Category Archives: bunk bed

Changing designs (for the master bed) (Part II)

So I set about designing benches whose backs would be able to be lifted away from the bench, turned and rotated so that they would each become half of the bed across the gap between the two benches.  Each of the benches will be 24″ wide (from the wall) and 58-59″ long (I’ll figure this out more exactly when I empty out the back of the bus and get to the actual building), with a height of 20″.

The overall design of the platform sections.
The overall design of the platform sections.

This would leave a space of roughly 58″ by 42″ that would need to be filled in to make a flat bed surface between the benches. A single platform that big would be very hard to hide away, so I set up the design to make this into two parts (one for the back of each bench seat), each roughly 29″ by 43 1/2″.  The extra 1 1/2″ for this length is for an overlap with the bench of 3/4″ on either side.

The paneled bench front with notches to fit the platforms.
The paneled bench front with notches to fit the platforms.

In order to make these really stable, I designed each of the sections to have three 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ supports that would rest in notches in the benches. The tops of the benches and the platforms is going to be 3/4″ oak faced plywood (and the panels in the bench will be 1/4″ plywood).

The bench in profile, showing the `pocket` for the platform.
The bench in profile, showing the `pocket` for the platform.

Given that the windows start at 29″ from the floor and the bench seat would be at 20″, making these 29″ wide platforms into the back of the bench posed a small problem, since we wanted to keep as much of our window view as possible.  Toward this end, I decided to cover not more than 6″ of the window with the bench seat (which would be about the same height as the back of the sideways seat in the cabin area), which necessitated deep pockets in the back of the bench.

The top-view of the bench.
The top-view of the bench.

This would still allow for the area in front of the pocket to be used for storage.  In order to access this, I worked out a hinged panel in the seat top that could still be opened when the bed platforms were in place. In arranging this in the design, it occurred to me that the ‘pocket’ where the platform would rest while it was a bench would be a big empty area when it was made into a bed, so the design needed another hinged panel that would fold down and close when the platform was in place to be a bed.

The side and fronts of the bench would be the same oak paneling that I’ve put up for the wall between the bathroom and galley area. knowing that, I came out with a whole materials list and cutting diagrams.  I’ll post the building of this when I get there, but this seems the best way to compromise our wants and our needs.

The materials list for the benches.
The materials list for the benches.


The cutting diagrams for the plywood.
The cutting diagrams for the plywood.

The first bit of real, built-in furniture, the bunk beds.

(So, as of the time of this blog being written, I didn’t have any good pictures of the lower bunk, and it was blocked from easy view by some furniture-grade pine plywood and a large pile of 8/4 and 10/4 unfinished red oak planks that are 9-10′ long.  The bus has a wonderful capacity for cargo, right now better than the garage.)

  Not to downplay the seats, but there wasn’t much building to those past the cutting and welding I spoke of before for the sideways one (at this point). Some plywood screwed onto the back and they were functional seats, which for a start was all we needed.  (Later, they would get more fancy with woodwork and hinged backs, but that’s later.)  The next obvious furniture for the bus was a bunk bed.

  Why the bunk bed?  Well, even without other amenities, the bunk beds would allow for us to use the bus as a ‘rolling metal tent’.  Also, a large amount of the studs that got put up were the front, back, and (under the rear roof hatch) side of the bunk bed area. And with the wheel-well right there, the floor wasn’t as usable for other storage.

  In designing these bunk beds, I worked with the idea of using a standard mattress size (the common twin size), so that getting sheets and blankets would be easy.  That and so that people who slept on them would be comfortable.  After seeing what passed for a bunk mattress in some of the RVs/camping trailers at the County Fair, a regular twin mattress has tons of space.

These lovely wheel-well covers.

  The lower bunk was placed just over the top of the framework that I built to cover the wheel-well. This framework squared off the wheel-well so that it could be encased (with simple MDF in this case) and filled with fiberglass insulation to help keep down road noise.  Placing the bunk at this height also meant that the outside edge of the bunk would rest securely on the seat rail.

  The outer frame of the bed was done in 1×6″ oak, and included a 5″ wide ‘pocket’ at the head of the bunk to keep items in, and, if things were to jostle about during travel, they should end up in there and then not be able to escape afterward. (Recent case in point – one of our dog’s tennis balls was rolling around on a fueling trip.  Dropping it in the pocket kept it from ending up under my pedals.)

These are the future drawer openings –
note that you don’t need drawers for storage.

  Under the bunk, however, I ended up with almost 10″ of space, and I worked to set this up as storage space.  My plan is to build slightly sloped drawers that can be slid out into the walkway, but won’t open on their own as the bus rounds corners or hits bumps. I built this out of more oak, all fitted together with pocket screws from behind and then used 2×3 bits as drawer guides (which also work to keep stuff from sliding) for the future drawers.

  Several pieces of oak and then some plywood formed the base for this lower bunk, and an old mattress was slid in place, giving us a functional bed.  The upper bunk came months later, more from lack of time and materials than any planning issues.

