How to build a Coolidor

As a cigar smoker I am sure you have had the same conversations that I have in regards to humidor size. The most common advice given when a person is in the market for a humidor is “buy bigger than you need. This is very good advice as long as the size you are looking for fits within your budget.

If large storage does not fit your budget, I would strongly suggest purchasing a cooler to setup and use. The plastic within the cooler does an excellent job of holding humidity and the insulation does a lot to help hold interior temperature.

Using a cooler as a humidor couldn’t be simpler and it is a lot of bang for your buck. Since I recently outgrew my cooler I am going to setup another for storing cigars. Since I am already setting up the cooler I thought this would be a great opportunity to write a how to article for anyone who may be in the market for inexpensive storage.

Just like a humidor, you want to get the biggest one you can as long as you have the storage space and budget for it. Buying a cooler the size of a standard flip top lunch box is going to be a waste of time unless you are looking to make a make shift travel coolidor. Personally I would not recommend going any smaller than a 35 quart unit.

I decided to go out and buy a rather large cooler, weighing in at 120 quarts. One thing to remember is that you have to store this unit, so do not go out and buy something that is going to be impractical for you to store.

Once you make a decision on the size of the unit, take a look around and try to get the best price you can. In a situation like mine, I was trying to stay on a low budget for the most storage I could get. In the end I went to Walmart and picked up a 120 quart cooler for $44.95 during an after Labor Day closeout sale.

Next on the list of things to buy are empty boxes. You may not even need to buy them if you have some empties sitting around. I recommend using quality wooden boxes and not the cheap ones that remind you of an old cereal box (La Vieja Habana by Drew Estates). The wooden boxes will work with your humidification unit and hold in some humidity to create a buffer for when you open and close the cooler.

If you do not have any empty boxes lying around you can always order them from somewhere like Cigars International. CI has paper wrapper wooden boxes and high quality wooden boxes that they will ship to you for a few dollars per box. If you would rather not go this route stop bye your local cigar shop. In most cases cigar shops will sell you empty boxes for $1.00 – $2.00 each. If online shopping and a local shop is not an option you can always trade a few cigars for empty boxes, which is what I did. I got a very good deal on some high quality empties that were just going to be thrown away.

Next to consider is a humidification device. You have many options here, but I strongly recommend using RH beads. I have been using these beads for almost a year now and absolutely love them. They are relatively inexpensive and very easy to use. In my case I used my leftover 70% RH beads purchased from Heartfelt Industries.

The last thing you will need is a hygrometer. I recommend going the digital route for higher accuracy. I choose to go with a cheap Walmart model for under $7.00, however many people will recommend the wireless units so you can monitor multiple humidors with one base unit. Hygrometers are a rather personal item, so by all means use what you are most comfortable with.

Now that I have covered the basic items needed to build a coolidor, let’s cut to the chase and start building one.


Step 1:

Before we do anything, we need to clean out our new cooler. To do this take a clean cloth and dampen it with distilled water and a mild detergent such as Dawn Dish Detergent. Wipe down the inside of your cooler very well. Once you are satisfied with the cleanliness of your cooler take another clean cloth, dampen it with distilled water and remove all of the left over detergent from the plastic lining of the cooler.After you have wiped out your cooler you will want to let it air out for a few hours to remove any lingering plastic smell. If you are having trouble with plastic smell, place a small box of baking soda inside the cooler and let sit for a day or so.


Step 2:

Once your cooler is clean and free of any plastic odor, you will want to start raising the humidity level inside. To do this take yet another clean cloth and dampen it with distilled water. Wipe down the inside of the cooler leaving it damp, and then close the lid.

Step 3:

Now we want to start prepping our wooden boxes. I like to take my damp cloth and wipe down all of the unfinished surfaces of my boxes. Once I moisten the boxes I add them inside the cooler and close the lid.

Step 4:

Place your hydration unit inside your cooler. In my case I opted to go with RH beads. If you decide to go with the RH beads you will need to calculate how many pounds you will need for your cooler. Here is an example of the calculations for my cooler.

Width = 13.5″

Length = 34″

Depth = 12″

Width x Length x Depth
13.5 x 34 x 12 = 5508 cubic inches
Convert Cubic Inches to Cubic Feet:
5508 / 1728 = 3.1875

Now divide Cubic Feet by 5 (5 Cubic Feet per pound of beads)
3.1875 / 5 = .6375 Pounds

I round up to the nearest Quarter Pound to get .75 pounds.

Once I knew how many pounds of beads I needed, I sorted out three quarters of a pound of beads and placed them in four individual sacks. The sacks I used are made up of cheap Pantyhose. I used four sacks so that I could spread out the beads making them more affective than a single large bag of beads sitting at one end of the cooler.

To hydrate my beads I took that damp cloth I was using earlier and wrapped up the sacks inside it. I then placed this cloth and the beads inside the humidor to rest for a couple hours.

Step 5:
Insert your hygrometer into the cooler. Like I mentioned before, I went with a very inexpensive unit that I felt needed some modifications before being added. The modifications I made were done to allow air to more easily flow through the unit. If you do not want to make these modifications please skip to Step 6.

  • Take the rear clip off of the unit.

  • Use a typical file to flatten the raised plastic buttons that hold the clip in place.

  • Remove the screws and pull your hygrometer apart, be careful not to drop the Fahrenheit / Celsius button.

  • Drill holes into the back plate to allow air movement.

  • Put the unit back together and add a strip of Velcro to the back plate.

  • Stick the unit inside the cooler

Step 6:

Let the unit stabilize for another hour or so then remove the damp cloth and let the beads absorb any excess humidity inside the unit. Letting the beads stabilize could take a few days, so keep an eye on your hygrometer.

Step 7: Optional

If you decided to go with a cooler that is larger than 70 quarts I would suggest adding a fan to keep the air moving so that any humidity pockets do not settle. If these pockets setting it could mean that a portion of your cooler may have a higher or lower Relative Humidity than the rest.

I decided to go quick and easy, so I purchased an Oust Fan from a local pharmacy. To use the fan simply add the batteries and place the fan inside the cooler. It is very important that you do not add in the fragrance unit, you just want to use the fan.

The nice thing about the Oust fan is that it runs for 5 minutes then shuts off for 15 minutes. This conserves the battery and makes it last for quite a while. Again, this is an optional step you can take to help keep a constant humidity level throughout your cooler.

Step 8:
Once you are satisfied that your cooler is stabilized the only thing left to do is add in your cigars.

Cost Breakdown
Cooler – $44.95
Oust Fan – $6.99
1 Pound RH Beads – $28.95
Pantyhose – $0.33
Empty Cigar Boxes – Traded for Cigars

Total Cost

For more information on RH Beads check out Heartfelt Industries

Please note
The video below was recorded several months after the article was written. There are some variations between the article and video, however those variations should not cause any conflict when building your coolidor.