Introduction: Ultimate Camp Box

Picture of Ultimate Camp Box

Here is a new approach to the classic camp box or chuck box. I wanted a box that stored all of my cooking gear including my stove, was light enough for one person to carry and easy to build.

There are two big changes from most boxes. First the top is open, this allows easy access to the stove and reminds me of the old Volkswagon buses that had built in stoves. Second, the front doors open to the side instead of dropping down. Most people think that it is nice to have a work space in front of the box but I think the drop down table makes it hard to reach the stove. When this box is sitting on a picnic table, I use the table as a work space and can easily reach the stove.

The sides of the box are made from 1/2" plywood with a 1/4" inner shelf, doors and back panel. Everything is held together with framing brackets. No glue or nails.

The box holds everything I need to cook, clean and serve for 4 people. At camp, the pots hang on the left hand side to dry and the spatula and other utensils hang on the right. There is a spare propane canister behind the stove and the plastic tubs are used for washing dishes.

Step 1: Construction / Framing

Picture of Construction / Framing

Materials Needed:
Side pieces =1/2" plywood 16"x18" Qty 2
Big shelf / Bottom = 22"X16" 1/4" Qty 2
Back Panel = 23" X18" 1/4"
Front Doors = 13 1/2"X 23"  1/4" (Cut in Half)
Thin Shelf = 22"X18" 1/4"

Outside corner brackets Qty 4
Inside corner brackets Qty 4
Brass cup hooks
1/4" X 1/2" Round head sheet metal screws
Shelf brackets = 1"X2" strips 17" long Qty 2
Small hinges Qty 4
Small L brackets Qty 4
Small bolts with Nylock nuts and bolts.

The main structural shape of the box is an H with a bottom piece.  The two sides, main shelf and bottom of the H are 1/2"

One of the problems of working with plywood is how to attach the pieces because you can not nail or screw into the end pieces.  I chose a simple solution that only uses screws and sheet metal brackets.  The brackets were attached with galvanised sheet-metal screws while the 1/4" plywood was attached using bolts, nylock bolts and washers

The box is made up of two side pieces and two main shelves from 1/2" plywood.  The front doors, second shelf and back panel are 1/4" plywood.  I used deck stain to protect the plywood.

The top shelf is attach using inside angle brackets.  These provide support and also fit flush under the shelf.

The bottom piece is attached to the side pieces using large angle brackets.

The back panel is attached with small angle brackets.  The panel is important because it make the box stronger and prevents the box from bending side to side.

The doors open to the sides on hinges. 

Strong metal handles were attached to either side.

Step 2: Design Criteria

Picture of Design Criteria

Stove location:
Most camp boxes like this either have a top shelf for storing the stove or the stove is separate.  I wanted a permanent location for the stove so that I would not forget it and it was easily accessible.  Therefore, I left the top open so that the stove could instantly be used without having to open the box.  The propane canisters are held in place with elastic cord with passed through small holes with knots at the ends.

The box is designed around the stove and the plastic tubs.  Instead of using a great big wash tub, I chose a smaller size which decreased the overall size of the box.  The pots were chosen to fit inside of the tubs.  I use classic copper bottom Revere Ware pots, one 3 quart and one 2 quart.  These pots are considered some of the best cookware ever made and is available at your local Goodwill for $2.95 each.  They heat up quickly because of the copper bottoms and are stainless steel so no worries about scratching them.  I do use a Teflon frying pan for eggs.

The width of the box is determined by the width of my stove.  Make sure you measure the stove when it is in the open position.  The wind flaps extend beyond the stove making it wider.  I actually had to remove one side to make it fit.

The depth of the box is determined by the plastic tubs that double as drawers or wash tubs.  I use the plastic shoe boxes from The Container Store.  They have carried the same sizes for several years so I know that I can always get replacements.

