Introduction: Vintage Ice Chest From Wood Pallets

About: I am a DYII Tinkerer type. I live for Halloween, zombies, Day of the dead, and costume play. I love restoring furniture, building or anything my immagination can dream up. My angel wing project was to add so…

Vintage Ice Chest

                                                               Original Credit goes to
                                                                  “Beach Bum Living”
                                                            Find him on

Hot Florida Summer, Tasty Cold Beverages. Last year I tried an ice bucket by the pol, or just suffered wam drinks. Then I stumbled upon this great idea on YouTube with 'Beach Bum Living"  He shows how he built it. I just added the steps and my measurements.
After a great party, the guest commented on how cool this was, they love the front. It kept the drinks cold for 2 days in the Hot Florida Poolside Sun and still had ice left. I am very happy with my project.

This was actually a fun project (minus the Pallet breakdown) but hey we all like to get rid of energy and lose weight and pounding and pulling at Pallets does this that!  Nails are everywhere, but that is another story.

The effort it took was well worth it. My friends have all complimented the look and fun of this VINTAGE ICE CHEST!

Cost was only 20$ (more if you don’t have a 48quart cooler) but time was on my side.

1. Find Pallets…open
2. Pallet Breakdown: 45 minutes per pallet
3. Assembly: 4 hours
(real life, a couple of weekends fun time)  Once you have all the wood broken down it goes very fast.

I took 5 pallets to make this. You have to account for some wood splitting etc. Plus you get to choose the look of the wood from each pallet to make a unique look.

It all starts with finding pallets. From the back of shopping centers, or wood shops you can find them. The older they are the better. I found most of mine for 5$ each at a store that did wood trim. Ask at Home Depot or search  They are out there.

I found it best to use my circular saw to cut the boards. Search on for 'Pallets' and you will see how people do them. I cut alon th edges and then used my hammer to pry the boaards up from the 2x3's. It is work, but hey all good things take some effort. This is a very cool pice you can be proud of, Go Primal on those Pallets, just try not  destroy the wood slats, you will need them.

You still have to remove many nails, pound some nails down and in short, nails are you friends here! Just get it done. Once you have the wood this project is very easy to build.

Tools & Supplies Needed

* 5 Pallets
1. Circular Saw or small hand saw
2. Hammer
3. Crowbar
4. Hand Drill
5. Outdoor wood glue
6.  One box of Two Inch (2”) wood screws for the 2x3’s  (250 per box)
7. One box of  and one half (1 ½”) screws for flat wood   (250 per box)
8. Level
9. Jig Saw or small hand saw
10. Gloves * Splinters..need I say more!
11. 2 large hinges, I liked black.
12. One Quart of Polyurethane, non glossy.
13. One Cheap brush to apply the Polyurethane.

• Legal Disclaimer: User power tools at your own risk wear eye protection and watch yourself and be safe.
• I am not responsible for accidents, splinters or acts of god  Wear Gloves at all cost, spinters are not fun. .

If you have all your wood sorted you find you have the heavy 2x3 support and an average 30” of wood slats (average 6 boards per pallet side).  Some pallets have one side, some two, depending how old.  Good Job, the worst part is over, now the fun starts!

Pallets are 4’ x 4’ and depending on how you get the wood off,  your slat length will vary. 

* Pick your pieces for your front. As you see in mind I chose ones that had the Ink Stamps, I liked the authentic look. And you see how some pieces are nicer than others.

You have two dimensions to consider.

1. The Ice Chest you are using. Mine was 24”w x 14” d
2. The Pallet box. Mine was 36”w x 26”d   ** Your measurements will vary depending on the size of your Cooler.
  * User a 48 quart cooler or bigger, all this work for a tiny cooler isn't worth it. This is Man Size !

I gave just enough room around the ice chest for the top lid and 6” on each side. Originally I tried it bigger to allow for plates and such, but it just looked odd. I broke it down and recut to the size noted.

