how to build a teardrop trailer

How To Build A Teardrop Trailer From A To Z

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If you don’t want to spend the money buying a teardrop trailer, or want to have something perfectly customized for your camping needs, designing and building your own teardrop trailer is an option. While it might sound like an overwhelming project, it can be done with careful planning. Here’s a step by step guide on how to build a teardrop trailer from start to finish, that is from the frame the whole structure sits on to the base, walls and roof, to every other amenities inside the trailer.

There are ample helpful DIY tips along the way so that you can apply to your particular situation and avoid irreversible mistakes. You will also find information on available kits that will make it even possible for a novice to realize their dream home on wheels.

how to build a teardrop trailer

Reasons To Build Your Own Teardrop Trailer: It’s Not That Hard!

To save money: A new teardrop trailer would most likely cost upwards of $10,000 all the way to $20,000 for luxury models. There are a handful of trailers available for below $7,000, but of course they would be smaller and less weather-resistant, thus less ideal for longer trips and couple travelers. 

Buying a used trailer would save you money, but you might end up spending quite some money to repair and upgrade a worn, outdated trailer, which might not be worth it. Not to mention there might be certain flaws with the trailer that you would only notice after actually living in it on the road for a while, which again is not worth it if you want a long-term camping solution. Another route you can take, moneywise, is if you have the time and enough knowledge to finish the build, you can save quite a lot of money building your own teardrop trailer, since you’re spending your own labor.

To have the perfect home on wheels customized for you: Apart from trying to be economical, the most popular reason to build your own teardrop trailer is to design a highly customized solution for your particular needs, which the factory models on the current market might fail to deliver. For campers with particular demands, crafting your own teardrop trailer might be a more sensible choice than buying a stock product, then trying to modify it.

Ample online guidebooks: Countless campers across the globe have successfully built their own teardrop trailer. Therefore, you can find detailed step-by-step instructions on how to build a teardrop trailer online in the form of published guidebooks and blogs or video tutorials to help make your own quest less troublesome. 

For instance, a well known reference for serious builders is the beautifully illustrated guidebook ‘The Handmade Teardrop Trailer’ by Matt Berger. Furthermore, as building your own teardrop trailer has become a thing now, there is a wide variety of DIY kits out there that would make the process less overwhelming for you.

Ample DIY kits: Even if you are not a seasoned builder, you don’t have to start from scratch. With kits like those offered by Virginia-based Chesapeake Light Craft, you can customize with different configurations and options, like playing with a Lego kit. Another good option is the turnkey kit by Purdy Adventure that comes with a rolling chassis plus all the exterior and interior materials and accessories. 

Kuffel Creek even offers three teardrop plans – Benroy, Cubby and Comet – that would cost you between $2,000 and $3,000 for a customized trailer. A slightly more affordable option is the Teardroppers kits, costing about $1,800 to $2,100. The most economical though might be the Big Woody kit, costing right around just $900.

Ample community support: Many project owners have secured volunteers, who might be helping out for all the hands-on knowledge of how to build a teardrop trailer, so that they can in turn build their own tiny house on wheels later on.

build your own teardrop trailer
If you have construction or DIY experience, space and time, building your own teardrop trailer is a fun and economical project. Photo: Overland Teardrop Trailer

If you are an experienced builder: A teardrop trailer is the smallest, most lightweight entry-level home on wheels, making it a manageable project for many campers, given that you are enough of a handyman. As a ballpoint mark, for an expert builder, such a project will take you between 600 and 1,000 hours of labor. 

If you are not a builder but a seasoned DIYer that knows your way around the toolshed, it might take you slightly longer. You might also want to get your friends and family members who have some experience in construction to help you out.

If you have leftover materials: If you just so happen to have some leftover construction materials from a recent DIY project that are sitting there in your garage, like wooden panels and paint, building your own teardrop trailer using those would further save you some money, apart from labor cost.

If you have space for a construction site: If you have a lot of vacant space in your garage or backyard or outbuilding, it can serve as the perfect construction site for the project at no extra cost.

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How To Build A Teardrop Trailer: A-To-Z Steps

Let’s go through the start-to-fininsh guide by RVing Trends with clear steps to follow for even novice campers who want to build their first teardrop trailer to enjoy the life on the wheel.

Make a List of Your Camping Needs

Like with any construction and DIY projects, the first thing to do on how to build a teardrop trailer is to spend sufficient time on designing and perfecting the design plan for your trailer. But to do that efficiently, you will first need to make a list of your priorities and preferences, which would serve as realistic guidelines for the dimensions, materials and design of your teardrop trailer. 

