Wooden Truck Topper

A couple recent inquiries prompt this quick post about a wooden truck topper.  The question that came up a few weeks ago was “why would you make a topper instead of just buying one?”  Well, I’m not wealthy and making something costs a lot less than buying it.  Also, if you are a woodworker, it’s easy to end up with surplus wood from projects.  Often, the next project is virtually free.  That’s what happened here.

DSC_0028Sorry for the grime in this photo but I live on the southern Plains.  What can you do?  I tried to streamline it and match the curves of the pick-up but honestly, I didn’t put too much effort into any aspect of the topper.  I just needed something to get me through last summer but I’ve liked it enough that it is now a fairly permanent fixture.  The arc of the roof approximates the arc of the truck, created by eyeball and a pen on a board.  There is no better tool than the human eye in the creative process.

DSC_0027While making the shell, it became apparent that the Toyota bed tapers to the back.  I decided, upon reflection, to be lazy and just ignore this inconvenient truth and keep the shell square.  I did, however, match the front of the shell to the slope of the cab and allowed the back of the roof to overhang slightly.

DSC_0026This interior shot shows the three frames and sill that are essentially, the skeleton of the whole thing.  Also, highlighted is the eternal mess in the back of a working truck.

DSC_0025Here’s the basic part list that I used: 2x4s for side and front sills, 2×4 frames, tongue and groove yellow pine for sides, front, and hatch, western red cedar roof.  Lexan front and rear windows, hinges, closures, and various fasteners to hold it all together.  For the roof exterior, 30# tar paper and a canvas truck tarp.  The whole thing is varnished with exterior spar varnish. I think the whole thing can be made for  a couple hundred dollars as opposed to a couple thousand from the store.

DSC_0519And besides, it matches the house…

Good luck!  Hope this helps somebody out there.


50 thoughts on “Wooden Truck Topper

  1. I was considering building one myself for a 2005 GMC canyon. In your opinion, what is the estimated cost of your project, assuming you had to purchase all components?

    1. Well Alex, That will require a visit to some stores and a bit of figuring. With all variables, your design will be different I’m sure so I’m going to leave the estimate up to you. If I were to guess, maybe a couple hundred dollars. With a LOT of variation for windows, hinges, type of fasteners, etc.

      1. Clamps on the four corners and construction lags through the steel. I also used modified Simpson Strong Ties to bolt to the inside front of the bed. The Ties utilized the inset nuts that hold the tie-down track on the Tacomas.

    1. The Tacoma doesn’t make it easy. I used the inner bed rails to connect with steel construction plates which are then screwed into the wooden frame. Hope this helps. I intend to get some better photos up and I’ll try to do that very soon.

      1. That helps. I was more interested, I guess, in how you attached the ribs to the sill plate, and how did you connect the side sills to the front sill. I was thinking of using lap joints where the sills meet but don’t want to over-engineer the thing either.

      2. Mine is certainly not over-engineered. If anything, it’s a bit slap-dash. The frames are screwed with long screws to the sills. Front sill plate is screwed through to the side sills. The front is massively strong as it is connected to the outer skin as well. The back has simple knees glued and screwed in the top corners to add strength and to keep the walls from wanting to spread. The roof is relatively lightweight as it is western red cedar so I only stand on it directly over the frames.

      3. Excellent. That is basically how I was planning to connect everything.

        Thanks and keep up the good work. When I get mine done I will let you know.


      4. I’d love some photos! I’m trying to picture what you’re describing…I just bought a Tacoma, and I’m fairly handy…not to this level but figuring I can just do a super basic box and as long as I can hold it down somehow I’ll be good to go!!


  2. is there anyway to see a photo of the top? Reading how it is constructed leaves me a little puzzled, so a photo would help a lot. Looking to build something like this for our Dodge Dakota. Don’t have yellow pine available, but we do have a source of Beetle kill pine with the blue stain that would look really good. Really like the looks of the topper and the Vardo.

  3. Hi Paleotool, I think both of your wood toppers are awesome. It’s hard to find a topper that fits for an affordable price. So, I was looking into building one of wood. I was wondering if you had issues with roof leaks on the 1st making you redesign on the 2nd? I was thinking to use RV sealant or Black Tar in between tongue and groove yellow pine, on the roof and use Thompson’s Water Seal Waterproofer with Tint on the exterior. Though, not having leaks is important, because I’m be sleeping under the topper. So, I figured I’d ask how the black cement held up for you?

    1. Hi Laura. No leaks on either topper. The redesign was for a newer truck and making lighter weight. The roof, being covered in 30# roofing felt, then covered with trucker tarp it tight as can be. The only tiny bit of water that has gotten in has been around the clamshell door. The black roof patch stuff works great and have used it for repairs of all sorts around the barn, gutters, and houses. I think you’ll be fine.

