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Old 05-01-2010, 06:29 PM   #1
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Default Converting a 1999 Ford E-250 to a camper van

Hi All,
I've been working on this project since July/2009. I've been posting updates since I started to different forums.
You can see the whole thread here.
RV.net link.

I'm posting this here for two reasons. One of the forums where I posted was hacked and all of my postings were deleted. So lose one forum, add another.
Second is I was looking for some more DIY kind of folks. Most RV owners don't seem to make modifications on their own. It looks like you have some true DIY'ers here.

I call my van Hal, as in Hal from 2001.



If the other people reading this forum are interested I'll start posting new updates here. Older postings (warning there are over 14 pages of them) can be found at the above link.

Later,
Dave
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Old 05-04-2010, 12:23 AM   #2
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Default Re: Converting a 1999 Ford E-250 to a camper van

Welcome to Class B Form Dave and thanks for posting. It sounds like you like sharing ideas and that helps others.
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Old 05-04-2010, 02:09 PM   #3
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Default Re: Converting a 1999 Ford E-250 to a camper van

Thanks Marco,
My current project is a Sofa-Bed. I'll start by posting my previous work on it.

It's not done yet but at this point I've finally got it all figured out.
Time to start the write-up. The sofa-bed will be the most complex thing I'm going to build for the van conversion. It would have been nice to put this off until later in the project but so many other elements depend on the size and placement of the sofa-bed so it has to go first.

The usual warnings apply. I've never designed and built anything like this before. I've had to make a bunch of assumptions (wild a** guesses) and not sure how these will work out in practice. Will find out after I put it to some use.

One more point. Even though this will fold out to a bed I don't believe it's sturdy enough for any serious "bouncy-bouncy". Seeing is how I camp alone that wasn't a design consideration, unfortunately. I like how the English would phrase it, "More's the pity".

When the the sofa-bed is in the bed position it will be 74 inches long by 42 inches wide. I choose 74" long since I'm 6 ft tall (72") so that gives me room to lay flat with a couple inches extra. 42" wide because when it's in the sofa position the seat and the back will each be 21 inches wide and that felt to me like a comfortable seat size. I'm using two electric actuators to open and close the sofa-bed.

For padding I've bought 3 inch thick foam and a 2" thick memory foam topper. Not yet decided about how to cover them.

Here is the basic design I started with. I've stayed fairly close to it.




So far on this build I've made more mistakes and wrong turn than I care to admit. Here's a picture of the sofa-bed bone pile and I'm not even done yet.


I got started on this about a month and a half ago. First cut the two end pieces. They are 30" x 31". I'm using 19/32" plywood.


Made the seat and back frames from a 3/4" thick pine planks I had laying around.


Each frame is made from five pieces. Here are the dimensions of the pieces used on the back frame.


The seat frame is slightly different in size. I had some 5-1/2" wide boards on hand so instead of ripping them down to 5" I just increased the width of the frame an inch. So the back frame is 74"x20" while the seat frame is 74"x21". 20" + 21" doesn't equal 42" but the foam is cut to 42" and it can easily overhang the edge of the frame by 1".

continued.
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Once I exit Hal, this is what I do.
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Old 05-04-2010, 02:11 PM   #4
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Default Re: Converting a 1999 Ford E-250 to a camper van

Sofa-bed continued:

I've constructed the seat frame this way since I'm planning on having "hatches" to access the area under the sofa.


I copied the same design for the back frame but the hatch part won't be hinged.

Before I assemble the frame pieces I want to route out a lip so the plywood hatches will sit partially recessed. Here's my router attached to the router table.


Like other power tools the router can put a put a good bit of hurt on you if you're not careful when using it. It uses a sharp bit spinning at very high speed and the wood has to be held tight against the bit as it is moved across the table. All kinds of chances to make a unfortunate slip.

In operation there is one noticeable difference between a router and other power tools, like a saw for instance. A saw takes one piece of wood and then produces two pieces of wood and some sawdust. With a router you start and stop with one piece of wood but the amount of sawdust that is produced seems exponentially larger than the amount wood that was removed. I think of it more as a sawdust production machine than as a router. Because of the sawdust problem I always attach my shopvac to the router table. The table has a fitting just for this.


