I want it to be light weight, well insulated against the heat and cold, and I want to pack as much function and comfort into it as possible. I want to be able to keep my camping gear right in the trailer in the garage. When we decide to go camping it should take a minimal effort to load and go.
I don't need a bathroom or a shower, the state parks have those...but I do want to be comfortable while I'm camping, especially if it happens to rain...
We've gone to the camper shows now for a couple of years and all we see is over priced camping trailers with too much stuff crammed in to a small space. You can't even buy a basic floor plan without a bathroom. We could go with a pop-up, but that's not much better than tent camping and a good used one is $5,000+.
The decision has been made! I'm building a Foam Teardrop inspired micro camper.
That's right, I'm becoming a "Foamie" and this is my project....
My goal is to keep the cost (including specialty tools) to $3,500 or less and have the camper completed by mid July 2016 for our annual family camping trip. This is also supposed to be a hobby project that I enjoy.
OK, update - My original goal of mid-July 2016 has come and gone. You can read about some of the issues I ran into last summer centered around ordering a custom built door in the project delay section. I took several months off to fish, hunt and spend time on other things since camping season had really come and gone. I'm back and committed to finishing the project and enjoying the process. The new target date is to be done by Memorial day, 2017. Thanks for hanging in there with me...
Step 1: Choose a Trailer Frame to Build On.
The solution was to try to find an old camper with a solid frame. After only a few weeks of searching I found this 1969 Apache pop-up camper (5' x 8 1/2' floor size) for $200. I had to travel 2 hours away to make the purchase. The frame is in great shape and I think I can part it out to make some of my initial investment back. Thank goodness I made it home with no problems at all with the trailer.
I've got what I need. Now I've got the whole winter to get this thing reconditioned so that I can build on it.
Step 2: The Deconstruction Process
There are two ways to go at this point. You can demo the trailer or deconstruct it. If you demo it you can save a lot of time, but forget about being able sell the parts.
Deconstruction is taking each part and component off one at a time. I chose to go this route for two reasons, first it allows me to sell more parts in the end, and second you can learn a lot about how they built it in the first place. Since I am not familiar with RV construction techniques I'm glad I chose this approach, I learned a great deal from this process. I sorted the parts as I went.
Once I was done I took the big/scrap aluminum pieces to the scrap yard and got about $90. Now I have $110 into the cost of the trailer with a garage full of parts still to be sold or recycled into this or other projects.
Step 3: The Frame Reconditioning
Once I had a bare frame it was time to get to work. I used a grinder and power drill to take the surface rust off. I spent probably about 3 - 4 hours total to get it all to clean metal. I wiped the entire frame down with a wet rag to prep for the primer. I used Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer.
I re-packed the wheel bearings, that took about 60 - 90 minutes.
I put one coat of the rust reformer primer top and bottom on the frame. If it was metal it got a coated. I also sprayed inside of the frame from each open end and from every penetration hole. (Side note here: these old trailer frames often rust from the inside out. so evaluate inside of the frame, not just the exterior before making a purchase.) I did the underside first and made sure to let everything dry down good before flipping the frame over to do the top. I had about 2 - 3 hours into priming everything. The process took several days with the dry time.
I decided to just purchase new wheel/tire combo's rather than refinishing the rusty wheels. NO GO. I found out after making a purchase (only to have to return them) that my wheel is offset rather than the new ones that have the hole dead center on the wheel. That was the restoration God's saying NO SHORT CUTS. So I had to sand down the wheels use White rust reformer primer and using rust-oleum paint I painted each with 2 coats of paint. I had at least 4 hours into refinishing the wheels. That number does not include the time running around purchasing and returning my attempted store bought short cut. The wheels took about 2 weeks with all the dry time. You really want to let the primer and each coat of paint dry down before applying the next coat.
I painted the frame with Rust-Oleum paint/ flat black. I followed the same process as priming it. Same amount of time spent.
Once everything had hardened up good I put the wheels on, installed the trailer jack, took it off the blocks, and that phase of the project was done.
Step 4: Building the Deck/floor System
Using my drill press on a portable dolly I drilled holes in the 3" frame. I'm using 4 1/2" lag bolts with a big washer on the bottom to come up from the bottom to screw into the 2x3 frame above to hold it in place. I pre-drilled the holes into the wood to keep the 2x3's from splitting out. That would have been a disaster.
