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Old 02-07-2012
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built a new fridge box

While we were sailing in Mexico not running our AC refrigeration because it was such a power hog, I thought it would be a great idea to rip our existing giant fridge box out, rebuild it and install a much more efficient 12V system. I'm still a little angry at all my friends who didn't talk me out of that idea. Anyways, after probably 8 months straight of nights and weekends, that death march of a project is done.

I thought I'd post some things I learned along the way. Unlike other boat projects, there doesn't seem to be as much info out there about building a new fridge box. And every resource I found talks about building it off site and dropping it in place. We couldn't remove our galley counter so I had to build it in place, hanging upside down through the existing opening.

The hardest problem to solve for me was how to finish the fiberglass inside the fridge box in a food safe way. I talked with a few people who used gelcoats only to have all of their food taste like gelcoat a year later. All of the commercial finishes I found off-gased way too much to be used inside a fridge. Apparently there are food-safe gelcoats out there but I laid up the fiberglass with epoxy so I doubt the gelcoat would have adhered. I ended up using West Systems epoxy with a white pigment mixed in. It was a really messy process and very labor intensive (read: a galactic pain in the ass) but it came out looking pretty nice, very rugged and absolutely no odor.

I initially thought I could roll and tip the epoxy on but because it's so viscous and I was applying it to vertical surfaces, it went on looking saggy and crappy. I couldn't thin it because it took so many coats to make the coverage opaque. However, I found out that epoxy is hard enough that you can sand it, wet sand it and then polish it to recover a glossy finish. I learned that from custom surfboard builders who use epoxy as a finish. Check out this spectacular surf board: Re: [llilibel03] my annual build thread- The Giant Squid | Swaylock's Surfboard Design Forum.

Anyways, here's a photo recap of the project with more links at the bottom if you want to know more about it.


I'm 6'2". It was a big fridge box.


Cleaned out to the hull. We marked the waterline.


Insulation finished. You can see the aluminum support beam.


I used Reflectix sealed with foil tape as a water barrier.


The box was built out of 1/2" marine ply. This was a dry fit. I pulled it all out and coated it with epoxy before the final assembly.


After fiberglassing. I laid 3 or 4 sheets of 10oz. cloth in the seams and the bottom. The rest of the box got 2 sheets.


The box sanded and faired. The purple is a layer of thickened epoxy I put over the glass so I could get a smooth surface.


After the pigmented epoxy finish was faired, sanded and polished.


My original design called for a deeper well the exact height of a can of beer that we could fill with... refreshments. The rest of the fridge contents would sit level on top of this "can well". Here we are testing the results.


Installed the Sea Frost (these guys are awesome by the way) freezer bin. Testing that bottles of ... refreshment... will fit next to the freezer bin.


I also had to build a new ledge for the lid to rest on. I used the same extruded polystyrene insulation I used on the fridge. I then glassed it over and used the same epoxy finish that the box interior got.


I also built insulation for the lid using the same process I used on the lid ledge. The place where the foam is cut out is where the gas spring was going to be installed. I dropped marine ply in there so it could handle the loads of the fridge lid.


Dry fitting the lid assembly. For the lid material, I used a eucalyptus butcher block.


The final product.


It works!!!


The eucalyptus butcher block lid. This was an expensive piece of wood so I took the off cuts and made a butcher block that drops into the sink.



Now that the project is finished, I'm really happy with the results. We keep the fridge at 32F all the time. The freezer stays around 20F. We make ice and have the coldest beer on the dock. I'm also really happy to not be spending my weekends grinding fiberglass. Or having the boat torn apart. Or picking epoxy dust out of my ears. I'm just happy the project is done.

If you want more photos of the build process, I have a gallery up here:
Fridge Box Rebuild - hello world! | SmugMug

I chronicled most of the process on our blog if you really want to know more.

My original thoughts while we were in Mexico suffering from warm beer:
s/v hello world: i like cold beverages - part 1

Ripping out the old fridge. This was the point of no return. For Arrested Development fans, I like to call this point in the project "I've made a huge mistake."
s/v hello world: tearing out the fridge box

My original fridge box design. The end result came pretty close to the design.
s/v hello world: fridge box design

Insulating the box:
s/v hello world: fridge insulation

Constructing the fridge box in place:
s/v hello world: fridge box construction

Sealing it up:
s/v hello world: putting a lid on it
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