For instance, are you traveling alone or with your better half, or maybe as a couple with a pet? So then, do you need a full size bed, a queen size bed or a king bed? Do you want a big sized window so that the space will feel less claustrophobic and to be able to enjoy the scenery from the inside? Do you need to work while traveling, and if so, what do you need for your work station? 

Other important questions include how long would you typically travel at a time, and accordingly what do you need to bring along, and how much storage space would you need? You might be able to store a few things in your towing vehicle instead. If you’re traveling away from conveniences, you would need to bring along equipment and cookware plus utensils to cook your own meals.

Essentials vs non-essentials: Now a common mistake is to include things that you don’t actually need, but instead are just nice to have. In your list, clearly draw a line between must-haves and nice-to-haves, and try to trim off anything excessive. Later on, when you are about to finish your floor plan design and there is still space to squeeze some extra in, you might decide to do so, but not at the cost of the absolute essentials.

Design A Plan

Now that you have determined your priorities and accordingly all the must-have features for your build, next is to draw up a design plan that suits your needs. If you’re at a loss as to how to start, it’s a good idea to take a look at free plans shared on the Internet by past DIY teardrop builders. 

There are quite a lot of them available for free, such as the original Wyoming Woody trailer built in 2 years by Ryan, the founder of Teardrop Builder. By analyzing these plans, as well as other success stories and comments scattered around the most popular plans, you will be able to learn hard-earned lessons and customize yours much more efficiently without making fatal irreversible mistakes. 

A design plan is best done in 3D CAD, especially if you plan to build a larger than average teardrop trailer and want to squeeze more into that space. That way, it’s easier to visualize and imagine how the trailer would function as a living space, and more convenient to revisit the plan for more brainstorming.

Accommodate the most crucial items first: When you are designing the plan, accommodate the most important and/or largest items first, which in the case of a tiny teardrop trailer is the bed. The next item to consider might be storage space, or for some, the work station for the remote workers. As for the windows, if you want it as large as possible, consider how it would affect the structural integrity of the trailer, and in cold weather, if it would make the interior colder due to lack of insulation.

Choosing materials: Now that you have decided on the size and shape of everything and their positions, you need to pick out the materials for them. Do you want wooden floors or glass windows? How are you going to insulate them? What is the exterior made of and how weather resistant does it need to be? These all depend on the typical camping environment and weather conditions that you would face on the road.

Build The Exterior: The Trailer Frame

You’re done with planning, and now can proceed to the very first step of the actual construction: the trailer frame. There are quite a few options when it comes to assembling the trailer frame, or the metal foundation that comes with wheels and a hitching mechanism to attach to your towing vehicle. This is the frame on top of which the structure that you will be sleeping in will sit. 

Ready made trailers: You can buy used frames online or from platforms like the Canadian Kijiji, a cousin of ebay. The easiest is to buy new from a number of big box stores like Harbor Freights in the US or Princess Auto in Canada. Most heavy duty trailers these days are made from steel and can fold up. You have different options in terms of weight capacity.

DIY trailers: If ready made trailers don’t have the particular size that you want, and if your trailer must be of a particular size due to your special needs, you can choose to buy all the necessary steel parts plus wheels and hitching mechanism and weld your own trailer, given that you have the technical skills.

Standard sizes: The most popular sizes for teardrop trailers is 4’ x 8’, or slightly less common, 5’ x 8’. The 4’ x 8’ trailer size makes sense since it can readily accommodate ready made materials and accessories sold in big box stores, such as 2’ x 4’ sheets of plywood, without the need for modifications. 

Furthermore, most DIY campers who are opting for tiny teardrop trailers are the minimal travelers who can sacrifice floor space for flexibility and cost cutting, and anything larger than 4’ x 8’ will increase the total cost of the project tremendously. If you need more floor space than average, then 5’ x 8’ would be a good balance between space and cost in most cases.

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Build The Exterior: The Trailer Base

Base: The commonly used base for teardrop trailers is 4’ x 8’ plywood sheets of ½ inch in thickness. Line the sheet up properly on top of your frame and use bolts to secure it firmly in place. The base is the foundation, so make sure everything is lined up and secured, or else you will have problems as you proceed with the construction as well as further down the open road. 

Reinforcement: You might want to spray the underside of this base with a rubberized coating for extra protection against the elements. This coating is available at any retail auto supply stores. Of course, this thin sheet of plywood is not sufficient. It acts as the minimum base, on top of which you must screw smaller 2’ x 4’ plywood sheets for reinforcement. 

Insulation: Apart from weather proofing, the extra layer of styrofoam insulation also further reinforces the base. You can buy sheets of styrofoam insulation at big box stores that sell home improvement materials, which are usually 1.5 inches thick. A 2’ x 4’ styrofoam insulation sheet would usually cost around $3 to $5. Another option is to secure an extra layer of plywood sheets, if you want to take advantage of leftover materials you already have on hand. 

