Introduction: Reclaimed Wood Micro Teardrop Trailer
Hi, this is my build of a Reclaimed Wood Micro Teardrop trailer. I call it a "micro" build because 1) it's 5 x 8 feet (and it's only 7 feet at the base) 2) I used only 2x3s and 2x2s/other lighter wood for the foundation to keep the weight at a minimum! and 3) It does not have a large section for cooking gear in the back. However, if you follow my specific plans that use the Grumman 2 teardrop shapes, you can dedicate 1 foot of space in the back to an outside storage space, which you could use to store solar batteries, ice, or even cooking gear!
OH, and as you will see later, it has a 4x8 foot skylight with exposed beams! Ah, romance on the highway! Off the ground and under the stars!
Cost: I will give an estimate of the cost per each step. It will cost up to 1,000, maybe more, depending on your choices. I used a regular queen size mattress inside, which put the price up to 1,500. Teardrops often cost at least 3-5 thousand, even used.
If you have any questions about this build, please email me here or by emailing Docwyoming@gmail.com
Step 1: Build Your Harbor Freight Trailer
Cost: Harbor Freight sells 4 x 8 foot trailers for under $300. Bro Tip: Wait for sales. This is a nice, cheap yet reliable trailer.
Build as directed, except do not add any of the extras - the side guards or the wheel guards. You'll see why in a second.
Now, here is a key concern you might have: aren't we building a 5 foot wide teardrop? We are. But this trailer if 4 foot wide.
When you build your trailer, leave OFF the wheel guards. The foundation/platform we will use will extend past the wheels. You can chose to cut your platform to fit around the wheel guards if you chose, but you will have to cut out 45 degree angle cuts.
Cost: Between 200-300 depending on sales. Of course, if you can find a used trailer you may bring down your costs even more.
Step 2: Build Your Trailer Riser and Foundation
Trailer riser cost: 2x3s - about 6 -8 of them - 30 dollars. White marker, 12-16 4 inch screws/bolts - about 20 dollars.
Foundation Cost: 3 Plywood sheets , about 6 2x3s and 6-8 2x2s - 80 to 100 dollars. Roof asphalt, about 10 dollars. Of course if you need hammer/nails/screws, etc., add cost accordingly. You will also need a drill with drill bits.
OK, You will now build a 5 x 7 foundation for your teardrop. This will allow you to widen your teardrop in order for two adults to sleep in it comfortably! The reason THIS build will use a 5x7 base (and not 5x8) is that the Grumman 2 style teardrop profile tapers down at the base (but the middle part extends out a full 8 feet.) IF YOU CHOOSE A DIFFERENT PROFILE STYLE, first work out what the base (bottom part) dimension will be and build your foundation accordingly!
BUT.. laying a 5 foot wide foundation directly on top your trailer will lead to the foundation being too close to your tires. So you will first raise the height of your trailer rails by building a Trailer Raiser (tm) (let's call it that!) by placing 2x3s on top of of the trailer, precisely along the structure of the trailer. You can see this in the first two pictures. I painted them black. Nail or screw these together like you would with any frame and then you can either stand up your trailer on its side or slide underneath the trailer and, using a white marker, push the marker up through the screw holes in the trailer and mark where these holes meet up with this new raised foundation.
Remove the Trailer riser(tm), flip the Trailer Riser over and drill through these holes. Put the Trailer Riser back, line up the holes and then using 3 1/2 or 4 inch screws and bolts, attach the foundation. NEVER FEAR if some of the holes do not line up perfectly. You can drill the holes larger, provided that the top of the screw still will remain within the hole. ONE thing first, however... you will want to embed the screws into the Trailer Riser. You can do this by turning the screws over, placing them over the holes and then pound out a notch for the screw head. This will allow the screw to be completely embedded into the foundation. Alternatively, you can use your drill to widen the top of the hole to allow you to embed the screw. You will need to do this for two reasons: 1) This holds the screw in place so you can attach the bolt below and 2) This gives you a flat surface for your floor that you will be installing next! You may find this part the most frustrating part of the build. You may need help keeping the bolts steady with someone holding them with pliers while you attach the bolts. You can see a pic from the bottom (pic 3)
Note: The outer parts of the trailer are slightly higher than the internal cross beams. If this concerns you, you can place thin slices of wood on top to even out the height.
