Awesome Rustic Cooler From Broken Refrigerator and Pallets

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Introduction: Awesome Rustic Cooler From Broken Refrigerator and Pallets

In this instructable I'll be showing you how to turn an old broken refrigerator into an awesome rustic cooler, great for parties, bonfires, and all of types of outdoor festivities. This project is easy to tackle and best of all it doesn't cost a lot to build as most of the materials are recycled or reclaimed. This is also a great weekend project as it should only take a day or two from start to finish and doesn't require any specialized tools beyond standard wood working tools like drills, drivers, and saws.

Features:

  • It can be used as a small or large cooler depending on the size of your party. Intimate get together with friends? Just use the freezer space to chill a few beverages and some snacks. Big Ol' Shin Dig? Open both the freezer and fridge spaces to create a huge cooler to chill all sorts of beverages and goodies. Just add ice.
  • Sturdy flat topped lids are just the right height to double as an impromptu table or food preparation area.
  • 4 heavy duty casters allow for the cooler to be easily moved
  • When left open, the indoor fridge shelves serve as a great place to sort condiments or extra stacks of cups.
  • After use the cooler can easily be drained of melted ice via a drain value installed in the bottom of the cooler.
  • it looks great!
  • It's only $40 to make (if you happen to have an old broken fridge laying around, if not hit Craigslist).
  • Front chalk board lets guests know what you have to drink/eat.
  • Sturdy handles and rope lid supports make the cooler easy to open and keep the lids from opening to far.

And if you enjoy this project please consider voting for it in the "Before & After", "Summer Fun", and Summer Food and Drink" Contests. Thanks!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Materials

One of the best things about this project was the cost of materials, pretty much nothing! The broken refrigerator was left in the basement of my little sisters new home, and the pallets for free to take from a local business. Really the only things that had to be purchased were a few cans of spray paint, some caulking, a few plumbing fittings, two 2" X 4"s, and some casters. All told, the cost of this project was somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 and considering how big this project is I think that's pretty cost effective.

Old Refrigerator - Make sure the Freon has been properly removed, more info on this in step 4.

Pallets - You'll need about 4 pallets to get enough wood for this project.

Screws - 1 1/4" wood screws work well for this project

Caulking

Liquid Nails

Casters - To make it move.

2" X 4"s - For framing in the bottom of the fridge and to build the base the cooler sits on.

Misc PVC/Brass Fittings - Used to construct a drain at the bottom of the cooler for easy draining after use.

Rope and Eye Bolts - To keep the cooler lids from opening too far.

Black Spray Paint

Tools

The tools for this project are pretty standard and are things that most people who like to dabble in making and wood working probably already have sitting in their workshop.

Drill/Driver - Pilot holes and driving screws.

Chop Saw - Useful to cut perfect 90 degree ends on the prepared pallet boards.

Circular Saw - For breaking down pallets.

Sander - for knocking down rough edges on pallet wood and for roughing up the fridge for painting.

Caulking Gun - For plugging holes in the refrigerator to make it waterproof and for applying liquid nails.

Pry-Bars and Hammers - For breaking down pallets into usable lengths of wood.

Step 2: Breaking Down the Pallets

Breaking down the pallets can be a bit of a challenge considering how well they're put together. The method that seems to work the best or me is to cut through the deck boards where they attach to the side stringer boards of the pallet. This leaves only the middle stringer and the deck boards attached and with a bit of leverage and some hammering you can easily separate the deck boards for use in your project.

Step 3: Processing the Pallet Wood

Once the pallets were dismantled, the next step was to process the deck boards so that they were 25.75" long (the width of the refrigerator. To do this we assembled a quick jig for the cop saw that allowed us to index the boards to the correct length quickly so that all of the wood could be processed as efficiently as possible. We also left a few deck boards uncut so that they would be long enough to use for trim pieced in a later step.

Step 4: Taking Apart the Refrigerator

Dismantling the refrigerator is a pretty straight forward process, basically just take out the screws and most of the electronics and shelving pull right out. One very important thing to be aware of though is the Freon lines. It is Illegal to cut Freon lines and allow the gas to escape into the atmosphere! Getting caught doing so will warrant a hefty fine, and more over, it's just a bad idea as you're polluting the air and the environment. In our situation the refrigerator we used was left in the basement of my sisters newly purchased house and the previous owners decided for some reason to cut the lines before leaving so we didn't have to contend with Freon removal. However if you're thinking about tackling this project and don't already have a busted Freon free refrigerator at your disposal fear not, there are safe ways to deal with the Freon. Check out the links below to learn how to safely remove Freon from your refrigerator. I think these guides were built for the purpose of scraping the refrigerator for metal, but they'll work just fine for this project too.

