Wooden Roof Rack




Introduction: Wooden Roof Rack

NOTE: This is an edited version of my original Instructable.

I want to thank the Instructables members who have taken time to review my roof rack Instructables project and expressed their opinions of it. Although not all the comments were of the ‘constructive’ variety, I really appreciated those that offered alternatives.

I understand the safety concerns that some of you have express regarding using wood as my main construction material. While I personally believe that the base and the rail I made from oak is strong enough to handle my intended use of my rack, I have decided to heed some of the advice I was given and modify these two parts of my project. I don’t want to possibly cause any harm from my project or from anyone who may want to try making one of their own.

First, as a few of you have suggested, I have found aluminum that will work well for the four base units to which the rails will be attached. I am still looking for substitute rail material, although I still may use the oak rail, but strengthen it as described below. To view the companion Instructable, please click here.

The second option, as suggested by Instructable member rowerwet, would be to sheath the base blocks and the rails in marine epoxy and layers of fiberglass which will make the wooden roof rack many times stronger.

Step 1: The Original Instructable

My wife and I enjoy many outdoor activities, including camping, cycling, cross country skiing, canoeing and kayaking. We generally use our pickup truck to haul some of this equipment. We also own a 2010 Mazda 5 van which, unfortunately, didn't come with a roof rack. Using our van would be more economical to haul skis, a kayak, and other camping equipment around. 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. I found the cost for most roof racks to be quite expensive. Since I am always looking for projects using materials from my salvaged “stuff”, I thought I’d try to build my own roof rack and. as well, a variety of equipment carrier attachments.

Step 2: Tools and Materials Used

To complete this project, I used the following:

Table Saw

Miter saw

Router with round over bit


Drill and various sized drill bits

Salvaged material - oak pallet wood, satellite dish brackets, broken deck swing, arm rests from broken office chairs

Plywood scraps

Linseed oil

Various bolts, u-bolts and screws

Aircraft cable

Step 3: Pallet Lumber

I love building with wood, so I decided to make the roof rack from oak. I used re-purposed oak from large old shipping platforms that I got free from a local farm implement dealership. The lumber is solid oak and comes in a variety of dimensions. The largest pieces I’ve found are 5” x 8” x 11 feet long, This lumber is usually quite rough and weathered, so I use my table saw and, sometimes my thickness planer, to cut it into dimensions that I needed for some of the Instructables projects I’ve done in the past.

Step 4: Make the Base Blocks

For the first part of this project, I used a piece of oak that was about 3.5” square. Using my table saw, I trimmed the rough edges of the wood to expose the nice oak underneath. Next I cut the wood into four pieces 6” long and then cut a bevel at each end of these four blocks as shown in the picture. To give the edges a nice round edge, I used a round over bit in my router. Finally, I finished the blocks by sanding them smooth.

Step 5: Drill Holes in the Blocks

I drilled a large 1 inch hole in the centre of these blocks. This hole was drilled about halfway through the block. I then drilled a smaller 3/8” hole through the remaining section of the block. I will use this hole to bolt the block to the roof.

Step 6: Open the Roof Rack Holes

These four 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 7: Finishing the Base Block

Before attaching the blocks, I decided to cut a 3” channel in the top of the blocks. This notch would be about 1/4” deep and 3” wide. The channel will be used to hold the rails that will span the roof.

To cut the channel, I clamped the four blocks together (as shown). Using my table saw, with the depth set at about 1/4” and the table saw fence set about 2” from the blade, I made the first cut in all four blocks. Then, by adjusting the fence distance approximately 1/8” further from the blade, I made the second cut. I continued adjusting the fence further and further from the blade, I eventually completed the channel that I wanted.

In order to protect the oak from weathering, I coated the blocks with linseed oil. I used this rather than a urethane coating because linseed oil absorbs into the wood. This will allow me to redo the wood anytime its needed without having to sand it.

(NOTE: To add an extra level of strength to these blocks, I plan to coat the blocks with marine epoxy and fibreglass as was suggested by fellow Instructable member rowerwet .(See his comment below))

Step 8: Attach the Base Blocks to the Roof

The blocks were now ready to install on the roof. Using a metric #6 screw and a washer, I attached each block to the roof of the Mazda 5.

Step 9: Make the Cross Rails

The cross rails were next. Again, using oak from the pallets, my thickness planer, table saw and miter saw, I cut two pieces 3” wide and 1” thick and about 40” long. I then used the round over bit in my router to again round off the edges of the rail, leaving about 4” at each end square. This is the part of the rails that fit into the channel of each block. I sanded the rails and, again, coated the rails with linseed oil.

The next task was to attach the rails to the block. I used #8 x 2” GRK low-profile washer head screws to attach the rail to the block. I pre-drilled the holes to prevent the rails from splitting.

My roof rack was now complete and ready to use. I was quite amazed and pleased with how solid and strong the wooden roof rack is.