You can build a foundation for your teardrop using 2x2s rather than 2x4s. You will save on weight while getting more than enough strength for your teardrop. Create a simple 5 x 7 frame by placing the 2x2s directly over the raised trailer beams. Line up the studs right on top of the raised frame itself. You need to do this because at a later step, you will attach this foundation to the trailer using screws, and you will want to match up the 2x2s to the trailer riser you just built.
Attach the 2x2s by nail or screw, ensuring that you get 5x7 and 90 degree angles. Make sure to do this otherwise your later steps will be complicated. As easy at this step may seem, take your time with it! No rush.
Then place plywood (1/4 inch is fine) on top. You will need 3 4x8 sheets, seeing as our foundation will be 5x7 and you will have a 1 foot by 7 foot space left over. At this point you can take the foundation off your frame. You may wish to add some cross beams into your frame so you can nail the smaller plywood pieces directly into a stud. Once you have done this, you can mark where the beams are on the plywood side, to make attaching the foundation to the trailer rise easier during the next step.
After attaching plywood to the top, turn your foundation over (yes, it's heavy already!) and, if you like, install some insulation. (I had some cheap foam type already lying around.) Then place plywood on the other side.
At this point, you will choose which side is the bottom... arbitrary, really. You will want to coat the bottom with roofing asphalt, which you can get at any large hardware store for about 10 bucks. Let this dry overnight. IT IS STICKY and MESSY. I leaned the foundation up against a tree and left it there till the next day.
Step 3: Time to Attach Your Foundation to Your Trailer
You now want to replace the foundation back on your trailer. (In the picture above there are a few 2x2s resting on the foundation, ignore them.... I should have removed them for the picture.)
Cost: About 10 dollars. You will need 12-16 4 inch POINTED screws... no bolts for this step. You will simply be screwing this foundation down onto the trailer riser you already attached.
If you marked lines where the studs are under the plywood, you can drill through them into the trailer riser below, all along the outside studs of the trailer riser below. If you didn't make these marks, just look where you nailed/screwed the 2x2s together and measure along from there where your studs lie beneath.
Position your foundation so that 6 inches hangs over on each side, left and right. The foundation should match up at the top. Remember that while the Trailer and Trailer riser are 8 feet long, the foundation used in this build is only 7 feet long. Position this foundation starting at the front. There will be about 12 inches of space left in OUR particular build, in the back. At present, this is simply uncovered. This area will be used for our storage space/cooking area. You can see this empty space in the picture, where the foundation ends. You should see the trailer riser only (painted black.) in that area.
Then drill through your foundation into the trailer riser. Again, remember to embed these screws: either turn the screws over and hammer the head into the wood to ensure that the screws will go in flush, or widen the drill hole for the screws with your drill. You can see an example of this in photo 2.
Make sure to connect the foundation all along the trailer riser (leaving 1 foot in the back open, of course, if you are using the 5x7 foundation), including across each crossbeam that you can match up. This will not only keep your teardrop on your trailer, it will provide comfortable support for you while you sleep inside! You should be able to match up the very front of the foundation to the trailer riser with 4 screws, and at least 4 screws along the left and right.
Step 4: Start Making Your Profiles!
Cost: About 40 to 60 bucks, unless you need to purchase profile prints... If you don't have a jigsaw or router and can't rent or borrow one, this may add another 100 dollars or more.
Buy two 3/4 inch, 4 x 8 plywood sheets. 3/4 inch is key here, because we will be screwing into the top of this profile at a later step.
I used the Grumman 2 profile blueprints. Pick whatever particular teardrop shape you like, but recognize that your foundation size may change accordingly. (If you choose the Grumman 2 as I have, your teardrop will 'fall short' of the 8 feet, since the Grumman 'curves' inward on each side. You can see this in the diagram above, the front side cuts out nearly 2 four inch squares on the bottom, the back about 1/2 a square. The cost of using this style is, of course, inside floor space. The benefit is that this allows you to build an outside storage area! Also, if you choose this profile shape, you have already built your 5x7 foundation and you are all set to go!)
Few Teardrop builds tell you how to build your profiles. Some even just say at this step: cut out your profile! Not helpful! Here is what I learned:
There are 3 ways to draw up your profiles for cutting.
