Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet (AKA: The Pika)

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Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet (AKA: The Pika)

Postby mjcook » Tue Aug 01, 2017 11:34 pm

Hello all!
I've been planning for the past several months to build a (very) small and simple box trailer to pull behind my CR-V; basically a hard-sided tent. The only problem was that I had virtually no budget to do it with. I had the good fortune to acquire a small HF trailer and some RV windows and a door for free, so I started looking into the potential of building a trailer for around $500. I don't know if that sounds ridiculous, but at this point in the process I'm fairly confident that the finished cost of the trailer will be no more than about $600.

Here's the concept art:
It will be roughly 5 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 4 feet high inside. There won't be any furnishings or wiring inside, which will cut down on weight, cost and complexity. I actually don't want a camper, just a super lightweight cargo trailer that I can sleep in; that's why the interior is so sparse.

And here's my current price breakdown, as it stands: (This list has been updated, as the trailer has now been completed)
- trailer - free
- kenda tire load range B - $50 for 2
- Timken bearings + seals - $70
1/2” PT CDX deck - $50
- lights - $15
- Jacks $28
- Paint - $15
- Dust covers - $13
- Breakaway links - $5

- 1" EPS foam - $50 ($-5 per sheet x12)
- 1/4” underlayment ply - $100 ($14-ish per sheet x7)
- 1"x1" structural framing - free
- additional framing - free
- Elastomeric roof coating for underside - $17
- Frame Screws - $17
- lag screws - $10
- door/window screws - $6
- additional fasteners - free

- Lights - $12
- linoleum - free
- Shelves - $9
- curtains - $10
- trim - $13
- wipe on poly (2 qt) - $18

- roof vent - $25
- windows - free
- door - free
- spray foam $5
- canvas $27 ($13-ish per 9x12 x2)
- gripper primer - $160 (7 gallons)
- 2 gallons PVA primer - free
- gallon topcoat paint $15
- rubber seal $15

Cost estimate = $753

Cost offset (items sold):
tire -$10
window -$10
vinyl -$50
Extra paint -$10
Extra rv door -$5

Total: $668

Well now, on to business. Here's the trailer as I received it:
1 trailer, 4 RV windows and 1 RV door for free! Lots of work needed to be done though...
I started with stripping the trailer down to parts. There were some pretty badly damaged spots.
I sanded and painted every rusty spot, and recoated the exposed sections with that classic HF trailer red.
The wheel bearings were shot and I only had 1 dust cover, so new Timken bearings and some Venture 52mm dust covers were in order. The installation went fine, after I returned the US standard-sized bearings I bought and got a metric set. Shoulda measured first... :roll:
I discovered that the Venture dust covers were a few mm too short and the centre rubber plug was rubbing the spindle. Fortunately the metal was soft enough I could just pry the centre of the cap outward a bit to clear better. Crisis averted!
The original wiring was shot in places (if it was there at all) so a new light kit was in the mix too.
Aside from that I added some Kenda tires, and a tongue jack. Doesn't look half-bad!

At this point I'd sunk about $200 into the project, (so much for a free trailer) but even with a new trailer I'd still have to put $120 into it to get it "highway worthy" in my opinion, so I'm doing good so far. :thumbsup:

Now it's on to the tricky stuff: the box.
I was actually planning to use XPS foam (the pink stuff) for the wall construction, but lucked out on 12 1" EPS panels for less than $5 a panel. I'm hoping that because the trailer is small these will be strong enough when glued together to make 2" panels. Peeling the plastic and foil off was a fun project...

I've got 5 gallons of Glidden gripper, 2 9x12 canvas drop cloths, 12 1" EPS foam panels, and I'll be picking up the plywood sometime this week. I'll update as things progress. Wish me luck!
Last edited by mjcook on Wed Oct 11, 2017 4:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby Tigris99 » Wed Aug 02, 2017 12:32 am

Good luck with the build, be ready for unexpected costs... my build has gone over budget a good amount. And think loaded weight will be higher too.

