Due to overwhelming demand, plans and major components for building your own Frankencooler are now available here
My Frankencooler design taken to the next level with the finest all-copper radiators I could find, a massive lithium iron phosphate power cell, better insulation, and revised plumbing.
But does spending twice as much money equate to dramatically better performance?
At least as far as the radiators go, not really. My original design’s lightweight and affordable components cool nearly the same for many hundreds of dollars less.
Nevertheless, this cooler incorporates some significant improvements and our available Frankencooler Build Plans have been updated to reflect some of these changes.
The time spent laying out where everything will go on your ice chest air conditioner is critical, as you can’t undo a hole once it’s cut in the lid of your new $80 cooler. The old adage “measure twice, cut once” really applies here, as there’s nothing worse than cutting a hole for a blower, only to turn the lid over and realize that there isn’t room to center a radiator underneath it.
I’ve taken to cutting out pieces of cardboard the size of blowers, radiators, motor controllers, and whatever else is going to be mounted on the cooler lid so I can place them on both sides of the lid to see how it’s all going to fit. Once done, I then outline the item in pencil. After measuring to make sure everything’s symmetrical, I then carefully cut on the inside of the lines (enlarging a hole is easy, reducing one is pretty much impossible).
Whether one surface mounts heat exchangers or countersinks them into the cooler lid depends on the lid characteristics – especially thickness. The build I’m currently working on required countersinking nearly everything to do it right, so I’ve had to make a ton of holes in this lid – the majority of which I did with a razor knife and straightedge (tedious beyond belief).
In my opinion, this is the worst part of building a Frankencooler. From here, it’s a matter of mounting all the components in their places and doing the respective electrical and plumbing connections – something I find a lot less nerve-wracking.
As most of you are aware, I have been powering my Frankencooler ice chest air conditioners with 18V Ryobi batteries. This came about because I originally purchased a Ryobi Work Fan to use as the basis of my first cooler featuring a fan blowing across ice. If you’ve watched my video, you know this idea failed miserably, and I went on to repeatedly modify this cooler into a design that works well.
Most people like the idea of using a Ryobi battery to power their Frankencooler since they also own Ryobi cordless tools and chargers, but doing this comes with shortcomings:
- Coming up with a Ryobi receptacle (plug). I’ve been buying $50 Ryobi Work Fans just to strip the easily removable and self-contained battery receptacle.
- The largest Ryobi 18V battery available currently is a recently-introduced 5.0 Ah unit. The 4.0 Ah models I’ve been using go approximately 1.5 – 2 hours on a charge at normal running speeds. Long enough for tailgating, but some people want/need more.
- Inline blowers of the type I use are 12V. I’ve had no problem over 2 1/2 years running these blowers through motor controllers on 18V, but obviously, it’s not ideal.
Because of these negatives, I have started building my Frankencoolers with state-of-the-art hybrid lithium power cells. These battery packs are light, powerful, and available in a number of sizes. The ones I use feature onboard circuitry to equalize voltage and charging.
Mounting these batteries to a cooler can be accomplished using a waterproof, hinged-lid standoff electrical box or exterior receptacle cover, depending on the size of the power cell.
I’ve been shopping for coolers this week in preparation for an upcoming build, and while there’s an endless variety to choose from on the market, there are very few well-suited for converting into a Frankencooler.
I prefer wheeled coolers in the 45 – 50 QT. range, as they usually have a lid large enough to accommodate two 4″ blowers, intake radiator, battery receptacle, motor controller, etc., but small enough to comfortably load in the back seat when full. The problem now is that wheeled coolers in this range are shorter in length and taller, resulting in lid areas that are too small for the components I use.
In order to have the longest possible ice retention times, I decided to go with the best wheeled 50 Qt. cooler I could find. After investigating, I settled on one made by a company called Kysek (Yeti will finally introduce a wheeled cooler in July). Before ordering one, I went to a local dealer to scope it out, and I’m glad I did.
While this thing was nearly a yard long (big enough for 4 blowers!) and weighed over 40 pounds empty, the interior volume was tiny, due to the insane amount of insulation Kysek uses. The interior height would actually be too shallow for the heat exchangers and insulated divider I’m going to use. When done, this thing would weigh in at over 70 pounds loaded – frankly more than I care to heft into the back seat of my wife’s car. I had to rethink my strategy.
Considering that the first thing one does when converting an ice chest into an air conditioner is cut numerous holes in the lid for the blowers, etc., I believe it’s more important to have interior height to allow for a thicker insulated divider over the ice than it is to have a super insulated 3″ thick lid. Add the fact that ice melt in a Frankencooler is primarily due to circulating ice water through radiators, and you soon realize that spending $400 for a cooler that can keep ice cold for a week is money wasted. It’s desirable that at least the lid be insulated with foam – something now common in many inexpensive coolers – and size and weight must be reasonable for those of us who don’t have pickups.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, plus my desire to find a cooler with a smooth lid underside for easy heat exchanger mounting, I ended up going with a new-style gray and orange Coleman Xtreme 5 62 QT. wheeled cooler that I purchased for only $70 at a local sporting goods store.
Stay tuned to see this thing converted into a Frankencooler in an upcoming video!