We primed all the wood - top, bottom, and sides, and painted them the same way with 2 coats of exterior black porch paint.
I ran the wire for the trailer lights through the trailer frame. I used a drain snake to easily push the wire through. I also ran 15/2 electrical wire in the same way.
We cut the 3/4" plywood for the floor/deck and then primed and painted the under side with 2 coats of the black porch paint. Using construction adhesive we laid the plywood floor boards in place (painted side down) and then nailed them in place with ring shank nails. Between the adhesive and the ring shank nails that floor isn't going to come loose.
Step 5: Building the Wheel Wells
To build the new wheel wells I used the old wheel wells to give me an idea of how much clearance I should have on the top and sides. I then looked online at a lot of commercial RV's to see what they were using for style and for the clearance front and back of the tires. In the end I went with 5 1/2" on top. You don't want tires to over heat on a long hot road trip.
I made a cardboard template for the face of the wheel well and played around with the look, size, and function. You need to make sure you can get the wheels on and off easily if you need to. Once I had my final template I started cutting out my parts. I used 3/4" plywood.
We primed and painted the inside of the wheel wells using the same paint and method as the under side of the floor.
Since the inside of the wheel wells will take on an extreme amount of water when traveling in the rain I decided to coat the inside with Herculiner bed liner material. The kit cost about $40. I don't want to skimp and later have a water issue. This stuff will absolutely do the trick. Just roll it on with a 4" roller. Use gloves, and work in a well ventilated area.
Once the inside and both tops were done with 2 coats of Herculiner I attached the tops. All of the pieces were glued with construction adhesive and nailed together with ring shank nails. I caulked the inside seams around the top once the tops went on. They were glued down to start with so no water is getting in from there.
Step 6: It's Time to Gear Up
I hunted on the internet to find some good quality, but low cost cargo doors. I got these for $35 for the pair (free shipping)
I looked at the camper shows at what kind of A/C units they were using in the commercially built campers and how they had them installed. I found that several had actually installed them wrong. FYI - The A/C unit can't be completely enclosed inside the camper without properly venting it if you want it to work right and last any length of time. I chose a 5,000 BTU Kenmore, it cost about $115.
I needed the cargo doors, A/C unit, and windows early on so I could plan my wall rough openings. My windows ended up being back ordered. I should have ordered them earlier... Since I plan to make my own door I control the rough opening for that.
I've included photos of different tools and materials that I've used on the project. I'll make notes on the photos.
Step 7: Build the "rough Walls"
Next I built a staging area to stand the 4x8' sheets of foam, paneling, etc all upright so that it remains straight and out of the way.
I'm building the walls in two stages. Fist I'll build my rough walls by cutting the 4'x8' sheets down and joining panels by gluing them together using gorilla glue. Each of the rough walls will eventually be trimmed down to the finished size and shape.
Once all of the rough walls have been sized and shaped I'll be ready to go to the next stage of cutting out penetrations such as windows, etc. and applying the pre-finished paneling to the interior walls with adhesive.
Step 8: Begin the Final Phase of the Wall Construction.
Today I went to the lumber yard to purchase the rest of the interior pre-finished birch paneling. $38 per sheet. Ouch... This is real birch not a particle board look-a-like. I've had 2 pieces in my garage left over from another project for years. Back then I only spent about $26 ea. It's just not an option to buy unfinished birch and go through the steps of finishing it out myself. I don't have the time or desire.
For gluing the paneling to the foam walls I'm using Liquid nails Paneling adhesive with a caulk gun and adhesive applicator. The adhesive is a quick set so be prepared to work fast. Once it was glued in place I put some weight on it to hold it down while the adhesive set up. Note: I left 2 1/8 inch offset on each side for the side walls to but into and 1 5/8 inch offset on the bottom to clear the 2x2's.
I called again today to follow up on my windows and I was told that the trim rings are finally in. I'm driving down next week to pick them up. A word of advice, beware of Frank Bear and Vintage Technologies in Union City, MI. My personal experience has been that they will tell you anything to make a sale. They have been a nightmare to deal with. Update: The larger size trim rings that I've waited soooooo long for are so tight that they really don't even fit. I'm going to have to file them down. Frank refused to do anything to resolve the issue or reduce the price. This just confirms what I said earlier - BEWARE.
