Aluminum Framed Truck Camper - How are they built?

#1
I know that ARE/LEER/CENTURY/LIFETIME etcs all build aluminum trucks caps using a combination of MIG/TIG and .080 and .050 1x1 T6 square tubing.

Do most others in the industry build their aluminum frames this way? I see that Vagabond Campers, for example, ditches the small tubing in favor of larger boxed sections.

If I wanted to build my own (among other projects) would I be better to get a MIG+Spool Gun, or a TIG? Or just attempt brazing something together?

Are the window frames a universal thing that can be purchased from vendors?
 

plh

Explorer
#2
I don't know about windows.

For welding, if you are planning on 0.080" or 0.050" thickness tubing, Mig/Spool would be extremely challenging. Tig on 0.050 would be somewhat challenging unless you are an experienced welder. One of the reasons Vagabond (and others) use 0.125" material is because it can be mig/spool or tig welded much easier.

Brazing is out of the question generally for aluminum.
 
#3
FWC and ATC use .040 6063-T5. They weld each of the 4 sides and then weld them together. Once they have the bottom box welded they will put the 8" extruded piece around that will form the bed platform.

ATC and FWC both Tig, but I think over the past couple years FWC has migrated to spool fed aluminum.

For my builds I personally use .063 6063-T5 and use tig to weld up the frame inside and out. Makes for a super strong and lightweight frame. I also had a spool, but as plh up above said, it is no fun. Tig is challenging at first but once you get some hours under your belt you'll be fine.

Windows can be sourced, though very expensive. You can buy from different vendors, windoors or just straight glass. You can do this or you can buy trim lok seal and some glass or acrylic and make your own.

Happy building!
 
#4
OVRLND, thanks for the detailed response.

When you say that FWC TIGS but also uses spool fed aluminum, is that like a TIP TIG or cold wire spool fed TIG? Or are they using a high quality MIG that just makes the process easier?

Regarding Vagabond's construction technique, I did notice that they don't appear to use "ladder style" structural tubing like many others, instead bending and shaping larger panels to fit a much simpler 10-piece box. Their construction is a mix between GFC's spaceframe idea and OVRLND's more traditional camper shell construction.
 

plh

Explorer
#5
TIP TIG is pretty cool! Thanks for sharing that, I had no idea that TIG filler wire could be power fed. I just have a 200 amp AC/DC unit and am not a pro.
 
#6
To be clear, I'm no pro either. I'm just trying to do some research before buying a unit, and since this would likely be the biggest project I'm trying to determine what would be best for building an aluminum (or steel) camper.

I found this little blurb from FWC back in 2014 describing it's new process: "On the newer FWC's we are using better welding techniques, better welding machines, are now MIG welding, adding in additional framing, redesigning the frames, and using filet welds on both sides (inside corners) of the tubing (instead of just one side) in as many places as allows. This had made the frame much stronger and has eliminated the cracks over the doors and over the front window. By using a filet welds on each side of the tube has also allowed us to do a lot less grinding. We still offer a full 5 year warranty on the camper frames against cracks. "

Here is FWC's frame:


Here's a guy who tore one apart and put it back together with a Miller 211 and Spool Gun. "Started building the frame for the floor this weekend. I was absolutely impressed with the spoolgun. It worked great! There was a small learning curve at the beginning (bird nested wire and burnt tips), but I figured it out. Welding the 16g (.065), I switched my Miller 211 dual voltage welder over to 110v and it welded perfect."
 
#7
OVRLND, thanks for the detailed response.

When you say that FWC TIGS but also uses spool fed aluminum, is that like a TIP TIG or cold wire spool fed TIG? Or are they using a high quality MIG that just makes the process easier?

Regarding Vagabond's construction technique, I did notice that they don't appear to use "ladder style" structural tubing like many others, instead bending and shaping larger panels to fit a much simpler 10-piece box. Their construction is a mix between GFC's spaceframe idea and OVRLND's more traditional camper shell construction.
So you found the same article I read... I dont know what process of mig it happens to be. Im sure wit their output they have some pretty talented people to weld up anything. I chose box style because it is easier to change frame to frame. If you want along bed, or short bed I dont have to change tooling, I just have to change jigs.

What kind of welder are you leaning towards?