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Teardrop Trailer Plans : How to Build a Cheap Camper

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Picture of Teardrop Trailer Plans : How to Build a Cheap Camper
First off, I originally documented this on my arts and crafts blog, Make It With Jason.  I wanted to build a teardrop trailer that I could take camping around the Pacific Northwest, where I live.  We have amazing scenes of beauty there, like Mt. Hood, and Multnomah Falls, so I decided I also wanted to paint a mural all the way around it.

All in all, I spent about $500 total on this project (including a used $120 Harbor Freight utility trailer) , and this teardrop trailer is about as barebones as you can get. But it works, and it keeps you dry and warm.
 
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Step 1: First step: Design Your Teardrop Trailer

Picture of First step: Design Your Teardrop Trailer
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I love creative camping spaces for compact living – which is quite a claim, considering I am 6’6″ tall. I owned my first camping trailer back in 2003, and I even lived in it for a month when I was airbrushing down in the little tourist beach side town of Seaside, OR.

At some point, I became aware of the teardrop trailer, which is a tiny little trailer that is meant only for sleeping, and offers some accommodation for fairly comfortable food prep and outdoor cooking.

Gathering Ideas

I figured building a teardrop trailer was a project I felt I could pull it off from design to finish by myself, so I started by searching the internet for more info. The reason the teardrop is so popular is that its rounded profile makes it a breeze to pull behind even a car.

I decided to make a traditional style of teardrop – one with a removable galley for easy loading, and two doors.  Here is a photo of my initial design idea, done in Google Sketchup – a free program offered by Google. The truck is my GMC Sonoma – a V6 capable of towing a tiny trailer, but not much else.

The Teardrop Design

First, I drew a quick sketch of what I wanted it to be.  I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel (my first time around), so I went with a traditional route.  In Sketchup, I downloaded a trailer base (because I knew I wanted a roughly 4X8 bed on the trailer.

I also knew I wanted to just put a couple sheets of 3/4″ plywood as a floor and building base for the rest of the trailer.

When I build another one (a larger, “canned ham” type), I will be building it with a 2X4 framed floor and use the plywood as a subfloor, but that isn’t really diminishing the stability of this one, because it is attached to solid steel.

Step 2: Next, Cut out the Sides

Picture of Next, Cut out the Sides
Beginning the Build

Next thing I did was sandwich two sheets of 1/2″ thick plywood and two sheets of 1/4″ plywood (or luan) all together and cut out the teardrop profile outline with a quality jigsaw (mine is a Bosch Jigsaw).  Take your time with this, and keep your cuts nice, clean, and vertical, and it will save you a ton of time cutting the outline.

Read more at Make It With Jason

Step 3:

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When tackling a project like building a teardrop or ANY camping trailer, you have to plan a bit ahead.  I tend to be a “forge forward, and learn as you do” kind of guy, but that works a HECKUVA lot better in drawing and painting than it does with expensive projects like this.  Besides that, I didn’t want to spend too much on this project.  You can honestly build one of these for around $500 (or less!) if you are savvy and budget-conscious.

The Teardrop Construction Stage

Anyway, after adding the rails on the bed, I tacked the 1/2″ plywood sides up in order to line things up and get them straight for framing the interior and “skinning” it with the 1/4″ luan.  Plus, it makes you feel like you’re making progress.

I’m not going to show every single step in the build (because I honestly didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photo at every little step), but I can tell you that I added  a framing of 1×2 “furring” sticks on the inside of the 1/2″ ply, and stuck 3/4″ thick hard foam insulation pieces in between the furring strips as insulation, and as a structural alternative to a void behind the 1/4″ luan plywood interior walls. I added the furring strips with screws and then I laid the luan up against the furring strips and insulation and attached with pneumatic staples. NOTE: I suggest you glue ANYTHING you’re attaching to something else.