As I finish each wall I am dry fitting them to see what needs tweaking. I then set that wall aside and move on to the next. To establish and scribe the roof line I used a long piece of 1/4 round trim I made my measurements and taped the trim in the center and at both ends. The trim provided the natural arc I'm looking for. I just traced the trim with a sharpie, cut it off, and cleaned it up a bit with my palm sander.
Cutting out the window and cargo door rough opening is time consuming. You have very little if any margin for error on this. I used my saw and a dry wall knife and cut well inside the lines and then worked the edges out until I had a perfect fit. I used a comb of my shaping tools, a long knife, and my palm sander.
After dry fitting the cargo door I needed to inset wood on 3 sides so I can screw the cargo door in place at trim out. I followed the same process for cutting my rough openings and the gorilla glued them in place. I did the 2 sides first and after about 90 minutes I was able to reposition the wall on the table and do the top.
Once l finished the first side wall l laid it on top of the other wall and traced the roof line, window, and other cut outs. that just leaves the door rough opening to measure and scribe.
After cutting the window opening in the second side wall l dry fit the window. I'm not real happy with the fit. It could be tighter. I decided to add some material back on and make the R.O. about an 1/8" tighter all the way around. I just took a can of spray foam and sprayed it on my bondo mixing board and using a bondo spreader l worked the material back and forth until it was like peanut butter and the using the bondo spreader l buttered the opening. To clean my bondo mixing board and spreader I'll let the foam harden up and it will peal right off. I'll come back and cut and sand the foam to my desired rough opening.
I spent about 3.5 hours redoing the 2 window openings, and they are now a more snug fit. lessen learned here, l should have just identified spots that needed to be built up a bit and foamed them rather than doing the entire surface.
Before installing the paneling I identified the locations where l need wooden blocking so that l can attach my window shades securely. Using a hot knife for this job is by far the best approach. l Cut out a 3/4" deep hole to receive the blocking and glued in the wood block flush with the wall.
The last step in prep on the side walls before paneling is to cut my support mini-beam pockets. I made a 1 1/2' x 1 1/2" square jig block. I measure out my center points and held the jig in place and traced it with a sharpie. I put the first support beam just inside the front and back wall. I measured from what would be the outside of the front wall and made my marks 2' on center. This gave me a pocket at 2', 4', 6' and 8' in addition to the pockets just inside the front and back walls. I put both side walls on top of one another and taped them together to make sure nothing moved on me. I used my saw and a speed square to cut the edges of the pocket cut outs cutting both walls at one time and making sure to cut plumb and straight cuts. Once both side had been cut I cut on a diagonal to each corner and then cut the back line with a knife.
To panel the wall I just laid the 1st. panel over the wall and lined up my bottom line and the outside edge then l scribed the top and cut it off with a jig saw. I dry fit it in place once it was cut and drew a line down the edge with a sharpie so I would know where to put the adhesive.
To install the 30 amp "electrical power in" hook up , l used a 3" hole saw. l will have to wait until the exterior wall is finished to install the weather tight cover. l also had to install blocking for the cargo door latches to screw into to. using the hot knife l cut out the foam and glued in the 3/4" blocking.
In final reparation of standing the walls l used Crack Shot high performance Spackle Paste to fill in any gaps, cracks, deep scratches, holes, etc. by filling them now l avoid having to do it when the walls are up and its more difficult to see and work on the defects. With the glue and canvas exterior finish these type of issues may show, so better safe than sorry when it comes to prep work. The spackle paste goes on easy and quickly with a putty knife.
Step 9: Preparing the Deck and Interior for Wall Installation
Next I measured and cut 2x2's to be attached around the perimeter of the deck as a structural cleat for the walls to but up and attach to. I then installed the 2x2's with gorilla glue and I used a 16 ga.nail gun with 2" nails to fasten them in place while the glue set up.
I'm building a raised bed with 21 cubic feet of storage (both front and rear) underneath. At this point I'll be doing all of my final layout work on the bed and storage areas, and I'll cut and dry fit all of the components.
I installed 12"x12" stick down vinyl floor tile to the floor area of the storage compartment. Total cost $11.25. This will make it easy to keep the storage area clean.
