Category Archives: woodwork

Storage and work space …

One of the things that’s super important in building a skoolie is to use your space wisely. We really worked to figure out our floor plan, and even that has changed as we’ve learned through trial, error, and working in the space we have.  One of the obvious changes is that we’ve eliminated the plan for the door between the galley and the bunks, and the other door and wall between the bunks and the ‘master’ bedroom area, which gives a more open, light- and air-filled space in the back.

Planning (and subflooring) around those pesky wheelwells …

But one of the things you just can’t change are those wheelwells. Well, I say that and I know there are people who cut them down, but I worry about bumps and the tires having enough travelspace, so that’s not an option for us, at least.

The wheelwell 2×3 ‘cage’ is all the way to the left, behind the bed platforms that I’m finishing in this picture.

The driver’s side wheelwell was nicely covered by the bunks, leaving about 14 inches of space for underbunk drawers, but the passenger side one was only partially covered by the fridge, so I had built a framework to provide a flat space over it.  It took a while to get a piece of plywood on there, so the curved space with 2×3’s making a cage was a sort of catch-all space for small items to go so they wouldn’t slide around, while bigger items (like our water-cooler or folding chairs) could sit atop the cage and be bungee-secured to the wall along the fridge. (Not surprisingly, I don’t have many pictures of this.)

With some 1/2″ plywood atop the cage, the now-platform sat just below the seat-rail, some 19″ below the window.  My plan was to put in drawers, and after some discussion, we settled on two big drawers, rather than three or four smaller ones.  But without the little wall between the bunks and ‘master’ bedroom, there was actually some work-space possible, instead of just space to tuck things in, or stand off to the side so someone could get by.  In order to use that space, I decided to put in a ‘hidden’ wing.

The view from the bunk across the way …

The drawers are about 31″ by 23″ and just about 7 3/4″ deep.  The top surface, with the wing closed, is about 33×24″, covering the space over the wheelwell, and bringing it up flush with the base of the window.

The aft-facing panel side.

While the main ‘dresser’ portion of this rests just over the platform and cage that surrounds the wheelwell, and the sides of the carcass are plywood (oak-faced in the aft-side), the raised panel side that faces aft runs all the way from the floor to the base of the windows, helping to hide the evidence of the wheelwell.

With the support out and a view of the pull-ring for the wing.

The raised-panel section houses two things – first, the threaded eyes that allow us to attach a bungee and strap in the folding chairs (and perhaps other things) just like we had done on the platform.  The second is the angled bit that some of you may have noticed in the picture.  It’s hinged with a couple of small steel pins to swing out and become a support for the wing!  A magnet set into the wing and #10 woodscrew in the side of the ‘dresser’ keeps it in place when not in use, and the fact that it’s only rounded on one side of the back allows it to swing, and stop when it’s perpendicular to the dresser.

The dresser with the wing out.

The wing itself is some 3/4″ oak-faced plywood with some 1/4″ oak facing around the sides to hide the layers.  I put in a flat-fold brass finger-pull ring, so that it could be folded out or, conversely, left nice and flat depending on what we wanted to do.  The wing fits in really tightly into the surface of the dresser, making it almost hidden. Some brass middle hinges allow it to flip out into place.

Ultra Hardware 96412 Pocket Door Finger Pull

List Price: $8.85 USD
New From: $8.85 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Stanley Hardware S803-160 CD5301 Middle Hinge in Brass , 2″, 2 piece (Tools & Home Improvement)

List Price: $4.29 USD
New From: $0.75 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

This allows for a chair to be placed behind it and voila, a workspace with handy windows, and it’s out of the travel-lane.  When the awning it out, the emergency window can be propped open and even allow that wing to be accessed from outside (if you’re tall enough, that is).

A thing that could be overlooked in this is the fact that I’ve left the wall between the dresser and the fridge unfinished.  Granted, there’s a lot of unfinished in the bus, but this was actually intentional.  The space provided in the wall cavity serves as a perfect storage spot for long thin things, like our axe and hatchet (with the heads resting on the dresser surface), fire-tending equipment, supports for holding the emergency windows open, sticks for marshmallows, and a kid-sized cricket set (because of course we do).

We’ve just used this on a shakedown camping trip, and it got thumbs-up, so I was a happy camper!