Btw why cabinets? Why not just basic shelves?

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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby swoody126 » Wed Aug 02, 2017 7:09 am

Tigris99 wrote:Good luck with the build, be ready for unexpected costs...


Btw why cabinets? Why not just basic shelves?

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have you considered simple closet racks/shelves to keep storage containers off the floor when used for sleeping?

carried on the floor during transit would lower the CG

clear/opaque containers could be developed/organized to contain systems for separate camping needs such as FOOD, KITCHEN, 1ST AID, CLOTHING, PERSONAL HYGINE...

just off the wall ponderments...

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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby QueticoBill » Wed Aug 02, 2017 8:47 am

Primarily solo use?

I like the idea of net hammocks for storage, but lowering the center of gravity as swoody points out- especially for light weight trailer - is probably more important. I still think about going hatchless and basically having a patrol box (or galley box) that stores and sets up separately. Best suited for sites with pick nick tables IMHO. Thought about coupling it with a dining fly (which I have - uses intermediate conduit, joints, etc. Maybe a folding table.
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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby working on it » Wed Aug 02, 2017 1:16 pm

QueticoBill wrote:Primarily solo use?

I like the idea of net hammocks for storage, but lowering the center of gravity as swoody points out- especially for light weight trailer - is probably more important. I still think about going hatchless and basically having a patrol box (or galley box) that stores and sets up separately. Best suited for sites with pick nick tables IMHO. Thought about coupling it with a dining fly (which I have - uses intermediate conduit, joints, etc. Maybe a folding table.
  • I use a combination of a wire shelf for closets, a 3-ft wide cargo net from my wife's Cobalt, bungee cords, and wall-mounted anchor points to store most of my clothes, toiletries, towels, etc. inside my cabin. I made it where it can expand to hold more gear, or fold up out of the way when not needed. It is mounted under my overhead stereo/fan shelf (but still high enough to clear my feet - when sleeping-), attached to the front wall with swivel clips (they come with the shelf kit), and the net and the bungees are attached to anchor points above and to the side walls (for expandable size and flexible retention). Since the front end of my trailer is a 45 degree slope, and the entry doors are tucked in behind the slope (with a stereo on a shelf directly overhead, with a folding 10" fan mounted centrally underneath), I needed to fit storage that was able to move out of the way, when I need to move cargo in/out of the doors (I use a front wall-mounted E-track to secure cargo -Aquatainers, coolers- there when travelling). As you can see, I tried to cram as much as I could into a 4x8 trailer (good thing I camp solo, as well).
  • folding shelf expands as needed.png
    folding shelf expands as needed.png (485.99 KiB) Viewed 2536 times
    swings up out of the way, even if lightly loaded
  • folding wire shelf, with cargo net & bungees for retention.png
    folding wire shelf, with cargo net & bungees for retention.png (410.1 KiB) Viewed 2536 times
    easy, cheap to make; a good place to store my gear
  • I also use a "patrol box" of sorts, a Tractor Supply storage container, to hold all my cooking gear and my canned foods (including my Spam -don't leave home without it!). I haul it in the back of my truck (weatherproof box), but can now ride on top of my tonguebox, if I need to carry more stuff in the truck bed.
  • 148332148333 new front rack lets me carry more along
  • I also use removable side tables, plastic tables (components from a storage rack), and/or a knock-down cookstand, to furnish cooking and eating areas at camp. The side tables are wood planks 18"x 24" attached to T-slot tracks on either side of the trailer, but stored in a bag I keep in the cabin for travel. The plastic tables are just a shelf and legs taken from and old Keter storage rack I don;t need anymore, and either travel inside the cabin, or in the truck bed. The cookstand was made from a cheap, broken, computer stand, and leftover plywood. I used hardware from Rockler to make it easily assembled at camp. If I bring it, it rides inside the cabin also (my mattress folds up, and gear is stored between the doors).
  • 107316 carrying cargo to camp (it is registered as a cargo trailer, after all)
  • complete camp cooking set-up.png
    complete camp cooking set-up.png (790.12 KiB) Viewed 2536 times
    everything I need (so far) for cooking
2013 HHRv "squareback/squaredrop", rugged, 4x8 TTT, 2220 lbs
  • *3500 lb Dexter EZ-Lube braked axle, 3000 lb.springs, active-progressive bumpstop suspension
  • *27 x 8.5-14LT AT tires (x 3) *Weight Distribution system for single-beam tongue
  • *100% LED's & GFCI outlets, 3x fans, AM/FM/CD/Aux. *A/C & heat, Optima AGM, inverter & charger(s)
  • *extended-run, on-board, 2500w generator *Coleman dual-fuel stove & lantern, Ikea grill, vintage skillet
  • *zinc/stainless front & side racks *98"L x 6" diameter rod & reel carrier tube on roof
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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby Tigris99 » Thu Aug 03, 2017 12:12 am

