A Toy Camper for my Daughter’s Dolls

We recently sold our bunk house camper and got a toy hauler camper. We realized that the three of us don’t need a camper that sleeps 10. In fact, after our first trip out with the toy hauler, we realized we could sleep more in the toy hauler that is advertised as sleeping less. Anyway, our first trip out led us to Texas to visit family. I spent a lot of the return drive thinking about making a toy version of our toy hauler camper. That’s exactly what this project is.

Beautiful wood is not a concern here, so good ‘ole poplar was the species of choice.

I used a few different thickness rough-sawn boards I had on hand. Some 8/4 and some 4/4. When gluing up a solid blank of many layers like this, I don’t usually joint the boards first. Skip planing them until they are “flat” is good enough.

Followed by cutting the pieces a little bit longer than necessary at my miter saw station. I love this station. Tons of storage and great functionality with the miter saw.

Lots of glue and clamps followed by staring at it, waiting for the glue to dry.

Just kidding. I had stuff to do in the meantime, like changing the bandsaw blade for something that could make some curves. This is the first time I’ve put a new blade on this saw in the 4-1/2 years I’ve owned it. On day one I put a 1” wide carbide tipped Resaw King blade on it and have been loving it since. The blade I installed is a 1/4” blade for curves.

I let the glue up sit in clamps overnight. The next day I started squaring the blank at the jointer.

As is, it’s too tall to fit in my planer, so I had to trim a little off at the bandsaw.

And now it can fit. Actually, it could fit before, but I didn’t realize I had more capacity.

Some thinner material also needed to be planed down to 1/4” thick. I’ll use this for the rear ramp door.

I learned long ago that I need to draw all the details and joinery on my pieces, or I’ll inevitably screw up and cut in the wrong areas.

Bummer!! It won’t fit under my miter saw. I was hoping to make this cut in two passes from opposite faces. Unfortunately, I was about a saw tooth too tall to fit. Oh well.

Plan B was to use the bandsaw once again. I really wished I had the resaw blade on the saw here.

The bandsaw left a less-than-desirable surface. Hand tools to the rescue. With it clamped to the side of the workbench I can easily plane the end flat. This isn’t too critical, as the inside will be cut out.

On the other end of the blank, the front radius of the camper can be cut.

Followed by the front and back faces being sliced off. Again, I’m really wishing I had the resaw blade on at this moment.

My initial thought for the construction method was a bandsaw box construction. So the inside would be cut out and turned into the internal components.

This cut was the only reason I needed this blade installed. Everything else could have been done with the resaw blade. Have I mentioned how much I love that resaw blade? It sure has spoiled me.

At this point, I realized the bandsaw box construction method wasn’t entirely necessary with this build. I decided to just set the internal block aside and keep the entire inside empty. Had I settled on this idea in the beginning, I would have just made the shell out of 4 boards edge glued together. Oh well, I’ll repurpose the inside to make a truck to “pull” the camper :)

To give visual access from above, I cut a section out of the top to be used as a removable lid.

Before gluing the shell together, I need to cut the windows into one side. A few clamps and a straight edge at the workbench and I’m ready to use a plunge router.

A 1/2” diameter spiral upcut bit is the weapon of choice. Bits & Bits is a long-time business partner of mine, and I highly recommend their bits. Quality bits with competitive prices. I have a non-affiliate coupon code you can use to take 10% off your purchase at bitsbits.com. Just use the code JAYBATES at checkout.

Route, move, route, move, route, move until all the windows are cut.

Some of my start and stop locations didn’t line up at different plunge depths. These are easily cleaned up with a rasp.

Finally, the shell can be glued. Because I used the table saw to cut the lid portion, the lid portion is 1/4” too short to cover the entire span. So the choices are to push the back top piece forward by 1/4” and remove 1/4” from the sides and bottom or mount it, so the back is aligned and not worry about the gap. I figured that because the lid would be off most of the time, living with the gap wasn’t a concern.

To support the lid, I cut four small rectangular blocks.

These were secured to the inside top with CA glue.

A few passes with a plane cleans up the lid sides and makes for a no-friction fit of the lid.

With the lid figured out, the rear door can be cut from that extra board I planed earlier.

The camper frame was cut from some 1-1/2” thick stock.

The board ended up being perfect for this use. The area I needed was knot and defect free.

But it had to be cut out a certain way. I needed to split it in half so I could counterbore holes from the inside for the wheel hardware. First, a stop cut in the center.

Followed by a stop cut on one side for the length of the frame. After stopping the cut and turning off the saw, the back of the board was traced onto the fence.

That way, I could flip the board and cut the other frame side. The pencil line lets me know where to stop.

The cuts are finished at the bandsaw. After the first cut was made, I flipped it on top of the other side and traced the cut. That lets me see the far end of the table saw kerf from the last step. And the other side is cut.

