Designing A Built In Cooler For Your Hardwood Deck

Having a hardwood deck can lead to some great summer fun in Austin. The best part about having a deck is the ability to entertain friends and family outdoors, and provide a great atmosphere for almost any kind of social gathering.

We all know that parties and cookouts require having lots of cold drinks and ice on hand. While you may be considering the purchase of a large cooler for your deck parties, there is another option that is not only affordable, but also far more attractive than a plastic cooler.

Building a cooler into your deck system is actually a much simpler task than many people might believe. Austin residents who have hardwood decks now have a very attractive alternative to purchasing expensive portable coolers.

The first step to designing and building your cooler is to determine how large it will need to be to adequately hold enough drinks for the parties you intend to throw. For our example we will be building a cooler that is 3 feet long, by 2 feet wide, by 18 inches deep. This will be equivalent to 9 cubic feet, and will hold enough drinks for most parties.

Now that we know the size we need, the next step is to have the insert, or liner, for the cooler itself built. This will need to be built out of a light gauge metal. A local metal working shop will be the best place to have this done. Explain what you wish to use the box they will be building for, and let them know that it will need to be able to hold water. They can then weld the seams with a light duty welder to insure that it serves the purpose. The finished box should look like the diagram below.


The next step in the process is to build the box that will hold the insert. We want to build this out of hardwood plywood for durability and strength, as this cooler is designed to hold several hundred pounds of ice and drinks. Build the box to be exactly 1 ½ inches larger than the insert on each horizontal measurement, and ¾ of an inch longer on the depth. So, the length would be 3 ft, 1 ½ inches. The width would be 2 ft, 1 ½ inches. The depth would be 18 and ¾ inches. These are all inside measurements, so be sure to cut the pieces accordingly.

Once we have the box built to hold the cooler insert, we can get it ready for the metal liner to be installed. Cut pieces of ¾ inch Styrofoam insulation to fit inside the plywood box. Cut the two side pieces first, and place them along the long sides of the box. Next, cut the two end pieces, and fit them snugly in the ends, propping the two longer pieces tightly against the walls. Now place a piece that is cut to fit perfectly in the bottom of the box. You can use Liquid Nails adhesive to ensure the Styrofoam stays in place and is secured. Now, simply slide the liner into the insulated box, making sure not to damage the Styrofoam insulation.

The next step is to drill the drain hole in the cooler. For this, you can purchase a cooler drain plug kit from a local sporting goods store. They come with instructions on exactly how to mount and install them. Another affordable solution is to use a male threaded garden hose connector, with a female cap inside the cooler. This setup will allow you to install a simple rubber gasket, rather than silicone that needs time to dry, as well as giving you the option to run the hose under, or off the deck to avoid water in the walkway or party areas.

Next is to attach the lid, and add the hardwood decking to match your deck. For the lid, use the same hardwood plywood you used to build the box, and cut it to fit the top of the box, reaching each edge. Once you have it cut, set your hinges on the lid, then attach it to the box, making sure your screws do not puncture the metal cooler lining.

Once you reach this point, you should position the cooler in the location on the deck where you want it to stay. If it is to be built in a raised position, have a sturdy support system built to hold it. Hardwood 4×4 beams are plenty strong enough to form legs for your new cooler, and you can choose to have a free standing rack to set it on, or attach them to the cooler body.

Now that you have the location chosen, add the hardwood decking to the plywood. Be sure to predrill, especially if you’re using an exotic hardwood, such as Ipe or Garapa. You can run the decking in any direction you find aesthetically pleasing, but remember to cut the pieces for the lid to be longer than the lid itself, so they match up to the decking on the ends and sides of the cooler.

Now, the final steps of adding a lid seal and a handle can be achieved and your cooler will be ready to use. To add the lid seal, simply use some durable foam or rubber weather stripping with at least a thickness of 1 inch. Attach it to the plywood and Styrofoam insulation around the edge of the cooler opening with Liquid Nails. Once the adhesive has cured, you can open and close the lid with no worries of the seal ripping away. Next, choose an attractive handle and attach it to the cooler lid.

Now, you have the perfect place to store your ice and drinks this summer. Add a bottle opener to the side of the cooler for a nice touch for hard to open beverages. Your deck sports style that few can match, and the cooler is ready to be used at a moment’s notice.

Outdoor Decking and Patio

Stop by Timbertown Austin and learn more about our hardwood decking and our other wonderful outdoor living essentials. With kitchens by Danvers and KamadoJoe Smokers, your parties will be the talk of the town this summer.

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