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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
In preparation for an epic summer overlanding trip to Alaska, I decided I needed to build a shelf in the rear cargo area of my FJ. I have searched the web on and off for months and have found inspiration in a few other designs posted on the forum. I decided to keep my design simple and functional. The shelf will allow me to place two large bins side-by-side under the shelf during our trip. One bin will have my recovery gear, tools, compressor etc. The second bin will be food, cooking storage for the many nights of camping we will be doing.

After considering many different materials, I finally decided on a 3/4" MDF plywood covered in sturdy non-slip fabric. MDF would not be great if the shelf were being exposed to years of prolonged heavy loads that would cause it to bend, but my use will be mainly during trips. Also, I figured that if the shelf started to bow, I could always install a center support later on.

At Home Depot I purchased a 4'x8' sheet of 3/4" thick MDF ($25). I had them trim the beast to 65"x35" for transport home, based on rough measurements of the footprint of the FJ's cargo area. Also, on Amazon I bought a 15' long, 48" wide roll of Polymat trunk liner/speaker box fabric in charcoal grey. The Polymat came with an aerosol can of 777 Upholstery Adhesive as well. ($25)

The Build:

STEP 1: I cut large cardboard boxes in order to create templates for both the left and right sides of the cargo area, using the existing humps on each side to hold the shelf. I really took my time to make the templates as exact as I could, and looking back on this process now, I can't stress enough how important the accuracy of these templates were.





STEP 2: In order to mount the side templates accurately on the MDF, I had to take exact measurements of the FJ rear cargo door opening, marking the spots on my templates, then spreading the templates apart on the MDF very precisely to match the FJ. I did the same for the rear side-to-side measurement (with the rear seats folded down so they did not hit the templates.) I then had my wife help me hold the templates to the MDF while I taped them in place. Once taped in place, I traced the side templates and used my t-square to connect the two sides with perfectly straight lines. I checked the measurements of the final tracing on the MDF because I knew that once I began cutting, that was it!



STEP 3: Cut out the shelf with a jig saw, inhaling as much MDF dust as possible.

STEP 4: Have your wife help you try to fit the heavy shelf into the rear cargo area through the back door. Admit defeat.

STEP 5: Have your wife help you try to fit the heavy shelf into the cargo area from the rear seating area. Admit defeat.

STEP 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5, assuring your wife that there has to be a way to make the shelf fit. Admit defeat.

STEP 7: Since there is no geometrical way to fit the perfectly cut shelf into place, I needed to come up with an alternate plan. I wanted to avoid a wobbly hinge system that would weaken over time. I also wanted to avoid cutting the shelf so that I would need multiple supports from underneath. I decided to cut off one side of the shelf, approximately 3.5 inches from the right side. This is just enough to allow the shelf to fit through the rear door when held at an angle, while keeping the shelf wide enough to rest on the two humps in the cargo area. Then, the piece that I cut off, the "knockout piece" as I have started calling it, is placed back in its original spot, locking the shelf securely in place. It turned out to be one of those "of course!" moments, with the final solution being simpler and more functional than I had imagined.

"Knockout Piece" trimmed from the right side:


"Knockout Piece" placed to lock the shelf in place (it will never sit perfectly flat because the humps on the side of the cargo area are actually sloped):




STEP 8: Now that I was satisfied with the fit, it was time to cover the shelf and knockout piece in fabric. My goal was to prevent the shelf from vibrating and rattling on the hard plastic and it will also help to keep items on the shelf from shifting during travel. The aerosol upholstery adhesive that came with the Polymat fabric worked like a charm and almost instantly bonded the fabric to the shelf! If you attempt to use this product, make sure you read the directions carefully because once the fabric touches the wood there is ZERO room for error and it would be super easy for this to turn into a nightmare. I used liquid nails and staples on the edges (especially in the corners) to make sure the fabric would not peel over time from rubbing against the sides of the FJ or being taken in and out. I am thrilled with the result, which yielded no bubbles or folds at all. The fabric on the edge was a pain in the butt to install, but it was well worth the effort.















Final Thoughts:

I am thrilled with the solid result of this shelf. The MDF is very sturdy and could hold at least 50 pounds of weight without bowing more than a quarter inch. This will be plenty of strength for my needs. The heart attack that I had when I couldn't with the full-sized shelf into the FJ was rewarded by the simple solution of creating the "knockout piece" on the right side of the shelf. This knockout piece makes installing and removing the heavy shelf a breeze, but still locks the shelf in place very securely.

I have been driving with the shelf for 3 days now and I haven't heard a single vibration, noise, or wobble. I don't even know it's there. I haven't driven with the shelf loaded with gear but I am confident that it will be up to the challenge.

The area under the shelf provides a storage area about 10" high, 42" wide, and 30" deep. I found 2 containers at Home Depot that match these dimensions nicely for my recovery gear/tools, and one for my food/cooking items.

My only lingering question will be coming up with a way to anchor my cooler that will be sitting on the shelf. My first choice is to use the existing grocery bag anchors under the windows in the cargo area to rig a simple strap/bungee system. If that fails, I will look into drilling a few anchors directly into the shelf to keep the cooler from sliding around.

Thanks for reading my first post and please let me know if you have any questions!
 

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Nice simple clean shelf.

You might consider adding some angle aluminum to the front and back edges to help prevent deflection of the MDF over time (which it will do with a cooler or other heavy load on top).

That being said, I would use simple D-Ring hold-downs bolted through the top and backed up with fender washers to provide anchor points for your loads. The washers will help minimize the potential for the hold-down to break through the rather weak MDF.

Plywood might have been a better choice for both weight and strength, however:wink
 

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Nice clean low budget solution that serves your purpose.... Sawwhweeet. There has been many many posts to read threw regarding rear storage solutions. I basically built something similar as you but added a center rib for support. I liked the fact that standing on top of the shelf allowed me enough height to reach over the roof and secure stuff or wax and buff for maintenance. Much easier then stand on the sliders and trying to reach over and secure or load from.

If I ever get motivated I would like to use all aluminum sheet and angle and rivet some type of system from just behind the the front and passenger seats. Open the whole back end up so I could stow and secure all my expedition equipment.
 
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What's the story with that Kicker speaker? I love the low profile look of that. I'd like to remove the factory sub box and replace it with something like that.

As for anchoring your cooler, check out any marine supply store. They all sell the corner brackets that screw down into the deck of boats. Holds the cooler in place and prevents it from sliding all over the deck of the boat.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
What's the story with that Kicker speaker? I love the low profile look of that. I'd like to remove the factory sub box and replace it with something like that.

As for anchoring your cooler, check out any marine supply store. They all sell the corner brackets that screw down into the deck of boats. Holds the cooler in place and prevents it from sliding all over the deck of the boat.
Thanks for the great idea about the marine deck anchors, would've never thought of those! The sub is a Kicker "Hideaway" model that has a bass toggle mounted by the drivers right knee attached to the center console so you can adjust the bass level independently without screwing around with your main audio controls while driving. The speaker enclosure is super sturdy and will really take a beating. Sound is fantastic too, but I have to put some padding around the edges of the plastic storage bins built into the sides of the FJ because when the bass bumps they rattle. It's a one-hour project that's on my list!

Here is a link to the sub (closest I can find) if you'd like to look into it:

Kicker 11HS8 Hideaway? compact powered subwoofer: 150 watts and an 8" sub at Crutchfield.com
 
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