Homemade Lightweight Truck Camper With Plywood Framing
Looking for ways to reduce the weight of your homemade truck camper?
Here’s a fantastic slideshow of a commercial-quality homemade slide-in truck camper handcrafted with plywood framing from ‘spidersfrommars‘.
What’s notable about it is that there is no frame under the plywood — the plywood IS the frame. The skeleton frame is constructed from 1/2″ birch plywood, with lots of large holes cut out to decrease its weight. The actual wall panels are constructed from a layer of 1″ styrofoam, and aluminum sheeting covers it all.
This is a very interesting way to construct a camper.
You’ll notice that compared to wooden camper design using a house-type lumber frame covered with plywood sheathing, this design completely eliminates the lumber frame and half of the plywood sheathing!
Since I haven’t personally tried this method (I’d love to, though!) or been in a camper built this way, I can’t offer more than speculation on how sturdy-feeling this type of frame is. But I have no doubt that it would “do the job” since plywood is much tougher than lumber and would make a great framing material.
A little bendy, maybe? I would expect a frame made of 1/2″ birch plywood to flex a bit more on the road than a house-style lumber frame. My own stick-and-panel walls are extremely sturdy-feeling, but it does still flex a little while driving over rough roads. Eliminating the lumber frame layer can only make it more flexible. I’m really curious how it feels.
It's probably a bit noisier inside, though. As an acoustics expert who used to design recording studios, I would expect it to be have very poor soundproofing compared to a camper that is fully paneled with plywood. Blocking outside noise requires pure *mass* all the way around. As this lightweight camper's walls are made of huge holes with nothing but light styrofoam and thin aluminum between the cabin and outside noise, I would imagine it would be only slightly quieter than sleeping in a tent.
Would security be a concern with a wall made of nothing but styrofoam and aluminum sheeting? I'd guess it's probably ok. Nothing like a solid wall, but it's not like you can tell from the outside, and it'd still be a pain to cut through.
Birch plywood construction can get pretty expensive fast. It's great, because it's very stiff for it's thickness, but it's pricey. I imagine the same idea can be used with cheaper plywood or even OSB to save a lot of money -- You'll just want make sure to use a thicker selection, i.e. rather than 1/2", choose 5/8", because OSB is a little more flexible than plywood.
My overall conclusion: I may like to try this someday!
Noise is definitely something I'd be concerned about, though. It's tough enough to sleep in my camper when rain is pounding on the roof just a few feet above your head, or when it's really windy -- I have to use earplugs to get any sleep at all. So that's one definite benefit of building heavier walls. The #1 piece of evidence that a given "soundproofing expert" actually understands the science of acoustics is that they'll insist that -- with the exception of a few new high-tech methods involving viscous laminates -- Mass is the only true way to block sound. It's science!
Are there other ways to make a lightweight camper walls?
Yes! There's a new construction method being used in modular homes known as SIP, which stands for "structured insulated panels". It's a technique that's historically been used in boats and airplanes under different names (ex. "stressed skin") that's basically a foam-sandwich -- styrofoam sandwiched between two thin plywood or fiberglass panels. Real SIPs are manufactured with lots of glue under high pressure, but they can be simulated to some degree with a thin lumber frame (ex. 2x2s) filled with styrofoam panels sandwiched between thin plywood, both glued to the styrofoam and screwed into the frame. I used that idea for the latest version of my roof and saved about 25% of the original weight.