Were using a cargo net. Being put coming down from my sons bunk at an angle to off the foot of our "bed". Just to hold our bags with clothes and such once at camp.

Going small but having a bunk for our youngest was a challenge to have the space. Couldn't have gone fancy on my galley if i wanted to. Still need to sort out a place to put a stove (or may check clearance behind cooler for a folding table) but thats of little consequence, most cooking would be done via campfire anyway.

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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby mjcook » Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:46 am

Thanks for the storage suggestions!
As far as cabinets goes, it's true; just some simple shelving would be much more practical. And I definitely would be emptying the shelves (or whatever they end up being) before transit to lower CG.
I really like the metal closet rack idea, so far that seems to be the most practical option so I may end up doing that.
Could someone explain to me how I could use just a cargo net? It seems like that would sag too much... A picture or two would be much appreciated!
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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby mjcook » Tue Aug 08, 2017 10:28 pm

Well I'm back at it! The trailer part is more or less finished now, (yay!) although I do have some old tent trailer stabilizer jacks I will add later.
I mounted my spare tire on the frame behind the axle, and used about 30 carriage bits to hold 1/2" PT ply to the frame as decking. Also lowered the fenders almost an inch so they wouldn't intrude into the camper box's space. still plenty of clearance for the tires though.
After I did all that, I couldn't help but take it for a spin!

I've also started building my floor and ceiling panels. While things are progressing well, I certainly feel in over my head...
The panels are 5 feet wide, so I'm joining a 4 foot and 1 foot piece together with a strip of ply. Additionally, I was concerned about the rigidity of the ceiling because it only has plywood on the underside, so I added a couple 1"x1" ribs to help bear the load... I hope.
It is rather fun cutting EPS actually. I used a generic high power soldering gun, which cuts the foam rather nicely. I realized rather quickly that it is best to use a guide. a hot knife will happily go wherever you nudge it so free handing a line gets wobbly real fast. Also, I devised a rig to cut a gouge out of the foam panels to make room for the extra thickness of the splice. It worked surprisingly well. If you'll note the black screws behind the wire, those are there to keep the wire from bending over from the pressure of pushing it along through the foam. I think its about 12" of standard 14 gauge copper, so it did get pretty soft, but as long as I went slow I had no trouble at all.

And then I grit my teeth, broke out the gripper primer, and got down and dirty laminating.
It went well, for the most part. I had a bit of trouble with paint dripping places it shouldn't...
I tested a couple wood scraps overnight 'glued' together with the Gripper, and boy does that stuff work! The wood broke before the primer did. Consequently I was paranoid of setting a panel face or something down into a paint dripping on the floor, or something of that ilk. I guess we'll see how I did when it's time to take the weight of it and [try to] lift the panel up. Every joint received paint on both sides before being pressed together. It's sitting on a (mostly) flat cement floor with some firewood rounds piled on top of it to "clamp" it down... I made extra sure that the edges were properly mated and that there wasn't any separation. As to the middle, well I guess only time will tell. Speaking of time, Does anybody have any guesses as to how long I have to leave it there before I can at least move it? I'd rather it not sit there for more than 5 days or so, but I'm concerned that may not be long enough... Thoughts anybody?
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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby mjcook » Thu Aug 10, 2017 4:23 pm

