Family-friendly bike-carrying camper build
Long-awaited update time! The sneak preview was indeed the seat/bed/bench/box thing, which started life on the dining room floor after an evening of attacking a set of Ikea bed slats with a saw and randomly aiming screws at them:
The clever bit is that it’s in two overlapping halves that slide apart like this:
There’s a shallow ball-bearing drawer runner at each end to keep it all in line. You’re probably thinking that that looks a bit small for a double bed and you’d be right — there’s a second bit that goes alongside:
The reason for two sections will become clear in the fullness of time 😉 Pull out the small bit:
Then the big bit:
The remaining width will be made up by a hinged flap that sits on the top when it’s a seat, of which more later. The whole thing goes in this position in the van:
It’s just over six feet long, we’ll be sleeping across the van — it’s not that generous in length (I’m a gnat’s pube under 6ft) but an acceptable trade-off for saving a couple of feet along the van so we can fit everything else in. Obviously it doesn’t go on the floor, so I started on a frame to hold it up:
It all got a bit free-form from here — I had the rough idea in my head but the execution involved a fair bit of making it up as I went along, as well as cutting out odd corners and bits of plastic trim to win back all-important mm here and there. With a bit of frame in I mocked up one end with some scrap timber to check the height:
Made another frame for the front of the fixed section — it’s all 32×32 planed timber, possibly slight overkill but I don’t want it collapsing:
Then an end panel — this isn’t holding anything up, it’s just closing the end of the box and making it a bit stiffer. It’s 44×18 timber with 4mm birch ply glued to it:
Rounded off a bit of the 32 square with a router to make a nice corner:
Quick mock-up with a couple of the cushions:
Cushions are foam mattresses from Ikea cut into bits and covered. Fortunately my mother in law stepped in for that bit, my sewing’s not so hot.
The front of the slide-out bit is held up by another panel like the end one, here it is closed:
Had to add the diagonal strut to stiffen it all up, the front panel was a bit floppy without. It also hinges up for access beneath:
You can see where I had to hack around the front of the fixed frame to allow clearance for the strut, I made an extra internal bit later on to stiffen the base up again.
While I was scratching my head at the bed, my Dad pitched in to help by working on the kitchen unit. Again, it’s a timber frame with a thin plywood skin to keep the weight down. Fledgling frame:
And in position with one side on:
More soon…Posted 3 years ago
Took a break from woodwork to do some gas plumbing. Yes, I’m doing my own gas plumbing – minimal number of joints, drop-out vents all over the shop, copious quantities of leak-detecting goop and a hard-wired gas alarm, it’ll be fine. Took off another bit of plastic trim from the outside, glad I did, all this stuff fell out:
Made another hole much like all the other holes and ended up with this:
which is an external gas point so we can plug a barbecue in. It’s one of those distinctly non-essential extras that’s kind of there because it’d be a right ballache to put in afterwards…
At the other end of the system, a regulator goes on the end of the LPG tank:
and some plastic-covered copper pipe connects to that to bring gas into the van. Much clippage underneath:
The pipe comes up through the floor and into the end of this mighty manifold of magnificence:
Bottom tap is an extra inline one that shuts off everything at once, then the manifold has a connection each for air heater, water heater, BBQ point, stove and the oven that we’ll probably not actually bother buying or fitting in the end 🙂
Also made a start on the wiring, there’s an awful lot of this kind of thing going on:
More on wiring at a later date, it’s great fun. Honest.
Reached a point where things needed to be definitely upright. We’re using the floor as a datum (because the drive’s not quite level) so everything needs to be perpendicular to the floor. Made an enormous set square to help:
This is all around the time we had a bit of a massive push/panic — the 120 day insurance deadline was hoving into view, and we had a holiday booked at the same time, so we needed something that (a) ticked all the insurance boxes and (b) was usable for five nights camping. It also coincided with some grotty weather, so it was a good job we managed to score a (relatively) cheap roll-out awning:
It was listed on ebay as “used” but it had never been fitted and was still in the box. Bargain! It sits on brackets that attach to the roofrack fittings, so no drilling, which made a pleasant change.
Sorted out all the connections to the water heater — plumbing is mostly standard domestic 15mm push-fit polypipe stuff (because easy, and had a big roll left over) with adapters to connect caravan-style hoses just before the appliances, which all need rubber hose (of varying sizes, just to add to the fun).
