Car Lumber Rack Headrest Hack

load tied together and secured to headrest rack - stonehavenlife We’ve all done it.

Stuffed 8 foot lengths of 2 x 4’s, boards, paneling or pvc plumbing pipes into our cars to get them home – it’s standard DIY procedure. But it can be a bit a of a challenge, getting those carefully-chosen select pine 1 x 8’s past head rests and seat belts without damaging them or marking up the car interior.

And then there’s the distraction of trying to drive home safely with one end of the load sliding on the dash and the other wedged against the rear weather stripping or sticking out beneath the bungee-corded hatch door.

Is there a better way?. Yup, make yourself some car headrest lumber racks.

Custom designed for your car

The headrests are mounted with two round rods about 1/2″ in diameter which appears to be common to many vehicles. Each car is slightly different so you’ll need to get “site dimensions” to modify the racks to fit your car or SUV. The basic idea could be adapted any other mount type if yours are different.

I designed mine to fit my Ford Focus Wagon. car lumber rack headrest hack detail drawings - stonehavenlife

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • When I was measuring up the car, I discovered the spacing on the rear rest was narrower than the front seat so don’t make any assumptions.
  • I wanted both racks to be in line front to back and made sure the uprights wouldn’t hit the roof pillars (the holes are offset slightly towards the windows).
  • I tilted the front seat back to as close to level with the back seat as possible. This also increased the angle of the receiving shafts for the headrests. I guesstimated the angle and it was close to the 30 degrees show on the drawings.
  • The 18″ width was roughly to match the front seat width, but also left me a 16 1/2″w interior capacity for materials like 16″wide pre-cut MDF shelving that you often find on sale at building supply stores.

Easy to make and install

components for car headrest lumber rack - stonehavenlifeheadrest mounts on car seat - stonehavenlifeI took a quick inventory of my shop and found a few scraps of 1 x 8 cedar and a short length of 3/8″ hardwood dowel – I was good to go. There’s no magic to the sizing of the components other than what I could cut up with as little effort as possible.

The pictures pretty much tell the story but here are the steps:

  • Measure the car
  • Cut the parts and drill the holes for the dowels
  • Dry fit the dowels in the holes and test fit them in the car seat headrest shafts
  • Pre-drill the holes and screw the uprights onto the horizontals with 1 1/2″ – 2″ screws.
  • Ease all the sharp edges and corners with a sander (no splinters when you’re tying down your load)
  • Glue the dowels in the holes with wood glue

Note: The dowels were slightly loose in the holes and I wanted to make sure they had the proper spacing, so I glued them up and “clamped” them in place in the car. I wrapped the dowels with a few layers of painters tape to keep the glue off the seat and to avoid losing a loose dowel down the shaft. The two spring clamps on the rear rack are weights to keep the rack tilted forward while the glue dried.


pre-drill for screws to avoid splitting the wood - stonehavenlifeset racks in seats for proper alignment when gluing dowels - stonehavenlife

For hatchbacks with a sloped hatch, you may only need one headrest rack for the front seat and let the back of the load rest on the floor. Try adjusting the front passenger seat to determine the best height or back angle.

Safer for everyone*

Since head restraints are usually an impediment when you have to carry a long load, replacing them with something made for the task makes sense. These light-duty racks provide a reasonably stable, flat surface for transporting long items like, building supplies, skis, etc. You can secure all materials with straps, bungee cords and/or seat belts to prevent the load from shifting while driving.

* Obligatory safety waiver: Driving with building supplies and similar items in the manner described can be dangerous and may not even be legal – I don’t know. bears no liability for damage or injury to persons, pets, cargo or vehicles should you choose to do so.

My trial run

driver's view is unobstructed by load - stonehavenlifeI made the inaugural lumber run today and I’m very happy with the performance. It was a breeze to load the two stacks of 1 x 6 cedar boards.

I was able to keep the boards farther back in the car and they didn’t even touch the dash. The front of the load was lower lumber loaded and secured to headrest lumber racks - stonehavenlifethan the back so it didn’t impede visibility.

I tied the load securely to the racks and looped the front shoulder belt around the load. The boards didn’t slide or bounce at all as I ran a few errands around town before heading home to Stonehaven.

If I was carrying larger loads on a regular basis, I would beef up the structure a bit to handle the wear & tear, but these are gonna work just fine for me.

Feel free to add your comments or email me pictures of your own custom headrest lumber rack designs, I’ll add them to this article to share with our fellow DIYers.

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2 thoughts on “Car Lumber Rack Headrest Hack

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  2. Good idea Lee. Metal rods or bolts would definitely prevent the pins from shearing off in the unfortunate event of a fender bender. Carriage bolts with a nut on the bottom would keep the cargo surface smooth. My only concern using something with threads would be wearing off the internal catches that grab the headrests and the plastic surface mounts at the upholstery.

    I’m hoping to get a bunch of good feedback like yours on this project.

  3. Very neat idea! Metal bolts instead of wood dowels could work as well.

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