When it comes to truck camper construction, wood gets a bad rap. That’s too bad because when it comes to wood nothing is more beautiful. The key to wood construction, of course, is doing it right. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Ian Azariah decided to try his hand at building a camper out of wood. He had never built one before, but with the help of a friend, he was able to do it. As you can see, the results of his do-it-yourself (DIY) build are breathtaking. Of course, the Mobile Dojo of Leisure Enthusiasm, as Ian calls it, isn’t a slide-in truck camper, it’s actually a truck topper that sits on the rails of the truck. Due to their weight, toppers are becoming more popular with those who own mid-size trucks like Ian. To learn more about Ian’s impressive DIY build, he was kind enough to answer a few questions.
Thanks for talking with us about your camper, Ian. First, can you tell us a little about yourselves.
Ian: We are Ian and Denise Azariah. I am Canadian and Denise was born in Romania. We both live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
What do you two do for a living?
Ian: I work as a photographer with a specialty in tintype and Denise works in healthcare.
Why did you decide to build a truck camper rather than buy one?
Ian: The design that I had in mind was very specific and although there are many great camper options out there, I wanted to build something that was unlike anything you could purchase. To be honest, I never even considered buying a camper because the design and construction process of it was just as much a motivation to take on than simply having a camper when its done.
Was there any existing truck camper that provided inspiration for your build?
Ian: Yes, there are some campers that were inspiring. Lloyd Kahn’s books really showed me that you can think out of the box and still make something beautiful and functional, and also that nearly anyone with some focus and gusto can manage to build what you can’t buy. But were I to choose one person’s work above all that pushed me to not just strive for a DIY camper cut and dry, but to try and make a rolling art piece it would be Jay Nelson. His builds are incredible in not only function but in form. I feel like we have similar ideas in terms of what a camper should be.
Essentially, when I saw his builds it made me think “wow, you can do that,” and it made me want to do it. At first people are timid toward the idea, and I was too, can you just build something that’s gonna handle what you throw at it, but he also started an Instagram handle called @permissionimpossible and it shares just the most ridiculous builds that are just totally janky at times, and yet they seem fine doing 120km/h down the highway. And as strange as it is, this created just as much fire in me to make one as the polished builds that you find, because it allowed me to realize that whatever you do will probably work. I mean, if these dudes are sending it on that level, why can’t I?
I’ve also always really love tree houses and other kinda fun wood craft construction, and I don’t have any land of my own build on, so why not build onto my truck?
My old truck’s frame—literally the same generation Tacoma—was not in great shape, so when I found the truck we have now at a price I thought was fair I jumped on the opportunity. This build had been in my mind for three years since I had sold my 4Runner for the Tacoma. I needed the truck to move lots of stuff to shoot tintypes and to be able to take my dirt bikes on trips. The double-door design on the back was so I could still stuff my longer motorcycle in there no problem with the gate down and the doors open.
How was your camper constructed? Is there anything notable about the build that makes it unique?
Ian: The camper was constructed in similar manner that you would go about building a boat, just upside down. In terms of what makes it unique, essentially everything. From its bead-and-cove cedar construction to its double intersecting elliptical roof radius, down to its 12-part, segmented ring windows with “eyebrow” rain protection, there is nothing standard or expected at all.
In terms of material it’s built entirely out of wood, 2×4’s for the subframe, laminated plywood for the curved roof tresses, and bead and cove cedar to clad it with, and waterproofed with a fiberglass and epoxy.
We built the “exoskeleton” over the truck and cab first, then we used the bead and cove cedar to cover the whole body like a boat. Once that was done we filled in all the gaps, cut out the sides to fit our windows in—they all open except the front two—then before installing the windows we fiberglassed the entire body with clear entropy resin epoxy extra clear, then mounted it to the truck before installing the windows. Then finally built a back door and interior in two days flat to hit-the-road. I would like to go back and redo the back door in cedar at some point or at a minimum get the bigger windows I have made for the back door mounted.
Also you might notice the window that connects the camper to the cab is the exact same window we have on the truck assembled backwards giving it a perfect match up. This also is what accounts for the curve of the side facing the cab as we had to inverse the curve of the Tacoma cab.
