Introduction: Up-cycle an Old Box Into the Ultimate Tackle Box & Cooler

Work was getting rid of equipment, so I snagged a well-made box with no idea of what to do with it.
Sitting on it at home I looked up at my fishing poles, and thought about all the stuff I cart with me to fish.

A simple trip to a local fishing spot requires more than a pole since usually I'm taking a kid along. It's more than one dad can carry & more than a 6 year-old wants to help with.

  • 2+ poles
  • Drinks & snacks
  • Bait - cricket bucket, minnow bucket, cup of worms
  • Tackle Box
  • Chairs

I love my wheeled coolers, but that still fills up a hand. Plus I don't need a huge cooler.
I came up with the Ultimate Tackle Cooler. Tackle box, storage space, pole holder, seat and or table all-in-one all on wheels!

Step 1: Get a Box

This won't be a highly detailed how-to with lots of measurements because not everyone is going to have a box like I found. Hopefully you can find or build a similar box.

My box held an old piece of testing equipment & was designed to be used in the field. It was about 20" x 16.5" inches and 22.5" inches deep. The box was 19" deep with a 3.5" lid.
It was constructed from 3/8" plywood, covered with faux leather, and has steel hardware.
The lid also has a lip around the inside edge of about 1/4". This made for some design changes, but it adds rigidity to the box.

The box is very sturdy & easily supports my ample weight.

  1. All hardware was retained except for some steel feet on the bottom.
  2. The box was lined with foam baffles which I removed with my oscillating saw's scraper blade.

Step 2: Divide and Tackle

For the tackle box side I chose some plastic divider boxes (trays) from Harbor Freight. They just happened to be the right size.
Four will set on their sides on the right side of the box. Those will rest on a false bottom that can be removed for access.
A drawer will be added below there.

After measuring you'll want to split the box into 2 compartments: Tackle Box side & Cooler side.

  1. Find the midpoint of the box and cut a piece of 3/4" plywood to fit. (It's cool if you don't want an even split. I'd suggest making the cooler side larger.)
  2. Take a plastic tray and clamp it where you want it to set.
  3. Measure up from the bottom of the box to the bottom edge of the tray.
  4. Cut 2 of the cleats the width of the tackle box side. This will make it easy to align your center divider.
  5. Cut 2 more cleats for the sides. These can be any length.
  6. Attach the front & rear cleats using screws. Use two scraps of wood that are the same length as the desired height of the cleats as guides. This way all cleats are level
  7. Attach one cleat to the side of the box.
  8. Attach one cleat to the side of the center panel by aligning with wood scraps.
  9. Drill pocket holes for attaching center panel.
  10. Attach the center panel by holding against the front & rear cleats with one screw.
  11. Check that it is square & vertical then attach with more screws. (I used 4 total.)
  12. Cut a false bottom panel to fit. I used scrap 1/4" plywood.
  13. Drill a hole in the bottom panel for easy removal. xxxxxxx

I attached it pocket screw joints and put the holes where they wouldn't be seen.

Step 3: To Zee Koolah!!

(I watched The Great Escape last night. Hence this page's title.)


  • 1 - 4x8 1/2" sheet of poly-styrene insulation
  • 2 - Clear silicone caulk or sealant
  • 1 - Can of spray adhesive
  • Duct tape or flashing tape

Tools You Will Need

  • Utility or Exacto knife
  • Measuring tape
  • Long straight edge or framing square

Before we begin....
I used 1/2" foam because I wasn't sure what would work. So I could easily add layers. It's also cheaper this way. Using thicker pieces of foam & other sealants may work better.


  1. Measure & cut 3 pieces of foam board to fit the bottom of the cooler.
  2. Glue the foam together and sandwich in the bottom. (I did not glue the foam to the box. If it fails it can remove it easily.)
  3. Measure the short side of the cooler space, leaving plenty of room at the top for a lid (about 3 inches). I left plenty of space up top in the lid because I plan on mounting some things in the lid's space.
  4. Fit this sheet and run a bead of caulk around the edge. This may be overkill, but I want a seal.
  5. Spray your next piece of foam with spray adhesive (or use another glue you like).
  6. Sandwich it together and add more caulk around the edges.
  7. Repeat this for all sides.
  8. (Not pictured) - Add tape over the edges of the foam to protect it. Also this will act like flashing around a window. Water & Ice can drain back into the cooler rather than between the foam layers or box side.

Notes on insulation
For this type of application there are 2 choices. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS). EPS is the little balls of foam compressed into a sheet and sandwiched between a thin clear membrane & foil. It's cheap, but messy. A foam cooler is EPS.

XPS is a dried foam (usually in a pastel color.) It's easier to work with but more expensive. NOTE: Lots of glues will eat this stuff. That's why I avoided it.
WARNING: Since we're talking coolers food will contact these materials. Once cured there is very little risk

of contamination, but there is risk. But any food I transport will be inside other containers. So I'm not worried.

Step 4: The Lid - the First Sammich in the Cooler


  • More foam
  • Thin scrap lumber (I used leftover laminate flooring)
  • Adhesive
  • Drawer pull

Tools You Will Need

  • Utility Knife
  • Drill
  • Saw


  1. Cut 3 pieces of foam to fit the opening of the cooler. Make this snug.
  2. Cut a lid from any material you like. Make the lid large enough to cover the edges of the sides.
  3. Center the foam on the lid and glue all together in a big sandwich.
  4. Drill a hole through the middle & mount a drawer pull you like. Even a screw would work.

