Why a Vauxhall Movano; why a panel van? Those are good questions. On a number of occasions, well intentioned folk have tried to persuade me that a second-hand coach built motorhome would be a better solution. For me, the decision has turned on the requirement for a reliable van that will give me perhaps 200,000 miles on top of what it has when I get it. I figure that that will give me ten years or longer of wandering around France, Italy, Spain and North Africa before I have to consider replacing it. That will also give me enough time living in it to know exactly how I want it. So the next one should be perfect. Second-hand coach-builts tend to have older mechanicals even though the living quarters may look in good condition. For me, that is the wrong way round. I have chosen Vauxhall as, for the last three years of my working life, I have been working for Dews Motor Group, a long established Vauxhall franchise in Halifax. I therefore have good contacts in the van world and can count on a helpful purchase arrangement.
The Journey Begins
Yesterday, I committed to my new van. It was a very exciting step. It marks the end of the planning and the beginning of the implementation. In a real sense, the end is in sight. I now believe that I will be out of this house by the end of May 2012 and living in the van this summer. By the end of this year, the conversion should be complete allowing me six or eight months living in it while I finish my working life. At some point in the second half of 2013, I shall start wandering.
Saturday 7th April 2012 – Start building
Today is the beginning of the journey. I collected the van this morning and headed straight over to Northern Timber in Brighouse to collect my first shopping list of ply and timber. As soon as I got home I started work. So here are a few photos of the van.
The first phase of the build is about insulation and ply lining. It is worth remembering that there are three reasons to insulate your van; it reduces road noise; it keeps the van warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather, and it reduces condensation which is the bane of caravans and motorhomes.
The decision about which form of insulation to chose is down to you. There are as many preferred solutions as there are builders. Everyone has their preferred solution. Having researched many of them, I have chosen Rockwool for three reasons; it is plentiful, it expands to fill spaces as well as being able to be compressed and it is inexpensive. The only downside for me is that it is not a pleasant material to work with.
In the picture, you can see that I have laid some 20mm battens on the floor. These are higher than the ridges in the van floor so will allow all of the floor to be insulated. The Rockwool will compress over the battens and generously fill the spaces between. The battens are not yet attached to the van floor. The reason for this is that, at some stage in the next few months, I will need to make holes for the water system and the gas system. Once those are fitted, I can fasten the battens to the van floor with a Sikaflex adhesive and then screw the ply sections to the battens. Below you can see some pictures of the insulation in place and the ply sections having been cut, shaped and laid down.
I am using 12mm wbp (weather and boil proof) ply for the floor and 6mm wbp ply for the walls. It is worth using exterior grade ply as ordinary ply, though cheaper, tends to de-laminate when it gets wet. None of us plans to have a leak in the water system or from the shower. But should it happen, it is particularly disappointing if the floor becomes spongy as a result. And if that happens, there is no solution but to replace that whole section of floor. Eventually, the floors will be covered with a lino and the walls with a 3mm faced ply.
Having done the floor, in what is called the garage, I went on to tackle the walls of the garage. The principle is the same. The spaces are filled with Rockwool. However, we now have to do something with the spars that make the van rigid. These are hollow and so have to be filled. However, the metal still conducts heat/cold very efficiently so we have to cover them with a foil sandwich material. This needs to be thin so that you do not lose too much width but insulates the ply from the metal spar. Below are a couple of pictures that show the first process; filling the spaces.
Do not forget, in this process, that you may need to get to the van’s electric wiring to the rear lights at some stage. They will be buried in this insulation. There is no easy solution but it is worth thinking about as you do this phase.
There are a few tools that are essential in this phase. The first is a long straight edge for marking the ply. Second is a jig-saw. It is not possible to cut the shapes that you need without a jig-saw. If you look at the wheel arch to the right, you can see an example of a shape that has to be cut in the ply. A metal tape measure is essential and a good battery drill will be needed when you come to attaching the ply to the metal spars and the battens. It is also very useful to have some form of trestle for cutting large sheets of ply.
The next stage is to locate the bed above the garage. It is important to consider the depth of the bed-slats and mattress to make sure that there is enough room for you to sit up in bed to read. I am using 20mm slats on a 4ft bed, which is called a small double in England. That will be more than enough for me to be comfortable. If there are two of you, you need to think carefully how wide a bed you will need. I am using a memory foam sandwich mattress that I will trim to fit the irregular shape. It will be 21cm deep.
My objective for today was to create the bed and to finish insulating and ply lining the garage. I have achieved my objective and I am absolutely pooped! So, I am now sitting down with a cup of tea and a biscuit to write up my exploits. It has taken 7 hours to do what I have done. I will show you the first stage of creating the bed.
It involves mounting the two bed rails. I have used 25x40mm beams. The one nearest the rear is mounted on the rear door frame. There is 5mm clearance to the back door. This space will be used eventually to mount a ply wall which closes the bedroom off from the outside. When you open the rear doors only the garage is visible. I have mounted the rails so that the garage is 750mm high. This is quite sufficient, I hope, for my needs and it maximises the headroom in the bedroom. When mounting the bed rails, do not use a spirit level. The van may not be on flat ground and you will end with your construction not true to the van, which will be embarrassing and look awful. Use the van itself as a datum having checked that it is regular.
