2018-09-21 Finished the dog bed

I wrote a while back about prototyping the dog bed. We tested it out – it seemed pretty solid, and Loki was happy to climb up there – so I went ahead and built it out of better materials.

It consists of 3 main parts:

  • A 60 cm x 80 cm Eurocrate plastic box, that we plan to use for washing – as a kind of mini bathtub
  • A 30 cm extension, to make the total width more like 110 cm – enough for the dog to be able to lie down comfortably in a few positions
  • A sliding wall that is sandwiched between the dog bed and the Eurocrate, which can be pushed back to allow him easy access, and pulled across to give him some protection while we’re driving. The wall has a gap at one end to allow him to hang his head off the side, which is one of his favourite ways to lie.

The two boxes both have removable lids made from plywood, and on top of these are two foam cushions with removable fleece covers.

We wanted to make something modular and flexible, but also safe and comfortable for Loki. So all the boxes are bolted to the wooden bulkhead so that they are secure when Loki gets in or out and as the van is in motion. But if we want to, we can unbolt them, and take the little extension off and use it as a seat, or take the Eurocrate outside to use for washing, as a seat or table.

So far, I think we’ve got a big thumbs up from Loki.

2018-08-03 Prototyping a dog bed

It’s been a while since I posted an update, so to get back into the swing of things, here’s something we’ve been working on over the last couple of months: a safe place for the dog to lie, especially when we’re driving. Continue reading “2018-08-03 Prototyping a dog bed”

Treatex Hardwax Oil

One of many combination oil and wax finishes suitable for wood (Osmo is another popular brand which I haven’t used). It gives good plywood a beautiful smooth sheen, and is easy to apply with a rag.

Way better than water-based PU varnish, in my experience.

£26 for a 1 litre can.

Drawer runners

These are 45cm, full-extension, side-mounted, ball bearing runners.

If your drawers and cabinets are square, and a good fit, proper runners like these are the way to go (rather than fitting wooden rails for the drawers to slide on). They feel secure, smooth, and let you pull the drawer out all the way when opening.

My only regret is that these runners are heavier than needed, and we could have got away with some lighter duty runners.

£6 per pair from Screwfix.

Sequoia table legs

We bought two of these for our main table. The fitting is pretty straightforward, the floor plate is low profile, and they’re nicely made, but there’s no getting away from the fact that one or two table legs are not enough to support a reasonable sized table without framing or wobbling. That’s why conventional tables have skirts attaching the legs to the table top.

So we’re trying to design a table support system that uses a fixed rail at the back with these two legs at the front. More to come on that in the build diary.

£55 each from Chippy’s Workshop (one was slightly scratched on delivery, but otherwise this supplier is OK.)

Hafele Gas Strut

We fitted these to the overhead cabinets, which have doors that open upwards above your head. The struts hold the doors open, but they also have some initial resistance which hold the doors tight when closed. Hopefully this will mean we don’t need to add latches to these doors.

They’re easy to fit, and they give the doors a very pleasing opening and closing action.

£4 each from Screwfix.

2017-10-29: Recognisable furniture

Some things in the van that look a bit like furniture!

This weekend, we’ve made some satisfying progress in the van, with a few new things going in that make it look a lot more like a home.

The two base units that form the support for the bed are largely complete, bar a few doors. That means we have a functioning bed, a bench seat, and some fixed storage too.

We ordered some foam for the mattress, which we’ve chopped up and covered in stockinette (a stretchy, loosely-woven lining that protects the foam and helps a mattress cover slide over it).

Amy sewing stockinette linings over the foam mattress sections

We also ordered some table legs, and we’ve been trying out different methods for supporting the table top, and making the conversion from bed to bench + table manageable.

And we also have one more piece of finished furniture installed – the overhead cabinets on the passenger side (above the bench), made out of birch ply, with doors supported on gas struts, and a felt lining on the inside of the cabinet.

The gas struts hold the cabinet doors both open and closed, which means no need for latches.

In a way, the van looks quite similar to the state it was in back in August, but this is one iteration on, with mistakes corrected for, some lessons learned and everything that much more well-considered.

2017-10-19: Overhead shelf in the cab

One of the first jobs we did after we bought the van was to remove the bulkhead. We toyed with the idea of joining the cab area to the back of the van by installing swivel seats, but that’s an expensive conversion, and we liked the idea of having what amounts to a separate room in the cab. Our current plan is to have a ‘soft divide’ – likely some kind of insulating curtain, that we can draw across behind the seats, and otherwise leave the cab pretty much standard.

However, there’s a lot of vertical space above the seats that we wanted to make use of, so we fitted a shelf, faced with a wall at the back that forms a partial bulkhead above our heads.

Shelf as seen from the back of the van, with stuff holes for duvets and pillows

The shelf is made from 9mm hardwood ply, and it’s supported at the front and sides on oak battens, which are bolted onto existing attachment points on the cab body.

We used oak because these supporting battens have to take a significant weight, and softwood wouldn’t be up to the task. Also, we knew the frame would be visible, so we wanted something that looked good. Fortunately, the particular plywood we’re using here, while not the high-grade birch ply, does have one nice face, which matches the oak quite well.

Oak support frame underneath the shelf

The shelf is supported by the back by the partial bulkhead, made of 12mm birch ply, which itself hangs from bolts rivnutted to the frame of the van.

We intend to use this area to stuff in bedding when our bed is not in use, so the large cavernous space is idea. We don’t need to worry about things rolling about, and all we had to do to provide access was cut a couple of large stuff holes, with rounded edges (using a roundover bit on the router).

On the passenger side, we also mounted our MT-50 solar controller monitor, which gives us some live info on the state of the battery, power draw, and the performance of the panels.

2017-08-06: Bench bed and cladding test

We’ve been busy on various jobs since I last wrote, mostly trying to get some basic components built in prototype form for we can take the van on a short trip and test some things out.

Almost every design/build problem in the van is a chicken and egg problem. And we tie ourselves in knots trying to decide which part to commit to, so that we can move on. The interaction of furniture, cladding, and electrical supply is one such problem.

Since we had to start somewhere, we took the passenger side of the van as a low risk first step.

Bench bed

I started by building a simple bed frame. It’s mostly self supporting, with the legs nearest the wall bolted to the van body using rivnuts.

Bench/bed frame

I set the frontmost legs back from he edge of the bench so that, when seated, you can swing your legs back. The front and sides will be panelled with ply, as will the top. For now, we have a piece of MDF on top to use as a test. The front edge of the bench has a 2cm lip which will form the middle (longitudinal) support for the bed. The other half of the bed will be removable, with one edgeand resting on this lip, and the far side resting on a lip on cabinets (still to be built) on the other side of the van.

Structure of the bench largely complete

Cladding

Once the bench was complete, we spent many hours figuring out how the cladding could work. The van walls are curved, and flexible plywood could conform to the curve, but there are very few places where it could be pinned back to the walls, risking it flapping around, unsupported, or ‘drumming’ when on the move. So we decided to build a flat frame for the middle section of the wall, onto which one large sheet of flat ply can be fastened.

To clad that section, we re-used some of the 5mm plywood that was in the van when we bought it , cutting out holes for the task lights and USB sockets. It feels pretty solid, so we’ll see how it works on our trip in a couple of weeks.

One wall section insulated, with electrical supply, and framing up ready for cladding