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4x4tographer

Fridge & Drawer System pt. Deux! (Jeep JL with Soft Top)

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I've recently been gifted a SetPower RV45 powered fridge/freezer from my lovely wife for my various trips with you great folks. In the past, I built my first drawer and deck system for the rear of my Jeep JL that has worked out really well over the last few years. It wasn't perfect, but it certainly got the job done while keeping my tools and gear safe(r) from prying eyes and ne'er-do-wells. The add-on sleeping platform idea that I blatantly borrowed from @theksmith has worked out beautifully as well, since I hate sleeping on the ground any more.

 

With the new fridge, I've been simply strapping it down into the rear of the Jeep on top of the deck and that's been just fine. However, I also have a soft top on the Jeep and no serious intention to move to  a hard top (maybe some day - I keep talking about it). It's a bit of a PITA to pop open the top every time I want to access the fridge and grab a snack or a cold water.

 

So - its time for a new building project!

 

Project Goals: 

  • Access the fridge without the need to unbutton the top every time I want to grab a drink
  • Full extension slides that will extend the fridge out far enough to clear the top and open the lid
  • Retain a 1/2 width deck that blends into the contours of the trunk
  • Tie downs on the top of the deck for additional gear boxes, Gerry cans, etc....
  • Robust drawer that will handle the weight of my trail tools and recovery gear
  • Bedliner/sealant incase I get caught in the rain with the top off
  • A rebuild of my sleeping platform 

 

Materials include:

  • 1/2 birch plywood from Woodworkers Source (there are a thousand benefits from working with good quality plywood)
  • Beadboard (used to cut as a template for mapping the Jeeps contours)
  • 500lb lock in/lock out sliders
  • Pocket screws
  • Nails
  • Wood glue
  • Kilz primer paint
  • Paint/bedliner
  • Varathane Jet Black stain

 

Tools used:

  • Table saw
  • Jig saw
  • Router
  • Circular saw
  • Impact Driver
  • Nail gun
  • Clamps
  • Kreg jig (pocket hole jig)
  • Mouse sander
  • Speed square
  • Contour gauge

 

 

The project started off by tearing out the old platform which was held it with only 6 bolts on the factory tie down points in the rear of the Jeep. I had a spare bit of plywood from my previous build that was already sized to 30" that fit into the rear perfectly for some "conceptualization":

 

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The angle of the photo isn't great - but using a straight edge I was able to determine that the fridge would just squeak by beneath the rear soft top tailgate bar. Once you add in the additional height of a slide system and something to actually support the fridge from beneath..... there's no way it was going to work. But mounting the fridge at an angle would! We'd still need to low profile fridge slide that just barely scrapped by the floor of the deck.

 

@theksmith sent me over an awesome idea for a fridge support made of thin, but strong aluminum. He's been using a company called SendCutSend for various custom parts for a few years, and it was remarkably easy to design and build your own ideas without the need for any ultra-fancy CAD skills. If you can use a 2D design program like Adobe Illustrator - you can pretty much build anything with SendCutSend. They also have their own online design program.

 

Kristoffer's idea was to build a wooden frame around the outside of the fridge that the slides would connect to - then support the fridge with the aluminum panel. I took the idea a little further and included cut-outs for the feet of the fridge, allowing it to sit as low as absolutely possible, and included some provisions for strapping the fridge down, front and rear without the need for any hardware.

 

Here are a few shots of the "paper to reality" process:

 

The bottom of the fridge - note the riser (bumps) and the rubber feet

 

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A paper template I put together based on the actual fridge dimensions. I prefer to work in metric (no, I'm not a commie!) since it's a lot more precise and much easer for my brain to do the math (I hate fractional measurements).

 

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Nailed it!

 

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Here's the 3D rendering from SendCutSend of my 2D design. I used Adobe Illustrator. It allows you to note cutouts and bends.

 

I added in pre-drilled pilot holes around the perimeter of the panel to make installing a little easier. Note the cut-outs for the fridge straps and the feet.