To prepare for the cabinets l added some base framing to support the cabinets and to give me something to screw into to hold them in place. l ripped down some 2x4s to make a straight 2x2. l ran the router accross the front edge to give it a trim profile. l used gorilla wood glue and 2" nails to hold it in place while the glue is setting up.
l installed 12"×12" stick down vinyl floor tile up front for the floor in between the bed and cabinets inside the door.
l cut a 3/4" sheet of plywood down to make two 11 1/2" x 8' planks. l then cut those boards to make the framing for the front of the bed platform. There will be two pull out drawers in the center and a cubbie hole on each side. l used a jig saw to cut the openings. The face board and drawer fronts will get stained.
I've decided to go ahead and do the final build out of the bed and drawer assembly prior to attaching the walls. I've used the table saw to rip down 2x4's to make 2"×1 1/2" studs. I'm using Liquid nails construction adhesive and 16 gauge finish nails to secure the framing. I will screw the plywood bed top down without gluing it.
For the bed top l purchased two 4x8 sheets of 5/8" plywood. l cut them both to 33 1/4" x 77" which gives me a 67 1/2" width. On the bottom side of the plywood I attached 3/4" x 2 1/4" pine slats that l ripped on the table saw. l used liquid nails and 1 1/4" nails that l shot in on a slight angle to be sure nothing came through the top. The slats really firmed up the plywood and keep it from having any sag. I learned this technique from going to camper shows and looking under the beds and in the cargo areas. Most commercial built camper use 1/2" OSB , l went with a the 5/8" plywood.
l used the excess plywood to build my drawer boxes. 19" W x 20" D x 6 1/2" H. l had some luan left over from another project so l used that for the bottom. I glued and nailed the boxes together. Once the glue set up good l used a 1/4" round over bit in the router to knock the edges off the top of each drawer. I then sanded each drawer inside and out with the palm sander.
To mount the drawers l purchased some 20" drawer slides at Home Depot.
l am running electrical to both sides of the bed where I'm going to have a little built in night stand with an outlet for a phone charger. Since I've got to come up through the cargo bay with the wire l decided to put a surface mounted outlet on each side just inside the cargo bay door. After l got them in l liked the location so well l decided not to bother putting an outlet on the outside of the back wall like l had been planning to do.
I built the drawer fronts out of pine 1X10's that I ripped down on the table saw. I attached them with liquid nails construction adhesive and 5 or 6 - 18 gauge 1 1/4" gun nails to hold them in place while the glue set up. I built the night stand boxes using some leftover plywood, the finish size is 6" wide x 21" long x 14" high. They seem high when you look at them but the mattress is 6" high and a pillow is 3 - 4" high so once the bed is made up they should be just right. I put an electrical box in the face of each nightstand using a remodeling box, this will be perfect for a phone charger, or lap top.
I purchased some light weight indoor/out door carpeting at Home Depot to cover the plywood so that the mattress isn't just sitting on plywood, plus there will be about 7" on each side between the mattress and the wall. Once I've screwed the plywood in place I'll attach the carpeting and run it over the front 1" bull nose and tack it on the underside. I used the cut off material to cover both night stands. They turned out nice. My wife want's to be able to use the inside for storage so I'll make a false bottom and a front divider to cover the electrical and a removable top for each. I installed 4 L brackets inside the bottom of each box prior to assembly. Once the walls go up I can push them snugly into each corner and screw them in place. I'll wait until they are in place to build the tops.
l used 2 sided carpet tape on the bull nosing to hold the carpet in place. l stapled the underside of the front edge with heavy duty 3/8th inch staples about one inch apart all the way across the front. l then stapled all the way around the outside edge about 6 inches apart.
Step 10: Dry Fitting & Preparing to Attach the Walls
l had several beam pockets that needed to be cut down a little deaper. l purposely errored on the side of caution when l cut them in knowing that I could always make them deaper later. Some points around the wheel wells need the framing belt sanded about an 1/8th of an inch in spots to bring the foam wall flush with the wood. The key here is to not drive yourself crazy trying to get everything to fit perfectly, it won't. The fit and finish issues can and will fixed during the exterior final prep phase. Don't get me wrong, you want to get it very close to where it needs to be at dry fit, just doesn't need to be perfect.
