What better way to celebrate the father figure in your life than with a handmade gift? Today I’m sharing how to take an old cooler and some white wood and turn it into a DIY cooler stand. Some of my favorite memories of my dad are BBQing in the backyard—I hope the gift of this DIY cooler stand helps you make life-long memories with the dad in your life, too.
Pssst, consider grilling some cedar-plank salmon and pairing this cooler stand with a camping crate—it’s great for camping (obviously), but it’s also great for keeping grilling and backyard BBQ supplies handy and organized.
Step 1: Deconstruct cooler
The first step is to deconstruct your current cooler. For us, this meant removing the hinges with a large Phillips-head screwdriver and then removing the handle. I tried to pull the handle out of its socket, but I became concerned I was going to destroy the structural integrity in the process, and eventually resorted to sawing it off with a hacksaw.
Step 2: Measure cooler for DIY patio cooler stand
Now that the cooler is deconstructed, measure the outside dimensions of your cooler at its widest points. For our cooler, the widest point was the top of the cooler. Measure also from the tabletop to just under the cooler lid. Record all of your measurements. I recommend double-checking these measurements by cutting some scrap wood to size and fitting it around your cooler. You want a fit that’s fairly snug, with just a little bit of wiggle room. Because our cooler isn’t big enough to have a drain spout, we’ll need to lift it out of the cooler stand to empty it. A little extra room won’t be a problem, but if it’s too tight, it’ll be hard getting the cooler inside the stand, and even harder getting it out when it’s full of ice.
From building both the prototype and the actual finished project with the same measurements but two different coolers, I realized that even if you’re using the exact same cooler model we are, you should double-check that all the measurements work with your cooler.
Step 3: Cut the cooler stand frame
From here on out, we’ll be referencing the specific measurements for our patio cooler stand based on our cooler dimensions. I recommend printing out the tutorial and replacing the measurements with your own as you go.
Out of two-by-twos, cut:
- Three 39 5/8” lengths for the bottom sides and the front top side of the frame
- Seven 11 13/16” lengths: two for the bottom ends, one for the bottom middle, two for the bottom supports, and two for the top supports
- Six 12 1/4” lengths for the frame legs
- Three 13 5/16” lengths for the top ends and top middle
- One 17 3/16” for the cooler backside
- One 17 15/16” for the other backside piece
There are so many different two-by-two lengths at this point, it can get pretty confusing. To help make it clearer for you, we marked each of our pieces with a permanent marker. I recommend doing this for yourself, but in pencil. Most of the two-by-two frame won’t be seen, but with the pencil marks, you don’t have to think about it at all.
Step 4: Assemble bottom of the wooden patio cooler stand frame
Start assembling the frame by laying out one of the bottom side pieces and lining up the bottom end pieces at either end. Secure everything in place. Place the cooler backside on the right side of this “U” shape and use it as a guide for placing the bottom middle piece. Secure in place, then remove the cooler backside board. Place the two bottom support boards on the right side (where the cooler backside piece just was). Eyeball their positions so they’re somewhat even. Secure in place. Now, place the other bottom side piece and secure it to all five of the end, middle, and support pieces.
This will be the bottom of the frame; the bottom support pieces will help hold up the cooler.
You can use 3” screws and some glue to secure at each contact point, or if you have a Kreg Jig, you can use that along with Kreg Jig screws and skip the glue. It’s totally up to you and whatever sounds easiest. One advantage I found with using the Kreg Jig was that the screws never ran into each other, even though there were two or three at each corner of the frame. That said, it was also tight at times with the Kreg Jig drill bit and I had to switch it out for a shorter drill bit.
Step 5: Add frame legs
Next, grab your frame leg pieces and secure them vertically to each of the four corners of the bottom. Secure two to either end of the middle bottom board.
If you’re not using a Kreg Jig, be careful to avoid the screws you just placed.
Step 6: Add frame top
Grab your top front side piece and secure it to the tops of the legs on the front side of the frame (the front is the side that’s facing you when the support pieces are on the right).
Position the top end and top middle pieces on top of the remaining legs, butting them up against the front piece, then secure in place. Place the top support pieces on the left side of the cooler (opposite the side of the bottom supports), close to either end.
On the backside, secure your cooler backside piece just under the other top pieces on the side with the bottom support pieces. This leaves room for the back of the cooler lid to swing freely when you’re opening and closing it. On the opposite side, secure the other backside piece between the top end and top middle pieces, and to the ends of the top support pieces.
Your frame is officially done. Congrats!
Step 7: Cut legs for the DIY wooden cooler stand
Next, cut two-by-fours into four 35 1/4” lengths for the legs.
Optional: We opted to not put wheels on our cooler stand, and instead decided to taper the two-by-four legs to make them look a little more aesthetically appealing and little less like two-by-fours. For this effect, measure up from the bottom of each leg 18 3/4” and mark with a pencil. At the bottom of each leg, measure across 1 3/4” and mark. With a straightedge, connect the two dots. Clamp down and cut along the angled line with a circular saw.
Step 8: Fit in cooler
Now that the frame for the cooler is built, fit the cooler inside. The cooler should fit closely but not tightly. If it’s a little too tight, you can loosen some screws slightly to gain a little extra room. The goal is to easily be able to remove the cooler by pulling from the top and pushing from the bottom so you can empty out water and ice.
