Introduction: Folding Storage and Catio for a Truck Camper. (or Little Dog Patio)
Due to the design of my truck and trailer, the trailer rests on two points at the rear of the truck instead of on the truck bed like it should. This problem is fairly common. To resolve this, I needed to raise the trailer off the truck bed slightly. This can be accomplished by placing plywood under the floor of the trailer. It would be a shame to drag around two pieces of 1/2 inch plywood and not have it serve a function while the trailer is parked. Wouldn't it be great if the plywood that props up the camper could also serve another purpose?
At first glance, or to those unfamiliar with truck campers; a storage compartment that opens up when you arrive at your destination doesn't seem to make sense. Only after you consider what happens when you remove the camper from the truck does the purpose of a folding storage compartment reveals itself. In a truck camper, there are cabinet doors that open up into the bed of your truck. When the camper is removed from the truck you now have to find a place for the items that were in the truck bed or leave them in the truck bed exposed to weather and possible theft. The folding storage space gives you a place to put these items. Having additional storage also means It is possible to carry extra gear in the living area of your trailer which could then be moved to the storage compartment. Maybe you're going on a week long fishing trip. Instead of keeping the rods and gear where you would trip over them why not put them in the 6 to 8 foot long storage compartment?
So I had three problems to be solved:
1) What should I do with the plywood I take with me?
2) How can I give my feline companion more access to outside space and where can I keep his litter box?
3) When the trailer is not attached to the truck, where can I put the items I may have stored in the truck bed compartments?
These folding compartments solved all of these problems and also gave me a chance to make my camper unique with a feline inspired design on the catio. The roadside compartment of my camper has plenty of storage space to house items that were stored in the truck bed, while the curbside compartment is large enough for a litter box, screened patio for Meeko the cat and an exit for him when we are somewhere familiar. Each compartment is approximately 25 feet cubed. 1.75ft (21inch) x 1.83ft (22 inch) x 8 ft.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- circular saw
- jig saw (wood and metal bits)
- drill (wood and metal bits)
- staple gun (for catio)
- tin snips
- Three sheets of 1/2 inch hardwood plywood. OR just two sheets and some spare plywood if you have it.
- 20 hinges (10 per compartment ) Plus 2 extra if you are making the catio.
- 1/2 inch wood screws for mounting into plywood
- sheet of 16 gauge steel
- 2 latches
- 2 matching locks
- garage door top and side seal (30ft)
- 4 ring anchors
Material for catio
- 2 hinges
- staples for staple gun.
Step 2: Make the Storage Compartment Bottom
To get the width of your cabinet: measure from the inside edge of your trailer to the metal attachment that sticks down from the overhang. You will most likely need to cut out a square from the piece. Measure from the front of your trailer and determine where a cut out must be made. The driver's side and passenger's side of your trailer are probably different. Do not try to cut both pieces of plywood at once unless you have determined they are identical. If your trailer is for a six foot bed you will need to determine the length as well. Trailers meant for an 8 ft bed will be slightly longer than your piece of plywood. My cabinet has a small gap towards the rear end of the trailer. I chose to allow this gap because on the driver side I can feed a hose and cables through there. It really didn't matter on the catio because the gap is too small for the cat to go through and it also provides more airflow for him.
Once the plywood is cut, attach at least 4 hinges to the trailer. Wherever possible use existing screws and screw holes. You will need a center tap and hammer to go through the aluminium and a drill and bit to make pilot holes for your screws. Ensure that you are mounting the hinges in the correct way. The hinges must be able to fold all the way under the trailer and also project out parallel to the bottom. If the hinge has full range of motion from the side to the bottom than it is correct.
After the hinges are on the trailer align up your plywood, drill pilot holes and attach it. Once again, take into account the action of the hinge. The hinges sit under my plywood at the floor of the trailer. You may end up screwing the hinges fast on the side that is not indented for the screw. To place the hinges on top of the plywood they would have to project down from the trailer a half inch, common utility hinges are not this long.