      1. Sweet, this is going to be an awesome project. Cheaper and better looking than a factory topper. Though, an aluminum would be nice, the Chevy S10 isn’t made anymore and the toppers aren’t an easy find locally. Thanks for the info and getting back to me so fast. I first got the Tumbleweed Vardo plans, but that’s a lot of weight, then I found your design. I might look around for a rubber strip for the door. Sorry for writing so much.

  4. Long time lurker on the blog, and an admirer of your truck topper and vardo. I am in the planning stages of a topper. You mention using a tarp on the roof of the topper, could you elaborate? Is it glued down, or fastened somehow. Sorry for my ignorance on this, but this puzzles me.

    1. Heavy weight truck tarp over 30# roofing paper has held up well. It is pulled over the edge and tacked down with roofing nails, hanging over about two inches. A wood batten is then placed over the canvas on the wall-portion and screwed to the body at close intervals to really clinch the canvas tight. Excess canvass can then be trimmed to the batten.

  5. Hello!
    I’m hoping to build a very similar camper shell for my 2005 Tacoma access cab. Does your bed have the same specs? If so, could I get some specific measurements/blueprints?

  6. Nice work George. Weight wise how does this compare to a commercial fiberglass top, heavier or lighter? I like to make one for my 8′ bed Silverado but I fear it may be too heavy. Also, do you think 3 frames would cut it or 4 is needed for 8′ span?

    1. This one was pretty comparable to my old fiberglass topper. Lack of windows kept it light as did the cedar roof. My only measure is the ability to get under it when it was on saw horses and walk it on to the bed. I would probably make four frames over an 8 foot span, especially if there was ever going to be real weight or a rack on the roof. Good luck!

  7. Hi, I have been trying to find a wooden truck camper for sale, I ‘d love to build one but I don’t have time for that because I am a single mom of a 1yr old lil.boy. Do u know how I could find one (preferably in Canada) by any chance? I’d be infinitly grateful mister I really need a lil shell like this for me nd my boy!

  8. Hi there,

    Love the project!! just wanted to know if the caulking and the varnish is enough to water proof it?

    I’m in the process of building my own…. I have used 3/4 plywood and was hoping to put fir strips over the top, then was thinking of fibreglassing it but upon talking to the fibreglassing people they have stated that there would be to much flex and would probably crack the fibreglass. So now I’m trying to re-evaluate the situation. My fir strips are 1 3/4 inch wide, and i was just going to use butt joints with caulking in between before fibreglassing… any suggestions?


    1. If this part is difficult, get a builder to help you. I use Lexan (stronger than Plexiglass) in all my built windows. You can simply frame in the opening for strength; treat it like a picture frame?

  9. Very cool. I’ve been looking for someone that has done this for a while. Do you prefer a particular type or brand of varnish for the cedar or anything will work? Looking to do this on a 59 gmc fleet-side. Just getting ideas for now, not building yet. Also is your door heavy enough where you would consider using struts like on a cap you would buy, and if not do you use something else to keep it up? Thanks in advance.

  10. Don’t know if you’re still out there but I LOVE this design! We have a 77 Ford Camper Special. New, I can only order an aluminum canopy in the range of $600 to $1,100! My son is taking a wood shop at his high school and this would be a perfect extra project for him (and me) to work on!
    Question: So the roof is essentially two layer of wood with the tar paper between correct?

    Again, if you’re still out there thanks for the post!

    1. First of all, good luck. I’m sure it will be great. My roof is a single layer of wood covered in roofing paper and then topped with heavy-weight water-proofed truck tarp. I think paper between layers of wood could be a potential problem if moisture ever got between the layers.

  11. Hi, the new site design looks great. I was curious as what made you decide to cover the roof with felt paper and the tarp as opposed to fiberglassing? Was it a matter of time considerations? I’m kicking around ideas of a topper for my truck and I’m trying to coming up with economical solutions. I’m not always going to need it on the truck, but would like it to look good in the likelihood I leave it on there for extended periods of time. I have also been looking at methods used buy boat builders for ideas.

    1. Thanks for the comment on the new site. My experience with fiberglassing is mostly on canoes. Sunlight is the biggest enemy, it gets ugly, will need to be repainted. It also can get brittle. Probably all about the same in the end. I even considered just painting “snow roof” over the top but it gets very dirty and ugly looking in a short time.

  12. Your design looks very elegant and simple. I’m planning on making the roof a little higher for more head room in there as I’m thinking of using it as an camper topper. I was also thinking of buying a thin sheet of aluminum for the roof and using adhesive to attach it to the roof. Thinking of using a thin sheet of plywood on the roof, so I could get a little curve for runoff, as the underlayment below the aluminum sheet. I plan to paint the aluminum white to mitigate heat transfer and I’m worried about heat expansion of the metal compromising the adhesive bond between the wood and the aluminum. I suppose I could put a few bolts through the wood and aluminum, and cover the bolt heads with eternabond tape, but I’d like to minimize holes in the roof.

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