How To - Strut Channel Cross Bars / Roof Rack

outback97 Sep 25, 2019

  1. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

    Messages:
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    This started off with my needing a solid and low profile way to mount Rotopax fuel cans to my roof. It has become for us a versatile crossbar / rack system that gets used on almost every trip.


    Using the channel strut crossbars we have carried all of the items below, sometimes multiple items at the same time, depending on our needs:


    Rotopax fuel cans
    Treds (traction boards)
    Shovel
    Awning
    Firewood
    Lumber
    Cargo boxes
    Canoe

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    The basic system involves


    Two or more 40” to 48” lengths of strut channel
    Two U-Bolts per crossbar
    Spring channel nuts
    End caps (optional but recommended)



    The strut channel (aka unistrut, superstrut) I have used is low profile (13/16") solid (versus slotted hole), cut into sections to span the width of the roof rack. A 10' section happens to divide equally into three 40” pieces. If you only want two crossbars, then a 6’8” length cut in half works well. I have used stainless steel, and powder coated steel. Both work well. The powder coated steel is easier to cut and drill than the stainless.


    If you want a little overhang on the crossbars for more mounting flexibility, eight foot lengths cut in half have been perfect for carrying our canoe.

    [​IMG]


    You can find strut channel at industrial, electrical or plumbing suppliers, Grainger, McMaster Carr, etc. It's used in a lot of applications.


    McMaster-Carr


    The ends of the strut channel can be a little sharp, so you can use end caps to prevent scrapes and cuts. I got these from Mcmaster Carr


    [​IMG]


    https://www.mcmaster.com/cadinlnord/3312t11
     
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  2. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

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    If you use the solid strut channel, you will need to drill through to mount it directly to the clamps. I used a drill bit slightly larger than ⅜”


    [​IMG]



    The vibration damping clamps are the 2 3/8" ID, part number 3176T36.


    https://www.mcmaster.com/#3176T36


    McMaster-Carr Damping U-Bolt Clamps


    I did need to add just a little thickness to the rails so that the clamps were tight. I cut some strips of rubber from a bike inner tube and that has worked fine.


    You can mount the bars above or below the rails depending on what you need to carry


    [​IMG]



    The U-bolts that come with the vibration damping clamps work great when mounting the strut channel below the roof rails. If you want to mount the strut channel above the rails, and you don’t want any threads sticking above the profile of the crossbars, then you'll either need to cut the longer u-bolts or you’ll need slightly shorter u-bolts.


    [​IMG]



    I used these (part number 3043t637):


    https://www.mcmaster.com/#3043t637



    So now we have crossbars with infinitely adjustable mounting locations. You can use the 3/8" spring nuts:

    Superstrut 3/8 in. Channel Spring Nut (5-Pack)-ZA1003/8EG-10 - The Home Depot


    and then you can mount pretty much anything to the strut with a 3/8" bolt or threaded rod.



    When you have the strut mounted below the rack, it works best to have some kind of spacer between the legs of the ubolt to keep the pipe clamp from slipping into the strut channel.


    I used a little chunk of ipe (it's a very dense, strong rot resistant wood) and cut it down so it just fits in the channel. It has held up really well, but you could use HDPE, aluminum, or many other materials as long as they fill that space.


    [​IMG]
     
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  3. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

    Messages:
    133
    Rotopax cans:


    Using some 3/8" rod, 3/4" PVC, washers and nuts, and 4" round electrical box plates, I made some mounts.


    [​IMG]



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    Another option: 3D printed spacer:


    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2019
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  4. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

    Messages:
    133
    Treds (MaxTrax, etc)


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]




    ARB Awning


    Using the ARB awning brackets I drilled three 1/4" holes about 7/8" above the existing slots.



    [​IMG]



    This puts the awning exactly where I want it to be, leaving enough clearance to open the door but still keeping a low profile.


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    Depending on what else you need to carry, you can use short lengths of the strut channel as well to mount items along the roof rails.


    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2019
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  5. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

    Messages:
    133
    Bike Rack


    The top of an Xterra, even one with a mild lift, is a long ways up there… I’m 6’4” and need a step stool to comfortably get a bike on top. But our Yakima racks attach solidly to the crossbars, and it’s an option.

    I should add: I have never used this to carry a bike. It’d work fine but because I have other options and don’t want or need to carry a ladder for any other reason, it wouldn’t be my first choice for bike carrying. This was more a proof of concept / see if it would fit thing.


