All posts by jblancuzzi

Off Road (Overlander) Trailer Build

I was bitten by the overland trailer bug a couple of years ago.  After numerous visits to the surplus store to look at the surplus military trailers, and my absolute insistence that I would not pay for one of the overpriced trailers being sold on the Internet, I decided to just build one myself, for as little money as I possibly could, while meeting all of my expectations for use. (run-on sentence intentional)

I was able to obtain a large quantity of 2″x 2″ square steel tubing for free. This was a great start to my built. Also, the steel was plated in a rust resistant coating, so although I was going to paint the trailer, rust proofing it was the least of my worries.
I did a little mock-up with a Jerry can to see how much space I needed for the front platform.
Now it was time to cut the steel and tack it together. I didn’t want the trailer to be too big so I made it approximately the same size as a small bed pickup, like an S10. 
Once I got the box welded together I flipped it over and placed the pieces for the tongue. I did some calculations and placed the pieces so that they would fall right in front of where the suspension would be mounted.
Then I welded on the receiver adapter. I did it this way so that I could adapt the hitch to several different configurations.
At this point I needed to figure out exactly where to mount the tires to best distribute the load. I also wanted to ensure that the turn radius of the trailer was such that when pulling it with my Jeep, I could maneuver, but also would be far enough back to reduce any tendencies to bounce. I wanted a smooth ride.

 

I did a lot of research on different suspensions and even contemplated making my own. I ended up deciding on the Timbren axle-less suspension. It was pricey, but I am super happy with the decision. This product is fantastic and has performed better than expected. I bought it from etrailer.com. Timbren Axle-Less Suspension 3500lb.
I added some angle iron as recommended to strengthen the attachment point for the axle.
Here I have attached the other axle and am ready to mount the wheels and tires. I have a set of Jeep Rubicon wheels that I will use.
Hmmm, something doesn’t look right. Well shoot, the hub is gonna be too big for the wheel. Time to get creative.
After checking the hub size against the wheel, I decided a run to Lowes was necessary. Hope they have the right hole saw. Fortunately, they did. And it was on clearance! What a deal!

So here it is, not pretty but drilled out and ready to be mounted. I have to say, I was pretty happy that it all worked out. For a few minutes, I felt a little defeated. Not sure why I didn’t check that earlier on in the build?
OK, so now I need to beef up the receiver point. I expect to battle some fairly rough terrain on occasion and can’t afford for this to twist loose. After welding the plate to the center of the tongue, I used a torch to heat the steal plate so that I could bend it down on both sides to sit flush against the frame.
Then I ground off the rust and hooked it up to see how it would fit. As you can see here, I also added the safety chains.
Time for a little test drive to see how it handles and what sort of articulation I can get from the hitch. All went as expected. The trailer pulled straight and articulation was good. 
I drove over some hills and up some rock piles at a local oil well. 
BUT! I wasn’t happy with using a pintle hitch. I wanted something better. So it was time for a little research. 
I probably spent a week or so trying to figure out exactly what I wanted. I finally found this little gem, which is expensive, but just what I was looking for. It’s called Max Coupler and is manufactured by Kirby Enterprises and sold by Knight Offroad Trailers in Texas.
To be clear, I do not get anything for endorsing them here. If it were a piece of crap, I’d tell you and move on to something else. But it’s not, and I am happy as hell with it. It is smooth and articulates the way an off-road hitch is meant to articulate.
In this photo you can see that I prepped the frame with primer.
I decided to box in the trailer with diamond plate. And here’s a little $$$ saving tip… Do not buy new diamond plate unless you are looking to spend big $$$! Go to the scrap metal dealer and find old truck toolboxes. I paid pennies on the dollar and walked away with 3 truck toolboxes for under $60. This was enough diamond plate to cut up and use for the entire trailer.
I used pressure treated 1″x 6″ for the floor.
Here you can see me placing the fenders. I made these myself out of aluminum. It was too difficult (and expensive) to find aluminum fenders to accommodate the 32″ tires. 
After it was cut and bent, I welded the seems and then ground them flat. I used a random orbital sander to roughen up the surface and give it a nice sand blasted look.
I decided to build my own roof rack. I made it from Extruded aluminum t-slot and bolted it together with stainless steel bolts. 
The reason for using extruded framing is that I can customize it as needed to accommodate different setups.
The extruded is a little more expensive, but I am paying much less than if I bought a prefab roof rack. These extrusions are from 80/20. You can buy them online. Amazon and eBay also have them.
I purchased some compressed gas pistons to aid in lifting the roof rack under load. I will post pics once they are installed.

