How to Make a Wooden Ice Chest

By Ezmeralda Lee ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Old pallet wood
  • Electric saw
  • Nails
  • Hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • Rubber hose and 2 clamps
  • Drain spigot
  • Sand paper
  • Strong glue
  • Ice cooler (Styrofoam or plastic)
  • 2 rust resistant hinges
  • 3 metal handles
  • Decorative hardware (if desired)
  • Wood stain
  • Wood varnish
  • Construction plans
  • Small chain

A wooden ice chest is a fun, rustic way to go back to the old days before there were plastic materials. Many people call these coolers “cowboy coolers” because they have that rustic appearance. Some ice chests can be made only from wood and metal, but that is very hard to make water tight and insulated. These plans use wood to contain an already finished ice chest made of plastic or Styrofoam. This is safer for the contents of the chest, as well as much easier to insulate. This way you can have the convenience of a modern ice chest with the appearance of an old-fashioned one.

Measure the dimensions of the ice chest that you want to cover. Cut the top of the chest loose from the bottom, so that it fits better. You will have to design the wood cover so that it completely covers the old chest, as well as fit together snugly. Basically you are making a cover for the old chest.

Once you know what design you need, cut the wood according to your plans. Sand the wood before placing around the chest.

Take the plug out of the cooler’s drain, and attach the hose. Clamp the hose to the spigot. Attach the new spigot by clamping the hose to it. Test the spigot by putting water in the cooler. Turning the knob should allow the water to come out. Attach the wood around the chest. This can be done by using glue, screws or nails. The best arrangement would be a combination of glue, and nails or screws. The top should be constructed so that the two halves of the old chest can still fit snugly inside of each other, creating the sealed top.

If you want to, now is the time to stain the box. Once stained and dried, you may varnish it if desired. Just remember not to get any stain or varnish on the inside of the cooler, as it can be harmful to ingest. Do this outside or in a well ventilated area.

Screw the hinges into the top and bottom of the box. Screw the handles to either side of the cooler. A chain can be attached to the top and bottom of the box so that the lid will not open too much. If you want to put any decorative items on the box, do so now. Stand back and admire your box. You are finished!


Proper planning and design of the box will really make a difference in the quality of the finished box. However, the whole idea of the box is to be more rustic, so if it isn’t perfect that’s ok as well.


Safety equipment should be used as all times, especially in the sawing step.