In our last blog post, we explored some of the unique builds from our community that helped makers get off the beaten path — enjoying their camping, overlanding, or four wheel drive trips in style. This time, we’ve decided to take a deep dive into a build we’ve seen many different versions of, the DIY roof rack.
We’ve seen a ton ofcreative vehicle racks for all different purposes and we don’t want to limit anyone's creativity. So although we’ll focus on a typical roof rack style, this guidance is widely applicable. We’re going to discuss why someone might build a roof rack, tips for choosing the layout, and ultimately how to build a roof rack. Don’t forget to avoid these 10 common mistakes while building your DIY roof rack.
Someone looking into buying a roof rack might be exploring options like Thule roof racks or Yakima roof racks. When you start looking into these options, they certainly have a lot of different sizes to choose from. But you may quickly realize they’re pretty expensive, too.
Not only are these mass produced options expensive, they’re also often built with lower quality materials that bring their longevity into question. Another important thing to consider is amenities you may want to add, can an off-the-shelf roof rack support a road shower? What about a wind deflector? Lastly, they just don’t have a lot of unique options that can make your vehicle stand out. These are just a few of the big reasons why builders have decided to make their own roof racks.
So what do you do if you have a roof rack idea that is either out of budget, not quite right for your vehicle, or simply isn't what you want? These are all good reasons to make your own roof rack.
If you decide to build your own roof rack, you can design the layout to your exact needs, choose the look, customize the color, and most importantly, design the roof rack to fit your budget while still delivering great results.
At this point, you might be thinking this all sounds great and you'd love to make it yourself, but what if you don't have experience, fancy tools, or welding skills? Don't feel discouraged because the custom roof rack solutions in this how-to are beginner friendly and don't require welding, power tools, or even a garage to work in.
Once you’ve set your sights on doing it yourself,it’s time to make some decisions about the build. Figuring out what material you want to use, whether you need sides, a wood deck, are all important things to decide to set you up for success.
Metal, plastic, and wood are the most common materials used for this type of project. You may even decide on a combination of all three. Galvanized steel electrical conduit, or structural pipe, is a great choice for roof rack framing as it is rigid, inexpensive, readily available in local stores, and can easily be cut or bent with hand tools to fit your design. EMT Conduit is a commonly used product in the electrical field for running wires without obtrusion. Its natural strength allows DIYers to use it for many applications that can support a significant amount of weight. Using conduit for the framework of the roof basket then adding a cattle panel or even wood decking can make your roof rack accessible and multipurpose.
Connecting the conduit pieces together with Maker Pipe structural pipe fittings is an easy way to complete your project to your needs without any welding or complicated fabrication.
We recommend starting off with a drawing of the roof rack you want to build. This allows you to visualize the build and get an accurate materials list. You can always check out our build community for inspiration.
Start by measuring your vehicle and making some decisions about the size of the roof basket. Some important things to consider here will be how your design aligns with the mounting points on your roof, this could be critical to adjust before you start cutting conduit. A roof rack for a truck and a car roof rack could end up being very different builds.
We also offer mini connectors for builders to design a model of their build. Being able to physically hold the build in your hands and see how the pieces fit together can make a huge difference in your ability to visualize the build and make strategic decisions about the size and what materials to use.
Translate the sizes to a smaller scale and use graph paper to start laying out a simple sketch. If you’re like us, and drawing isn’t your strong suit, this design can be as simple as lines with a ruler. Really, it’s about gaining perspective to make final decisions that can be hard to visualize in your head.
Of course, a final design can also help you narrow down the materials you want to use. Depending on the vehicle and size of your build, weight can determine whether you can add wood decking or whether you need to use half inch or three-quarter inch conduit.
A final design helps you meet your budget, too. For example, you may be looking to add a custom cover to your roof rack and decide that you’d rather spend the extra part of your budget on that instead of decking.
Once you’ve made final decisions on the roof rack, you can gather your supplies with efficiency. You should have a pretty good materials list by now and can purchase everything you need at once. We recommend getting everything for the project together so that you can complete your build without delays.
It’s easy to find the right connectors on our website and we ship directly to customers, making your purchase efficient and simple. Conduit is easy to find at many home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes. You can also pick up the necessary tools for your project while you’re there.
You may need:
If your build is anything like some of the ones we’ve seen, you’re probably going to use T-Connectors, 180 Connectors, maybe some 90 Degree Connectors, and maybe some structural couplings. refer back to your blueprint or plan to see where each belongs, and lay them out in your work area. If you're not sure how to figure out which connector is best suited and where, check out this complete guide to our connectors. Now it’s coming together! You can move these pieces aside or leave them if you have space, but next up you can begin cutting conduit to size. If available, use a level surface to work on.
We suggest cutting the longer pieces first, then cutting down cross pieces. You can start putting the roof rack base together as you go, or cut all the pieces ahead of time. We have a blog on how to cut electrical conduit you can check out if you haven’t worked with it before. For some builds, like this camper roof rack, you may have to go around obstructions, it may be smart to go one section at a time to make sure everything fits the way you want it. You can always check out our product pages for reference on how each connector should be assembled.
If you plan to build a top rail to make a roof basket, do that second after you have the base completed. This will make it easier to attach together, and ensure the top and bottom are the same size.
Once you’ve got everything put together, go ahead and tighten all the bolts on your connectors, the hard work is almost over! We also suggest double checking that everything is straight and aligned before making this final check on your connectors.
Some builders decide that they want to paint their roof rack. Naturally, this is the time to do so. Painting structural pipe fittings and conduit is pretty easy, you just have to be mindful of where you paint so you don’t end up with overspray in the wrong place. For more information on how to custom paint your build read this blog.
You can also use our shrink wrap options to add color and character to your build. We’ve even seen builders use rubber hose over pipes. If you’re designing a build for kayaks or canoes, pipe insulation may be a good option to provide some cushion. Regardless of what you decide, covering your build will help protect it against UV rays and inclement weather — extending the life of your roof rack.
We suggest trying to find a roof rack mount that is already designed for your specific vehicle. However, depending on the vehicle and how you decide to build your roof rack, you may want to use flange connectors or cross over conduit clamps. The flange connector could be useful if you’re mounting directly to the roof and have secure mounting points that would allow you to either bolt the flange connector directly or use self tapping screws to secure the roof rack. Of course, we recommend ensuring the flange connectors are somehow attached to the frame of the vehicle for a secure installation.
The installation process for crossover conduit clamps will likely not be as involved as flange connectors, but ensuring a secure fitment is still important. You may be able to use crossover conduit clamps to attach the roof rack to your original manufacturers equipment (OEM) roof bars or to aftermarket cross bars.
We’ve also seen builders use off-the-shelf pipe straps or u-bolts, too. No matter what you decide on, it’s critical that you choose a strong, durable solution that can withstand anything that a vehicle would be expected to withstand.
Building with pipes and connectors is really forgiving which means you can easily adapt and adjust your design on the fly. Do you need to change your design while building it? Maybe you need a basic rack to carry some kayaks this weekend but next month your adventure requires a ton of camping gear. With a few turns of the hex wrench, you can add or remove entire sections of the rack to fit your exact needs.
Well what’s next? Your roof rack is built, painted, mounted, and ready to carry your gear to your next destination. It’s time to get out on the road (or maybe add the roof rack shower first!). We hope you enjoyed this how-to and that it helps you get closer to building your own DIY roof rack. Happy camping!