1. How does the cost compare to building with wood?
$4.39 – cost of a 2 in. x 4 in. x 10 ft. length of douglas fir at The Home Depot.
$12.84 – cost of a 2 in. x 4 in. x 10 ft. length of redwood at The Home Depot.
$61.94 – cost of a 1.5 in. x 1.5 in. x 10 ft. length of hollow t-slotted extruded aluminum at McMaster-Carr.
$61.94 for aluminum vs. $4.39 for wood—that’s insane! Yes, it would appear that building with a structural framing system such as t-slotted extruded aluminum would be cost prohibitive. However, that’s not the whole story. Building with wood usually has additional consumable expenses, such as stains, finishes, brushes, and sandpaper—none of which you would need with an aluminum framing system. Additionally, if you were building with wood, you’d probably buy a little extra. You might accidentally ruin a piece of wood if it splits, or perhaps you’ll run into pitch pockets and deem a piece unusable.
Heck, you might build your whole damn project out of wood, just to find that it squeaks way too much and takes up way too much space, deem the whole thing unusable, and then build it all over again in aluminum. That would really up your costs. I don’t know anyone who would be crazy enough to do that.
Seriously though, here are two more things to consider:
- Will the design change if the building material changes? You might find that a design made from extruded aluminum requires fewer pieces than a wood design, and that would impact the overall cost.
- How complicated is the design? A complicated design would require many more fasteners, hinges, and brackets, which are all ridiculously expensive in a structural framing system like t-slotted aluminum, but could conceivably be even more expensive if you’re building with wood and need specialty hardware from a place like Rockler.
All that said, my feeling is that building with t-slotted extruded aluminum will always cost at least twice as much as building with wood. Maybe even three or four times, depending on the design. For me, the benefits of extruded aluminum outweighed the costs. The benefits being:
- easy to assemble
- no sanding, staining, or finishing needed
- easy to tweak design after assembly
- doesn’t squeak
- stronger with a slimmer profile (a 1.5” x 1.5” piece of aluminum can replace a 2” x 4” piece of wood)
2. Does the aluminum rattle when driving?
So far, it does not rattle on paved city streets. I do expect it to rattle like crazy on dirt roads, but perhaps that can be mitigated with a few well-placed bungees keeping the moving parts stationary.
3. Where can I look at t-slotted extruded aluminum and explore all the various fittings and fasteners?
Someone should really open a store for DIYers with crazy ideas. I have not been able to find any brick and mortar store that stocks extruded aluminum. I have found several stores that do sell it, but you have to order it first and then they will ship the order to you. This means you can’t physically look at all the fasteners and fun whirligigs before you buy them. Boo.
From what I understand, a company called 80/20 is the main manufacturer of extruded aluminum. You can peruse their website for more info on the various products they sell, and then check their distributor lookup to find a retailer near you.
4. Where did you buy your extruded aluminum?
I bought all of my stuff through McMaster-Carr. Their website is http://mcmaster.com. I bought from them because they offered a wide selection of brackets and fasteners, their website made it easy to pick appropriately sized fasteners for the size of rail that I had chosen, and their website provided diagrams that showed how to use the various pieces of hardware. Be forewarned, however, that their website does not display shipping costs, so unless you call the company to verify the shipping cost before the order is shipped out, you’ll likely only find out how much shipping was when you see it on your credit card statement. I found that to be very strange, but at least shipping was quick—most of my orders arrived in less than a week.
5. Did you cut the aluminum yourself, and if so, how?
Yes, I used an inexpensive miter saw from Harbor Freight with an Oshlun Aluminum & Nonferrous Metal blade. I’ve probably made about 50 cuts in with it so far, and every single one has come out perfect. No burrs, and no grinding needed afterward. The blade cuts like a hot knife through butter, and I highly recommend it. No coolant or lubricant necessary.
6. What tools are needed to build with extruded aluminum?
Besides the saw and the blade mentioned above, the only other tools I needed were a tape measure, and two hex key sets (one metric, one imperial). I didn’t use my drill at all, except to anchor the legs to the floor of the van.
7. How do you convert the bed to a chaise with the cushion in place?
It’s easier to show you with a video (excuse my grubby mismatching clothes and unflattering hairdo—vanity goes out the window when I’m working on the van):