A Trip to Ohiopyle and Fallingwater (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

Our first night actually was fine, even if short.  The back of the bus faced the east, which meant that the sun streamed in through the trees in all the windows.  The new bench-platform bed fit a queen-sized foam pad with room to spare, and the pre-made bedroll made putting the bed together easy.  After a pot of espresso was brewed up on the stove, we started to unpack and find what we needed.

The new awning in place and rolled up.
The new awning in place and rolled up.

As a light rain started and slowly got heavier, I opted to put out our new (to the bus) awning, both to insure that we would have some dry area alongside the bus and because the awning had not been unrolled and exposed to a nice cleaning rain in over a decade.  It came out easily and I was able to use a cloth and the rain-water to clean the supports of the dirt and grime it had accumulated in the under-building storage it had been in.

One thing to note here was that we were in our first extended-stay non-electric sites.  Given that we’d be moving and wouldn’t be able to use the solar panels, I didn’t even bring them, and we opted to use the fridge (which had chilled on before we left and had been running off the inverter on the way down) as a cooler, opening it as little as possible to conserve cold.  But it was nice.  We still had lights with the DC when we needed them, and there was no buzz from the inverter.

A nice soft, safe spot for a dog.
A nice soft, safe spot for a dog.

The Ohiopyle Campgrounds were really nice.  There were lots of little streams and big rocks.  (Our dog liked nestling among them.)  There were tons of trees and plenty of birds, though not many animals that we saw, though we were in one of the two dog-friendly loops.  The other loops are not pet friendly, and you aren’t even allowed to walk your dog through them.  If there’s a trailhead in one of those loops, you have to drive your dog there to take them on the trail.

And there was no excess light pollution after dark.  It was really nice to be able to see the moon and stars amongst the clouds from our bed.

The bench platforms in place. Basically all the space under those middle panels is storage!
The bench platforms in place. Basically all the space under those middle panels is storage!

After a hearty breakfast, we set about some organizing.  We drove down to Ohiopyle with the bench-platform in place, and the height of the platforms means that all of the plastic totes that we have used so far slide right underneath it.  This is great because the open space is about 60 inches by 42 inches, which is a ton of space where the totes can’t bounce around in the far back of the bus.

One of the issues we had in arranging was that I haven’t yet built the under-counter storage, so everything was tucked away in the bathroom area, and we needed to be able to tuck it all back there the next morning, as we needed to take the bus to Fallingwater the next day (Two miles away as the crow flies, but eight by road) as we couldn’t leave our dog at the campsite and we didn’t bring a toad or chase vehicle.

As the day progressed, and the rain worsened periodically, it also became obvious that we needed better pre-planing.  I had checked the weather and noted that it was going to be cold and grabbed winter gear (coats, gloves, hats, scarves), but not rain gear, and the weather was still relatively warm.  Luckily the spotty rain cut out often enough that it wasn’t a big problem, but when our friends on a different loop stopped by and our son wanted to go and play with them, he didn’t have rain gear to take ‘just in case’.

(So, we’ve determined that we need a better pre-trip list, and currently everything that was packed away in the bus is now out for cataloging and sorting.)

But we were fine.  We hosted the kids from our friends’ site (they had a total of five kids) as their son remarked that we always had good games with us.  Boss Monster was the game of choice, and much fun was had by all (except the heros, of course).  But we also had brought our LEGO Fallingwater set and our Pop-up Frank Lloyd Wright book, so they were seen as well.

LEGO Architecture Fallingwater (21005) (Discontinued by manufacturer) (Toy)

List Price: $99.99 USD
New From: $342.98 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Frank Lloyd Wright in Pop-up (Hardcover)

List Price: $19.98
New From: $57.95 USD In Stock
Used from: $2.98 USD In Stock

Boss Monster Card Game Bundle (Toy)

List Price: Price Not Listed
New From: 0 Out of Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Toas-Tite Aluminum Sandwich Grill (Kitchen)

List Price: $31.99 USD
New From: $14.99 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

And for dinner, we got to christen two new toastite makers on the fire! My wife got me one years ago, and last year my wife and son decided that if I was making toastites for everyone, I wasn’t getting to eat with everyone else.  So they got toastite makers for themselves and I got to make three toastites all at once.

The night got down to 37F or so, but we were all pretty warm.  Mixed in with our blankets and bedding were blankets of reflective mylar and faux-sheepskin that we tend to call ‘magic blankets’ for just how warm they are.

