This article was originally published in April 2020. It has been updated with information about a reader’s DIY roof rack build.
A roof rack on a wagon or SUV adds a lot of functionality and style. Many wagons and SUVs come with basic side rails and cross bars, but those lack any real cargo holding capability. For that, you need a roof rack (or cargo basket) to carry larger items like luggage carriers, bikes and other cargo.
Related DIY article: DIY Cargo Step Box
Related DIY article: Transforming The Family Truckster
Buy or Build?
Build your own roof rack? Is that even possible? When I started shopping for a roof rack, I saw everything from $80 – 700 racks. The reviews on the cheaper ones were all the same – they started to rust right away and were flimsy. I’m pretty frugal, so did not see the value in buying an expensive rack that would only see occasional use.
That left building one myself.
Where to Start?
While I am a pretty fair welder, I decided to make one out of wood for simplicity and cost. I actually got some ideas from other DIY roof racks on Pinterest (check out my Roof Rack Boards to see my inspiration). I did some sketches and came up with a simple design that was highly functional. After looking at my wood options at Lowe’s, I decided to go with their Premium Pine.
The overall dimension of the roof rack is 36″ wide x 48″ long. This size can be attached to most factory roof rails with ease, making it pretty universal. The materials used are shown below:
(3) 1″ x 2″ x 8″ Premium Pine boards (for the base)
(1) 1″ x 4″ x 8′ Premium Pine boards (for the sides)
(5) 1″ x 3″ x 8′ Premium Pine boards (for the deck slats)
(1) box of 1.75″ cabinet screws
The above total was around $40 (early 2020 prices)
I had primer, paint, wood stain and polyurethane in my shop, so used those to paint and stain the rack. I probably used less than $10 of that material.
The above pictures show the various states of the build process. At a high level, here were the steps:
- cut all pieces of wood to length
- assemble the frame with wood glue and screws
- lay the deck slats on the frame to determine spacing and fit
- place the deck slats on a bench or sawhorses so that you have room to apply the wood stain and polyurethane (follow instructions on the cans)
- paint the assembled frame black (I used satin black Rustoleum, applied with a foam roller)
- once all pieces are dry, screw the deck slats to the frame
Once stained, painted and assembled, it weighs in at 21 pounds. This compares favorably to the MaxxHaul Cargo Basket, which weighs 25 pounds. My DIY rack only costs $40 versus the MaxxHaul at $129 at Amazon.com, and my design won’t rust!
Design Update: October 2022
After using the roof rack over the past couple of years, I learned that the high sides don’t work well for hauling plywood. It does not lay flat on the slats as the rack is narrower than standard plywood.
Luckily, the sides just unscrew from the frame which allowed me to rip them through my table saw. This is the beauty of a wood roof rack–very easy to customize along the way.
I cut the sides so that when then are reinstalled, they sit at the same height as the deck. See pictures below.
I used carriage bolts, wing nuts and flat brackets at each corner to attach the roof rack to the cross bars. The pictures below will show you how that looks at one of the corners.
The vehicle I built this for (a 2004 Honda CRV) has been sold. I just tried this on my 2022 Subaru Outback and it fits great! The spacing of the mounting brackets needs to be changed, but I am also looking at other attachment methods.
Reader’s Rack Build
In the two years since this article first published it has become my #1 article for views. Between the pictures I posted on Pinterest and another DIY website sharing it, it has become very popular by a wide margin!
One of my readers, Joe H. from South Carolina, reached out to me with questions about my roof rack design. He was in the middle of making his own, but making some slight modifications to fit his vehicle. We had a great conversation about it and he shared his final product pictures and story below:
I Googled “DIY roof rack” and your website page (and Pinterest) came up several times. I’m no master woodworker, just cheap and resort to making my own stuff when I can’t find a reasonable one on the market.
This roof rack is going on top of a truck topper that has integrated rack rails. I did modify it somewhat to put a wind shield on the front of it.
Perfection is the enemy of done and I’ve put enough time into this that I’m going to call it at least 99% done. The rack is far from perfect, but it’s very sturdy and not the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.
I still need to clean it up some. It has 12 anchors around the outside perimeter and then two anchors on the slats for something very specific that I intend to carry. The slats have four coats of marina exterior varnish, whereas the frame has just two coats of matte black. It’s 6 feet long and 50 in wide. I still need to purchase the hardware for anchoring it directly to the truck.
Thank you again for your help and for your original post! I’m sure many people will try to replicate what you’ve done.