QUEST FOR A NEW CAMPERVAN: Sod it, we’ll do it ourselves!

You find me in a defiant mood at the moment, which may lead to disaster, but I have just had enough of trying to find subcontractors who can help us with our campervan build. I have no idea how we are going to make this happen but, sod it, we’ll do it ourselves!

In my last CAMPERVAN QUEST post I was a bit down-hearted as the builder-craftsman who we thought was going to do our conversion decided he had bitten off more than he could chew and withdrew from the project. He had managed to do the first-fix electrics and laid the floor as well as making us a really nice water/cool box cabinet (see above).

Even though he has good building skills he found that it wasn’t that easy to translate them into the conversion of a van.  He said that if it was his own van he would attempt it as he could re-do any bits that didn’t work and he could take his time without having to charge anybody for it. I do see his point but it was still disappointing.

6-Month Waiting List

It has made me realise that being a van converter needs quite a specialised set of skills especially if you are going to design from scratch and I can see why so many professional converters have anything up to a 6-month waiting list. However, many of them are converting to a formula and doing what is, in my opinion, essentially a skilled assembly job, especially when it comes to the VWs. I’ll tell you why…

Found a Professional Converter just down the Road

After Terry, our builder-craftsman, decided to pull-out I started to speak to local craftsman in the hope that I might just be able to find a carpenter/handyman who could at least help with some of the woodwork. Most of them said that it is not something they would want to take on and many did not even reply to my emails or messages at all (rude!).

However, one guy mentioned a professional converter who had his workshop a couple of miles from where we live and I’d had no idea that he was there! I had, of course, Googled to try and find local converters in our area but his info had never come up as he does not have a website and is only on Facebook in a low-key way which I find some of the smaller converters are.

“We can do the VWs in our sleep”

I popped in to see him and he seemed like a nice young guy, around thirty, with a professional workshop and I was able to see one of the VWs he was converting. When I told him about our situation I asked him if he would be interested in taking on a Vivaro build. I said I wanted him to be sure he could do it as I didn’t want to be in another situation where the contractor gave up halfway. I could see that he wanted to help us but was a bit conflicted as he said that “they could do the VWs in their sleep” and the Vivaro with my non-conventional design was a bit more of an unknown.

However, bless him, he did give us a quote to do the second-fix electrics, wall/ceiling paneling and general carpeting plus fitting the curtains which are a pre-cut kit. The quote came in around £1000 which is probably standard for this work and we appreciated him even being willing to take on the work but, it was just too much for our budget with the hundreds of pounds we had already spent.

Gonna Do it Ourselves

SO, we have now decided to do the walls/ceiling/doors/second fix electrics/bed ourselves and, although I’m sure that it will not be anywhere near the level that a professional converter could do it, I think it will be good enough and the design will make it a very nice, comfortable and unusual campervan.

I already had the carpet and spray glue which I had bought for Terry to do the walls so I decided to just have a go myself on one of the plastic panels that are at the bottom of the back doors. I covered the kitchen floor with plastic (we don’t have a drive or a garage to work in) cut the fabric and sprayed the plastic and carpet with the glue and managed to get the carpet to stick nicely to the panel. The curved edges were a bit of a challenge but I found that having a small roller really helped to push the fabric into the contours of the panel. I did end up with very sticky fingers, (I’m not a neat worker I’m afraid) but I did eventually get it off and have abandoned all hope of having glamourous hands while we are doing the build.

Note: A member of one of my Facebook campervan groups says that you can use WD40 to remove glue from your hands and the fabric if you make a mistake.

I must say that I have found Facebook, YouTube, and the internet generally a real help with trying to learn how to do the conversion. In fact, we are going down to the New Forest for the weekend at the end of March for a self-build meet-up which is part of the Dorset/Hampshire/Sussex Self Build Get Together Facebook group and hopefully, there will be some more experienced people there who can help us.

Furniture Ideas

It looks as though ply lining the walls and ceiling is a pretty standard technique, using wooden batons screwed into the inner metal skin of the body and then drilling the panels or wood strips into these which I’m sure we can do. I intend to have carpeted ply on the walls behind the 2 side windows but white-washed pine strips for the ceiling to give it a lighter feel.

I was wondering what to do about the metal surface around the windows on the side door and rear doors. Some people carpet these too but I have been told that the carpet tends to wick-up the moisture that may come in past the rubber seals and I wonder what happens when you are opening the doors in heavy rain? Carpet just doesn’t feel right to me so I have been researching an alternative material or treatment. I have been looking at some kind of spray paint for the surfaces but I wanted something warmer and cosier than that but that can also cope with the conditions and look nice, too.

Neoprene for the Doors?

At the moment I am considering using some neoprene fabric. This is a bit like the material they use for wetsuits or sports clothing although the one I would be using is the thinner, more pliable version. I have got some samples and it does have some stretch so I think it would be easy enough to glue on. It is also water-resistant and has some thermal insulation ability.

I was worried that it might not be robust enough but when I tried to cut it with a sharp knife, it made no mark! The only way to damage it seems to be to dig the point of the knife in but you’d really have to go some to get that effect while it is on the walls. So, I think we will give this a go and if it doesn’t work we’ll just cover it in something else! I’m beginning to realise that converting a van means just having a go at things and experimenting a bit which is fun although not so easy on a tighter budget.

A Tighter Budget makes you Creative

But sometimes being on a tight budget makes you more creative. This seems to be happening with the bed design and build.  I have been trying and trying to think what bed design would work best for the space we have. We could not afford a rock n roll bed and we wouldn’t want one anyway as, in my opinion, the standard ones are too small and not particularly comfortable. For us, one of the key criteria of the van design is that it includes a very comfortable bed.

We did look at having a fixed bed that goes across the back but this would be too short (around 165cm) to be comfortable and to meet the requirements for re-registering the van as a campervan with DVLA. So, we decided to have a bed that sits as a sofa across the back during the day and pulls out forward in the same way at night. I’ve agonised over all sort of mechanisms for pulling out the extension piece and we have even bought a second-hand futon that we thought we might adapt but I have just seen a really simple but clever design for a flip out bed that I think we might go for now. However, this could all change again as more ideas appear. Check out other bed designs here…

10 Campervan Bed Designs For Your Next Van Build

Cheap Second-Hand Furniture can be Adapted

When I was searching the local Facebook groups for second-hand furniture as well as gumtree, I came across all sorts of cheap but great furniture that I could see could be easily adapted for some of the other furniture in the van, especially the stuff from Ikea so this might be the way we go with the storage and it is good fun trying to find the items and work out how to do clever things with them.

I think we need to get the walls and ceilings done before I can really go on the hunt for my funky furniture but I’ll keep you posted!

If you are an experienced van converter and have any suggestions or tips I’d be really glad to hear them.

Keep Calm and Go Camping!