Step 11: Project Delay
My experience was that he will tell you anything to make a sale. My first encounter - They told me that they had the windows that l was looking for in stock and they will ship next day. A week later l had to call them asking where my windows are. l was then told that they don't carry that size in stock but they could have it in a week. A week later after l called back because they did not call as they said they would l was told it will be one more week. l finally got the windows by driving down and picking them up.
While picking up the windows l made the mistake of ordering a custom built door from him. he was very convincing that the window experience was a fluke. He convinced me that he would have my door to me in 2 weeks. 3 1/2 weeks later l drove again 3 hours and 40 minutes round trip only to have to reject the door due to extremely poor workmanship. He said he would have it rebuilt and shipped directly to me at no additional cost, again 2 weeks. 3 weeks later l finally got him on the phone after numerous calls went un returned. I was told that he had just recieved the door and if l wanted it l could come get it. l reminded him that he had committed to shipping it to me a no cost to me since l had taken a half day off work and drove a considerable distance only to have to reject the door. He then told me if l want the door l can come get it and hung up on me.
l'm a business owner, and l do small business consulting work for a living. l assure you through all of the Fran Bear ridiculous story telling nonsense l was totally professional and always remained focused on solutions, l can't say the same for Frank. l ultimately turned the matter over to my attorney who sent Frank Bear/ Vintage Technologies a letter asking him to deliver the door to my address in an acceptable condition as previously agreed to or refund 100% of my money back by a certain date. ln the end Frank refunded my money. l assure you, had l not brought my attorney into the process l would not have achieved the same outcome from this man.
Not knowing what the outcome would be on the door issue the project was dead in the water. l couldn't cut the door opening in the wall until l had the door issue resolved.
l finally received a refund for the door in mid August. l've decided to just build my own door.
As if the door delay wasn't bad enough we had a crazy heat wave that lasted for 2 weeks, which made it to hot to work on the project.
Step 12: The Door.
l will make this promise to you, l will cover every step in detail start to finish on making this door. While researching this subject l could not find the detailed steps start to finish in any one place.
l've decided to make the door 26" × 54". The rough opening needs to be 3" wider and 1 1/2" taller to account for the wood framing material on both sides and the top of the door. l used a very stout and sharp butcher knife and my razor knife to make these precision cuts. getting this rough opening cut right is super important. My cuts turned out pretty good. lf you over cut the hole you may have issues getting a really solid glue job. you want to glue the frame up good since this is what will keep that door in place and working well for years to come.
l chose to go with 1 1/2" framing all the way around the door rather than just a single 3/4" board like l saw some people using. That door is going to be pretty heavy and l want some meat behind my hinges to anchor it to. l'm not using 2x4s because they are not stable. l need this opening to be precise and 2x4s will bow and twist. l chose to use select kiln dried 1x3s that l ripped down on the table saw to 2". l then glued them together and nailed them with 18 ga. 1 1/4" finish nails to hold them in place while the glue set up.
Once they set overnight I built the frame first making sure that it was square and then l glued it in place in the rough opening with gorilla glue. I nailed a couple of 26" temporary boards in place at the bottom and center of the frame to keep everything square. Those temporary boards will come out once the trailer is completely framed/shelled. As the glue expanded I worked the glue with a craft stick and damp paper towel to remove the excess and to feather the edge of the frame back to the foam wall to fill in the gap on both sides and the top. By working the expanding glue this way it save alot of time later and it makes a stronger wal frame connection.
Step 13: Cabinets & Drawers
After the stain dried down good we applied 2 coats of polyurethane. l set up a paint lab in my basement since the temperature outside was cold. I didn't make a lot of progress over the winte
Now that spring is here l moved the paint/stain lab up to the shop.
Step 14: The Roof & Ceiling
l am choosing instead to make a stable 2x2 by ripping down 3/4" plywood. l cut twelve 1 1/2" × 3/4" pieces. l paired them to make my 6 roof beams. l glued them with gorilla wood glue and nailed them together with 1 1/4" nails. This makes a mini micro lamb beam. lt's stronger than the pine and completely stable.