    [​IMG]


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    Canoe Rack


    For our 16’ Mad River Explorer a 48” crossbar worked well. Narrower boats could maybe use narrower crossbars, maybe some wider ones would require wider bars.


    I added some uprights to keep the canoe solidly in place.


    [​IMG]



    It’s easy to drill / bolt things on to the crossbars as needed. I made and added a paddle carrier under the crossbars, using some aluminum angle and quick fists.


    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2020
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  6. maillet282

    maillet282 If you bleeding, Imma fix you Moderator Supporting Member

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    added this to the master list of How to's
     
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  7. Brunnie

    Brunnie First Fill-Up (of many) Supporting Member

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    What is the clearance between the underslung bar and the roof? I've got the factory rubber roof runners on my roof and wonder if they would hit the bar.
     
  8. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

    Messages:
    133
    Estimating here, but the strut channel is 13/16" and the thickness of the vibration damping clamp lowers it below the rails another 5/16" or so, so they would hang down around 1.25" lower than the rails. It doesn't leave a lot of clearance, but probably enough even with those strips on there. I can try to get some measurements tonight and see if my numbers were close.

    I couldn't find many good photos showing the clearance but this might help.

    [​IMG]

    ETA the strips you have go on the higher parts of the roof versus the lower parts in between, correct?
     
  9. Brunnie

    Brunnie First Fill-Up (of many) Supporting Member

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    294
    Location:
    Colorado Springs
    That photo does help. Yes the strips go on the roof ribs, not between them.
    The whole idea of crossbars like that intrigues me. Not only would it lower things a bit but also adding a couple more gives great flexibility.
     
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  10. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

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    A dime just fits under the crossbar at the highest point of my roof. So, about 11/16” clearance.
     

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  11. Brunnie

    Brunnie First Fill-Up (of many) Supporting Member

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    Location:
    Colorado Springs
    Shucks.... I can drive a semi through there. Thanks.
     
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  12. Richard

    Richard Bought an X Supporting Member

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    Location:
    Oregon
    Grab one of these to keep in your rig. No need to carry a stool or ladder. At least you will be able to reach most of roof area.

    Also one hell of a ingenious setup.

    https://www.amazon.com/Rightline-Ge...hicle+folding+door+step&qid=1579660500&sr=8-1
     
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  13. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

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    No problem!. I was thinking last night after I checked it that in theory there could be a lower clearance area, because I just measured the center rib's clearance at the point where the crossbar happened to be. In fact there is more clearance at the rear crossbar because the roof isn't flat, and the roof and rails aren't exactly parallel. But visually it looks like I happen to have my front crossbar near the high point of the roof rib if you picture sliding the crossbar fore / aft, so I still think 11/16" is close to the minimum clearance.

    If you put a heavy point load right in the center of one crossbar, you're going to get some deflection. I doubt it would be a problem with a weight you realistically should be carrying up there.

    Thanks. Those steps are interesting and a clever idea. Do you have one? The striker can definitely take the strain, but I would still worry about damaging the body area below it. There's some reviews where people have posted pictures of dented and creased body work, albeit not on Xterras, caused by using these things.

    This came up on "the other forum" a couple years ago. When the Moki step was on Kickstarter they had a disclaimer about even proper use potentially causing damage.

    From
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/666339959/moki-doorstep/faqs

    Perhaps they did more testing or improved the design, but the current manufacturer doesn't have that warning:

    From
    https://www.mokidoorstep.com/pages/faq

    So maybe it'd be fine. The thing for me is a bike is literally the only thing I've needed extra reach to put up on the roof, mainly because it's awkward and you have to use two hands to keep the front wheel from flopping around. All other items I've carried I can easily reach by standing on the tire, slider or door sill, and I can lift a Rotopax, traction board, shovel, etc. with one hand. I have a couple of hitch mounted bike racks and there's even room to put my bike inside the Xterra, so for me, I have easier options than the roof for a bike.

    For ME, I don't think I'd get much use out of the step. All that said I have read some positive comments from Xterra owners that have used them and love them.
     
  14. Richard

    Richard Bought an X Supporting Member

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    Location:
    Oregon
    Yes I have one. Yes I could see where they get used on many vehicles that probably should not be. But you would think the structural integrity of that area on all vehicles would be strong enough. But I have not experienced any issues as of yet. I think the key would be to make sure there is a proper material that absorbs the load and compresses properly.
     
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  15. Richard

    Richard Bought an X Supporting Member

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    Location:
    Oregon
    So mine folds flat. You also notice wide back. I cannot imagine denting in with that footprint.
     