I have mounted the rails to the van using galvanised angle brackets. The brackets are secured to the van using 6mm bolts secured with Nylocks as I do not want them to shake loose. The wooden rails are then screwed to the brackets to make a nice secure fitting. I have decided that I want my bed to be 4 ft wide. This is a standard double in England so I will have no difficulty with bed linen or mattress. Having secured both rails, you can then attach the slats across the bed. I have only secured 3 at each end as I want to be able to stand in the garage when I make the cupboards. I cut the remainder to length and laid them in place to make sure my maths was correct. To finish the bed, I cut 3mm ply to fill the space between the end slats and the van wall. That will just support the mattress for the last 3cm. I have been told that it is a good idea not to cover the remainder as it allows the mattress to ‘breathe’ and stay fresh. The alert may have noticed that there is a prominent spar running horizontally at the foot and head of the bed. I am buying a memory foam mattress that has 3 layers. The bottom foam layer is not memory foam and I will trim it so that it fits over the spar. I do not anticipate being able to feel the spar through the 15cm of foam and memory foam. The insulation above the spar at bed height will be thinner as that will give me a full 6 ft. It will get thicker as it goes up so that behind the cupboards will be full thickness again. Finally, I insulated the left hand side of the garage and cut the ply to shape. Behind the ply I am using a foil laminated insulation on top of the Rockwool to insulate the metal spars from the ply.
Saturday 21st April
Yesterday I traveled down to Kenilworth to make contact with CAK Tanks. See their link on the Links page. I spent time with Jonathan Frost, their MD, measuring up my Movano for fresh and used water and gas tanks. It was a wonderful day and Jonathan spent nearly 3 hours talking the plans through, which was invaluable.
Today I continued to build the structure that will allow me to make the cupboards in the bedroom. I also positioned the bathroom having finalised the choice of loo, yesterday. More on that later. Having established the width of the bathroom, I then established the space needed for the kitchen. I believe that the work surface in which will be installed the sink and cooker will be 530mm deep. This allows comfortable space on top and sufficient room underneath for the fridge to be properly vented, assisted by double fans. These are essential to assist the fridge cooling in warm climates. Again, more of that later. I touch on both subjects now as, without having established exactly how much space each will need, one cannot establish the space that can be allowed to get into the bedroom.
Before I could proceed, I had to address the sloppy construction of the van’s electrics. You will see in the photo that the harness running to the back of the van that works all the lights at the rear, was just clipped along the inside of the top spar. Leaving it there would make insulating and boarding that part difficult. The solution was not hard to find.
The cables were held in place by clips onto a hollow spar that runs the length of the van. The spar has many cut-outs that allow one to pass the cable through it. The only issue to be resolved was how to disconnect one end so that it could be threaded through. The solution is at the front just in front of the side sliding door. In the space above the cabin is a major connector which can be unplugged. It is shown next.
Once disconnected, it is a good idea to wrap the male part of the connector in a protective cover and tape it up so that it doesn’t get damaged as you pass it along inside the spar. By this stage I am sure that I have voided the vehicle’s warranty, but it has to be done! More voiding will follow! The easiest way to get the cable through is to pull it through with a cord. In order to get the cord through to the back, I find an old metal hanger ideal for this sort of thing. It is much easier to work along the spar with the cord attached to it. Once the cord is through, attach it to the cable and ease it back to the front. You can then reconnect the harness and secure it at front and back with tie-wraps. You can see that it is now much tidier and also safer as the cables are tucked away.
I was now ready to install the lower part of the wall of the bathroom and kitchen. When I was with CAK Tanks I finalised which loo I will be using. Now that I have the dimensions of that and the appropriate shower tray, I can define the space for the bathroom. I am using 12mm wpb ply for the walls as it provides a nice firm structure. In time, this will be faced by waterproof 3mm plasticised ply in the bathroom and maple faced 3mm ply everywhere else where it can be seen. The 12mm ply will also partly support the cupboards and shelves in the bedroom so it needs to be strong enough.
Having secured the lower bathroom wall, I now installed the left wall of the kitchen cupboard to which, in time, will be attached the gas manifold. This also defines the size of the opening that will in time become a small cupboard. With both of these in place, I was ready to profile the wall between kitchen and bedroom. If you look at the photos, you will see that the wall of a panel van is curved with spars running along and down. The partition between bedroom and kitchen has to fit this complex shape. It is not as difficult as you might imagine, and here I must ‘hat-tip’ to William (see Links page) who covered this technique in one of his videos. The principle is that you follow the profile with something that makes a trace on your template.
I used a ruler with a pencil attached to it at right angles; simple, inexpensive and effective. As you follow the shape down and over the spars you end with a trace on your template. I used a piece of ply but one could use cardboard, as long as you can hold it in place. Once you have a clear line, use your jig-saw or scissors to cut out the shape. You can then fine-tune it. When it is right, apply it to the ply you wish to use for the wall and having marked the trace onto your ply, cut out the shape. You can see my template below.
