DIY | Build a drawer system for a Defender
Ben van Dyk couldn’t find the specific kind of drawer system for his Defender. So he built one himself.
Why did you decide to build a drawer system?
I mainly built it to make life easier for us when camping. I don’t like stopping over for more than two nights in one place, so I don’t want to unpack every time we stop. I want to pitch camp as soon as possible and live out of the back of the Defender as much as possible.
I wanted two side-by-side drawers that could open independently. That way you can get to stuff easier and you can use one drawer as a working surface. This is handy during a quick stop to prepare a light lunch.
The containers in the drawers needed to be easily removable so that I can pack and unpack quickly at home. If you’re staying in a chalet you could simply open the drawers, remove the containers and take them along.
As I live right next to the sea where everything rusts, I wanted something that could withstand that.
It also needed to be strong enough to handle rough roads.
I decided to build instead of buy, because I couldn’t find a system with two separate drawers that could take removable containers anywhere. You do get systems like that, but not for the Defender, as the space between its wheel arches is quite narrow.
How did you design the system?
Did you first draw up the complete plans or did you continuously measure, fit and adapt your design?
Planning the system took longer than building it. I started by sketching a lot of different concepts and worked out that way which would work best for me.
The Defender posed specific challenges that influenced my design. First of all the two drawers had to fit in between the wheel arches. The system also needed to be lower than the wheel arches and it needed to be easy to clean and not trap dust.
But no design is perfect and as I started building I regularly sat in the back of the Landy and adapted measurements to best utilize the available space.
Which materials did you choose and why?
I wanted a sturdy frame that could withstand rough roads and conditions and that wouldn’t rust. If I could weld I would have made it from steel, as I then could have built a slimmer frame. But then rust would’ve been a problem down the line.
I then decided on aluminium angle iron and square tubing for the frame and Connect-It couplings to join it with. The couplings were pop-riveted to make it even sturdier.
For the two drawer sliders I used Furnlock’s 1 219mm super-heavy-duty slider mechanisms. I have heard from a few people that they sometimes give problems in dusty conditions, so I might replace them with other mechanisms later.
Most people use ammo cases for drawer systems, but what I dislike about them is that you can’t see what’s inside them, so you’re always struggling to find your stuff. The opening mechanisms are also very frustrating. And who wants to struggle when they camp?
Apart from that, ammo cases’ dimensions wouldn’t have worked either. They’re too high and two won’t fit side-by-side in drawers in between the Defender’s wheel arches. As they are also a bit short, they waste a bit of the available space in a Defender. Their only advantage is that they’re quite tough.
So I found some containers in a plastics shop. They are also transparent and they’ve worked perfectly so far.
- pop rivet gun
- measuring tape
- paint brush
- spanners to bolt system into Landy
What were the technical or other challenges?
I really thought long and hard about the surface I wanted to put on top of the drawer system. The tops of most commercial systems are made of wood that is covered with carpet. But a carpet can become terribly dirty due to dust and water.
Wood could also be damaged by water. I did consider aluminium chequer plate, but the sun would’ve baked it scorching hot and it would have burnt your bare legs if you sat or climbed on it.
I eventually decided on plywood and treated it with a special black varnish made for wooden sun decks. I considered rubberising it, but that would be unnecessary because the plywood works fine as it is.
Another problem was that the Landy’s previous owner had removed the rear safety belts. We have a baby and I had to refit safety belts. What I didn’t realise when I designed the drawer system, was that the bolts securing the safety belts would interfere with the drawer system. So I had to lift the whole system by 25mm. Unfortunately, that means that the top is no longer level with the wheel arches.
The fridge, which is fastened to the top of the drawer system, cannot open fully because there is 25 mm less space above it.
If you had to do it all over, what would you change?
Nothing really, as I’m quite chuffed with the system. I might make containers from aluminium or stainless steel to replace the plastic containers. That would allow me to lower the drawer system to the level of the wheel arches and to adapt them at the back so they can fit around the safety belts’ bolts. I am a bit worried though that they might vibrate and be noisy. Not to mention the increase in weight and the fact that they’re not transparent.
Each design has its own pros and cons, so you have to think carefully about what would work for you, because people’s requirements differ greatly.
How does the system perform?
Wonderfully! It really simplified things when camping. The four containers stay in the drawers when we arrive somewhere and are mainly used as a kitchen.
The first container is packed with lights, firelighters, washing powder, extra tent pegs and extra rope, the second with eating utensils in a box with special compartments, as well as dishwashing stuff, the third with unperishables such as tinned food and pasta, as well as a cast-iron bread pot and the last one with bread, coffee, sugar, tea, a kettle and sweets.
I completed the drawer system in March and have since been to Shongweni, Midmar, Albert Falls, Hazelmere, Wenen Game Reserve, Pilanesberg and Marakele.
My son who was born in February also enjoys camping with us.
What it cost
aluminium square tubing: R428
aluminium angle iron: R200
4 x Furnlock super-heavy-duty 1219mm sliding mechanisms: R1700
Connect-It couplings: R267
18mm plywood: R220
pop rivets: R50
nuts and bolts: R50
4 x plastic containers: R400
As Ben can’t weld, he used aluminium angle iron and square tubing – and connected the lengths by pop rivets and Connect-It couplings that he also riveted to the metal joints. The completed frame and Furnlock slider mechanisms. It was decided to use two side-by-side drawers instead of a single drawer – to fully utilise the vehicle’s specific inferior dimensions. When everything was assembled, a piece of plywood was fitted and treated with pool deck varnish. Ben didn’t want to cover it in carpeting as this attracts dust and water.