(NOTE: Again, to add an extra level of strength to these rails, I plan to coat them with marine epoxy and fibreglass as was suggested by fellow Instructable member rowerwet as per his comment below.)

Step 10: Attach the Ski Rack

Now that I had finished the roof rack, I wanted to add a variety of attachments to make it more useful. I have a ski rack that I hadn’t been able to use for about four years. Now that I have this wooden rack, I was anxious to try it out again. As you can see from the pictures, the ski rack attached perfectly to the wooden rails and the system worked very well.

It's a shame I hadn't thought of making the roof rack years ago.

Step 11: Make the Cargo Luggage Holder

The cross country ski season will soon be over. I want to make the rack more useful after the ski season. Since we like to camp, a roof rack would be handy to carry a variety of camping equipment. I searched through my salvaged materials for ideas.

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 thought this could be modified into a cargo luggage holder.

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.

To attach the frame to the rails, I used four u-bolts. I centered the frame on the wooden 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 12: Adding Some Cargo

Another piece of equipment that we haven’t been able to use since we bought our van was a 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 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 look forward to using 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 13: Kayak Rack Attachment

The final accessory I made for the roof rack is a kayak roof rack. There are a variety of kayak roof racks in 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 to install dishes and there was often left over pieces which I usually saved just in case. I thought the wall bracket would make a great adjustable kayak saddle. It will be adjustable to a range of angles depending on the shape of the kayak bottom. to attach the four saddles to the rails, I again used blocks of oak similar in size to the roof rack blocks.

To attach the metal braces to these blocks, I cut a section out of each side of the blocking a curved fashion using the same method of incremental 1/8” cuts using the table saw fence.

I then drilled a 1/4” hole in each block to allow the wood to be attached to the metal frame.

Before attaching the two together, I coated the blocks with linseed oil.

Step 14: Finish the Kayak Saddle Brackets

Next, I used some scrap pieces of plywood to make backer board for whatever soft material I will use to cradle the kayak. After cutting the four boards, I rounded the sides with the router and round over bit. I applied linseed oil to one side of the boards and edges. I marked and drilled four holes for the bolts needed to attach the boards to the metal brackets. I attached the four boards as shown.

Next, I found some dense foam,and cut it into four rectangles the same size as the plywood boards. I then glued the foam to the plywood boards, and, using a utility knife blade, I trimmed the foam. This completed the four kayak rack saddles.

Step 15: Attach the Kayak Brackets to the Rails

To attach the saddles to the wooden 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. It is very easy to adjust the distance between these saddles and the angle of the foam boards to achieve the best fit for the kayak. Using the tie-down straps as shown, the kayak is mounted securely to the van. Attaching the extra straps at the front and back isn’t needed, but does add an extra level of stability.

Once again, since it is still winter here, I won’t be using this kayak rack for a while. I am really looking forward to the summer season.

Step 16: Kayak Saddle Brackets - Version 2

The kayak saddle rack I made works real well, but they seemed a little bulky to me. I decided to make another set, one that is a bit smaller. So I again went looking 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 17: Make More Oak 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 18: Cut and Attach Cross Pieces

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 19: Finish the Wooden Blocks and Attach the Padded Arm Rests

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. After the glue dried, I coated these blocks with linseed oil.

Step 20: Attach the Brackets to the Rails

The last step was to attach the foam 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.

I used the same u-bolts as I had used for the first set I made. The kayak sits nicely on this new saddle rack and I really like the sleeker look to these pads. I can’t wait to try them out this summer.

Step 21: All Done..for Now!

I really enjoyed making the roof rack and all the other attachments.

I am still thinking of adding more to the project. I would really like to design a bike rack for the system.

Update: I have added a roof top bike rack in my companion Instructable. To see it, click on https://www.instructables.com/id/Homemade-Roof-Rack-With-Accessories/

This has been a fun project that I think many of you would enjoy.

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    The Mariner
    The Mariner

    5 months ago

    Ok, I'm really late to the party but there's a lot of ill-informed advice and here. Timber will be more than adequate for this project without the need for glass/epoxy or any other reinforcements... as long as the timber is free of splits, knots etc. and bolts, not screws are used for assembly. The weakest points here are the tiny M6 fittings the car manufacturer provides to bolt the rack to (which must be sufficient or else they would be bigger) not this wooden rack. Google 'De Havilland Mosquito'.


    4 years ago

    I want to thank the Instructables members who have
    taken time to review my roof rack Instructables project and expressed their
    opinions of it. Although not all the
    comments were of the ‘positive constructive’ variety, I really appreciated those
    comments that offered alternatives.

    I understand the
    safety concerns that some of you have express regarding using wood as my main
    construction material for the base and the rails. I have decided
    to heed some of the advice I was given and modify these two parts of my
    project. I wouldn’t want to possibly cause
    any harm from my project or from anyone who may want to try making one of their
    own. The remaining parts of my project, (the luggage rack and two kayak saddle racks will remain unchanged.