1) Purchase cut outs online. You place this cutout over your plywood, draw out the shape and then cut away using a jigsaw or router. This is pricey. Even if you get the plans for free, printing out 4x8 prints is likely expensive.
2) Get a projector and simply project the Grumann 2 Profile image onto your 4x8 plywood sheets. If you have a projector, great... if not, this is even more pricey unless you can borrow one.
3) Use the grid system already in the design above, drawing lines 4 inches apart and mark the points on your plywood. Then cut away. I would suggest cutting each separately, due to the difficulty of cutting through them both at once.
I found that the best way to make the profiles was to combine steps 2 and 3, draw the lines, mark your dots and then, use the projector to draw the lines.
You then cut the profiles using a jigsaw. You will need to sand the profiles if you use a jigsaw. I used a high-quality jigsaw and the cuts were still... not perfect. Whatever method you use for cutting, you then want to sand them. I suggest holding the profiles together with clamps and sanding both at once, to keep their outer shapes as close to identical as possible!
Step 5: Choose Where You Will Cut Your Windows and Door(s)
Cost: Nothing for this step.
You will then cut out at least one doorway and at least one window.
Profile 1/the Front: I chose the double doorway since this choice is uncommon AND it makes it very couple friendly! Be aware that a bigger doorway means 1) more space for bugs to enter and 2) more roadway dust during travel - unless you really protect your doorway well.
Profile 2: As for the other profile, you will NEED to cut at least one window, because this build does not include a roof fan/air circulator on the roof. (We will be building a plexiglass skylight with exposed beams instead.) You will need this window for circulation, for removal of moisture from breathing as well as a fan for comfort! I suggest that you first decide what will go into your window space: a window, a fan, both, etc. then cut accordingly.
KEEP whatever you cut out from your profiles! You will need to doorway plywood cut wood to make your doors! And you might have a use for the window cut at well. Please don't toss this away!
Note: You can see the gridlines on the profiles that I used to originally draw out the lines for cutting.
Tips of cutting: If you are using a jigsaw, you can start any internal cut by first drilling some holes along the lines. Then you can fit the jigsaw blade safely into the holes and cut away. If you have a router... well, then you can simply line up your router and cut away...
Step 6: Attach Your Profiles to Your Foundation
Cost: Screws, you will need a box of quality 3 inch screws to attach the profiles, another box of 2 inch trim screws (with small screw heads) to attach the spars, , plus another 40-60 bucks worth of 2x2s to serve as spars/connectors for your profiles.
First: BE SURE you attach your profiles in the right direction!
Ok... now you will want to line up a profile along the foundation and quickly get a few screws through it into your foundation. Help may be required from another person unless you are able to prop up the profile bottom to the bottom of the foundation. I found that this part wasn't as difficult as it all sounds... within 30 seconds you will have 2-3 screws into the profile and the profile will be attached securely enough to give you the time to leisurely add in another 10 screws along the bottom of the profile into the foundation. You will likely want at least 3 inch wood screws, something with an outside/construction grade.
Attach the other in the same fashion.
Once your profiles are screwed into the foundation, you then connect your profiles to each other using "spars", which are either 1 x 2 or 2 x 2 wood studs, which are cut to the precise width of your foundation. I suggest using 2x2s as we need strength here - the spars are what connect your profile to each other - they provide sturdiness. You will also want straight spars, not curved or what I call "wonky" wood and 2x2s are more likely to give you a strong, straight piece of wood. I ended up mixing in some 1x2s down the sides/lower parts of the teardrop, thinking it would save some weight/space but it ended up not being worth it! Go with the 2x2s. Use two screws per each side of the spar, so that the spars do not turn/move.
What spacing should you use between each spar? Research this online if you like, there is no one necessary rule. I found that I started out with 8-10 inches apart at the top, then spacing them out a bit more in between. I don't even know how many spars I used to be honest!
One other suggestion, but this is up to your tastes: You will notice that the spars have a deep, dark color. This comes from a treatment known in Japan as Shou Sugi Ban - burning of the wood. It is accomplished with a simple propane torch. You can purchase one for about 30 dollars, about 4 dollars for a small can of propane. Then you burn the wood to a desired color. It won't burn to cinders, believe me! This gives the wood a deep, desirable color AND it is a nature protection against insects! For more on this, see step 8.
