How to Build a Portable Toilet

I love looking at and examining antiques. It’s fun to think about the innovation that went into each design. Items were functional first, and then built with decoration in mind. I was watching the show, Cajun Pawn Stars, where an antique commode chair was featured. While it did not have the chamber pot, it did have the lifting seat to reveal a plain seat with a hole cut in it.

As a kid, we would travel with my Grandfather and Great-Uncle in their home built camper. Their bathroom was a cabinet with a hinged lid that lifted to reveal an outhouse style hole. A 5-gallon bucket caught the contents. The kids had to empty the contents. My Great-Uncle was born in 1901, my Grandfather in 1910. Outhouses were commonplace to them. As a history flashback, in the late 1800s, “indoor plumbing” consisted of an outhouse dug in a house’s basement. No venting for odors.

This design is based on one I saw on the Vandwellers group website. It’s very close to Grampa’s. I have modified it a bit. You can modify it to suit your needs.

You will need:

  • · General woodworking tools
  • · Measuring and marking tools
  • · A 3 or 5-gallon bucket
  • · Plastic bags for liners
  • · Cat litter, your favorite clumping brand
  • · Three each 3″ hinges – decorative or plain
  • · Stain and sealer or primer and paint
  • · Bungee cord to go around the bucket
  • · Adhesive weather stripping
  • · Toilet seat- conventional or one made for buckets
  • · One sheet ½” or ¾” plywood, furniture grade or exterior grade
  • · One each 2-by-2, eight feet long
  • · One box #8 wood screws- length will depend on the size of plywood
  • · Pipe insulation for ½” or ¾” pipe. Enough to go around bucket lid

Step One:

Decide whether you will use a 3-gallon or larger bucket. It is not necessary to use a large 5-gallon bucket, unless you have several people using it. I decided to use a leftover square cat litter bucket.

The person’s weight will not sit directly on the bucket. The weight will be supported by the box.

Gather all the materials.

Step Two:

Measure the bucket and make an initial box wide enough to have two to three inches all around the bucket and enough for the comfort of the person sitting down. Attach the pipe insulation to the top of the bucket and measure the height. Subtract ¼” from this height. This will be the box height.

Add six inches to the back length. This is important. This provides the storage space for litter, plastic bags and toilet paper. Make it larger if you wish. If this is going to be in an RV or campervan conversion, plan for this space carefully.

Step Three:

Make your initial box with butt joints. Cut and install 2-by-2 braces on each corner. These braces help carry the weight of the user; metal angle pieces will not do that.

Cut a top to fit over the box. Measure six inches from the back and cut across.

Cut a piece to fit inside the box from side to side and top to bottom. Place the bucket inside the box.

Fit the piece behind the box to create the storage space. Attach with screws from the outside. Here, if desired, metal angle pieces can work. I would suggest bracing the inside corners with 2-by-2’s as well.

Cut a piece of scrap wood for the bottom of the box. Attach with screws. If the commode will be moved frequently, use heavier wood. If it is being installed in a permanent place, ¼” plywood can be used.

Step Four:

Place the top on the box. On the front piece, mark the center and place the toilet seat on it. Center the seat’s opening over the mark. Using a marker, draw around the inside of the hole. Cut the hole out on this mark. Mark the place where the seat will be attached to the top.

Place the bucket inside the box with the pipe insulation fitted around the top. The insulation will form a seal with the box top. Attach the adhesive-backed weather stripping around the underside of the toilet seat. This also forms a seal. The odors will be staying inside the box. This is not airtight.

Adjust the bucket inside so the maximum opening is under the hole. Mark the place on the box’s floor. You can use scrap wood, insulation or other materials to create a holder for the bucket. It will not be moving around when the RV is traveling.

Step Five:

Decide if you want the top to lift to the left or right. You can modify the design to open any way you choose.

Lift the top with the toilet seat and hold it in place. Mark and attach two hinges on one side. When you need to change the inside bag, lift the top and take care of things quickly.

Attach the back top piece in the same manner, with the hinge to the inside of the box.

Step Six:

There should be no reason to think that the bucket would rupture or leak. On that remote possibility, plan ahead. Paint the inside of the box with waterproof sealer. Caulk the inside seams. If any accidents occur, you can clean the inside of the box before wood damage occurs.

Finish the outside of the box any way you desire. You can use iron-on edge trim, wood trim, fancy joints such as dovetail, mitered joints and so forth.

Step Seven:

Line the bucket with one or two plastic bags. Attach the bungee cord around the top. Fit the pipe insulation over the top edge. Place a couple of cups of clumping cat litter inside the bag. Place the bucket inside the box and close the lid.

You’re ready to go- so to speak.

This makes a wonderful addition to a disaster kit or camping gear.

Source: The author of this article has over 40 years of experience in diverse forms of DIY, home improvement and repair, crafting, designing, and building furniture, outdoor projects, RV’ing and more.

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