Introduction: Truck Bed Rail Sides for Hauling

About: I'm an all around craftsman, who focuses mainly on photography, woodworking, and leatherworking. I'm interested in upcycling any and all usable materials and creating new things from something old. I love to d…

Do you want to add more room to your truck bed and be able to haul more in it, but you don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on steel contractor rails? Then this could be the perfect solution, and one that has been used for a LONG time by truck owners who like to build thing for themselves.

Step 1: Gather Supplies and Get Measurements

In order to create the rails that I have pictured, I used pressure treated lumber 2x4s. It's important to use pressure treated wood since this will be exposed to the elements and you do not want the wood rotting in the weather. You can also paint the wood, or seal it with a water sealant, but it's not necessary with pressure treated wood.

For the bolts that I used to connect the boards together, I used Zinc carriage bolts. Once again, I used Zinc so as to prevent rusting of the bolts, and I used carriage bolts because they are very durable. The particular bolts I used were 3/8" bolts that were 4" long (which is the perfect size for 2x4 construction). Also, I made sure to use a washer between the bolt and the nut so as to get the best tightness when secured and not allow the nut to bite into the wood.

The bed of my truck is 6 1/2 feet long, so I bought 8 foot pieces of 2x4 because I also wanted a lip that stretched over the roof of the cab in order to help protect the roof and allow me to haul things up high like ladders and kayaks. Of course, the main purpose for my design is that I haul scrap metal, so I wanted the rails high, but open at the tailgate end in order to allow easy loading of things like refrigerators and other tall items. If I were to haul ladders and other long items up high, then I would attach another board at the top of the rear rails so the weight would be above and level, not sagging into the bed. I will not show that step as I plan on making that a removable item later on when I need it.

So my list of items were simple:

  • Pressure Treated 2x4s, each 8 foot long (amount will vary based upon your truck
  • Zinc Carriage bolts 3/8" and 4" long
  • 3/8" washers
  • 3/8 nuts

To make the corner braces and shelf, I used a pocket hole jig, a Kreg Jig, but that step is not absolutely necessary. If you do decide to make it this way, be sure to get the proper screws that are coated for outdoor use so they will not rust.

To determine the amount you need to cut from the ends of the boards that will go into the stake holes, you must determine your truck's stake hole size. Each make of truck will be a little different, perhaps, so remember to measure! My truck happens to be a 1996 Dodge Dakota, and the stake holes in my particular truck are 6" deep, and 2 1/2" X 1 5/16". In order to get the boards to fit into those holes, you must cut them to those exact measurements at the bottom. That will be the next step.

Step 2: Making the Stake Inserts

Using my example measurements, the easiest way to accomplish this cutting of 2x4s can either be using old fashion hand saws (laborious and time consuming) or using a circular saw (brace your wood!) or a chop saw/miter saw. I chose to use my miter saw.

First, you have to mark the depth of the stake and adjust whatever saw you are using so as to cut to those depths. That is beyond this tutorial, so consult your particular saw manual or ask someone who knows.

As you can see from the photos, the measurement required me to cut the end of the board down in two different sections so that I could get the correct measurement. Remember, 2x4s are NOT actually 2" x 4", but are actually a little less, and they vary from board to board sometimes, as well, so MEASURE MEASURE MEASURE!

The easiest way to accomplish these cuts is to actually make a series of cuts, as pictured, and then you have a lot of little "slices" in the wood. Once you get those slices, you take a hammer and knock out the wood as chip. I follow that by taking a wood rasp and leveling out the surface of the wood so it's a little smoother and uniform.

You will repeat this for both measurements on the board so that you have the proper dimensions of length, width, and depth for your particular stakes.

Step 3: Insert Uprights Into Stake Holes

Once you have determined the height you want you uprights, insert them into the stake holes. They should fit snugly and require a little bit of pushing to get them in, but they should not be too tight nor wobbly. Just make sure they're secure.

I have my uprights a little longer at the top instead of making traditional sides, that way I can have more area at the top to stow things such as ladders and such, and still have a little bit of board above the rails for securing it better. If you only want traditional side rails, then only make these uprights the height of your cab's roof because you will not have the extra lip over your cab.

Step 4: Attach Horizontal Rails

I measured out the rails to the length I wanted, and then attached each of them via the carriage bolts as pictured. You'll notice the top rail reaches over my cab roof, as mentioned previously.

I also added a horizontal board perpendicular to the side rails at both the top of the bed level as well as right above my back window in order for me to add a screen or more boards later as a "headache rack" that will cover my back window and protect it from things breaking it when being hauled. In order to attach these boards is where I used my trusty Kreg Jig and made pocket holes for the boards (pocket holes are extremely durable and trustworthy for some of the best joints for corners).

Also, Above the cab I added another board to the end with pocket holes so that I could have that aforementioned overhang to protect my roof.

Of course you can customize this in so many different ways! You can add more vertical supports (as I did in the middle), you can add wider boards such as 1x8s for better closure of the sides, you can make signs to go on the sides of the rails (a future plan of mine for my scrap metal salvage business advertising). Some people I have seen also add diagonal supports in the corners, but they are not necessary unless you are just extra cautious about it, or are transported very heavy items above the rails. You can also add eyelets to the boards so that you have attachment points for rope and strap hooks. You could cover the whole thing in chicken wire and live out your favorite movie scenes where chicken trucks turn over! You could also do the same with fruit baskets and pretend that you are the truck in the infamous car chase scenes.

This method of constructing truck side rails is a tried and true method of expanding your hauling space in the bed of your truck, and it doesn't require you to spend hundreds of dollars buying steel rails like contractors have on their trucks. Also, using this method of framing out the rails, you can further customize it to make one awesome camping unit with a simply addition of a tarp or further construction of sides, a door, windows, etc. The sky's the limit, so use your imagination!

Total cost for me was $49 and that is also with a few extra items purchased, so you can do it for under $50 regardless using this method. I bought all of my items from Home Depot, and I already had the pocket hole screws (which run about $5-$10). Of course, the pocket hole jig is NOT cheap, but it is also not necessary to make it with pocket holes like I did.

I hope this gives you some ideas for making your truck a little more useful in hauling things, as well as give you an excuse to make something cool and useful. There were not very many 'structables about this topic, so I thought I'd add my own version.

Have fun and be sure to post pics of your completed build of this idea! I wanna see some more photos and customizations of the age old truck side rails!