    I may actually try two of the recommended changes
    to my project. I will modify my
    Instructable to one or possible both of these changes.

    First, as a few of you have suggested, I have found
    aluminum that should work well for the four base units to which the rails will
    be attached. I am still looking for
    substitute rail material, although I
    still may use the oak rail, but strengthen it in some manner.

    The second option, as suggested by Instructable member rowerwet,
    would be to sheath the whole rack in marine epoxy and layers of
    fiberglass which he suggests will make
    the wooden roof rack many times stronger,
    while retaining the classic looks.

    I will update my project soon.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Most people have no idea about wood and how strong it is. as long as you designed and built it right it is stronger than aluminum and can be as strong as some of the steel racks on sale. The used wood to build planes out of including some fighters of WW2 and wood even to this day is used to make the main body and chassis of a certain car brand. Wood is strong and to be honest it might be a backstep to replace it with aluminum.

    David Hoskins
    David Hoskins

    Reply 3 years ago

    There is no way aluminum is going to be stronger than those oak pallet beams. Maybe an allow in the 7xxx range could be nearly as strong but that would run you more than just buying one from Amazon or eBay.

    It isn't just the tensile strength either. Aluminum gets considerably weaker as it is flexed back and forth until it gives. Either an oak or any pallet that has HT stamped on it is going to out last your car I guarantee it.

    Now steel would be another story strength wise, however weight is a concern and there is really no need to lug around the amount of dead weight that comes with steel.


    3 years ago

    Get. Work! Very versatile I'm thinking of a rack for a roof top tent! Thanks for the ideas!


    4 years ago

    if you sheath the whole rack in marine epoxy and layers of fiberglass it will be many times stronger, and still retain the classic looks.

    study how sailboat fittings are reinforced with fiberglass at every joint and seam, and add multiple layers of epoxy encased fiberglass at the multiple joints in the rack.

    bore out the bolt holes in the mounting blocks and fill them with marine epoxy, then drill the epoxy to match the bolt diameter.

    you will end up with a composite rack with classic wood looks, that is stronger than any metal rack ever could be, if done correctly.

    Gougeon brothers is the company behind the west system epoxy brand, they offer a free manual that will show you what products to use, and procedures to follow, to make these racks not only great looking, but safe.


    4 years ago on Step 21

    Dale,I love the spirit behind this 'ible, but PLEASE do not use this. As a former law enforcement officer, I can tell you that really bad things happen when objects fly off of vehicles traveling down the road. Your use of wood (reclaimed pallet wood, none-the-less) is a recipe for disaster that could cost other people their lives. The force of wind at only 50 MPH against a kayak, suitcase, or other item with any forward sail area is tremendous. Even if they work fine now, time, sun, weather, vibration all will weakening and degrade the strength of these mounts.

    Again, you have a great 'ible and I love the fact that you are reclaiming wood, but this should only be a 'proof of concept' at best and not used on public roads.

    Stop by my house in NJ, and I'll GIVE you a set of metal racks. Just please don't jeopardize other people on the road for these.


    Reply 4 years ago

    I was thinking more about them rotting in the rain. But the vibrations would probably be an issue too.


    4 years ago

    Beautiful wood work made by someone that know how to do it! Hard wood is a nice and usually strong material, but due to the unpredictability of what goes inside the material, safety critical wood parts have to have a good degree of redundancy (just in case something bad happened to the young tree in the region used to make the part...) The use of a single screw to fix a wood part that will be submitted to vibrations and oscillating forces is a receipt for disaster. What will happen if one of the front parts fixing the rack to the roof fail and get loose due to an internal crack? The wood in the other parts is nice (I will use one of the ideas in my rack!), but please make the roof fixing parts in aluminum alloy, reinforced fiberglass, steel or even rectangular metal profile, not wood. Remember that the forces trying to make things fly away of the roof are in the range of hundreds of pounds if you travel at 60 Miles/h or more, so if something fails the chances of injuring or killing someone that comes after you are far from neglectable. Stay safe ;-)


    Tip 4 years ago

    Bro, as mention by most people in your project they are giving you the recommendation to change it to the metal or aluminum. As far as I know, this is not safe and might cause disaster. Anyway I would like to thanks for being an enthusiast in making this kind of project even if it is not recommended. Well documented instructable.


    4 years ago

    This looks very nice. The choice of wood and fastenings should make it reasonably strong. However, I would add an item to my personal pre-trip checklist to inspect all of the fasteners and tighten as needed. I would also check the vehicle manual to see what the maximum load (weight) is allowed on the roof.


    Reply 4 years ago

    Thanks for the advice. I have checked the maximum load allowed for this van. It is much higher than I ever plan to carry. I also check the rack regularly to ensure everything remains tight, secure and free of any cracks.


    4 years ago on Step 21

    And don't forget the big sign on the back of the car "home made wooden roof rack" so I for one can stay at least a half mile behind you.