Want to save money while having fun working on a project you love? Why not build your trailer? Building a trailer is not only possible, but it is fun and easy to do.
To build an off-road trailer, it is important to first understand what you need in one. Start with a folding trailer as your base, add the floor, and frame the walls and roof. Add panels for the walls and roof and cut out areas for windows and doors. You may also add a stove or a generator and AC.
In this article, I will help you learn how to build your camping trailer from scratch. I will explain which materials you need to have and how to go about building your very own camping trailer. Let us get into it.
Understand Your Needs
Before you can build the actual trailer, it is crucial to understand why you want to build a trailer. You need to understand your needs so you can build a trailer that will fulfill those needs.
The main reason people build their trailers is to save money. Did you know that camping trailers can cost well over $10,000? It would be hard to find a good trailer for less than that. Building your trailer will help you save thousands of dollars. A lot of people build their trailers for the fun of it as well. There is nothing like using your camping trailer and sleeping in a mini house built for yourself.
However, you must ask yourself some questions before you get started. Will you be using your trailer to sleep in? How many people do you plan on fitting in the trailer? Will you just put things in the trailer?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you decide how big to make the trailer. Will you be using the trailer in cold areas? In that case, you must have insulation. If the weather is perfect, where you will be going, you might not need insulation.
Here are some additional things to consider:
- What type of vehicle do you have? Do you have a large truck or Jeep that can haul a larger trailer? Or do you have a small car or even a motorcycle, in which case you will want to lean on the smaller side?
- Will you be sleeping at campsites most of the time? Can you hook your trailer up to campsites? Or will you be far from campsites the majority of the time, in which case your trailer will need more independence?
- What kind of amenities will your trailer need? A small fridge or stove? Electricity? A small bed?
Materials You’ll Need
You will need to buy a trailer with what to work with. I would recommend getting a standard folding trailer. You will use this folding trailer as your base and build walls around it and a roof on top of it. Then, you will do the rest of the work.
Folding trailers come in many sizes. You can get this Ironton 4ft. X 8ft. Steel Folding Utility Trailer Kit, for example. It has a length of 135 inches and a width of 62 and a quarter inches when fully assembled. That means it is more than 11 feet long. That should be enough for you to sleep in. it is also more than five feet wide – again, this should be enough for you and perhaps another person to fit in.
I like this particular folding trailer because it has a load capacity of 1170 pounds. This load capacity should be enough for all of the additions you make. It should be enough for the walls and roof, as well as your weight.
If you are afraid that the trailer does not have a load capacity that is large enough or is not big enough for you, you can get a larger Ironton version. Although it is only slightly larger in terms of length and width, it has a much higher load capacity – more than 1700 pounds.
If you are shopping for trailers for yourself, I would recommend looking for 4 x 8 or 5 x 8 trailers.
I would recommend getting a teardrop trailer kit, so you have all the materials you need to put it together. Otherwise, you might have to bother with buying new supplies, which is an unnecessary hassle. Your trailer kid should come with all the instructions you need to get the folding trailer assembled.
I will talk later about creating a wooden frame for your trailer’s roof and walls with 2 x 3s. However, if you want to make your trailer even stronger, you can consider welding on a metal frame. You can first weld on a metal frame and then add 2 x 3s for additional support between the metal frame posts.
Create a Floor
Now that you have bought a folding trailer for the base, you will have to start with the floor of your house. Without a floor, you can’t do anything else. You should get a plank of wood that is at least half an inch thick and fits with the trailer. For example, if you have a 4 x 8 folding trailer, you will need a plank of plywood that is 4 x 8 as well.
You will have to bolt on the floor very well. If you skimp on this part, you might end up in some trouble later on. Make sure you securely fasten the floor into place.
What is the next step? You might want to consider spraying the underside of the wood with a rubberized coating. Adding this spray will help protect the trailer from the elements. It is not a must, but it is a good thing to do. I would highly recommend waterproofing the underside in one way or another.
Although spray-on waterproofing is the easiest way to do it, there are other methods as well. For example, you can use a roller to apply a liquid waterproofing product. I do not recommend attaching plastic to the floor’s underside; this is not a very effective nor convenient option.
Waterproofing the underside will allow you to drive your trailer even in wet or muddy areas. You might have to cross a stream or a brook when off-roading, and if your trailer is not waterproof, your belongings can get damaged.
Before adding the floor, I would recommend placing 2 x 4s across the length of the trailer. Adding these posts will help give your floor a lot of support. This support will come in handy and make sure the floor does not fall in on you.
Create Frames for the Walls
Now that you have the floor set up, it is time to create a frame for the walls. You will add the actual walls later, but you can’t add any walls without a strong frame.
You will use 2 x 3s for the wall frames. I would recommend placing them around 15 inches apart. Adding these posts will allow you to add walls that are strong and secure. You might want to place two 2 x 3s in some places, such as where you will be adding a window.