Refrigerator Freon Removal Guide

Refrigerator Cooling System Removal Without Cutting Refrigerant Lines

Once you have the refrigerator stripped down you're ready to start the next step, painting!

Step 5: Painting the Refrigerator

Painting the refrigerator isn't a necessary step, the reason we chose to do it was because the bright white enamel of the refrigerator was very visible where the unfinished edged of the pallet boards came together and the white showing through the boards made the project look very unfinished. If you're lucky enough to have a black refrigerator for this project then you can skip this step otherwise, grab a sander to rough up the surface of the refrigerator and about 4 cans of flat black spray paint and get to work.

Note: try to avoid spraying the gaskets that seal the refrigerator doors. The paint may cause the gaskets to seal less effectively making your refrigerator/cooler less effective.

Note: Don't worry to much about getting a perfect coat of paint. most of the refrigerator is going to be covered by wood, the only goal of the paint is to cover up the thin spaces the will be visible where the pallet boards don't quite meet. The last picture on this step is the finished paint job we moved forward with and as we you can see, it isn't all that pretty.

Step 6: Adding the Pallet Wood Siding

With the refrigerator painted black, the next step was to start covering the sides, top, and bottom of the refrigerator with the reclaimed pallet wood. We started by laying out the cut pallet boards to see how they would fit together on the side of the refrigerator. Making them fit together, and making everything look good, took a bit of time as some of the pallet boards had to be fit together like puzzle pieces. Once everything looked good we started attaching the boards using a combination of liquid nails and 1 1/4" wood screws. The screws were long enough to go through the outer casing of the refrigerator, but not so long that they would puncture the inside cooler compartment, the screws also provided clamping pressure to ensure a good bond between the liquid nails, wood, and refrigerator.

The top and sides of the refrigerator were very easy to cover with wood, (the only small hang up was accommodating the door hinge on the top of the refrigerator which required a bit of router work to make one of the boards fit properly). The bottom of the refrigerator proved to be a little more work as we had to frame some parts of it in with 2"X 4"s before we could add the pallet wood siding.

Step 7: Covering the Doors With Wood

Covering the doors of the cooler with wood is pretty similar to covering the sides with the only real difference being that it takes a bit more craftsmanship to keep everything looking nice. We started by covering the edges of the doors, cutting the pieces so that they were 3/4" wider than they needed to be. This extra width worked to hide the cut edges of the 3/4" thick pallet boards that were used to cover the front faces of the doors. Lastly once the front faces and edges were covered, trim boards were added along the edges of the doors to give everything a finished appearance.

Step 8: Building the Base

One of the most important considerations when building this cooler was a way to make it portable so that it could be taken to different parties or events as needed. no that end, there is an under-structure made of 2" X 4"s that supports the weight of the cooler and also provides mounting points for casters.

Step 9: Water Proofing

One of the bigger challenges of this project ended up being waterproofing. Believe it or not, refrigerators are not built to be waterproof when laid horizontally, there are holes for wiring, holes for attaching ice makers, and apparently just some holes for no other reason than to make the process of water proofing a refrigerator just a little bit harder. Never the less, with a little time and a lot of caulking we were able to seal everything up nice and tight. The smaller holes were easily sealed with a dab or two of caulking, the larger holes required a combination of PVC plugs and caulking, and the largest hole ended up being used to create a really handy drain so that the cooler can be emptied of melted ice and water by the twist of a handle. Once everything was sealed and the caulking was given sufficient time to cure, the cooler was filled with water to check for leaks, any leaks found were fixed with more caulking and once everything was water tight the cooler was almost ready for use.

Step 10: Adding the Finishing Touches, Handles, Chalk Board, & Rope Lid Support

With all the major work done, the last step of the project is to give the cooler a little character and charm. Heavy duty handles were added to both the cooler bay lids to make them easier to open, rope catches were added to keep the lids from opening too far, and a chalk board was added to the front to let people know what would be available inside the cooler.

Step 11: End

Thanks for taking the time to check out my instructable on how to turn an old refrigerator and a few scrap pallets into an awesome rustic party cooler. This was a really fun project to work on and it has already proven to be a useful addition to our summer evening cook outs and other parties, not to mention that it also a great conversation piece and really catches people off guard when they open the cooler like to find what use to be a refrigerator.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them in the comments section below, I enjoy hearing from you guys so don't be afraid to post! Also, if you enjoyed this project please consider throwing a vote my way for the "Before & After", "Summer Fun", & "Summer Food and Drink" Contests.

