Instructables

Restoring A Vintage Cooler

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I picked up this old cooler at a garage sale for $3, which was a pretty good deal even though it was in pretty rough shape. Time to roll up my sleeves and get to work!

What you'll need:

-Vintage Cooler
-Primer
-Spray Paint
-Rust Remover (If your cooler is rusty)
-Steel Wool
-Paint Stripper
-Spot Putty
-Body Filler
-Sandpaper (Various grits: 80, 150, 400, 1000, 2000, etc.)
-Rubber Gloves

Tools:

-Metal Scraper
-Screwdriver (To remove any hardware from your cooler)
-Bodywork Hammer and Dolly (If your cooler is dented)
-Sanding Block (A small piece of 2x4 will work fine.)

 
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Step 1: Remove Hardware, Plastic Inserts and Insulation

Grab your screwdriver and just take everything off of your cooler (Hinges, latch, handles, etc.). Then, remove the plastic inserts by just pulling them out and also take any insulation (styrofoam) out at the same time. Also, if your cooler has a drain somewhere, remove that as well. It's a good idea to put all of the hardware in ziploc bags or containers and set them aside somewhere so you don't lose them.

Step 2: Strip All Of The Paint Off

This step is the messiest and most time consuming. Get out your gloves, paint stripper and a paint brush. Put on your rubber gloves and liberally brush on the paint stripper to any areas with paint on them and wait until all of the paint starts to bubble. Then get your scraper and start scraping all of the paint off. Most of it should come off pretty easily, but you may have to use some steel wool to get any stubborn areas clean. After all of your paint is off, rinse the cooler off with water and dry it with an old towel or t-shirt.
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static5 months ago

Nice. I have an older cooler I inteded to restore Evidently it was in someones way and they sat it outside drirectly on the ground. Bythe time I discovered t the bottom of the steel outer shell rusted beyond repair cost

ctx1985 (author)  static5 months ago

Aww that's too bad that the bottom rotted out. I've seen a lot of people selling the old steel coolers on craigslist and kijiji for pretty cheap actually. Maybe you could find a good one on there :)

bginoza8 months ago
this was awesome. Great tutorial!
ctx1985 (author)  bginoza8 months ago
Thanks so much! I really appreciate the kind words.
howie579 months ago
What a great looking cooler and a really good tutorial. I was just wondring if you could get some decals (Coke,Pepsi,Bud) to put on the cooler to give it a little more personal touch. Not that it needs any. Just a thought.
ctx1985 (author)  howie579 months ago
Thanks! Yeah I actually did look into getting a decal for it. I wanted to get the original brand, but couldn't find one, so I may just get a coke or pepsi one or whatever.
Ramireex9 months ago
What do you do if the insert is not intact?
ctx1985 (author)  Ramireex9 months ago
Do you still have the insert or was it missing? If you still have it and it just has some cracks in it, you may be able to patch it. I would put some masking tape over the crack on the visible side (side your drinks and food will be exposed to) and then perhaps patch it with some fibreglass on the back side. You can usually pick up fibreglass cloth and resin at your local automotive parts store with the bodywork supplies. Just cut the fibreglass cloth slightly larger than the crack and then mix your resin and hardener and apply it over the cloth and crack with a paint brush and wait for it to dry. This should provide a water-proof seal and will not be visible on the side of the insert that is exposed. Failing that, I would say to check eBay for a replacement insert. If it is just cracked though, the fibreglass should do the trick. Hope this helps! Let me know how your project goes!
RayKenn10 months ago
Excellent tutorial ! I have a grandson who is now talking about cars and a project such as this will test his aptitude for body work.
ctx1985 (author)  RayKenn10 months ago
I'm glad I can help! I actually did it the other way around...In high school, I would buy a car for a few hundred dollars, fix all of the rust and dents, etc, drive it for a few months and then sell it for a profit. Took a while to get the technique down though. The really tricky part is when you have to start replacing huge rotted out sections of rocker/quarter panels with new metal!
valkgurl11 months ago
Very nice! How well does this keep things cold? I just got a very vintage "Kola Keeper" that I am going to mount on the tongue of our tow-behind-the-motorcycle-trailer and was wondering if I was going to have to add insulation foam board--mine does not have as elaborate a panel system inside. But for us the size etc is good and we can lose a few sq inches if we need to. Can't wait to get it on there and drive off all retro and such!!!
ctx1985 (author)  valkgurl11 months ago
Haha sounds awesome! Mine doesn't keep things cool for nearly as long as some of the higher end new coolers (about 1 1/2 days before the ice starts to melt), but for my purposes, that's good enough. My wife and I are actually in the middle of our honeymoon right now and we've got it with us! Works fantastic! I would definitely recommend using some better insulation if you want ice to keep for more than a day and a half. The style of these old coolers is awesome though and I wouldn't trade mine for the best new one in the world haha. Thanks for checking out my instructable! Good luck with your project!
valkgurl ctx198511 months ago
Congrats on your honeymoon!

