In the weeks leading up to taking delivery of my Tesla Model Y Performance, I began sketching out plans for a drawer system for the rear hatch area of the car. I was inspired by Jimmy from the Living in Tesla YouTube channel and channeled my energy into drawing up my design and the rough dimensions. The functionality and storage he crammed into the back of the Tesla was impressive and it really got my mind running.
Jimmy lives out of his Tesla Model Y nearly full time and his video walk through of his entire build process made it seem achievable for me to just head to the home improvement store and start building. So I did.
I aspired to make my build fully electric, to integrate the kitchen and sink fully into the drawers, and to make it as easy as possible to just pull off the road and start using the system without a ton of setup. I wanted to take full advantage of the rear of the vehicle and extended my drawers out over the lower trunk. I definitely bit off more than I could chew, but I’ve always found that the best stories come from the worst decisions (quote stolen from Gly @ Abandoned and Forgotten Places).
After taking delivery in late May 2022, I immediately started on the build, translating my plans from paper and scratch pads and backs of napkins to plywood and circular saws.
I started out by pulling the rear of the Tesla Model Y apart to determine where I could set or mount my drawers. I found two massive bolt holes underneath the two side supports that run front to back in the trunk where I could directly thread a pair of bolts to secure the rails.
Finding the bolt holes was a huge win and made it super easy to have confidence in the mounting arrangement. Having a solid foundation is half the battle, right? My garage gradually filled with power tools, sawdust, plywood, and two by fours as I pieced out my plan one trip to the hardware store after another. I debated using two more bolt holes I found at the front of the rear lower trunk, but opted not to as I felt that the two side rails provided sufficient support for the drawers.
The primary function of these drawers would be to house a fully electric, kitchen and cooking setup, including an electric induction burner and an integrated sink with a water pump. Both would be powered by a standalone portable power station that would live somewhere else in the vehicle. Ideally has a blue sky solution, this would all be powered by solar, but the numbers and square footage of actually accomplishing that makes it a daunting task to implement in real life.
Over the course of a few days I picked up the plywood and components that I would need to do this and started hacking away at the solution. I’m not a carpenter. I’ve never really built anything out of wood outside of maybe a craft project or something in Vacation Bible School. YouTube was my friend, but life life’s lessons are best learned in real time and so it was for me this time around.
After carving out the profile of the parallel 2x4s and bolting them into the car, I decided to add a center support to connect them. The two sides started out as 2x4s before I hacked away at them. The center support is a 2×3. I plan to add a second 2×4 stringer just behind the rear seats eventually. That’s one thing I’ve just grown to accept: changes. More ideas will come. Don’t resist them, but at the same time don’t feel like you need to do them all at once.
My focus for this entire project has been to get a minimum viable product up and running as quickly as possible while not wasting material, time, effort, and brain power trying to make everything perfect at every iteration.
For the drawers, I measured out my estimates for the dimensions and roughed them out onto a 4 x 8 foot sheet of plywood. Based on Jimmy’s advice, I didn’t use 3/4″ wood, instead opting for 18mm birch plywood for the drawers and cabinet. I had the guys at Home Depot do 4 cuts on each of the two sheets of plywood I needed with their far superior vertical table saw.
Getting the first big cuts done at the store made it easier to get everything in my car and helped me get a head start on the build. Getting home, I could already see how the pieces would fit together and started laying out the outer carcass (the shell of the cabinet) straight away.
Based on Jimmy’s process, I also went with pocket screws to connect the vertical to the horizontal pieces of my build. This is accomplished by using a jig, drill, and screw kit from Kreg with their 1 1/4″ screws for the vast majority of my connections. The jig makes it easy to drill angled holes through the corner of the two pieces of wood being joined. It took a few rounds to get comfortable with the system, but it is pretty straight forward once you get the hang of it.
The single induction burner I have was the basis of my entire design. That dictated the width of the drawer it would sit in, which determined the dimensions for the other drawer and thus, the cabinet. I took the drawers one step at a time and ended up with a left drawer that extends 36″ on a single set of locking 250 pound capacity drawer slides from Amazon.
The right drawer for the kitchen also uses the 36″ slides and has a second drawer recessed underneath it that extends a further 22 inches using these slides. They’re fine. I’m sure there are better ones out there. I’m sure there are worse ones. Check out the pics in the tweet below for a visual layout of what I’m talking about.
