Custom Wood Cabover Camper Build - Toyota Tacoma

jollymandro

New member
After combing through Expedition Portal for a number of years and using the wealth of information from other members as major design inspiration, I have finally decided to sit down and upload the result of my own build. This is a summary of the build I undertook three years ago to construct a custom wood camper for my 2011, 2wd Toyota Tacoma. I hope this build thread can shed some light on the lessons learned during the process and help others in their own builds. I had a ton of fun building this hunk of firewood and hope someone out there can learn from the mistakes I made.

Goal: Create lightweight camper that is sleek, functional and rugged

Building materials: I drew up a version of what I wanted to make, then started measuring and cutting wood. I used a combination of redwood, doug fir and pine wood to frame the camper, with 5/8" ply for siding, salvaged glass slider windows on the sides, and 3/8" acrylic for the port holes and rear doors. All wood joints were glued and screwed using either liquid nails or sika flex construction adhesive and exterior screws. The corners of the plywood were routered with a 1/2" roundover bit then fiberglassed and resined. The whole thing was painted using a high quality exterior acrylic paint. for the roof, I used a saber saw to cut a slight curve into six 1"x8" pine roof joists installed every 16". I then installed 1"x4" pine boards perpendicular to the joists, layed down 8mil plastic sheeting, and then attached galvanized sheet metal using roofing screws with a neprene washer. The camper has 6 anchor points: one in each corner using a heavy duty bracket fastened with lag bolts to the wood frame and anchored to the truck bed frame using 880lb rated turn buckles and the native toyota torx bolts through the chassis. Each bed rail has a modified aluminum C-clamp that attaches to the factory channel in the bed rail.
 

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jollymandro

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After using the camper for about a year and a half a few things started to show their weakness. The fiberglass started to peel off the main horizontal seam on both sides of the camper above the window, and at the front corners by the cabin. The fiberglass never fully adhered to those locations because the humidity was too high when I was doing the layup (El Nino in Northern California). That is one lessons that I learned. Always make sure the humidity and temperature are above the minimum recommended level. We had to strip the paint off, grind away all off the uncured resin, let the wood dry out, then proceed to fix the troubled spots. I used bondo, resin research epoxy and 6oz fiberglass to repair the seams and corners that had separated.
 

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jollymandro

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Lessons Learned/Summary:

Material Selection - The exterior paint continued to crack so I decided it was time to paint the interior as well to try and seal the wood inside and out. That is a major frustration of using wood- the expansion and contraction from moisture and temperature fluctuation. One way to minimize this is to use a better quality plywood; ideally something marine grade. The 5/8" ply I used was rough, knotty and inconsistent. The rear doors are built from 2"x4"s that I ripped and the same 5/8" ply. The ply wasnt flat and the 2"x4"s bowed after cutting, so the doors are in a constant state of bewitched shape shifting. Had I dropped an extra $100-$150 the frustration of splitting corners, cracking faces, warpage and general rough appearance could have been seroiously minimized. Lessons from a cheap ass. The next camper I build I will use a composite foam and fiberglass contruction technique. I am planning on testing some of the DIY composite techniques on a new rear door in the meantime.

Time Management - I learned that it takes more time and money to do something twice. I consistently tried to save a buck by getting a cheaper product, or by doing something quickly to make a trip deadline. I am still an avid craigslister/salvage yeard hound/thrift store afficionado, but in the end, certain things require you to buck up and throw down. It is worth thinking about what those things are in advance.
 

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jollymandro

New member
I hope this is helpful to someone. I really enjoyed the process of building this thing and am excited about designing the V2.0. If anyone has any questions about anything please fire away
 
If you were to do it over again, would you consider sheeting it in aluminum instead of fiberglass? Do you think the fiberglass cracks were due to the wood itself moving or joint separation? I'm considering either using metal strapping to reinforce joints or doweling.
 
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