Neal Bahrman built his own storage drawers and topped them with a diamond plate aluminum platform.
The story below was originally published in the March 2008 issue of JLC and is as relevant now as it was then. Bahrman later produced a video which can be found at the bottom of this page. Be sure to view the photos, which include shots that were not included in the original article and cannot be seen in the video.
Custom Truck Bed Storage
By Neal Bahrman
Like many tradespeople, I'd always lusted for a shiny new work truck with utility-bed locking boxes — plus a high-security shop-garage to park it in and a five-digit checking account that could bankroll the whole shebang. But instead I had a middle-aged half-ton pickup, an unfenced driveway, and a budget with about as much fat as a figure skater. So I took what I had and went to work.
I didn't need much: just a truck-bed tool-storage unit that would keep the weather out and my valuables locked up but readily available, their presence hidden from passersby — all with a minimum of disruption to my truck bed's hauling capacity.
The solution I settled on was a set of pullout drawers that deliver reach-and-grab accessibility. I built the plywood drawer case in three separate sections. The two side boxes had to fit around the wheel wells, so I installed them first, pushing them over to their respective sides and scribing them for a snug fit. I designed the center section to interlock with the sides via cleats, so the three sections function as an integral unit.
A sheet of diamond-plate aluminum protects the plywood storage case from weather and wear. The center section contains three deep, full-length drawers (left). The two narrow side compartments have full-length drawers on top (right) and shorter ones — which end at the wheel wells — underneath.
I assembled the sections with Titebond glue and Kreg pocket-screw joinery, then painted them with a durable alkyd-enamel. I covered the top of the case with diamond-plate sheet aluminum, screwed to the 3/4-inch plywood platform. And I added reinforcing wood strips (glued and screwed) along the top and bottom of the sides; they supply anchorage for my tie-down hooks. The drawers and lift-out trays have plywood sides and pine ends. I used butt joints, fastened with glue and countersunk screws, followed by several coats of marine spar varnish. To protect the contents from moisture I set the ends a couple of inches in from the handles. I also sealed the top edge of the platform with sponge-foam compression-type weather stripping, which keeps water intrusion to a minimum. Since the front end of the drawer case is boxed shut, there's little danger that water will get into the drawer area when it drains down between the case and the front of the bed.
To avoid paying for oversized drawer hardware, the author installed plastic furniture glides on the bottom back edges of the drawers (left inset) and at the front bottom of the openings (right inset). The drawers slide easily and are supported by the tailgate when open.
Everyone asks me the same question about my setup: Do the drawers slide easily? The boxes are heavy when full, no doubt about it. But I installed plastic furniture glides on the bottom back of the big drawers and at the front of their openings, and people are always surprised by how easy they are to operate.
Because the open tailgate supports the extended drawers, I didn't need to install any supporting drawer hardware. I prevent sticking and minimize friction by periodically rubbing the drawer bottoms with beeswax and polishing the sides with car wax.
For security, I added a simple aftermarket Pop & Lock tailgate lock. But the best security feature, in my opinion, is how well the drawers are hidden: A glance into the back of the truck reveals nothing to indicate the presence of valuable tools below deck.
When the tailgate is closed, there's no sign of the tool storage. A lock secures the tailgate.
I do have to admit that the whole time I was working on this project, a nagging inner voice kept asking, "Is this really going to be worth the time and trouble?" Once the drawers were finally finished and I'd begun using them every day, though, a new question took over: "Why didn't I do this a long time ago?"
Neal Bahrman is a GC and the owner of HP Construction of Bakersfield, Calif.