Water Tank and beginnings of a Kitchen

With the water tank filler in position the next task was to fit the tank so that the kitchen unit and a seat can be built around it. The tank is a 70 litre unit from Fiamma that comes with long threaded bars, nuts and washers to attach it. Before it was installed I cut the openings for the fill pipe and breather, put an outlet union in the rear side and attached a submersible pump to the union.

The threaded bars supplied are not long enough to go through the two sheets of ply and insulation as well as the metal of van floor, so I have bolted two pieces of half-inch ply through the floor and attached the tank to them. I used a heat-gun (used for paint-stripping) to gently heat the inlet pipe to make it more flexible before attaching it and the breather pipe to the tank with Jubilee clips.

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The frame for the kitchen unit is again assembled using simple halving joints, with a couple of diagonal braces across the back for fore & aft rigidity. Solid ply panels at the front and rear should give side-ways rigidity. The frame is bolted through the floor and also attached to the van inner skin (sheet metal) with self-tapping screws. Braces and attachments will be hidden with a plywood lining in the cupboards.

There is also to be a high level cupboard above the kitchen unit. This will be supported by the large batten behind the ply (below, before the ply was fitted) and 10mm thick plywood sheets from floor to ceiling at each end of the unit.

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The plywood sheet at the front of the unit will form a vertical cupboard with a parallel sheet. That cupboard will also house a box with switches and a radio in it.

Before cutting sheets for the ends I had to know the final dimension of the base unit. The cupboards will have sliding doors and I had no runners. Searching local stores and the internet I could find nothing suitable. All modern sliding doors seem to have elaborate roller systems. Plan B? make my own! Very simple, just screw the right sized pieces of wood together.

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The channels of the upper runner need to be deeper than those of the bottom runner. The door (10mm ply) is then lifted into the upper runner and lowered in to the bottom runner.

To cut the ply to the profile of the van wall I first temporarily attached a piece of scrap ply to give the inner edge of the panel (the darker piece in the picture below).

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The panel is then clamped to this guide parallel to the edge. Measure the the distance from the edge to the guide (100mm). Measure the same distance (100mm) from the van wall and mark on the sheet at approximately 50mm vertical intervals.

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Joint the dots and you have a line to cut to.

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Progress, despite the lack of activity on-line!

Although I’ve not been busy on this blog, I have been making progress with the van!

WATER FILLER

The last cut in the bodywork (I think) that will be visible was for the filler for the fresh water tank. I like the idea of filling this from the outside as I would be almost certain to overfill at some point and, if done internally, would lead to a lot of mopping and drying! A filler cap was bought from Fiamma which fits our needs and matches the van colour.

ImagePlenty of sealant and the gasket provided will keep this weatherproof. On the inside, there are two pipes; one to fill the tank (the big clear one) and a breather to prevent airlocks (the blue one).

ImageBoth pipes were secured with ‘Jubilee’ clips before installing the filler as they are not easily accessible once the filler is fitted.

DISTRIBUTION PANEL

My next task was to tidy up some of the wiring. The distribution panel is in the side of the van behind the driver’s seat.

ImageThe black item on the red panel is a battery isolator switch, which will disconnect the leisure battery from the vehicle battery meaning we can safely drive the van with the leisure battery removed if we need to. The black item above and to the right of this is the fuse in the line between the two batteries. To the right of that, a bank of fuses protecting the consumer circuits (lights, pumps etc.). Above them is a row of three bolts. These will be connected to the vehicle chassis (earth). I’ve decided to wire everything using twin cable, with a wired earth return to the distribution panel. The alternative was drilling an earth point at every load (each light, pump, radio etc.). This has lead to a bit more cost of wire, but less earth points that are more readily accessible if maintenance is needed. Earth points can corrode in a humid environment and give problems with the circuits. The ‘D’ ring at top-right is one of four to attach a dog lead to, to keep Lola in the back half of the van when driving or for securing any loads we may need to carry.

