Before I started doing anything practical, while the van was still usefully empty, I needed to work out what wood I would need for the whole project so I could use the useful, empty van to bring it all back to the workshop. So although I would end up going back and forwards to Bunnings SO MANY times throughout the conversion process, on that first day, my big task was to go to Bunnings and buy stuff.
I bought a lot of stuff. There’s a small part of it in a trolley, and there’s a lot more of it sitting next to the van in the workshop. And there I am, getting wood cut to size, because back then I wasn’t at all confident about using a jigsaw, and I still thought you needed to get everything cut on a proper, fancy circular saw. (Then I was new, green, naive, as I say.)
I brought everything back (via a small tantrum), unpacked it all, looked around, and set to work…
Task 1: the floor.
My van started off pretty much as a blank canvas; all it needed was a clean. As there were no seats or shelves or whatever to strip out, my first task was to make a template from which to jigsaw the plywood that would make a solid floor base, for screwing down all the fixtures and fittings.
I made the floor template out of two sheets of corflute, cutting and sticking it as needed to produce a fairly accurate floorplan. The end result, below, wasn’t especially pretty as I’d hacked off and then re-attached quite a few bits around the edges, but it did the job.
I cut the template into two halves, lengthwise, then drew around them onto two sheets of thick plywood, for the two halves of the floor. Dave helped me lift the giant sheets of ply, one at a time, onto my pathetic little sawhorses, and I clamped it in place and got started with jigsawing around the template line.
Well, not exactly.
Jigsawing is hard if you don’t know how to do it. My first attempt, well, I knew nothing. The saw blade just bounced off the wood. It felt crazy dangerous to be messing with power tools when I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.
And so I went out and sat in my car (because I was still intimidated by the mechanic boys, and it was only day 1) and googled YouTube videos for “how to use a jigsaw”.
Ah ha! It’s all about how you approach the wood. Gotcha. Take two. This time I laid the plane part of the jigsaw on the wood and got the blade going and then moved it very slowly forward and… IT WORKED! I still have all my fingers AND, after a little bit of time, I also had two floor cutouts that fit.
But first things first. The floor of the van is ridged and I wanted to lay the electrical cables under the floor. This necessitated raising the floor slightly, to leave enough space between the grooves for the cabling. So under the floor I had planned to glue in some wooden batons, into which to screw down the floor cutouts.
OK, so. Wood in place, check. Floor panels cut, check.
And now. The electrical cables. That shit needs to run under the floor, which meant that, counter-intuitively, I needed to start thinking about all this way early on in the piece. But I was not at ALL confident with electric. Not at ALL.
Task 2: the electrical cables
I had said all along that I wasn’t going to deal with anything I couldn’t see. So: I was always get professionals to deal with the electrics and gas for me. But instead, there I was, the first weekend: having to think about electrical wiring so that I could build everything else on top of it. Damn.
The first mistake I made was buying normal, housing wiring. That wasn’t right (for reasons I don’t fully understand, but I believe it), and after a conversation with a mate of Andrew’s, who is also an electrician, I took the house wiring back to Bunnings and, instead, got the correct automotive cabling from Jaycar.
The choice of which cabling runs where depends on what is going to run off each circuit, and there are apps that help you work all this out (this same law also helps you work out how big of a leisure battery you need; but much more on this in a later post). Again, Andrew and co were angels in this respect, helping me make sense of all of this. For example, one of the circuits I ran under the floor was going to power a lamp and a fan. They use 0.36 watts and 0.34 amps respectively. So, plugging this into the calculator, I learned that that for this I only needed a piddling little cable. But for more power-hungry things, like the cable running to the fridge or the water pump, it needed a bigger carrying capacity. This meant that there was a whole bunch of different types of cable running around under the floor, going to where they would eventually be needed.
Much of the cabling itself I put inside electrical conduit, to protect it, although I don’t think it’s strictly necessary. The finished result was a bit of a tapey-botchy mess, but OK. It isn’t going to be seen, and it’s doing the job safely and effectively. That’s plenty.
Once that was all in place, circuits calculated and labelled, with conduit and batons glued down and everything held with cloth tape just to be sure, it was time to put the floor back in, screw it down, and then cover it with vinyl. I re-used the same template to cut out the vinyl (with scissors this time, much easier than jigsawing wood).
And then, whaddaya know: my van had a floor.
Task 3: insulation
The other thing you’ll notice in this picture is that there’s already a bit of insulation in place in the form of a re-purposed camping mat (that I’d replaced in my hiking gear a while back as this closed-cell type is murderously uncomfortable to sleep on, ugh). Underneath this layer, there’s also a couple of sheets of insulation cut to fit the window-shaped panel mouldings on the sides of the van, but I stopped with this after a while as it’s very, very squeaky, and I didn’t fancy riding along with the sounds of a million mice on board. This is just the beginning of the insulation, and I also put foam-foil-type insulation into the lining of the lower parts of the side walls. And once the poptop roof is in place, I’ll insulate and line it too.
The main thinking with insulating the van is that, otherwise, it’s really just a (too hot or too cold) sheet metal tent. Yes, even insulated it’ll eventually heat up or get cold, depending on whether I’m in Tasmania in July or FNQ in January, god forbid! But insulation helps make it a bit more comfortable as a living space. The online research I’d done, which is mostly UK-based campervan conversions –such as this one; and he’s very dashing, too– bang on a lot about insulation, but here I am giving it just two short paragraphs. I may live to regret this. But I live in Australia, where cold is not the problem it is in e.g. Scotland or e.g. Canada. And here, we don’t mainly deal with heat by insulating (because then, when it does get hot inside it stays hot). Instead, you stay shaded, let a breeze blow though and, if necessary, you drive south to get out of the heat. Plus, you crack open a cold beer 😉