Step 5: Drawer


  • 1/2" Plywood
  • screws
  • wood glue
  • drawer pull


  • Jigsaw
  • Table saw or circular saw
  • Drill
  • Brad nailer


  1. Measure the space you have below the false bottom on the tackle box side and mark on the front of the box. Be sure to avoid the cleats.
  2. Using a jig saw cut a square for the drawer that is about a 1/2: away from all sides of the box & center divider.
  3. Build a simple square box to fit this hole. It should be about 1/4" narrower than the hole. Depth is your choice, but I went with about 7 inches deep. That is 2 inches shorter than the height of the hole.
    1. Make 4 sides & a bottom.
    2. Tack together with brads and glue.
  4. Add some 1/2" spacers in the bottom of the box to fill the gap. The drawer can simply slide on these. Screw them into place.
    1. If you would like feel free to add actual drawer rails.
  5. Cut a face for the drawer that covers the gap around the drawer. Again I went with laminate flooring scraps I had laying around.
  6. Add glue and center the face. Then clamp in place.
  7. Add a simple drawer pull.

Step 6: Wheels & Hardware


  • 2 - 2" casters (no swivel)
  • 3/4" inch plywood
  • 2x4" scrap wood for legs
  • Glue
  • Extending Cooler handle (available online)
  • LED light
  • Rod holders (available online)
  • 1" Screws


  • Drill
  • Saw
  • Measuring tape

Steps for Wheels

  1. Cut two blocks of plywood to mount the casters. I did this because the 3/8" material for the box didn't seem long enough.
  2. Glue the blocks in place & attach with 2 screws. Blocks should be in about an inch from the sides of the box.
  3. Attach the casters to the blocks with 1" screws
  4. Cut some 2x4" to length (about 3") for front legs. Smaller lumber could be used.
  5. Attach the legs near the front corners of the box's bottom.

Steps for Light
The light I have pictured sucks. I'll be replacing it.

  1. Attach the light to the box lid where you like it. (Tough, huh?)

Steps for Handle
The handle I chose fit a cooler I own, so I could measure it ahead of time. I found the handle on Amazon for less than $20. Igloo Handle

  1. Cut a piece of plywood to fit the mounting screws of the handle.
  2. My handle fits into a cooler with a lip on the top that has places for 2 screws. I drilled holes for these so it would sit flush.
  3. Glue the plywood to the box so the the retracted handle will not interfere with the lid.
  4. Attach the handle with screws. 1 1/4" screws worked best for me.

Steps for Rod Holders
I chose Du-Bro rod holders from Amazon. These are designed to fit in a track that Du-Bro sells, but I didn't need that. There are other options, but this worked great for me.

  1. If you are right-handed place the rod holders on the right side of the box (when facing the front of the box.) This way when you pull the box with your dominate hand any poles in the holders won't hit you in the head! Lefties use the left side.
  2. Place the rod holder ring high enough that the handle of the pole is above the ground when resting. Attach with a 1" screw.
  3. Place the hook piece along the top edge the box (NOT on the lid) directly above each ring. Attach with a 1" screw.

Step 7: Cooler Drain

There are a number of ways to go about putting in a drain which is why I made a separate page for this step. I bought a cooler drain from Amazon but that wouldn't work at all. It was too short too reach through the foam. After wandering around the home improvement store I finally arrived at this solution.
Simple. Cheap.


  • 2" PVC pipe a that is 3" in length
  • 2" drain plug (Look for pressure test plugs in plumbing supplies)
  • Silicone sealant


  • Drill
  • 2" hole saw bit


  1. Drill a 2" hole in the bottom of the cooler from the inside. Place it near the rear of the cool so it's easy to tilt water into the drain.
  2. Cut a piece of 2" PVC pipe 1/4" longer than the depth of the hole.
  3. Coat the pipe in silicone. This will act as glue & sealant.
  4. Insert the pipe & leave the extra 1/4" sticking out the bottom. This will stop water from seeping up in to the wood.
  5. Run a smooth edge of silicone around the drain openings.

Step 8: Painting

This step is totally optional, but I thought dragging a black box into the sun didn't make sense. Plus the box looked beat up.
I chose a hammered finish silver, but the hammered part didn't really come through. I'd had better luck with this type of paint in the past.
I also chose to make fish art on the top. Had some paint from another project.


  • Spray primer - White
  • Spray paint - colors of your choice
  • Spray enamel - Clear coat
  • Painters tape


  • Drop cloth
  • Utility knife

Steps (Basic Paint)

  1. Remove the rod holders & handle.
  2. Tape off anything you don't want painted. My box has riveted hardware so I had to tape it all off.
  3. Carefully trim the tape.
  4. Prime (I skipped this for the silver parts.) Wait 30 minutes.
  5. Paint. Wait 30 minutes.
  6. Add clear coat. Wait a few hours or overnight.
  7. Remove tape.

Steps for Stencil
This can be done while you wait for the sides to dry.

  1. Prime the lid of the box in white. Wait 30 minutes.
  2. Paint the top half in one color, the bottom in another, leaving a white band in the middle. Wait 30 minutes.
  3. Spray lightly with high gloss silver or chrome.
  4. Cut out a fish shaped stencil.
  5. Tape your stencil down, OR apply it to the tacky paint. (I rushed here so my edges aren't clean on the fish.)
  6. Paint the stencil & lid of box to match the sides.
  7. Remove stencil. Wait 30 minutes.
  8. Add clear coat. Wait overnight.

Step 9: Finishing Up

Reattach all the hardware.

Add any finishing touches. I took a black Sharpie to the edges of the drawer.
Also I coated the cooler lid with clear coat. This ate into the foam a little, but that just cleaned up some of the annoying foam balls floating around.

Load up your tackle boxes & drawer.

Other Options

In the lid I plan to add a Bluetooth speaker for tunes & solar panel for phone charging.
Also will add some pockets in the lid to hold items I grab most often.