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Discussion Starter #1
Courtney and I have decided to make the move towards full time adventure. We currently live in a self built shipping container house:


To anyone considering tiny living I say go for it and never look back. Simplify your life and focus on what matters to you! Living tiny has helped us realign our life goals, expectations, and ambitions to focus on what is important to us. We plan to spend the next year or so traveling the US, snow skiing, mountain biking, and off road exploring. We would love to hear about your favorite trail or Overland destination so we can add it to our route!

The build:

The truck is a 2015 Ram 3500 CCSB 6.7 CTD.

Last summer I was shopping for a Lance 825 when a perfect combo came up for sale. Here is what it looked like when we bought it:



Sadly, that is not my picture. That was an adventure that the previous owner got to enjoy. A business decision forced the sale of the camper shortly after purchasing to help fund the remodel of an investment property. However, I felt like the overall size of the 825 was ideal for our needs many design decisions have been based off this camper.

So what's the plan?

We're building a permanently mounted hard side truck camper using lots of aluminum, foam, glue, and plywood! The basic build plan is to create an aluminum exo-skeleton and fill in with composite panels. The goal is the build an expedition camper capable of supporting full time life for two (plus our dogs). We approached many many different build techniques. Ultimately it came down to: What can we build with the tools and materials available to us, in a time efficient way, so we can get this show on the road!?

Here is a rendering of what we plan to create:



Step 1 is to remove the bed and start laying out the sub frame. This is 2x2x.125 6061 Aluminum.



After tacking the sub frame I clamped it up as best I could to avoid warping and welded it out. I planned on TIG welding but my first attempt was awful. I discovered a mouse had chewed the liner on the lead and I wasn't getting any shielding gas at the weld. Rats! A new lead is on the way, until then I'm using my spool gun and having really good results!



This project is going to require lots of sheet metal bending. So when I discovered an 8' brake for sale locally I jumped on it. However, I have no place to put it. So for now it lives on my trailer.



Here I am using our 4x8 Arclight Dynamics CNC plasma table to cut out some of the first parts for the body.




We vacation rent our house out (part of the whole tiny living thing) which restricts access to the garage/shop sometimes. I decided to relocate to another spot on the property and keep making progress. The weather has been beautiful and working outside has been pleasant. Wheel well liners and the lower parts of the exo-frame are tacked together.



The structure is starting to come together. These parts are .080 5052 Aluminum. Just a few tack welds and this thing is starting to really stiffen up.




In between all this we've been gluing up our composite panels. We try to build one per day to let them cure for at least 24 hours. The construction is 0.050" 5052 aluminum laminated to 1" Foamular 150, laminated to 1/4" UV coated birch plywood. The aluminum goes on the outside, the plywood on the inside. For glue we are using Loctite PL Premium polyurethane. The key is to mist it with water to promote proper cure. When I supported our 2'x2' test sample on the ends and jumped on the middle there was no noticeable deflection. In order to make the panel fail I had to mechanically separate it with a pry bar. The foam failed, the glue bond did not. I know there are lots of much cooler composite panels out there but I think these will serve their purpose very well and we are able to make them ourselves with the tools we have and the materials readily available to us (still had to drive 3 hours to get the foam!).




If you want to see more, check out our first YouTube episode. Please give us a thumbs up or comment and subscribe, it will help us out!



 

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Looks really good. I dig your approach to the panels. What’s your plan to attach the panels to the “Exo skeleton”? And then the Exo skeleton to the truck frame? Planning on something to make up for the frame flex?
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Looks really good. I dig your approach to the panels. What’s your plan to attach the panels to the “Exo skeleton”? And then the Exo skeleton to the truck frame? Planning on something to make up for the frame flex?
The plan for attaching the panels is 3M VHB CV62F, a tape specifically designed to bond panels to frames. (link to tape) And because we're paranoid about tape not being enough we're also going to use Sika 252. The tape will keep the correct gap spacing for the sika and act as a clamp while it bonds. We have also considered rivets and may still use a few to hold things in place while the sika cures. Both the Sika and 3M VHB are designed for this application and designed to flex (Sika has an elongation rating of 400%!)