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  16. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

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    I prefer that folding design, looks like it'd be much more convenient to store it.
     
  17. BCXterra

    BCXterra Bought an X

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    I carry a small 2 step aluminum ladder in mine, I can get at the ski box easily, it works well as a seat, and organizes my jugs of oil/washer fluid/ coolant in the trunk!
     
  18. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

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    We decided we wanted to set up the canoe rack on the '06 this past weekend, so I needed to make some tie down straps under the hood. I figured I'd snap a few pictures to show how we set it up. Super easy, cheap and quick to do.

    You'll need a couple of 12" lengths of good quality webbing and a way to melt a couple round holes near the ends of them.

    "A pair of pliers and a blowtorch"

    Use the torch to heat up the end of a bolt or other suitable steel item to melt a couple of holes near the ends of each strap.

    Remove the bolt shown, double the strap over and stick your fender bolt through it, then tighten it down.

    Do the same on the other side, now you've got two sturdy front tie down straps. They can be tucked in when not in use.
     

    Attached Files:

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  19. Brunnie

    Brunnie First Fill-Up (of many) Supporting Member

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    Location:
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    Aren't you afraid that those straps are going to pull on the hood and stress it?
     
  20. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

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    133
    Not really, hasn’t been a problem with our ‘09, even after some really windy trips.

    The attachment at the roof rack is doing most of the heavy lifting in this setup.

    ETA: this is a commonly used method to tie the bow, there's even products ready made for the purpose.

    https://www.amazon.com/Sherpak-Seattle-Sports-Hood-Loops/dp/B081VLCD5T

    https://www.rei.com/product/818318/seattle-sports-hood-loops#product-reviews
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2020
  21. FishCannon

    FishCannon Test Drive

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    Location:
    Tacoma, WA
    That's great idea! The only modification I'd make to it is to punch a couple grommets in there to reinforce the holes.
     
  22. JeffPro4x

    JeffPro4x Hot Pipe Super Moderator Supporting Member

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    Those straps aren't really for "securing". Just snug them so the kayak or canoe doesn't lift up or try to taco
     
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  23. TheCrabby1

    TheCrabby1 Skid Plates Supporting Member

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    I just scribbled down an Idea and took a pic but after more thought [ pic #2] if you could get some 1/8 or 1/16 thick plate that's 5-6 wide or a big thin L bracket that fit's in the opening between ur hood and quarter panel and round the top part that would stick out from the hood you could catch 2 of those bolt hole's inside to help with stability and strength . Stainless please !! 20200617_194415.jpg 20200617_195403.jpg
     
  24. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

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    Thanks. I thought about that, but melting the webbing (versus punching or cutting a hole) helps to create enough of a tough edge to the hole that I haven't seen any tearinng.

    There's not a huge amount of tension on them, as JeffPro4x says:

    Yes, exactly. If you crank it down too hard on the ends you can break stuff.

    Interesting idea for something hard mounted, with a bend that would probably be great for an antenna.

    But stainless plate is much harder to fold under when it's not being used! ;)

    IMG_2346-tiedownred.jpg IMG_2347-tiedownblue.jpg
     
  25. TheCrabby1

    TheCrabby1 Skid Plates Supporting Member

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    I was thinking of something like the top 1/3 of a circle type tab sticking up permanently , say inch and a 1/2 :confused:
     
  26. CHUG

    CHUG Need Bigger Tires Supporting Member

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    Location:
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    I run those Loop straps on under my hood.. Using climbing strap and hot Nail.. works like a charm.. when not in use. fold over. hidden.
     
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  27. CocoLoco74

    CocoLoco74 Test Drive

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    Location:
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    I,cannot count how many items that I transported on my '98 Saturn wagon with this strap method, i did a little more at the anchor, cauterize whole, grommet added and for extra measure washer. Once I figure out how to upload images I will share.
     
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  28. CocoLoco74

    CocoLoco74 Test Drive

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    Location:
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    One question for rack set up, is there considerable wind noise after application?
     
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  29. outback97

    outback97 Bought an X Supporting Member

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    YMMV, but not that I've noticed if we're talking about the rack itself. Of course, depending on the item(s) you have bolted to it, there could be more wind noise.

    It may help that I use the solid (not slotted) unistrut. Also, the Xterra isn't exactly an aerodynamic wonder, so the rack doesn't seem to add much if any to the normal wind noise one gets when driving a brick. I have noticed much more wind noise increase on our Subarus when adding a Yakima rack, for instance.
     
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