Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beer Tubes

(Ed note: updated 8-8-16 - see end note)

One of the most frustrating things about living on a boat (especially for my husband) is dealing with a top-loading refrigerator. Every once in awhile you'll even see the cartoons about someone falling in while trying to reach something on the bottom.

For my husband, the big frustration was in getting a can of Coke or beer out. They always seem to migrate to the bottom of the fridge and getting one involved removing almost everything. We tried various racks designed for regular upright fridges but they just didn't work. After seeing that a good friend of ours had the same issue with his fridge,  I decided to create a solution.

I once had a friend that stored his grill propane tanks in a piece of PVC pipe attached to his bimini rail. It had a slot in the side so he could push the tanks up and out the top as he needed them. I thought something similar might work in the fridge, only the slot idea wasn't going to fly because the fridge is usually packed and it would be impossible to access it. I then began to think about using a ribbon or piece of webbing to lift out the cans. Several trips to the hardware stores changed the plan as the smallest diameter PVC tube is 3" and it's just a bit too big for the cans and takes unnecessary space in the fridge. The wall thickness was too big also, which would mean longer cooling times for the cans.

I spent an hour just walking around Lowes looking at stuff and happened on the aluminum dryer duct pieces - the ones that come in a flat sheet and you curve them into a tube and lock the edges together (not the flexible hoses). The smallest one they had was 4" diameter, but I figured I could cut it down and it would work fine.  I did, and it did. So here's the directions:

Materials required
1 piece of 4" dryer aluminum dryer duct extension for each tube. Mine was a 2' section
1 piece of heavy grosgrain ribbon or webbing that is 2-1/2 times the length of your finished tube
Gorilla tape - don't skimp on this.
Good pair of tin snips

If you're using the 4" duct extension, examine the locking mechanism so you cut off the right edge. You need the slot edge to remain because once you cut off the other side, you will insert the cut edge in to the slot before you tape it so that fingers and the cans won't get cut on the sharp edge.

Once you determine which edge to cut, mark 3-3/4" from the edge in several places with a permanent marker and draw a line to cut. This aluminum is very sharp so watch your fingers. Cut very carefully because you need a perfectly straight edge to insert into the slot.

Carefully wrap the sheet into a cylinder shape and working from one end to the other, insert the cut edge into the slot on the other edge. It takes some wiggling to get it to go in the whole length.

Cut a piece of Gorilla tape the length of the tube and place it evenly over the seam.

Cut the tube to the length that will fit in your fridge, allowing about 1/2 of space between the top of the tube and the underside of your fridge lid.
File or sand the top and bottom edges of the tube to remove any burrs.

Lay your ribbon or webbing about 2" from the top of the tube and tape all the way around the tube top, fastening the webbing under the tape.

Run the webbing over the edge, down in to the tube and up over the opposite edge making a dip in the webbing. Place a beverage can on the webbing and continue to lower the can into the tube, adding more cans as you go.

Here's the video of the final product in action:

Some miscellaneous notes:

I fastened my tubes to a wood divider that we have in our fridge so they wouldn't topple over if the fridge was not full. I did that with another piece of webbing that I screwed into the wood, around the tubes, and back into the wood.

Also, I did notice through trial and error, that it appears you can't fasten the webbing onto the tube directly over the seam. For some reason it changes the shape of the tube when you pull and makes the cans stick. Fasten the webbing 1/4 way around from the seam.

We have styrofoam board on the bottom of our fridge on top of a teak grate for insulation, and I actually "screwed" the tube into the foam a bit to hold it in place.

If you have any other ideas for modification or improvement, leave them in the comments!

Update 8-8-2016

After using these now for over a year, a few issues have come to light. Were I to make new ones, I would make them just slightly larger. As the tubes wear, the top edges bend a bit making it harder to slide the cans out, making the webbing strap push off to one side or the other. I might also consider using the PVC the next time. All in all, these tubes have been a lifesaver on our boat!

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