Problem is that once you start both the router and shopvac the amount of noise the two of them make in a small garage is not to be believed. I've never stuck my head inside the exhaust of a spinning jet engine but I bet I know how it might sound. I make a point of not using my power tools later that 9:00pm so my kindly neighbours won't be tempted to host a necktie party in my honor.

Here is the router bit I've installed on the router. It's a double fluted carbide tipped straight bit. It's used to make square edged cuts. I'm going to make the recess cut 3/4" wide. I could explain why this is the best possible size for this application but in reality it's just the widest bit I have.


The boards I'm routing are 3/4" thick so I'm setting the bit to cut 1/4" deep (1/3 the thickness). Use the caliper to set the router bit depth (height?).


After making changes to the router bit I always do a test cut with a piece of scrap wood to check the settings.


Here's how you'd use the depth probe on the cailpers to check the cut.




continued -
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Once I exit Hal, this is what I do.
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Old 05-04-2010, 02:11 PM   #5
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Default Re: Converting a 1999 Ford E-250 to a camper van

Sofa-bed continued:

One problem with the router set up like this is the action happens at the bottom of the piece of wood you're moving across the table where you can't actually see it.


If you're routing along the entire length of the wood this isn't a problem. Just run the piece through. But on each of these frames there are two pieces where I need to make two separate cuts, neither of which extend to either end. There might be a better way but this is the method I can up with and it worked for me.

Rotate the router bit till one cutting edge is parallel to the direction the wood will travel. You move the wood on the table from right to left so consider this the leading edge of the bit.


Take a combination square and align one edge with the cutting bit.


Use the combination square to mark off a line across the router table.


Carefully lay a strip of masking tape along the line to make it easier to see. Then again using the combination square do the same measurements for the trailing edge of the router bit.


Lay down another strip of masking tape along the second mark. You now have a guide to the width of the router bit. The shows where it will cut.


Start by routing the three 10" long pieces of frame. The two that are 5" wide are routed along one complete edge. The 6" wide piece has both edges routed. NOTE: In this picture the three pieces are not in their correct orientation. The two end pieces should have their routed edges facing the middle.


Dry fit the frame pieces together. Letter and mark each piece so when it comes time to reassemble they will match up. There are two 74" long frame pieces. On these two pieces use a ruler to mark where the routed edges of the middle pieces line up. Draw these lines across the width of the boards.




Draw marks on both edges that are continuations of the previously drawn lines.


Now here is where it gets tricky. It's real easy to get confused at this step. Use the marks on each edge of the board to line up on the masking tape where the router cut should begin. In this picture you can see the mark is lined up with the inside edge of the left masking tape. Since the board will move from right to left this shows I'm beginning a cut.


Use the mark on the side of the board closest to the router bit to keep the board perpendicular as you slide it close to the bit before powering on the router. In this picture the bit is at the bottom.


Power on the router then slide the board against the bit and the fence. Then move it to the left. In this picture the mark is on the inside edge of the rightmost masking tape. So here I was finishing a cut.


That's it. Do the cuts on both boards of this frame then do it all over again for the other frame. I did make one mistake. There was a small knot on the edge of the board and I thought it was my mark. It wasn't. I had plowed straight past my mark while looking at the knot.

One more thing. You'll notice the router leaves a rounded corner. Will come back to that later.


continued -
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Once I exit Hal, this is what I do.
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Old 05-04-2010, 02:13 PM   #6
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Default Re: Converting a 1999 Ford E-250 to a camper van

Sofa-bed continued:

With all the frame pieces cut and routed it's time to join them together. Use the biscuit cutter as described in the battery box build.




Glue and clamp.




Do the same for both frames.

Now for the 30" x 31" end supports.
Here is the original plan for the end supports and the wood frames. I thought by using a metal u-piece on the end of the boards and two metal angles bolted to the end pieces I could make something like a drawer slider. It didn't work as well as I'd hoped but I didn't know that yet.


So I went ahead and measure, cut, filed, laid out, pre-drilled, drilled and bolted on the lower angle pieces.














Then for the u-channel, carefully counter sink the holes with a drill press. The aluminum is thin so this takes a light touch.






Mount the u-channel.



Most all of this will be removed later.

continued -
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Once I exit Hal, this is what I do.
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Old 05-04-2010, 02:14 PM   #7
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Default Re: Converting a 1999 Ford E-250 to a camper van

Sofa-bed continued:

To join the different pieces of the sofa-bed together I'm making a bunch of 1-1/2" x 1-1/2" sized blocks. I'll call these corner blocks. Why that size? You can make two from a single 2x4 and I have a bunch of scrap 2x4's laying around.