Don’t forget that the pattern will work for both sides of the van, when reversed. So you only have to do this rather detailed process once. Having cut the ply, you can offer it up to the wall and once you have a good fit, attach it in place. Remember that the wall will not go up to the roof of the van because the space between the spars will be insulated with ‘Space Blanket’ and the spars will be insulated using a foil sandwich, as in the garage. Then a 3mm ply will be attached to make the ceiling.
Monday 23rd April
It has been another good day making steady progress with construction. I have concentrated on the bedroom and garage. In the garage I have made the box for one wheel arch. This is larger than would normally be the case as it is important to insulate the wheel arch well. That is now in place, as you can see.
I cannot fit the other wheel arch box until I have installed the mains connector to the outside of the vehicle. I will have to cut a hole in the van wall large enough for the cable fitting. Then the cable has to be fed round to the consumer unit and connected . This will be my first cut-out in the van wall; a momentous moment!
However, back to the bedroom. I have minimised the insulation just above where the mattress will be as that gives me a full 6 ft. It is insulated with a double layer of the foil sandwich which should be adequate. Above, I have used Space Blanket which is much thicker and has both a foil outer and a vapour membrane on the inside. You can see in the photos a before and after.
Having completed both sides, it was time to start on the cupboards. The key to constructing the cupboards is to secure a frame to the metal bodywork. Once that is in place, the rest of the frame can be built and eventually, the faced ply attached. Remember that you will need the frame to provide mounting for the hinges. It has to be strong enough.
Those of you building for more than one person may decide not to have cupboards on the rear wall of the bedroom. I feel that it will not limit my space and will provide plenty of storage. I will have some small shelves at the head end sufficient to hold those things one wants near to hand, such as mobile phone, Kindle and so on.
I also finished the wall between the bedroom and the front of the van. I am pleased with the shape of the opening.
As the evenings lengthen, I am beginning to be able to spend a few hours after work in the van moving things on. Over the past two days I have made some progress with the bedroom cupboards. I now have the frames in place ready to be faced with maple ply and then the doors fitted. The following pictures show what I have done.
The structure of the cupboards has to be strong enough to support the weight of the ply, doors and contents. I have used small 39mm L brackets and the marvelous Sikaflex adhesive which will bond almost any two materials with a strong bond that is flexible at the same time. I have used it to attach the wood spars to the metal walls and to the other wood spars. The result is a nice firm structure securely mounted in the van. I long to be able finish the cupboards and line the walls but to that I have to make another trip to CAK Tanks in Kenilworth. I will make that journey in May to collect furniture board, batteries and the water tanks.
The next major task is to install the window vent in the roof of the bedroom. That will entail cutting a 390mm square hole in the roof. I shall wait for a dry day to do that. Once the vent is in, I can insulate the roof and fit the ceiling boards. The bedroom will then be finished apart from the lighting. I can then buy my new memory foam mattress and close off the back of the room.
Saturday 5th May. The bedroom roof-light and ceiling.
With a sunny and dry day in prospect, I decided it was time to cut my first hole in the skin of the van. Not a small hole, a 390mm square hole to fit the roof-light in the bedroom. I am using a manual cranking Fiamma unit. There are a number of issues that have to be factored in to the plan. First, the roof-light requires 25mm to 85mm roof thickness. The van skin is 1mm thick so it will require a collar. Second, the van roof is not flat. Provision will have to be made for the ridges in the roof. Third, inside the van there are strengthening spars that will be inside the ceiling and so it will require a collar inside, as well. As a result, the effective roof thickness may well be more that the 85mm max Fiamma states. No problem. We can work around that.
So first, you have to decide where the roof-light will fit. In my design, it fits well between the cross spar and the rear cupboard. Luckily, the cross spar can be clearly seen from outside, so it is simply a matter of centering the 390mm hole with its front edge just behind the cross spar. Having made absolutely sure that your square is in the right place, stick masking tape either side of your cutting lines. This is to stop your jig-saw scratching the paintwork allowing it to start rusting. In the pictures you can see that I have then drilled a hole in each corner big enough to take the jig-saw blade. When you are satisfied everything is ready, cut the first side. Once you have cut the first side, use strong duct tape on the inside to hold it in place. You are then ready to cut each of the other sides. Theduct tape will stop the panel from falling into the van and spoiling your nice clean cuts.
Having cut out your square, it is time to create the collar on the outside for the vent to sit on. I used strips of 12mm ply 2mm wide to frame the hole. Once these are made, use Sikaflex to stick them to the van roof. You then have to go around all four sides sealing the wood and any gaps. Take time doing this thoroughly as it would be a pity to have a leak above the bed! once you have sealed the collar, add a thick bead on top and secure the roof-light. I am pleased with the finished product.