 

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Here are the parts, fresh from SendCutSend. The total process was pretty simple and they do a great job of keeping you informed as to where in the process your parts are - from cutting to deburring to bending to shipping. I believe total turnaround time was 7 days for my parts. 

 

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Once the parts were in, it was time to build!

 

First up was a simple "box frame" build with pocket holes and screws. I use Kreg products for almost all of my woodworking projects, from tables to desks to Jeep storage systems. 😁 All of the pockethole screws are Kreg 1/2" stainless steel.

 

Here's the frame, glued and screwed with the tray panel in for a quick test fit. I used the tray itself as a template to route out the holes for the tie down straps fore and aft.

 

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Used a countersink bit to help sink those #10 screws a little deeper into the tray

 

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Zinc-plated t-nuts and #10 screws are used liberally throughout this project. It makes for a stronger build and is super easy to disassemble and reassemble as you work through the project. I started off with 3/4" screws, but they proved to be a little too long. 1/2" was a little too short. 5/8" proved to be juuuuuuust right.

 

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Progress!

 

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Next up was to add on the slides. I measured and marked the centerline of the frame, and then bumped it up a few millimeters to allow for the frame/slide to sit as low as absolutely possible.

 

Again, t-nuts make this process a snap and stress free. 

 

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I'm using Ryadon B3600 500lbs HD drawer slides. They lock in, out and at the half-way mark. They are not "take apart", so that makes them a little tricky to install. You need to push the slides forwards and backwards to access the mounting holes on both the drawer-side and mount-side. They slam latch upon close, which is a nice touch. 

Edited by 4x4tographer
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NEXT STEPS! Build the platform.

 

Loaded up the fridge, slider, and my pre-cut base plate. As mentioned earlier, the fridge would need to be mounted at an angle to clear the soft top tailgate cross-bar (no idea what the technical term for it is).

 

In terms of operation, the RV45 is good to operate at UP TO a 45 degree angle, which is pretty crazy. However, 45 degrees certainly isn't optimal for the system to cool properly. I emailed SetPower's tech support folks and asked if it would be detrimental to operate the fridge at a 5-10 degree angle - they came back very quickly and said that it would work just fine, but with a footnote that it would work at its best if flat.

 

@theksmith noted that one is rarely "perfectly flat" when offroad - so that certainly helped in the decision-making process. 😅

 

 

Stacked up some scrap boards to find that magic number to allow it to happen. This was the slowest part of the build so far and I hem-hawed on it for about 2-3 days. Using a pair of straight edges, I'd adjust the angle and place the straight edge across the top of the fridge and along the bottom of the slider to see where it would impact along the deck lip and the cross-bar.

 

For me, on 30" drawer slides, the magic number was 6.3 degrees with the fridge shoved all the way to the rear (front?) of the trunk area.

 

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The baseplate is bolted down to the factory tie-down points using factory hardware. I used a contour gauge to ensure the platform was cut to fit into the spot nice and flush all around, following the lines and angles of the "cutout" in the truck.

 

Here's a look down along the "hump" in the tailgate the houses mostly empty space, but has the mechanics for the rear door lock, handle, etc... Some considerations had to be made for how far the hump intrudes into the trunk area.

 

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After a LOT of fussing around with it, it was time to get back to building.

 

Here's a jump forward to the "left wall" and "center wall" built, glued, and screwed with copious amounts of pocket screws. At the rear of the compartment I added a "cross wall" to help support both supporting walls, in addition to serving as a rest for the rear of the slide (previously, I had measured the height of the rear of the slides once I was happy with the angle they needed to be mounted at).

 

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A 1/2" shim was used on the front as a "rest" for the front end of the slides. Combined, this helped ensure I stayed at 6.3 degrees and made it a lot easier to mark the mounting holes.

 

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All bolted up!

 

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Verifying the slide angle in the rear of the Jeep

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Load'er up!

 

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The full-extension 30" slides allow the fridge to come completely out of the Jeep for easy loading, access, and allows the lid to open without hitting the soft top. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

 

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More to come!