I attached my sides to each other with lengths of 2×2 wooden spars (which also offered attachment points for the roofing material I used). You should add as many as possible to it, and cram the space in between the spars with more insulation.

Making the Roof

The roof of any camping trailer is very important.  It not only insulates you from the sun’s heat and the cold wind, but it also keeps out water. For my roof, I opted to bend several sheets of 1/8″ luan and laminate them to the wooden spars.  Now, I would recommend you spend a bit more and buy either aluminum or fiberglass for the roof.  Laminating, sanding, and painting luan to make it weatherproof can take more time than if you just went and bought the quality stuff.
NOTE: when bending luan, it is important to bend it along the grain of its thickest ply (usually the one in the middle).   If you bend it against that grain, it will probably snap in half or at least give you an ugly crease.

The Galley and Doors

These two areas are a sore spot with me.  I designed my doors fairly traditional, and, if I could do it all over again, I would have ordered actual door units.  Instead, I used the cut out pieces from my original teardrop outline profile, and screwed them together to make a roughly 3/4″ thick door.  I attached them to the trailer with stainless steel piano hinges, and used basic screen door type handles from Home Depot to open and lock it. For the windows, I used a piece of glass with silicone caulking to adhere it.  It makes for a fairly tough door, but I don’t like the rounded top, and I would rather the window could open.

The galley is a basic counter with some cupboards below.  It is all designed to be removed, so someone loading the trailer with camping gear or changing the mattress can access the main compartment with relative ease.  The galley hatch on the back is meant for propping it up and serving as a roof for whomever is cooking or preparing food in the galley. Frankly, this was a pain in the neck, and I think that a galley on a teardrop just takes away from more space inside the camper.  I would not make another one again.  Camping is meant to be done outside, and I think the teardrop serves more as a storage and sleeping cabin than a mobile cooking kitchen. That can be done outside, at a campsite.

Step 4:

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The Finished Teardrop Trailer

So, my teardrop is more or less fully built, primed, and painted with white paint (sanded in between three coats), and I can’t shake the thought of airbrushing some images on it, to make it stand out a bit.

When I initially began contemplating making a teardrop trailer, I imagined taking it camping in the various campgrounds and parks here in the Pacific Northwest, and my mind began picturing it with scenes of those famous landmarks and places that define this beautiful area of the country.  So, I finally decided to paint some murals on it.

One, I decided, needed to show a Cascade-type mountain peak, like Mount Hood, and another would feature Multnomah Falls, an icon of Oregon natural beauty.  The final mural showcases our rugged, amazing coasts, and the lighthouses that dot its landscape (not pictured)

Mount Hood Teardrop Trailer Mural

First, I decided to try and incorporate the window into this mural by making it the window of a cabin looking over a meadow under the shadow or Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest mountain peak (and dormant volcano). I started by gathering images of my own photographs and others that fit what I was going for.  The cabin I created from an image I found on Google, and the shot of Mt. Hood was from one I took several years ago.

Hope this helps!  Visit http://MakeItWithJason.com for more tips and to see some more examples of my painting, drawing and design work.
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Zackemyesterday

Very nice job...! It suits my needs exactly, it is as if it where designed and tailored to my needs.. I of course will only be building mine at half of the width of yours exactly, and that is perfectly the width I need to fit my trailer frame.. Not to mention that it will only be fore me and I will be towing it behind my recumbent Fat Cat Quad - 4... My trip will be just under 300 mi's., And most of the way of the trip is of a level ground, with only a few bridges to cross, and a 10 mi. causeway reaching my final destination.. So I believe the weight will not be as great as yours, because My frame is made from a rigged extruded aluminum.. Thank you for posting this instructable it is just enough information I need to build mine and when I am finished I will post my results and pictures of the final product....

nice.. Im from Portland Oregon living in NY. Now Im getting divorced.. looking forward to going back to Portland. Your design may work for me too. I have a small generator for my electrical needs. Im excited to hurry up, and get started. Least I might be here for another winter. UGH..!!

caethelwulf1 month ago

Hey Octar,

I am stealing yer plans...this will make an Awesome Hunting Trailer for me...Also here in the Great pacific Northwest. Thanks.

