My friends Toby and Jess are here from Melbourne, and tomorrow we’re heading off to go camping with my Welsh-Aussie friend Jo. Toby and Jess have their own vehicle/camping setup so we’ll be circling wagons. It’s so lovely to be camping as a group activity. We’re off out for two nights.
In the meantime, though, I’m making progress on the great switcheroo. At first, I thought I would have to strip the van right back to the floor and start over, re-building the whole bloody thing as a 180 degree-reversed version of itself. To recap, the problem is that you must, legally, have access from the kerb side of the vehicle, including to the cabin and not just to the front passenger seats; I had misunderstood this despite reading the legislation. It’s a stupid rule but still, my bad. However, it looks like there’s a better solution, and one that doesn’t involve nearly as much faff as I don’t, now, need to deal with repositioning the supports under the bed (and thus the electrics can mostly stay put, the bed itself can stay put, etc. Big improvement on what I thought this would involve).
Here’s what I’m building instead (slightly modified from this, but based on it):
I realise that this sketch probably makes no sense to anyone but me, so here, instead, is a description of what I’m doing. So here’s the front of the van as it currently is:
As you can see, the kitchen cabinet is currently on the left hand side (as you face forwards), and it’s currently 60cm deep by 100cm wide (and ~86cm high). The water tanks sit under the left side of the bed, and stick thru into the cupboard on the left side (as you see it above), to give access to the plumbing. So from the left side door, looking into the back of the cupboard, the plumbing looks like this:
So. I’m taking out the entire kitchen bench as currently built. I’m taking out the water tanks from under the bed (and also their supports/tie down straps, and bulkhead). I’m undoing all the existing plumbing and also the electrics that run to the kitchen bench as is. It’s a big job, but OK, it’s do-able.
And in their place, I’m building a narrower, longer kitchen bench that runs ACROSS the van, from side to side, leaving access from both side doors. Specifically, the new setup is only 37cm deep, but 120cm wide (and still ~86cm high). It looks like this:
The cats are for scale, hahaha.
What you see here is two Ikea Metod cabinets, one 40cm wide and one 80cm wide, both 37cm deep. (I realize the right hand one is sitting slightly higher here, but it is just placed on an extra shelf at the moment, so no worries.) Into the larger cabinet will go two new, heavier-duty water tanks, stacked as previously. (The original tanks were rather flimsy whereas these new ones are much more substantial.) The cabinet is 77cm wide inside and the tanks are 74cm long, but rather than squeeze the plumbing into ~3cm of space, I’ll cut holes between the small and large cabinet to run the hoses and make room to access the fittings. Together, stacked, the tanks are 44cm high, which is fine (there’s 50cm under the shelf, so that I can raise the tanks up a bit to accommodate the hinge at the right side). The front-to-back width is more problematic: they are 34.5cm wide and the space is almost exactly 35cm deep. Tight, but do-able. What it does mean is that I’ll have to cut holes in the back panel of the cabinet for the sender arms and their cables.
Then, in the bottom section of the smaller cabinet there’ll be the water filter and pump and the hoses. Oh, and, the smaller one has no door yet as I’ll be recycling the original 40cmW door from the existing fitout.
Into the top of both cabinets will be the insets from the kitchen worktop. That is, I’ll move the sink and tap from the old worktop to the new one and will substitute a metho stove rather than gas (the gas stove I’ll put on ebay, I guess. It’s super frustrating as I’ve never used it and it was expensive, but there you go.) Both the sink and the stove need 15cm depth within the cupboard, which is why there’s space in the top of each cabinet for them, with the sink on the left and the stove on the right. The sink and water tanks will then usually be facing downhill (per the camber of the road, assuming I park on the left) which is better for drainage.
The reason for ditching the gas stove and moving to metho is that there’s then no need to get gas fitted and no need to find space underneath to accommodate a gas cabinet and bottle. The regulations in Australia around these are strict, with gas needing to be vented to the outside of the vehicle, which in a campervan means cutting a vent into the floor. Using gas would therefore involve the cost of getting the gas properly fitted and certified. In contrast, metho is stand alone, with no need for external pipes or bottles or cabinets or vents. It only needs enough clearance (primarily 75cm above it, which is fine when the poptop is up; see page 4). So while this way of doing it involves buying a new stove and ditching a perfectly good gas one, it saves on what I would have spent and the hassle of getting gas installation. Because, after the shit fight in Ballina and after the Brisbane gas place cancelled on me at the very last second, I want as little as possible to do with campervan conversion service folks. This is strictly DIY now.
So yeah. Sink, stove, water tanks, plumbing. And also, while I’m working things out anew, a TABLE. I mean, I have my outdoor table, which is fine and good and all, but I would like to be able to sit and eat or write at a table in the van too, if need be. And so, I designed this:
The middle section of the cabinet doors flips up on a hinge to create a table. Under it will go two dowels, which fit between two rubber cups (fixed to the floor) and the round hinge recesses in the back of the door (because it’s actually a wide, short door on its side, so the two hinge recesses are actually at the bottom of the panel, on either side of the handle as you see it here). Above and below this panel are two 10cm drawer fronts (no drawer, just needed something to fill the gaps). Being 60cm long, this flip up table will (hopefully…) fit into the space between the kitchen cabinets and the front edge of the bed. Because the hinge is at 70cm up the cabinet, and because the cabinet sits on a 4cm plinth, the table height is 74cm, which is about standard and which fits a standard stool (such as this one).
A quick note about attaching the drawer front. It’s only 40cm wide but the cabinet is 80cm. This made it tricky, as there was only a support for it on one side. So I had to hack a support for it. Ta daaah:
There was no way of fixing the wood to the metal brace (glue wouldn’t hold it, it kept springing back up) so there are two things to hold it secure here: webbing and gravity. The webbing is simply looped around and fastened, and once the worktop is in place it should (I hope) push the brace down onto the support. The upright piece of wood is cut with a groove to accommodate the edge of the brace (i.e. it’s L-shaped in cross section, which is why you can see it sticking up at the front a little). Then the drawer front is simply screwed onto the supporting timber. Then the table panel is screwed onto the bottom of the drawer front using a continuous hinge.
So yep. I’m waiting for the new tanks and stove to arrive from Canberra. Once they get here, and once I get back from camping, I’ll do the worktop cutouts and make the holes in the cabinet sides/back for the plumbing and sender arms (hello again, jigsaw!) Then it’s a question of varnishing a splashback. And cutting the upstand (now there’s only space behind the sink for about half of it, as the stove is wider and the worktop narrower). And disconnecting all the existing plumbing and electrics. And removing the old kitchen cabinets and water tanks and their plinth. And repairing with silicone all the screw holes in the vinyl flooring that these have left. And then installing the whole new cabinet setup and re-attaching all the plumbing and electrics. And then, with all the new space under the bed with with no usable space in the kitchen cabinets, figuring out again where everything goes and what storage compartments are now needed for everything…
In other words, it’s still a big job and I feel resentful that it’s even needed. But OK. I will get a table out of it. And also, secretly (not so secretly) I do kind of love all this DIY thing.
So hurrah for camping, and hurrah for DIYing 🙂