A quick note on my build strategy. I know professional van converters will build the furniture into the van but they know what they are doing. Since I'm making it up as I go I think the best plan is to build each item in the garage and make all corrections/additions there. Disassemble all the pieces, move the pieces into the van then reassemble. Use bolts when possible to make the the pieces easier to disassemble. That also makes sense since I'm the only one here who will be moving the furniture pieces around.

Tiger and Bob could help but whenever I ask, Tiger never fails to remind me that this is a Union Shop. Since He and Bob are classified as management, they may only provide supervision. If they were to engage in any direct help that could result in a grievance being filed by the Shop Stewart. Since I'm the Shop Stewart, I can't very well argue the point with him.


Next make a 8" x 74" board for the front of the sofa-bed.


Woodworking tip. If you're using a circular saw on a not-to-wide board you can use a speed square to help make a straight cut. Place the square on the opposite side of the board so you're pulling it towards you. Hold the square tight and use it's edge to guide the circular saw as you push it across.


Cut corner blocks for the ends of the 8" x 74" board.


Before I glue the blocks to the board a quick posting about glue brushes. I use these low cost brushes for gluing. They are marked as "Acid Brushes" but I've seen them called other things. They are cheaply made, just a hollow stamped metal tube with some brushes at the end, but do the job and no big deal if you forget to wash them out. Just toss them.


Glue and screw the blocks to each end of the board. I'm using a countersink bit to pre-drill a hole in the front of the board so the screw heads will sit flush. I'll later be drilling three holes through the block for bolts so space the four screws so they won't be in the way.


Clamp the board to the two end pieces. Be sure everything lines up.


With the clamps holding the boards in place drill three holes through the end pieces and the corner blocks. Then bolt together using 5/16" bolts.




Use the angled metal bolted to the end pieces to hold the seat frame for a test fit. Notice the board I've placed under the middle of the seat frame to provide support. I made a mistake when cutting it so it is destined for the bone pile but it works OK at the moment.


Do the same for the back frame. I'm using clamps on the side to keep the back up. This is my first look at what the sofa-bed might look like. Too early in the build for a Frankenstein moment.


Add a "corner" block to support the board at the middle of the sofa. The plan is to place the battery box under the right side of the sofa so the box had to be built first so I could get it's true measurements. I use the length of the battery box to set the location of the middle support board. Then glue and screw the corner block to align with this placement. THIS IS A MISTAKE. I should have just used a couple of screws to hold the corner block into place IN CASE I HAD TO MAKE ADJUSTMENTS LATER.


Plowing straight ahead, screw and glue the middle corner block into place. Then drill the holes for the 5/16" bolts. Bolt the middle support board to the front board.


continued -
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Open the pod bay doors Hal.

Once I exit Hal, this is what I do.
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Old 05-04-2010, 02:14 PM   #8
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Default Re: Converting a 1999 Ford E-250 to a camper van

Sofa-bed continued:

If I'm going to keep writing about the sofa-bed I should settle on a naming convention for the different parts. I'll try to stick to them.


Made from 19/32" plywood
Left and Right Ends - 31"h x 30"w
Kick Board - 8"h x 74"w
Center Support - 12"h x 30"w
Middle Brace - 3"h x 74"w

Made from 3/4" pine boards
Seat Platform - 74"w x 21"d
Back Platform - 74"w x 20"h

Top Brace not made yet. I'm still working on it.

The bottom of the seat platform will rest on, and rub against as it moves, a metal angle attached to the center support. To reduce friction I'm adding a layer of Formica laminate to the bottom of the platform . Here's a scrap piece of white laminate I had laying around.


I cut it using the table saw. Since this won't be visible I'm not too worried about the edge being real smooth. To glue down the laminate it's time to use the flammable contact cement I bought by mistake a couple months back.


Apply the cement to both the wood and the back of the laminate. Wait till it gets tacky. When you go to place the laminate be sure to get it right the first time. Once it makes good contact, it's stuck.


There is a device sold called a J-roller which you roll across the laminate to bond it the surface you cementing it to. I don't have one so I used a hardwood dowel like a rolling pin..