This is just a view of the tie-down points in the bed of the trailer.
Time for some stabilizers!
I decided to add these after testing out the support strength of the tailgate and having the trailer tip back on me. Since I am planning on mounting a roof top tent, I need the trailer to sit firmly on the ground.
I ordered these from Amazon. They support 2000lbs each and were easy to weld on. Took a little over an hour to weld on all 4 and paint them. It actually took me more time to figure out where I wanted to locate them!
And here is a finished view of the trailer. Finished for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Treehouse Master!!!

My kids made me watch every episode. Great show. Awesome treehouses! The problem? I’m now building a treehouse!

I have a large pecan tree that will act as the centerpiece to my treehouse.

I drew up my initial plan, a deck around the tree. Later, if I haven’t given up, I’ll actually keep going until there is a house on top.

I started with the posts. 8 of them around the perimeter. There will be one 6×6 post in the center for much needed support. An afterthought admittedly.

The first post hole. I actually thought about quitting right at this point. When I ran into a stubborn root!
Two holes down. 7 to go!
3 holes, if you’re counting.
All perimeter holes dug and posts set.
The odd angles required me to make my own brackets. This is not a perfect octagon. That would have been too easy.

some 1/4″x6′ plate steel. This is gonna take some time.
Drilling is my business! And business is good!!!

 

Each bracket would be different due to the angles. I marked them with a number and wrote the necessary angle on each end for reference.

 

20-ton air hydraulic press brake made bending these plates child’s play.

 

All the brackets ready for cleanup and painting.

 

I had to build a brake for my 20-ton press to bend the 1/4″x6″ steel plates that I would use for the brackets.

I then prepped, painted, and mounted the brackets.

I used 5/8″x6″ galvanized bolts to mount the bracket to the columns. I will use 1/2″x5″ galvanized bolts to connect the beams.

Now we’re cooking! The first bracket is mounted and looks good.
2 mounted and so far, no issues.

Now it was time to build my first perimeter beam. I decided to use 2 2x8s glued and screwed together.

Here are the first ones mounted.

After mounting all of the brackets I installed my first beam.
My angles turned out to be close enough for backyard engineering.
Top view of the first beam.
Backside view.

The kids helped me. Finally!!! They bolted in the very last bolt of the last perimeter beam. Thanks guys!

How many monkeys does it take…

 

Now the center post is cemented in and I am fabricating a bracket that will mount to it and will hold all the cross beams that extend out to the perimeter.

I installed a 6″x6″ center post for additional needed support.
this 6″id pipe will serve as the centerpiece of my bracket.
This will soon be the center bracket.
I’m not a professional welder, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night…
The basic shape of the bracket.
Adding the gussets for strength.
Tack and check before finalizing the weld. I know, from experience…
Clean the metal before welding it.
Initial fit-up. Just to make sure I’m on the right track.

Before I got too deep into the bracket project, I did a test fit. Looks like it will work!

The final shape. Just needs to be cleaned and painted.
7/16″ holes drilled for the 3/4″ lag bolts that will secure it to the post.
At this point I felt the sense of relief as it was finished. Then reality set in. I still have to clean and prep the metal for painting. My least favorite part. Grinding!
Most of the rust cleaned off and I will coat it with a spray of diluted Jasco prep, which is acid and water that will turn the remaining light rust into a paintable surface and will prep the part for max adhesion of the paint.

I’ve finished the bracket and need to prep it for painting. I ground off most of the rust and will prep it with a coating of Jasco metal prep. Then paint.