Well I got the floor laminated.
I realized that when I laminated the ceiling, I ended up placing the panel in a minute dip in the concrete floor, enough that the ceiling sags about 1/4" towards the middle front to back and side to side. In effect, my roof is now a shallow bowl. THAT went nicely... :roll:

For gluing the camper floor I figured that my trailer would probably be flatter than the cement, so I went ahead and laminated the floor on top of the trailer. It worked, but these DIY SIPs really do their darnedest to delaminate as you glue them together, and since my camper floor is bigger than my trailer bed I didn't have a hard surface around the edge to press against. This meant I was scrambling around for about 30 mins grabbing anything I could think of to use to clamp the edges of the floor together. It looks like a disaster, but I think I got it clamped well enough...
Well I haven't messed up too badly, yet... But boy, what a gong show. :?

On a better note; When I used Gripper to glue my 5 foot panels together, I was concerned about the primer dripping through the joint and gluing my panel to the floor. To prevent this I put a strip of masking tape over the joint. I'm glad I did, because some primer did leak through. (you can see the white line in the second pic) But Gripper doesn't stick to the sticky side of masking tape, so it pulled off nicely! :thumbsup:

Hopefully by the weekend I'll be able to start working on some wall panels. (provided I can find a flat place to build them) In other news; I have decided to use closet shelves instead of cabinets, like some of you suggested; thanks for the idea! They will be supported by chains rather than brackets, so that I won't lose any clearance under them. Like so:
Yes I know the chains divide up the storage space, but I'll probably be filling the shelves with those collapsable storage cubes that you see at Ikea or Target, which will fit between the chains. Should be pretty slick!
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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby mikeschn » Thu Aug 10, 2017 5:40 pm

How about something like this?


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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby mjcook » Sun Aug 20, 2017 11:14 pm

Lol, maybe I should'a done that Mike.
Oh well, if this works it'll turn out pretty nice, and there's no going back now.

I've been working on the walls this weekend, nothing real special to mention at this point. I think I've figured out the laminating process enough to not make a big mess out of things anymore. The floor/ceiling panels are mostly dry already, the floor is the biggest continuous surface area by far so it may take a bit longer to dry than anything else, but after I get all my wall panels laminated I'll wait AT LEAST another week before starting the assembly.
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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby mjcook » Sat Sep 02, 2017 11:17 pm

Well, after a month of work, the trailer is finally starting to take shape! Have a look:

Over the past week I've been prepping the sides for assembly, and finally today I was able to put them together. The prep work was actually quite a bit more difficult than the assembly, but I'm more or less pleased with the outcome. I glued/screwed 1" x 1" 'framing' around all the edges of the floor and ceiling panels; this makes up the structure of the trailer. Where I could i put screws up from underneath, to hold the layers of the floor together. (It's definitely still not dry in spots, but for a completely enclosed 5x8 structure that has sat only 3 weeks, what'd I expect? ) :roll:
At any rate, with screws from underneath into the framing and screws from above down into the support beams, I don't think it will delaminate, even if the glue never fully dries..

The most difficult work so far has been the radiuses corners, and I haven't even started rounding them off yet... Instead of trying to bend the EPS around an 8' radius, I decided to do a solid foam corner with a 45 bevel inside the trailer, then I can just cut the radius on the outside with a reeaally long hot knife (I'm working on making that now). The framing and the foam for those beveled panels was tricky. I discovered (and you tnttt veterans probably already know) that foam cuts just as easy, if not easier, with a bandsaw rather than a hot knife. I discovered this when I was cutting the angles.

After I had all my pieces ready, I did a dry assembly to make sure it would all go together well. Making jigs to hold the corners made the process go much smoother.

