Basic Do’s and Don’t’s when Building a Utility Trailer

There is no better feeling than building something with your own two hands. Sure, buying pre-made is convenient, but you just don’t get the high that comes with looking at something and being able to say, “I made that.” For tradesmen and travelers alike, the usefulness of a utility trailer is unparalleled. But for those looking to build their own, it can be pretty intimidating.

Truthfully, however, it’s nothing to be scared of. Trailers consist of basic construction, and while there’s a little bit of math involved, it’s certainly not rocket science. So relax, and don’t feel like you have to call over that snarky college graduate for advice. We’re here to cover some of the very basics to help get you moving. With a general overview of some helpful do’s and don’t’s, we hope to point you in the right (and safe) direction.

Do: Plan ahead.

Knowing the utility trailer is half the battle (if not more). Start with deciding what exactly the intended use of the trailer is, then begin brainstorming the layout. Take the time to decide if it will be open, enclosed, and how much weight it will be hauling. Winging it or changing the plan halfway through will cost you money. And you’ll be making a lot of aggravating trips to get new supplies.

Don’t: Wait on ordering the axles.

Having axles on hand, before building the frame, can save time by helping you decide the width of the trailer up front. If you build the frame before ordering, or at least know exactly what axles you will be using, one of two things will happen. Either the frame will get the death wheel or the axles will need some custom machining. Plan accordingly and you’ll save yourself the hassle.

Do: Measure twice, cut once.

After designing the layout, you can get right to work. Just don’t rush it. The frame of the utility trailer should be perfectly square. If it resembles a modern art masterpiece, something went horribly wrong. Double check, triple check, heck, even quadruple check before cutting things up.

Don’t: Not weld.

Hardware does many things well, but it shouldn’t be used to hold the frame work of a utility trailer together. This is the kind of job that will require strong and precise welding. If this is something you don’t think you can do, seek out the help of a buddy who can. Sure, a case of beer and a favor in return may be in order, but that’s a small price to pay to ensure the trailer doesn’t come apart turning transit.

Do: Offset the axle.

As a beginner, it may be tempting to mount the axle in the dead center of the trailer. However, you really don’t want to do this. You want 60% of the frame in front of the axle. We’ve all seen those trailers scaring the living daylights out of passing drivers as they tail behind a truck like a wrecking ball. Don’t be that guy… Make sure there is enough tongue weight to ensure safe towing.

Do: Leave room for your fenders.

Yes, if you’ve measured twice and cut once, this shouldn’t be an issue. But it’s still an easy mistake to make. It’d be a real bummer to weld up the sides of the utility trailer, only to have no room left for the fenders. Also, if the axles compress all the way and the tires bang into the fenders, you could be up a creek without a paddle. Avoid this by taking the time to properly figure in how far the axles can compress and figure them in up front.

Don’t: Forget the Ramp

Now, not every trailer will use a ramp. But if it does, make sure it’s long enough. Lawnmowers aren’t ATVs, and a short ramp can topple it over. Figure out what’s going in the trailer and build an appropriate ramp if it needs one. Just don’t get carried away with a twenty-foot tailgate/ramp combo. Otherwise bridges just got a whole lot scarier.

Don’t: Forget the lighting*

(*And wiring.) Lighting is an essential part of a trailer. Turn signals, stop lights, even interior lighting will be needed. Without it, the trailer is a death trap. Take the time to decide on appropriate lighting mounts and be sure to find a safe route for all the wiring. Optronics and Peterson Manufacturing are vehicle lighting manufacturers that offer an impressive array of lighting and safety solutions for trailers.

Do: Utility trailer jack

When unloaded, man-handling that trailer is easy. But put the equipment on it and then let’s see how much fire power those guns have. There are tons of options when it comes to a trailer jack. Some are universally mounted and some will need to be figured into the build schematics in the beginning. Either way, don’t leave it out.

We hope you found these tips helpful. Share some of your own in the comments section below!

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