The height of the bottom shelf is big enough to fit a 3 quart pot with lid and the top shelf is big enough for the plastic tub.  Two frying pans also fit on the top shelf with room for some extra plates on the pans.

I built several mock-ups with everything to make sure that I had enough space.

Hanging things:
At the camp site, I wanted to hang everything off the side of the box.  This kept the table clean, allowed things to dry and made everything handy when you needed it.

The biggest challenge I faced is how to hang my utensils.  I did not want to have hooks on the outside because they would get caught on cloth bags when I was packing the car.  To hang the pots, I used simple screws that stuck out about 3/16".  My pots have wire rings in the handle and these fit neatly on the screws.  I put the hooks on the inside of the door so that when you open the door to the right, the hooks are on the side.  I added a second piece of 1/4" plywood for reinforcement.

I can also hang things like paper towels or garbage bags on the back rail using mini carabiners.

Step 3: Field Notes

Picture of Field Notes

When I get to the camp site, I first connect the gas hose to the fuel canister.  I always number my canisters and use the lowest number first so I dont have a bunch of half used canisters. 

Next I open the doors and put all of the utensils on the right hand side hooks.  I then pull out the pots and remove the bowls and cups from the pots.  The pots hang on the left side, the cups hang off the back and the bowls go back into the wash tubs for now.  The paper towel roll hands off the back and and I may hang a garbage bag from a tree.

The kitchen is now open.  When I am cooking, everything is ready accessible and nothing gets lost on the picnic table.  The small tub on the right holds spices and cooking oil.

Washing Dishes:
After cooking, I boil some water, and then poor the water into the wash-tub along with some biodegradable soap.  I use the long handled scrub brush to clean because of the hot water.  Everything fits into the tub which makes washing very easy.  To rinse I either boil more water and put it into the smaller tub or take the tube over to the tap.  I always bring a second tub to hold the clean dishes after they have been rinsed.  To dry, I hang everything up just like during camp set-up.  This makes things ready for the next meal.  The bowls go upside down behind the stove.

Packing up:
When I am ready to go, I do the opposite of the set-up procedure making sure that everything is clean and the fuel hose is disconnected.  The box is then ready for the next trip whenever that may be.


Albeare (author)2016-06-08

well done, very nice job. You have inspired me to build my own, thanks for sharing.

MarcioWilges (author)2015-09-26

After everything has been put in and fitted, it looks like moving the box around might be a little cumbersome.

wgreunke (author)MarcioWilges2015-09-28

Hi Marcio, The box can be carried by 1 person and you can walk through a standard door while carrying it. If you find that it is heavy, one option is to remove the stove and cylinders for transportation and then put them back when you get to your destination.

k8e (author)2015-06-12

- Has ANYONE built one of these using industrial cardboard? I've seen some things done using it and they are strong enough to sit on (chairs) ... plenty strong enough for something like this it seems. Lighter, cheaper, ... ?

dougbyte (author)2015-06-10

Nice build. I put one together years ago and still use it. On the side of the "door" I took a 3 ring binder apart and mounted the clip part that holds the paper. I use that to hang dish towels etc. Thanks for posting this beautiful project.

wgreunke (author)dougbyte2015-06-11

I like the idea of re-purposing a three ring binder. Most of my stuff was obtained from the Goodwill. It doesn't make sense to buy something new if it is only going to be used ocasionally and I don't mind if something is broken or lost on a trip.

Tzhwhcrbv (author)2015-06-10

I love this! We have a similar one for my boy scout troop. For ours because it is much bigger he have removable legs that attach on the side. I

TwoWindsBear (author)2015-06-07

Consider using sink cut outs from the counter top / kitchen cabinet store for at the very least the top shelf. It would be very easy to keep clean. GREAT 'ible!

David the R (author)2015-06-07

Nice straight forward design. Buy the utensils and build the box to match, that's the way to do it.

