I recently saw an instructable about turning a cooler into a treasure chest and had to give it a go.
I'll walk you through the steps I took to turn my cooler into a treasure chest. All of my materials used were recycled wood from pallets and the plywood was from a church remodel. The cooler was from a previous project that didn't work out so everything in the project was stuff I already had. Let's get started.
Step 1: Making the Box
- The first thing I did was measure the cooler from top to bottom, left to right, and front to back. It's important to note that the base box should only be built to the top of the base of the cooler. Do not include the lid in your base measurement for the box.
- Once I had the measurements I removed the plastic hinges and handles off the side and back of the box. I also removed the catch on the inside of the cooler (this will be reinstalled when the project is done). I decided to keep the screws and hinges just in case I have a use for them somewhere else or further along in the project.
- Once that was done I cut a piece of 3/4 inch plywood to the dimensions of the cooler. I am going to skip all the dimensions as most coolers are different sizes. I then cut the front, back, and side pieces for the box.
- I set the cooler in to make sure it was going to fit with very little wiggle room inside of the box. I was pleased to find I did a decent job on my first try. Once this part was done it was time to glue and screw the box together.
- I applied glue to the parts of the box that were going to touch and then held it together with some clamps. (You can never have enough clamps btw) Once it was flush, level, and square I pre-drilled screw holes into the box and drove screws in to hold the box together.
Step 2: Making the Top of the Chest
- Once the base of the box was done it was time to start on the top. I measured the top much like I did the bottom of the box. The dimensions were basically the same on most sides since the top fits on the bottom of the box flush. I wanted to keep the look of a treasure chest without over complicating it so I made mine with 2 sides, 2 angled cuts, and the top.
- The sides of the top had me scratching my head for a second. I decided to cut 2 rectangles and then measure up a couple inches and drew 45 degree angles. Once that was drawn on the sides I cut them with a miter saw.
- I had some left over pallet slats from a previous project so I thought I'd use those pieces for the sides, angled pieces, and top. I wanted it to have a "thrown together look" because it is...After all a treasure chest it should look worn down a little. I started by cutting the 2 side pieces to get length and using a pocket hole jig I made 2 pocket holes on each side of the pieces. These were then screwed into the side pieces to create a basic top.
- I then cut 2 pieces of pallet slats to fit the top the same way I cut the sides. I drilled some pocket holes on the under side and fastened them in the same way. It was now time to tackle those angled pieces.
- Once I got to this step I was scratching my head again. I knew that I needed the sides of the slats for the angled pieces to have a 45 degree angle on the sides I just didn't know a great way to measure exactly how wide to make them. I am by no means a pro in the wood shop. I actually have only been doing this for about 6-8 months learning as I go. So I basically cut a slat to length and then slowly inched my way up to the right size. I would cut a piece and then check to see how close I was to being right untilit fit in the spot. I then put pocket holes in these as well and fastened them in as well.
Step 3: Attaching the Hinge
- I had an old hinge I salvaged off of a piece of curbside throw away I saw on Craigslist. It was a continuous hinge and I thought it would work well for this "recycle" project. I started by holding the hinge up to the box and figuring how much of it I was going to have to cut off. Using a hacksaw I cut it to length.
- Once the length was found I held it in place and used a marker to mark the holes and their location. I pre-drilled and screwed the hinge in place. All the screws used were from the hardware that came on the cooler! See I knew those would come in handy sometime down the road.
Step 4: Attaching the Lid of the Cooler to the Lid of the Box
- I decided to go the easy route with this part. I set the lid on the cooler and made sure it was sealed tight. I then placed the lid of the treasure chest down in the closed position and then pre-drilled holes directly into the lid and screwed it into place. I opened the chest and found a couple of them where showing so I backed the screws out and angled them up a little and it seemed to work just fine.
Step 5: Dressing Up the Treasure Chest
- I started by cutting 2 inch slats down to size to fit each part of the box. I used 2 inch slats because I had some left over 2 inch slats from a patio table build I did a while back. The slats were planed down nicely and I thought they would work out well. I used a brad nail gun and some brads to fasten the boards into an L shape as shown above. I then placed them on the chest and used multiple brads to tack the pieces into place.
- Once that was done...I again got stuck on that angled piece. I ended up drawing on a piece of paper for the basic shape and transferring it to wood to make this part. You can see in the pictures that it ended up working out okay. Same process for the rest of the slats.
- Using a Japanese flush cut saw I knocked down the angled parts of the wood that were sticking up just a bit. Once those were cut off the chest was looking quite a bit better. At this point it was time to look for decorative stuff to put on the outside of the box.
Step 6: Sanding and Staining
- I started by sanding the chest with an 80 grit sand paper in my orbital palm sander and then sanded again with a higher grit over and over until I reached about 220. I figured that was plenty smooth and honestly I didn't I didn't do that good of a job. After all it is going to be a rustic chest.
- I wanted to keep as much of this chest made out of stuff that I already had. I had a little bit of stain left over from my pallet wood table build. It's a natural finish and I liked the way it looked on my table. There was less than half a can left so I figured I could easily stain the chest with it.
Step 7: Applying the Latch and Handles
- I started out by eye balling where I wanted the latch to sit. The latch I wanted I couldn't find anywhere. I ended up buying 2 different latches and pulls and combining them to make the look I wanted. The first image you can see where I pre-drilled the hole. I didn't want to split any wood. It's good practice...Especially when you're this far along in a project. If you split something now it becomes quite frustrating.
- Once that part of the latch was on I could tell the next piece wasn't going to fit very well. I decided to make a small cut off that would stick out just a little bit and allow the latch to over hang the opposing side. I pre-drilled a hile in this and ended up counter sinking it just a little since this piece was going to be glued and nailed into the chest.
- Once that was done I measured down and over for the handle locations on the sides. I used a sharp object and poked into where the hardware was going to be. Pre-drilled and counter sank from the inside for the handles. They went on very easy.
Step 8: Wood Burning Some Letters
- I've decided to give this treasure chest cooler to one of my co-workers, who is an X-ray tech, that goes to the KC Renaissance festival every year. He plans his whole year around it and goes every day they have it. He is an awesome guy and truly has a heart of gold. He had mentioned that he liked the chest and had thought about buying one from the festival. But I'm going to surprise him with it this year. I found some calligraphy on my Photoshop program and printed it off. Applied some spray adhesive and tacked it to the wood. I wood burned over the letters. Removed the paper and burned into the wood a little more.
- Once the wood was stained I glued it and tacked it onto the chest with 6 brad nails using my brad nail gun. Once that was finished I was done with the chest. I'm still trying to decide if I should use the decorative nails I found to dress it up or not. I kind of like the way it looks right now. I may just give these decorative nails to my buddy and if he wants them on he can do so. If not maybe we can use them on a project for someone else.