Edited by 4x4tographer
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More progress over the last few days - and about 6 more trips to the hardware store for those "didn't think of that" items. 😅

 

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Installing the t-nuts for the "shared wall" proved to be a little tricky. A 3/4 hole saw allowed me to countersink the t-nuts through a ply or two so they wouldn't interfere with the fridge slide. The t-nuts certainly make everything a lot easier for installing, uninstalling, reinstalling the different components of the storage system as you adjust things and take measurements.

 

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On my last drawer system, I had some issues with fitment with the drawers, slides, and the overall cabinet "carcass" and the fitment. This time around, I built the carcass first (as you've seen), mounted the slides, then added on the left/right sides of the drawer. 

 

This allowed me to take some more accurate measurements of the actual fitment - which is something I didn't do on my last attempt at this. Frankly this made things a cinch and let me take measurements for the front, rear, and floor of the drawer quickly and easily. Everything fit together with no drama and the slides work as expected!

 

For the drawer, I decided to build the drawer itself, and fashion a "face" for the drawer that would be attached after everything was mated up and bolted down. This would allow me to adjust the drawer face independent of the drawer itself to ensure good fitment.

 

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For the drawer face, I did a hand drawn "topographical map" design and used my ancient router to inscribe the design.

 

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For the drawer face, I'm using a jet black stain from Varathane. I'll hit it with a coat of glossy clear coat after it dries. It'l get attached last, once everything is nice and dry.

 

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Here's a test fit of the carcass/system in the back of the Jeep. I'm using some cheap, thin, bead board and a contour gauge to create a template that follows the curves of the inside of the Jeep.

 

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Here's the cut plywood for the deck, using the bead board template. I went with a 3/4 plywood for the deck itself for a little extra strength and less "flex" for when I'm sleeping on it.

 

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For the deck, I wanted to install some L-Track mount points with some quick disconnects. The L-Tracks I bought came with a nice rear plate that gets installed on the opposite side of the plywood for crazy strength. Normally you'd use a bolt and nut for this, but I didn't want to risk any "snag points" by using the supplied nuts/bolts. Instead, I snipped off the steel prongs on a few extra t-nuts, since they'd nice nice and flush and reduce the risk of a snag.

 

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Here's the deck in with the L-Tracks for another test fit before I glue & screw. Note the 5/8 holes in the deck face on the right - these are access points so I can use a 12" impact bit extender to install the bolts to get the whole thing hand mounted to the Jeep's floor.

 

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Here's another shot after I got the rig bolted down - with the drawer face posing for a shot:

 

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Picked up some cam buckle straps from Rhino USA for a decent price on Amazon. They're pretty good build quality and designed for strapping down dirt bikes in your truck, so I'm sure they'll hold the fridge. I ran the straps through the holes I designed into the fridge tray.

 

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A few shots of everything deployed:

 

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Another shot with the soft top reinstalled - which is the entire point of all this!

 

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More to come! I need to finished up the sleeping platform portion of this project.

 

In a few weeks, I'll pull it all apart and give it a coat of paint. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do in that regard. I'm thinking of going with a satin black paint with the possibility of Raptorliner in the future. My Rustoleum rattle-can bed liner held up pretty well on the last box - but I'm thinking that I might want to go with something a little nicer and thicker this go round.

 

Another idea could be to keep the wood "natural" and polyurethane it. Then just Raptorline the deck itself since it'll have all of the heavy duty contact.

 

Edited by 4x4tographer
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The last sprint on the project!

 

Added a pair of cleats on the back of the box - glued and screwed. The cleats pull double duty - serving as both a lip for my sleeping platform to rest on and for the vertical supports that go under the sleeping platform.

 

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Here's a photo of the cleats with the take-apart hinges installed.

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Here's the finished sleeping platform - a bit of a better design than my last one. This one folds in 2 places. I cut out a notch to go around the center armrest. 