We go back and forth on the frame flex deal. The 3 point system is out the window. Building a rigid enough sub frame under the camper for that to work was going to add significant weight, complication, and height to the sub frame. It would also contact load the frame in just two places, right behind the cab and all the way in the back by the hitch. We wanted more contact points between camper and frame under "normal" conditions to distribute the weight of the camper, and take advantage of the truck frame to add rigidity to the camper floor. The only scenario where it seems like a spring mount system would be beneficial is low speed cross axle type driving. All other times it seems like the spring mounts would cause more problems than it solves ("frame slap", weird dynamic loading and unloading, body sway, etc). This is a short camper and a short wheel base truck with a WAY more rigid frame than trucks of the past. I think rigid mounting is going to be the way to go.
 

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We'll start off this post with a screen shot of the model that we're working off of. It's not as visually complete as the slick looking concept image in the first post. This model is an accurate representation of what we're building, it contains the part files that we can send to the plasma table and we can pull dimensions from the model (extremely useful for checking if things are square!).



Cab over starting to come together:



Building a nose cone to finish off the front, we're working in the shed because it was windy and raining out and we had vacation renters using the house (no access to garage):



Cutting parts for the cab over gusset, this is 3/8" 6061.



Used a router with an 1/8" radius cutter and bearing guide to add a radius to the corners.



This gives the parts the machined billet aluminum look we were going for. I wasn't sure if this plan was going to work, but I'm very happy with the results.



Here you can see the finished products (nose cone and cab over gusset). The nose cone turned out to be a lot of work. Weld grind sand repeat. We're really happy with how it turned out!



At this point we were able to load it back on the truck. It is still light enough that Courtney and I are able to lift it ourselves (after figuring out we were fighting a tree branch, not weight!). Also in this picture you can see that Courtney has been working on vinyl wrapping the truck. She watched a bunch of YouTube and dove in. It's a tedious process that I can't even pretend to have the patience for.

 

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Got the roof rack, back rack, and ladder done! The racks are made of 3/8" 6061 bar stock, the ladder rungs are .080 sheet metal bend into C shapes. The roof rack really added a lot of rigidity to the nose of the camper.

For those interested, currently the COG is about 12" behind the front wall.

It was remarkably calm out so we spent two entire days welding and GOT IT ALL DONE! Trying to spool gun the .080 butt joints together was not working out very well. We ended up grinding those welds out and TIGing those joints from both the inside and outside. It was super tedious especially up on a ladder, luckily Courtney's Eastwood 200 TIG welder came with a finger trigger! I never understood why you would use the finger trigger until I was trying to operate the pedal up on the ladder.

Here are some nice golden hour pics. Next step is to paint the structure and then I think we're ready for some panels!












We have been working on planning out the interior and would love some input. Here is what we have so far:






36x24 wet bath on driver side rear

14" deep closet/ vertical storage taking up the entire rest of the rear

Passenger side galley kitchen

L shaped dinette on driver side/front (water tank, batteries, inverter, water heater, etc under here)

Upper cabinets above kitchen and dinette and small his/hers storage in bed area.

Unique idea: The kitchen cabinet is actually going to be a "garage" accessed by a large door on the outside. It should be big enough to store our mountain bikes inside of if we take both wheels and the handle bars off. The "garage" door will swing down and be able to double as an outdoor table.

Inside bike storage is really important to us. They need to be able to be locked up out of sight and out of the weather if we aren't using them for an extended amount of time or are headed somewhere where theft could be an issue. We are also planning on a rack to hang them vertically off the back of the camper if we are using them daily.

Thanks for following along! Next YouTube episode coming soon.
 

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Update!

We painted the structure. We started with sanding/scuffing the entire surface, followed by a wipe down with acetone. Then we primed using Rustoleum Self Etching Primer in a rattle can. The top coat is Rustoleum Semi Gloss Black from the quart can with enamel hardener from Tractor Supply mixed it. We sprayed it using a Harbor Freight pressure pot gun (link). Hopefully the paint holds up over time. We tried to get it powder coated but our local places had a 2 week lead time and that wasn't going to work for us.