Good job.

rstalker (author)2015-06-07

All it needs is come wheels.

dorchard (author)2015-01-06

I love that this box isn't huge. As a small person, that's an important factor for me. You've obviously thought out how to maximize your space and efficiency. Thanks for the tute!

phanson4 (author)2013-11-19

this is the second chuck box that I have seen.. both designs are solid in the retrospect that their designers and users built them for their needs. I'm looking at size, weight, material , what I will be storing in the box and what I am going to use as a stand. I do a lot of camping and setup and tear down times are a real killer when it comes to where I go and how long I am going to stay.. so if this can help I'll build it

wgreunke (author)phanson42013-11-19

When I was doing my design, I encountered the extra stuff spiral. The more I have, the bigger the box, the heaver the box, the longer it takes to clean everything and the longer it takes to pack. When I minimized the stuff, I could spend more time camping and less time moving things around.

The next version of the box is actually going to be smaller as I incorporate the learnings from this project.


kjamesro (author)2013-10-29

I too have been looking for a light, but strong design, and will look closely at this.
One question, does the side of the wood by the camp stove get hot?

wgreunke (author)kjamesro2013-10-30

After five trips, I have not noticed a problem with the right side getting hot. Remember that the short width is a design mistake because I did not measure the stove in the opened condition. When you build your version, just add a couple of inches to the overall width and you can use your stove with both windshields on.

ki4oyh (author)2013-08-19

Looks nice. Thanks for the information and photos, should ease the construction considerably. The field notes were quite helpful, also.

jbuschie (author)2012-07-24

Hey wgruenke, thanks for the inspiration, and the good photos- been meaning to build one of these for years, and your post gave me enough detail to get going.  My son & I spent a few hours on a Sunday morning and built ours.  Photo attached from our first camping trip over the 4th of July with the new box- it was great to have everything we needed in one spot, instead of digging in the bottom of plastic bins all the time.

One customization I added is for my gas bottle, if you zoom in the picture, I used a jigsaw to cut out a half-circle to hold the bottle upright.  When the doors are closed, it can't tip over, so no risk of leaks.  We camped for 5 days, and cooked a lot, and had enough gas for the trip.  

Lots of fun to build, and even more fun to use- thought you'd enjoy the photo- Thanks!  

wgreunke (author)jbuschie2012-07-27

Great Job! I really like how all the utensils are matching and ordered according to height. Looks like a great spot to spend 5 days. Glad you and your son had fun building it together and were able to complete it quickly. Really enjoy the picture; having my ideas used is a great compliment. Hope your success is an inspiration to others.

rbbiggs (author)2012-07-03

Great Instructable! Thanks so much for posting this. Exactly what I was looking for. You saved me from a bunch of trial and error !!

wgreunke (author)rbbiggs2012-07-05

Thanks RB.

This was actually my second attempt, the first prototype used 1/4" panels with long wooden stringers at each of the edges. The design was a little flimsy and it took forever to build. Using the 1/2" in an H shape with metal brackets and the rest 1/4" gave the best balance between weight and strength. Several of the 1/4" pieces were reused for the second generation and there are many small holes along the edges.

The biggest challenge with working with plywood is joining two edges at 90 deg in a simple fashion.

PitStoP (author)2012-07-01

This is cool. I like the idea that is portable. The only thing I will probly add is maybe some sheet metal or tiles for the top where the stove is. This way the grease or anything you heat, cook or spill won't stain into the wood and it'll be easy to clean. Also paint or an clear coat will work.
I think I might make one of these! Thanks for the idea wgreunke..

wgreunke (author)PitStoP2012-07-02

I like the idea of some simple smooth surface to aid cleaning. I may make a trip to Tap plastic to get some kind of liner for the top shelf. The wood is already coated with waterproof deck stain but it may be hard to clean. The stove seems to catch the bulk of the spills and splatters.

rbbiggs (author)wgreunke2012-07-03

You could get a scrap piece of Formica and some contact cement that might work.