Step 7: Attach Your Plywood to the Top of the Teardrop
Cost: You will need 3, 1/4 inch, 4x8 birchwood sheets (well, I chose birchwood, choose cheaper if you like...), costing up to 30 dollars each, plus a 1/4 inch, 4x8 sheet of plexiglass which will cost you 100 dollars. Pricey step, I know. If you need clamps, add in another 30 dollars. Woodglue for about 4-5 dollars. This brings you to about 225 dollars. However your choices could bring the cost down significantly. You could choose or find cheaper 1/4 inch sheets. You could use some clear vinyl from Joanne's fabrics to cut costs, but I wouldn't recommend that highly. You could also go smaller on the plexiglass to save money. A 4x6 sheet would save you money and still give you a very nice sun roof!
Note: You will want to first SOAK your plywood for a few hours, even overnight. I literally tossed mine into my saltwater pool. You can soak the pieces after cutting. If you don't soak this wood, .. you may have a bunch of broken pieces of wood on your hands.
Now, remember: Our teardrop will be 5 foot wide (actually, 5 foot, 1 1/2 inches when we count the 3/4 profiles) However, most hardware stores only sell 4 x 8 plywood sheets. But we will turn this problem into an asset. You will begin by lining up the 4x8 plexiglass sunroof* onto the top of your tear. Work out where it can neatly curve WITHOUT bowing up anywhere. Once you have this placement worked out, cut your plywood so that it meets well UNDER the plexiglass. At least 1-2 inches. You then line up these four foot wide pieces so that they are centered. You should have 7 1/2 inches of uncovered space to each side of the plywood (six inches on each side PLUS the width of the profiles) Once you work out the height you need, you can move the plexiglass for now and attach your plywood.
Note: this part can be daunting at first, because you are bending the wood. It is best to get help when you begin attaching the plywood at the bottom and then work your way up. You may need clamps, if you haven't already used them while working on the profiles. You can get a set of four for about 30 dollars. If you choose to use wood glue, you can run wood glue alone each spar that will be covered by the plywood. Clamp the plywood and begin screwing it in spar by spar (the cross beams from the last step), slowly bending the wood. Again, if you wet it long enough you will get pliability, especially if left out overnight. Once you get your plywood screwed in a few spars, it will go easier. Don't force it, better to wet it down again if necessary.
Duplicate this process on the other side of your teardrop. Now, you should have a front and a back with four feet wide of covering, centered on each side. Place your plexiglass roof so that it hangs over the top of both front and back pieces and ensure that it lines up at neatly as possible to each edge. Perfection is not required. You will want the plexiglass to hang over past both pieces of plywood. This will allow the rain to run off when the plexiglass roof is attached.
Now you will cut four 10 inch pieces from your last birchwood plywood. (Better yet, have the home depot guy do this for you.) Two for each side, seeing as one will not be long enough. They have to meet up somewhere - I advise having them meet up at the center, but use your own judgement. You will have to cut one on each side, as the overall length is less than 16 feet. Once you attach the first you can work out the length required for the second.
You will run them along each side, with some overhang on each side, for style and rain protection for the sides of your teardrop. The key here is to cover the plexiglass by at least 2 inches (we will be COVERING the plexiglass this time), while also having the plywood hang over the side of the teardrop. The above picture should help guide you. AGAIN, soak this wood before trying to end it, or you will need to get some more plywood.
Now, before you actually screw these pieces in, you can, if you wish, take your leftover scrap wood and cut 2 inch wide (or whatever width you want), 8 foot long strips - the reason? Your plexiglass will rest along along these strips (and under the plywood exterior.) Line up the plexiglass along these strips to ensure that there is a good fit. This will secure your plexiglass. Note: If you choose to do this you will need to keep the plexiglass on your teardrop while you stain the teardrop. You can secure your plexiglass in other ways if you choose not to do this step.I did NOT do this in my build. If you prefer to follow my actual build, leave out this step and you can stain your teardrop without worrying about the plexiglass getting stained.
* Yes, 4x8 may be excessive for some! If you choose to go smaller, by all means do so, just build up your front and back plywood boards higher, accordingly. I do suggest that you have a long enough piece so that you get a bend downward on each side of the skylight to ensure water runs OUTSIDE of your teardrop (or caulk up everyside instead, choose your own path!)