Once your new bedroom window is weatherproof, it is time to sort out the inside. Having checked that the internal part of the roof-light fits on the collar that you have made, you can complete the insulation and fit the ply ceiling. You will probably have some fun measuring to ensure the hole for the roof-light is in the right place. There are different techniques. I used simple measuring and marking. William shows you a different technique in one of his videos (see link page). The ceiling has to be secure as it is the base to which you will attach the final faced ply to give a professional finish.
A busy Sunday in the Free at Last Office.
Today I wanted to make more progress with the construction so that when I buy my next cart-load of goodies for the motorhome, I can make big steps forward. My first task was to make the curtain wall for the bedroom. This is less easy than it might seem. The shape of the back door is complex bending in as it goes up, narrowiing and curving out at the top. Because I have mounted the bed lower than in some designs, I could not make the wall from a single sheet of ply. So I established the centre line from bed base to top of the door. I then cut a piece of 4mm ply that would fit across the bottom and started to mark the shape. This can be done from inside by following the shape of the metal with a pencil. However, because of the complex shape it is important that the first cut is generous. You will then have to offer the ply back up to the door and make a new trace. It took me about 10 cuts and re-traces to get the shape I was happy with. The bonus is that you only have to do this once. The van is symmetrical, for practical purposes, so once you have one side you can turn it over to provide a template for the other. Again, I suggest that you are generous with your piece of ply; allow a good overlap in the middle (I suggest 2cm). Once you are happy that the other side fits, secure both in place and score from the inside to establish how much of the overlap needs to be removed. My finished wall will be covered on the outside, with some form of wall covering and on the inside with maple faced 3mm furniture ply.
The two square holes at the top are for the door locating brackets. They will not be visible from within as they will hidden in the top of the rear cupboards.
Having completed that task, it was time to make the frames for the cupboard doors in the bedroom. The cupboards will be covered in 3mm maple faced ply. This is great for providing the visible surface, but is not strong enough to support the hinges and door catches. These require a wood frame. The size of the cupboard doors is down to personal preference. I have chosen to go for a classical set of ratios by using the ‘Golden Ratio’. Essentially, that is a ratio of 1:1.618, 1.6 for practical purposes as I cannot cut to that sort of accuracy with my trusty DeWalt Jig-saw. If you want to know more about the intriguing Golden Ratio, have a look here, Golden Ratio
Until the marvelous Sikaflex sets, that is all that I can do in the bedroom, so I widened my horizons and made the walls of the bathroom. I used the same template that had worked well for the front walls of the bedroom. I used masking tape and cardboard too make the adjustments needed for the slightly different profile of the wall of the van further forward. The floorspace is dictated by the shower tray and cut-out for the loo that I will be fitting. It is a Thetford C200. The resulting space is an ample 670mm by 1130mm. I have decide that the shower will be mounted above the loo on the rear wall. That maximises the space for showering whilst taking nothing from the space for the loo. I have decided not to fit a vanity basin as it takes space without adding very much. I will use the kitchen sink for shaving and washing hands.
I then stuffed the spars that run across the van with Rockwool. This is the sort of detail that you do for yourself, but would never be done commercially. I will still insulate the spas with silver foil sandwich. I now need to insulate the walls of the bathroom and ply line them. The walls will eventually be lined with 3mm PVC wall-board that is completely waterproof. These will be sealed onto the shower tray to provide a wet room. I intend to install a small 280mm roof-light in the bathroom to help with steam from the shower. Ventilation of the loo will be done using a SOG ventilator, but more of that later.
Limited working today, for a variety of reasons. However, I wanted to define the sitting area and the kitchen. I have decided to stay with the conventional layout in the sitting area with one decent forward facing seat and a table attached to the wall. The seat will have good thick foam cushions so that sitting at the table working does not become uncomfortable The seat will have a box underneath that can be used for storage. The floor of the seating area will be raised by 17cm to match the floor of the driving compartment. this will make an attractive entrance. I will also install the Propex HeatSource under the platform. It will have two outlets; one into the bathroom and one into the living space. I will also mount LED strips under the lip to provide a welcoming glow at the entrance. You can see the space here.
In this next picture, you can see the layout of the kitchen area and the corridor between that and the bathroom down to my bedroom. Plenty of room for moving around but none is wasted.
I have decided that the fridge will be at the bedroom end with the sink and draining board above it. There will be cupboards in the middle with my work-space above it and the cooker and hob will be in the side sliding door space. This has a number of advantages. First, I can cook with the door open and be able to look out. Second, it keeps apart the fridge and cooker so that they are not affected by each other and third, my work-space is in the middle, convenient to both.
My next task will be to build the platform in the sitting area and the box for the seat. I shall then start on the kitchen area.
Monday 21st May
Finally, I have had some time on the project. The reason for not having spent more time is that I am working hard at getting out of this house. Last weekend with my son, we had a marvelous bonfire and got rid of all sorts of stuff including one of the sofas. I will have to do more before the month is out.