BED/SEAT

Having decided to make as much for the conversion as possible myself, I knew the bed was going to be the biggest challenge. I like the principle of the ‘Rock’n’Roll’ beds that are commercially available, but they never seem quite big enough (I like to spread out when asleep!). So I have designed my own ‘Flop’n’Fold’ version. The framework and legs are all 45mm square section wood, covered in plywood. All joints in the wood work are simple halved joints as my woodworking skill are not up to anything more complicated. I’ve always found these joints to be strong if care is taken when cutting the wood and plenty of glue is used with a couple of screws. Before trying it the van, the action of the bed unfolding was ably demonstrated by Sue on a typically damp Yorkshire winter day:

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The Seat

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The legs drop out as the bed unfolds

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You can’t have too many legs!

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The Bed!

Bed area is 70 inches (the width of the van) by 60 inches. The legs are recessed so that cushions will sit flat on them for the seat. The hinges for the legs are 8mm coach bolts. Cushions from the seat will only cover two sections of the bed. Another seat is to be constructed and the cushions from that will cover the other third of the bed.

A quick trial fit has highlighted a couple of points that need attention, mostly one leg being too close to the battery isolator switch! This leg is made from 12mm ply and will be re-shaped with a jigsaw. I opted for the ply at this end as the leisure battery will be in this area and thinner legs will allow more options for battery location and make removing the bed with the battery in place a little easier (I hope).

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A roof-light, the first set-back and the ceiling

Roof-Light

We have decided on an opening roof-light (which has a constant low level of ventilation) and a small solar powered extractor fan in the shower/toilet cubicle. Both have a similar fitting method.

The roof-light needs the thickness of insulation to install it. The insulation we are using is quite compressible, so I’ve built around the roof-light with wood and will add insulation up to it.

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The roof of the van has corrugations to increase the strength : weight ratio. This also means that there are no flat areas to install the roof-light and extractor fan. Small fillets were made from cedar ( a wood known for lasting for years when exposed to weather) to fill in the corrugations on the inside and the outside of the roof. After attachment the wood was coated with a layer of sealant.

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As you can see, the weather was not on my side. It rained just after cutting the hole!.

The Set-back…..

A few days later I discovered that I should have removed all of the filings from the roof after cutting the hole. The result of my error is rust coloured staining on the white paint!

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I’ve now removed the rust particles but there is still some discolouration. The roof will get a cleaning with cutting compound when the jobs are finished.

The Ceiling

I’ve attached battens to the roof ‘trusses’ using small angle brackets and self-tapping screws. The plywood pannels will be attached to these.

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Insulation board is then fitted and glued between the battens…

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… and silvered insulating ‘bubble-wrap’ attached to the insulating board to cover the exposed metalwork in the roof to reduce the chance of condensation damage.

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Wires were added for lights between the battens, insulation and roof support members and taped in position. ‘Spiralwrap’ was used to protect the wires where there was a chance of rubbing.

The ply panels were cut slightly over-sized, then the final cuts were made using cardboard templates. Holes were drilled for wires and the first panel was attached using wood screws and cup washers into the battens.

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In the second panel, the cut-outs for the roof-light and extractor fan were made by drilling a hole through the ply in the centre  (roughly) of the unit and gradually enlarging the hole with a jig-saw until everything fitted.

To support the panels while being worked, I screwed a piece of ply on top of a long piece of wood to make a ‘T’. The long piece was clamped in a portable workbench at the height I needed, either against the roof battens or lower for working. This saved a lot of problems with the plywood moving while measuring!

The rest of the windows

The day chosen for this was the day of the first real frost of the winter! The ice below is on a roof-light in our south facing conservatory!

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Before work could start I had to thaw the ice that had formed on all of the van door seals so that I could get inside! Some petroleum jelly smeared on the seals should prevent that happening again!

Although the other two windows are “slide to open” units, the principle of installation is the same. The frame edge is the same thickness as the glass used in the rear window. An extra complication was the removal of the vibration deadening channels fitted to the sliding door and the opposite side-wall of the van.

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The ends of the channels are spot-welded to the structure at fairly inaccessible locations, so an angle-grinder was used to carefully cut through the channels at each end and a knife blade used to cut through the sealant attaching it to the wall.

