Introduction: DIY- Portable Toolbox Grill- Improved!

About: ♫ Basking in sunshine ☼, creating new dishes... growing zucchini and swimming with fishes. Rattlesnake hunting the desert in Spring; these are are a few of my favorites things. When the wind flies, when the p…

My idea of a great family vacation doesn't include fancy hotel rooms or fine dining.  Hubby and I are literallyhappy 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! ;-)

Step 1: Materials and Tools

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

  • 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
  • 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:

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 allbymyself!   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:

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!

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 topsecret.  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:

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:

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:

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

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! 

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