In the summer of 2017, a Marine Corp buddy of mine got deployed and had to sell his house and gave me this old rotten camper that had been sitting on his property for a decade. I decided to restore it. Unfortunately the entire camper was rotten and filled with termites. So I built a new camper out of the bones of the old one. I hope you enjoy!
Step 1: Plan You Attack!:
This is the hardest part of any project, getting over the excitement of what your doing and getting realistic with your design. It's important to know your limitations and how far you can push yourself before you break. I didn't. I rushed in head strong and came up short several times.
Find yourself a donor or at least a solid trailer to work with. I recommend buying a new aluminum trailer if you can afford it since it takes days of laying on your back with a wire wheel to restore an old steel trailer. But budget is everything.
Layout your design and gather your materials. What you need will change dramatically depending on the type of camper you build. Here is what I used:
- 1 donor camper
- 6 sheets 4'x8' of 1/2 plywood to build the cabin
- 4 sheets 4'x10' of 3/4" plywood treated for the bottom decking
- 20 2x4x8' studs
- 4 sheets of 4x10' painted aluminum sheeting from Mobile Home supply
- 6 sheets of 4x8' painted aluminum sheeting from Mobile Home supply
- edge trim x 4 pieces
- wood and metal screws
Step 2: Build an Insulated Bed
Building a solid deck is important. I wanted my camper to be able to travel log distances and through some semi- rugged terrain. I used treated 2x4 plywood to construct then my friend, Terry and I fit the base to the trailer. Once it was perfectish, we removed the base and painted it with a primer and then a very tough exterior sealant. After that we added insulation and mounted the base to the trailer with carriage bolts and deck screws.
Step 3: Shaping & Hanging the Walls
This was one of the most fun days of the build. I stacked to 4x8 pieces of plywood on sides and framed them together with 1x4 pine boards. I used a piece of string a nail and a pencil to make the arch in the walls. It took me all morning to get the lines all sketched out then I used a Jig saw to cut the arch out of the first wall. I sanded the edge of the first wall and used it to mark the second wall. With both walls cut, I had to clamp them together and sand the edge to make them as near perfect as possible. After that we hung the plywood walls on the base.
Note: If I ever build another, I would build the walls completely separate with electric, insulation and skins complete before I hung them. Building the walls in place was no easy.
Step 4: Cut Out the Door and Windows
Next you need to find the doors and windows that work for you. I just got the cheapest windows I could find since my budget was limited. I found these double pane shed windows at a local retailer.
Step 5: Framing the Roof
The roof is pretty simple. I ripped some hardwood studs down to a 1.5x1" rib and installed them every 6-12 inches making them tighter together where I anticipated joints and in the curves. I came from the inside and applied the wood paneling bowing it outward then gluing and clamping. I could then come back and add insulation between the ribs before I covered it with aluminum.
Step 6: Skinning the Cab
The roof was by far the hardest step. I used a roto-zip sawblade on a Ryobi cutter to cut the aluminum. First I used a router bit but the molten aluminum kept clogging the bit. I switched to a roto zip blade. The blades are cheap to replace every 4' of cutting.
Step 7: Building the Camper Door
I actually built two doors for this camper. I thought it would be cool to have a suicide door on the camper but on my first trip I realized why that was a bad idea. I forgot to latch the door and the door flew off. Luckily it was in a rural area and it took us about 45 minutes of backtracking to find it. The second door I made a bit more sturdy and put on correctly. There was nothing special to building this door. It takes a lot of custom work to add a door like this. Next time I will buy one with a casing and a proper seal. But mine is pretty nice!
Step 8: Finishing Out the Interior
Fixing up a camper interior is just like a house; flooring wood paneling and 1/4 round trim, paint it if you want. I like to build out of scraps so you will notice some color differences in trim or caulk. These will all likely get painted later. The only really neat thing I did was make the bench seat pull out into a queen sized bed.
Step 9: Hooking Up the Power
Most of the electrical work for this project was completed when I was building the walls but this last step was all about wiring everything together. Eventually this step will include a step on setting up a battery bank and some power converters with solar panels, but for now this is as an elaborate of a system I can afford.
Step 10: Bask in the Glory on a Job Well Done!
This camper is the largest project I've completed to date. It's time to sit back and enjoy the benefits of my hard work. Phase 1 of the camper is complete. Tune in next time when I add a sink, composting toilet, power storage and much more.
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