Camperizing the truck from the wood shop. #4: Considerations for construction materials and weight issues.

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Blog entry by dbhost posted 09-06-2013 02:58 PM 1558 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: More work on prepping the truck for the camper... Part 4 of Camperizing the truck from the wood shop. series no next part

Now those that have seen pics of my truck now I drive a half ton pickup. Okay so the payload rating is actually well over that, actually well over 3/4 of a ton, but they are doing funny things with truck ratings and classifications these days. Still weight is a consideration when building any sort of truck bed camper.

Working with my Sketchup drawings, and looking at the assemblies it occours to me that it needs to be lightweight for 2 reasons really.

#1. Hauling capacity of the truck itself. My F150 is no super duty, and I honestly want to build the camper to allow me to get deep into the brush without a top heavy camper as well.. #2. I have to put this thing up, and my 20s were a LONG time ago now…

I know for durability I am going to skin the panels with fiberglass, and the panels themselves are going to be built as boxes of sorts, with the voids filled with either rigid foam, or expanding foam insulation for comfort and weight issues.

So now the questions for those that are experienced with wood / fiberglass construction.

#1. In my experience the fiberglass provides much (most) of the rigidity once the resin is set. I assume then the framework within the box sides doesn’t have to be super beefy, but to act as a mold, and to keep the large expanses of glass from bowing in. Would this be a good application of Cedar? the stuff is light, very easy to work with, and very rot resistant.

#2. Again, the wood box really just needs to be a mold of sorts for the fiberglass. So what would be the thinnest sheet lumber / ply material I could obtain to use for the outer sides of the “boxes”? I need to factor this in to my design.

I would also love to know if there is a chart somewhere online that would list the weight loading / strength of various woods for a given size / thickness and length. I.E. how much weight can a SYP 2×2 48” long support without bowing or failing…

With your help guiding me to the needed information, I will be able to make more progress. My plan is to use Sketchup to mock up the truck bed, and the camper knock down box. (Got an F150 supercab model from the warehouse, and it seems pretty close). Once I have the truck bed enclosed, I will have a better idea of how to work the bed, AC, cargo capacity etc… in.

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4 comments so far

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4187 posts in 3220 days

#1 posted 09-06-2013 03:47 PM

How long is the truck bed, thinking about space for sleeping? Don’t know much about the materials questions, so I won’t even guess. I remember the wood cover I built for a Jeep Honcho I had. Built it out of plywood. I think I just saturated it with BLO. That worked in Fairbanks, AK, but don’t think it would work in Texas. Both the sun and the humidity will demand something like fiberglass, so that seems the way to go.

I am thinking, however, that cedar may not have the necessary strength. Treated pine might give you more strength and not be that much heavier. And of course, don’t forget aluminum extrusions, both rectangular tubes and angle extrusions. The aluminum works with your wood cutting tools, and may give you the best strength/weight ratio.

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View dbhost's profile


5736 posts in 3287 days

#2 posted 09-06-2013 04:25 PM

The bed is a 6.5 footer. I am planning on once assembled, the sleeping area actually just more or less mounting on top of the bed rails with a support structure underneath. I am thinking about an 8’x6.5’ footprint for the sleeping compartment / enclosure. It will become more clean when I get closer with concept sketches and post them.

I hadn’t thought about aluminum not because of cutting, but because of joinery. How would I join the aluminum extrusions?

I might be able to enlist a friend that does metal work for this project…

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View badcrayon's profile


38 posts in 1876 days

#3 posted 09-06-2013 05:11 PM

I have done some work with fiberglass and aluminum I would go with aluminum fiberglass would tend to crack in this application . For joining the skin to the extrusions go with good old fashioned rivets.

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View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4187 posts in 3220 days

#4 posted 09-06-2013 07:26 PM

Attaching one extrusion to another similar one I have usually used nuts and bolts. Rivets would seem logical…..lighter and smaller. I have also glued things to aluminum using CA, although I suspect that there must be an epoxy for it as well. Whatever construction you settle on, try it out on a test project first to get a feel for the strength, weight, durability, etc. Tolerance to vibration, and the torqueing from vehicle leans and grade changes would be an issue. But if it is a knock down thing, then each piece would probably not be subject to much stress while in transit.

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

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