DIY: Teardrop Camping Trailer
By: Matthew Hatcher
By (614) MagazinePublished August 1, 2013
How do you get the best combination of outdoor camping with the creature comforts of home? With your very own custom-built teardrop trailer, that’s how. Wake up to the sunrise on the edge of the lake, in a mobile bedroom on wheels, with solid walls, optional air conditioning, heat, stove, LED TV – the works.
What is it? A teardrop trailer is a compact travel trailer light enough to be pulled by a car. It gets its name from its streamlined “teardrop” profile, and usually has sleeping space for two adults. Its hatchback rear storage compartment often has a basic kitchen, but you can add things like a portable shower and other comforts of home that are tough to store in a tent.
Popular in the glory years of the Open American Road (1930s through the ’60s), they’ve recently made a comeback on the West Coast, and are slowly creeping east.
That all you need to tow them is a car with a hitch (and not a gas-guzzling truck), combined with the fact that they don’t take up much garage or driveway real estate during the off-season, makes them ideal for a wide range of camping enthusiasts.
Here’s how to do it, fit to your custom needs and budget, DIY-style.
Projected Cost: $4,000 – $8,000
Start with a quality trailer base. We used a heavy duty kit from Harbor Freight that came with everything we needed, including turn signals, brake lights, and good tires. The all-steel construction was easy to put together, requiring only sockets and wrenches. You don’t need to be an experienced mechanic or welder to build this trailer!
Take a 4’x8’x3/4” sheet of plywood, some solid wood 2x2s and build a sturdy floor. Make sure to put at least 3 coats of high quality polyurethane on all exposed wood surfaces. Once dry, attach to metal trailer with bolts and lock washers.
Lay out your teardrop shape onto two other full sheets of 3/4” plywood using a pre-drawn template, or if you have access to a CNC machine, design your sides in a CAD program (we used Sketchup) or a vector program like Illustrator (or its free, open source version, Inkscape).
Basic tools such as a jigsaw can be used to cut the shapes out if you’re doing it by hand (we had our ShopBot CNC machine do the work for us). This is also a good time to layout the openings for your door, window and any other cutouts you have planned. We bought ready-made doors and windows beforehand so we knew what our openings needed to be. eBay.com is your friend when it comes to teardrop trailer doors, windows, and LED lights!
Grab a partner or two and start assembling the teardrop shell. We started with the two sides, which are attached directly to the sides of the floor with long, exterior grade screws.
Next, put the middle divider and cabinets in by screwing them to each side. Install the ‘spars’ or stretchers (1x4’s from your local lumber yard, such as Lowes or Home Depot) across the two sides. Space these about 10” apart. Glue and secure thin, bendable 1/8” plywood skin to the bottom side of the spars (inside the trailer). Add 1/2” foam insulation in between the spars before adding the top 1/8” plywood skin.
(Requires mostly wire cutters, wire nuts, conduit, and electric tape). Wire up the electrics according to the needs of your appliances. Don’t mess with electric unless you know what you’re doing. You can use a 12V battery and an inverter to produced 110V electricity for most household appliances. You can be as simple or complicated as you like with this.
Install hinges for the rear hatchback door, add a couple of gas springs to prop it up, add an off-the-shelf set of handles (with key locks), and you’re done!
Hatchback and Kitchen/ Custom Appliances/Etc.
Decide how you want your kitchen/galley area to be designed. We kept it simple with just a counter space in back with three pass-through cabinets that can be accessed from within the trailer and from the galley area. Note: Basic commercial trailers don’t have the hatchback door + kitchen or storage. But if you do choose to build one, use traditional woodshop tools to cut out all the parts for the center divider, cabinets, countertop, and doors. We made quick work of this at the Columbus Idea Foundry because of the awesome woodshop we have.