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Build a Budget Tent Trailer
Plans and instructions for building an
inexpensive tent camper.

DIY Tent Trailer built for $250
BECAUSE WE THINK CAMPING is the best and least expensive way to take vacations, my wife and I decided to put together this affordable tent trailer.

With an 8 1/2-foot trailer, we thought we could take our two children and dog on fun trips for less money. So, with my wife's help, I built our first tent trailer. It took me four weekends and it cost $335.

I purchased the open A-frame chassis for $145. You can build the whole tent trailer for about $250 if you make the chassis yourself. I decided to purchase the chassis because I am not that experienced in metalwork. But I do know woodworking.

I found that building the trailer box was simple once the plywood and lumber are cut to size. The plywood sections are so designed that you can use every bit of eight 4x8-ft. pieces of plywood. This means that you don't have extra bits and pieces left over after construction. It also means that you will not have the expense of extra sheets of plywood.

TENT unfolds easily at campsite. With one wing open,the matress and straps are visible.
TENT unfolds easily at campsite.
With one wing open,the matress and straps are visible.
The tent is now up.
The tent is now up.
An optional canopy is added.
An optional canopy is added.
To start, you need the trailer chassis. You can get this from a number of commercial metal works. Better still, you can scavenge it from an old beat-up trailer. Or you can build it from scratch - but you will need metalworking equipment. I purchased the frame from Stratford Fabricating Co.

Should you want to build the chassis, the materials you'll need include two 10 1/2-foot sections of 2 1/2-inch pipe. The trailer bed is 8 feet long, but you'll need an additional 2 1/2 feet of length for the trailer tongue. Next, you need six 6 1/2-foot pieces of angle-iron stringers. These must be welded to the piping. Suspension springs, brackets, axle and wheels come next. Positioning of the axle is critical. You want the completed trailer to tow straight behind the car, and be so balanced that only 50 to 60 pounds of weight rests on the hitch. The trailer tires should be 4.80/4.00 x 8-in., which are rated to carry 1200-pound loads at 60 mph. You want to try to keep away from large tires as they call for wheel wells in the camper box for wheel clearance.

Build The Chassis, then attach the floor pieces. The trailer stands are attached to the forward portion of the chassis.
Build The Chassis, then attach the floor pieces.
The trailer stands are attached to the forward
portion of the chassis.
Plywood Flooring is laid on joists. attach floor and joists to angle iron with bolts, or wood screws.
Plywood Flooring is laid on joists. Attach floor
and joists to angle iron with bolts, or wood screws.
Prefabbing Sides is a good idea. Note the position of the structual supports for the cabinets at box ends.
Prefabbing Sides is a good idea. Note the position
of the structual supports for the cabinets at box ends.
The trailer body is basically a box made of plywood with 2x4-in. lumber used as joists under the floor.

The floor should be of 5/8-in. plywood, while the trailer sides, top and cabinets can be of 5/8-in. or 1/2-in. Once you've cut all your wood, start by laying floors on joists and drilling through floor, joist and angle iron. Bolt together securely. Remember, this trailer will take a lot of bouncing.

Plywood Patterns for budget tent trailer
Plywood Patterns for budget tent trailer
To finish off the floor, it's a good idea to lay tile. Remember to arrange the tile so the joint between the two plywood floor sheets is covered. Also lay the tile before adding cabinets. This avoids intricate the cutting and assures proper fit.
DIY Tent trailer dimensions and construction details
For the cabinets, use strips of 1x3-in. lumber as supports and lengths of 2x2-in. as structural supports in the corners and at the ends. Cabinet doors can be covered with vinyl to spruce up the trailer interior.
The Screen Door can be mounted. This door is removed and laid on the floor when you collapse the trailer.
The Screen Door can be mounted. This door is removed
and laid on the floor when you collapse the trailer.
For extra sleeping space, make the table so the support leg can be folded under and the table can be detached from trailer bracket. Then lay the tabletop across the cabinet tops or benches. This can make up into another bed.
Pivot Blocks and bolts are necessary for tent pole. Note the steel straps to mount the oblique pole.
Pivot Blocks and bolts are necessary for
tent pole. Note the steel straps to mount the
oblique pole.
Here are some other trailer building tips:

Remember to keep the door handle low enough so there is enough space for collapsed tent poles and canvas.

Use heavy 2 1/2-in. continuous piano-type hinges to secure bed wings to the trailer box. Use awning brackets as sockets for bed-wing support rods.

Use pivot blocks in corners so tent poles fall within the trailer box. Use pivot bolts to secure poles.

Cement sponge-rubber weatherstripping around the top edge of the trailer box. When the trailer is closed in the travel position, this stripping will absorb shock and help keep road dust out.

Paint the chassis so it will not rust and so it can be hosed off after long, muddy trips.

It is very possible that you may want some professional help on this important section. Few people have sewing machines capable of double stitching 10-oz. canvas. Rug-binding and hand awls may also present a problem to the average builder. A good awning and tentmaker can turn out a first-rate job for you when given the dimensions of your trailer. Remember, the tent poles, from pivot to peak, cannot be longer than the interior dimensions of the trailer box.

Electrician's thin wall conduit - about 9 cents a foot - can be used for tent poles and ribs. This material can be bent with a plumber's bending tool. Or you can have formed corners of 13/16-in. bar inserted in saw-cut tubing ends. Wrap all joints with tape to prevent wear on canvas. Web luggage straps can serve to hold poles in the correct standing position.

There is a helpful source for those of you who might have trouble building the chassis and sewing the canvas. It's the Stratford Fabricating Co. in Bridgeport, Conn. This firm manufactures the open A-frame chassis and the tent. Prices run about $145 for the chassis and $146 for the tent.

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