MakeItWithJason (author)  caethelwulf1 month ago

Not sure if you mean me, but these teardrops are handy little campers.

egreen842 months ago

how much does this weigh with trailer

MakeItWithJason (author)  egreen841 month ago

I'd guess it weighs around 700 pounds. Not heavy at all.

moto-klasika4 months ago

Jason,

Excellent plans and realisation of simple and cheap tear-drop camping trailer!

Just two notes:

- Your are quite right about simple kitchen for cooking outside! A few decades ago, we have light camping tent-trailer and cooked always outside. But, not only we - all people wiht big ADRIA camping trailers, fully equiped - never used thier kithcen inside - but have simple equipement to cook outside...

- About the weigt: our tent-trailer was heavy around 320 kg ~ 700 pounds, and we menaged to pull it by small FAIT 600 D and TRABANT 601,and my brother with Citröen Dyane (all cars had engines of 600 - 770 cc and 25 - 32 HP) ... problems were across Bosnian mountians, but never really serious. On level ground - no problem with speeds up to 80 km/ hour ~ 50 mph (that was legal limit anyway)... So, with any modern automobile, there shoudln't be problems with such and bigger weights?

Regards,

Zoran

P.S.: Planed to transformed it into tear-drop trailer, but instead of that made motto-camper, which was stolen when finished!

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MakeItWithJason (author)  moto-klasika1 month ago

Thanks for the message, Zoran. That is a cool tent trailer!

I believe I'll try it. Thx for the basics & "If I had it to do over again..." comments.

I like corrugated tin. Think I'll try that for the roof. Perhaps using the redwood corrugated trim for the edges, and seal all with silicone.

What about a simple opening window on the side panel? (Forget the door window - no impact shocks from shutting it.

I grew up in Scappoose!

MakeItWithJason (author)  Louise W51521 month ago

I think if you like corrugated tin, I would suggest more of a canned ham or trapezoidal design.

MakeItWithJason (author)  Louise W51529 months ago

Just Make It, Louise! A small window should be a good option. I'd totally buy the windows and door if I were to build one again.

Used to drive through Scappoose several times a month to do work at the paper mill in St. Helens, OR.

TomS145 months ago

Wow! That's really impressive work. Have you done projects as big as this one before? I've been trying to find or make a horse trailer, but it's tough to find the right supplies. I've drawn up a few sketches, but nothings really great yet. http://www.mustangtrailers.com

MakeItWithJason (author)  TomS141 month ago

I've never worked on a horse trailer, but I would weld something that big.

Looks good but I would not have placed the hinge of the drivers side door to the rear. If for any reason it comes open while driving it would slam with tremendous force against the side of your trailer. Look at factory ones they have RH and LH doors that always open from the rear forward. Just thought I would mention for others attempting this.

good point, Robert!

gloryhound1002 months ago

Any idea what total weight was with trailer included?

neil.kay.796 months ago

nice work mate! lovely simple idea, definately worth a go. cheers man!

traisjames1 year ago

Do you have the google sketch up available for download anywhere?

MakeItWithJason (author)  traisjames9 months ago

Not at present. I'm planning on making some plans fairly soon, but nothing right now. Too busy with work and home life. Sorry.

Damn, I was just about to ask the same thing... :-(

Seriously considering building my own trailer based off of a harbor freight utility trailer- only thing i'm worried about is how do you go about registering a DIY trailer with the Oregon DMV? any potential problems?

MakeItWithJason (author)  ryan.l.clement9 months ago

From the OR DMV website

A light trailer is any trailer having a loaded weight of 8,000 pounds or less, except trailers for hire (for rent), recreational trailers,
special use trailers and fixed loads. Light trailers may include boat
trailers or horse trailers. For information on how to register a
for-rent trailer, contact DMV.