Marking the side of the van in the same way as I did for the back door window proved to be very challenging as the van side curves as it rises and there is an indentation towards the top too. The window frame is flat and difference is easily accommodated by the rubber seals, but holding the frame in place to mark around it is almost impossible! I resorted to a cardboard template. After marking around the window frame, a second line was added 7mm outside of the first which is the cutting line. The card was then attached to the van using tape in the position that the window was to go in.

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A hole was drilled through the panel to allow the jig-saw blade in to start the cut.

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And from then on it all happened very quickly! The cut edges were protected with primer.

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The seal was then fitted and cut to length, the window inserted with liberal use of neat washing-up detergent (which made life very easy, better than diluted detergent!). A bead of sealant was applied between the outer part of the seal and the van body to make it weather-tight and the filler strip inserted with more detergent.

The result……

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A window in the door

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and one opposite.

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The First Window Installation

The windows kit has been with us for a while, but we had to wait for time and weather to favour us. We opted for windows fitted using rubber seals and discovered Vehicle Window Suppliers. A look through the windows they offer by van model and a short phone call was all it took to order and the complete kit, including special tools needed, duly arrived.

We have decided to have a window in the sliding door, one opposite and one in the right-hand rear door. The two front windows will slide to open. The main living area will be towards the front of the van and the shower compartment will block the left-hand rear door. The rear door window is the lightest (no frame for sliding and smaller) so was the obvious choice for a complete beginner at window fitting (buying a new rear door if it all goes horribly wrong is also the cheapest option!).

ImageMasking tape was placed in the rear door recess where I needed to cut. I measured the window and the recess on the door to find the central position for the glass, marking where the bottom and left side of the glass should be. I held the glass in position while Sue drew around it with a pencil. With the glass carefully put to one side, I then had to draw a line 7mm outside of the first line, which allows for the thickness of the “H” section of the rubber seal (the outer line is the one to cut to).

I have borrowed a metal “nibbler” to use, which needs a hole drilling inside the cut-line to allow the nibbler in.

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The nibbler worked very well on a single thickness of metal, but much of the panel to be cut has an anti-drumming web and mastic on it (to reduce the noise from large panels vibrating) so the nibbler wouldn’t work.

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My trusty jig-saw (powered) soon had the panel cut out after adding masking tape around the recess to prevent damage to the paintwork. Rough edges were then removed using a hand file and the bare metal was painted with metal primer.

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The mastic between the panel and anti-vibration web had to be removed to allow the two halves to be squeezed together to fit the seal over.

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The rubber seal was then pushed onto the panel and cut to length. Copious quantities of washing-up detergent were applied to the seal as a lubricant and the window was glass was pushed in, starting at the bottom and working up the sides using the plastic tool supplied. Once the glass was fully in place, some mastic (also supplied) was squeezed between the door panel and rubber seal on the outside to make a weatherproof seal. The “filler bead” then had to be forced into the cut-out on the inside of the seal to ensure the glass stayed in place (detail below). More washing-up liquid and the tool supplied made life easier, but this is a quite physical task.

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You can see above the assembled seal. Note that the join in the filler bead is NOT in the same place as the join in the main seal. The small bubbles are the remains of the washing-up detergent.

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The completed window, which has a light tint, has withstood it’s first rain and the door has been slammed without it falling out! SUCCESS!

Now we’ve had some practice, the two front window will hopefully be a little easier. We just need another fine day to find out!!

Split Charge Relay

Having been an electrician, I couldn’t wait to get started on the wiring for the camper. First step is installing the split charging relay and wiring.

Note: A split charging relay allows a leisure battery (for camper lighting, water pumps etc) to be charged when the engine is running, but prevents the battery used to start the vehicle from discharging when the camper is parked and the lighting etc is used.

The relay chosen is a 70A “Professional Smart Split Charge Relay”. This was chosen as it is simple to install. Most relays need wiring into the alternator warning light circuit, but this just needs connecting to the two batteries (via fuses) and a convenient earth. The 70A variant was chosen as it can comfortably handle charging a 100Ah leisure battery which, calculations suggest, will give us around 3 days of use with our estimated loads without starting the engine.