Some of you may remember the 2013 days when I salvaged hardwoods from furniture in the trash. Lots of “Trash to Treasure” projects in those days. Working maintenance at an apartment complex then, I found so many useful items from what everyone had thrown away. These drawer pulls are from that apartment complex. 10 years after putting them in my hardware stash, I’m finally using them. For their second life, they are the wheels on a kid’s toy camper.

The knobs are solid wood and already had the correct screws for attachment. However, they weren’t long enough to go through the frame rails, so counterbore holes are needed. This is the only reason why I split the frame.

It will be easier to glue the frame back together when the clamping faces are still parallel. If the tongue shape is finished before, getting good clamping pressure on the joint will be difficult.

I didn’t do the best job lining everything up when the shell was glued together. A jack plane is a good choice to bring everything to the same plane. (pun intended)

With the joint dry enough to handle, the tongue shape can be defined now. Freehand at the bandsaw.

Followed by some belt sanding to remove the saw marks. I went ahead and rounded over all the vertical edges of the tongue.

Marsh black stencil ink is my favorite way to color wood black. Especially when doing V carving at the bandsaw. It’s really handy in a spray can, but unfortunately, the prices have risen, like everything else, too much lately. My solution is to buy it by the gallon and apply it with a fountain brush. It’s not the cheapest investment, but if you use a lot of the cans this is the cheaper route.

The bandsawn nose of the camper is just too rough. Leaving it will produce too much drag when towing, so it’s smoothed over with a sander. The Rotex 150 and the interface pad make super quick work of this step. This sander has some angle grinder in it’s bloodline. It removes material fast.

I wanted the camper white but not latex-paint-white. I remember having this can of white wood stain on hand from a few years ago, and it was perfect for this camper project.

Brush it on evenly, completely covering each face. Then wipe away the excess. You’re left with a beautiful white wash finish. At least on this poplar you are. I’m unsure how well it would work on something like southern yellow pine.

By now, the black ink is dry on the frame. The only downside with using this ink in the liquid form is that when dry, you can easily rub the ink off the surface and onto your hands. Then anything you touch gets it. The solution is to lock it in place; spray lacquer is a good choice. Luckily I had just enough left in this can to get a couple of coats on the frame.

I left a section of each frame side free of ink and free of lacquer for glue adhesion purposes. The frame is glued to the shell with some clamps and weight.

I didn’t have any continuous hinges in my hardware drawer, but I did have a few small strips of drawer liner padding. It felt durable enough to make a hinge out of it. But how to attach it?

Super glue and a stapler for the win. This turned out better than I thought it would.

While sifting through the hardware drawer, I found a pair of these small latches. These are perfect for giving the feeling of actually operating a toy hauler ramp door. And they happen to be small enough to fit the scale of the camper.

I live in Mississippi, so air conditioning is an absolute must. I had a strip of ash with a seven-degree bevel on each long face sitting in the scrap pile for future drawer pulls. I cut off a small section, flipped it up so it slopes up on both faces and secured it to the lid with CA glue.

When I started the build, I wanted the small entry doors to be functional too. But the more I thought about it, I realized the only hinge material I had to use was just too large in scale for the doors. And the fewer moving parts, the better this should hold up long term. I used blue tape to outline the doors and provide a small edge to follow with a permanent marker.

And with that, the camper is done. Later that day, I gave it to my daughter, and she played with it for hours.

A little over a year ago, the rest of my family got bit by the same camping & outdoors bug that I was bit by in my youth. We’ve been able to squeeze in 10 camping trips in the last 10 months, and our daughter has fallen in love with traveling and camping. I’m looking forward to looking back with her at all these fun times we’re creating. And I hope this little toy camper reminds her of all the fun stuff we do outdoors and away from home and digital screens.

Here are some final pictures of the camper. Sign up for my email newsletter if you’d like to stay updated with everything I publish. Take care, and I’ll talk to ya in the next one.


  1. THAT IS SO COOL MAN. I love your videos. Thank you for keeping me inspired and keeping me thinking.

  2. Very, very cool, Mr. Dad! Be sure to sign it on the bottom, with the year. We have a few signed pieces around the house, and the kids enjoy showing them to their own kids. If your daughter worked on it, she should sign as well.

  3. This is awesome Jay. I always enjoy seeing the things you do and make. It’s always inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  4. building things like these is what got me back into woodworking. Now I make at least one thing a month for one of the grandkids. keep up the good work. and keep having fun with the video editing!

    Grandpa Scott in
    franklin TN

  5. One day your little muffin will grow up and appreciate the things you and wife have done. What a great
    mom and daddy you are. You never cease to amazed me, dont stop…

  6. I can see your joy while you were describing the camper. This is one of my favorite vids I’ve ever seen! I think I’ve said it before but congrats on what you have created online since you’ve started and congrats on being such a great dad!

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