Note:
You do not have to register a light trailer (which includes a utility,
boat, or horse trailer) or obtain a trip permit to operate it on the
road if the trailer, plus the heaviest load carried, weighs 1,800 pounds
or less. However, you may wish to obtain a title for your trailer
because most law enforcement agencies and insurance companies want to
see proof of ownership if it is ever stolen. All trailers used on the
road must be equipped to meet safety standards; see
ODOT's Vehicle Equipment and Safety page for more information.

Read more here:

http://www.oregon.gov/odot/dmv/pages/vehicle/light...

If you buy your trailer from Harbor Freight it will come with a title certificate, so there should be no problems registering it.

MakeItWithJason (author) 9 months ago

This took about a month working on it off and on. So, yeah--shouldn't take too long to buld. It's just a bunch of wood slapped together. ;)

BrianDieleman9 months ago

how long did it take you to build it?. could you easily build it in less than a month?.

Very nice job. Reminds me if a camper I built 20+ years ago. It was 4' hi x 6x8' , had heat, cook stove, running water, bed & potty and was light enough for two big guys to lift off the s-10 I had.
Thanks--a camper for an S-10 would be sweet!
joannenk1 year ago
Great job! We're going to start making our little camper for our winter project. We have an old trailer we don't use to start so I'm looking forward to the end product. If it turns out anything close to yours, I'll be thrilled .
MakeItWithJason (author)  joannenk1 year ago
Good luck! Mine was pretty basic--you can go all kinds of fancy on a project like this.
jujubee311 year ago
Holy cow as in how in the world did u make that it iz so detailed
jujubee311 year ago
Holy cow
MakeItWithJason (author)  jujubee311 year ago
Holy cow as in you LIKE it, or holy cow, as in "what a monstrosity!" ?
plinz1 year ago
how much would you say the whole thing weighs when its all loaded up?
MakeItWithJason (author)  plinz1 year ago
It's about 600 pounds unloaded. The loaded is completely conditional on what you're loading it with.
I think you did a great job and also a very good presentation. Good work...
Thanks, glad you liked it. My teardrop is currently for sale on Portland's Craigslist. I am moving on to wanting to build a canned ham style trailer next!
pwm032 years ago
So could this possibly be pulled by a motorcycle with no problem? Love this website!!
bo88y pwm032 years ago
There are commercially-available trailers for motorcycles, but they're either small cargo trailers or pop-up campers. Pulling something this big behind a motorcycle would lead to the tail wagging the dog (4'W plus tires & fenders, 5'H, 12'L).
-- Most teardrop trailers are built with torsion axles instead of leaf springs, and these can be had in half-axle sets, so you could build a trailer to a suitable width (about $200/pr. for 500#-1,000#). Check out adventureteardrops.com for a teardrop cargo trailer that you could maybe fit inside, in a fetal position, but is still 40" overall width. The cargo compartment is 24"W x 24"H x 42"L. It's conceivable that you could make a trailer that's 6" wider, 10"-12" taller, and 30" longer, so you could just sleep in it, but that would be pushing the envelope for what's towable by a bike. You could use narrower tires and fenders and maybe cheat a bit on the tongue length, but you're going to end up longer than most cars (bike and trailer). Obstruction of the view to the rear is something that needs attention, too. An interesting design challenge. It would be slick if you could pull it all together.
MakeItWithJason (author)  pwm032 years ago
I would say that a teardrop designed for a motorcycle could be made--but I wouldn't necessarily use this one.
thewetturd2 years ago
Great job. I would really like to build something like this especially if I can talk the wife into using it lol. The back roof area of the trailer hinges upward with that piano hinge you mentioned is that correct? How do you get that hinged area to not leak? I can't wrap my head around a design that wouldn't leak water into the trailer. Congrats on your project bud, enjoy it fully.
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