 

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Actually used some piano hinges this go around. Last time I only had 2 pieces, folding it in half, and used some heavy duty gate hinges that didn't allow it to fold completely flat - which was a total PITA on any trips. The piano hinges allow it to fold completely flat, and the extra bend makes it a heck of a lot more compact.

 

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Here's the whole contraption installed, including an additional set of take-apart hinges on the rear end of the platform to keep it locked in place while in use.

 

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Here's a shot of the completed rear - with the new ebony-stained drawer face installed. I have about 5-6 coats of automotive clear coat on it - a few episodes of sanding with 220 grit made it butter-smooth to the touch and easy to wipe off with a damp rag.

 

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Had a good time loading up the drawer with all my junk.

 

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Tossed in my FrontRunner Wolfpack with my new high-top lid, which is my typical camping gear storage box.

 

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The gap between the fridge and the rear of the seat has some decent space that will fix quart-sized bottles of fluids. I'm thinking I can get a full 5 quarts in there! At the moment I jammed in my ARB Tire Repair Kit which takes up entirely too much space for what is actually in the box.

 

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One last shot with the real soft top panels re-installed. I'm considering this project done.... until it's time for paint in a few weeks!

 

Oh - forgot to mention - there is space on the left of the fridge still for my torque wrench and camping table!

 

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Edited by 4x4tographer
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nice job Ryan - glad to see it all come together!

 

...i don't know about the drawer contents organization though ;)

 

200.gif

Edited by theksmith

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2 hours ago, theksmith said:

nice job Ryan - glad to see it all come together!

 

...i don't know about the drawer contents organization though ;)

 

GIF by NETFLIX

 

I need to look at some of those fancy cubes you've got 😁

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Next big phase complete on this project - "finishing" the look with some stain, polyurethane, and some Raptor Liner.

 

After living with the naked wood of the fridge slide, drawer, and deck - I've been pretty happy with how it's all working out so far. I've been on 2 over nighters with it and no complaints - absolutely love having a fridge!

 

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I had delusions of finishing the wood with a homemade ebonizing brew. I picked up some #0000 steel wool and some "cleaning grade" vinegar and whipped up a batch. I was a little suspicious of the "rusty look" to it, so I decided to test it out on a piece of scrap baltic birch left over from the build.

 

Before I applied it to the wood, I filtered the brew through about a dozen coffee filters to strain out as much solids as possible. I also picked up a large bag of wood tannins on Amazon. The ebonizing process works best on woods that are naturally high in tannins, but you can also add tannins to lighter woods by brewing a strong tea or using a tannin powder solution.

 

You apply the tannin solution to the wood, allow it to dry, then apply the ebonizing solution (iron acetate). The dissolved iron in the solution embeds itself into the fibers of the wood and turns it jet black. It's a mind-blowing process to see in person. 

 

Here's the test on some scrap. The black portion of the birch had tannins applied, the lighter portion of the wood did not.

 

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Another shot after it all dried:

 

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UNFORTUNATELY - this process is not very forgiving. You have to be very meticulous in your surface prep, sanding judiciously, ensuring every drop of wood glue residue is gone. Liberal application of the tannin solution is also called for. I ended up with a pretty sloppy look after it had dried. 

 

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That said, I had a bunch of left over black stain from when I did the drawer front during the initial stage of the build. Probably should have just used that to begin with and saved some time 😅

 

Up next, Raptor Liner for the "deck" portion of the project. I masked off all the important bits.

 

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I picked up 2 cans of Raptor Liner on Amazon. The application process was smooth and simple. I had total coverage in 2 coats. I ended up applying 4 coats with a single can. I used the second can to line the interior of my drawer.

 

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It almost has a "plastic" quality to it. 

 

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And that's it! My final phase on this project is to coat the sleeping platform with Raptor as well to wrap it all up. I'll probably need 2-3 cans for the coverage.

 

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Edited by 4x4tographer
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came out great!

 

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Damn that's a LOT of work! Impressive woodworking there and creativity.

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