Custom Aluminum Truck Bed
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  1. #1
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    Apr 2016
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    Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Hey guys,

    I’m new to Welding Web but it looks like a good resource. I just wanted to share my most current project.

    As a little backstory, my wife and I are planning to drive to Argentina from Oregon (I know, wrong forum..) in my Chevy truck with a small, lightweight pickup camper.

    My truck is a regular cab, long bed and I really like the size/weight of it. The only issue, is how much space the camper wastes while sitting in the bed of the truck. There is a lot of dead space in the front of the bed, under the camper and ahead of the wheel wells. There’s also a lot of space behind the wheel wells and just below the camper sides.

    On top of that, I’ve always had a nice crossbox in the back for all my tools and recovery gear, plus a little extra storage for luggage or whatever if th cab fills up with people or stuff. Now that I’ve got the camper, I sold the crossbox because I don’t want to load/unload it evertime I use the camper.

    Besides the wasted space with the camper loaded, there seems to be tons of wasted space in the bedsides themselves. Huge areas between the inner and outer walls.

    A simple flatbed, with boxes mounted above and below the bed would help me gain easily accessible storage, but I run 35” tires with only 2” of lift, so it would have to sit pretty high off the frame to make sure I had all the tire clearance I need during full articulation, especially with the added weight of the camper. I didn’t want the higher center of gravity and higher load floor that would come with this option.

    I also looked at just buying a utility bed, but I wanted better unloaded access to the inside of the bed, and it’s very difficult to find a utility bed that will work well with the dimensions of a camper. Full-on utility beds are typically heavier than I’d like, and I also want to retain the ability to tow a goose-neck trailer. Traditional utility boxes also tend to stick out past the body more than I’d like, I know it’s for more storage capacity, but I don’t think I’ll need quite that much.

    I briefly considered retrofitting the stock bed itself with a storage box system, but I dont have any body work experience, and I could see the project quickly getting out of hand, with sub-par results.

    I finally settled on building myself a sort of “utility bed light”. The design will retain the stock inner fender-well dimensions and the stock load floor height. It will have shallow, but full body height front saddle boxes, rear under-bed boxes, and folding bedsides (think Home Depot) above the fenders and behind the front boxes.

  2. #2
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    Apr 2016
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    Salem Oregon
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    32

    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    I'm having a heck of a time getting the pics from my tablet to this post, so I'll have to wait until I'm back home at my computer..

    In the meantime, there are some pictures on our facebook page at facebook.com/runningfrommonday There's an album with a few of them, including some of my Sketchup drawings.

    As you'll be able to see from the pics and the pos title, I decided on aluminum to save weight and because I thought it would be fun to work with something new...

    I also built my own sheet metal brake to do the bends for the fenders, sides, and boxes. I'll probably do a quick write-up on that in the correct section too..

  3. #3
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    Apr 2016
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    Salem Oregon
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    32

    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    A couple of my Sketchup models, the one on the quad-cab was more just a concept. The one for the perimeter frame was for me to use in the shop. With the cost of aluminum, and my lack of experience using it- I wanted to make sure all my cuts were right the first time. I've used sketchup a bit to help calculate angles and things for handrails, but this is the first project I've used it quite so extensively. I still get excited when the actual end product matches the computer model..

    The section ahead of the wheel-wells is a few inches narrower than the rear (and the body lines) to allow for the saddle boxes. The section behind the wheel-wells isn't actually square, it's 2" narrower at the rear than it is just behind the wells. It basically follows the factory contours, but is 2" wider overall. I would have had a lot of trouble keeping everything straight without the benefit of modeling it first..

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    The perimeter is built from 3"x.25" angle and the stringers are 2x2x0.120" square. The bulkhead is also from the 2x2 square, with a chunk of 4"x.25" flatbar for the camper to bump against. I built the bed to mount to the factory frame mounts, and fabricated them from small chunks of the angle, with .25" flatbar to box them in. They're not super pretty, but they are very strong. There are 8 stock mounts and the center four (two sets) are sandwiched by stringers. The rear four mount bolts run through springs and there is a piece of angle on each side, resting against the frame, to allow for a bit of flex.

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    I also snuck a slide-out ladder under the frame for easier access into our camper. Before the ladder, we just jumped up to the rear bumper.