Step 8: Add Your Reclaimed Wood to the Sides of Your Teardrop
Cost: If you find your reclaimed wood, then it will only cost you the cost of glue and screws. I have 3 sources for my reclaimed wood.
1) I found some nice reclaimed "skins" - thin pieces of wood and simply glued them to my sides. These were from my neighbor's recent renovation of a shed. I thought he was wasting some great wood! You can see one of those pieces in pic 1
2) I needed more, so I found a gear local woodworking company that specializes in reclaimed wood furniture. Gleman and Sons Custom woodworks. The only problem- cost! The charge 6 bucks per square foot. So I added some of those in, pix 2 and 3
3) During my build my old fence fell over in a storm. I put it my trick and hailed it to a dump. As I dropped it off, I wondered- "Would i BUY this in a reclaimed wood store?" I realized... Yes! And then i picked it back up and brought it back home. True story! Picture 4 above is the fence in question! Picture five shows where I placed my Shou Sugi Ban Japanese Tiny house in front of where my old fence was... (interested? A future instructable perhaps?)
I then used Shou sugi ban techniques to burn the wood to give it color and to protect the wood from insects. Picture 6 shows this method. You can buy a propane torch for about 30 dollars, propane cans about 4 bucks each. Burn the wood to your desired color/darkness! It's really that easy, don't be afraid of setting the wood ablaze. You can see these pieces on the bottom of the trailer, they were thicker so I used them as the bottom accent.
Lesson? Some of the best reclaimed wood was literally dropped off at a dump before I recognized what I was doing. Be open to sources for reclaimed wood, and don't make the mistake of thinking that the grass is greener on the other side. Your old junk wood is someone else's wonderful reclaimed wood find!
Attaching the skins to the outside of the teardrop profiles was easy. I used the glue in conjunction with brass screws. Line up your pieces, pencil out the curves as best you can, cut them and then attach. This took multiple measures/cuts, but it came out great.
Note: Once my teardrop top was on, I put in some flooring over the plywood foundation. I already had some flooring underlay and I found some wood flooring tiles for only 5 dollars at a Goodwill. Flooring aesthetics is NOT important for this build, because we are going to add in a queen sized bed which will dominate the space/cover almost all of the floor. So just put in a good, clean, cheap floor over your foundation and leave it at that.
Step 9: Choose the Best Waterseal/protector for Your Reclaimed Wood Siding
Don't stain this wood. Just protect it and enhance the natural color!
Add 2 coats.
Cost: Two cans of polyurethane needed, about 40 bucks. I used General Finishes GLOSS but you pick what you like. Gloss makes the wood look great.
Step 10: Stain Your Teardrop Top
The top, however, you will want to stain, seeing as its just plywood! I added two coats and got a great deep color to match the beauty of the reclaimed wood! I was able to slide out the plexiglass for this step. If you are having problems doing this, then you will need to tape up the plexiglass with painter's tape instead.
Cost: One can, two coats. Stain brush and gloves: about 20 dollars.
Step 11: Add Some Doors
Cost: 2Plexiglass windows, 40 bucks, Fleur De Lis pieces, 15 each. Wood/stain for the trim/frames, about another 20 bucks. Door hinges: about 10. Locks/latches about 20. Doorway weather stripping - 10 Total: about 130 bucks.
Remember the piece you cut out for doors? You kept it, right?
You will now sand them down - remember that you don't even want the door and doorway to be completely flush... they won't work! So sand them down. If you sand "too much" you can just add in doorway weather stripping to the doors and doorway, like I did! I got the rubber door strips from an auto store for 10 dollars a bag. This allows the doors to close with a nice seal. If you end up with spaces showing through, you can run the same stripping along the front of the door so that the closed door covers the space.
For extra beauty, cut out the inside of the doors. My doors were 48 inches across in total, making each door a bit under 24 inches wide after sanding. I cut out 16 by 24 squares from each. I cut four pieces of 1 inch wood with half of each piece cut so that they came together like a picture frame, nailed them around the cut hole, slid in pieces of plexiglass to make sure they fit, then stained/pained the inside/outside frames. (The wood will be in an L shape when seen from the top down.) Plexiglass should fit in snugly. Finally, I attached a fleur de lis to each window from the outside (Found at Hobby Lobby) and I simply attached them to the outside with multiple screws/metal 'staples' (actually more like nails, they have them at home depot for $1.30.) They were all black, so I went with SECURE ATTACHMENT over beauty. Look nice anyway.