If you already welded on metal frame posts, you might not need as many wooden posts for support.
Create a Frame for the Roof
You will have to follow the same steps as you did for the walls to create a frame for your roof. As before, you will use wooden plywood posts to create the basis for your roof.
Why do I say that using a metal frame is not important? Because I am trying to make a guide to making a trailer that is not so difficult. Not everyone knows how to weld, but most people can attach wooden posts with bolts. Also, welding can be dangerous if you have no experience and do not know what you are doing.
However, if you can weld, I would strongly recommend that you create your trailer’s entire frame first with metal before even adding the floor. This way, with your frame in place, you can add panels without worrying about the strength of your frame. You can always add additional wooden posts as well – nothing is stopping you from doing that.
Attach Your Walls
Now that you have the frame in place – whether you welded metal or decided to go with only wood – it is time to choose your walls’ panels. There are several different types of panels you can use, and there are also several different methods you can use to attach those panels to your frame.
You can use standard wood paneling, as you did for your floor. Wood paneling is probably the quickest, easiest, and cheapest option. You will be installing insulation later, so there is no reason not to use wooden paneling. Attaching the wood panels should be easy as well, as you just need to bolt them on, as you did the floor.
However, you can also consider using aluminum panels for your walls. One way to attach aluminum panels to your frame is to use VHB tape. VHB stands for Very High Bonding. I would recommend getting this 3M Scotch 5952 VHB Tape from Amazon. It is a double-coated tape that allows you to attach panels and other objects to anything.
Using VHB tape is a good way to avoid making holes in the panels and bolting them on. Don’t worry – VHB tape is very strong and is designed for these types of things. It is not the kind of tape you use to repair a dollar bill – this type of tape is powerful! It is a great way to make sure the aluminum panels stay on the frame forever.
I will mention that VHB tape is used for construction and industrial purposes all the time. It is also used in the auto industry pretty often.
However, it is important to be careful when using this kind of tape – it is not something you can just pull off and reapply if you put it on wrong! VHB tape is called a very high bonding tape for a reason – it bonds extremely strongly, and it is very hard (though not impossible) to take off. When using double-sided VHB tape, you have to make sure that one side is attached properly to the frame and the aluminum panels are attached properly to the other side.
Planning is key here! The actual application is not difficult. That is the advantage very high bonding tape has over bolts – you don’t have to drill any holes, and you don’t need many tools. However, you must plan where you will put the tape, so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of taking it off later because you put it on wrong.
Attach the Roof
Now that you have the floor and the walls attached, it is time to add your roof. You can simply do whatever you did for the walls for your roof as well. For example, if you used wooden panels, why not use a wooden panel for your roof? If you use aluminum panels, you can use an aluminum panel for your roof. I would recommend waterproofing whatever you use for your roof, so you don’t have to worry about the rain leaking in.
Cut Out Windows and a Door
Cutting out windows is optional, but I would highly recommend doing that. Without windows, your trailer will quickly become hot at night, and it will get stuffy. It might smell bad, and it will not be that great for your mental health. The whole purpose of traveling with a trailer is so you can enjoy nature and the outdoors, not live in a box as if you were living in an apartment in Manhattan, NY.
Of course, cutting out a door is not optional at all. There are a few ways to cut out doors and windows. I would recommend using a router, but you can also use a jigsaw. You might use both. Regardless of the tool you use, make sure you cut with precision. Again, planning is key here.
The last thing you want to do is cut your window in a weird shape or cut it in a place you don’t want it to be. You can’t reverse this, so proceed with caution.
Of course, make sure to consider where you placed the posts for the frame so that you don’t cut into them by accident. If you are looking for a good router to work with, I recommend this Bosch Wood Router Tool Combo Kit. It is very powerful and has over 2,000 reviews on Amazon, most of which are positive. It is only $200 and has tons of cool features, such as a dustproof power switch.
If you are looking for a jigsaw, I can recommend this Bosch Power Tools Jig Saw from Amazon. It is another high-quality Bosch tool, and it is cheaper than the router I previously mentioned. It is strong and powerful, and it is lightweight and easy to handle.
If you would like to see a video of someone cutting with a router and jigsaw to make windows in aluminum panels they attached to their trailer, click on the following link and skip to 9:37:
Add the Windows and Doors
Now that you have cut out space for the windows and doors, it is time to add the actual windows and doors. You can create a door out of a wood panel, or you can use whatever material you used for your walls. Just make sure to cut it so that it fits. You might also want to consider cutting out a window within the door.
Then, bolt the door on. You should install some hinges. For security purposes, install a doorknob that you can lock. At the very least, make some way to lock the door from the inside. You might make it possible to bolt your door from the inside, for example.