I painted it AFTER I put it on the post. Much easier this way.
Not too shabby.

Here is the painted bracket set on its post.

Another view of the bracket.

I’ll use (3) 5/8″x4″ lag bolts to secure the center bracket once it is correctly positioned.   

This little creature better give me a hand or get out of my way. Creepy little thing.

  

Laying out the 2x8s that will tie the perimeter beams to the center support post

 

Everything is tied in.

 
 The remaining photos show the progress up until now.    

    
    

    
    
    
   
  
 

 
 
 
    
  

Jeep YJ Rear Bumper Build

As with the front bumper, I wanted something beefy and simple. I am reusing photos from the Jeep YJ Front Bumper Build post as these steps were the same and I did the builds at the same time.

The Jeep came to me with no rear bumper. Unacceptable. So I set out to build my own.

Rear view of the Jeep with no bumper and a ball hitch.
Rear view of the Jeep with no bumper and a ball hitch.

The only good thing about this setup is that I had a clean slate to work with.

I started by cutting the main shape out of square tubing and then capping the ends.

 

Tack on the end covers. Skipping from side to side so that I don't overheat the metal.
Tack on the end covers. Skipping from side to side so that I don’t overheat the metal.

I find it better to tack the welds first all the way around to keep the steel from warping.

 

 

 

 

IMG_5236A 2″ receiver was created by, you guessed it, 2″ square tubing welded into through the entire bumper. This provides the best strength.

 

IMG_5239Here is the basic shape of the bumper with the ends capped and the 2″ receiver welded in.

 

 

 

IMG_5399Mounting brackets were made with the same 2″ steel tubing attaching the bumper to a piece of 1/4″ plate. This plate would be bolted to the Jeep in the stock frame holes.

 

IMG_5395My trusty keg was once again used to aid in the fitting.

 

 

 

 

IMG_5400The bumper is bolted on to check for fitment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5419Here is the side view of the bumper showing the mounts. Notice the addition of a strap at the bottom. This gives it even more strength and again lines up with the stock holes in the bottom of the Jeep’s frame.

IMG_5439

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5417A little grinding, primer, and painting and the bumper is ready to install.

Notice that I wrapped a piece of 1/2″x1/4″ steel strap around the receiver opening. This will keep it from ever tearing open.

IMG_5441

 

 

IMG_5433Hmmm… Something’s missing.

 

Ahhh, D-Ring attachment points!

 

 

IMG_5490

 

Grind the paint off, weld them on, repaint.

 

 

 

IMG_5491Grinding, welding…

More grinding, more welding.

 

 

 

IMG_5495Almost there…

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5573After touching up the paint the D-Rings look very nice.

 

 

 

 

IMG_5539And finally the drop down hitch.

Tiny, Pocket, Micro Wood Burning Stove

This is an article to discuss my building of a tiny wood stove, also referred to as a pocket stove or micro stove.

After doing some research on heating my small workshop, and subsequently being led to Google results that showcased tiny homes with tiny wood stoves, I thought, “what the hell!” I could build something that would heat the shop. Thus my quest began…

I got a piece of 6 1/2″ id (inside diameter pipe, 1/4″ wall thickness, from the scrap pile at work. It was rough cut to about 10″ long.

As a side note, on my way out of work, I did get a few odd looks and one comment about “burning twigs.” I kindly notified this jokester that I would be burning regular wood. And that I would be building a tiny wood splitter to get them down to size.

A metal cutting band saw is a must!
A metal cutting band saw is a must!

A metal cutting bandsaw cut the ends cleanly and squarely.

4" c-channel base tacked on.
C-Channel tacked into place for the base.

 

 

 

I took the pipe and welded on some c-channel I had laying around. This created a fairly stable base. Although I will need some legs to get it off the ground. Maybe some 4″ x 1″ tubing will do the trick?

 

Plasma cutter makes quick work of the smoke stack hole.
Plasma cutter makes quick work of the smoke stack hole.

Next I used the plasma cutter and added a piece of 4″ pipe for the chimney. This I will connect to 4″ stove pipe and vent to the outside. Duh.

