Introduction: Homemade Roof Rack With Accessories

This Instructable is a companion project to a previous Instructable project of mine called Wooden Roof Rack which can be found here.. I created this Instructable to address some concerns a few members had expressed with using wood for the mount and rails of my original roof rack.

It was recommended that I use metal instead of wood, and that’s what this Instructable does. While the roof rack has changed from wood to aluminum, the accessory parts of the second project will be basically the same as in the Wooden Roof Rack Instructable.

As I indicated in the companion project, my wife and I enjoy many outdoor activities, including camping, cycling, cross country skiing, canoeing and kayaking. We also own a 2010 Mazda 5 van that did not come with a roof rack that we could use to haul some of this equipment around. We’ve had the van for about four years now. I recently found out that the Mazda 5 (and probably many other vehicles) actually have four bolt holes in the roof which allows a roof rack to easily be attached to the vehicle. These holes are covered with a plastic clip which can be easily removed. After discovering these bolt holes, I looked into purchasing a roof rack system for my van, and found that the cost for most roof racks to be quite expensive.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

To complete this project, I used the following:

Table Saw

Miter saw

Router with various bits

Metal cutting saw


Drill and various sized drill bits

Salvaged material - oak pallet wood, aluminum channel and square tubing, broken deck swing, arm rests from broken office chairs, plywood scraps

Linseed oil

Various sized bolts and U-bolts

Aircraft cable

Step 2: Cut the Channel Into Lengths

In the companion Instructable, I used re-purposed oak from shipping platforms that I got from a local farm implement dealership to make the mounts and rails. In this new Instructable, I used some aluminum channel that I had saved from a broken camper awning. As the pictures show, I cut 4 equal lengths of about 6 inches to use as the mounting bases.

Step 3: Expose the Bolt Holes

These four aluminum blocks will be the base points of the rack. To attach the blocks to the roof, I removed the plastic clips that cover the bolt holes on the roof. By trial and error, I determined that the bolt holes take a metric size 6 bolt.

Step 4: Assemble the Rails

I needed to find some material to raise the rack above the roof for spacing and to prevent the rack from scratching the roof of the van. Being Canadian, it may not come as a surprise that I found the perfect material to do the job, hockey pucks. I drilled a 1/4 inch hole in the center of the each of four pucks. I also drilled the same hole in the 4 aluminum mounting bases 1.5 inches from the end. Using four 40 mm metric size M6 bolts, I temporarily bolted the four mounting bases to the roof of the van. This will allow me to measure more accurately the lengths of the two rails I need to cut.

I did have to purchase the rail material for this rack from our local metal salvage company. This cost me $24 for seven feet of 1” by 2” aluminum square tubing.

Step 5: Attach the Rails to the Roof

I cut two rails to exactly fit the length needed from edge to edge of the mounted bases.

I then marked and drilled 1/4” holes exactly 1.5 “ from the ends of these rails. I used four 70mm metric size M6 bolts and several washers, to bolt the rail through the mounting bases into the roof bolt holes on the van. As shown in the pictures this made for an extremely strong roof rack system.

But, I didn’t like the open exposed ends of these rails. They looked unfinished and they also whistled a bit while I drove at faster speeds.

Step 6: Make and Add the Rail End Caps

In order to cover the ends, I again used hockey pucks. I cut two pucks in half. Each of these four halves were carved using a utility knife blade, a hammer and a bench vise. I shaped the puck to fit exactly into the 1” x 2” aluminum tubing as shown. To secure the end caps in the tubing, I drilled a small hole in the side of the mounting bases, through the square tubing and into the puck. I screwed a 1.25“ screw through the hole into the puck. This holds the end caps nicely in place.

Step 7: The Finished Roof Rack

This completed the main part of my Instructable, the aluminum roof rack.

With that finished, I wanted to add a variety of attachments to make it more useful.

Step 8: Try Out the Ski Rack

As I did in the companion Wooden Roof Rack Instructable, I attached the ski rack that we haven’t been able to use for years. The ski rack mounted easily and works perfectly for hauling our skis and poles.

The next few steps are the same as the companion roof rack project. I wanted to make the rack more useful after the ski rack is removed. Since we like to camp, a roof rack can be handy to carry a variety of camping and sporting equipment.

Step 9: Make a Luggage Rack

I hate to throw stuff away. That’s why when our deck swing broke last year after a very heavy wind storm, I decided to take it apart and save the metal pieces. One of these pieces was the rectangular frame that forms the seat section of the deck swing. I used this to make a luggage carrier.

One side of the frame had holes approximately 4” apart. I drilled matching holes along the opposite side of the frame and also along the two short lengths of the rectangle. Using some aircraft cable that I purchased at my local hardware store. I wove the cable through the holes in both directions to form a web as shown in the pictures.

Step 10: Attach Luggage Rack to Rails

To attached the frame to the rails, I used four u-bolts. I centered the frame on the aluminum rails, and marked the location of where the holes need to be drilled for the u-bolts. After drilling the holes, I attached the metal frame to rails with the u-bolts. The platform was ready to use.

Step 11: Try Loading the Luggage Rack

Another piece of equipment that we haven’t been able to use since we bought this van is our Thule soft car top carrier. These are great car toppers because they are light and collapse tightly around the cargo inside with the compression straps. While it’s still not camping season yet here in Canada, I wanted to try to mount the car top carrier to see how well it attaches to the metal frame. As the pictures show, it fits nicely on the frame and attaches easily with the web straps. I can’t wait to use it this summer.