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    For the 2x2 and 3" angle, I used my Doringer cold saw. I can cut perfect angles with it every time. The trick to using it with aluminum is to just shut the coolant pump off, and to run the blade though a wax toilet ring before every cut. I'm assuming most of you already know that, but I'm just learning this stuff and am still impressed how well it worked. The wax helped keep it cool, and didn't let the blade plug up with aluminum.

    I was surprised to read that you can cut aluminum with basically anything you can cut hardwood with, so for the sheet work my little Rigid cordless skill saw has been my most valuable tool. I'm using 1/8" sheet for the boxes, bedsides, and fenders.

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    Last edited by KP Pawley; 08-07-2016 at 03:50 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2016
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    Salem Oregon
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    32

    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    For the lower, rear bedsides and fender skirting, I modeled everything up, then used a hole saw and the Rigid to make all the cutouts before bending each side.. I don't actually have a picture of that, but here's my brake in action on the fenders..

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    I didn't have enough room on the actual bed for the backup lights, so I just stuck them in the rear bumper. I actually wish I had done that mod years ago, thats a lot more light in reverse than the stock lights!

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    I wanted the load floor to be easily removable, so I can get to my fuel tank/pump, frame and wiring, and the Viair compressor I'm going to mount under there, so I just got 3/4" marine grade plywood and bolted it to the frame. I talked my wife into rolling a liquid rubber product onto the ply to seal it and make a nice non-slip load floor. So far I'm pretty happy with it. I know I'll have to replace the ply every few years, but it's cheap and easy. Any other load floor would get beat up as well, just wouldn't be as easy or cheap to replace. Plus, the access to everything below the bed is really invaluable for someone who works on their own stuff..

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    And a shot with the camper loaded, testing the flex to make sure nothing breaks and that the wheel wells will fit the tires under full- articulation.. with the IFS on my Chevy, the rear axle basically does all the flex work.

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  5. #5
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    Apr 2016
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    Salem Oregon
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    So, going forward into phase two- I need to build the custom boxes for the front and below the bed on the rear. I've never built truck boxes either, but what the hell. Nobody makes anything like I'm looking for so I guess I'll figure it out. Worst case- I screw it up and waste some time and aluminum, right?

    From what I can tell, there are tons of ways to make box doors that seal. Does anybody have experience building custom boxes, or recommendations on a simple, effective way to make dust/waterproof doors and seals? I don't have access to any kind of press that could form doors, but I do have tons of 3/4" al. angle leftover from a previous project..

    These will be true, removable boxes, not built in cabinets like on a service body. I'm sure cabinets would be a little easier and render a bit more space, but I'm approaching the whole project with an eye on preventing the aluminum from cracking out. My experinece farming around aluminum truck beds was that they were always really nice, but after a year or so of rough roads, even the best built ones would begin to crack. I already may have gone overboard on welding things together, from here on out, anything that will be attached to what I've built will be riveted or bolted on..

    The boxes themselves will be welded, obviously, but I'm not going to weld them to the bed so everything is able to flex a bit more.

  6. #6
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    Dec 2012
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    South Carolina
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    792

    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    so far I think it looks pretty good. And its nice having something custom built for YOUR needs.
    Love the added ladder. Great idea
    - Christian M.
    C3 Welding & Fabrication
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  7. #7
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Quote Originally Posted by camjeep3 View Post
    so far I think it looks pretty good. And its nice having something custom built for YOUR needs.
    Love the added ladder. Great idea
    It's my wife's favorite feature of the build..

  8. #8
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    Jul 2013
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    Pine City mn.
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    2,513

    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    I've never seen a truely water/dust proof box. If you do get them sealed then you will have sweating problems. In my experience it is better to make them shed water and be water resistant and then make sure they can drain and breath to prevent sweating. The ones I built I had a front panel formed that was 2-3" flat then turned in, then turned back towards the opening and finally turned back out. This gave a 2-3" flat all the way around with about a 3/4" channel around the door. Cut the pieces at 45° and you have a continuous channel around the door. Then put on a simple rubber seal that slides on the lip that sticks out and goes against the door. Form up the door to fit centered in the channel. This gives a channel to drain water around the door and out the bottom and a seal inside the drain channel. Works pretty well if you add drain holes on the bottom and a couple vents on top. Drain and vent holes I usually make 1/4".

    https://www.zoro.com/trim-lok-inc-tr...Q&gclsrc=aw.ds

    This is the rubber seal I use.

    Jon
    Yeah, I know, but it'll be ok!