However, I have made some progress. I have built the platform in the sitting area and made the box for the seat. You may remember that I wanted to create a pleasing curve to the entrance that I will illuminate with a welcoming strip of LEDs. Creating that curve was a challenge. Having described the curve on the floor, it would have been ideal to be able to trace it and then draw it onto the ply. However, I could find nothing suitable and so resorted to the designer’s technique of measuring the distance from a known line at 5cm intervals and then joining the dots. The technique worked well and I was pleased with the result.
To support it, I have created a frame that fills the space and will be attached to the van’s spars. For now it is just placed in position, as I need to run the gas pipes for the blown air heater that will be under the platform before I secure it in place. The heater will have two outlets: one into the bathroom and one into the living space. More of that later on the Gas System page. Having created the platform, the next job is to make the seat box. This will be used as a storage space as well as being a seat. I am keen to make this a comfortable seat as I suspect that it will be my usual place when sitting at the table to work or eat or just contemplate life. I used 20 x 20mm strips for most of it with a 20 x 45mm mounting for the hinges and as a support at the front. As I have done elsewhere, I use a combination of Sikaflex adhesive and metal brackets.
The result doesn’t look too bad and is quite strong enough to sit on. I shall buy a 12cm thick seat cushion for the seat and an 8cm foam for the back. I shall choose a firm foam so that it is good to sit on; not soft but supportive. It will be covered in a fabric but I haven’t yet decided what colour. The sides and front of the seat box will be maple ply, as with the rest of the woodwork. Two flat hinges will be mounted to the ply seat lid to allow it to open.
Next, I wanted to make the door-frame for the bathroom. This will be used to mount the door and to provide the catch to open it and hold it closed. I used 45 x 20mm strip wood for the hinge mounting and 20 x 20mm strip for the top and other side. I have used Sikafex along the length of the wood and used 3.5 x 35mm screws at about 15cm intervals to ensure it holds in place.
You can see it here. The opening side of the frame (far-side) is firmly fixed at top and bottom using metal brackets. It has yet to be attached along its length. The door to the bathroom will be made from 15mm maple lined lightweight ply, as will the doors of the bedroom cupboards and the kitchen cupboards.
So, now I must concentrate on moving out of this house and into my temporary accommodation. The next bit will be to start building the frame for the kitchen. That is a bit more involved as it has to accommodate the fridge, sink and taps, cooker and hob and provide me with a workspace on which to prepare all sorts of delicious meals. Thanks for following the project. Perhaps you would ‘Like’ the Facebook page so that you don’t miss any updates.
Sunday 10th June
Finally, it was time to get some more done on the motorhome. It was not a great weekend for being outdoors, but it was dry enough to get going. I decided that I would tackle the cupboards above the kitchen as I still needed to be able to transport full sheets of ply and, were I to build the kitchen framework, that would not be possible. My activity was hampered by a very sore knee. That made kneeling impossible and climbing in and out of the van, difficult. However ….
The kitchen high level cupboards are complicated by the side sliding door. The frame has to be able to accommodate the sliding bracket and the front end has to be strong enough to support the shelves. In principle, their construction is very similar to the bedroom cupboards, although those are supported at both ends by the walls. It is my intention to use these overhead cupboards for light objects such as my Melamine plates, glasses and the like. They have to contain baffles so that their contents don’t all slide to the front when I brake. My glass cupboard will have individual holders for each of the glasses and I hope that it will be mirrored. That will provide an elegant touch to living. The shape of the end ply defines the size of the cupboards which I have made 30cm deep by about 30cm high. In due course, some of them will have shelves.
The cupboard is long, at 1.7m and needs to be well supported along its length. I shall fix it to the spars on the roof when the carcass is complete.
Having created a simple frame of 20 x 20mm stripwood, I have reinforced top and bottom front strips with 45 x 20 stripwood. This is to take the added demands of hinge at top and lock at bottom. Again, following the Golden Rule for proportion, I have planned the doors to be 400 x 250mm. There will be three of them.
I have given some thought to what I shall use for the worktop. I would like it to be a feature of the internal van but it also needs to be light without sacrificing rigidity. I have cast around and talked to friends. The friend who is giving me lodgings has much experience with yachts and from that suggested Corian as a material. I have spoken to a local Corian laminator and will take the van to him, when it is ready, for him to template and cost. The Corian top will be 12mm thick, which is ideal, and he will be able to cut out the profiles for the sink and cooker. The result should look smart and professional. I will let you be the judge, when it is finished.
At the end of this month I am taking the van down to Kenilworth to have the water tanks fitted. That will be a major step forward and will be the first system to be fitted. I look forward to recording the activity for your interest.
Saturday 23 June
While waiting for the big push next week, I have been making progress with the overhead lockers in the kitchen and sitting room. I have used the same technique that I described for the bedroom. The main difference is that both have to be suspended at one end, unlike the bedroom which goes wall to wall. That is key as it is what provides the strength of the lockers. As I mentioned previously, I have made the lockers 300 x 300mm. That seems a reasonable compromise between size and strength. You can see what I have done recently in the following photos.
