Around the first of the year a friend sent me the following link showing how someone turned an ordinary cooler into a Pirate Chest:
I really liked the idea and wanted to give it a try as I host many BBQs and wanted a place to store my 'liquid gold' (beer) that would be both unique and fun.
I got around to giving this a try and am very happy with the results so I wanted to share and hopefully inspire others that are interested to make their own Pirate Chest Beer Cooler.
Step 1: Select the Cooler
First thing I needed to do was to find a cooler I wanted to use for the project. As the size of the cooler will directly impact the size of the chest and how much you can store in it as well as the weight when loaded.
I looked online and in local stores as well as talked to friends about where they got their coolers. I had selected a cooler at a local store (it was cheaper than Amazon) and was going to go get it. Then a friend stepped in and said that they had an old cooler that was sitting in their backyard and I could have it, although it would need some cleaning and a handle was broken.
It ended up that the cooler I got was the exact model I was going to go buy. I guess it was fate!
It was a 70qt Coleman Cooler and was a bit dirty as you can see in the photos.
Step 2: Prep the Cooler
I needed to remove the lid as well as the handles so that I could start to measure and create the box that the base of the cooler would fit into.
The hinges were attached with screws, and the drain plug was a threaded plastic piece. Both of those were removed with ease.
The handles were molded as a part of the cooler and I used a cutting disc with my Dremel and removed them with ease. It does not look the best, but it does not matter as the cut handles will be covered by the base of the chest.
Step 3: Building the Base Box
I used 5/8" pine plywood for the base box. I made it so that the bottom piece of the box fits inside the sides for aesthetics and better support.
I measured the widest points and created the four sides with measurements directly taken from the cooler for a snug fit.
Step 4: Creating the Lid
Deciding on what profile I wanted to use for the lid was one of the hardest parts of the project.
I ended up making a 7-sided lid to give it a 'rounded' look. There are many options you could do and you just have to sketch them out and then decide on measurements and angles.
- Cut the sides of the lid in the profile you have decided.
- Cut narrow boards to fit between the sides and enclose the lid (Start with the bottom front/back), then attach them to the sides.
- Cut the center top piece and attach it to the sides.
- Place the cooler lid on the cooler inside the base box. Set the 4-sided lid that you have over the cooler lid and onto the base box.
- With the cooler & lid in the bottom box with the chest lid placed over it, cut pieces to use as cross bracing and others to run to the top for vertical support.
- Take the chest lid off and screw the cooler lid to the cross bracing of the chest lid.
- Attach the rest of the cross pieces to enclose the rest of the lid.
Step 5: Drainage Hole and Staining the Chest
Once the base chest is complete (bottom box and lid) you can drill a hole for cooler drainage and also stain it to the color you like.
I placed the cooler in the bottom box and with the drain parts removed I pushed a marker through the drain hole to mark where it would align with the box. This is where I drilled the hole for the drain to pass through.
I kept the design simple and used a small piece of 5/8" clear flex tubing and a cork to extend the drain through the wall of the chest.
If I did this again I would not add a drain hole and just tip the whole thing over to drain it as I don't like the look of the drain hole in the side of the chest.
I used a Redwood stain for the color of the main box and lid. I stained the inside and the bottom of the chest so there was nothing left un-stained.
Step 6: Decorative Banding
I wanted to make the trunk look like it had banding that helped to hold the trunk together. I didn't want to use plywood as I wanted a different look and found an old pallet in a trash pile that ended up being made of solid oak.
I ripped and sanded the oak boards to the desired sizes with my table saw, then applied them to the chest at each edge/corner and two in the middle.
As I was cutting the boards I ordered decorative chest pieces which help make the chest look very distinct.
Step 7: Handles and More Decoration
After I had the chest and banding all assembled I wanted to add handles to the sides as well as more decoration.
I do leather working so I found some leather handle brackets at the same place I oredered the corners and trunk lock from.
I cut and dyed the leather to fit the handle brackets and even added an embossed "D" in the leather (like in 'Dread' pirate).
While the leather was drying I added 'furniture nails' that I got from a local hardware store to the oak banding for extra effect.
Step 8: Engraving the Chest
After the chest was all assembled and hardware was added, I wanted to give it a unique look and decided I was going to engrave a "D" in the top and front of the chest.
- I printed two different sized "D"s using the 'Parchment' font.
- I taped the paper to the wood on one side and then traced the lines pressing very hard. This slightly dented the wood and allowed me to transfer a rough image of the graphic to the surface of the wood.
- I used my Dremel with an engraving bit and carved out all lines, making sure to go extra deep on the "D" itself.
- I then used a permanent fine-point brown marker and colored in all lines and areas that were carved.
Step 9: Fill It With Liquid Gold and Tar
Once you have your Pirate Chest complete, the only thing left to do is fill it with Liquid Gold (beer) and Tar (stout)!
Before you fill it you might want to decide where it will be placed first.
The chest alone is very heavy with the plywood and oak added to it, but once a 70qt cooler wrapped in a Pirate Chest is filled with beer, you are not going to want to move it.
Enjoy your Pirate Brew!