Category Archives: woodwork

Walls & New Floor (sub-floor) – Part 1

Some skoolies, once they have their floor prepped (as per my last post), go about putting a uniform flooring over the whole of the open area and then building walls and such atop that.  I chose not to go that route for a couple of reasons.

First, I wanted to make sure that the walls were anchored as securely as possible to the floor.  In order to do that, I wanted to lay out the ‘sole plate’ of the wall right on the metal floor and secure it so it wouldn’t ‘float’ or come loose from the vibrations and bumps of travelling.  If they were just affixed to the sub-floor, the wood might slowly wear or give way and cause a loose wall. Even if I ran longer screws through the subfloor, there was the risk of them bending with stresses and again giving a wobbly wall.

Second, I needed to economize with my subflooring.  The costs involved at that point were more than our finances were comfortable with, so I didn’t want to invest in quite so much plywood and other supplies.  Once I had laid out where certain walls and other fixed elements were going, I could put the good quality subfloor where I needed, and use other stuff in places where it wouldn’t matter or wouldn’t be noticed.

And third, we wanted to tile in the bathroom, and that was going to take a different quality of subfloor to pull off.  And, of course, we’d have to lay out drains and holes for water lines, and it would be easier to do that closer to the actual build/tiling time.

So, the first step was to lay out the walls.  I had done this in blue painter’s tape (unfortuantely no pics), and then cut some nice pine 2×3 (the smaller cousin of the 2×4) to be the ‘sole plates’ for the walls.  These were laid out atop some of the underlayment felt paper that I had leftover from installing a tongue & groove maple floor the summer before.  (And yes, the leftover maple will be making a flooring debut on the bus floor when all the walls are done.)

The reason for the layer of felt paper is in order to take care of any moisture that might get in from under the bus, or even from a leak.  It will help to absorb and dissipate the moisture before it really concentrates in one area and causes lots of damage.

Here are the walls for the bathroom, the bunks and the master bedroom.  The blue tape on the wheelwells shows where walls will be later …

You might note here that there’s some stray 1×2 laying about on the floor.  That’s actually part of the base for the subfloor, because the floor that I was putting in wasn’t simply laying out more clean plywood.  To help keep the floor warmer in the spring and fall, and cooler when traveling over the roads in summer, and quieter overall, I wanted to put in insulation, but didn’t want to take up too much space, since the ceiling was a pretty firm limit of available height.

What I ended up with was a polystyrene insulation that’s sheathed in reflective mylar (or some such thin material), which has an R5 rating while being only 3/4″ thick.  While an R-value of 5 doesn’t sound so great, realize that the 3/4″ plywood I took up only had about a R-value of 0.94, so it’s a huge improvement.  The 1/2″ plywood I was putting down atop it would have another 0.62 of a rating, and the maple tongue & groove should have another 0.90.  When finished the wood floor should have a combined R-value of about 6.5 which is a huge improvement over what it had.  (And since it’s been done, it is MUCH quieter while driving.)

Ooooh … Shiny insulation in big 4 x 8 panels!

The trick with putting down the insulation is to not have it get squashed.  Once it gets crushed, the polystyrene loses a lot of it’s ability to hold in (or keep out) heat, so I wanted to keep it safe.  I also wanted to be able to make the plywood atop the insulation stay as stable as possible to keep the hardwood flooring from moving a lot and developing squeaks.  This is where those 1×2″ battens came in.  By placing these at least every 16″ on center, I could mimic the floor joists in a regular house, and have something more to affix the plywood, and later the maple floor, down to.

And the shiny stuff goes into place.

As you can see from the pictures, the felt goes down first, then the battens were screwed down, then the insulation, then the plywood got screwed down – at least for the floors that will have the maple on them.  In the places where benches, beds, or cabinets will go, I just decided to reuse the old 3/4″ plywood flooring that was in the bus originally.  The plywood was (overall) in great structural shape, so I just used long screws to hold it all down.

Completed subfloor up to the fore bathroom wall and under the kitchen cabinets/appliances.