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  9. #9
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    Jan 2015
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    Hamilton Ontario Canada
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    307

    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Seeing as you are this far in to it I would look at adding a second gas tank. Fuel stops can get few and far between! Also a fuel shut off hidden some where in case you get carjacked, Just flip a switch and give them the keys they drive five mile and it runs out of gas! I know its not the middle east but still some of the poorest country's! Just my 2 cents worth!
    Welders: IdealArc AC/DC 250
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  10. #10
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    Dec 2011
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    Tampa FL
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    948

    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Not sure but looking at the pictures with and without the camper it looks like you have overloaded the rear suspension. Might just be an illusion, can't tell for sure.

    Mike

  11. #11
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    Sep 2013
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    81

    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Looking great!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  12. #12
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    Apr 2016
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    Salem Oregon
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Quote Originally Posted by welderj View Post
    I've never seen a truely water/dust proof box. If you do get them sealed then you will have sweating problems. In my experience it is better to make them shed water and be water resistant and then make sure they can drain and breath to prevent sweating. The ones I built I had a front panel formed that was 2-3" flat then turned in, then turned back towards the opening and finally turned back out. This gave a 2-3" flat all the way around with about a 3/4" channel around the door. Cut the pieces at 45° and you have a continuous channel around the door. Then put on a simple rubber seal that slides on the lip that sticks out and goes against the door. Form up the door to fit centered in the channel. This gives a channel to drain water around the door and out the bottom and a seal inside the drain channel. Works pretty well if you add drain holes on the bottom and a couple vents on top. Drain and vent holes I usually make 1/4".

    https://www.zoro.com/trim-lok-inc-tr...Q&gclsrc=aw.ds

    This is the rubber seal I use.

    Jon
    Thank you! This is exactly the information I was hoping for.. Now that I think of it, your mention of the issues with a truly waterproof box make a lot of sense. Your post helped me focus down a bit on the possible designs, which helps me tons. I tend to overthink things a lot, without getting much out of it.. Thinking isn't my strong suit.

  13. #13
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    Apr 2016
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    Salem Oregon
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Quote Originally Posted by leightrepairs View Post
    Not sure but looking at the pictures with and without the camper it looks like you have overloaded the rear suspension. Might just be an illusion, can't tell for sure.

    Mike
    Hey Mike,

    The picture at the end is from the low side after lifting the driver's front with a forklift. I was testing the bed and new spring bolts to make sure nothing broke and everything flexed in all the right places..

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    I can't actually find any good pics of the camper on the new bed on level ground.

    Fully loaded for a weekend, we're at about 8400lbs with a GVWR of 9200. I'm a big believer in loading as light as possible and trying to stay way under capacity!

  14. #14
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Quote Originally Posted by Ypop View Post
    Seeing as you are this far in to it I would look at adding a second gas tank. Fuel stops can get few and far between! Also a fuel shut off hidden some where in case you get carjacked, Just flip a switch and give them the keys they drive five mile and it runs out of gas! I know its not the middle east but still some of the poorest country's! Just my 2 cents worth!
    I've looked into adding fuel capacity a bit.. the thing gets about 11mpg so it can't hurt. I think for Central and South America we should be fine, I'll bring some RotoPax to help give us some cusion on the long, remote pushes (none of which are necessary, all of which are the point of the trip).

    If/When we ship the thing to Africa I'll definitely look at adding capacity, since gas can be a bit harder to come by over there.

    A kill switch or fuel shutoff is a great idea, I'll look into that more. A simple petcock in the fuel line, or toggle switch killing the fuel pump could really be an added level of security.

    The petcock seems good, as you say it'll run long enough to get them out of sight, but not far enough to lose your house and transportation..

  15. #15
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    Dec 2011
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Okay so it was sort of an illusion. Makes more sense now seeing the picture from the other perspective

    Mike.

  16. #16
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    Jan 2011
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Next time you build a bed and dont have room for reverse lights:

    http://truxaccessories.com/led-light...hite-19-diodes

    We use them on our trailers and trucks. They are brighter than the Maxxima lights we run as reds!

    Awesome build
    I don't post much, but I read this forum every day...

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  17. #17
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Lister View Post
    Next time you build a bed and dont have room for reverse lights:

    http://truxaccessories.com/led-light...hite-19-diodes

    We use them on our trailers and trucks. They are brighter than the Maxxima lights we run as reds!

    Awesome build
    Wow, those things are awesome! I didn't even know anything like that existed.

