For quite some time I was looking at camper vans online and became a huge fan of the concept, the location independence and cheap cost of living, but something stopped me from building my own. It was only when I looking at a flatbed truck for our magnetfishing YouTube channel that I realized I could easily combine my love for building and crafting with the idea of a camper van – and that for me the average camper van was a little bigger than I needed.
In this post I want to show how I transformed a flatbed truck into a rolling workbench with a sleeper cell that allows me to drive and sleep everywhere and at the same time I have a fully-fledged work truck that I can use productively.
What I want and need from this truck is threefold:
I grew up with most of our vacations being camping trips with the family hatchback (which I loved) and thus learned that I need very little for even extended stays. Sure you restock on food and necessities, but if a small hatchback can fit everything you need for weeks of camping than a flatbed truck should easily cover that, right?
So I took a look at what exactly I was missing in my life and came to the conclusion that the ability to sleep inside the truck without the need for a tent was the biggest one. I have little problems sleeping in tents, but compared to just parking at the side of the road and leaving whenever you feel like it a tent seems vastly inferior. It’s a small thing, but it saves at least half an hour of annoying, repetitive work that I’d rather spend on the road or doing nothing.
In addition to that I wanted both a place to work on and storage space for my tools, neither of which works really well in a third floor city apartment.
Sleeping & Tool storage
Originally I had looked at pickup trucks like the Ford Rangers, but time and time again they didn’t feel worth my money. The actual bed size is very small and you can get either a decent sized bed or a double-cap configuration and either seemed like a compromise that would come back to bite me.
Luckily I ended up realizing that these flatbeds are bigger, cheaper and use less fuel than your average Pickup (this is in Germany where pickups are rare and expensive) and so I got the best of both worlds.
My original plan was to use the truck bed for sleeping and working with a folding bed and a tarp on top, but I quickly realized that I would be able to sleep on the rear seats just fine. Luckily the truck’s former owner had ripped out the rear seats in favor of a tool rack, saving me the time and effort to get rid of them myself.
So instead I had a lot of empty space to work with and decided to build a simple tool chest that folds up for underneath storage and that I can sleep on with a little mattress slapped on top. As a nice added bonus this setup also doubles (triples?) as a regular seat for the couple times I do have to take more than two passengers (gotta love triple front seats).
You can see just how perfectly this all fits together and thanks to a childhood growing up with Tetris I can fit more tools in there than I usually need.
I tested this out a handful of times and was surprised just how little quibbles I had with this first iteration, so little in fact that I never saw the reason for a second one. Sure, sleeping is a little hard because I didn’t get a real mattress, but it works just fine for me and I could always remedy that with fifteen bucks worth of foam mattress.
The actual experience of rolling up to a cool spot dead-tired, hopping in the back and falling asleep without any tent setup or too many worries about sketchy locations is amazing.
Food and cooking
I have found that food and cooking can be simple, healthy and cheap without much trouble and all I really need is a small fridge (I use an ice chest with ice cubes) and a gas powered stove. Originally I had planned to install a real, likely gas-powered fridge but I ended up never doing that because the ice chest works just fine and a 2-dollar bag of ice easily supplies me for two days. As I’m mostly weekending for the time being that is plenty for me and if I need more I just buy more.
I love the simplicity of all this stuff, for me at least it all seems to come together perfectly and I have zero issues with my setup. I just walk into a store every other day, figure out what looks tasty and buy it together with some snacks and treats and luxuries and end up living better than I do at home.
With the extra space I have everywhere it’s never hard to fit a bit more of this or that in case I need it, be it a grill and some friends or a hardware store purchase other people have to rent trailers for. I keep being amazed how well this all ties together and I can honestly see myself doing this full-time at some point.
With two of my main problems solved in a rather simple and elegant way, meaning all I had left to do was to build a workspace in the actual truck bed.
I quickly settled on a very simple, but sturdy design and I was actually able to build this completely for free by getting the wood from a guy who had just bought a house and needed to get rid of an old rabbit-containment-house-thing. The wood was nice, laminated plywood stuff that had already spent a decade outside without any issues so I should be fine for another decade using it as a workbench. In fact I’ve now had this for over a year and it works just as perfectly as the day I built it.
The actual build was super simple, it’s just a table that rests on wooden legs with a cross-beam on one side and the sidewall of my truck bed on the other side. This is so sturdy that I can easily stand on it, hammer on it, not even welding sparks do any damage and it’s just all-around super useful.
The nice added benefit is the additional storage area underneath, I often use this to keep my high-tech 24V welder contained which just so happened to fit perfectly. If you want to read more about this super professional welding setup: Here’s an own post about it.
Here’s the workbench in all its glory being used to great excess when I had the amazing idea to build a tire table from scrap metal on about the hottest day of the day:
Overall this setup works just as well as the rest of the truck and I would build it just the same if I had to do it again for some reason.
Constraining yourself to a truck can seem daunting at first considering it’s tiny compared to even the average city apartment, but the real benefit lies in the extendability.
There are two things that transform a truck into a sort of base camp: A tarp to keep sun or rain away and some folding chairs. With these two your truck suddenly isn’t tiny anymore, but rather just the place you go to grab stuff. We often spend time at fishing lakes this way, set up a grill and some chairs just having a great time until the sun goes down. Or I roll up to my favorite spot to work at where I spend all day building stuff, sawing and welding and then once it gets too dark I just hop in the back, sleep until morning and continue before I head home.
Another great extender is my folding workbench, that thing lives in the foot room of my rear seats and allows me to work away from my truck or just extend the truck bed and clamp things down (very useful for working on long stuff). I have written a whole post on that workbench because it deserves a closer look, it’s one of my favorite purchases in the past few years.
I hope you found this post enjoyable to read and maybe it gives one or two people some inspiration in their own builds because having a work truck in addition to a camper van can be hugely useful and might just be your way to finance this lifestyle.