Why Build versus Buy:
I have been all over the forums. I scoured Pinterest. I watched endless videos on YouTube. And for the life of me, I could not find a design to get my Hardtop off of my 2017 Wrangler unless… I had lots of ceiling space in my garage (I don’t) or I wanted to spend hundreds of dollars on a pre-fab’d solution (and I was not about to do that) or I could muscle the Hardtop onto a cart (I can, but I have kids… the crazy, buzzing about, landed me in the ER twice kind of BOYS).
I’m an engineer by education and profession. Solving problems is my job. So this is no different! Here is what my goals were for this build…
- The lift system MUST BE PORTABLE. Meaning, it needs to move around as my garage is small, my driveway is even smaller, and I have kids that are constantly filling my garage with toys (junk).
- The lift system MUST BE OPERABLE BY ONE PERSON. My wife loves me and my Jeep, but she isn’t strong enough to lift 100 LBS over her head. I could certainly muscle the hardtop over my head myself, but I don’t want to take the chance of being rushed or jarred when my kid was to bump me while I’m holding 200lbs over my head (game over!!!).
- The lift system CANNOT CONNECT TO MY CEILING. Ceiling systems, which are awesome, wasn’t an option for me. I just don’t have the Square Footage to make that work, unfortunately.
- The lift system CANNOT BREAK THE BANK. I was not about to spend a grand on a way to take my hardtop off my Jeep. The thought of that just makes me sick! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cheap, I am frugal.
So, time to get to design. First, I needed the dimensions of the Jeep. I knew that I was planning on a lift system, not a muscle and slide system. That means an overhead “crane” like operation. That means that I needed to know what my frame would look like (height, width, and depth). I knew that it had to support at least 200 lbs (besides its own weight). It needed to be tough enough to deal with my children that would likely use it as a jungle gym when I wasn’t looking, and I didn’t want my $1500 Hardtop falling on the floor.
I wanted to make it from wood… cause wood is cheap and strong and most homes are made of the stuff. Some would say “use metal tubing or pipes”, and I thought…. uh… no. Too involved, too much weight, too complicated, I don’t have good metal working tools, and just nope.
Next, I wanted to be able to use ratchet straps OR a hand crank pulley. I’m going to start with ratchet straps so that I can feel this out, but I know that I want to upgrade to a pulley system once I’m comfortable with the lift.
So – unlike some of my friends that won’t share… here is the basic arch diagram (Figure 1). I stuck to this almost to a T, except for the height of the Mid-Rail. That is there for stability, and really… the height doesn’t matter. I originally thought I may lay 2×4’s across it and lower the top down onto it like a shelf, so I did the height based off of ground to hardtop lip on my Jeep… so I recommend that for height. But to date, the ratchet straps have been more than stable. You can download the plan here.
The build was simple and basic. 2×4’s, 2.5” wood screws (number 10), 2.5” casters (2 locking with brakes), and a set of ratchet straps (for this build – I’ll do a future blog on the pulley system).
- Buy the parts (see the purchase list). Decide for yourself if you want the casters or not. I prefer physical screws over lags or anchors or joist connections… but heck, its all good… its 2×4’s… it can handle this simple weight.
- Rip cut the (15x) 2×4’s down to the dimensions listed in the cut sheet. The cut sheet is very accurate.
- Once ripped, now comes the fun… building it. I got a buddy to help only because its a Jeep, and Beer must be involved. 🙂 (See pics)
- Start off by building one side at a time. Getting the full side put together will make things way easier. Pay particular attention to the corner beams, as that is what helps with the side to side torque. Do not add the casters yet.
- Once you have the two sides built, the next step is to add the cross members for the back. Put both sides on their front face, with back facing up. Add the top and bottom rails, along with the corner beams, to build a full 3/4 rectangle. This will give the structure enough support to hold its own weight. While it is in this position, add the back 2 casters (I recommend the locks be here since this is the back side facing the back of the Jeep).
- Now, you should probably have a buddy for this, flip the whole structure over. This will help you add the supporting top rail (no bottom!!!) so that you complete the basic framing for the support of the weight. While in this position, add the last two caster (non locking).
- Stand it up, and add the eye lags to the top rails for the connections to pulleys or ratchet straps and your Jeep. I placed the whole rig around my Jeep rear, and eye-balled the correct drill points. Honestly, you can’t mess this up as we are not doing physical connections, and are using ropes / tie downs/ ratchet straps / etc.
- Have a beer. You are done.
Here are some pics of the progress as we build it.
Truth Time – Lift the Hardtop:
So the time of truth. I used ratchet straps as they were a known quantity for me. I know their breaking weight as I have broken them. I know what I can pull from my Jeep with these (I have pulled F150 out of ditches with these straps – swear – granted I 10x’d them over to handle the weight).
But more importantly, I wanted to see how I could navigate my garage with this frame on wheels. Well, it was AWESOME!!
Ok – So I haven’t even posted this Blog yet, and I have already been asked for more detailed plans and a video for how did I lift and lower. I will post these in the next 2 or so weeks.