With the lockers in place, it is possible to begin to see how the sitting area will look. In this next photo, you can see the lockers and below them the base of my chair. The large white space below the lockers will have a 900 x 500 Seitz window installed in it. An identical window will be installed opposite in the side sliding door. On the left of the photo is the back of my driver’s chair. In time that will have a swivel installed under it that will allow it to turn to face the rear. The passenger seat will be similarly equipped so that three people could sit around the table that will be fitted above where my wellies are proudly standing!
Saturday 14 July
As a result of reading a number of blogs and talking to people with experience of cabins, I have changed the design of the bedroom to provide more ventilation and light. I have opened up the back wall and I am going to install two 500 x 350mm Seitz top hinged windows.
In this photo you can see how the back is more open. The board across the back is only 5cm deeper than the mattress will be. From this angle, it may not appear to be a major improvement, but in the next photo, you can see the position of the window, marked in tape. With one in each door, there will be a lot more light and air will be able to flow over the bed. It also creates the possibility of having the back doors open, during a siesta, for example. So, I consider it to be a big improvement. The windows have been ordered and should be fitted by the end of this month. I will then be able to finish the insulation and ply lining of the back doors and, structurally, the rear will be pretty much finished. I have started installing the maple faced ply. I have attached the face to the cupboards in the bedroom and they look good. In this photo, you can see the face for the rear cupboard being held in place by clamps while I mark out the position of the opening. These are now cut and tomorrow I will secure the rear face. I cannot do it today as I have run out of clamps!
Saturday 5 Aug
This week has been a week of preparation for installing the two windows in the back doors to give my bedroom more light and air. The preparation and thinking time was essential and has paid dividends. The first challenge was to ensure that the windows were located in the space between the cupboards and the bed’s sideboard. The next, and more complex, task was to locate them so that they are level and evenly spaced in each door. This is harder that it may appear at first glance. For those who may wish to do something similar, I will describe the process.
The first essential is to establish a datum. This we did by attaching a strip of masking tape right across the closed back doors from top hinge to top hinge. Even with two of us, this exercise took three attempts. The line will be the bottom of the cut-out for the windows. It has to be extended round the edge of the doors so that it can be described on the inside. When the doors open, they swing up slightly and so the line on the inside is sloping up and is quite counter-intuitive. You just have to believe your two ends! Using the external piece of the window, you then create a template in cardboard for the cut-out. Using masking tape I secured the template in place on the inside of the first door. It looked reasonable, so I carefully measured so that I could draw the template on the outside of the door to make sure it looked OK. With the right hand door, there is little flexibility where the window will sit; perhaps and adjustment of 2cm is possible left to right. Once happy with the position, I drew diagonal lines on the template to establish the centre point. Having seemingly measured everything another 20 times, I drilled a hole in the door at the centre point. I now removed the template and attached it to the outside of the door and, using the centre hole and the datum line made sure that it was level and that it looked good, from a distance. Satisfied with how it looked, I was now ready to cut the strengthening stay away from the inside. This has to be removed to provide a flatish surface for the window. I used an angle grinder and cutting disc. The stay is welded top and bottom but in the middle is stuck using adhesive foam tape so it can be pulled off without damaging the door surface.
The next step is to cut out the hole. It is a big step and cannot be reversed, so be sure you are ready. Having the window clearly marked on the outside, I drilled a hole in each corner big enough to take the jig-saw blade. It is important to protect the surface of the door from the sole of the jig-saw. Again, masking tape is more that adequate for the task. With holes drilled in each corner and the centre, it is time to commit to the cut. In the next photos you can see both stages.
As I mentioned when describing the roof-light,it is helpful to secure each cut with duct tape on the inside to stop the piece being cut out, flapping about and making it more difficult. I also found that the cut had to be ground flat and adjusted. I used a grinding disc on the angle-grinder to make it a nice snug fit. Seitz windows require a 26mm wall, so a panel van wall has to be thickened. It is not as simple as attaching 25mm strip-wood as the wall of the van is curved in both dimensions. As a result, I found that 20mm strips provided good packing. The strips are stuck to the wall using the marvelous Sikaflex and the inner frame is then screwed to the outer frame. This holds the packing in place while the Sikaflex dries, as you can see in this picture.
The next stage is to insulate the space around the window and ply-line it. As you can see, the shapes are different. I found that the best method was to use a stiff piece of backing paper which I pushed into the fold around the door, then cut out and applied to the ply. It took a considerable amount of fine-tuning to get a perfect fit using the angle grinder as a sander. You can see the finished result on the right hand door in this next photo.
I intend to cover these panels with head-lining leatherette to finish them off, but that is a later job. For insulation I used rockwool. Although it is not a particularly pleasant material to work with, it is ideal for these small irregular shaped spaces. It separates easily into layers so that one can get the right thickness and is easy to attach in place.
So the view from my room now includes landscape seen through my two new windows, as you can see here:
The windows have both screen and fly-screen. I intend to ‘silver’ the windows so that they are more difficult to see into and will, in time, have fleece curtains to stop light escaping for when I am ‘stealth’ camping.