We don;t need to keep raw things cold as we will not be camping but we do need to keep insulin chilled and water beer etc! I am thinking of either getting some insulating foam board or hacking one of the coolers I get meds in so I can remove or add as needed. We have plenty of newer coolers inc a large one on wheels I tow behind my elec motorized wheelie cart but--this one gets big points for LOOKS! We have a fairly large retro look motorcycle (Honda Valkyrie) and altho the trailer as of now is a car topper on a frame we are looking to build a tear drop maybe over the winter. The cooler will go a long ways in keeping the look we like! Husband is learning to weld to build things like a frame for the cooler and a better trailer----Instructables is a BIG help here!

Congrats and have a great time!!!!
ctx1985 (author)  valkgurl11 months ago
Thanks so much and good luck on your project!
tjesse11 months ago
I will now be on the hunt for an old cooler! As for the plastic parts, use Mr. clean magic eraser. It is surprising how well it works. I also can get a cooler back to new by filling it with water and adding bleach. Overnight soak does the trick.
ctx1985 (author)  tjesse11 months ago
Thanks for the tip! Sounds like a good idea. I'll be trying that when we get back from our trip!
User111 months ago
Nice job on your work and the instructions. I'm a bit unsure about handling the insulation removal. Is this usually a straight forward job on these classics? Anyway you can think to "update" the insulation?
ctx1985 (author)  User111 months ago
About updating the insulation...The only way I can think of is to use some foam sealer to seal off all of the cracks where the styrofoam pieces join and any area that isn't covered by it.
ctx1985 (author)  User111 months ago
Thanks! Yeah the insulation removal is pretty straight forward. As far as I know, the majority of these old coolers just used styrofoam. So there's a single piece in the bottom, top, front, back and each side. They come out fairly easily. Just be gentle when removing them because they can break easily.
wrapgirl11 months ago
Beautiful and inspiring!
ctx1985 (author)  wrapgirl11 months ago
Thanks so much!
This is insane. And insanely beautiful. I love obsessions. And spending the time to dismantle, strip, undent, prime, and paint a three dollar yardsale cooler qualifies in my book. I love that you did it. I love how you did it. And I love the result. Bravo.
Exept. I'm wondering why you didn't just sand the old paint flat, fill it, and skip the stripping. You must have a good reason.
Oh.
And if you can find a way, get some clear vinyl tubing and slide it over the handles to make it easier on the hands when filled with beer and ice. Or failing that, just cut the tubing lengthwise and cram it on.
ctx1985 (author)  Ricardo Furioso11 months ago
Thank you so much for the kind words. Comments like yours really make the time and effort put into projects and the instructables themselves worth it. Aside from the fact that I love doing this sort of thing to begin with haha. I'm going to have to find some tubing like you mentioned. I was even thinking some 1/4" automotive clear fuel line hose may do the trick. I'm actually leaving tomorrow morning for a three week honeymoon driving out east to Newfoundland with my wife and we're bringing the cooler with us! Should work great for the nights we spend camping along the way! Oh, and regarding the paint stripping, that's just the way I do things. I just like to sort of start with an entirely fresh canvas if that makes sense haha.
Newfoundland?
Ever hear of California?
Weather's better.
At least as pretty.
Plus Yosemite and big red trees.
And more beaches.
And flowers.
ctx1985 (author)  Ricardo Furioso11 months ago
Haha I've always wanted to take a long trip out to California...I've only ever been at LAX there and it was one of the craziest airports I've ever seen! I've actually been wanting to go back to Newfoundland for ages now (the last time I was there, I was 4 years old), as I have a lot of family there and There's actually a lot of beautiful scenery there to see. We live in Ontario, so we're going to drive out there through Canada, spend a week in Newfoundland and then go through Maine, New Hampshire, New York on the way back. Should be a great trip. California is definitely on my list of places to visit though!
Oh. Never tried vinegar. But I've had really good luck with citric acid, which is a scary phrase for dried lemon juice.
Bought some on ebay. Mix it with enough water to cover the part in a bucket. The interesting thing is that it only attacks the rust and turns it into a black powdery coating that you can brush off. Don't understand why this is not more widely known. For bigger stuff I've heard you can remove rust with molasses. Which sounds really weird.
Important thing is that unlike industrial chemicals, you can put your hands in vinegar, lemon juice and molasses and not freak out. Plus, they're all eminently biodegradable as far as I know.
ctx1985 (author)  Ricardo Furioso11 months ago
I'll definitely have to give that a try on my next rusty project! Thanks for the tip!
Wroger-Wroger11 months ago
Yeah I DO have a preference for the modern, in regards to the plastic cases and inners and the insulation. Depending upon the location and how often they are opened and closed, etc, we have ones in Australia that keep ice in them for up to 14 days...