 

 

Precision placement of the smoke stack. :)
Precision placement of the smoke stack. ­čÖé

I will also build a little damper that will go here to control air flow. I found that this is very necessary to achieve the maximum burn. Air flow is key. UPDATE: No damper necessary. You’ll see why below.)

 

 

 

 

Smoke stack welded in place.
Smoke stack welded in place.

I welded the pipe into place and then ground the welds down for a smoother look. Grinding also covers any imperfections in my welds, of which I had a few.

 

 

 

 

Back side of stove covered.
Back side of stove covered.

Again, I used the plasma cutter to make the back wall that was welded into place.

 

 

 

 

 

Hinge bolted and a large nail I bent into a handle.
Hinge bolted and a large nail I bent into a handle.

And now, the front door. Single hinge and a large nail I had laying around for the handle. For reference, the nail is a timber nail and is about 8″ long.

Thank you to my son Andrew for helping design the hinge. He’s got potential to be a great craftsman!

Ready for testing. outside of course.
Ready for testing. outside of course.

It now has the basic shape of a wood stove. Not nearly done, but close enough for testing.

 

 

 

 

 

Twigs to get started with.
Twigs to get started with.

Time for a trial run. Let’s light this candle! Twigs and scrap wood from the shop. It started slowly and then…

 

 

 

 

 

Let's throw in some scrap wood from the workshop.
Let’s throw in some scrap wood from the workshop.

…this bad boy is burning hot! Well, not really HOT, hot.

It needs to be around 300-500 Fahrenheit. right now it burns at around 200. But it’s got potential, I think.

 

 

 

 

Too much draft! I had to think quickly and cover the chimney a little over half way. (UPDATE: The reason for the chimney cover is that I didn't have enough air flow into the stove. It was burning itself out. I now have plenty of air flowing in and no damper required.)
Too much draft! I had to think quickly and cover the chimney a little over half way. (UPDATE: The reason for the chimney cover is that I didn’t have enough air flow into the stove. It was burning itself out. I now have plenty of air flowing in and no damper required.)

Primary Air Flow:
It’s still missing a damper and an adjustable air inlet for the draft which will allow me to fine-tune the fire. I will install those tonight and will post more pics. (UPDATE: No damper needed after some testing and research. Thanks Google. What this thing needs is the free flow of air in and out. Damper that I ended up installing has now been removed.)

Secondary Burn:
Another option I am considering is an air injection nozzle.  By injecting air into the fire it will burn super hot and more cleanly. I need to research this a little more. (UPDATE: This works well. See pics below. I have secondary air being drawn in through black iron pipe into the back of the stove. The air is warmed and flows into the stove at the top of the burn chamber so that it can help ignite the gases which should help it burn cleaner.)

Everything burning as expected.
Everything burning as expected.

OK, so I’ve done a lot more research and made some modifications. Forget the damper! It’s unnecessary if I build this right. I need good airflow. The fire will create the right draft as long as I have a way for air to be drawn in.

I also need secondary air to mix with the gases at the top of the burn chamber for clean burning.

Cut holes in bottom of burn chamber to allow air to be drawn in

Here are the holes I added to allow air to be drawn up into the fire from below. This made a huge difference in how well the fire burned. I was also able to keep a good burn going with the door completely closed, which was a requirement.

 

 

 

Secondary air tube to bring warm air into the gases at the top of the burn chamber

Here you can see the secondary air inlet that I made out of some black iron pipe. I drilled holes into it and welded one end closed. It comes in through the back of the stove and will draw in fresh air that will be heated as it enters. Then it will mix with the gases from the fire and ignite them to burn everything more cleanly.  I’ve researched this as much as possible and this is the design I came up with. I am sure there are better ways to do it but this way was fairly straight forward and easy to change if necessary.

Inside view

I also added a little grate to keep the wood up off the floor. This allows unobstructed airflow into the burn chamber. I am contemplating making it slightly narrower though so that the wood can sit a little lower and will allow for more to be burned at a time.

