Friday, July 15, 2011

Finally! Turning an Old Fridge into my Cheese Cave

This is about the most frustrating project I've ever tackled, partially because the refrigerator I got is very old and was nasty with mold and rust. The photo above (taken in front of my root cellar) was snapped after I removed the doors, the door gaskets, door storage panels, and wet fiberglass insulation from the doors.

Many of the newer refrigerators have a door sealing gasket that either pushes into a slot in the door, or is magnetic. Not so this old model. The gasket was held in place by preformed galvanized metal strips and a gazillion rusty sheet metal screws.

The carcass body got scrubbed, bleached, exterior sanded, and spray-painted. The main reason I went to all this aggravation and trouble is the cooling mechanism in this old refrigerator. Notice the aluminum grid at the back of the main compartment? It is much more efficient than having the coolant run through tubing in the walls like newer refrigerators do.

Here's the naked door panels after I sanded rusty spots and spot-painted Rust-Oleum on the insides. Somehow I have lost the photo of the metal strips that hold the door gaskets in place. Sorry.

I trimmed the soggy fiberglass insulation away, and added new insulation. I am very disappointed that I could not get the rust stains off the flexible door gaskets, even after soaking in a strong bleach solution. An old toothbrush and a powdered bleach cleanser scrubbed all the mold out of the folds in the gaskets but wouldn't touch the rust stains. However, at least I know it is clean and sterilized!

My original plan was to reinstall the original inside door panels but I had so much difficulty getting the cleaned gaskets back in place that for now I opted to just add a vapor barrier over the insulation. My sister works for a company that makes reefers (refrigerated food trailers) and I got a 30' x 8' roll of FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic) that's approved for food use. When I have time, I'll cut flat panels to fit inside both doors under the gaskets.

Much of the work took place either on the covered front porch (all of the work on the doors), or after putting the refrigerator body in the root cellar to protect it from rain. I think I spent more $$ on all the various screw replacements and spray paints than I did for the refrigerator!

I had to remove the door to the root cellar to work on getting the refrigerator put back together because the old door opens the wrong way. So now I'm looking for a used exterior wood door with the opposite hand, and will put up with the inconvenience in the interim. I'd love a new insulated metal door but the height of the opening in the concrete block is too short, and only a wood door can be cut down easily.

Here's the shelf I built next to the refrigerator to hold the mini wine chiller I'm using to age blue cheese types, plus other storage items.

And here's the "Blues Mini-Cave" above with a Stilton aging in it.

And here's some of my cheese, now in the cave. The jar on the top shelf is Feta cheese, and the wood shelves are kiln-dried cherry. Sorry the photo is poor quality; I was standing in the root cellar doorway and that's as far away as I can get.

This is the digital control I got to keep the big refrigerator at "cave aging" temperatures. Now I need to work on a humidifier! For now the cheese aging in there is all vacuum-sealed so humidity control is not a problem, but when I start to do natural rind cheese wheels it will become very important.

I finally ripped more cherry to extend the shelves most of the way to the door. I had to drill a hole in the door to insert the temp. probe, as it was leaking air if placed over the top of the door and deforming the gasket.

All that remains now is a replacement door, cleaning up the mess inside the root cellar, and the hope the refrigerator works a few months or more. (If it doesn't, I now know exactly how a refrigerator is constructed and could probably build one!)

Update 7/15: It's all working just fine and I don't even need a new door to the root cellar. A neighbor helped me get the refrigerator up against the wall by using a crowbar to get the back feet up over a lump in the concrete around the incoming water pipes.


  1. Thanks! It was far more work than I anticipated... but only because of the nastiness of the unit, esp. the gaskets.

  2. Yay!!!!!! (Too bad for sooooo much work, but...Yay!!!!)

    (Sue aka Leah's Mom)

  3. That looks fantastic. Do you think you could do something like this with a fridge body that has some holes in it? We just moved to an acreage, and there is a fridge here that someone used for target practice. I want to get into making hard cheeses, so this project looks super-interesting...

  4. I don't see why not. You'd need to patch the holes (fiberglass mesh and bondo?) and probably most of the insulation may be wet depending on how many punctures and how long it has been outside.

    If you store it in a warm dry place, the body insulation will likely dry out over time (do this before you patch the holes in the body so the moisture has a place to escape). If you don't dry it, the wet insulation will affect the cooling. I replaced some wet insulation on the doors.

    If there are many, many holes in the body you could always cut out large panels and replace with sheet metal. This would give you access to the insulation, too.

    A bigger concern would be the integrity of the coils that contain the coolant. Just one nick and it's worthless.

  5. Thank you for sharing this. Found your blog posted on Dave's Garden and will be back to read more. :-)

  6. Thanks Cindy... there's something here for almost everyone!


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