Reader DIY: Home-built Teardrop Pt1

By Gordon Button

I first conceived the idea of building a Tear Drop caravan, after my son, who was busy converting a Kombi into a camper and knew of my wish to get back into the outdoors, suggested that I visit the website of an American teardrop-caravan manufacturer.

This I did, and was greatly impressed by these light little teardrops which are easy to tow and manoeuvre into tight caravan sites. I had built many marine plywood boats, so it followed that I chose the medium of construction for my teardrop to be marine plywood.

My experience had taught me that if one cleaned, washed and dried a marine plywood boat after use, it would last a lifetime.

The American teardrops, so named because the shape resembles a teardrop, were a little over 2.5 metres in length. This meant that one had to sleep almost in the foetal position, and I did not want that – I wanted absolute comfort for my wife and me. And, as my wife was also keen on my building a small, easy-to-tow caravan, I thought it prudent to sit down with her and discuss the project and what we both wanted in a light van. You know the old saying: “Happy wife, happy life”.

So we sat down one evening and put forward our suggestions.


One of the most important elements we wanted in the caravan was comfort. We decided on two doors, one on each side of the caravan. This would mean that we would both have easy access to our bed without having to crawl over each other in order to get in or out. For comfort’s sake, foam was ruled out, and we decided that a proper doublebed mattress was the way to go. To accommodate a double mattress, I increased the overall length on my plan to 2.8 metres.

We also wanted clothescupboards and drawers to be housed at the end of our double bed. Space for this was restricted to 250mm in depth for the cupboard, leaving approximately 700mm for our kitchen.

It was also decided that the van needed two boattype roof lights, which could be opened or closed at any given time. And we wanted opening windows in each door, to let in as much fresh air as possible.

I then started to draw my plans and ideas on graph paper, using a hard pencil, and drawing to scale. Alterations to the drawing obviously followed as it progressed. This was to ensure that everything fitted into the given space available.

One of the things I did change was to give the front, or leading tow side of the teardrop, a vertical nose – a drop of 500mm at the pillow area. This was mainly a breakaway from most American designs I had seen, which started the front curve of the van straight from the trailer surface, thus making it pointy − and not conducive to housing two pillows.

At the same drawing stage, I drew up plans for the trailer… and at this point, I got my first shock.


I have, over the years, built my own trailers for power boats and two yachts. But now I was told that I was no longer allowed to build a trailer; and if I wanted to do so, I would have to go to Pretoria, where I would be required to sit a trailermakers exam. Then, and only if I passed, would I be given a certificate as a trailer maker and be allowed to build my own trailer.

Well, apart from my being a pensioner, I could not see myself travelling to Pretoria, and paying for accommodation and the other expenses, so I decided to go the easy route and have a professional trailer maker weld up a trailer to my design.

I asked the trailer maker to make very strong mudguards out of 2 mm steel, so that I could later house a table with no legs (to save weight) on one, and a bicycle rack on the opposite one.


I used 6mm ply marine for the outer shell, and an interior finish of 3.5mm ply. In between these plies, I used 20mm polystyrene foam for insulation from the cold in winter, and to keep out the heat in summer.

So, with the plans drawn to scale on graph paper, I then bought a piece of 6mm super wood (2200mm x 1200mm) which I marked up into 100mm squares and pin-pointed the front and back curves of the van from the graph. Using a wooden compass, I drew the curves onto the super wood and drew in the position of the doors. I now had a full-scale template of the side of the proposed teardrop.

I should mention here that the trailer is 3880mm in length, and the section housing the van is 2860 mm, with a width of 1480 mm.

As I intended to build the teardrop in wood, and not paint it but rather retain a wooden finish, I also used brass screws – not only because I live at the coast, but because I wanted all the doorand- window fittings to be in brass. 800 brass screws were used during the construction. (20mm number eights, slotheaded).

In order to “steam” the two main curves of the teardrop into shape, I attached about 10 sheets of newspaper to the upper edges of the 6mm ply to be bent, then poured boiling water on the paper and slowly “pulled” in the bend. When it was dry, the bend almost fitted − all that was needed was to glue and screw the ply into place. I used fully waterproof glue: BRUMMER Balcotan waterproof.

At this stage, the teardrop shell was basically ready, and would soon be getting the outer skin of 6mm ply over the white polystyrene.

DIY Images

Make sure you get the June edition of Caravan & Outdoor Life for Part 2 of Gordon’s DIY project.

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