Legs=> 36”   High from the 2x3’s
The Width was 24  from one end of the 2x3 to the other. Total width in other words.

This is way easy project, I just added notes I learned to make it easier for you.

* Note on Nails:  People get crazy nailing Pallet boards. Some sides had one nail, some brads, some 6 nails. Get out what you can, pound down the rest. You will not get all the nails out. Oh and my favorite, the nails where the heads come off as you are trying to get them out. You will get the wood and trust me, the effort is so worth it.

The pictures are self-explanatory. Each side assembly has 2 legs and two supports. These are joined by 4 supports. These are all made from the 2x3’s

If you cut all your legs EXACTLY the same size the assembly goes much faster. Clamp them together and sand them down.
• Note !!
o Pallet wood splits easily.
o Pre-Drill ALL your screw holes
o Pre Insert your Screws to just have them barely poking out.
I found it so much easier if I pre-drilled my screw holes. This left just a bit of an indent in the wood on the other side.  I then drilled into that wood.

These pressure treated 2x3’s are like concrete, so pre-drilling makes it all easier to get your screws in.

Once you make your two legs and add your support it should stand on its own. This is where I like to use my level.

It is a bit of a balancing act, but if all your holes are pre-drilled and your screws are in, have your drill handy and tighten the pieces of wood.

Once you have your rough box you add your 2nd level of supports. Again use the 2x3’s.  I put mine 15” up.  The general thought was to have at least 6” to cover up any possibility you can see the ice chest.

The Ice Chest Placement:

This is where you focus. We don’t want the wood slats on yet. We need to cut the hole for the lid and place the Ice Chest you are using up just high enough so the top is level with the top of the wood slats on the top of the box.

We want the lid to shut securely when it closes. These keep your beer and drinks cold if you have a tight seal.
At this point the only boards we want on the box are along the top. They need to be screwed down.  We will now cut out a space for the Ice Chest to poke up into for the lid to meet it and close securely.

The Lid:

Do the top the same way.  Now pay attention here, a secret for those who read the directions.
Why you don’t want the top of the Ice Chest to be much larger than your cooler lid.  You are going to cut the top out to fit the cooler. The longer the board is, the more likely it is to push down or sag. Mine has 6” on each side. The boards are stiff and covered up by the Lid.

This Lid is easy. Take you completed box and stand it upright. You should have boards along the top only.
Take your Cooler lid off the cooler. Mine was simply screwed on. I unscrewed it and freed it from the cooler.
Place the lid on the top and center it.  Draw a heavy mark around it.

Using a jig saw or small handsaw cut along this line, keeping very careful to match it exactly.
• Why?  Because loose boards that wobble are harder to cut then solid boards. Try and do it right the first time 

Now comes the fun times. We need to take the ice chest (minus it lid) and fit it inside the box.

• Side note, mine had wheels and a handle. I left them on as they were level at the bottom and I had plenty of room inside the box.

I put 15” for my lower supports as this was very close to how tall the cooler was. Lay a board across the bottom and wiggle your cooler inside the box and on top of the board.
Our goal here is to bring the lip of the box level to the top of the boards on the top of the box. We want a tight connection of the lid later.

I used small pieces of wood to inch it into place. I found very useful a graduated piece of wood (think of a very long skinny triangle) that I used as a wedge.

Most coolers have an outer shell and an inner shell. I pushed mine so that the blue outer shell and handle were pushing against the wood, but the white inner shell was clear for contact.
Your goal is to feel the lid security snap into place.

You will find your top wood bows up a bit, but that is ok, it blends in when the project is finished, you don’t notice it.
At this point you should have your ice chest securely wedged up into the top of the cooler. Screw any boards down you can. Make it secure. 

 ***  Leaks, need I say more.

Wood Slat Cuts & Placement

Now you have your box completed and ice chest secured, it is time to add the wood slats. You have to have enough to go around all 4 sides. I did a bit of art work on my front.