  18. #18
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    Jul 2016
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Badass dude. Btw, can i come with? That's my dream trip. All the way to Patagonia.
    Here it is standing: atoms with consciousness; matter with curiosity. Stands at the sea, wonders at wondering: I, a universe of atoms an atom in the universe. - Richard Feynman

  19. #19
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    Mar 2011
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    While due to the amount of metalworking and welding involved in this build qualifies totally as a WeldingWeb thread... i promise this is going to get lots of attention, compliments AND good advice if you go and post it in Pirate4x4 or even better, ExpeditionPortal!

    I own a VW T4 Syncro Van (California) and I always dreamed about the "next step". I love the looks of small trucks but they are quite impractical for my real needs. Bigger 4x4 vans like the Mercedes Sprinter end up too heavy and delicate (for my tastes) when fully rigged (read, equipped on the inside). Maybe, even if I don't like the looks much, is a better idea to look into the biggest baddest *** pick up truck available here in the European market and fit a cell to it... just like you are doing!

    Keep us posted!

  20. #20
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Quote Originally Posted by Mikel_24 View Post
    While due to the amount of metalworking and welding involved in this build qualifies totally as a WeldingWeb thread... i promise this is going to get lots of attention, compliments AND good advice if you go and post it in Pirate4x4 or even better, ExpeditionPortal!

    I own a VW T4 Syncro Van (California) and I always dreamed about the "next step". I love the looks of small trucks but they are quite impractical for my real needs. Bigger 4x4 vans like the Mercedes Sprinter end up too heavy and delicate (for my tastes) when fully rigged (read, equipped on the inside). Maybe, even if I don't like the looks much, is a better idea to look into the biggest baddest *** pick up truck available here in the European market and fit a cell to it... just like you are doing!

    Keep us posted!
    Thanks man,

    I've actually got a thread on it over at ExPo and Wander the West. Both forums (particularly ExPo) have some VERY skilled fabricators and engineers, but I occasionally have some very fabrication specific questions so wanted to build a bit of a presence over here too.. I'm happy to lurk, but I try to contribute where I can.

    Can you get the Land Cruiser 70 series where you are? I really like my Chevy, but I'd at least consider a fling with a LC70 if it was a practical option here in the states.. Not sure what the exact GVWR is, but I'm sure they can handle a camper just fine.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=lc70...es+with+camper

  21. #21
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Worked all weekend on the front boxes.. Man that's a lot of cutting and bending. Didn't even yard out the spool gun until Sunday.

    They're actually a lot farther along than this pic shows, but I like it since the bed is really starting to look like it did in my head.

    I've got more welding to do, but they should be mounted (doorless) by mid-week.

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  22. #22
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    Dec 2015
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Wow,

    Your project is coming along great!

    I did a mild steel diamond plate flatbed with some pickup side walls and swinging tail gates when I was still a rookie welder. It was on a 1-ton dually, '71 Dodge that I bought for $1000, so it was a bit rough, but I really enjoyed that project. I did a somewhat matching front bumper for it too.

    But, these custom aluminum truck beds are a lot more interesting to me somehow.
    Last edited by C. Livingstone; 08-22-2016 at 01:37 PM.

  23. #23
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Quote Originally Posted by C. Livingstone View Post
    Wow,

    Your project is coming along great!

    I did a mild steel diamond plate flatbed with some pickup side walls and swinging tail gates when I was still a rookie welder. It was on a 1-ton dually, '71 Dodge that I bought for $1000, so it was a bit rough, but I really enjoyed that project. I did a somewhat matching front bumper for it too.

    But, these custom aluminum truck beds are a lot more interesting to me somehow.
    I don't know exactly why, but I'm really enjoying working with aluminum. Other than welding, it's really easy to work with and you can sure make some neat stuff.. It also makes me appreciate how easy mig welding clean steel is..

    That '71 Dodge sounds pretty rad.. I still miss my old Bronco.

  24. #24
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    Apr 2016
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    Salem Oregon
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Do you guys have suggestions on hinges? The doors will be inset and flush with the body so I'm thinking just some aluminum butt hinges bolted or riveted on. I'm sure they'll work just fine, but this project has put me in a place where I don't know what I don't know.. Maybe there's an awesome hinge or method out there I'm not even aware of.

  25. #25
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    Sep 2005
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    Re: Custom Aluminum Truck Bed

    Since you have bends right through the middle of the door section hinging it on the sides is much more difficult. Full length hinges on an aluminum door would almost be mandatory. You might consider hinging it on the top with a piano hinge and using gas struts to lift and hold it open.

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