We decided to give spring mounting the rear a shot. The springs fit very well in the factory bed bolt locations because there was clearance for a socket already integrated. Used a 5/8" bolt and a 4" long die spring. There are two springs per side so four springs total.





Next up was to build the floor. However, Courtney realized last minute that we needed to install the fuel pickup for our diesel furnace while it was easy to get to. You can see the pickup and fuel pump in this picture.





The floor was built by bonding aluminum sheet to the sub frame using Sika 252 to make it water tight and then we layered 1/2" UV Baltic Birch on top. It is very solid feeling. It will get insulated after the ceiling and walls are in.


Cutting the panels has been pretty easy using the little cordless circ saw and a fresh fine tooth blade. I like how light this little cordless saw is for reaching across awkward cuts.






Each panel gets vinyl wrapped before installation. We cut away the edges to expose the aluminum for gluing.






We add a 1/2" strip of VHB tape near the edge of the mounting flange, and then a liberal amount of Sika 252. The tape acts as a spacer for the Sika, provides an instant bond to clamp it, and keeps the sika from oozing out and making a huge mess on the outside of the panel. Its working pretty well. We did end up riveting every 8" too because we weren't happy with some of the gaps. Things warped and moved a little during welding.











The roof panels also got a white textured vinyl wall paper applied before installation.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
The progress has been a little monotonous lately as we've been getting all the panels cut to size, wrapped, and installed. But, we did make progress on something else that's worth sharing.

The panel on the bottom of the bed area was made a little differently.



We laminated two 1x.125 square tubes into the panel to add some additional support. The normal glue up process followed but we also riveted the plywood skin and aluminum skin to the square tubing. This panel is extremely stiff in the axis perpendicular to those tubes now. This panel also has a flange to allow us to shingle a smaller panel in to get the extra width we need in this area.



Next project!

First step, remove the back window.



This was surprisingly easy. We've never removed auto glass before. Used a oscillating multi tool, bent a blade at a 90 cut to be about 1/4" wide and sharpened the edges. Fished it in behind the glass and let 'er eat. CAREFULLY! There were two plastic clips in the bottom corners that Courtney pried loose with a screw driver. We have a system, there are "Riley tight" jobs, and "Courtney tight" jobs. Prying clips holding glass are more of a "Courtney tight" job. No interior disassembly was required at all. WIN!

Next up, build a new back window panel with a pass through.



Courtney upholstered the part with some Duramax tweed fabric that we had leftover from another project. This makes it feel a lot "softer" finished inside the cab.

Finally, we installed the panel in the truck.





Next was to add a matching flange to the front panel of the camper.



There is 2.5" between the two flanges:



We used this boot intended for big rig sleepers to seal it up.



The pass through took us about 4 or 5 hours start to finish. It will be well worth it. Now our dogs can sleep on their platform in the back seat area of the truck rather than in the dinette area (unless it's really cold). Also, it adds a safety factor that is important to us. If there is a situation outside the truck that we don't want to interact with (animal, person, etc) we can crawl into the cab and drive away.

All but the back two panels are now in. We are leaving the back open for now to make adding some interior stuff easier.





Next up is to bury some wiring inside the seams between the panels and start adding our internal framing. It's important to note that this SIP construction requires both the inside and outside skins to be continuous to get full strength of the structure.
 

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We were able to get the truck done enough to drive it to our family Thanksgiving gathering. What a rewarding moment! On our way out of town we got the truck weighed again, 8180#. The weight without the bed was 7220#. The new weight included the rear bumper, shower pan and some misc tools that I estimate to be 100#. So our empty shell including sub frame weight is approximately 860#! Very pleased with that number.

We sourced a door on eBay from an RV parts wholesaler that sells scratch and dents out the back door of one the big manufacturers. I'm pretty sure this door was intended for an R Pod. It had a few minor scratches and a slightly bent mounting flange but overall was in great condition. Courtney vinyl wrapped it to match (and cover the very ugly cream color it came in) and we got it installed.