Back to furniture. To fit everything in, the kitchen needs to slightly overlap the sliding door and also the bed, which means it needs to have a funky cantilevered overhanging bit. Because we clearly have an aversion to making things easy, we decided that it needed a nice curve on it. Unleash the G-clamps:
Top and bottom are 6mm ply, the curved face is 3mm ply with the grain going the appropriate way, pinned and glued into the 6 – we’ll fill the pin heads later. That’s probably about the tightest radius that normal 3mm ply will do. Put a back panel on it, cut some big holes in some 28mm Ikea wood-block worktop and in it goes:
Holes are to accommodate the stove and sink:
and a bunch of pipes and a water pump hide underneath:
Next to that bit of kitchen there’s a tall unit to accommodate the fridge and more cupboards. We’re severely constrained on width here — the bunks can’t be any narrower, the kitchen can’t be any narrower or any further forward and the fridge has to fit, so the super-light framed construction had to give way to two sheets of 12mm ply:
Having struggled with the space constraints of a teeny-tiny fridge in our previous van, we wanted to go large on this one:
It’s a Waeco CR110 compressor fridge, mounted high up so you don’t have to grovel in the aisle. It’ll take a week’s food for four of us no problem. It’s also the single most expensive thing in the van :/
Conscious of the fact that we would actually need something to sleep on, the bed needed finishing. Front panels for the sliding sections:
Looks like this when pushed in:
Pulls out thusly — the front panels act as legs to hold it up:
Or you can just pull out the short bit:
Still needs more width, though, which is made up with two sheets of ply on counterflap hinges. These are a PITA to fit, because they’ve got a double knuckle and need recessing and clearancing and all sorts. Chisel and router action:
Hinge sits in like so:
Then repeat a bunch of times until you end up with this:
Eventually there’ll be a support on the end of the kitchen unit, fortunately that stool is just the right height… In this configuration you get an L-shaped seat around where the table will be, and it also lets two adults sit with their feet up. The large section has a flap too, which overlaps the travel seats — happily the seat cushions are secured by a single handwheel bolt under the front edge, so they’re easy to take out. That means that the bench seat and the travel seats are the same height.
Made a quick table from the rest of the worktop — it’s ludicrously heavy, I plan to rout out the back of it quite a lot to get the weight down:
With all the cushions in it’s like this:
In bed mode it’s like this:
The bed’s only just long enough, really (it’s 187cm long) but that’s as much width as we’ve got inside the van. It’s a useful 130cm wide, which isn’t far off the width of a normal double and a lot roomier than our previous van. We spent a fair bit of time working out the cushion sizes so that the gaps don’t coincide with shoulders or hips. The two narrow cushions in the middle stow under the bench, the wide one on the right goes on top as the seat cushion, the square one top left stays where it is and the other one stows behind the travel seats.
Put a wall up at the back to hold the upper bunk up:
And that was as much as we had time to do. Took a bunch of photos to satisfy the insurance company that it had a bed/stove/water/gas etc, lobbed some stuff in the back:
and cleared off to Dartmoor for a few days:
To be honest, it was very basic at this point — gas plumbing wasn’t finished, so we had to use a camp stove and gas bottle outside — but we had running water, a bodged-in light and the fridge worked. It was good 🙂Posted 3 years ago
So at the end of the last thrilling instalment we were actually using the van for camping. And jolly splendid it was too, even in its very unfinished state. Turned out that the insurance company wanted at least a hint of cupboard door to sign it off as converted, so here goes:
Again, we’re trying to keep the weight down, so the cupboard doors are hollow. They need to be a particular thickness to line up flush with the corner of the kitchen unit, so this one’s made of two skins of 4mm ply with strips of 6mm around the edges. Glue and clamp:
Glue an inner skin on and offer up in the hole:
Hinges and a latch and stuff need adding, of course… Similar deal with the draw fronts, except these don’t have a back. Cut out a frame from 12mm ply:
And a few more:
Glue on 4mm ply skins:
And the result is something that looks suitably chunky but doesn’t weigh much:
I left the thin ply slightly proud around the edges, I’ll plane it down later. Drawer fronts need drawers, and this is where we cheated ever so slightly:
That’s a drawer kit from Screwfix — you get the sides, runners, and brackets to hold the front and add front, bottom and back to suit. They’re steel, but pretty thin steel. My back-of-envelope sums suggested that the weight penalty over making them entirely out of ply is about 5-6kg for every drawer in the van (and there’ll be nine of them) which seems a fair compromise because it’d take me FOR EVER to make plywood drawers from scratch and also I’d go mad.
