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Van Ventures: The Van Build

river hazel

After years of dreaming of a life on the road in a van, the time finally came for me to buy my own. It's funny actually, as I sit here writing this... I received a Facebook memory today reminding me that today one year ago I was off to look at vans (and would later come home with Wax the Wonderbus.)

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Wax the Wonderbus: a 2006 Ford Transit van that previously lived as an Australia Post vehicle. She's a little under 3m tall and a medium wheel base. (Making her oh so spacious.)

I’d been dreaming about a van for as long as I could remember… so when I finally got my license and embarked on my jewellery journey (allowing me to make money I could squirrel away) I started looking for vans. Wax was the second I looked at, the first being a similar (yet older) version. To be completely honest, I had absolutely no clue what I was looking for. All I knew is that I needed lots of space to fit all my market gear. It just so happened that the two nearest vans that were in my price range and available for viewing on the day I'd planned to look were Wax and her older cousin. After watching countless Youtube videos, reading about a hundred blog and saving a bunch of Instagram ‘inspiration’ pictures, I thought I had the fit-out down pat. I estimated a few weekends would have me ready to roll. (I was wrong, obviously.) 

The first mission was getting her clean! You’d swear she’d never had a wash inside. The panels that came with her were damp and behind them were all kinds of dirty surprises (melted elastic bands, food wrappers and thousands of dust balls.) 

Once the panels were off and she’d had a good scrub (which took the whole day), I started insulating and painting the exposed windows white. The old panels made life a bit easier as they were used as stencils to cut out the new ones.

I totally underestimated the time each little step of the process would take. The insulating took a few hours and then it was on to cutting out new panels out of ply wood (using the old panels as stencils to get the right size/shape.) My studio soon turned into a panel drying station as each had three coats of primer and enamel on the back and then three coast of varnish on the front. This process took about two weeks.

I was about ready to rip my hair out during the panel painting process, but once they were in I realised it was all worth it. There was a little mishap due to some bad calculations which resulted in a panel being cut too short (which you can see in the images above) so that one had to be replaced, but I recycled it to use for the storage box lids.

I built the bed separate from the van so that one day if I decide to re-design, I can easily take it out without damaging the panels. The bed is screwed into 25mm structural ply, which is then screwed into the floor of the van.

Once all the panels for the bed were cut, the process of putting them together was pretty simple. 

The design for my bed is pretty intricate - I had to factor in tables, a marquee and all my market display pieces. Along the sides of my bed I have little storage boxes to hold things like books and what not. 

After two or three coats of varnish on the bed, it was installed. It fits very snug and you'd never guess it isn't attached to the sides. The bed flips up (it's on gas struts) which allows for extra, hidden, storage space.

Because I could only work on the van on certain weekends (due to working full time and doing markets) it took weeks to get to this point. I had an upcoming Sydney trip for the Finders Keepers markets meaning that I had to press pause on the renovations and wait till I returned to finish off the rest of the projects. (The top panels and storage box lids were next on the list.)

 

Unfortunately for me those top panels were never covered in Wax when I got her, so I had no template to work off. Being such a tricky shape, they were a pain in the bum to create but after some trial and error I finally got them done and they were installed once I got back from Sydney.

I also then finished off the lids for the storage boxes using the short panel from the initial side paneling. Next on my list was insulating and putting timber on the ceiling. I wanted it to look like a little log cabin with tongue and groove panels, but had another upcoming trip (this time to freezing cold Melbourne) that had me rushing to get her ready. I ended up opting to have a professional do the ceiling for me, with steamed ply instead of panels. The kitchen drawer I'd planned for the back was another obstacle, so when I had the ceiling done, I got him to install that for me too. It's a 17mm heavy duty ply with heavy duty lockable sliders, so can hold up to 120kgs (meaning I can table dance if need be!) 

The ceiling and drawer fitting cost a fair bit ($600, eek!) which was a bit painful, but I ultimately know that it saved me a lot of time and hassle in the long run. I don't really have the correct tools - the whole van fit out before this was done with just a jigsaw... HOWEVER the man managed to screw through wiring in the ceiling, which meant Wax was at an auto-electrician for a few days getting rewired. (The indicators, hazards and brake lights had stopped working.) So in the end the ceiling ultimately cost me just under $900... ouch!

Still to do: Cupboards along the side up the front of the van, timber flooring. I'll update this when I get around to doing that.