For the front I cut up the slats into various lengths and 2” wide pieces of different colors. I laid the box on its side and arranged each piece.
• Note in doing this get the pieces in order first  and then glue at the end.
• Use Outdoor wood glue!!!! You get it in Home Depot/Lowes etc. next to all the glues.
• I then put weights on this front side and let it sit overnight and let the glue dry.
Cutting the slats goes easy. Again pre-drill the slats; they split so easily if you don’t.  Lay the box on the side, measure and cut your boards. Then lay them in the order you want. Then predrill the holes.  Lastly screw them in. This goes very fast. You have to pick and choose to get close. As you note by now, the slats come in different widths.

Adding Wood around the Lid:

Take some of your left over r 2x3” pieces and make small frame around your Ice Chest top. (Which should be securely placed into the cooler..I can’t stress this enough). You want the pieces to be snug against the cooler lid, as close as possible. Why? We are going to screw the frame to the lid.

It should rest naturally.  The heavy Wood top you are about to make will make good weight and keep the lid closed and your drinks cool

You join these 4 pieces with the 2 ½” screws.
Now with the lid securely in place and snapped tight to the cooler below, place your box that should fit snuggly and carefully place 2 ½” screws through the wood into the lid top.  I did one on each side.

Now use the two hinges and attach the lid to the Vintage Ice Chest Top.

What we are looking for is the Lid to open and close smoothly and close snuggly into the cooler below.
Once you are happy you can start putting the wood slats all around your Vintage Ice Chest.
Framing the Vintage Ice Chest.

Simply measure and cut your boards. Then place and pre-drill your holes.

I found it easy to lay the box on its side when I did this, but you can do it standing up. By now you see how solid this Vintage Ice Chest is.

A note on my custom Front:

This was a bit tricky. I had a piece of thin 1/8th inch wood behind the front Legs.  I used 2 ½” screws to hold it.
Cutting it was tricky. You have to measure from the inside. Give 1” overlap on each side. This board I found was easier if I cut it in ½ so I could slide it in. I screwed each piece in tight.

Taking your spare or junk wood cut it into 2” wide strips and then cut those into 4” and 6” pieces. You stagger these pieces as you make your mosaic. Choose dark and light woods and mingle them.

( I didn't have a nice table saw and doing this with a circular saw was tricky. Just be careful and cut small stips, you will get plenty and the look is great. This is where I get the most compliments)

Use outdoor glue and glue them down. Put weights on them and let them sit overnight to bond.

Protection: Against the Elements

As this will be outside (or perhaps in your man cave) we want to protect it. I used No gloss Polyurethane. It really soaked up this like a sponge, but it gave it a very great look. It darkened it a bit and made it look very rustic. After Several Rains I see it repels water perfectly. And note, this is old Pressure treated wood, it can handle the elements and ony look better with age.

After thoughts:

You will no doubt go ‘I will make my cooler lean to one side so it drains’   but you can’t. If you do that the lid will not close tightly. I found the drain needs about 1” of water or more to drain.  I just left it all level.
What I do is after each use is draining what I can and then take paper towels and drying out the rest.

How long does this Vintage Ice Chest keep Cold !

Great Question!   One bag of ice kept for 2 days with my beer still ice cold and 2 cups of ice still left. This is in the Florida 90 degree heat mind you as this sits by my Pool.
The wood and air act as a great Insulator. I did see one past with a thought to seal it with insulation to make it even more insulated. For me, 2 days and one bag of Ice is all I need.

You of course can model this on a larger ice chest, the principles are the same.

I have had a great time with this. I added a bottle opener I found on amazon and it looks great. My friends are very jealous!
Yes it takes some time but this is an heirloom. It reminded me of my childhood driving through South Texas. You saw these by old BBQ restaurants. They kept their Ice in them as inside was too hot.

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