 

 

Added stove pipe to test burn

I purchased a 24″ flue pipe at the local heat and air store. I am just using this for testing. It made a big difference on the air flow because it kept the wind from causing back drafts into the stove. These back drafts would cool the stove too much and caused smoke to come bellowing out. With the draft up this pipe I got a clean burn with almost zero smoke coming out and temperatures in the stove we almost 100 degrees higher than they were during the initial trial run.

Burning hotter!

I am now getting temperature readings in the “Burn Zone.” Before, I had temps in the “Creosote Zone” and everything was smokey. We are getting closer to a fully functional unit. I would like it to go up about another 50-100 degrees before I call it a complete success though.

Fire is glowing

 

 

Now it looks like a stove
Side view shows intake for secondary air and flat top

Time to finish it up, for now. Needs a little flat area on top, to heat my coffee, and some black stove paint. Don’t want it looking like something from the Sanford and Son yard.

 

 

 

 

Here she is! All dolled up and ready for the prom. Notice that I welded the air inlet plate on? No need to close off the air source. I also added an additional hole in it to allow for sufficient air flow into the stove.

Also, check out the little platform I welded to the top of the stove. This gives it a nice flat area for setting my coffee cup to keep it warm.

From this angle you can see the inlet for the secondary air. I extended it out from the back of the stove about 3″ so that it had plenty of time to heat the air before mixing with the gases. Hot air is what you want mixing with the gases. When this ignites it burns very clean.

I also left the threaded end on the pipe so that I could force air in if required. I might go ahead and add a small fan, or connect it to my air compressor, to force the air into the burn chamber to see if it makes any difference. I will update this post with the results.

UPDATED!!!

Injecting air from compressor into burn chamber.
Injecting air from compressor into burn chamber.

I fit a connector and ball valve to the secondary burn inlet. This way I could port a direct stream of air from my air compressor into the burn chamber. It seemed to burn correctly. Very clean with almost no smoke. And it looked like it was burning very hot. When I put the thermometer over the top of the vent pipe it quickly went over 600 degrees before my hand was too hot and I had to drop the thermometer.

The flue is melting!
The flue is melting!

So the guy at the hardware store was right when he said I really shouldn’t use the gas flue pipe for a wood stove. Turns out my stove burns pretty hot and melted the test flue pipe I was using.

I guess this flue wasn't up to the task.
I guess this flue wasn’t up to the task.

I need to either build mine from 4″ steel pipe or spend the money on actual flue pipe for a wood stove which is pretty expensive. I’m cheap so I will probably just find some steel pipe at the recycling yard.

UPDATE!

I finally got around to putting on a proper flu pipe and it made a huge difference in the way the stove functions. 

I also found that cutting firewood to the appropriate size for this tiny stove made a difference too.

 

 

 

 

 

This fire burns really hot now. This stove will be perfect to take camping.

Hot fire!

Jeep YJ Front Bumper Build

Last October I purchased a 1991 Jeep Wrangler YJ (2.5L) from my brother. Needless to say it was his “toy” and so it was in bad shape and only getting worse. I had previously owned my own 2.5L 1994 Wrangler so I was intimately familiar with it and appreciated its potential.

After I got it home I devised my plan for getting it back into working order. Many changes were coming, some┬ámechanical,┬ásome cosmetic, all necessary. At least that’s what I told my wife.

This thing is looking rough.

Here is a picture of it after I got it home.

No fender flares, rusted front tube bumper, cracked “Cowboy Up” windshield (What the hell does that mean?), rusted windshield frame that leaked like a┬ásieve, no rear bumper or tire carrier, no rear seat, and the paint was oxidized to a chalky white. These are just a few of the cosmetic things that I would be working on over the next few months. Later I will touch on the mechanical issues.

First thing I did was cut off the ends of the tube bumper. I have kids and did not want them getting cut. This was a temporary fix as I would soon be building my own bumpers.

New “Stubby” tube bumper after I sawed off the rusted ends. Better but still dated. I have never liked the look of the tube bumpers. You might also notice that I installed some Rugged Ridge fender flares.