The hardest part without a doubt was assembling the “crown” of the camper where the side boards intersected with the front boards. Each board was its own unique compound miter cut as we worked out way up to the crown, where a final board gets tapped in with perfect pressure fit.
The construction of the camper is documented entirely on a time-lapse that you can find on my Instagram and will do a better job of showing any one interested than words will ever.
In addition to Denise helping with the build, another friend, Colin D. Watt, came aboard and we started to attack the project together. He brought a wealth of woodworking knowledge that he shared with me that I will carry for life. I am not a carpenter by trade, but I am able to learn plus do anything if I put my mind to it. When starting this project I knew I had a lot to learn to end up with the product I was envisioning, so I would be remiss without mentioning how instrumental he was to the project in helping bring my vision to life without cutting any corners.
What are your favorite features of the camper?
Ian: The round windows. There is something about taking an object that people usually associate with a certain shape and then changing it that immediately triggers imagination, and lets adults slip for a moment back into a world of day dreaming that many people leave behind with childhood.
They’re are our favorite, too. They remind us of portholes on a ship. Does your camper have a bathroom, toilet, or a shower?
Ian: No shower, no toilet. Simplicity is sophisticated.
How does the bed in the cabover deploy for nighttime use?
Ian: There is a rail system where the additional platforms click-in to make the above cab sleeping happen, or you can set it up down below.
Does your camper have an electrical system?
Ian: Not at this time. We have no electrical needs we can’t solve with a simple back-up battery charger for phones, etc. I still hope to get in and install some recessed LED lights that point up toward the arc of the interior walls for some controllable “cove lighting,” but charging-up while we drive works fine for us
Can you tell us about more about your truck? Are you over or under your truck’s GVWR?
Ian: It’s a 2004 TRD Tacoma 4×4, and yes, we are under the GVWR. The camper weighs about 600 pounds. Keeping the build light and within the existing footprint of the truck was important to us as the camper lives on the truck. We live in downtown Vancouver, so there is nowhere to take it off and store it at least not like I’d want to.
Did you need to make any modifications to your truck’s suspension?
Ian: Yes, we put Ride Rite air bags on the rear suspension. We just wanted to keep the body rock to a minimum and have the option to stiffen the ride up if the camper is really loaded. The number one comment I get when people go for a drive with me is how well the truck drives with the camper on.
Do you have any regrets in the build? Anything you wished that you had done
Ian: Were I to do it again I would design the top curved portion on Sketch Up and then get a CNC machine to cut the arches for a perfect mathematical match. I began the build in March when the world shut down, so that was not an option at the time.
What is the longest amount of time you spent in your camper?
Ian: Two weeks. It only got finished in August and we then immediately took it on a two-week road trip across the province
What kind of mileage are you getting with your setup?
Ian: In the city it’s obviously a bit more taxing on gas, not terrible. The starting and stopping like any vehicle is what uses the most gas, and adding weight never helps, but in terms of highway we did not loose any mileage! People usually assume it gets terrible mileage, but that’s not the case.
What wheel and tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
Ian: Goodyear Wranglers, and for the pressures that depends on what kind of road we are about to be on. If there is lots of gravel I drop it down; smooth tarmac, I pump ’em up.
What kind of places are you planning to visit in your truck camper rig.
Ian: Literally everywhere I go the Mobile Dojo of Leisure Enthusiasm is with me. Expect me at Mt. Seymore, Fromme, Vancouver Island, etc.
We love the name. Do you have any advice for those who are considering a truck camper build of their own?
Ian: I do. Simply start building if you have the ability to. Discover problems along the way and tackle them as they come. Do not fall victim to paralysis by analysis, just send it and have fun!
Do you have a website and social media channels that our readers can follow?
Ian: I sure do. You can find me on Instagram where you can see the whole build happen via time-lapse or my personal Instagram account where I share my tintype work (1860’s form of photography where photographs are made onto metal using real silver), and my two websites, www.ianazariah.com and www.tintypetrike.com.