As the other pictures show, the metal frame carrier will be useful to haul many other things, such as lawn chairs, plastic tubs or maybe a spare tire.

Step 12: First Attempt at a Kayak Rack

The next accessory I made for the roof rack was a kayak rack. There are a variety of kayak roof racks on the market, everything from J-cradles, stackers and saddle racks. I decided to make a saddle type kayak roof rack. After checking through my supply of “junk”, I found some brackets that are used to mount satellite dishes to roofs or walls. I used the brackets plus some oak blocks of wood, some plywood and some dense foam to make four saddle type blocks as shown. I attached these blocks to the wooden rails in my first Instructable project. I mounted my kayak on these foam pads and strapped the kayak to the roof rack.

To attach the saddles to the aluminum railing, I purchased four square u-bolts. These were 3” wide by 7” long, which was too long for what I needed. I had to cut off about 2.5” off each of the 8 bolts. I then attached the four saddles to the wooden rails using the u-bolts.

Note: I'm not including all the steps and pictures I used to make these blocks because I likely won't use these saddle blocks. I've designed and made what I think are better saddle blocks as you will see next. To view the complete description of these blocks, please check my companion Instructable.

Step 13: From Office Chair to Kayak Rack

The kayak saddle rack I made work real well, but they seemed a little bulky to me. So, I decided to make another set, one that is a bit smaller. Again I looked through my “stuff”. This time I found something which I thought would make a perfect low-profile type of saddle kayak rack. I’m not sure why I saved these, but when some of the desk chairs at my work place broke, I decided to salvage the wheel casters and the adjustable arm rests. The arm rests are molded pads and all four I had salvaged were in excellent condition. I removed the pads from the arms .

Step 14: Make the Base Blocks

As I did with the first set I made, I cut blocks of oak wood ( approximately 3” x 3” x 6” long). I made 5 of these so that I have a spare in case I ever needed one. I then cut a wedge off each of the blocks. This wedge was cut at a fairly flat angle so that the pads would sit quite flats as well.

Step 15: Finish the Kayak Base Blocks

Next, I found a pallet board that was 3.5” wide , 1” thick and about 4 feet long. Using my thickness planer and table saw I cleaned up the rough board. I cut the board into 5 pieces, each 6” long. I again rounded the edges of the board with the router. Finally, I drilled two 3/8” holes in these boards 4” apart to allow the boards to be attached to the foam pad.

Step 16: Attach the Arm Pads

I then attached the boards to the blocks I had made earlier using glue and #8 x 1.5” GRK low-profile washer head screws. As I did with the the first kayak rack blocks, I cut a 2” wide channel in the bottom of each of the four blocks to prevent the blocks from twisting. I then applied a coat of linseed oil.

The last step was to attach the foam chair pads. I used 1.5” long bolts with washers to lock the foam pad to the blocks. The new saddle pads were finished and ready to attach to the roof rack rails.

Step 17: Attach Kayak Saddle Rack to Rails and Load the Kayak

I bolted the four saddles to the aluminum rails using the u-bolts. These u-bolts allow me to easily adjust the distance between these saddles to achieve the best fit for the kayak. Using the tie-down straps as shown, the kayak is mounted securely to the van. As you can see from the pictures, the kayak fits nicely on the four mounting blocks

Once again, since the lakes are still frozen over, I won’t be using this kayak rack for quite a while. I am really looking forward to the summer season.

Step 18: Start the Bike Rack

My final accessory that I wanted to make was a bicycle rack. I've had a bicycle fork mount which I've used in my truck box to hold a bike while traveling. There are commercially made bicycle fork mount racks that are attached to roof racks. I modelled my rack after these.

I still had some of the aluminum channel that I used to make the roof rack. This channel turns out to be approximately the same width as the tires on my mountain bike.

Step 19: Attach the Fork Mount to the Channel

I cut about 3 inches off the sides of this channel, leaving the bottom of the channel only. I drilled two extra holes in the bicycle fork mount and matching holes in the channel. Using short 3/4" bolts, I attached the fork mount to the channel.

Step 20: Attach to Rails

This formed the bicycle rack that now had to be attached to two aluminum rails. I drilled two holes through the the channel and each of the two rails. Again using 1.5" bolts, I attached the bike rack to the rails.

Step 21: Load and Secure a Bicycle

I removed the front tire of my bike and lifted it onto the roof. The bike tire fork is placed on the mount and tightened in place. Notice that the rear tire is then jammed into the channel. A strap is wrapped around the tire and channel and tightened. The bike is now securely mounted to the roof. This emulates exactly how some of the commercially made fork mount rooftop bike racks function. Although no extra supports are needed, I will use a tie down strap to add an extra level of safety.

Step 22: Two Accessories Together

These accessories that I've made work well individually, but they also can be used in pairs. From the photos you can see that the bike rack and the kayak blocks can be mounted on the rails at the same time. This will allow me to haul a bicycle and a kayak at the same time. The luggage rack and the bike rack will also work well together.

Step 23: All Done - Lots of Fun!

I really enjoyed making the roof rack and all the other attachments. It works well and the cost was very low due to the use of salvaged materials.

Trash to Treasure

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Trash to Treasure