You can attach your choice of door hinges and other attachments to your doors. One thing I suggest is to cut a thin piece of wood (1x2 inches) that is higher and lower than the doors (say, 28 inches) to the outside of one door, preferably the right door, the first one to face the wind/road while traveling. When you close your doors, the door without the wood piece closes in first, allowing the door with the wood piece to close over it and 'protect' the inside of your cabin! It looks nice anyway! You can see this doorway protector right in the middle of the doors.
Lastly, choose whatever means you believe you will need to INSURE THAT THE DOORS STAY CLOSED WHILE TRAVELING. Safety over aesthetics, again. I used a lock above and a bolt below. Works fine!
Step 12: Step 12: Add Your Window
On your window side, you will NEED to have an opening to allow air circulation - as well as the addition of a cooling fan (or air conditioner if you park your teardrop at a park with electricity). Air circulation is critical, without it, you will be breathing in your own carbon dioxide.
I did NOT plan this part well. My window side was cut before I even knew what I wanted to place there! Bad idea! I ended up with two screens and a holder for my circulating fan or air conditioner. I made a travel window cover for the circulating fan window.
Cost: Depends on your choice, screening was cheap, the large Fleur de Lis was about 12 bucks. Fan cost 30 dollars!
Step 13: Plan Your Storage Space
At this point, if you have used the profile shapes I suggested (The Grumman 2) You have about 1 foot of space in the back of your teardrop. This space can be used to make a storage area or even a small cooking area like larger teardrops.
If you choose to store batteries there for power, you may want to cut a tiny hole from the storage box into the teardrop, so you can run a power line. This is what I did. All you will need here is a 8 inch wide, 2-4-foot long box, at the height of your choice. You can build one on your own or purchase such a store box at a hardware store. This box cost me about 40 dollars.
Step 14: Attach That Plexiglass Skylight!
If your plexiglass is not already on your teardrop:
Now that your stain on the birchwood is dry, you can rest the plexiglass on top of the teardrop, push the plexiglass under one of the two 10 inch strips so that the other side of the plexi can then be pushed under the opposing side. The plexiglass skylight will slide under both side pieces of birchwood plywood, while resting on top of the four foot wide underlying pieces of birchwood.
You should then have the sides both equally tucked under the birchwood, while the front and back hang over their respective pieces of birchwood. You can ensure that the teardop does not slide from left to right by running small wood strips from your spars. Then, caulk along the outside of the plexi, onboth sides at the edge, to keep out water, (but nearly all water will run down the front and back). Finally, you will want to cover the front and back exposed pieces of plexi with strips of stained birchwood to cover the plexi under birchwood. This will make the teardop road ready.
HOWEVER you want to make sure that rainwater can flow downward the front and back and down your teardrop! So do not completely secure the pieces to the point that water cannot seep downward. You can see what I am getting at in the second photo, although the back piece was removed in this photo - I had just returned from a trip (you can see the dust from the long back roads I traveled!) and was cleaning the teardop.
As I tinker with this build I made add something metal to hold it down, with drainage areas.
Step 15: Design Your Inside!
This is where I let my wife take over. We found some great wallpaper at a local Restore for 5 dollars. We put it up with upholstery tacks to make it look like thick leather like material. The queen bed has a nice French style motiff/coverings and we put up led lights in hanging holders to make it look like a little french bistro.
But the inside is best at night. Unfortunately I couldn't capture the stars because the inside lights dominated. I put up a nice string of yellow lights all along the inside and then we turn on the hanging led lights for a very nice effect. The stars dominate when you turn them off!
I do not have a price here because the choices are up to you: but I would strongly suggest a quality bed. This is what makes sleeping in the teardrop a dream!
Step 16: Field Test!
You'll want to take your new Teardrop out for a test ride, both to ensure that you've built a safe, road worthy trailer and to learn first hand about any flaws/leaks that will require repair/corrections! During out first night out we found that it went down the highway flawlessly and held up to rain just fine. It was a bit warm in the late June Florida heat!