Building The Nomad Kitchen

I wanted to have a way to quickly cook up a home cooked meal or a way to run our juicer without having to get totally unpacked at each stop. I figured the best way to manage this was with a small portable kitchen in the back of La Bête (our Toyota 4Runner). That way we could make fresh juice at a farmer’s market or cook up some of our favorite dishes right on the beach. I am by no means a carpenter so my plan was to keep it as simple as possible. A set of drawers and a pull out table would hopefully be enough for our basic needs (that’s about what most New York City kitchens have). Total build time for the project was about 8 hours of work, mind you this was all on my lonesome. If you had a helping hand you could easily cut that time in half.

I started by driving down to Home Depot and picking up the following

  • 4′ x 8′ unfinished 1/2″ plywood – $25
  • 2′ x 4′ finished birch 1/2″ plywood – $17
  • A box of wood screws – $5 (I actually found IKEA screws the perfect size for plywood)
  • Fold-able table legs – $20
  • 2′ x 12′ of outdoor grey carpeting – $15

I used the following tools to get everything together

  • Circular Saw
  • Staple Gun
  • Jig Saw
  • Straight edge and tape measure
  • Power Drill

Looking at the back of the 2007 4Runner there is already a shelf built-in. I figured why not use it as it already contours to the shape of the wheel wells and looks nice and flush. Here are pictures of the built-in shelf up and down:


I decided to build a wood frame under the shelf to hold the drawers and table and prevent the drawers from rubbing against the interior of the car. First I measured and cut the base piece and then started cutting and placing each of the individual pieces inside the car before I nailed anything to be sure it all fit. This part took the longest (about 4 hours on my own), but once I got everything in place (not screw in) it looked like this:

Loose boards in place

Everything felt snug, but not too tight. I even cut out the 5 pieces for each drawer and the table top (which I made longer to maximize the available space when it was pulled out). I tried using several different nails and wood screws for this part, but had problems splitting the plywood. I actually found that the screws you get from an IKEA screw set were the perfect size for 1/2″ plywood.

Then was time to screw everything together. First I put together the base, I had to pre-drill holes prior to running in screws to prevent splitting the plywood. This was one large piece for the bottom, 2 sides and a center vertical piece to separate the drawers and lastly two thin pieces to separate the table and right drawer like below.

Drawer Sliders

Once this was all in I started putting together the drawers, again I had to pre-drill holes prior to powering the screws in to prevent splitting the plywood. Once the drawers were together I cut out segments of the outdoor carpeting and used a nail gun to line the interior. For some simple hand holds to pull the drawers open I drew semi-circles on the edge using a roll of duct tape as a trace and cut them out using a jigsaw.

Drawers finished

Lastly the pull out table itself I cut from the finished birch plywood (giving me a nice natural cutting board and no risk of splinters in my food). But once I laid out the fold-able legs I got from Home Depot I realized they were too wide to fit. I cut them down so they would fit inside the table like this.

Before cutting After cutting

However, getting them back together proved a bit of a challenge. I intended to try this stuff called RapidFix, which I had heard could be used to basically “weld” engine parts back together.

$15 wasted

After 4 very frustrating failed attempts to stick/powder weld the legs back together with this stuff, I gave up and decided to take it to a welder to get it tack welded back together. This stuff might be good for some things (like sealing cracks or gluing together rubber), but don’t expect to re-glue completely separated pieces with it.

Once I had everything put into the back of the car the failures in my craftsmanship started to show. Some of the boards were slightly warped or improperly cut, just by fractions of inches, but it made everything a little too snug to be usable.

Crooked drawer
An example of my crooked / semi-stuck drawer after first putting it in the car.

I used the circular saw and some aggressive sanding to take a little bit out here and there and get everything sliding smooth and easy.All in all it has a pretty raw look to it. I guess I could have carpeted the outside or polished/painted the wood, but I’m pretty happy with it. Conveniently the 4Runner has a 12V plug in the back which I’m going to plug an inverter into and get all our appliances and grill set up for some on the road cooking/juicing.

Trunk Kitchenette Finished set closed for storage

Packed down and ready to drive


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