The next day was classes at Fallingwater, so we had to contend with packing up in the morning.  And getting the bus there.


Continued in Part 3

Getting Shellaced!

These little lac bugs make the shellac resin. Pretty handy!
These little lac bugs make the shellac resin. Pretty handy!

Out of all the different ‘food safe’ finishes I researched for our woodwork (especially the counter and table), I ended up on shellac.  Part of my initial examination of finishes was whether they could be consumed without harming people, and the non-toxic lac resin that shellac is made out of made it seem like a good choice.

Shellac is available in both solid flakes that are dissolved in denatured alcohol before being applied, and as a premixed solution in a regular paint/stain can that only needs to be stirred/mixed before use.  In either circumstance, the liquid/dissolved form can be thinned out more with denatured alcohol until it gets too old and begins to crystallize back out of solution.  While the flakes are harder to find, many woodworking stores have them, while the premixed shellac is readily available at most hardware stores.

Rust-Oleum Zinsser 304H 1-Quart Bulls Eye Clear Shellac (Tools & Home Improvement)

List Price: $24.62 USD
New From: $12.91 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Dewaxed Super Blonde Shellac Flakes 1/2 Lb, or 8 Oz

List Price: $19.50 USD
New From: $15.99 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Shellac has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, and as a (documented) furniture finish as early as the 1500’s.  It really caught on in the early 19th century as eastern Asian trade began to get more trendy and really flourish.  It was the finish for fine furniture from those early 1800’s times until the 1920’s and 1930’s when modern lacquer was introduced, but continued to hold a large market share of use until the 1950’s and 60’s when polyurethane and ‘wiping varnishes’ became the rage.  Marketers played down shellac’s finishes as not being as water-resistant, and pointing out that shellac degrades after it’s been dissolved (after about three years it won’t ‘set’ right), and the public started to move away from it, though high quality furniture makers continued using it.

Some of the different colors of shellac chips.
Some of the different colors of shellac chips.

Shellac resins come in a range of colors based on the type of tree the bugs feed upon and on the time of year harvested.   The most common colors are ‘amber’ and ‘blond’ or ‘clear’ which is actually bleached.  While most shellac used during the 1800’s and early 1900’s is the amber variety, mixes of differing amounts of the two types can give a wide range of intensity of the depth of color.  Clear coats can be put over an amber layer with no problems, creating a ‘topcoat’ for protection that’s easily fixed.  Shellac also has some wax to it (about 5% in natural shellac), but comes in a ‘de-waxed’ type as well that is a little more water resistant.

Now, you might ask why I’d choose shellac when there are more durable options?  Well, first off, there’s the ease of application.  Shellac dries really quickly, and unless you have bubbles of hair or something in the coat you want to apply over, you don’t have to sand between coats.  This is because the alcohol in the shellac you’re applying as a second (or subsequent) coat will slightly dissolve the top surface of the already applied coat and the new layer will just blend right into it.

That leads me into the second reason, that it’s easily repaired.  Denatured alcohol on a rubbing cloth can smooth out a crack.  Crazing or ‘orange peel’ pocking can be smoothed out by misting an area with the denatured alcohol.  A small area can be stripped to deal with issues with the underlying wood without damaging the rest of the finish, and then new coats can be applied to the area to build it back up and blend it into the existing finish.

The third reason is the same one that causes fine furniture makers to choose shellac – it’s look.  Because the coats all blend, the finish looks deep and rich, and the wood is all nicely visible.  As I’m using such nice pieces of oak to begin with, I like that it gets show off so well.

The shellaced counter is shiny!
The shellaced counter is shiny!


So this is what you come out with using the shellac.  The oak has a ‘Golden Oak’ stain on it, and once that was dry, the shellac clung to it with no issues at all.

Shellaced benches drying in the back.
Shellaced benches drying in the back.

And I even got a chance to put some shellac on the wood panels that I put in the fridge doors, helping to protect and gloss those as well.  But they escaped pictures, so I’ll have to get them another time.

All that said, it isn’t the ‘perfect’ finish.  It can scratch, so it will be best to try and use buffers (doilies) and avoid using harsh cleaners on the shellac.  If it gets up over 120 degrees, it might start to craze.  But a layer of polish wax can help make it more water resistant, so there are some ways to work with the issues.