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DIY Flatbed

Source:
Mark Usnick
usnick@arn.net


I wanted a flatbed for easier access and greater carrying capacity of large objects like square and round bales of hay. I looked at a few factory made beds, but didn't like the compromised one-size-fits-all designs of these beds. The problem with these beds is that they sit quite a bit higher than is really necessary, giving you a higher load height and center of gravity.

Also, as I started to check into possibly making a bed myself, I realized that I could make a bed for about $350.00, but the cheapest factory made bed I could find was $750.00, and the nicer ones were over $1000.00.

Cheapskate that I am, I decided to make my own. I also verified that this bed will be a straight bolt-on to the new Ford Super Duty trucks when the time comes to replace my current truck.

The first step for my flatbed project was to build some strong sawhorses to support the bed as I built it. I used 2 3/8" oil field set-up pipe for the legs and 1/4" thick 4" square tubing for the top. Each sawhorse weighs about a hundred pounds!


Next was deciding what to do with the pickup bed. I really didn't want to leave it sitting outside for the next number of years. I built a platform out of 2x4's and a little scrap 3/4" plywood - bolted it where the tailgate normally sits when closed, and stood the bed on its end. The pickup bed was surprisingly light - an easy two man job to remove.

Once the bed was off the truck, I could then start to take accurate measurements and make a detailed plan of how the bed would go together. To allow me to continue to drive the truck with no bed, I bolted a 4x4 to the rear of the frame and attached lights, mudflaps and license plate.

The key to making a lower bed height is to avoid stacking frame members on top of one another. That's the problem with the factory flatbeds. Those beds all have two 3" channel iron members running parallel to (and on top of) the truck frame, and then additional 3" channel iron is laid perpendicular to and on top of the first two parallel members. Put this bed on top of the existing truck frame, shim up the low spots, and you have a bed height that is at least six inches above the *highest* spot in the frame.

If you custom make a bed for a particular truck, you can delete the parallel channel iron members, and instead lay the perpendicular members directly on the truck frame.

The Ford pickup bed bolts to the frame with six carraige bolts. When I removed the bed, I discovered that the frame is pre-drilled with ten holes to bolt a bed in place (four that are not used by the pickup bed). There are five holes on each frame rail, with each pair of holes (one from each frame rail) being at the same height and distance from the cab. The front two pairs and rear pair all lie on a single plane. The other two pairs are on the hump over the rear axle and are higher than the others, but by less than an inch.

What I decided to do was to run 4" channel iron perpendicular to the frame, lying across the front two pairs of holes in the frame, and the rear pair of holes. For the other two pairs of holes (on the hump), I used 3" channel iron, and then shimmed these up with washers so that the top of all five frame members were in a plane. There was really not much shimming necessary, and with ten 1/2" grade 5 bolts holding the bed down, I don't think it will go anywhere. Building the frame this way put the bed 4" above the *lowest* section of the frame, and 3" from the highest section. A lower deck height than this would require *no* crossmemebers on top of the frame, and instead weld everything to the truck frame itself - not a good idea.

After these five frame members were cut roughly to length and were bolted to the truck, I was able to take measurements for additional bracing that would run between these. These next frame members were lighter 2" channel iron, and were put roughly sixteen inches apart running parallel to the truck frame. As you can see from this picture, two of the supports (on the far side of the picture) are different - the bed sits low enough that there was not clearence for the 2" channel iron above the gas tank. So I instead took some 3" channel iron and turned it on its side (then only about an inch high).

The tricky part during this part of the project was welding the frame together without having the bed touch the truck frame. I wanted to avoid any problems with the high current of the welder zapping the electronics of the truck. With a good ground connection back to the welder and disconnecting the truck battery it may have been OK, but I decided to be extra careful. On the other hand, it is sure helpful to have the bed frame on top of the truck to be sure that everything is lined up. So I cut some little 1" square sections of thick rubber belting and put those between the truck frame and bed frame to insulate the bed from the truck. Of course I could not bolt the frame down or the bolts would provide a path for the current. I also used a leather "hay apron" (kinda like a small set of chaps that cowboys wear) to protect the fuel lines and tanks as I tacked the frame together. Once this was done, I checked to be sure it was still square and still fit the truck. Then I moved the bed to the sawhorses and cleaned up and reinforced all of the welds.

At this point in the project, the bed was already getting too bulky and heavy for me to lift on my own, and quite a handful even with the help of my skinny wife. I knew that I would want to put the bed on the truck to check things out, etc, and remove it to do the welding, so I needed a good way to lift it from the truck by myself. What I ended up doing was to make a set of brackets that I could use to bolt on four hydraulic camper jacks off of an old cabover camper I have. These jacks would allow me to remove the bed anywhere I wanted - either in the shop, or out in the driveway. Plus the brackets are small enough that I can store them until I want to remove the bed one of these years when it's time for a new truck. This camper jack idea was a big help - it made lifting the (at projects end) 600 pound bed a one-man job.

One thing I wanted to do was to make the bed as wide and as long as is practical. I bought a 6 x 8 foot piece of 1/8" floor plate (mild steel diamond-plate) and welded it in place (from the underside) onto the bed frame. I placed this floor plate about 3 1/2" from the edges of the frame, and then put 4" angle iron around the very outside edge of the bed, just overlapping the floor plate. This added almost 4" to each end of the bed, so the final measurements ended up being roughly 8'8" long and 6'6" wide. These dimensions make the bed a couple inches wider than the truck cab and about ten inches longer at the rear - this allowed me to recess the brake lights, license plate, etc out of harms way underneath the bed.

The final touches of this bed were a short headache rack and the lights, etc on the rear. I bought two sets of trailer lights and a license plate light at Walmart and a pair of backup lights at a tractor trailer supply. Also, with my low bed height, I could not use the factory fuel filler necks, so I made some from 1 1/2" galvanized steel pipe. All of the welding was done with an AC Lincoln 220 arc welder using 1/8" 6013 rod.

In the end, I am pleased with the results. The bed cost no more than I expected, and it only took about of month of part time tinkering to complete. An added bonus is that with the extra weight and structural rigidity of the bed, the truck rides better than with the factory pickup bed.

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