The finished product. It makes it look like it has a face! Perhaps in time, I will play with this idea and make it a feature. We’ll see.
Sunday 16th September – The Bathroom
This weekend I have started on the bathroom. I have bought the waterproof wall lining boards, shower tray, loo, access door and shower mixer tap. I was longing to put them together. I had bought the shower tray designed to go with the Thetford C200CS loo. However, when I laid them out, it fairly quickly became clear that I would not be able to use the shower tray. It located the loo too far forward which meant that I would have to cut through the strengthening spars in the van wall to make the access door. I am not prepared to do that so I will have to buy a standard tray and mount the loo on it at the right point. On a positive note, by having the loo slightly further back, I have more room in the shower part. In order to have the loo at the right height to be able to remove the cassette, I had to build a 12cm plinth. I made this from 12x2cm strip wood in a lattice that supports . the weight bearing surfaces. In this picture it can be seen in situ on its plinth.
It is a sturdy little construction and makes for a comfortable height. The C200CS is a swivel loo. The bowl and seat can be turned, as required. This means that it can be mounted against any wall. It also is a unit that has no flush tank of its own. It uses water drawn from the vehicle fresh water supply. As a result there is only one tank to fill.
The cassette fits very neatly in the loo body and can be withdrawn from outside, for emptying. In this photo you can see the cassette from outside the van with the door open. The second picture shows the door assembly in the closed, and locked position. (Well, you wouldn’t want someone stealing your cassette, would you?)
The next task was to fit the waterproof walls. Earlier, I described how to create a template of the van wall with its spars. I created a new template as I wanted the sheets to fit well. Having done that I was able to cut the material with a Stanley knife and so be very accurate. I have taken the material down to the floor although the height of the shower tray is 60mm. That means I will have to trim the sides of the tray by 3mm, which will not be a problem, to get a nice snug fit which can then be sealed with a bathroom sealant.
Here you can see the rear wall of the bathroom now lined and waterproof. I have also completed the front wall, both of which are now secured in place with the indispensable Sika-flex. My next task is to fit the side wall, with access for the cassette.
17th November 2012
Over the past few weeks I have made some good progress with the structure.
The bathroom is nearly complete with full shower tray installed, walls lined with waterproof ply, door fitted and all sealed. All that remains is to select the shower head for the fixed overhead shower and I can complete the last of the roof with its shower head and light.
A strip of flexible plastic is to go around the plinth of the loo and then the base can be sealed.
I have also made big steps forward with the kitchen. The units are in. There are three units, one 500mm wide and two 600mm wide. The 500mm unit is nearest to the camera and will take the oven and hob. Below it will be a pan drawer which is nice and convenient but will need some attention to prevent it making a big rattling noise when I travel.
Once the units were made up, I put them in place to ensure a good fit and to make sure that they didn’t foul the sliding door. Once those adjustments were complete, they all had to come out again so that I could install the hot air heater which goes under them. The heater has its own exhaust that has to go down through the floor and be secured to the side of the floor. It also has an air intake that has similarly to be taken down through the floor and secured away from the exhaust and so that it won’t get filled up with road crud kicked up by the wheels. Once those are in place, the unit can be secured to the floor. I have chosen the Propex Heatstore 2000. It is a good quality LPG unit that is more than enough for the size of living space I have. Once the unit is installed, the electrical loom has to run to a convenient place. The thermostat needs to be mounted somewhere central between waist and shoulder height. I have mounted it on the end wall of the kitchen away from the oven and hob and close to my bed, at bed height. The power has then to be connected to the control unit covered by a 4 amp fuse. When all of that has been completed, it is time to run the warm air ducts and install the vents.
A key component of the whole system is the gas manifold. This has to be mounted in a cupboard in the living space. Gas is fed to it from the regulator and all the gas items are fed from the manifold so that they have individual isolation. I have mounted it in the central cupboard, as can be seen here.
Less the optimistic should think that the kitchen units are now in to stay, as soon as the heater was installed, I had to take them out again to run the gas pipes for the hot water and the external BBQ. However, when those were in, I could replace the kitchen units. As you can see, there are still two connections for the fridge and the oven & hob. I then installed the soft closing drawer in the top of the central unit. This now holds all my knives, forks, spoons and cooking utensils. I am delighted with it.
I could now attach the door and fit the handles. I have also made up a plywood worktop. This serves two purposes. First, it enables me to use the surface, which in the short term is a help. Second, it provides a template for when my proper work-surface is made. That will be made to measure from Corian, a DuPont material that is light, strong and tough. The table will be made at the same time. When the sink arrives with the fridge in a few weeks, I will be able to make the opening for it and plumb it in without having to be concerned about damaging the final surface. In this picture you can see the heater vents in the plinth.