PitStoP (author)rbbiggs2012-07-03

I was thinking that this morning also. Basicly you can use just about anything that can be adhered to the wood and can be wiped clean. It's just a mater of choice and also trying to keep the weight to a minimun. speaking of weight, I was thinking if I make one I probly add some wheels in the back side kinda like a cooler has with something to pull it with this way if it gets heavy with all the things in it I won't have to carry it as much!
I could think of so many things I can add to one of these to do alot more than just cooking but it might just get too heavy.. =) But the again sometimes simple just might better.

wgreunke (author)PitStoP2012-07-05

Simple is the word. I tried to define this box by what I left out rather than what I could put in. At the moment, one person can easily carry the box. I do have to keep the food in a separate basket. This basket usually goes into those raccoon boxes that you find at campsites.

Debi Slager (author)2012-07-04

How about a cookie sheet instead of the 1/4 inch shelf? Slides out and is useable.

wgreunke (author)Debi Slager2012-07-05

I like that idea, it gives you another portable surface. I bet a flat polyethylene sheet would also double as a cutting board.

I do have two small cutting boards that slip inside.

One of the requirements is that everything can be washed in the tubs. I am a firm believer that a mess in the kitchen expands to fill all available counter space. By limiting the space, I minimize the amount of things that have to be cleaned while camping.

dougbyte (author)2012-07-04

Really like your camp box. I made one years ago, but no where as light as this one. One little tweek I applied was to dismantle a 3 ring binder note book. and screw the metal part with the rings on it, to the side of my box. Makes a great place to hang dish cloths or utensils.

wgreunke (author)dougbyte2012-07-05

Cool reuse of the binder. I also considered some kind of mini coat rack bar with hooks. Putting the hooks on the inside kept the box from getting caught when I pack the car. Believe it or not even the small latch on the front door gets caught up when I pack my car with the standard camping equipment. My cooler already has a gouge mark from when I did not leave enough space.

The other solution is a set of hooks that you can remove. When you get to the campsite, just clip the hooks on the side and you are ready to go.

mmyler (author)2012-06-29

Instead of a split top that folds out on either side to form work surfaces, how about a hinged flap that folds up on the right side that can be supported by the right front door? This way you could still have your pot hooks on the left side and it should not add too much weight.

wgreunke (author)mmyler2012-07-03

I considered something like that but the front doors ended up below the the level of the stove so they would not meet the top when it was folded out. The other issue with this concept is that the front door would prevent access to the counter top on the side of the box.

Now that I think about it, this actually might work because the table top space that is lost is gained from the open cover. This gives you more counter space when the box is on the ground.

Thanks for the idea.

ka1dza (author)2012-07-01

I would suggest that you use large cup hooks for the pots and pans as screws won't hold them when you are underway.

The Boy Scouts have similar kitchen boxes too.

THAT would be something nice for my '78 Westy too.

wgreunke (author)ka1dza2012-07-03

When underway, the doors are closed and the pots and pans are stored. The screws are only used to hold things while at the campsite. I used the small screws because I did not want anything protruding from the side of the box that would get caught when loading and unloading the box.

gingerely (author)2012-07-01

I see the extra (?) propane cylinders behind the stove (and strapped in - nice!), but when you are using the stove, where do the tanks sit? Or, where would the tank being used be placed?
Also, to keep the stove in place while driving or the box being moved, do you have a strap over it to keep it in its spot. I can see it bouncing out - yikes!
I DO like this! Compact, usable - thumbs up!

wgreunke (author)gingerely2012-07-03

Hi Gingerely, the propane canisters stay in place while cooking. The rubber hose just connects to one of the cylinders. The stove lid protects them from the heat. Note that there is one active cylinder and one spare. Also I number the cylinders and always use the lowest number first. This prevents storing a bunch of half full cylinders.