Some drawers in, one latch in place, next to the cupboard:
They need a bit of adjustment and alignment, but you get the idea.
Quick shot of the temporary wiring I did before Dartmoor, just to get the fridge, water pump and a light up and running:
This is all under the rear seats. At this stage the only thing charging the batteries were the solar panels on the roof — the charger is the grey box vaguely top left under the fuse box. It’s an MPPT charge controller, which does clever voltage juggling to get the most out of the panels. The batteries are held in by a timber lip around the floor and (not pictured) a pair of thick plywood plates across the top attached to those bits of threaded rod (which go right through the floor with big washers and nylocs underneath). Pretty much all the wires you see came out later on when the split charge setup went in, of which more later…
Next up, the heater. We chose a Propex gas heater for a couple of reasons. First, they’re cheaper than diesel-fuelled Eberspachers. Second, I didn’t particularly want to start tapping into the van’s fuel supply. Third, we’ve got loads of gas on board anyway. And fourth, we had one in the previous van that had been there for twenty years and never missed a beat. First up, more holes:
The mesh one is a gas drop-out vent — butane/propane is heavier than air, so if there’s a leak it behaves like water and you need somewhere for it to get out of the van. There is (or will be) one of these underneath anywhere there’s a gas connection. The other two holes are for the air inlet and combustion exhaust — the Propex is room sealed, drawing in air for combustion from outside the van and exhausting similarly. The ideal way to mount it is flat to the floor with the inlet/exhaust spigots straight through the holes, but we don’t have space for that so we’ve got the second-best up-on-edge position:
Connected up the inlet and exhaust pipes, fed them out underneath, connected gas pipe, hooked up some power. With all the gas connections now made, this seemed as good a time as any to bite the bullet and fill the LPG tank. Checked all the connections again, made sure the gas alarm was working and headed to the petrol station. The tank cost £19 to fill which is very economical compared to the Campingaz refills we’re used to using. Anyway, all the gas appeared to go into the tank and nothing exploded. Back home and presto:
Oh yeah. Now we’re cooking. And so on. You can’t tell from the picture, but this is hot water:
And the Propex? Er, nothing. Just a flashing light on the controller, which when decoded was saying “combustion fault”, ie the burner wasn’t lighting. Checked everything, tried again. Nowt. The main fan (the one that recirculates the air inside the van) would run, but no heat. Internet research suggested that sometimes the second fan (which draws in combustion air for the burner) can stick if it’s not run for a while, like for example while sitting on a shelf in a warehouse. Seemed like a plausible scenario, so:
Dug out the pump for our inflatable canoes, pulled the inlet pipe off, stuck the pump hose in and gave it a few healthy blasts. And would you believe it, it actually worked. Yay the internet!Posted 3 years ago
If only I had the time and skill to do something like this.
Skills can be acquired, it’s not like I knew how to do a lot of this stuff before I started 🙂 Time is definitely an issue, though. Everything takes at least twice as long as you’d think…
What finish are you putting on the ply doors?
We’re going to paint all the interior ply some variant of white, probably normal kitchen/bathroom paint with a roller, with plenty of sanding to get it nice and smooth.Posted 3 years ago
Right, where was I? This has been covered really, but here are the rear seats (as re-covered by mother-in-law) showing batteries and stuff underneath. That’ll be all getting boxed in, eventually.
With a weekend away coming up, I bodged up a shelf in the boot space with left-over stuff. Battens across front and back:
Plywood on top:
It was a bit flexy like that, but another piece of ply on edge across the front stiffened it up beautifully for very little extra weight. Here with a child’s bike for testing purposes:
And packed to go away with four bikes on board:
Having prototyped this, the finished version will probably have a double shelf so odds and ends (shoes, pumps, hookup lead, blah) can go between the two pairs of bikes. It’ll need the seats to be taken out of the lower bikes to give a bit more vertical space, but I don’t think that’s a big deal.
