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make_a_custom_roof_rack

I love my Land Cruiser and I love making things. I also need to transport large sheet goods and it isn’t really easy to do that inside the vehicle. So rather than buy a standard roof rack, I made my own to fit my specific needs.


I have been wanting to make a roof rack for the Land Cruiser for a while. I’ve been trying to learn how to weld aluminum specifically for that project. Well, my TIG welding education has been slow-going and I still need a roof rack so I went another route. Looking at my CNC I noticed that aluminum extrusion is quite versatile and I can connect many pieces together to form an attachment system.

  1. Measure Out Aluminum Extrusion
  2. Prototype Gutter Brackets
  3. Make Final Metal Mounting Brackets
  4. Powder Coat the Brackets
  5. Attach Hold-Down Clamps

1. Measure Out Aluminum Extrusion

I ordered pieces of aluminum extrusion from a company called 80/20. After selecting 40mm & 80mm T-slotted pieces, I was able to provide specific dimensions that the company cut to size. The rack was designed to hold 2 full sheets of 3/4″ plywood, so my initial drawing called for 80mm high rails in the front and along the sides with 40mm horizontal runners. This height difference allows the plywood to slide on top of the shorter runners and still hit the taller outsides that act as hard-stops.

With the rails, I purchased some 90-degree connectors to secure the different components together. The rack itself was essentially done, but I had to have a way to mount it to the roof. All vehicles are different, but my Toyota Land Cruiser has a metal rain gutter that runs along the sides of the roof. There are commercially available mounts that support the rack from this gutter, but we’re going to make our own.

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How to Make a Custom Roof Rack- Measure out the Aluminum Extrusion

2. Prototype Gutter Brackets

As I mentioned, you could buy a set of roof-rack mounts that attach to the rain gutters. Because I have a capable metal-working shop, I can design, prototype, and build my own set of brackets out of really inexpensive steel flat stock. After a trip to my local metal yard, I cut the flat stock into manageable pieces. Because this was a prototype, I left everything longer than it would end up so that I could mark proper dimensions and hole placement.

I went through three variations of clamping systems for the brackets. Some ideas involved bolts and bushings and some were completely reversed from conventional brackets. Ultimately, I landed on a 90-degree bent support arm that would sit in the rain gutter and a smaller, question-mark-shaped clamp would attach to the front and hold the arm in place.

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How to Make a Custom Roof Rack- Prototype Gutter Brackets

3. Make Final Metal Mounting Brackets

No that I had tested the prototype and riddled it down to the most simple design, I was ready to batch out the rest of the final pieces. This process involved cutting six sets of bracket components: the support arm, triangular braces to add width, and the front clamp. I cut the longer arms, bent them in my hydraulic press, and welded the triangular braces onto the bottom. The front braces were cut and bent into that question mark shape using a wise and a big hammer.

In order to drill a hole for the attachment bolts, I had to dry fit each bracket assembly on the cruiser and mark the hole position. This one bolt would clamp the pieces together and would prevent slipping, so the hole had to measured while there was clamping force applied. After drilling all of the holes, it was time to finish the brackets.

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How to Make a Custom Roof Rack- Make Final Metal Mounting Brackets

4. Powder Coat the Brackets

I’ve had a powder coating setup for a while, but I’ve never had the right project for it. Powder coating is far more durable than painting, and by using the satin black powder, the brackets will match the black coating on the aluminum extrusion perfectly. Josh researched the process and tested the prototype. Powder coating involves cleaning the bare-metal surface, hanging it from a metal wire in the ventilated paint booth, attaching the negative-charge clamp, and using the powder coating gun to lightly puff the positively-charged powder onto the surface. Being careful not to touch the powder-covered piece, we put it in the toaster oven at 400 degrees F. Once you see the mat finish turn glossy, you start a timer for 20 minutes. After that time is up, let the parts cool and it’s done.

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How to Make a Custom Roof Rack- Power Coat the Brackets

5. Attach Hold-Down Clamps

Now that all the major components are complete, we can mount the brackets to the roof rack and set it in place on the rain gutter. After tightening all of the face clamps the roof rack was ready for use! If you remember, we used the aluminum extrusion because of its versatility and ability to act as an attachment platform. To make use of the T-track system, I mounted some toggle clamps to the tops of the frame to hold down the plywood sheets. I used some stainless steel 1/4-20 bolts that slid right into the track and secured the toggle clamps in place with self-locking nuts.

how_to_make_a_custom_roof_rackJosh and I loaded up 2 sheets of plywood onto the rack to test it out. I had to adjust the amount of thrown each clamp had so that it provided enough force to hold down the plywood sheets but didn’t push so hard that it dented the wood. After the clamps were adjusted, it was super easy to clamp them down and to flip them back up. I did some hard braking, swerving, and accelerating to see if the plywood slipped at all under the clamping force, and it didn’t move a hair. I am super impressed with the design, the functionality, and the usefulness of this new rack.

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How to Make a Custom Roof Rack- Attach the Hold Down Clamps

Add to the Platform

This roof rack works amazingly well hauling plywood from the store. It is still pretty basic, but the aluminum extrusion is a base platform that you can build upon. I bought an inexpensive light bar that could be mounted in the t-slots really easily. But I could also add mounts for straps, overland gear, tools, kayaks, or anything else we want! The t-slotted track makes it super simple to add bolts and brackets wherever they’re needed.

Josh mentioned afterward that he was looking into getting a commercially available roof rack with mounts for his Land Rover, and that this version was significantly less expensive and more versatile than the ones he found. I hoped you liked this project, and hopefully it inspired you to make a custom solution to a problem that you’re facing.

how_to_make_a_custom_roof_rack