Floorboards: Now secure the sheet of pre-cut floorboards that come with your trailer kit on top of the insulation layer, or cut the sheets to size. 

Build The Exterior: The Walls

Next is to cut the side walls from plywood sheets, which will give your trailer that distinct teardrop shape. Then you need to cut out the doors and windows, as well as holes for wiring for interior and exterior fixtures. 

An important step now before attaching the walls to the base is to create a T bar as the main support for the front of the trailer, which also serves to better secure the two side walls and provide overall structural integrity. The two walls are then secure onto the base using the groove and tongue method, reinforced with glue, and screwed onto the T bar.

If you want vintage looking aluminum exterior walls, you need to trace the plywood walls onto your aluminum sheets after cutting your plywood sheets.

Install the Kitchen Galley In the Rear

If you have planned a galley at the back of the trailer, you need to install it before putting the roof in place. You will need to fit in a sink, some cabinets, drawers and hutches as storage, space for a water tank and a propane stove. At this point you just need to finish the frame, and add fixtures, cabinet doors and finishes later once you have completed the roof.

Build The Exterior: The Roof and Galley Door

DIY teardrop trailer
Fit in the kitchen galley in the rear before installing the roof and the rear hatch door. Photo Credit: RVshare

First, install hardboard wooden braces between the two side walls to secure the whole structure and provide a solid foundation on which to screw plywood ‘ribs’ to create the roof. Then take a bead of white caulking to seal the floor with the walls and roof, and you can also caulk all the areas where the hardboard braces touch the plywood ribs.

Remember that you’re not installing the roof over the galley area in the rear. It would need a hatch door. Install cabinet doors first, then the hatch door over the galley. 

Build The Interior: Wiring, Battery, Lights, Doors and Windows

Wiring in the walls: After adding the insulation and before you start walling everything in, add wirings to the walls and be sure to note where they are so that you won’t cut or drill through them later on. 

Battery: If you plan to travel off-grid, you will need to get a Marine battery as your power source, and decide what to place your battery in so you can store it safely. Then wire your fuse panel to your battery, then your lights. You might want to watch some tutorial videos to make sure you don’t make messy mistakes.

Lights: If you’re wiring a light for your rear galley, you will need to drill holes in your roof ribs to run the wiring from the front of the trailer to the back. If the light is to be fixed to the rear hatch door, remember to leave enough wire to feed into the ribs after putting the hatch door in place.

Trailer kits often include all the wirings for at least two lights (one for the rear galley and one for the main living space), fuses, fuse panel, a female plug for an inverter, ring terminals and some electrical tape. 

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Build The Exterior: Insulation and Exterior Skin

Insulation: It’s also a good idea to add insulation to the roof and the walls to protect yourself from both the heat and the cold. After you have a structurally sound trailer with the electricals in place, insulate the outside of the roof and walls with 1.5 inches thick styrofoam insulation sheets. 

Water protection: Then, for extra waterproofing, cover the insulation layer with self-adhering Blueskin. This product is a membrane made from rubberized asphalt compound that is laminated to a high-density polyethylene film, which is blue, hence the name.

The skin of the roof: Now cover the insulation and Blueskin with STD hardboard, or standard hardboard panel. These panels are only ⅛ inch thick, but they are made from impact resistant materials. They give the curved roof of your teardrop trailer a smooth appearance without the defects of common wood.

When you install the STD hardboard, start from the hinge of the galley hatch door on the roof down to the front of the trailer, not the other way around. That way, if you come up short, it’s much easier to cover up the missing piece of hardboard on the front with a checker plate trim and the trailer tongue. 

As you install the STD hardboard, to keep everything aligned, you should place some shims on both sides of the galley hatch door and temporarily install the hinge. Now you’re done. 

If you want an aluminum exterior: But if you have decided on an aluminum exterior, you will need to cut a sheet of aluminum and screw it onto the STD hardboard. Next, cut out two aluminum exterior walls, sit them in place and secure the bottom of the walls using your extruded aluminum trims. Screw the trims in. 

You now have a solid structure, and can proceed to the very last steps on how to build a teardrop trailer.

handmade teardrop trailer
Photo: jstephens33 /iStock Photos

Finishing Touches: Doors, Paint, Tail Lights

Doors and windows: Now you can put the entry door and windows in. 

Interior finishing touches: Now install interior shelvings, fixtures, curtain rods, and kitchen sink.

Paint: You can use paint or an aniline dye on the wooden exterior, then add a few layers of epoxy for that shiny finish and weather protection. Remember to allow enough time to cure between each coat. 

Tail lights: The only thing left to install is the exterior tail lights. Now your teardrop trailer is ready to take on the open road.

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