Ready for a cold one? Not so fast. It’ll taste even better after you build this beauty for your deck or patio. We sized our cedar ice chest around an off-the-shelf 50-quart plastic cooler.
Made of cedar, the box features a brass spigot to take the heavy lifting out of draining melted ice, a stainless-steel continuous hinge for the lid, and a classic bottle opener right out front, sparing you that frantic hunt for a way to open your frosty beverage.
Follow along as This Old House contributor Christopher Beidel, owner of Pernt, a handmade-furniture company in Brooklyn, New York, walks you through the simple step-by-step process of making your own classic cooler.
How to Build a Cedar Ice Chest Overview
For the Cut List, scroll to the bottom of this article.
How to Make a Wooden Ice Chest Cooler
1. Make the Frame for the Box Bottom
- On a miter saw, make all the straight cuts per the cut list. Use long bar clamps to hold the box's four frame boards together, with the short ones between the long ones.
- Using a ⅛-inch combination countersink bit, drill two pilot holes at each joint, and secure the frame with 1½-inch deck screws.
2. Install the Slats for the Box Bottom
- Place one slat inside the frame, against its edge. Using the combo bit, drill two pilot holes through the face of the frame and into each end of the slat, as shown, and secure it to the frame with 1½-inch deck screws.
- Add two more screws into the edge of the slat. Install the slat at the opposite edge the same way. Install the other two slats evenly spaced between the first two, secured only at the ends.
3. Attach the Side Slats for the Box
- Set the box bottom on edge, and lap the first slat over the inside of the frame, about 1 inch from a corner.
- Use the combo countersink bit to drill two staggered pilot holes, then secure the slat with 1¼-inch deck screws. Attach the adjacent slat, using a spacer to create a consistent gap. Keep going until all the side slats are installed, and don't worry about gaps at the corners—they get covered in the next step.
4. Make the Corners for the Box
- Clamp one corner board in place, resting on the top edge of the frame, ¾ inch shy of the corner. Place the adjacent corner board overlapping the edge of the clamped board, and use the combo bit to drill pilot holes through its face and into the first board's edge, at the top and bottom.
- Secure the corner with 1½-inch deck screws. Then, from the inside of the box, drive 1¼-inch deck screws through the corner slats and into the corner boards. Repeat for the remaining corners.
5. Install the Cap for the Box
- Lay a long cap piece on top of the slats and corner boards on one side of the box. Drill countersinks and pilot holes through the face of the cap piece and into the tops of the slats and corner boards. Secure it with 1½-inch deck screws.
- Install the other long cap piece, then install the two short ones between the long ones.
6. Lay Out the Cuts for the Feet and Brackets
- Mark the center point of the face of a foot blank. Measure and mark out 1⅛ inches from both sides of that point.
- Make a mark 2¼ inches down from the top corners of the blank, and use a straightedge to connect the top marks with the side marks to form two diagonal cutlines.
7. Make the Cuts for the Feet and Brackets
- Position the blank with the waste angle off the table. Clamp a straightedge parallel with the cutline, using a piece of scrap to support one end if necessary (as shown).
- Set the circular saw's blade depth to 1 inch, and run the shoe along the straightedge to cut the first angle.
- Use the same setup to cut the other angle, then use the piece to trace cutlines on the remaining seven blanks for the feet and brackets and cut them in the same manner.
8. Build the Leg Assemblies for the Base
- Clamp a ¾-inch piece of scrap between two leg pieces. Center a foot on the edge of the leg pieces so that all pieces are flush at the bottom.
- Make four countersinks (two for each leg piece) through the face of the foot and into the edges of the legs. Secure the foot with 1½-inch deck screws. Repeat with the remaining feet, and install the brackets as mirror images of the feet.
- Remove the scrap boards. Then attach each foot pad with four 1½-inch deck screws.
Tip: Cedar is naturally rot resistant, but if you want the natural red color to last, periodically apply teak oil to keep ultraviolet rays from graying the wood.