Then it was just painting seams with Gripper and pushing it all together. I used an 18 gauge nailer every 3" on every seam, hopefully that will be strong enough, I didn't want screws visible inside the trailer. Now that it's assembled, if I can make a functional 4' long bow-style hot knife, I should be able to start laying the canvas on Labour Day. :thumbsup:

In other news, I've also started to resize the RV door I was given. It was a fairly straightforward process, although I did encounter one complication.
I don't know about all RV doors, but this one had a truss rod running though it that when tightened, would warp the door inwards. I believe that it was there to keep the corners from warping out when the door was sealed. Fortunately I had a tap and die set lying around, so I was able to resize the rod for the new door height.
Other than that, I did scratch my head for a moment concerning how to re-frame the bottom of the door where I cut it off, because the door is laminated onto EPS just like my walls are. I ended up making a top hat shaped hot knife to get a proper depth cut out of the foam. that much length was hard to keep from bending, but it did the trick.

So anyway, there's the update. I hope that in a couple days from now, I'll have pictures to share of the canvas going on. Everybody wish me luck! :worship:
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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby KCStudly » Wed Sep 06, 2017 11:47 am

Good luck! But you won't need it. With the careful attention you are showing you will do fine with the canvas, I am sure! :thumbsup:
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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby aggie79 » Thu Sep 07, 2017 11:05 am

Awesome! :applause: :applause: :applause:
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Re: Lightweight trailer for a lightweight wallet

Postby mjcook » Tue Sep 12, 2017 10:38 pm

Alright folks, I'm back.

I did get the canvas on on Labour day, sorry it has taken me this long to get back on here...
And now for the last week's recap:

I started with the challenge of how to radius the front corners, and what I ended up doing was building a huge bow-style hot knife. I used 19 gauge stainless steel wire (because if it's high resistance) and hooked it up to a car charger. The assembly drew about 6 amps at 12 volts, which was just what the charger could supply; perfect! To do the cut, I had someone help me by holding the bottom end of the knife while I held the top. I marked every inch around the radius, and then we called out numbers as we cut around the curve, to make sure we stayed in sync. It turned out pretty good.

Next up, I used a can of spray foam (the doors and windows version) to fill all gaps and cracks, and to build up any dents in the foam. After the spray foam dried overnight, I cut it off flush with the walls to make a nice even surface across the entire trailer. This ended up being a bad idea and backfired on me. I would strongly recommend that no-one ever do this if they are planning to use the same procedure that I did. More on that later...

Then I had an inventive streak come upon me...
I realized that the vertical radiuses on my trailer are somewhat atypical for the builds found on this forum; most people put the radius across the top. There are pros and cons to each, and while I am glad I chose what I did, it presented me a unique challenge: I couldn't lay my canvas from the top down like most people do, I had to wrap it around the sides. To do this I would either have to have someone holding the roll of canvas as I applied it, or I would have to make a canvas holder. I opted for the latter.
What it is, is a rack that cradles the vertical rails on a hand truck. The rack has the roll of canvas in the center, and a large flat panel on the side, with a clamp to hold the canvas while I rolled it with paint. On the backside I build a drill-powered winch system that I could use to raise and lower the rack on the hand truck to make sure it was at the optimal height relative to the trailer as I moved it around applying the canvas. When I built it I was thinking it was a tad excessive and unnecessary; but I can tell you know that it would have been impossible for me to apply my canvas by myself without this device! Engineering for the win! :thumbsup:

Next, was cutting the canvas. I didn't bother to wash it because it was already only barely big enough to do the job, and I didn't want it shrinking on me... It turns out that the stuff shrinks as you apply it(?) because I thought I would have an extra 4" the long direction (and I measured), but it turned out that I had enough by only 1/4"!!!
Word of the wise: Have way more canvas than you need!
After the canvas was cut, it was 4 hours of madly rushing around painting and rolling the canvas onto the trailer. The initial results looked sooo promising!
After the sides went on, I did the top. ...which was a breeze, compared to the sides... PMF is a simple process, but that by no means makes it an easy one...