I used 3/8" plywood for the roof material. l purchased 3 pieces. l ran them accross the top 4' x 6' for two, and 2' x 6' for the last one. l used liquit nails construction adhesive to glue them down. l tacked the plywood down with 1 1/4" 16 ga. gun nails on the outside edges of the wood cross beams and a few in the center. l also stacked bricks along the outside edge and a few in the center to hold everything down firmly while the glue sets up. l then went around the edge were the walls meet the top with the construction adhesive and completely filled the gaps like l was caulking it. l also did the same around the wheel wells as well as all 4 corners.
l took my measurements for the ceiling insulation pieces and did a material layout. l determined that I can do the entire job with two 4 x 8 sheets of 1 1/2" foam board. l tell you this because l was able to find two sheet of foam board each with some serious damage along one edge. Home Depot gave me 50% off on each sheet. That saved me $21 and l knew going in that the damage would be scrap anyway. l cut and labeled the 5 pieces. l used liquid nails for paneling to adhere the foam board to the underside of the plywood roof. l braced the pieces for about 45 min each.
l filled the seams/joints on the roof with gorilla wood glue. Once the glue dried hard l sanded the seams with a palm sander.
To clean up the edge of the plywood where it meets the top of the walls l used a small 3" hand plane and sanding block.
l decided to finish the ceiling by installing 5/16" thick tongue and groove pine. l glued it and nailed it into the 6 wood roof supports. lt turned out great. The 1/4" pine is light weight and it bent to follow the curve of the ceiling just fine.
l used a 1/4" round over bit on my router to round the roof edge all the way around. You don't want to have any sharp edges or corners when doing a canvas and glue exterior.
l used a pole sander and 120 grit sandpaper to sand the plywood roof. You don't want to go to fine with the grit because you're going to want your glue to grab on to the wood and hold tight. Start sanding with the grain, then go cross grain, and hit it one last time with the grain. You don't want any raised wood grain showing through the canvas.
The next step is to dry fit the canvas and decide where to seam it. The canvas is 9' X 12' and has a seem running down the center at the 6' mark. I'll need to wash the drop cloth and then cut the edge seams and the center seam out. This is the time to do lay-out on all the exterior pieces.
we polyurethaned the ceiling. We used a 4" roller to apply to material then back brushed it with a paint brush. It took 45 minutes to do the entire ceiling. it took almost an hour to prepare for the polyurethane by taping plastic drop cloth to all 4 walls. As it turned out, I'm not sure we needed to do the entire wall, but sure as we hadn't we'd of had a wall drip issue. Remember your working with a finished interior.
Step 15: Attaching the Walls
Step 16: Electrical & AC
Another key component is the AC unit. No one out there has really done any of the how to info or steps on that. So l intend to cover it here. more to come...
l added a diagram showing the rough opening for the A/C unit, and another for the A/C cover. l used left over foam board to make the cover. l wanted it to be strong but light weight. l used gorilla glue to fasten it together. l inserted bambo skewers to pin it together and hold all the corners in place while the glue sets up. l also taped it to keep the pieces held firmly together. lastly l placed bricks on the front piece for added pressure.
Once the glue was dry I used a knife and putty knife to take off as much dried glue as possible without damaging the foam. l then used 120 grit sandpaper and a sanding block to sand all of the joints down and round over all of the exterior edges and corners. A quick dry fit, and l'm pleased. Next l'll cover it with glue, canvas, and paint.
Step 17: Body Work
I've experimented with several compounds for filling holes, gaps, deap scratches, etc. DON'T use a drywall joint compound with wood glue mix. I tried it. l saw that on a foamie blogg. That might work on a craft project but not for this application. The Crack shot spackling past is great for filling the deap scratches and other smaller stuff. The wider gaps, holes, etc will require spray foam. You'll nead a bondo mixing board and bondo tools. Go to Harbor Freight if you need to purchase the tools. Should be less than $20. The way you work the spray foam is to spray a small pile on to the bondo mixing board then using a bondo spreading tool work the foam back and forth and keep wiping it off on the edge of the board. You need to work it for several minutes. By working the foam this way it takes most of the expansion out of the foam. When you apply it DO NOT apply it like drywall mud where you over apply and feather it out in a larger circle around the fill spot. Just fill your spot and keep it in a tight area around your fill spot. Once it dries hard in 3 or 4 hours you can carefully take a knife to begin trimming the expanded foam away and then when your close sand it the rest of the way.