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Building a Better Custom Bed

Posted in How To: Body Chassis on August 2, 2019
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Running a full pickup bed in tight trees or big boulders means threading your way through obstacles hoping not to bump the sheetmetal. Over the years our 2001 Toyota Tacoma had seen some dents, scars, and broken taillights from trail encounters. Maybe you have a Ford, Chevy, Dodge or whatever pickup bed that's seen the ravages of rust, but maybe portions of it are still good. In any case, it was time to make some changes to our cargo space.

We've used this rig for everything from daytrips to weeklong expeditions in remote areas over the last decade, and had a pretty good idea how we load for various outings. We wanted to downsize a bit, maintain a certain level of cargo capacity, and still have our truck look like a pickup. Follow along to see what we did to build something a little different.

We knew we wanted the bed shorter as a start. We've bobbed beds before and liked the results. We've also scratch-built tube beds with fenderwells and storage boxes. However, this time we decided to build a minimalist bed interior to accommodate the gear we like to carry, then skin it with our original sheetmetal bedsides.

Before cutting metal, we laid out our essential gear and spare tire, and worked on the placement of everything in the space we planned to have inside the bed. We had recently fabricated a rear link suspension and rebuilt a portion of the rear truck frame with an eye toward this new bed build. From there we built additional structure from metal tubing and skinned the interior with steel sheet.

Our revised bed is now about 10 inches shorter than stock, and the tail has been narrowed about 10 inches. Rear departure angle and clearance is greatly improved and our sheetmetal is now further from trail hazards.

We'd previously removed the bed from the frame to prepare for reworking our rear suspension. We began sheetmetal surgery by cutting off the rear portion of each bedside to rid ourselves of the factory taillight buckets.
Next, we made cuts to separate the outer skins from the rest of the bed. We saved these and got rid of most of the rest of the factory bed.
While previously swapping to a linked rear suspension, we cut off a portion of the rear frame and rebuilt the tail to better suit our new bed configuration. We eliminated the factory taillights and swapped to generic, inexpensive LED lights. We cut holes for the lights in a piece of 4x2-inch box tubing that would serve as our new rear bumper.
When we built the truck a decade ago we raised the factory gas tank several inches to gain ground clearance. With the removal of our stock bed, we took advantage to raise it another inch or so by replacing a factory crossmember.
Here is the frame we were starting with after doing our rear suspension swap. We built support structure for the floor from box tubing and began cutting floor panels from 20-gauge cold-rolled steel sheet.
As we cut the panels for the bed, we drilled fastener holes in them and secured them temporarily using Cleco fasteners.
To added more rigidity and reduce vibration of the bed floor, we used a bead roller to roll steps in the panels.
We found that our factory bedsides would hang well on 1 1/2-inch tubing, so we built a tube structure that would sit behind the sheetmetal. We have an in-cab rollcage, so this bed structure was not meant to be part of a safety cage but would support the bed and its contents. We also fabricated a simple tailgate from matching tubing.
The bed interior was fabricated from steel sheet as well and secured to the tube structure with welded tabs. These panels were also bead-rolled to stiffen the sheet.
Once fitted and complete, all the panels were coated inside and outside using spray-on bedliner. We attached all the panels using 3/16-inch-diameter steel rivets.
An access panel was made over the fuel pump assembly on the gas tank. In the future, this will allow removal of the fuel pump without having to drop the tank from under the truck.
We mounted a 5-gallon polyethylene RV water tank just behind the cab near the factory gas tank.
A 12-volt on-demand water pump supplies fresh water from the tank to a valved outlet hose at the rear of the truck. Flow rate is 1-gallon per minute.
The remote reservoirs for the Radflo coilovers were mounted to the bed tubing using formed mounts from RuffStuff Specialties. We used scraps of bicycle tube to isolate the reservoirs from the mounts and screw clamps.
Panels to cover the shock towers are also riveted in place inside the bed interior.
Here's a view of the bed coming together. On the passenger side we mounted our Powertank just behind the cab under the bed sheetmetal.
The spare tire is held to the floor using a T-handle built using a 1-inch-diameter bolt. A Hi-Lift jack is bolted to the front wall of the bed on two 1/2-inch bolts. We had several pieces of tie-down track from Mac's Custom Tie Downs we'd been using. We cut them in smaller sections and placed some strategically around the bed.
Once each bedside was hung on the horizontal tubing on each side of the bed, the sheetmetal was held in place using a few quick-release Dzus fasteners.
Here is our populated bed with cooler, an 8-gallon Rubbermaid Action Packer, and a 20mm ammo can. This is our bare setup. To this we can add the extra rack shown to carry three more Action Packers and a shade canopy for longer trips.
We're using a 4 Banger aluminum quart crate from Artec Industries to carry four bottles of fluids onboard. The latch top is easy to use but plenty secure when bouncing around.
The quart crate is compact to fit easily between the ammo can and our spare tire, bolted in place to the floor.
Here's the tail of the finished bed with the rear of each bedside capped in sheetmetal and the tailgate finished in primer. LED lighting is installed, including small reverse lights. The license plate slides out to reveal a standard 2-inch receiver socket in the bumper.
We found the shorter, narrower bed made moving through tight trees a lot easier.

Sources

Artec Industries
855-278-3299
http://www.artecindustires.com
Mac's Custom Tie-Downs
Sagle, ID
800-666-1586
http://www.macscustomtiedowns.com
Ruff Stuff Specialties
916-600-1945
http://www.ruffstuffspecialties.com

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