How to Build a Radiator Cover

One common complaint that I constantly hear from renters is the lack of counter space, especially in bathrooms. Our bathroom is no different. With only a small vanity for storage, this bathroom was desperately in need of another flat surface. Behind the door is a small radiator that we rarely used, so I jumped at the chance to create a radiator cover that was both pretty and functional.

before and after radiator cover
credit: Shannon Smith
completed radiator cover
credit: Shannon Smith

Step 1 Take Your Measurements

Before you gather your supplies for this project, the first thing you need to do is measure your radiator. We knew that we wanted the cover to extend along the wall, wider than the radiator itself, so we used those measurements. The most important measurements that you need to take are the depth (from the front of the radiator back to the wall) and the height (from the floor to the top of the radiator). Here is what our small radiator looked like before.

radiator before
credit: Shannon Smith

Our measurements were 22 inches wide by 38 inches tall, with a depth of 8 inches. For this project, you will need four pieces of wood: two cut the size of your height, and two cut the size of your width.

Things You Need

  • Pine boards, cut to size
  • Staple gun
  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • Paint and primer
  • Spray paint
  • Wood glue
  • Liquid Nails
  • Radiator tin in the pattern of your choice
  • Miter saw (or hand saw)
  • Tin snips
things you'll need
credit: Shannon Smith

Step 1 Nail the Top Board to the Side Boards

Begin assembling the general shape of the radiator cover. Take one of the smaller boards and nail it to the top of the two longer boards to form the top and sides of the cover.

nailing the top board to the side board
credit: Shannon Smith

Step 2 Cut Your Base Board

Lay the cover on its side, and measure the inside of the "bottom." Cut the last board to fit inside the two sides, like this:

cutting your base board
credit: Shannon Smith
placing the base board
credit: Shannon Smith

Tip: Use a bit of Liquid Nails to secure the base board before you nail it in place.

Step 3 Nail the Base Board in Place

Make sure the base board is flush with what will be the front of the radiator cover. This base board provides stability to the cover, and gives you a clean and finished look.

nailing the base board in place
credit: Shannon Smith

Tip: Use a drill bit to drill small holes to prevent splitting the base board.

You should now have the rough idea of what the cover will look like. Place the cover over the radiator to make sure that it covers everything, and that you like the look.

frame the radiator project
credit: Shannon Smith
frame the radiator project
credit: Shannon Smith

Step 4 Add Trim

For the trim, I used pine lattice board in a 1.5 inch width. This wood is easy to paint and cut, and is light enough so that it won't make the radiator cover top heavy. The trim not only serves as a decorative touch to this radiator cover, but it also gives you something to adhere the radiator tin to, which we will get to later on.

four pieces of trim
credit: Shannon Smith

Measure the front dimensions of the cover, and cut the corners where the trim meets at a 45 degree angle (much like you would do with moulding).

measure and cut trim
credit: Shannon Smith
measure and cut trim
credit: Shannon Smith

Tip: Use Liquid Nails to hold the trim in place before you nail it to the cover.

Step 5 Nail the Trim to the Front of the Cover

Use small wood nails to nail the trim to the front of the cover. You want to make sure that the trim creates a little bit of a lip -- this ensures that the radiator will be held in place in the future.

nail trim
credit: Shannon Smith

Don't worry about the corners completely touching -- these can be filled in with wood glue.

nail trim
credit: Shannon Smith

For the base board, measure and cut the trim to fit inside the trim that runs along the front of the radiator cover, like the photo above. These pieces should fit flush with the edges, creating a nice rectangular inset.

nail trim
credit: Shannon Smith

This is what the radiator cover will look like once you've nailed your trim to the front. You can also choose to run some trim along the side of the radiator cover, like I chose to do here. This gives it a more custom look, and really finishes off the piece.

finish trim
credit: Shannon Smith
finish trim
credit: Shannon Smith

Step 6 Prime the Cover

Prime the wood radiator cover frame with high-quality primer. While the primer is drying, prepare your radiator tin to be cut. Wipe with a clean, damp cloth to remove any dirt and dust and follow the next step to measure and cut the tin to size.

Step 7 Measure and Cut Radiator Tin

Once the primer is dry, flip the radiator cover on its face and measure the width of the inside.

measure tin
credit: Shannon Smith

Mark the dimensions with a marker on the radiator tin, and cut very carefully with tin snips.

measure tin
credit: Shannon Smith
cut tin
credit: Shannon Smith

WARNING: Tin snips and cut tin will be very sharp! Be careful around rough edges.

Step 8 Pop Tin Back Inside the Radiator Cover

Place the piece of cut radiator tin into the radiator cover to make sure that it fits. It should be tight enough that there are no visible gaps from the front, but not too tight that the metal bows in the middle.

place cut tin into radiator cover frame
credit: Shannon Smith

Step 9 Remove Tin and Spray Paint

Once you're sure that the radiator tin is cut to the correct size, spray paint the metal. Holding the can about 12 inches away from the tin, spray back and forth in light spritzes. This ensures that the paint goes on evenly and does not drip.

Paint tin
credit: Shannon Smith

Tip: I used semi-gloss paint on the radiator cover itself (the wood), so I bought gloss spray paint for the metal so the finishes would match.

paint tin
credit: Shannon Smith

Step 10 Paint Radiator Cover With Your Color of Choice

While the radiator tin is drying, paint the cover with the paint color of your choice. Use this time to fill any holes or gaps with wood glue, as well.

Step 11 Push Tin Back Into Place

When the spray paint dries, pop the tin back into the radiator cover, pushing slowly to make sure you don't scratch the paint.

Replace tin
credit: Shannon Smith

Tip: Dab a few dots of Liquid Nails in the corners to hold the tin down. Make sure to wipe off the front of the tin if there is any seepage.

Step 12 Staple the Tin in Place

Use a staple gun to staple the tin in place. If you've cut the tin to the correct size, it shouldn't need that many staples. 2 to 3 per side should work just fine.

staple tin in place
credit: Shannon Smith
finished radiator cover
credit: Shannon Smith

Step 13 Enjoy Your Radiator Cover and New Counter Space

The new radiator cover covers the unsightly radiator, but also give us an additional flat surface for storage (or fresh flowers!) The cover itself is light and easy to remove!

completed radiator cover
credit: Shannon Smith
completed radiator cover
credit: Shannon Smith
completed radiator cover
credit: Shannon Smith

And there you have it! An easy radiator cover that combines form and function.

Tip: For larger radiators that are used more often, attach hinges to the underside of the top for easy access to the knobs.