What should you use for the windows? I would recommend this RecPro RV Window Horizontal Slide from Amazon. Make sure to cut the holes so that this fits. These windows are corrosion resistant. Also, they come with a seal on the outer part of the window, which will help insulate your camping trailer and make sure heat or cold does not come in.
If you want to be a bit quirky, you can use this Amarine Made Boat Yacht Round Opening Portlight Porthole from Amazon. This window is circle-shaped – most RVs and trailers have a rectangle-shaped window, which will help you stand out! It is also cheaper than the previous window I mentioned. Make sure you cut a hole that will allow for this window. Even though it is meant for a yacht, I see no reason you can not use it for your camping trailer.
Now that you have the outside of the camping trailer fully built, it is time to start working inside. I would recommend starting to add cabinets first. You will need some cabinets, and perhaps some counters, to store your items or to use as a kitchen area. You should make cabinets if you want your camping trailer to feel like a real house.
How many cabinets should you add? I would recommend planning out a blueprint before. You want to know where you will sleep, where the kitchen will be, and where the bathroom will be. You need to make sure that you have enough space in your cabinets to store your belongings, but not too many cabinets to the point where you feel there is no space to move around in your trailer.
How many cabinets to add depends on your personal preference at the end of the day – some people have many items, while others are minimalists who have few items and prefer wide, open spaces. If you are claustrophobic, I would recommend making fewer cabinets rather than more.
To make your cabinets, I would recommend using posts and sheets of wood. You will need some woodworking skills to do this, but you don’t have to be super experienced. Hopefully, if you plan on making your trailer, you will have some basic woodworking skills, so this should not be a problem. I would recommend using the router and the jigsaw I mentioned above, if you have already purchased them, to make your cabinets as well.
The next step will be to add electricity to your vehicle. Adding electricity to your vehicle will require some electrical know-how. If you do not feel comfortable working with electrical wires, there are some options available. You might be able to enlist the help of a friend or neighbor who can help you.
Alternatively, you can leave just this step of the process up to the experts. Hire a professional to do the electric parts for you to do the rest of the project without any worries. There are a lot of things that you will need to do to make the electrical system work.
Some of the things you will need might include a switch/fuse panel, sockets in the walls to plug in your appliances, a deep cycle battery, etc. Installing these things will take quite a bit of work, and if you don’t know what you are doing, it can be dangerous. Hence, I recommend getting a professional to do this part for you if you are unsure of your capabilities.
Now we get to the insulation part. This part is important. Insulating your trailer will ensure that rain and cold do not seep into your trailer. It will help you stay comfortable at night, regardless of whether it is hot or cold outside. You can insulate your trailer in many ways, and I will talk about some of them in this section.
One option is to install polystyrene sheets. However, if you want your trailer to be well insulated, I recommend that you get this Reflective Insulation Shield/Thermal Insulation Shield from Amazon. It is lightweight, but it is strong and lasts for a long time. It is good for sensitive skin, as it will not irritate your skin. It is waterproof, and it is also Astm Certified Class 1 Class A Fire Rated. It provides a great vapor barrier for your trailer.
To ensure your trailer is well insulated, I would recommend sealing around the door and windows. Adding insulation to the walls is only the first step. Air and vapor can seep in through cracks around the door and windows. Instead of adding sealant, you can also add foam around the doors and windows.
Add a Bed
It is time to add a bed to your trailer. Adding a bed can be as simple as taking a sleeping bag with you. You might prefer to sleep on a mattress on the floor. If you do any of the above, you don’t need to do any construction to add a bed. Alternatively, you can do some woodworking to add a bed frame so you can put the mattress on it. A folding cot, however, will give you more flexibility.
This step will be similar to the electrical step in that if you have no experience with plumbing, you might want to enlist the help of a professional. However, adding a toilet and a sink can be a very simple job if you do not have many needs. You can add a simple water tank and some basic plumbing so you can urinate in the trailer and empty the tank later. If you want to get creative, you can do things like adding a water heater, but it is unnecessary.
Add a Stove
The best way to ensure you can cook food is to add a stove to your mobile home. I would recommend adding a wood stove, so you don’t have to worry about how you will make a fire. However, you might not want to bother with this. It can be an unnecessary fire hazard, and you might be able to cook on grills and barbecue areas at campsites. You can even start fires from scratch in forests on the go.
This Youtube video talks about installing a wood stove and the pros and cons of doing so:
Add a Generator and AC
These steps are also optional. If you want, you can add a generator to your trailer. A generator will give you a power source even when you can not hook your trailer up to a campsite. However, it can be expensive and add a lot of weight to your trailer.
The same goes for an AC – it is optional, and it might not be necessary if you are not traveling in really hot areas. You might be just fine with sleeping with no AC, but it is a personal choice at the end of the day.
So there you have it – that’s how to build a trailer all by yourself. It will take some time – it might take longer than expected, so factor in some extra time for little things that might pop up during the project. However, once you are done, you will be glad to save the money and travel in your very own trailer.