Homemade Camper Shell for my 2005 Toyota Tundra

A road trip. A bunch of furniture… tow or carry? …building a homemade camper shell for my ’05 Toyota Tundra …for under $100.

After much consideration, mostly economical, I decided to carry the furniture I am driving 3,000 miles. Since Uhaul wants half the cost of a new trailer for a one-way rental.. and a new trailer (which makes much more sense to own) isn’t within my budget, I decided to build a homemade camper shell for my truck. [no rental fee, nothing in tow, less drag – a $600 savings and easier driving]

I spilled my spare coins into the bank’s counter and came up with $68… enough to get started.

The material list for this project is fairly simple, though I’ve grabbed any spare materials including half tubes of miscellaneous sealants, paints, varnishes, scraps of ply, etc from my shed.

  • 3 @ 4’x8′ – 1/4″ underlayment – $13.75 ea.
  • 1 @ 4′ x 8′ – 5/8″ sheathing – $25
  • 9 @ 2 x 2 – $1.77 ea.
  • 5 @ 2 x 3 – $2 ea.
  • 200 @ Lathe screws – #8 x 1″ $5.50 x 2
  • 6 @ 3/8″ x 3″ bolts and fasteners.
  • 1 @ tube subfloor adhesive $3.50
  • 1 roll of weather sealing foam stripping $5
  • 1 small Gorilla Glue $6 (really needed the bigger bottle but ..$$$)

That’s about all I bought. So far, I have spent $96 but still need some hardware and weatherstripping.

I also used, from my scrap piles:

  • a quart of black exterior paint I bought on the clearance rack for $2.
  • misc scraps of plywood, 4’x4′ of 3/4″ and about 4’x4′ of 3/8″
  • 12′ of 4/4 x 5″ rock hard ¬†Maple
  • 1@ 12″ x 28″ tempered glass piece
  • 1@ 24″ x 48″ Acrylic sheet
  • 4 tubes of sealant (or 7 partial tubes of everything and anything I had left)
  • 1 quart Sikkens Cetol
  • 1 quart Helmsman Spar Urethane
  • 1 quart Minwax Polyurethane
  • 1 old door that I stole 3″ the clear fir rails from
  • 1 pine cabinet I stole 5/4″ x 12 for the back door frame

 

  1. I started by outlining my truck’s roof profile on some scraps of 3/4″ ply.
  2. Then cutting those pieces, duplicating them and creating the profile of the curve.
  3. Horizontal 2×2’s separated the forms, kept angled like the truck @ 10-degrees slant.
  4. 1/4″ plywood layed out, traced the ends, cut, screwed along top 2×2 then bent to shape of profile.
  5. Each side made apart, were connected “in place” by contoured 2×4’s (from old door) at top and new 2×2’s at bottom. Just as my bed rails, the shell sides are not parallel, the back is slightly more narrow than the front- adding to the “custom” fit.
  6. Glued everything with Gorilla Glue, including the 5/4 door frame.
  7. Made a window from recycled 1×4 for jamb and 2×2 to surround spare glass.

Then I made the top.

Making the top was too simple: Cut plywood side profiles , screw ladder of ceiling joists, proper blocking with all leftover 2×2 scraps – screw down roof plywood.

Lift in place and viola.

Now I need to seal up the window and make a back door and this sucker will be nice and tight.

Who wants to make a very good door out of the hardest wood ever? Not me… ugh.
I used the last of the Gorilla Glue while doweling this maple. I know from experience – bouncing along the Rio Grande until my first homemade camper shell door ripped off somewhere in New Mexico.. that I needed a solid door – so I used a hardwood that would be a real bear to break (into).

I wanted to add further strength to the door by putting ‘bars’ on it – to make it much harder to break the 1/4″ acrylic sheet and climb in – so I used 1″ square maple and made the ‘bars’ attractive (in what I’m calling a Teepee shape). I cut the bars, epoxied them, angle-nailed then face-screwed with fancy brass. I’m very pleased.

I rest assured that it won’t be a simple smash and grab through this window. It’s a bitch.. that’s some of the extra care I put into this cheap-as-could-be cover for my furniture. It wasn’t bad making the door after 10pm on a Saturday night – once you get started – it’s zen before long.

Notes:

I took more time thinking than building. There are no underlayment veneer edges exposed to the wind. I carefully considered exposed surfaces. Low on weight, high in strength. I used lots of sealant and glue. My truck will be very full with two large dogs and all the crap I have to move. I built this for a 52″ tall piece of furniture, which by the way will barely fit having used “the most effective way to cut the single sheet of 5/8″ plywood”…ripped into (3) 16″ pieces. That’s 16″ high + 21″ shell + 20″ bed – which, when you subtract the material interference is so close to 52”.

Boy, those sheets of 1/4″ underlayment are gorgeous~!! Of course I purchased, oriented and ripped them with matching patterns resembling flames. Too cool – $27.

If I wasn’t completely out of money this week, I would have spent more money and less time thinking of how to use what I have. I would have just bought 3 tubes of PL and 4 tubes of silicon and a sheet of 3/4″ and another sheet of … well you get the idea. Had I more time, I would have collected more free resources. All-in-all, I am incredibly pleased with the aesthetic. I am confident about the strength and somewhere between confident and hopeful on it’s weatherability. (<– look I can even make words)

Hope you enjoyed the pictures. I will update this when I’ve put it up on my truck, sometime next week. Today, I’m contemplating painting the CDX ply since it’s so ugly, but I don’t have a decent color paint on hand.. and I’m still working on ‘sorry, you can’t go buy something just because you think you want it’ ¬†– you might have to make it, find it, recycle it, fashion it, create it… or just make do.

This was a very pleasing, functional project. Had it not been for “cargo only” this would have been an insanely pleasing camper to live in. Fortunately, the way I made it – I can remove the top and make one of low proportion to use daily and one of tall proportion to really camp out/live in. The sides are a keeper.

Below are all the pics of my homemade camper shell in one gallery:

Oh yeah.. .one more note: I could lift the shell into place. I then could lift the top upon it. ..assembled off my truck, I can no longer manage this alone. I’m sure I can tip it on end, back the truck up, tip it.. and get it on there but it’s going to be easier to get a friend to lift one side. My guess, the weight is under under 200 lbs.

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