The relay and fuse holders need a bit of weather protection. Being a lover of recycling, I’ve used a short length of gutter down-pipe. I cut one side out of it to leave a “U” channel and mounted relay and starter battery fuse in it.

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The large hole visible in the side of the “U” was made to mount the assembly on one of the starter battery clamp bolts. The relay should be mounted close to the starter battery as it relies on accurately measuring the battery voltage (the voltage will be slightly lower further away).

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The supply cable was wrapped with “spiralwrap” to protect it and passed under the vehicle to the hole previously made in the van floor below where the leisure battery will sit. Some existing cable support clips were used where they were available and some new brackets were made to attach clips to. The cable passes above the exhaust heat shield and is securely clipped in this area!

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Shiny new bracket holding the red cable covered in black spiralwrap

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Cable passing up through van floor

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…And clipped to hold it in the centre of the hole.

We don’t yet have the leisure battery, so the cable for the starter battery has been taped back to the loom (seen in second picture) and the leisure battery end awaits connection.

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Edge Protection for the Van Floor & Varnish

With a dog and two clumsy humans planning to use the camper, water damage to the plywood floor may become a problem, so the floor has had two generous coats of Yacht Varnish applied, playing particular attention to the edges, to protect it.

The edge of the plywood and insulation has now had the aluminium strip attached. It looks better and should help to protect the edge of the floor plywood and covers the metalwork of the floor down to the side-door runner.

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The aluminium sheet used is recycled litho sheets from the printing industry. I use these to weather-proof the roofs of top-bar bee hives that I make, so were easily available in my workshop! The sheet was cut to size then bent to shape by clamping it between two pieces of wood, the fold point at the edge of the wood, then folded by pushing another pieces of wood against the aluminium until the desired shape was reached.

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Insulating the Floor

Due to out climate in UK, It’s best to completely insulate the inside of a camper to prevent condensation which will cause rust.The van arrived with a plywood lining, but no insulation and addition of windows will render some of the ply redundant so the lining has been removed except for on the floor.

ImageVan Interior when it arrived

Today’s project was to insulate the floor and add 12mm exterior grade plywood to give a firm base to build and walk on. The insulation  chosen was similar to Kingspan or Cellotex called “Quinn Therm”. It easily cuts to shape and is quite rigid, so fits to a floor without trouble.

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Insulation in place, measuring the plywood for the floor

The gap visible in front of the wheel arches is a trough that will take wiring from one side of the van to the other.I place two strings in the trough before fitting the plywood in place so wires can be pulled through later. I must remember to pull a new string through each time I pull wires in, so I can add more when needed.

Once the wheel arch shape was cut into the insulation I used the waste piece to mark the plywood for cutting.

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One end of the under floor wiring trough

Both the insulation and plywood are a fairly tight fit in the van. The forward pieces are just glued in place with a builders adhesive at the moment. I’ll add some self-tapping screws when I can source some that are long enough. The insulation and plywood at the rear of the vehicle are currently just laid in place. They will need to be lifted to cut holes for the kitchen waste pipe and the shower waste pipe.

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Insulation visible beneath the plywood floor

The edge of the plywood and insulation will be protected by an aluminium edge strip at the side and rear doors, a job for tomorrow!

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The Base Vehicle

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Here it is in all it’s glory! The van.

Plenty of scuffs and scrapes to attend to before the conversion starts. Paint and filler are in the workshop awaiting a day that is dry and warm enough to make a start.

Meanwhile, I’ve removed the old, scruffy ply lining, except for the floor, and repaired the cargo door latch so that rain can no longer find it’s way into the van!

The plan is to buy window kits to install in the cargo door, panel opposite and the right-hand rear door (the first to open). The left-hand rear door will be obscured by a shower cubicle, so there’s no point in putting a window in that.

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In the beginning…..

The idea – to use a camper for holidays.

The problem – ready-built campers are expensive!

The solution – buy a van and convert it.

The benefits – a unique camper that will (should) be exactly what we want for two adults and a dog.

The base vehicle – 2006 Peugeot Boxer, LWB; clean (ish) interior and exterior; full franchised service history, including cam belt change 500 miles ago. It should be delivered tomorrow.

The adventure begins……..

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