I also applied laminate to the back of the back platform. At the time I thought it would be needed. After changed my designs yet again just today it won't be needed. No harm in leaving it.


continued -
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Open the pod bay doors Hal.

Once I exit Hal, this is what I do.
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Old 05-04-2010, 02:16 PM   #9
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Default Re: Converting a 1999 Ford E-250 to a camper van

Sofa-bed continued:

Going to start writing about the drive mechanism for the sofa-bed. I'm be describing the construction in a lot of detail. Will come in handy if I have to do it again since I have a bad habit of forget such things.

First up is to remake the Center Support. I didn't consider the part that overhangs the Kick Board when I cut the original one. More wood for the bone pile.

New Center Support with a notch penciled in.


A test fit of the Kick Board (vertical in this picture) and the Center Support.


I need to construct something that will both slide the Seat Platform out 12" from the front of the sofa-bed but also proved plenty of support once it's in that position. In the original plan each end of the platform will be supported by the metal angles and U-channel. The middle will be supported using a 1-1/4" square perforated steel tube.


I'll use 1-1/2" aluminum angles to guide the square tube and counterbalance the platform weight once extended. Attach the first angle to the top of the Center Support. It will look like this when done.


Position the angle so it's the thickness of the angle above the edge of the Center Support. This is so the platform bottom in the center will line up with the angles attached to the End Pieces.


Clamp the angle onto the board.


The angle will be held to the Center Support with 1/4" bolts. The heads of the bolts will be on the side of the angle that the square tube slides along. So the square tube will be rubbing against the bolt heads. I want to position the bolts so the heads aren't lined up with the perforations in the steel tube. There's a kind of a Ka-chunk Ka-chunk feeling if the heads and the holes line up as the tube slides.
Place a bolt between the center and edge of the square tube.


Use the calipers to measure the distance between the center of the bolt head and the inside edge of the angle.


Figure out where along the length of the angle I'm going to place the bolts. Then place the depth probe end of the calipers against the inside edge of the angle. Trace along the end of the calipers on each side of the depth probe.


After removing the caliper you'll have two lines that show where to center the drill hole for each bolt.


Drill away.


continued -
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Once I exit Hal, this is what I do.
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Old 05-04-2010, 02:17 PM   #10
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Default Re: Converting a 1999 Ford E-250 to a camper van

Sofa-bed continued:

A quick note. These write ups aren't in strict chronological order. It's easier for me to describe the steps if I jump around a little bit.
The previously installed metal angle both supported the bottom of the Seat Platform and helped guide the top of the square tube. Now add the angle to guide the bottom of the tube.


The square tube is 1-1/4" tall and the angles are 1-1/2" tall. You can see there is some overlap when using two angles as guides.


Need to trim a little off the bottom edge of the first angle to remove that overlap.


Since the Seat Platform is 21" wide and 12" of that will be extended out, I'll make the second angle 9" long to correspond with the amount of seat left over the Center Support. The bottom trim needs to be the same length as the second angle.


A funny thing happened on the way to finish that 9" cut. I'm using my trusty old saber saw and it starts to cut slower and slower. Then the smoke detector in the basement goes off. I never did see any actual smoke come out of it but by the end of the cut it's done sabered it's last saw. Had it a couple decades or more. Say good-bye to my old friend.


Say Hello to my new friend.


OOOOOH - Lasers!


These are how the two angles will fit together.


Test fit with the square tube.


Cut the square tube to a 30" length and smooth out the cut end.


Bolt the top angle onto the Center Support.


I've added some more bolts to the front part of the top angle (upside down in this photo). These are to help counteract the forces caused by the extended square tube. I've positioned these new bolts so the heads are below the tube perforations as it slides. This is just like in the previous post where the first bolts which were placed above the perforations.


Using the square tube to maintain proper alignment position the bottom angle.


Clamp the angle into place until the first few bolts are added.


Use the caliper as previously described to help mark the positions for the bolt holes. Use a 16D nail to dimple the metal before you drill to help the bit stay centered.




With everything bolted into place slide the square tube back and forth to see how it moves. Without any lubrication at all it moves surprisingly smooth. And no Ka-chunk Ka-chunk.


And very importantly the side of the square tube is clear of the edge from the angles. That is needed for the next steps.


continued -
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Once I exit Hal, this is what I do.
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