In this photo I have also removed the glass to see if I could maybe weld up the windshield frame. I determined that it was too far gone and decided to purchase a new one and have it painted to match and install new glass. Since I would be replacing the windshield frame I might as well get rid of the stainless brackets and replace them with some black OEM brackets which would be heavier duty and would keep the Jeep themed “Black on White” with no bling.

Alright, now it’s time to get on with the bumper build. I called the local Iron and Metal supplier and order up 20′ of 3″ x 5″ rectangle tubing (.1875″ wall) to use as the main body of the bumpers and rock sliders.

Removed old bumper. It was pretty difficult since all of the bolts were rusted to the frame but I finally got it.

With the bumper off I decided to get started on the new bumper.

I wanted to get an idea of how I wanted it before I started fabricating so I drew it up in Solidworks.

Solidworks drawing of my vision.

 

 

 

 

With drawing in hand and plenty of steel I started the build. I cut out the mounting brackets first to make sure I knew how I would fit it up. I used 3/16 mild steel to ensure that the bumper would solidly be connected to the frame.

Top front bumper mounts.

 

 

 

Once the mounts were finished it was time to get to the meat of the project and start cutting the bumper shape.

I cut the front and rear bumpers at the same time to ensure that they matched. I would finish up the rear bumper later.

 

 

If you have access to a plasma cutter it will make any cutting job much easier. I used mine to cut the angles. I could have used an angle grinder too but I am not known for my patience so I opted against that.

With the bumper cut to shape I would need to plug up the ends. Of course I also went ahead and welded the mounting brackets on by this point. The best way to do this for me was to mount the brackets to the Jeep and then put the bumper in position exactly where I wanted it. When it’s perfectly placed, weld it to the brackets.

Notice the keg that I used as a stand to help me fit up the bumper to the brackets. Once you maneuver it into place, weld the bumper to the brackets to ensure the perfect fit.
A little nozzle spray on the parts to keep welding splatter to a minimum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cut the end “caps” out of some scrap that I had laying around. For this I am just covering the end so it wasn’t necessary to match the bumpers thickness, although you don’t want to go too thin.

 

 

 

Tack on the end covers. Skipping from side to side so that I don’t overheat the metal.

I like to tack on the piece before I lay down any beads. Skipping from side to side helps to keep the metal from overheating and potentially warping. Be patient. It will make the piece turn out better.

After I get all the pieces welded on I used an angle grinder with an 80 grit flap wheel to smooth it all out.

80 grit flap wheel to smooth out the welded end cap.

Once I capped all the open holes I mounted the bumper up to check for fit. It sucks painting something only to find out you have to grind away welds and redo it.

Welding done and it’s time to mount the bumper to check for fit before I paint it.

Now it’s time to go paint this thing.

 

Hanging the bumper to paint it makes it much easier. 2 coats of primer and 3 coats of enamel.

I used a surface prep disc on an angle grinder to remove all the mill scale. Taking it down to bare metal and leaving the surface a little rough will make the primer and paint “lock” on to the piece. I also wiped it down with acetone or something similar to remove any oils. Oil and dirt on the piece will keep the paint from adhering properly and you will back painting it again after the paint starts flaking off. As my father has said to me several times, “if you don’t have time to do it right the first time, how will you have time to do it over?”

Once the paint was good and dry it was time to get it mounted so I could get back on the road.

The bumper is finished. Well, I do plan on adding some clevis mounts later on so I’ll update when I do, but for now it’s on and it’s solid.

Well, that’s basically it. I chose to mount the bumper with 1/2″ grade-8 bolts.

Just one more thing. Something to cover the frame between the bumper and the grill. I found some diamond plate at the scrap yard. I recommend getting scrap metal as opposed to buying new when possible. At pennies per pound you can get it much cheaper and usually find something useful.

Here it is. My custom cover and a final view of my Jeep.

The plasma cutter makes quick work of the aluminum diamond plate. This cost me a few bucks since I got the plate from the recycling center.

 

This is looking pretty good. I have also finished the rear bumper which I will post photos and a write-up for in another post.