Next up, the split charge setup. This connects the leisure batteries to the vehicle battery while the engine’s running, so the alternator charges the LBs as well. With that and the solar panels, we should be OK for power. The LBs are quite a way from the vehicle battery (which lives under the passenger footwell for some reason), so some fat wire is called for:
That’s 16sq mm welding cable, which is actually surprisingly easy to work with. Usefully, the van has existing cable routes across the cab under the front seats, so I could run the cable under the passenger seat as shown above, then pick it up in the middle where there’s a hatch to access the top of the fuel tank:
And continue under the driver’s seat:
From there it can come back into the main bit of the van and around the edge to the rear seats:
To gain access to this corner we had to take the seat/bed out. Fortunately, and not a little amazingly, despite having been built in situ we could take it out in one piece:
It’s not as heavy as I thought it might be either, which is reassuring. Do need to weigh the whole thing at some point just to check…
To connect the fat wires to useful things, it needs ring connectors on the ends. I’m using crimp connectors, but because ones this size really need an (expensive) hydraulic crimp tool I soldered the cables in instead with a micro blowtorch off ebay. Worked great until it stopped working, but it was only £2 😉 Bit of heatshrink to finish off:
The wire connects to the +ve of the vehicle battery via a big fuse at one end, and to this unholy agglomeration at the other end:
Yes, I need to tidy my wiring :/ The setup uses two relays. The orange Smartcom one is voltage-sensitive. With the engine off, the voltage across the VB is lowish and the relay’s off. Start the engine, the voltage goes up, the relay energises. The downside of the Smartcom is that, despite saying “heavy duty” on it, it’ll only handle 30A. So it in turn triggers the black proper-heavy-duty relay that’s good for 120, so we can get as much charge as possible.
From the relay the feed goes into this fusebox:
The wire out of the top connects to the LBs, which are wired in parallel. The other wires on the right are one from the solar charger, one to the fridge (which is the biggest power draw in the van) and one to another fusebox to which a whole bunch of other stuff is connected:
Then there’s the Earth Point Of Destiny tucked away behind the seats, which really, really, really needs tidying up a lot:
A lot of this stuff has been chucked in just before going away on trips, I’ll be gradually redoing it more tidily… The big nuts are the LB ground, which is on an M10 bolt through a section of a pillar. The metal earth block is screwed to a patch of bodywork with the paint rubbed off. There are also a couple of other earth points in other places in the van so that not everything has to come back to here, which saves a lot of wire…
We also got some seat covers from ebay, which could have looked a bit rubbish but we took all the plastic off the seats first and refitted it afterwards, so they actually look pretty good:
More soon!Posted 3 years agoTheLittlestHoboMember
20+ years in commercial motor sales. Seen loads of campers and conversion work done by most of the big brands like hymer etc. This thing is 10x more interesting than them. I sell vans but don’t really get involved in campers, its too specialist for me but I am currently speccing a £100k + camper conversion for a local couple at the moment and even that doesn’t have some of the attention to detail this has.
1) Its personal to you
2) You know every nut and bolt
3) It is very very well thought out
Hats of to you.Posted 3 years ago
While the seat/bed was out, we put a floor down. It’s 3mm vinyl in what some might consider a fairly brave pattern:
Measure, mark, trim, repeat:
Seats back in:
Fiddly job. Next, front wall of the washroom. Here’s a sheet of 4mm ply cut to the appropriate shape:
Then out with the router to round off the edge of a length of timber and to put a 4mm rebate in that the ply gets glued into:
With the corner post on and in place:
And from the other side, with the loo offered up in position:
Added some more framing around the edges of the ply and secured it to the van — screwed down into the floor, up into the usefully-positioned ceiling battens, sideways using metal brackets into the horizontal ribs in the van wall.
On the other side of the wall, ie the inside of the washroom, we’re using hard glaze ply — it’s 3mm plywood with a sprayed-on coating of PVC, so it’s waterproof and impressively hard-wearing:
Also around this time, with a multi-hundred-mile trip to the Lakes imminent, we decided that new tyres were in order. Turned out the local tyre place wasn’t hugely busy, so we ended up with four or five fitters on the job at once and All Of The Jacks:
Formula 1? Pfft.Posted 3 years agoandylMember
Was the flooring cheap? 😉
This is very inspiring, I need one and I love the way you have made the access panels look about 10x more expensive than they probably cost. But going back to the flooring I have seen something similar in VWs and it looked great with the right colour coordination on the interior so I will wait and see what you come up with.Posted 3 years ago
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