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I Know Jack

There’s a time in every man’s life when he has to install a new swing-away trailer jack. That time for me was now.

I’ve been getting some shop time lately, mostly feeling guilty after writing the “too many projects” post. (Thank you, Star)

One of those projects, the popup camper, has been getting some attention as we want to try it out this fall and through the winter.

My pre-sale inspection, although very thorough, had still overlooked a few items. One of those items revealed itself after I did the handshake-and-fork-over-the-cash-deal-sealer.

I backed up my tow vehicle and then tried to jack the sucker up to hitch it, and the bottom part of the jack just fell out, wheel and all. I quickly realized there was a dent in the tube of the jack, preventing the wheel “post” part to actually thread into the hand crank “post” part.

Mental note: “okay, new roof, new battery, tires aaaannnddd trailer jack.”

The old jack location. The jack tube mounted in this clamp thing, that had a broken threaded rod and rusty threaded insert that held it all together.

My search for a replacement jack ended abruptly when the only place I found it was in a wholesale catalog—meaning the RV stealer…errr…dealer would have to order it and I’d get jacked of all the cash in my wallet.

I decided to look for a more common type of swing-away jack, but knew I’d have a problem mounting it to the “A-frame” trailer. And I’d really like to use an “A-frame” jack but the battery and the camper lift system winch is all in the way there.

After a trip to Harbor Freight—a store on my top-five-of-all-stores list, (I’d only buy certain things there, worthy of another post entirely)—with my sale flyer and a 20% off coupon in hand, I bought a 1500 lb., dual wheel, swing-away trailer jack for $24.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to use the crappy universal brackets to bolt it to the frame. And I didn’t want to cause they are ugly, and are primarily designed to bump into your knee or cut your forearm with the sharp edges and all.

Back to the Stockpile™ (my primary shed/shop in the backyard—full of every nut, bolt, wire, bracket, wheel, auto part, and paint can known to man. And most likely a few stray socks) and I found some ¼” steel plate that was just the right size for the jack mount.

Now go to your plasma cutter, oxyacetylene torch setup or your 50-ton ironworker shear and cut the plate to size.

Or just use a jigsaw like I did.

I cut the plate about ¼” larger than the dimensions of the jack mount, then needed to drill some holes in the plate to mount it.

Have you ever needed to mark holes in something by using the item you are attaching? I bet you took a pencil, traced the holes, then drilled, huh? Then you checked the fit and…

AARRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!

You took the next size up drill bit and drilled out your holes again all wobbly to “fix” your work.

You know you did. Get a transfer punch set. They are sized to the hole, and have a nice little pointy end that perfectly marks the center of your hole.

This is something Harbor Freight is good for. Some transfer punches.

So I used my Harbor Freight Transfer Punch set to mark four 7/16” holes on the plate and drilled them on my drill press. Nice straight, perfectly centered holes.

The trailer frame ground down and the nifty steel plate I drilled precisely.

Off to my home-away-from-home shop where the camper is.

I got my level out and leveled the trailer so I could weld the plate on nice and straight, and the jack wouldn’t be all wonky when the twins are jumping up and down in the camper. Cause I know they will.

Now for some real tools. The kind you have to wear special gear for.

  • MIG Welder
  • Grinder
  • Cut-off Wheel
  • Welding helmet, sleeves
  • Face shield (for grinding)

I held the jack up to the trailer frame to make sure it wouldn’t interfere with the wiring harness, the coupler, the roof jack or come too close to the car bumper in the event I’m backing the camper up through a turn. I marked the general area of the frame with a grease pencil, then ground off all the paint nice and clean like.

Here's my $1 torpedo level I used to make sure the trailer was sitting level before I mocked up the jack mounting plate.

You gotta have clean metal to weld. Or it’ll pop and sputter and you’ll get all the contaminants buried within the metal you’re melting together.

If you think that welding is beyond your capability, then I’ll tell you you’re wrong. A class at the local tech center or just some time reading and practicing with a small MIG setup and you’ll be doing it.

And you’ll feel more man-ly.

Like lockpicking (which I am trying to learn) or changing a clutch, or showering with Irish Spring under a waterfall.

The back of the steel plate got ground nice and clean too.

So, trusty level, a few clamps and another test fit of the jack and I was off welding.

The mounting plate, level and plumb on the frame, ready for a few tack welds.

I tacked the plate in place (a few small little welds), removed the clamps and check the fit of the jack again, making sure it wouldn’t bind against the car bumper, and it sat nice and plumb when swung down to support the camper.

I did that cause it sucks to grind out a whole weld cause you didn’t measure twice.

Again, it sucks to grind out a whole weld cause you didn’t measure twice.

It checked out so I ran a bead down both sides of the plate and frame, then a bead right along the top of the frame rail to the back of the plate. One more along the bottom of the frame and plate and it was time to grind.

I like to clean up the welds using a die grinder with a cut off wheel. Actually, I use two wheels back to back on the end of the die grinder, it gives me more of a footprint to grind the beads down with less heat than a standard grinder, then finish it off with a 24- or 36-grit disc on a 4” grinder to clean it all up.

A quick coat of self-etching primer and it’s all ready for when I get around to painting the entire frame of the trailer.

Heres the finished, ground welds, with a coat of self-etching primer so it doesn't rust before I get a chance to paint the frame.

A (blurry) shot overhead of the top weld.

It went up and down. Did what it was supposed too.

A sparkly new trailer jack. Oh, and notice the missing propane tank...don't weld near a propane tank. Sometimes safety is third, but when you're dealing with stuff that explodes, safety first my friend.

And I feel more like a man cause I got to weld today.

There it is. You know Jack too.

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