With extra polyester fibre bats around the outside, etc., and suitable containment, I think I could uprate them to keep ice in them for 21 - 28 days.

It's the issue with going "ON" sunshine, I want really efficient insulation, with a top loading "tub" type of container, that uses very little power to keep the contents cold.

OK - compared to a modern cool box, with a similar volume and the same bag of ice, and the same amount of food and the same amount of opening and closing, from the same amount of people - how do they compare? Would you be able to do a side by side test - of a really good modern one, and this one? A bag or plastic ice cream container (etc) of ice in each - and opening and closing them say hourly, and then seeing how long it takes for the ice to completely melt in each bag?
Like these ones.

http://www.techniice.com/ice-box-categories

http://www.bunnings.com.au/products_product_cooler-ice-box-outermark-48l-premium-moulded_P3220050.aspx


I am thinking that the average cooler - if bought for day tripping, once every so often etc., is a good workable solution.. and can be had for hardly anything - great.

But for the more permanent use, as a very efficient form of cold storage, in lieu of a mains operated refrigerator - The vertical doors with single seals, are for accessability and convenience, rather than efficiency in term of minimising the flow of heat into the interior, and the subsequent annual electricity costs, to draw the heat energy back out of it. This is why chest freezers typically are holes in the insulation with a covering lid, and not side door units.

I am also thinking that while a larger modern all plastic cool box is a great idea, with MORE insulation and the appropriate modifications, it should be able to be made to use 1/30th the amount of power, and last almost forever .

I for one plan to get rid of the commercial refrigerator and go into solar powered cold storage, that does not use all the horrendously expensive 12V compressor system, with a not terribly efficiently insulated and designed vertical door fridge.

And I am interested in modifying the larger modern cool boxs to do it with.

I shall of course start on the cheaper ice box that came down river in the last flood...

The advantage of polyurethane cases, is that they do not rot or rust from any condensate that sticks to them., when double insulated, with an additional layer of polyester batting encased around it.

Enough of the manifesto. Time to unplug the mains powered fridge.
johnno9211 months ago
Very nice! Looks like a lot of work, but it came out awesome! Good job and writeup.
ctx1985 (author)  johnno9211 months ago
Thank you so much! I didn't expect so many views and such positive feedback from everyone, but I'm really glad that so many people like it and hopefully can put my instructable to good use.
Don H.11 months ago
Wow! I have a Coleman cooler that was old when I was a kid (I'm 47 now). I know what my next project will be! Thanx!!
ctx1985 (author)  Don H.11 months ago
No problem! I love the style of those old coolers. Please send some pics my way when you're done! I'd love to see it!
sylrig11 months ago
Stellar job! What kind of paint did you use for the final coat? It looks great.
ctx1985 (author)  sylrig11 months ago
Thanks a lot! I used Krylon spray paint. I think the name of the colour was 'Blue Ocean Breeze'.
altomic11 months ago
I saw another instructable like this. but your one is cooler.
ctx1985 (author)  altomic11 months ago
Haha thanks!
Mrballeng11 months ago
Great job. Did you enter the weekend projects contest?
ctx1985 (author)  Mrballeng11 months ago
Thanks! I should enter that one!
fatboy0711 months ago
very nice! kinda "restoration king" thing, :) thanks for sharing!
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