I initially cut the bottom piece of the drawer structure to span all the way from the back of the rear seats all the way to the end of the rear trunk. But I failed to take into account was the slope of the rear seats. After building out the drawers I realized that I need to notch the back of the drawers to match the slope of the rear seats. This was not part of my original plan.
It caused quite a bit of rework, but just as my approach to building a minimum viable product is flexible. Any DIY project must embrace flexibility and changes because that’s just a part of life. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re not an expert. You’re going to make mistakes. Some will cost money. Bite the bullet. Get through it and try to do better next time. Don’t get you down on yourself
I didn’t see it in Jimmy’s build, but I opted to glue all of my plywood joints. This was a recommendation I see widely online but again I’m no carpentry expert. Upon reworking a few of my joints, I found that the glue provides a much much more solid bond and minimizes any noise coming from the joints. I continued to do this for the rest of my build and I think it’s a good recommendation based on my experience.
Big oops #2
After building the smaller drawer with pocket screws and lots of drawings and wood glue, I built the larger 36″ drawer that would house it. This is where I realize my measuring mistake. I had only accounted for the height of the 7 and 1/2-in drawer, not the fact that that would have to be recessed in a larger drawer.
This miscalculation forced me to add about 3/4 of an inch to the height of my drawer stack. I accomplished this by adding a piece of solid square 3/4-in wood from Lowe’s to the top of my drawer carcass to get the additional height needed to house the extra height of the drawers. Again: not ideal, not perfect and that’s ok with me.
I found this video useful in determining the best way to mount the drawer sliders. It can be a little bit tricky. I am not an expert at it. I’ve mounted a total of three pairs of sliders in my life and while they do work, they’re not perfect even today.
The sliders I used are not simply cabinet drawer sliders. Those are not heavy duty enough as they are not intended to support the heavy weight that a larger kitchen setup or even just something that’s going to be used for camping will need to be able to support.
We’re talking pots and pans, cables, a sink, a water pump, and whatever else you might throw into your drawers. Fortunately, there are heavy duty slides made for heavier loads for things like tool boxes, firefighting trucks, work trucks, etc. That can handle loads that pretty much any rating for something like this. I was looking at 150 lb ratings for the smaller 22-in slides for my stove insert and 250 or 60 lb for my 36-in slides.
For the drawer faces, I roughed out some pieces of plywood and used my Bosch Colt trim router with a round over bit to smooth off the edges. I eventually coated them in truck bed liner material to give them more durability and tie them in to the overall look of the drawers. I used a hole saw bit on my drill to drill out holes for the drawer slide locking mechanisms to poke through. To unlock the drawers, you simply push these up or down (depending on the mounting orientation) before opening or closing the drawer.
I picked up some fancy looking handles that fit the look from Lowes for a few bucks each and screwed them in. It’s hard to understate how each of these steps takes time, research, and solid execution. In isolation, they’re easy. Stacked one after the other, the overall task can feel daunting. I found I had to take it one or two steps at a time with pauses in between to admire what was accomplished at each step along the way.
From there, I cut the top of the carcass to size. My design called for a piano hinge to be installed horizontally across the top. Combined with a hole cut in the bottom of the cabinet, these would allow me to reach all the way through my cabinet and give me access to the lower trunk. It was restricted, for sure, but some access is better than no access. I was planning to put my battery system and other infrequently accessed items down there to minimize the impact.
I cut the hole in the bottom of the carcass below each drawer and cut the top piece accordingly. I installed the 30″ piano hinge across the top and added automotive carpet to the wood with help from some spray adhesive and upholstery staples. I wasn’t happy with the first carpet I bought, but found the one linked above to be very sturdy. I plan to re-do the top of my carcass with this material when the current fabric wears out.
I applied a layer of truck bed liner to most of the exposed surfaces of the carcass. I highly recommend applying paint before carpet and both of these before putting the slides on. Slides use bearings and it’s best not to fill them with sawdust and truck bed liner if you can avoid it.
At this point, the drawer system is fully functional. I built a few simple drawers to sit on the folded rear seats to extend the height of the platform forward. I eventually want to be able to lay out a thin mattress and sleep on this thing but we’ll see how all that shakes out in a few weeks.