This involved so piecing of insulation and fun fitting of plywood, but gave a very satisfactory result.  Up until I got to the forward ‘cabin’ area where the seats would be placed and bolted down.  Here I had to pause and work on the seats before I could place the flooring supports to bolt though so I could be sure they’d be really secure, since they’d have the seat belts attached.

So, we’ll finish up the subflooring another day, after the seats got dealt with …

(Continued in Part 2)


Floors – Subfloor!

So, armed with a plan, the bus floor needed to go.  You might remember school bus floors as being a black … surface, hard, but not totally unyielding.  Generally, that covering is of a black rubber material.  On some buses, it’s right over the metal floor, but on our bus, it was over 3/4″ marine-grade plywood.

But before I could get to removing the floor, there was one last thing to remove, the back heater.  Some people who convert Skoolies leave them in place so that they can use the engine heat to warm the whole bus, some keep them for an extra ‘heat sink’ when climbing long hills and such.  I decided to take ours out, as we were toying with the idea of radiant heating in the floor.  Well, that and the fact that the coolant tubes ran from the front of the bus to the heater in the back along and under the port wall, taking up space.

See all the shiny metal along the floor on the port side wall that just is missing on the starboard side?  Yeah, that’s all covering coolant lines and the helper pump.
And here’s where it goes under the port emergency door, then comes back up.

So, removing the heater unit wasn’t so bad.  Just a couple of bolts on the side (since the top had been fastened to a seat-frame), and it was loose.  But there was all that tubing, and most all of the phillips-head screws on the floor had been heavily rusted.  See, one thing those rubber floors are really good at is being fairly impermeable to liquids.  Like the water from kids’ shoes on rainy days, and the salt and snow (which becomes a brine when it melts) from kids’ boots in the winter.  And of course, that sets up a perfect rusting situation for all those screw heads – but not necessarily the rest of the screw shank.

Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of the floor tear-up.  It wasn’t very glamorous, and I was more concerned about getting the floor out to think to take pictures. (And, since I still have a little to do, I’ll remember to take some pictures of that later.)  But a quick description will probably tell you what you are wondering about for the floor itself.

First, the rubber had to come out.  Some of it, like the middle ‘walkway’ strip came out pretty much intact, needing a flat pry bar (Wonderbar-type) to get some of the adhesive to let go, and then a whole lot of pulling.  The stuff that was on the sides was a bit tougher, mostly due to where the seats had been bolted to the floor.  The extra cinch of the bolts made those areas adhere really well and cause the rubber to rip, so this was an extremely frustrating exercise.

The next bit was the marine-grade plywood.  I first tried to just pry it up by one of the emergency doors, with a big (almost 4′ long) bar.  The after a whole lot of effort, the plywood started to crack, and I knew that wasn’t going to be the way.  What I found, after the rubber was removed, was that each sheet of the plywood was fastened down to the floor with a generous number of mostly rusted 14 gauge screws (about 1/4″ in diameter for the shank) that were about 1″ long, going right down through the steel under the plywood.  With my impact driver, I was able to get many of these out, allowing me to pry up most of the sheets intact, right up to behind the driver’s seat by the front door, which I didn’t want to tangle with just yet.

Now, some of the screws pulled through, and some of those smaller screws that had rusted heads pulled through too, leaving a dangerous potential for tetanus for the unwary, barefooted walker.  These, though came out with vice grips & patience, or the angle-grinder.  This, you would think, would leave a relatively clean floor, but not so.  There was, of course, adhesive under the plywood, and the seams of the metal floor, and then the seams between the sheets of plywood were actually ‘caulked’ with a bead of butyl sealant, which stays amazingly sticky and resists cleaning.

And then there were all the screw and bolt-holes in the steel, and, since the rubber does a great job of being a water barrier and these holes all lead to the underside of the bus where all the water can spray up, rust.  But most all of the rust was surface rust, and was cleaned up in an afternoon with the angle-grinder set with a wire wheel.  Once clean, the floor got a coat of black Rustoleum with a roller, and when dry, silicon caulk filled the holes.



(more in Floors & Walls)

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.