Tuesday 16th January
Yesterday, I took another step forward but made a big advance. I fitted one of the two side windows in the sitting area. It took longer than a day due to the cold weather and work. At the weekend, I had positioned the window on the inside. I had measured up the cut-out and got as far as drilling a hole in each corner. I could then join up the ‘dots’ on the outside. However, at that point I ran out of daylight and it started to snow. So I covered each hole with duct tape and waited for a sunny spell. That came yesterday. The next step was to tape up the van wall around the cut-line so that the jigsaw didn’t scratch the surface and stick duct-tape over the cut on the inside. This goes a long way to catching the iron filings that rust through the paintwork if not removed. Once taped up, I could get busy with the jig-saw. I have found that sticking duct tape over the cut, once made, helps to hold the panel in place and stop it flapping while cutting the other sides. Thankfully, the window fitted the hole perfectly and I was able to secure the battens on the inside to provide the required 26mm wall thickness. The inner frame could then be attached and the edge sealed outside.
Sealing is required because the Seitz windows are designed to be fitted to flat surfaces and a van wall in gently curved. A bead of Sikaflex sealant is run round the edge of the outer frame before putting into the hole. This would normally be all that is required allowing the rubber seal to complete the job. However, due to the curve of the wall, an extra bead has to be run round the window to close the small gap.
I am really pleased with the result. From the inside it gives the impression of a picture window filling the space between my shoulder, when sitting, and the door pillar. It also floods the sitting area with light. From the outside, however, it looks small due to the space on the slab side that it takes up.
Now, I have to complete the ply-lining and insulation of this bit of wall and create a little window-sill between the table and window. It is too useful a space not to develop. I have today completed the marking out of the window in the sliding door, opposite. It was too cold to continue and I shall wait another sunny afternoon before repeating the process.
I have spent today completing the insulation and ply-lining of the wall around the new window. You have to decide if you want the ply under the window frame, in which case you have to compensate for the additional ‘wall’ thickness. I chose to have the ply fit around the window frame. It is a fiddly business marking it out and then cutting the ply with the apeture for the window. I avoided having to remove the window frame to use as a template by using the second window’s frame. I used Rockwool as insulation. I have come to think that it is the best material as it is so flexible. You can separate the layers to make it thinner and it is easy to cut to shape with a Stanley knife.
The result has certainly given me a lot of satisfaction. It has yet to be finished off with the maple faced ply but that will wait til the other big structural jobs are completed. The little shelf under the window is pleasing and is clearly just waiting for its first glass of wine! I will finish it with a small edge to stop things rolling off it.
Tomorrow I order the single passenger seat that will replace the fixed double front bench seat. Once it is fitted, I can order the swivels that will allow the two front seats to be turned around to face inwards.
Saturday 2nd February
I have made good progress with the table and work top for the kitchen. I intended to use Corian as I had heard that it is a lovely surface and looks professional. I am sure that both of those are true. A short while ago, I searched round to get quotes. I dealt, eventually, with a very nice company in Huddersfield that were helpful. I would need one sheet of Corian (£360) to make the table and work-top with splashback. Add 7% as I would need a part sheet and two days labour for making and fitting them, add VAT and the final cost is a surprising £1174.00! It didn’t take long to decide that, as nice as Corian may be, it is not the solution for me. As so often happens on a project like this, it was back to the drawing board.
The solution presented itself on a visit to the Ikea website. Two factors had to be considered; thickness and weight. I had planned on having the 12mm Corian supported on 12mm ply. It was important for the solution not to be thicker than that. It also needed to be no heavier. Ikea were offering a 28mm beech block work-top that could come in either a 1200mm or 2400mm length. Critically, it was 600mm deep. I needed 570mm and 1785mm long, so the off-cut would be perfect for the table which I wanted to be 670mm by 650mm. The cost? £60.00!
I took the two mock-ups and the worktop round to a friend who works in a carpentry business. He kindly cut and shaped the two pieces fitting the work-top to the contours of the van and shaping the table with a nice radius on each outer corner. He also cut out the hole for the sink and the tap. The cut-out for the cooker will have to wait until that arrives later this month. I have the approximate dimensions, but cannot afford to get it wrong. He also cut and shaped the 50mm splashbacks. The work-top is in place.
I have sanded and coated the table in Danish Oil. I have to say that I am very pleased with the result, which you can see here. It has a lovely deep sheen that will only improve with use (I trust). It is the sort of table that it is a pleasure to sit at.
I have sanded and oiled the work-top which is now back in position. Again, the warm glow that Danish Oil gives to wood is immensely pleasing. I hope that you can see something of that in this picture. I will add pictures of the finished kitchen when I have installed the cooker.
Monday 13th February
Today, I have installed the cooker. I have bought the Dometic SC433 which has three burners on top, an oven and grill. It looks a lovely item and just perfect for keeping one person well fed. I cut out the space for the cooker carefully using a jig-saw. I was conscious that there would not be a large margin around and I was very keen not to break the margin moving the worktop repeatedly in, and out, of the kitchen.
Inevitably, I had to take it out several times to adjust it so that it sat correctly with the cooker installed. Then before I could fix it firmly in place, I had to run the gas pipe back to the manifold and run the cables forward to provide ignition and light. Only once that was done could I fix the cooker in place. That is now done and you can see the result in this picture.