How hard could it be? My home built pop-up camper project

#1
For a year or so I tossed around the idea of building a pop-up camper for my pickup. Last November I went for it. I began building my camper project the weekend before Thanksgiving 2017. I thought I could have it completed by the end of the year. Boy was I wrong.

The camper isn’t 100% done now, however it’s complete enough to start using. In fact, I took it ok it’s maiden camping trip this past weekend with my son. It worked great and after two days using it I already have some updates on my list of to-dos.

I’ll update this thread with bios details from day one, but for now I’ll leave you with shots of the current state.
 

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#4
Looks nice! I've been considering something similar.
I'd be interested in:
- Your source for the fabric and fabric type
- How did you attached fabric
- What did you use for the frame

Thanks!
 
#5
Why are you building that? The last thing you need is another project. That’s what I know my wife thought about my latest garage project.

There’s probably more than a little truth to the statement, but winters are long in Minnesota and you have to stay busy, right? Besides a gearbox teardown and other automotive excitement on the winter checklist I got the hare brained idea to build a custom pickup camper for my Ford F150 by scratch. You might say it was fueled by many late nights scouring these forums with one hand on the keyboard and another holding a delicious IPA. I’d have to agree at least a little bit with that statement.

So, why the heck did want to build a pickup camper? Beyond pure impulse and enjoyment of building things, I saw it as a good opportunity to get out and explore with my family. There’s nothing wrong with a little more quality time with your loved ones, right?

It could serve as a great basecamp for race weekends, both those where I’m racing and those where we’re simply spectating, and also a good platform to get out and enjoy the multitude of parks within a days drive.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the design. Programs like Sketchup made it easy to put ideas into 3d models and I worked through several different iterations in the tool. Going in, there were a few things I knew I wanted to accomplish:
  • Lightweight – The goal is to have it be somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 pounds in total
  • Compact – It has to fit within my 5.5 foot pickup box and have a small-ish profile. By integrating a pop-up I can collapse the camper into a smaller footprint. The pop-top will also make for quick setup and teardown.
  • Flexible sleeping for two adults and two children – I’ve integrated a standard full-size bed over the roof and the dinette area will convert into bunks that can accomodate my little ones
  • Not overly complicated – The initial buildout consists of basic sleeping and shelter elements, however the design will allow for the addition of a sink, cooktop, etc., if I decide to add them in the future.
  • Affordable – The plan was to use commonly available building materials that I can piece together with tools I have at home and my “free” labor. One could spend upwards of $20k for a fully built camper, however by doing it Myself I figured I could save some money and learn a little something along the way.
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Armed with general design I placed an order with Discount Steel in Minneapolis (amazing customer service there by the way) and got to building a frame over Thanksgiving weekend. I spent Wednesday night, Thursday night and Friday night making slow progress. Usually during Thanksgiving a house if filled with the smell of roasted Turkey. Our house, or at least garage, took on the aroma of fine metal dust and melted steel.

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The goal was to get the camper to a useable state in the month of December, mostly because I was assigned other “more important” home improvement projects within the house.

I did not get even close to completing it in December...
 

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#10
Nice work. Do you have any more pictures of the build process? What is the dimension of your square tubing? How’d you do the sides?


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#11
In late-November when I started on this project things seemed to move along quickly. The frame came together in a few nights and I thought the end was in sight. Looking back, it was a lot like building a new house, not that I’ve ever done that. The general structure comes to together quickly, however the insulation, siding, interior work and other elements pile on the time. And that doesn’t event include the custom fab work associated with building your own camper from your own design. From scratch. Without any prior experience. You live and learn, I suppose.

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After placing the basic frame in the truck I confirmed my design would indeed fit and I set to completing the metalwork. Several late nights were spent in the garage cutting, aligning, welding and grinding. I rinsed and repeated the aforementioned steps over a hundred times and then, finally, the frame was complete. I test fit the entry door on the frame just to get a visualization of what the end product would look like. Then I sat inside on what would be the main couch and drank a beer marveling at my progress. Good thing it was late at night because if my wife or one of my kids would’ve come out to the garage I’m sure they would’ve wondered what I was doing.

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The next step was the interior trim out. Now, there’s no doubt I have a vast selection of tools for wrenching on cars and doing associated fab work, however I’m light on woodworking tools. Cutting 4 x 8 sheets of plywood cleanly and with straight edges proved to be a precarious and stressful endeavor. My grit prevailed and I managed to get everything cut while keeping all ten fingers and toes for that matter (I may have used a foot on an occasion to keep a sheet level on my rusty but trusty table saw).

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Woodworking complete, I made a trip or two (who am I kidding, it was problably four) to home depot to find the finest carpet material I could find to line the walls with. I landed on TrafficMaster indoor/outdoor carpet in Ocean Blue at a budget friendly $.86/square foot. Despite the low cost, the material is well-suited for the interior and really ties the room together, you know like a fine persian rug in your living room. Except this space rivaled that of a low rate prison cell and the rug was the finest synthetic materials that could be had for less than a buck a foot. Wall treatment complete, it was time to celebrate this milestone with a moment of reflection to marvel at my work. Beer in hand of course.

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My next task was to install the siding. I opted for .032 inch aluminum sheet for it’s light weight, durability and relative ease of cutting. Like all of the other metal used for the build I sourced it from Discount Steel in NE Minneapolis. I’m pretty sure they know me by name now given all the metal pickups I’ve done there. Instead of using screws, bolts or rivets to affix the siding I opted for 3M VHB tape. The VHB stands for very high bond and believe me, this stuff is indeed sticky. If you don’t get the panel placed just right you better be comfortable with the placement because it will be stuck in place. Just ask my wife, who made the mistake of helping me affix a panel then hear me gripe when it was misaligned. That said, you know once the panel is in place correctly it’s not going anywhere and the tape helps avoid water intrusion at the seam acting like a seal. By the time all the panels were in place I became an expert in sheet metal cutting. I can also tell you which low-budget electric sheet metals shears to avoid. One tip, saving big money doesn’t save you any time. The right tool for the job makes a world of difference.

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