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Grand Junction 07-2011 079

A couple of years ago, Colorado-based maker Werner Strama decided to make his own Teardrop Camper Trailer from scratch. It took him six months to build and the end result is beautiful and fully functional. Best of all, Werner documented his build in detail and shared his 26-step how-to with us (thanks Werner!). Here in the office, we were all really impressed with his project, and apparently we’re not the only ones, since his build has gotten roughly 400,000 views. We got in touch with Werner to find out how and why he chose to take on this project. Check out Werner’s Teardrop Camper Trailer how-to, then read about his inspiration and R+D process. Chances are you’ll want to follow suit.

1. What inspired you to build your own camper trailer?
I got inspired after camping in Lake McConaughy in Nebraska. We went there in 2009 with some friends for a sailboat weekend. We were in a small dome tent, the place is beautiful, but the wind was howling, and the tent was flat on our faces all weekend. There were some monstrous black biting horse flies, frogs all over the place, flying beetles got in the tent, and at one point the wind flies and the sand made it impossible to cook. I enjoyed it (sort of) but my wife told me that unless we get something better to camp in, she was out. She’s had several surgeries and sleeping on the ground is very uncomfortable for her. Also, she needed some place to rest and shade from the sun.

I got to thinking about getting a pop-up camper, but that would be almost the same as having a tent: it’s no use in a windy situation, as well as being hot on a sunny day and the added maintenance issues with the fabric. Another issue was towing; at the time we had a 4-cylinder car with a limited tow capacity. After searching on the internet I stumbled on a website called Teardrops n Tiny Travel Trailers, and after searching the whole website I got sold on the small form factor, low weight, and sturdiness of the teardrop shape. My wife helped with the research and she liked the idea.

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2. What was your R+D process for the build?
After we decided on the teardrop, I started collecting hundreds of pictures of all the items we believed would be best for our needs: that is, three person sleeping area, a small kitchen in the back, self-powered when needed, very well insulated, for we would be going camping year round to different places, especially hot springs (we have very nice ones in Colorado). Also I needed to keep the costs down so not to be a burden on our finances, and not to fall into the “credit card trap.”

I enrolled my neighbor Denny since he is just an amazing bargain hunter on camping stuff; he was the one who found the old popup camper for free, as well as the stove with the oven, which turned out to be a very nice touch. With the trailer chassis, I set to calculate dimensions and average weights to maintain 12–15% of the total weight on the hitch, which would make sure the trailer would be stable. All it takes is some simple math and three bathroom scales. Then it was a matter of getting the wood, some extra tools, like a router, and a sabre saw to cut the profiles.

3. How long did the actual build take you and what was the biggest challenge?
The actual build time was roughly six months working on weekends and days off. We set up to make it utilitarian, but not a “work of art,” which could take more time than needed. It’s the “keep it simple system” that is best for a trailer that will see lots of use and abuse. I was very motivated and I had lots of support from my wife, as well as setting goal times to finish specific parts of the build. The due date was the weekend before Memorial Day in 2010, and the last couple of weeks were sort of madness with paint and finish.

I think the biggest challenge was the assembly of the walls; it required lots of woodwork and learning to use the router to cut the channels on the 2×4 wood pieces. Once I learned the tricks of using the router, I was able to do flush cuts and shaping in almost no time. I also made a couple of jigs to make the cabinets, which turned out very useful.

teardrop camper trailer

4. What’s your favorite feature of the camper trailer?
I think the best feature of the trailer is the size. I can tow it to remote places where an average camper would not get easily. The turning radius is excellent, and a couple of times I was able to turn around on narrow dirt mountain trails without having to unhook and turn around manually. The other great features are the insulation and the ceiling fan; we’ve been in places where if we had been in a tent we would have been roasted extra crispy. Inside it’s cool and very breezy when needed. Also, I’ve been using it as my living quarters when I go contracting out of town, camping on BLM lands at night, and it has kept me quite nice and warm several weeks in mid-winter with outside temperatures of –10°F.

5. Where have you taken the camper trailer?
Currently we’ve only been in Colorado: the Colorado sand dunes, Buena Vista, Grand Junction, The Grand Mesa, at different campgrounds in the Rocky Mountain National Park, the Colorado Monument park, and also “camp at home” when my daughter wanted to have a “camping night” in the backyard.

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6. What improvements have you made (or are planning to make) to the original design?
I’m planning on covering the teardrop in fiberglass, as I have noticed that hail had damaged some of the top, which I have since repaired. Also maybe in the future remove the propane stove and replace it with and old style Coleman fuel cabin stove, as propane doesn’t work well at altitude or in very cold temperatures.

7. Tell us about yourself. How long have you been making things and how did you get started?
I grew up in Peru, South America, and since I was a kid I liked to tinker with anything that needed to be repaired at home, be it a bike, electricity, telephones, old tube radios, etc. My wife sometimes thinks I am “nuts” when I rebuild things at home. I work as an Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic, contracting here and there. The teardrop was not complicated compared with some of the aircraft that I work with. Being patient and organizing the flow of things helps a lot. I currently live in Colorado, but we are planning on moving to Florida, as aviation jobs are quite scarce over here.

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Goli Mohammadi

I’m senior editor at MAKE and have worked on MAKE magazine since the first issue. I’m a word nerd who particularly loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon as a whole. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for the ideal alpine lake or hunting for snow to feed my inner snowboard addict.

The maker movement provides me with endless inspiration, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. The specific beat I cover is art, and I’m a huge proponent of STEAM (as opposed to STEM). After all, the first thing most of us ever made was art.

Contact me at goli (at) makermedia (dot) com.


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Comments

  1. terre says:

    If you are still moving to Florida and would consider Tampa, please get in touch. I don’t have a job for you but do have a house where you could stay while looking if you help develop my makerspace- which is stalled.

    1. I never thought of it as Genius :) the idea was more of a way to go camping without having to deal with tent assembly, kitchen utensils, a cooler on wheels, and carrying 80 pound back packs…we are not spring chickens anymore…

  2. Gina Bégin says:

    Kudos! I would love to do something like this, as I have been living and traveling in my Mazda for 2 full years. A trailer would be a wonderful addition (if I could figure out how to hook it to a car!)

    1. Hitching a trailer is easier than it seems, only think different is to turn the wheel opposite of what you see in the rearview mirror…

      1. Gina Bégin says:

        It would be awesome, but I don’t know if my little car can handle it. :) I need something with a bit more power!

  3. Homero says:

    What a cool article. This reminds me of an exhibit at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in LA. They had a photo exhibit of mobile homes, trailers and campers from the 1920′s, 30′s, 40′s and 50′s. many of them were DIY, and it also talked about the mobile living culture of America. Many of the excerpts came from a book, but I can’t for the life of me remember the name, but it was interesting nonetheless.

  4. Dawn says:

    So did you use a pop up frame to build your teardrop on.? I wanted to build another one using a pop up frame but didn’t know how that would turn out. Your trailer looks good by the way.

  5. I will let my husband and my dad see this. I hope they get inspired to make one like this! Thank for sharing this post!