer mesh openings were oriented to aim from front to back, there was much less bowing compared to the other direction given about the same amount of pressure. Plus by doing this, I didn't need to worry about adding additional support on the left and right edges...
Step 3: Measuring and Cutting the New Tray
The critical step in this part is to make sure you lay out the mesh in the orientation that you determined in the previous step. Once I made sure I had the metal sitting in the correct position, I then simply used a Sharpie to run lines where I wanted to make my bends and where to cut.
For the long sides that were to be bent for support, I needed to make sure there was enough open mesh area to accommodate the washers and rivets we will use to attached the angle iron supports. This turned out to be about 1-1/2" - or about half of the mesh opening. So I ran my lines across based on the mesh opening measurements. Then I measured about 13" over for the depth of the tray - again placing my mark at where the logical location for the mesh bend would be. And finally running my Sharpie across the cut line.
I used my Harbor Freight rotary cutting tool to cut the mesh. This is probably the most dangerous part of the entire project - be sure to wear eye protection and gloves. I always recommend hearing protection with the rotary tool as well. When you get done with the cuts, you can round off the sharp edges with the rotary tool.
Note on cutting - you can use whatever you want to cut this. But the rotary tool is really excellent in that you can maintain control relatively easy and it doesn't seem to bind. You can use a jigsaw, but they tend to bind and bounce the mesh all over the place while you are cutting. You could use a dual blade cutting tool - but I think they send a lot of material flying and I think they would bind up due to the size of the blades.
Step 4: Bending the Long Edge
For this step, I placed the mesh between two pieces of 1" x 2" oak and clamped the wood together. Then I took a small sledge hammer to bend the metal to a 90 degree angle. I started by making small bends across then length of the run and then just went back and forth with the sledge getting more of an angle with each pass. Figure about three or four passes before you get to the final hard pounding to get the bend nice and tight.
At this point the tray really takes shape, but you can see from the photo that there is still a lot of bowing that need to be taken care of.
Step 5: Attach the Angle Iron Support
I happened to have a length of perforated angle iron sitting around I could use for this. It's about 5/8" from the outside of the corner to the edge, so I'm not sure of how that would be labeled at the store. I just lined them up and noted where I would need to put my washers and pop rivets.
As you can see in the photo, I needed to flatten out one side of the washer to fit the inside angle. I placed one washer on the outside, one on the inside and used a pop rivet to secure them. You could play with the attachment points, but I found that having one each on the vertical ends and then one in the horizontal center was all I needed.
The new tray was complete!
Step 6: Install and Start Grilling!
I reused the original tray handles. The only downside of this entire project was that my height adjustments are not the same as the original - but hasn't been a real problem. I actually like have two levels that seem to work better for me. That may not be the same for you, so be advised. To catch the ashes, I put a large disposable aluminum roasting tray underneath - That will probably last a year before it needs to be replaced (around $2 each).
The big test comes when you put the starter chimney full of coals in the middle of the tray. That's the maximum weight your tray will normally see - and in this case I had no bowing in either direction. I ran a complete set of coals through an entire heating cycle to burn off any oils or whatever before using it.
As I said in the beginning, it's been through about 3 months of regular grilling season and another 3 months of winter (with a few more grillings) and as you can see in the last photo, it's holding up great. I'm hoping to get three years about of this new tray before I would need to do another. So far, so good!
Thanks for taking time to read through this. Feel free to post any comments, questions or suggestions.