How to build low profile storage boxes in your SUV

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You can follow the instructions precisely, or it may inspire you to come up with your very own storage solution! Anyone with basic wood working skills can do this in a weekend. This idea will work in the back of almost any SUV, truck or even in the trunk of a car.  I have less than $100 invested in making my storage boxes.

You will need:

  • 1 or 2, 4’x8′ sheets of cabinet grade 3/4″ plywood; depending on the size you make the boxes.
  • 3/4″ Piano hinges
  • 1 sheet of peg board
  • 2″ drywall screws
  • Wood Glue
  • Drill with a Phillips head bit
  • 1/8″ drill bit
  • Tape measure
  • Circular saw or table saw
  • chalk line or straight edge unless you have a table saw
  • Extension cord
  • Pencil
  • Sawhorses (helpful)
  • Long wood clamps
  • Wood stain (color optional)
  • Cloth rag
  • Wood rasp (optional)

Before you jump right in and start cutting you need to make a simple plan. Get a piece of paper, a pencil, and a tape measure. Measure the area in the back of your SUV, truck, or car, that you want the storage box to fit in.

First measure from the back side of the rear seats to the rear door or hatch.  Be sure to allow room between the front of the box and the seats.  Leave enough room at the back to close the door or hatch.  It is a good idea to close the door or hatch when you take this measurement to get a better idea of how much actual room you have.

Measure from side to side at the narrowest place.  Leave just a little space, about 1/8″-1/4″ on both sides so the box will slide in and still fit securely.

If you are good at this sort of thing, then you can make the box any size or shape to fit precisely in the back of your SUV.  It is much faster and easier to simply make a rectangular shaped box.  It is totally up to you.  If you choose this option, measure other areas as needed.

Once you are satisfied with your measurements and have them all written down on paper, you need to sketch a rough diagram.  Draw a box on the paper in the shape that you measured for and write the measurements on your diagram.

I actually made three smaller boxes and bolted them together to make one big box (at the time it seemed like a good idea).  It is wider in the back.  Remember to use the measurements that you took and the ones on the picture.

Decide how deep you want the box.  I made mine 4″ deep.  I measured the height of the gear that I planned to put inside the box.  I wanted it to be as low profile as possible while still big enough to hold my gear. 

Remember that the outside measurement will be larger.  Mine is 4″ deep inside so the outside height measurement is 5″.

Once you determine how deep you want the box to be you are ready to start building the storage box.

First cut the sides.  Since my box is 4″ deep, I cut strips of plywood that were 4″ wide, and then cut the strips to the proper length.  If you cut the plywood with the grain then it will not splinter as bad (I learned his from experience).  Use a finish/plywood blade on your saw.

After you get the sides cut to width and length, glue them together to form the box or boxes.  You can use the long wood clamps to clamp them until the glue sets up (about 30 min).  When the glue is set up take off the clamps and use 2″ drywall screws to reinforce the glue and hold the box sides together securely.  It is a good idea to pre-drill the screw holes with a small 1/8″ drill bit to prevent the plywood from cracking.

Once the sides are securely together and the glue is dry, now is the time to stain or paint the sides.  I used Ebony oil based wood stain on mine to make them water resistant.  After the stain dried I roughed up the edges and corners with a wood rasp to make it look antique and rugged (manly).

Measure and cut the bottom of the box or boxes out of the 1/4″ pegboard.  I used pegboard because I had some left over from another project.  It is lightweight and sturdy, but it has holes in it…  If you want you can use 1/4″ plywood or a similar thin material.

Pre-drill holes with a 1/8″ drill bit, then attach the bottom with 2″ drywall screws. Make sure the boxes are squared up when you attach the bottom.

Since I made 3 smaller boxes I had to clamp them together then drill holes and put bolts in them.  In retrospect, it is much easier to make one large box and put dividers where you want them.

After the bottom is on, slide your box into the back of the SUV and decide how you want the lid or lids to open. I made 2 hinged lids and one lift off lid.

Measure the boxes or flip them over and trace them onto a piece of 3/4″ plywood. Carefully cut out the lid and then make sure it fits. Stain or paint the lid however you want it to look.

Attach the lids with long piano hinges. It may be necessary to cut the piano hinges to length with a hack saw or angle grinder. Use the screws that come with the hinges to attach them.

Slide the finished boxes into your SUV and stand back to admire your work.

I used small metal angle brackets to secure my box to the floor of my SUV.

When you finish, you can cover the box with carpet and still use the cargo area for hauling bigger things.

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