Make Your Own Tiny Camper From Scratch

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About: Hello, I am a Regional Customer Success Manager for the pharmaceutical automation company Parata Systems LLC; before that I was a Fire Control man on FFG33 in the US NAVY. I have been repairing, upgrading an...

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!

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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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    24 Discussions

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    PaulChau

    3 months ago on Introduction

    Tiny living has become an increasingly popular lifestyle ever since property prices have skyrocketed with the seemingly depleting land space. DIY gurus have been sharing their skills for other potential homeowners to try get their hands on having their own space for less.

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    Chuck PriestPaulChau

    Reply 2 months ago

    I could build these all day, but there isn't anywhere to really park one and live in it long term. but its awesome for camping!

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    rstewart3

    Tip 2 months ago

    Awesome build. I would only suggest one thing. The door is hinged on the wrong side. If there is a lock failure the door will fly open when being towed. Other than that, you did a great job!

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    Chuck Priestrstewart3

    Reply 2 months ago

    you called it, I thought a suicide door would look cool but my first lock wasn't up to par and that exact thing happened. My new door isn't as cool as my old one but its facing the right direction now lol.

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    Chuck PriestVeewee111

    Reply 2 months ago

    right on man thank you, I threw this together super quick to get into the woodworking contest. I will swing round and finish this video off one of these days, good looking out :)

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    Barkfin

    2 months ago

    You know what, I saw some guys had dumped a worn-out trailer in an industrial area (loaded to the brim with garbage), except they had left their license plate on it. So I called parking control and the next day the owners came & retrieved their abandoned trailer, hopefully they disposed of it properly but I somehow doubt it.
    Now I see your project and I'm thinking, darn it! I could have hauled that away myself, disposed of the garbage and shell of it properly, and rebuilt it like you had.
    Grr, unrecognized opportunity.

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    Chuck PriestBarkfin

    Reply 2 months ago

    happens to the best of us, thanks for the comment :)

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    n4mwd

    2 months ago

    The reality is that when campers have any signs of rot, they are usually rotten to the core. Stripping them to the frame and rebuilding them is the only proper way to go unless you want to use it for a chicken coop like I did.

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    Chuck Priestn4mwd

    Reply 2 months ago

    lol yeah, that was a hard realization!

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    harthoppy

    3 months ago

    Absolutely awesome! I might try doing this this summer ! do you have a total estimate of cost ? I understand the trailer was used and the A/c will run different prices.. just curious on the rest .

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    Chuck Priestharthoppy

    Reply 3 months ago

    I spent roughly $3000 not including tool costs. I'm sorry the materials list is not complete; We got hit by Hurricane Irma halfway threw the build and it took a toll on my record keeping. I used a bunch of scrap wood for the interior since I was mostly out of money at that point so please consider that in your cost calculations. looking back, I wish I would have gone an extra two feet longer so I could have a composting toilet. I also wish I had spent a little more money on the windows, mine are just shed windows so they fog up bad when the AC is on and its hot out. good luck!