No problem yet with things bouncing around, first because this is for family camping in a mini-van so speed bumps in the parking lot is the closest we get to off road. Second, the car gets a little full so the box usually has other stuff on top of it.

EvlRed (author)2012-06-30

My dad built us one of these back in the 70's when we were car camping in an old Volvo station wagon. Thank you so much for sharing this, it brought back some fond memories!

BTW keep weight in mind when you select your supplies, or else you might need more than 2 handles to carry it and all of it's contents! ;)

hammer9876 (author)EvlRed2012-07-01

Pops built one sort of like this in the '60s that we called the chuck box (see chuck wagon.) He made the front door hinged at the bottom. It out and down and was supported with a couple of chains. We could let the door down and have some workspace - covered with Contact Paper of course. He angled the front to fit the angle of the back of the old Ford station wagon. When we stopped for lunch at a roadside park, the chuck box was fully accessible after opening the back of the station wagon. No unloading the chuck box or its contents. Freshly made sandwiches!

wgreunke (author)hammer98762012-07-02

I had a lot of conflict on whether to make the front fold down. In the end, I felt it was easier to have the doors open to the side so I could easily reach the stove without leaning over the counter. Also when I am at a campsite or other location I can set the box on the ground and not have to worry about stepping on the drop down lid.

I like the story of traveling in the station wagon. I designed this to serve a similar purpose in a mini-van, the modern equivalent of a station wagon.

thor74 (author)2012-07-01

excelente me gusta mucho su idea,gracias por compartirla.

HandyMan1959 (author)2012-07-01

My dad had a Pickup bed camp trailer, the tailgate became the counter and the box inside was set up like this one.

turrilynn (author)2012-07-01

Love this idea - why didn't I think of it?!! How much easier would camping be to just load this puppy up and go!

Jack of Most Trades (author)2012-07-01

Really well-done! I like it a lot and have often thought about building something like this for the back of my truck. Hot grub at road stops instead of cold, wet things from the cooler...

chuckyd (author)2012-07-01

You have thought out your needs very well, and have accommodated everything you need, apparently. I just wonder, though, what do you do when it rains? Unless you use marine grade plywood, it will delaminate at the first rain. Also, the corners appear to be vulnerable to damage. I offer a few suggestions that might improve the box.

Try to find an impermeable material, such as a resinous material, like Corian or a knock-off.

Use continuous aluminum angles for all connections, with through-bolts.

The 1/4" shelf is already sagging, without any load. For thin shelves like this, apply a continuous aluminum angle along the long edges, as well.

Consider adding a top of galvanized or aluminum sheet metal for added rain protection.

I like the idea that others mentioned of having fold-out tables on either side, supported by the doors.

Lots of luck with your project!!

lovethebackwoods (author)2012-07-01

This is a beautiful job, thanks! I built a similar camping box forever ago, but now our kids are grown and don't camp with me any more, and my best camping buddy has moved too far away for us to do fish camp every summer like we used to. My current camp kitchen box is not as deep since I camp alone, so my stove cartridges are on the side instead of the back of the stove. Good idea to remove fuel cartridges when cooking. This gives me convenient space for utensils right alongside the stove. Fish on!

billbillt (author)2012-07-01

Great job!!....

profpat (author)2012-06-30

nice instructable!

profpat (author)2012-06-30

nice instructable!

loafers (author)2012-06-30

Looks just right for my upcoming Christmas trip to Fraser Island

onemoroni1 (author)2012-06-29

I like this instructable. I have been thinking of doing like this for a while and you have several great ideas I would like to use, hanging things outside, swing away doors. Peace

l8nite (author)2012-06-26

I usually like to clean my people BEFORE I cook and serve them, 4 people seems like a lot to cook with just a couple of small canisters of fuel but I guess you like your meat very rare............. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. This really is a well thought out chuck box, personally I'd like a double door lid that opened into counter space on either side of the stove but then it wasn't built for me! Thank you for sharing this great project

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