Step 3: Make the Storage Compartment Side
The height of the side of your compartment will be approximately 1/2 of an inch smaller than the distance from the top of the overhang to the floor of your trailer. 1/4 inch is for where it meets the floor and 1/4 inch for weather stripping at the top. If you do not cut an indent for the hinge then the plywood should be shorter to compenstate. To cut the curve towards the back of the trailer you may wish to make a template out of cardboard. Alternately you could have two people hold the plywood in position and trace where you want to cut.
If you want both pieces of plywood to sit tightly together you can chisel out a place for the hinges. Place one hinge near (maybe an inch or two in) each end and the others equidistant apart. Be sure to use screws that will not protrude all the way through the plywood. It is usually easiest to attach the hinges to one piece of plywood first and then just align up the second piece of plywood and mark, chisel and drill it. I only chiselled a spot for the round part of the hinge on the side of the compartment. Do whatever you are comfortable with. The seams could be made quite tight if you want. I didn't feel a need to do this.
Step 4: (Catio Step) Cut Out a Pattern for Your Screen.
There are some considerations while making the screen:
- Just cutting a big square in your plywood for the screen means that the entire area of the square will not support the trailer when the catio is folded up.
- The integrity of the plywood must be maintained. The plywood on the side is holding up the bottom of the catio so it must remain strong. Too big of a hole, especially under where the plywood attaches can result in your catio breaking.
- There should be no skinny or pointy pieces of plywood that can break.
- There must be enough room to attach the metal hardware at the truck attachment points.
I chose a feline inspired pattern for my catio. A quad of triangles or squares could work as well. As long as you make your pattern following the above considerations it should be fine. Too cut out the pattern you will need a drill and a jig saw. The drill bit should have a diameter bigger than your jig saw blade width. After cutting out your pattern, use a file to smooth the rough edges.
Step 5: Making Hardware to Hang the Plywood.
The storage compartments are held in place by connecting to the hardware that your truck attaches to. I decided to use some hardware I had from lawn tractors; Metal pins and hairpin cotter pins. I felt that just drilling a hole in the plywood to put the pin through was insufficient to support any weight that may be put in the storage compartments. Because of this I decided to make metal hardware to attach to the plywood
Cutting out the hardware:
- Draw the pattern for your hardware on a piece of 16 gauge steel. I chose to make something roughly resembling a triangle.
- Using a jig saw with a medium metal cutting blade to cut out your pattern.
- Round off any sharp points and file any rough edges.
- Mark spots for you screw holes.
- Drill the screw holes. Using a slightly larger bit you can create a bevelled edge for your screw.
- Determine the distance from the overhang of your trailer to the point the pin will go through. Shorten the distance slightly to compensate for weather stripping. Drill the hole for the pin.
Attaching the hardware:
- Align your plywood with the attachment points. Mark a drill hole and drill a hole large enough for the pin you will be using.
- Put the hardware in place by aligning up the pin holes. Put the pin through the hole.
- Mark and drill pilot holes for the screws
- Attach the screws.
- Optional step (chisel out a spot for your hardware.)
Step 6: Make the Door
The doors of the storage compartments will fold against the side of the trailer when the trailer is on the truck. The doors will need to have cut outs for any hardware that is along the side of the trailer. There must also be cut outs for anything that will be in the way when the door swings. Use a piece of cardboard to design a template that will allow the door to sit flush against the edge of the trailer as well as swing open without hitting anything.
Once your template is made, use it to cut the door from a piece of plywood.
Attach two hinges to the trailer and door. My door does not open out since I used simple hinges mounted to the side of the trailer. To make the door swing 180 degrees you will need to mount the hinges right at the edge of the front of the camper. Alternately, you could place a piece of wood the same thickness as the door. between the wall and the hinges. This way, when the hinges open there will be enough room so the door will not hit the wall.
Hang the compartment from the hooks if you have not done so already. Attach the clasp to the vertical part of the storage compartment. Place the second part of the lock clasp on the door. Like with the hinges, make sure your screws are not too long. You will probably need to get additional screws since the screws that come with the clasp are most likely longer than 1/2 inch.
