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methods for building trailer walls

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  • methods for building trailer walls

    Have been thinking about this lately, after a friend asked me to help her pick out a used trailer to buy. Nothing is coming up in her price range, and the ones we've looked at have been so dilapitated that a rebuild from the ground up is required. I'm looking at them now as a source of windows and a door, basic plumbing and a heater, plus a chassis. The rest would be torn away and scrapped. From that point I'd start with new flooring

    If we do get one of these junkers, I would have to have a method in mind to rebuild it. I'm thinking of using a sandwich of outer skin, insulating board, and inner skin. You used to be able to buy this sort of thing, as I recall it was about an inch of foam board with an aluminum skin and panelling on the inside. You can still buy foam board and you can still buy panelling- but what to put on the outside?

    With a stiff sort of outside, like perhaps a steel corrugated panel, there would be enough strength in the sandwich to handle the stresses of towing it on the road. Some of the plastic corrugated panels look better, but may not have the strength to make a rigid assembly out of.

    If I start with those 2 inch thick yellow foam roofing panels, I could build the whole thing first, then skin it. That's enough thickness that I could dado into the foam for a place to lay in a fiberglass 'roll bar'- one either side of the door, and others where required. I'd probably also put a surrounding ring of fiberglass on it, likely just below window level, and possible at the junction where the top round of foam panels meets the lowest round of foam panels. Judging from what I'm seeing of how these trailers are made, I'd end up with something much stronger, and with significant insulation built in as well.

    I could fiberglass the outside all around, or just fiberglass the roof and put some other kind of panel on the sides, front and back- like the corrugated steel panels I mentioned earlier.

    Just exploring the options for doing a ground-up rebuild. One option is to cover the sides with aluminum flashing, just straight aluminum sheet with no corrugations- like the Airstream trailers. I do like that as it's clean and simple, but I also wonder about the expansion of the aluminum in the heat- would it stay attached to the foam board- the steel might be a better option. The stuff I'm looking at is galvanized, with ribs every 6 or 8 inches or so.

    Buying a trailer 'almost ready to use' is beyond her ability to pay for, but we can do a rebuild (or a build from scratch onto a trailer chassis, that's another option) as time and income permits.
    I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-

  • #2
    Try the Teardrops n Tiny Travel Trailers forum for some inspiration. Most of the forum sections are for building Teardrop trailers but there are sections for "canned hams" and "cargo trailer conversions". Cargo conversions is a good way to build a custom camping trailer for much less than a normal camper. You can often find enclosed trailers that would be a good starting point on CL at a good price.


    • #3
      Too bad you're not closer as just south of me is the travel trailer/Motor Home capital of the world with all sorts of suplus placed that sell frame, wheels, axles, steel, alum & fiberglass siding, etc for a song. Doors $30-$50, windows $5-$10. I can send some names & numbers but a lot of people sell also on Craigslist. Try any one in northern Indiana like South Bend. Another idea is to pick up a box truck box & put a set of axles under it. I have a 26' I could use as a flatbed or a box trailer but I've always used it as a box trailer. Campers are sold on most every corners & used ones go for nothing. I bought a all alum frame 2007 26' with top notch everything & a 12' elect slide for $400.
      Last edited by flylo; 05-20-2017, 10:30 PM.


      • #4
        Once built a large shed using walk-in freezer panels I picked up from a remodel job. Can be obtained with steel pole-barn siding, or with aluminum skins and various thicknesses of foam core with interlock and screw type joints. Not super sturdy as designed for a trailer without some sort of framing to stiffen it up. Problem is that they're 'flat', so if you want anything but a box on wheels, you'd have to get creative.

        I'm actually right in the middle of rebuilding an old coachman that was given to us a few years ago, started out just repairing a soft floor, but it's worked into a complete floor, interior redesign, as well as replacing 1/3rd of the wall studs and all the sills. If I tore it down and built all new, I'd be done already.
        Worse thing is, I only went into the trailer to get my fishing pole and thought 'Huh, shouldn't take too long to fix that floor'.

        I used to see the panels on craig's list all the time, but haven't been paying much attention lately.
        Last edited by kendall; 05-21-2017, 12:13 AM.


        • #5
          Well, I will check in with more of the local places before I pull the trigger on this. So far, and understandably, they want more money than we can afford. They have to make a living, sure- but we aren't going to be able to shell out for the 'ready to roll' trailer. I'll do the math and see what it will take to build this up from the frame.