Step 9: Attach legs
Position the legs face-down on either side of the front of the frame with 1 1/2" overhang on the side. Angled cuts should be facing out and tops should be flush with the top of the frame. Secure with 3” screws and glue. Repeat with the back legs.
Step 10: Add side slats
Cut a one-by-two into two 35 5/8” lengths and two 14 13/16” lengths. Position around the top of the frame, between the legs, and secure with glue and nails.
It was at this point that I realized my design left no place for the front and back slats to attach, so we quickly cut a few two-by-twos for the back right and left sides, and for the front right side. For the back and front right sides, we measured the space and cut pieces to size (this came out to 10 3/4” and 12 1/4”, respectively). The back left side needed to be cut 3/4” shorter to accommodate for the cupboard slats (11 1/2”). We attached all bolstering two-by-twos with 3” screws.
For the backside and each end, cut four pieces of the one-by-four to the same length as the corresponding one-by-two and secure in rows underneath the one-by-twos. For the front, measure from the right leg to the left side of the middle frame leg (in our case, this measurement was 18 1/4”) and cut four one-by-four lengths. Secure with glue and nails.
Step 11: Add cupboard trim
From one-by-two, cut three pieces of trim for the cupboard. Cut two to 12 1/4” to trim the front and back middle frame legs. Cut another piece to 17 1/2” to trim the bottom of the frame that shows between the left leg and slats. Secure trim in place with glue and nails.
Step 12: Add inside cupboard elements
Cut a square of plywood to fit in between the top and bottom two-by-twos on the right side of the cupboard (11 3/4” x 15”). Slide in place and secure with screws. Cut five slats to 15 11/16” so they fit in the bottom shelf and overhang the front 7/8”. You may need to cut a sixth board narrower with a circular saw to fit it in place, but I intentionally tried to avoid this by making the cupboard size consistent with one-by-four widths. Secure cupboard slats with glue and clamp or weigh down until dry.
Step 13: Cut top pieces
For this step, we’re going to cut the pieces for the top of the cooler stand. This will include a mitered trim, slats, and a breaker board. This is where things can get a little tricky, and you may notice that some of the process photos don’t perfectly match the final project. That’s because this is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” moments. Trust me, I tried to skip an important step and it didn’t go well. But if you follow these steps closely, then you can avoid my pitfalls! (Isn’t it sad I couldn’t follow the directions when I was the one who wrote them?!)
First, the mitered trim: this trim is going to fit around the inside dimensions of the frame top. Measure the backside and cut a one-by-four to length. Position it 1/4” away from the inside edge of the two-by-two backside to give room for the cooler lid to move freely on its new hinges. Clamp this board in place. Cut the trim board for the front and clamp it in place also (this one will line up with the inside of the frame top). Now measure between these two boards and cut mitered pieces for the ends and one straight piece for the middle (this will line up with the right edge of the top middle frame). Measure between the left side of the trim and the breaker board in the middle and cut one-by-four slats to length. You will most likely need to rip a board down to make these slats fit. All “ripping” means is making a board narrower, which is fairly easy to do with a circular saw. With that, pay attention to the dimensions and make sure you can’t just swap out one one-by-four for a one-by-two or one-by-three. You’ll notice I tried to get away with this myself, but it didn’t fit quite right so I ended up just ripping a one-by-four so I had a snug fit.
Now that everything is cut and placed for the top of the cooler stand, you can begin gluing and nailing pieces in place. I recommend starting with the trim ends and the breaker board, then securing the slats before finally unclamping the front and back and securing in place.
Step 14: Add cooler lid trim
For this step, we’re going to be framing the opening for the cooler much like we did when we added the mitered trim for the top.
Measure the opening for the cooler and add 1/4” to the width. Cut a one-by-two to fit around these measurements, using mitered corners. Position the front and side pieces of the trim around the opening of the cooler, lining them up with the edge of the one-by-fours. Glue and nail in place, leaving the back trim piece alone for now. (The photos show us doing this a little differently, but after multiple redos this is the way that I find the easiest).
Step 15: Add cooler lid
Next, cut a piece of plywood to fit inside the one-by-two trim, leaving room at the back for a hinge. Use tape on the plywood while cutting to reduce splintering and get the cleanest edge.
Cut a continuous hinge to the length of the plywood, then secure it to the backside. Attach the other side of the hinge to the edge of the one-by-two trim. Position the trim and plywood lid in place and test to make sure everything is operating smoothly. Once you’re sure of this, attach the one-by-two with glue and nails. Open the plywood lid and apply all-purpose glue to the top of the cooler lid. Lay the plywood down on top and weigh down until dry. Add a handle so that you can easily open and close your lid!
Step 16: Add accessories
That’s it! This project requires a lot of thinking, measuring, and cutting, but in the end, it’s well worth it. To complete the look, we added a bottle cap–opener and a tin for catching the bottle caps, but the options for accessorizing are endless. If you’re looking for some inspiration, jump on over to our all-terrain beverage cart post and take a look at some of the accessories we added to that project. Make it yours and enjoy all summer long.