9. Install the Leg Assemblies for the Base
- Set the box on its side, and mark the location of a leg assembly on the bottom. Lay the assembly in place, drill pilot holes, and drive 2-inch deck screws through the face of the bottom slats into the edges of the leg brackets, as shown. Repeat for the second leg assembly.
10. Rout the Lid Rails and Slats for the Lid
- Set a rail on your work surface, place a scrap board directly behind it, and clamp a third board over the first two to act as a router guide, as shown.
- Put a ¾-inch straight bit in your router. Set it to ⅛ inch and make multiple passes, lowering the bit each time until the rabbet is ⅜ inch deep. Rout the other rail.
- Clamp the four lid slats edge to edge, and clamp these slats and a router guide to your work surface.
- Rout matching rabbets ⅜ inch deep on both ends of the slats.
11. Install the Rails and Stiles for the Lid
- Follow the instructions in Step 1 to build the lid frame.
- Set a stile in place on top of it, and use your drill/driver to make a countersink at each of the board's four corners, plus two more spaced evenly along the long edge of the lid.
- Secure the stile with 1½-inch deck screws. Install the opposite stile.
- To install the rails, place them between the stiles, rabbet-side up, and drill four countersinks into the frame edges for each one. Secure them with 1½-inch deck screws.
12. Add the Lid Slats for the Lid
- Lay the slats rabbet-side up on your work surface and fit the lid upside down over them. Use spacers to get an even distance between slats.
- Make two countersinks at each joint, and use a screwdriver to secure the slats to the rails with ⅝-inch brass or stainless-steel screws.
13. Locate the Drain for the Cooler
- Place the cooler in the box. Mark the location of the drain's center on the inside of the box, as shown.
- Remove the cooler, put a ⅛-inch twist bit in your drill/driver, and make a hole at your mark from inside the box.
14. Add the Batten and the Drain Hole for the Cooler
- The batten adds strength to the spot where the spigot exits. Place the batten on the top edge of the frame, centered on the hole, and secure it by driving 1¼-inch deck screws from inside the box, one into each corner.
- Then put a 1-inch Forstner (or spade) bit in your drill. Center the bit over the hole you drilled in Step 13, and make a hole all the way through the side of the box, as shown.
15. Install the Drainpipe for the Cooler
- Remove the cooler's threaded drain cap, and place the cooler in the box.
- Screw together the brass spigot, nipple, and connector, using Teflon tape on the threads. Use two adjustable wrenches to tighten the assembly.
- Then pass the connector through the hole and thread it onto the cooler's drainpipe. Tighten it gently by hand.
16. Attach the Lid to the Box
- Set the lid on top of the box. Use your drill/driver to secure the continuous hinge to both pieces with the included screws.
- Then place the cooler lid on the cooler. Affix two pieces of double-sided foam tape to the underside of the lid slats, and close the box's lid; the tape should grab the cooler's lid.
- Open the box's lid and make four ⅛-inch pilot holes through the cooler lid, as shown, and screw it to the lid slats.
17. Add the Hardware
- Use your drill/driver to attach the lid's handle and the bottle opener with the included screws.
- To prevent the lid from falling backward, screw a length of sash chain on one side, from inside the box to the inside edge of the lid.
Cut List for Cedar Ice Chest
1x4 frame front and back: two @ 29½ inches
1x4 frame sides: two @ 17¾ inches
1x4 stiles: two @ 29½
1x4 rails: two @ 12¼ inches
1x4 slats: four @ 24 inches (two slats ripped to 2 inches)
1x4 frame front and back: two @ 29 ½ inches
1x4 frame sides: two @ 17¾ inches
1x4 bottom: four @ 28 inches
1x4 slats: twenty-two @ 13⅛
1x4 corner boards: eight @ 10⅜ inches
1x4 long cap piece: two @ 29 ½ inches (ripped to 1 ½ inches)
1x4 short cap piece: two @ 16¼ inches (ripped to 1 ½ inches)
1x4 batten: one @ 10⅜ inches
1x4 feet and brackets: eight @ 19¼ inches
1x4 legs: four @ 7 inches
1x4 foot pads: four @ 5 inches