While I was letting that dry, I went back to work finishing my resized door. The only thing left to do was resize the frame, which had been welded together. I didn't have access to a welder, so I made some little steel splints and JB welded them in place. It worked perfectly.

And then my luck ran out, and my dry, hot, and sunny weather turned into rain coulds and humidity anywhere from 75% to 100%... :cry:
Well, a good builder makes do, so I scrounged around for some tarps and a dehumidifier, and made a tent. In the next week, that dehumidifier pulled over 5 gallons of water out of the air!

In that week, I applied 5 more coats of paint to the canvas. I ran out of Gripper primer putting the canvas on, so I fell back to a 5 gallon bucket of Gladden PVA primer a friend let me use. The application of the canvas used up 2 gallons of Glidden Gripper, and with the first sizing coat, the canvas soaked up a gallon of primer, followed by another gallon with 2 more coats. By this point the canvas was sufficiently buried so I applied a final 2 topcoats with 1 gallon of Gladden exterior paint.

And now, for the sad part:
Remember that spray foam I used to make the trailer "smooth"? Well I dunno what happened, but I think it actually soaked up the gripper primer and expanded, because everywhere that I put that foam, the canvas bulged.
I know it's not bubbling because I did have to deal with a few bubbles,and there definitely is a difference. I don't have any pictures of it right now, I'll try to upload some later. This is a big bummer, because the trailer sides (specifically the edges near the top and bottom) are anything but smooth. I suppose this isn't that uncommon for a PMF foamie, but I could have avoided it simply by not using that spray foam... The silver lining is that I'm very confident the bulges are still well adhered to the trailer walls. Oh well... It's my first build, and the learning curve is steep. I suppose I'm content with the outcome.

While I was painting the outside of the trailer, I also prepped and installed some vinyl flooring that was given to me. There was a small spot in the floor's plywood veneer that had delaminated already, so I had to sand it out and build it up again. That's what I get for buying cheap-cheap home depot plywood I suppose. I haven't seen this happening anywhere else, yet, so hopefully after I seal the interior with some poly it won't be a problem. I also put some screws all the way through the floor and down into the support boards underneath. That way, even if the primer that is supposed to hold the flooring together never dries out, it can't fall apart on me. I hope... :thinking:

After the outside had dried out, I started installing the door and windows! My old RV windows were designed for a wall that was exactly 2" thick, and my trailer walls are closer to 2.5" thick, so I designed the window frames to be recessed. I was planning on using some RV butyl tape around the windows to seal them, but I'd made the clearances too tight and that didn't fit... I guess some silicone caulk should seal it just as well, whatever.

Lastly was installing the door and roof vent. The door as problem free, but while screwing the vent down in place I discovered just how fragile foamies can be. My drill slipped and... well, there goes my perfect rooftop... :cry:
Fortunately it's an easy fix. I stuffed the hole with some extra styrofoam, and leveled it off with some silicone caulk. you can't hardly tell what happened, fortunately.

And that's where it sits at the moment. the inside is far from finished, but I couldn't wait to use it, so I took it out for a night. I'm sure you all know the pride and satisfaction of falling asleep in a camper that you designed and built with your own blood sweat and tears, and now I do too! :D

Up next this week:
I want to make some modifications to my trailer suspension: It rides very stable when it is loaded down, but if I hit any potholes the suspension bottoms out. I'm gonna try to raise the axle a touch, and remove some excess bolt that is causing the early bottoming out.
Also, I still need to finish the interior! I think for the sake of expenses I'm going to use some simple white moulding around the corners, and then a coat or two of poly on the wood to seal it, while preserving the natural look. Then I'll add the shelves above the windows.
Other than that, I have almost a full can of red spray paint left over, maybe I'll put a stripe around the exterior to smarten it up a bit. :thumbsup:
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