          "If I tore it down and built all new, I'd be done already." I've seen the results of not doing this- that's why some of these trailers I'm seeing are for sale. They don't have as much money into the rebuild as it's going to cost us, but the time they spent on cobbling up a half-assed repair is too much- and the result as I'm seeing it is just that, a repair job that will be difficult and time-consuming to continue with and a final result that will be marginal at best. I'm not willing to go that route.

          I'll check into that tnttt link further when I get time- there's bound to be some interesting ideas there- thanks for that link Mike.
          I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-


          • #6
            I built a big plushy 4 horse trailer that had a tack-room and sleeping quarters in the apex to haul the darling daughter to horse shows.

            I framed it on an 8'wide mobile home chassis using 2" x 1" x 16 ga wall rectangular tubing as studs in the tack room and people quarters and 2 x 2 x 14 ga in the horse department. It was insulated with 2" batt fiberglass, all that was available in the late '60's. The exterior was sheathed in 24 ga embossed aluminum IIRC pop rivet that stuff on 4" vertical centers and you have a ton of shear strength.

            The interior people part was finished in finished ply panel, the horse end with 2" x 6" 4 feet up to make it kick-proof and ply to the roof. 7 ft clearance. Doors and windows were salvaged where I didn't build them. Stalls, stanchions etc were fabbed as needed.

            The trailer weighed in just under 4400 as I recall. Add three of four horses, tack, furnishings etc and you add a couple or three more tons, a challenge for the wimpy pickups of the day.

            Keeping weight under control was a real pain. It's too easy to beef up stuff just in case and wind up hauling around too much unnecessary weight.

            I don't suggest you frame in wood, I do strongly suggest you employ fire-proof or fire-retardant materials where ever possible. Remember, structure when partly assembled seems wimpy - until you finish it and apply the sheathing. The wall between the horse end and the tack room was a flimsy affair wobbling around like sandwich bread until it was placed. Once installed the trailer box was stiff and strong. The gussets I located in the upper corners of the horse door probably could have been omitted. I should have a picture someplace.

            Funny, the bouncy chatterbox teenager the trailer was built for is probably a great-grandma by now. Tammy Wyeth. Wyatt? Something...
            Last edited by Forrest Addy; 05-21-2017, 04:58 AM.


            • #7
              I'd use alum, studs & alum pole barn style ext wall sheathing. Or find a nice quality one stored inside like I did, Put a fresh coat of white Cool Seal on the roof & head down the road. It even had new tires, 2 A/Cs but he had 2 in the drive this one he bought new & the brand new one so he was motivated asking $1200, took $400 & delivered. Gotta wake up every day expecting a deal.


              • #8
                It is hard for me to see how you can put that much time and effort into a rebuild and come out ok unless you are retired and doing this as a hobby. I understand "do it yourself". I do almost everything myself. And I have had RV's since I was in my 20's. I think I have had at least 7.

                Maybe they cost more now with so many people buying used to live in. Buying at the right time of year is important. But tearing down to the frame and rebuilding is got to be very expensive.

                I would keep looking for an older clean unit to freshen up myself.


                • #9
                  Holiday Rambler used to use foam sandwich construction; they bragged about it in their sales literature.

                  In practice 2x2s with glued interior paneling and an aluminum or fiberglass skin seem to be most common, at least among the ones I've noticed.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by flylo View Post
                    I'd use alum, studs & alum pole barn style ext wall sheathing. Or find a nice quality one stored inside like I did, Put a fresh coat of white Cool Seal on the roof & head down the road. It even had new tires, 2 A/Cs but he had 2 in the drive this one he bought new & the brand new one so he was motivated asking $1200, took $400 & delivered. Gotta wake up every day expecting a deal.
                    Actually, square steel tubing would be stronger for a given weight, is easily welded and requires fewer special processes. Aluminum doesw not have the best fatigue strength when used in a car or trailer. Has been often discussed in the LoCost forum - building a Lotus 7 clone - By the time you get the same strength you will have just as much weight with steel and aluminum. Unless you already have the aluminum welding setup it will cost you a lot more...


                    • #11
                      I don't understand these tiny Houses what's the difference in them & travel trailers except we watched the show & one guy spent the $50k his dead dad whom the young man hated & still didn't have it done & it was tiny & they had to do an intervention & finish it for him. Looking back I'm glad I was poor when a kid as we learned the art of scrounging, re-purposing & recycling before it was cool also fabbing. If it broke we made a new one or one we had work & we never gave up, had a breakdown or whining-crying fit like this kid & we knew no one owed us a thing & worked for cash & traded every chance we could. Never ran into anything texting either.