Summer Fun Contest

Grand Prize in the
Summer Fun Contest

Summer Food and Drink Contest

First Prize in the
Summer Food and Drink Contest

Before and After Contest

Grand Prize in the
Before and After Contest

3 People Made This Project!

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117 Discussions

How would the shelves in the fridge be of any use to store things if the refrigerator is on its back? The shelves would be vertical instead of horizontal.

Thats a Bbbbrrrriilliant idea mate , good on you , I will do one sometime .

Cheers mate ...... :)

Light up the interior of the ffridge with out door led xmas lighting, various colors or one mono tone.

before everyone gets started on this project there are some precautions that must be observed. First, 2 1/2' holes will not let enough air into the cabinet to keep a child alive, especially on a hot day. If the child is inside and the cooler is tipped the door could be impossible for even a child outside the cooler to open. Use a positive locking method and save a life. Another item to know. Refrigerant removal and recycling can only be done legally be someone who has the proper certification. I know because I have qualified for a Universal refrigerant handling certificate and it wasn't easy. Additionally to do the job properly,a recycling container, a Refrigerant recovery pump, and refrigeration gauges are required. A big investment. Then you have to take the recycled refrigerant to a location that will accept it, such as a refrigeration supply center. unless you are able to meet these requirements don't mess around with refrigerant. As stated the fine if your are discovered, can be enormous.

1 reply

Perhaps as just the shell is required, one could potentially source a fridge from a repair place that has gutted a fridge for parts? Surely they would give away the shell, if it meant they avoided costs for removal! :D

This looks great!

Perhaps another suggestion (I hate telling someone how to do something 'better-er'!) but perhaps incorporate some hydro-lifts (like a car bonnet or boot) to assist in the lifting of the lid, hold it open when required, and also assist if any child were to be locked inside (in fact, if the fridge was upright, the hydros would probably force the doors open anyway!)

In Australia, you cannot put ANY fridge out for hard rubbish unless the door has been removed, or it has been tied/taped shut. Even a modern fridge can cause death if someone climbed in, and it tipped over, or something was placed in front of it, blocking the door...)

I love this though, and if I had the room, I would totally be doing it!

Very interesting project. Question : what about using a fully functional fridge ?

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EvaW13

3 months ago

What a great idea! I am going to do this, with a few variations of course. Our clunker is a side by side. We’ll see how that works. I am already looking forward to the storage space for all that stuff that we tuck away between parties and then have to find! I have some giant industrial casters I bought at an auction a few years back. Obviously this isn't going to just roll through the prairie, but from one side of the pergola concrete to the other for cleaning the area and repositioning will be plenty.

If you have a sawzall, you can cut the nails by putting the blade between the boards and stringers. This give you longer pieces to work with

Awesome, only downside to a fridge that big is all the ice it would take to fill it. 8)

2 replies

make a stand inside with mesh so the ice and items are above the bottom of the fridge/cooler. Depending on size, you could only use half the ice of an open one.

Well you could just use the freezer section for ice and main body for storage for the smoker or grill :)

That's brilliant. But you'd have to have a lock on it to prevent little ones from climbing inside.

3 replies

No you wouldn't. One reason is that this does not lock like old fridges, and also, there would be holes where the melted ice escapes from.

Yes, it should absolutely be locked for safety. When putting a fridge out on the street for disposal pick-up, you'll be advised to remove the doors even in the upright position. A small child could get into this and be unable to open the door, especially with it placed on it's back. The small (possibly closed) hole for water drainage might not be sufficient to prevent suffocation. Additionally, heat stroke or hypothermia are also possibilities in periods of extended entrapment. Better safe than sorry.

Fridge doors with magnetic strips do not even remotely resemble the old fridges from the 40's...50's...60's. Those fridges were definitely a safety issue when disposing as were deep freeze units. The doors had a positive lock that only opened from the outside. Today's fridges and freezers do not apply.

Regarding the questions about building ice shelves or filling the whole thing with ice...and this maybe a dumb question...but is there any reason why you can't NOT dismantle the fridge? Could you build all this cladding on a working fridge, plug it in and allow it to keep your (few) bags of ice and food cold? Would attempting to operate the fridge outside and on it's side cause a problem (other than the obvious, don't leave it plugged in and running during a rain storm)?

2 replies

There is actually a reason that you cannot operate the fridge on it's side, it has to do the the coolant pump. when the fridge is tipped on it's side it messes up the pump so that it doesn't circulate the coolant properly. I'm not sure of the exact issue or mechanism at play that causes this, but if you buy a new refrigerator this is the reason that the box says not to tip the fridge.

The compressor has oil in it, and when you turn it on its side, the oil doesn't lubricate the compressor motor properly (like if you ran a lawnmower on its side). Also, the oil is more likely to travel throughout the refrigerant lines and contaminate the expansion valve. So, while it may work on its side, it probably won't work on its side for very long.