To keep your key chain a little lighter you can get a pair of locks that work off of one key.
Step 7: Paint and Weatherstrip
Paint all of the plywood. As you can see from the pictures I did this along the way.
Add weather stripping to the trailer so that rain can not get into the compartment. What is important with the weather stripping is to catch the water that will inevitably wick around the edge of the overhand and drip inside the compartment. I used a strip of neoprene for this. It comes in 30 foot lengths and is made to seal around garage doors. Thirty feet should be plenty to do all the areas you need.
To add the weather stripping, Remove the screws along the underside of the overhang and put them back in place through the neoprene. You may need to add a few additional screws or nails, especially where the trailer curves. Mount the strip so it hangs down and sticks out. If done correctly this will divert the water away from the interior.
Fill in the cut outs in the doors using weather stripping or other materials you may have, A piece from an old inner tube hanging from the front may work well. I attached the remaining weather stripping to the door using furniture tacks. I then painted over the tacks to improve the visual appeal.
Step 8: Attach Ring Anchors
A way is needed to fold up the storage compartments in preparation for transport. Two straps in strategic locations will accomplish this. The straps will pull the plywood against the bottom of the trailer. Once the trailer is on the truck the straps will no longer be needed to hold up the plywood. The front strap will also hold the storage compartment doors in place.
A note on the ring anchors. The ring anchors are only being attached for short term use and for just the weight of the plywood. Simply screwing the ring anchors into the areas outside the trailer will not be very strong. Using screw anchors may help. Bolting them through is probably the strongest way to attach them. I just used large screws. They hold but I must use the ring anchors gingerly. Use a pilot hole if you screw the anchors fast. A piece of tape wrapped around the drill bit will let you know how deep to drill.
Be careful to avoid placing anchors in places that will result in pressure being applied to gas lines.
Place the front anchors in a location that will not be directly over the latch.
A canvas can be used to help prevent damage from the straps and truck bed to the visible side of the plywood.
Step 9: (catio Step) Attach the Screening
Using staples that are short enough for your plywood. Fold in all the edges of the screen and staple the screen through the folded over area. I only had small pieces of screen. You could use a large piece of screen and staple around the holes.
Step 10: (Optional Catio Step) Cut Out an Access Hole for Your Cat.
If you wish your cat to be able to get outside then he will need an access hole. This is a somewhat stealthy exit for the cat since it exists below the trailer. The hole will also need a way to be closed for when we do not want the cat to get out. Since we can't mount any latches or hardware onto the plywood another method to close the hole needs to be used. To close off the exit I decided to make a flap that folds down from the back wall of the compartment. If you choose to seal the hole off in this way you will need to be sure the hole is cut in a place that will be covered by the flap. See the next step for pictures of the flap.
Step 11: (catio Step) Make the Kitty Mood Flap.
The kitty mood flap blocks off the cat exit. I called it the mood flap because when it is open, kitty is free and happy, when it is closed kitty is trapped and not as happy. Meeko is usually happy but when he is free to explore he's really happy.
Cut a piece of plywood that covers most of the back of your compartment. Leave a little room at the edges for hardware.
Attach the plywood to the bottom of the back wall of the compartment with hinges. The flap should fold down to rest over the cat exit hole and should fold up flat against the back.
Figure out a way to keep the flap up while travelling. I used an eye bolt and latch.
When the flap is down it must be attached to the floor of the catio. I achieved this by placing a strap around the flap and catio floor. The adjustable strap was from a computer bag or something like that. Placing the litter box on top of the flap or over the hole is another option. It needs to be secure enough that your cat can not lift it and get out. I am thinking about alternatives to the strap. An alternative not accessible from the underside of the compartment is what I want to achieve with the alternative set-up.
Step 12: Pack Up and Get Out of Dodge!
Head out to the country for some fresh air with your cat. Take that extra fishing or camping gear knowing it will be secure and wont be in your way when you set up camp.