  The upper bunk was centered in the remaining space to give about 23″ of headspace between the lower and upper bunks and then from the upper bunk to the ceiling.  This may seem cramped, but is well within the layouts for the RVs/camper trailers that I was able to scope out.  Even so, it’s not someplace you’ll want to sit up quickly first thing in the morning.

  The upper bunk followed the same design as the lower, but ran across the windows on the outside of the bus.  The windows can still be lowered in a conventional manner from the top bunk, but since I put an emergency exit window in the center of the bed, the lower occupant can open that window themselves (and these are easily held open with a length of wood) to get some airflow.

The upper bunk, showing the windows and storage pocket.

Again, this bunk was held up with more oak, but because the bottom of this would be seen by more than the contents of the storage drawers, I wanted to do something a bit nicer to the bottom so the person in the lower bunk would have some aesthetics to appreciate.

The upper bunk with slats in place.

  While the oak is very nice to look at, the sheathing-grade plywood I was going to use to support the mattress wasn’t.  But I did still have some MDF left over, and ended up cutting a sheet to underlay the plywood and provide a ceiling for the occupant of the lower bunk.  The little bit of wall under the roof hatch made this tricky, as it didn’t allow a full piece to be put in place.  Luckily the big oak slats do a great job at hiding the seams, and by staggering the plywood above (and screwing it in place), everything worked out.

  I’ll get some nice clean pictures of it for another post soon.

Design time …

In order to get to doing anything with a bus that isn’t being a bus, you have to remove the seats.  And this is critical not just for floor-plan stuff, but for insurance and registration, unless you’re a commercial business and you don’t mind paying the rates for commercial insurance (Yikes!).  Now, you remember all those seats, right?

Oh, wait, that’s them …

Now, the seats are in with 5/16″ bolts of varying lengths through the floor and then 9/16″ bolts into the seat-rail along the edge of the wall, and, had one a team of people, and if the bolts weren’t very rusty, one could use a ratchet and/or a couple of wrenches and remove the bolts, and then the seats, and all would be wonderful.

But I live in the real world, and the bus was used by the Whitesboro High School (near Syracuse) and being that Syracuse was known as the ‘Salt City’ (due to the salt from the evaporation of shallow seas that covered the area in the Devonian), the bottom of the bus was covered in a light layer of salt, and the bolts were heavily corroded.

Here was the introduction of power-tools to the game.  First, I had a Makita impact hammer with a chisel blade that does wonderfully on concrete, but did basically nothing the the rusted-on bolts.  I had hoped to use it as the force is a shearing force, and would leave the flanges of the bus feet intact.  I ended up using a Makita 4″ angle grinder to take off the heads of the bolts.  A tip that I got from the Skoolie board stated that an easy way to deal with bolt heads was to cut down vertically through them and then horizontally slice to the cut.  It worked nicely, produced a whole lot of smoke, sparks, and burned rubber smell (more on that later), and the seats came out really nicely. When I had the seats all loose from the floor, I picked out three that were the ones I was planning on keeping for re-installation.

Once a bus has the seats out, it’s a big empty space.

This is really funky, it’s kinda like one big empty room, yeah!
  But it really is true, there is a lot of space.  And it gets loud with the echos.  But you can really see the blank canvas with all the seats removed.
No, really … It’s a lot of space … for a vehicle.

In fact, disregarding the wheelwells over the back, you can imagine it as basically a big rectangle 90″ wide, 26′ 8″ long (to the back of the driver’s chair), and just over 6′ high.  That’s around 200 square feet of floor space.  The wrinkles, of course are the wheelwells, roof hatches, and the exit doors.  Now, many people close up the side emergency doors (if their bus has one), but we wanted to keep ours, so we had to design around it.

There were some design constraints and advice that I gleaned from other Skoolie builds, things like you don’t really want to put your bathroom (and grey and black water tanks) behind the rear axle, due to the bouncing.  Propane tanks should go ahead of the rear axle, due to safety factors in collisions.  Re-using  the frames of the existing bus seats gives DOT rated safety harness points.  There was one seat we removed (just by the side emergency exit door) that had four feet, while all the others had two feet on one side, and were meant to attach the other side to the seat-rail.

So we ended up with these preliminary plans:

With a fold-out master bed and an added rear observation deck.
With a fixed master bed on the port side …
  Our designs went back and forth over those factors and our space, doorway, hatch, and undercarriage limitations and we ended up with this as our final plan:
The annotated final design. (New emergency exit window locations in red)
  This new design makes the shower a ‘walk-through’ to get to the side door, and doesn’t indicate the angling of upper areas of the walls (in green) to leave the roof hatches.  The two seats facing each other behind the driver are connected to the side chair rail, while the one that runs along the starboard wall is the one that had four feet.  It allows for a 24″ hallway from front to back and for full measure twin-bed bunks, rather than the extra slim/short RV bunks.
  Now, this isn’t perfect, but it set up the base of what we wanted.  It doesn’t show the locations of any of the water/propane/air tanks, and the fridge size is a bit smaller than what we actually got because of the extra tubing/heat vents on the back.  But it gives an idea of what we’re aiming for in the finished product.