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Welcome to Part 3! We’re almost ready to relax in the backyard, enjoying an ice cold beverage. First, I’ll show you how to finish building a cooler cart to keep them at that icy refreshing temperature. In Part 1, I modified the structure of a free grill cart to better fit the (also free) cooler. Part 2 showed how to panel the sides and back and install a drain. Now we’ll complete the paneling, make the lid, and add some interior storage and some finishing touches.
Step 1 – Finish the front paneling
The front was slightly more complicated because I wanted to add a hatch for some interior storage. The cart is much longer than the cooler and it would be a shame for that extra space to go to waste. First, I added a vertical support in line with the end of the cooler using some of the wood that we removed in part 1.
To frame out the cooler, I added a 2×4 between this vertical support and the rear paneling. This will also give it support for the top panels over the storage compartment. Be sure that the vertical support and this 2×4 are level with the rest of the cart.
Next I measured and cut the top two panels of the cooler section. I installed the top panel, attaching it with nails using my Ridgid 18V brad nailer. I had seen an idea that I wanted to try, installing strong magnets in the wood below the bottle opener to catch bottlecaps as they fall. In my case, this did not work because the magnets I had on hand were not strong enough. However, if you’d like to try it, you can find some strong neodymium (rare earth) magnets and install them like I did below.
I drilled holes slightly larger than the magnets and glued them in with Gorilla Glue in a grid pattern so I would have a larger area to catch the bottlecaps.
Next, I cut and installed the remaining paneling. Again, like in part 2, I had to rip the width of the bottom board on the table saw to fit flush with the bottom of the legs. I cut two small pieces to cover the frame to the right of the storage compartment door.
Step 2 – Making the top
Next, I cut the boards for the top. I wanted at least a 1″ overhang on all sides. Fortunately, it worked out well that the cooler was about three boards deep, so I didn’t have to rip the width of any boards. Cutting all of the boards oversized by a few inches allowed me to test fit them around the cooler and measure the overhang on the front and back. I cut the sides to match that overhang. I went ahead and nailed down the front board so I could flush the others against it.
Next, I traced the pattern below on the next board, so it would fit closer to the cooler’s outside corner. I used an appropriately-sized roll of tape to trace the curve.
I cut this with the jigsaw and test-fit it against the cooler. In retrospect, this could have been trimmed a little closer to the cooler so there would be less of a gap. To be fair, though, the front of the cooler had a slight curve rather than being straight. I trimmed the other end of the board to give the proper overhang and installed the board.
The center board only needed to be cut to length for the overhang. I repeated the process to trim and install the other center boards, and then attached the rear board. The tabletop is now complete!
Step 3 – Storage compartment door
With the top in place, the storage compartment opening could be measured for the door. It was about 8 1/4″ wide and two boards tall. To allow space for the door to open and close, I decided to leave an 1/8″ gap all around.
I cut two scrap boards to 8″ long and cut 1/8″ off the width of each with the table saw. I used a scrap piece of 1×4 to join the two boards to make the door, nailing them together with the brad nailer. We will install the door later, along with the hardware.
Step 4 – The cooler lid
The cooler lid would be a framed box that would be hinged, allowing it to fit flush over the cooler itself. With the lid in place, I measured the height of the lid, plus the thickness of a scrap 1×4. This gives us the height of the sides of the lid box at 2 1/2″.
I cut pieces of 1×4 to the length and width of the cooler lid, then ripped them to 2 1/2″ wide on the table saw. The front and back pieces are longer so they will overlap the side pieces (see the pic below). I also cut two more pieces to fit across the top of the lid, which will provide support to attach the lid to the box. These are lined up with the cup holders in the lid. I test fit all of the pieces before assembling.
Since it would be subject to more movement than the rest of the cart, I glued the boards with water-resistant Gorilla wood glue before nailing them together with brads.
More wood glue reinforced the 1×6 boards that made up the top of the lid box. I continued the boards across to cover the box.
With the box complete, I turned it over with the lid still inside. Where the cup holders are, inside there was a small dimple, giving me a placement for the screws to attach the lid to the box. I used 3″ screws with a washer to prevent them from pulling through the plastic.
In the picture below, you can see where the screws line up with the frame pieces in the box. The lid box is now complete and ready to be attached.
Step 5 – Hardware and finishing touches
Before installing the hardware, I gave all of the edges a light sanding to take off any splinters or rough spots. I painted all of the hardware with gloss black spray paint.
With the lid in place to ensure it fits snugly on the cooler, I attached the hinges to the rear of the lid box, then to the tabletop.
I found this set of two paper towel holders on Amazon. The rustic black pipe look complements the bare wood of the paneling well. I installed one on each side of the cart.
Pro-tip: These towel holder screw into the flange clockwise (righty-tighty), so install them with the flange to the left. This way, any weight on the towel arm will only tighten it rather than loosen it.
I installed storage door hinges and handle, and mounted it in the door frame. Make sure it doesn’t bind on any edges. I also added a magnetic catch inside to hold the door closed (not shown). The lid box got its own handle, and I attached a bottle opener. If you use the magnet trick to catch the bottlecaps, make sure to place the opener just above them.
Building a cooler cart is a simple and rewarding project!
It provides a useful and stylish way to store those cold drinks on a hot summer day. You can also show off your skills by building a cooler cart. Ours proudly stands near the grill on our deck, ready to serve up icy refreshment!