We considered leaving the back two panels off while we built out the interior to make things easier, but ultimately decided the bathroom needed to come first and it goes in the back corner. Finally! The last panels are in and the box is sealed up!

You can also see the simple rear bumper. This will also get a spare tire carrier added to it. It bolts in to the factory bumper mounts. The idea is that our grey water dump hose will store inside the bumper, a feature I really liked on a travel trailer we owned once.



We made an adapter/spacer that allowed us to install the factory fuel filler and use a locking fuel door. It also seals everything up so fuel can't dribble into the foam.





On the inside, this box seals up the fuel and DEF hoses from the living space but is open on the bottom to give splashed fuel a way to drain out. You can see the stock fuel filler in the top left of this photo. This box slid over the top of that.



This is the start of the shower pan/toilet platform. It is made from 20g #4 finish stainless.



The bathroom vent is one of these Maxxair Dome Plus units. Push up on the handle to open the vent. It also has a built in LED light and integrated switch. Convenient!



Thanks for following along, stay tuned for more!
 

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We were able to get the truck done enough to drive it to our family Thanksgiving gathering. What a rewarding moment! On our way out of town we got the truck weighed again, 8180#. The weight without the bed was 7220#. The new weight included the rear bumper, shower pan and some misc tools that I estimate to be 100#. So our empty shell including sub frame weight is approximately 860#! Very pleased with that number.


We sourced a door on eBay from an RV parts wholesaler that sells scratch and dents out the back door of one the big manufacturers. I'm pretty sure this door was intended for an R Pod. It had a few minor scratches and a slightly bent mounting flange but overall was in great condition. Courtney vinyl wrapped it to match (and cover the very ugly cream color it came in) and we got it installed.



We considered leaving the back two panels off while we built out the interior to make things easier, but ultimately decided the bathroom needed to come first and it goes in the back corner. Finally! The last panels are in and the box is sealed up!



You can also see the simple rear bumper. This will also get a spare tire carrier added to it. It bolts in to the factory bumper mounts. The idea is that our grey water dump hose will store inside the bumper, a feature I really liked on a travel trailer we owned once.



We made an adapter/spacer that allowed us to install the factory fuel filler and use a locking fuel door. It also seals everything up so fuel can't dribble into the foam.



On the inside, this box seals up the fuel and DEF hoses from the living space but is open on the bottom to give splashed fuel a way to drain out. You can see the stock fuel filler in the top left of this photo. This box slid over the top of that.



This is the start of the shower pan/toilet platform. It is made from 20g #4 finish stainless.



The bathroom vent is one of these Maxxair Dome Plus units. Push up on the handle to open the vent. It also has a built in LED light and integrated switch. Convenient!



Thanks for following along, stay tuned for more!
 

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We installed some porch lights, and for some reason I thought they should go about half way down the wall. Right at eye level. They are blinding and this will need to be changed.



We've been working on getting everything done inside that needs to get done before we can add the interior skeleton. Proper SIP construction relies on both the external and internal panel skins being bonded. This has included wiring of lights, switches, vents, USB charge points, etc. We also wall papered the walls in the areas that will be exposed so the edges of the wall paper can be covered by the internal framing/trim.



Unlike our past projects, Courtney insisted that we label as we go. Turns out that makes it much easier to remember which wire does what.



Here's a shot of the finished product, the trim parts are both glued and riveted. The wood is Alder plywood.



The wet bath is starting to come together.



The shower area will get a Teak grate to keep from getting wet feet in the middle of the night.



Vent/light installed.



The two "exterior" shower walls are lined with "Smartcore" waterproof engineered hardwood flooring. It's a real wood veneer laminated to a very tough plastic/composite backing. Seems like super high quality stuff. The Alder plywood that makes up the "interior" shower walls has been laminated with stainless on the shower side. The edges of the plywood are trimmed out with some formed aluminum that will also become the door seal.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Our next episode is up, where we start tackling some of the interior of the camper!

 
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