Making Progress

Hey, what do you know, it’s been a long time since we posted. Again. Sorry about that (again). To be honest the conversion has been even more demanding than we anticipated and has taken up nearly all of our time, thus the gaps in post frequency. Our days are spent attacking the to-do list developed the day prior as well as any and all leftovers from previous day’s to-do lists (which seem to add up quickly). But here we are, finally, to go through some of the awesome progress we’ve made in the past few weeks.

The first feature we will detail today actually happened quite a bit ago; roof-mounted fans and solar panels. In my haste to put together the last post I blew right past these additions, so we’ll highlight them now.

(2) Fans and (4) 100W Solar Panels mounted to the roof of our girl, Wilda.

Our plan always included (2) roof-mounted fans. It did not, however, include (intentionally) two different colored fans. Long story short: we ordered two fans with white lids and were sent one correct fan and one incorrect fan (not only a ‘smoke’ colored lid, but the incorrect fan model altogether). After discussing things with customer service, it turns out that the correct fan model is not available until January 2021 and has nearly doubled in price. The rear fan is nearly the same as the forward fan, except it does not have a remote control, which is why we located it in the rear above our bed. So now we have two different colored fans; cool!

Moving on now to progress that actually occurred after the previous post; cedar installation on the ceiling and walls. Early on in our planning process we knew we wanted to use tongue-and-groove cedar plank based on durability and look. It is readily available and relatively easy to install once you’ve got a few planks under your belt. Another positive of using cedar plank is it’s flexibility which goes a long way into cleanly transitioning the van’s various curves and irregularities within the frame.

To start, we found the center point of the ceiling at the front of the van and placed our first plank. This first piece was just a small section in front of the forward fan, but having a few small pieces to start was probably a good thing. To attach the cedar plank to our plywood furring (outlined in the previous post) we decided to use zinc-coated screws. The zinc-coating has a reddish-gold finish which blends nicely with the knotty cedar. (Other van conversions we’ve seen have used typical black drywall screws, red deck screws, or even finish nails, but we liked the color of these and preferred screws to nails for an added layer of security against the constant jostling these planks would be under in a vehicle).

Installing all of the cedar plank required a few days of dedicated work and a good bit of patience. During the wood furring process we did our best to anticipate problem areas and add appropriate blocking, but you just can’t plan for everything with so many irregularities. In the end, though, the finished product looks fantastic. With cedar installation all-but finished (cedar-clad panels to cover openings on the sliding and rear doors will be added later) we transitioned into the cabinetry portion of the build.

Both of us having interest and real-world experience with building construction certainly helped throughout this portion of the project. Additionally, both of our dads know their way around carpentry, which added another level of confidence in our planning and design of the cabinetry elements. We planned for two sections of wall cabinets (at the foot of our bed, matching the width of the bed, and above the base cabinets behind the driver seat, matching the width of the base cabinets). We left a gap above the bench on that side (driver side) of the van to reduce the likelihood of having a head-knocker directly above the bench.

On the passenger side of the vehicle our cabinetry is limited to a single, stand-alone base cabinet to house our sink and faucet. We located the cabinet here in front of the sliding door on the side of the vehicle, to allow us to use the faucet to wash our hair if needed. Yes, the “we” and “us” was a joke; only Emily will need this feature. In all seriousness, this location allow for use of the faucet from outside the vehicle if needed. Another benefit to having a cabinet with the back accessible through the open sliding door is the option to add an outside table, which we decided to do. This table will be mounted to the back side of the cabinet on a hinge and will fold down for outside use. As far as wall cabinets on the passenger side of the vehicle, we kept this side of the vehicle clear of any overhead obstructions.

Our cabinetry work began with the base cabinets, starting with the sink cabinet. We put together a simple box, glued it down to the floor, and fastened it to the adjacent bench (which is bolted to the vehicle chassis and also tied into the elevated bed platform). Additionally, as this cabinet is somewhat free-standing (no wall to attach to based on it’s location directly in front of the sliding door), we planned to have the back of the cabinet (plywood) extend just past the door opening to allow for attachment to the frame.

On the other (driver) side of the vehicle, we filled the remaining wall space between the bench and driver seat with base cabinets. The primary storage in this cabinet space will be for the refrigerator and propane camping stove, as well as other kitchen accoutrements.

With the frames for the base cabinets complete, we moved our attention to the wall-hung cabinets. The photo below highlights our biggest challenge with the wall cabinets, the radius transition between the wall and ceiling of the van. Our main concern was ensuring these wall cabinets were fastened securely at both the wall and ceiling. Emily worked up a great cardboard template which allowed us to fabricate a frame that allowed us three points of contact for attachment.

After completing the cabinet framing at all locations the next step was custom drawers. The base cabinets on the driver side would be entirely drawers, again primarily for the fridge and stove. We divided the remaining cabinet space into three equal drawers, providing lots of storage. We made the drawers as deep as possible and will be using magnetic child locks to keep them from opening while driving. Our favorite feature here will be a “hidden” silverware drawer, which will sit just above the stove (top right drawer), accessible and visible only with the main drawer open. We realized we had more than enough space for the stove, so we added this hidden drawer after the fact and couldn’t be happier with that decision.

I have to admit we’re quite proud of these. It was tedious to measure and align all the drawer glides, but they make great use of the available space and are sturdy with clean lines. We’ll finish off the front of the drawers with a frame and paint. These were satisfying to complete and use.

Some other things have been progressing throughout this framing process but we’ll leave those for the final build-out post. Next: electrical, plumbing, finishing touches, and back on the road.

  • Mike

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