Below is a link to shots of a canoe trailer I recently finished. I did a photo montage of this project from the beginning to end – shots are sequential. Maybe some of this will be helpful to others – if only as a “what not to do” paradigm!
Here’s the link:
That link will take you to Page One of two pages. Skip to the second page if you would just like to see the finished trailer & don’t want to wade thru all the ‘in progress’ shots.
Here’s the story (long one – skip if you don’t want read the step-by-step process):
This is my second try at building a canoe trailer. My first canoe trailer was another utility trailer that measured 5’ X 13’. It is used frequently as a work trailer during the week and it could be set up with removable wooden racks (bolts and wing-nuts) for holding our canoes. This arrangement worked out okay, but after a few years it became clear that it had become a PIA to set it up for the weekends and then remove the racks for use as a work trailer. I ended up not using it as often as I would have liked simply because it took too much time to set it up and later to remove the racks. Instead of using the trailer for hauling canoes I would often just use my pick-up truck – that wasted fuel. I decided to make a dedicated canoe trailer that would only be used for our boats and camping gear – and I can easily pull it with a more fuel efficient vehicle. We typically haul 3 solo canoes at a time, often 4 if we bring a guest – sometimes we’ve even hauled 5 canoes at a time. With this trailer (as with the last) I can haul 4 canoes – and a 5th boat on the car (Jeep) roof racks.
I had planned to simply start from “scratch” on this project by buying the separate components & steel and fabricating my own trailer from the ground up. All the parts, from axles to taillights are readily available online and at stores. But after I added it all up I found that it was far cheaper to begin this project with a ready-made trailer and customize it to suit my needs.
I started with a Carry-On brand 5’ X 8’ utility trailer with a steel mess floor (later covered with wood), steel side rails, a rear ramp (gate) and a removable “single tree” tongue – it did not have an A-frame. The removable tongue made it very easy to replace with a longer extended tongue. By not having an A-frame I was able to easily add the longer tongue I needed and then add two side braces to form an A-frame. The initial cost of the trailer was just over $600 (on sale) at a local Tractor Supply store.
Back at the farm my first job was to hack off the ramp which was actually “non-removable” (never saw a non-removable trailer ramp before – stupid idea). A reciprocating saw, a mini-grinder and a cold chisel were my implements of destruction. Next I removed the ramp latches. My next task was to cut and fit a rear rail (where the ramp had been). I then replaced the removable short tongue with a longer piece of 2” X 3” X 1/8” thick steel box channel. This was drilled to receive the two ½” bolts, but was also later welded in place. I wouldn’t trust two bolts for such a critical connection. The new tongue extends past the front of the trailer box/canoe rack by 7.5 feet. That gave me plenty of clearance for my canoes and tow vehicle. Next I fabricated the “A-frame” to bolster the long tongue and add stability to the trailer. This was made of 2” X 2” steel box channel. I replaced the original 1 7/8” coupler with a 2” coupler. Two of my other trailers have 2” couplers and one has a 2-5/16th” coupler – I didn’t want yet another size to mess around with. I then added a jack – welded in place. Next up were the uprights, braces and arms for the canoe racks – I used 1” X 2” (1/8”) box channel for those parts. I placed the arms high enough above the cargo area so I would have plenty of room for gear, full-sized coolers, etc. I added a steel spare tire mount – welded in place for security. All of the bare metal was primed and then top coated with black gloss enamel. I went with black only because the initial trailer came that color.
Though I can weld a little I only have an old buzz box (arc welder) and my welds are pretty sloppy. They’re good enough for my simple farm repairs, but not for this trailer. So for this project I did all the fabricating, clamped it all together and pulled it to the local welding shop for a first class “real” welding job. To cut the steel I used a chop saw, fortunately I have a goodly supply of c-clamps (“G-gramps for any Brits reading this). The welding was completed in two sessions and cost me a grand total of $125. That was very reasonable for first rate welding that looks neat and can be trusted.
After priming and painting I was done with the metal working and moved on to the electrics. Modifying the electrics was simple enough, I just purchased a trailer wiring kit that matched my trailer and used the wiring harness to extend the wires in the tongue. I made the splices at the side marker lights – Simple as could be. The extra taillights and side markers will come in handy as the years go by and I knock off lights (I pull trailers a lot – believe me it happens!).
Next I was ready to move on to the wood cargo area. I toyed with the idea of building some covered boxes to hold the cargo, but decided against it – at least for now. I just basically built an open box I can throw things in. If I decide to build more “secure” boxes to go in the cargo area I can always ad them later, but I doubt that I will. For the floor and side-boards it seemed like I had three choices: treated lumber decking, composite decking or what I finally decided on – something completely different. Treated lumber is such a bummer, it’s corrosive, it smells bad, it cracks, it warps and it rots in a few years. I have treated lumber decks on my other 3 work trailers; I’ve had enough of that junk. The new plastic “composite” decking is an even bigger bummer in my opinion. Though it’s made from recycled plastic it is not recyclable, it’s structurally weak (requires joists every 12 inches when used as decking!), it tends to sag and doesn’t hold screws well when stressed.
I stepped outside my normal box and decided to try “Brazilian Redwood” or Massaranduba for a change. For ecological reasons I gave up using rain forest woods decades ago, but this is a plantation grown hardwood, it carries an ecologically friendly Forest Stewardship Council sticker (renewable). This wood is very hard and naturally rot resistant – or so it is claimed (time will tell). Of the three alternatives I investigated the tropical wood seemed like the best idea. Though it was more expensive than standard treated lumber it was about the same cost as the plastic composite decking – it is really beautiful to boot! I finished the Massaranduba with a couple of coats of Olympic deck finish – makes the wood look terrific (but it will in time fade to gray of course…).
After many years of canoeing we have a pile of various size dry bags, so keeping our gear dry while in the cargo box is not a problem. I also made the cargo box deep enough to easily accommodate standard Igloo/Coleman type hard-shell coolers and large Rubbermaid/Tupperware lidded storage boxes. I still need to rig up a cargo net of some sort for the cargo area to keep things from sliding around. But for now I’m getting by with a series of bungee cords.
In the end this trailer cost right around $1600 to put together complete. This was not an inexpensive project, but it is customized to my particular needs and did save me a bit compared to the two commercially available canoes trailers that impress me the most: The Blue Mountain Outfitters trailers and the rigs from Mo Trailers. Of course if I added my time this trailer would easily have been in the same price range. Fortunately I work cheap for myself… ;^)