Tag Archives: structural

The Master Bed/Back Benches (Final!)

So, finally, after several planning attempts to get a workable means of getting a master bed out of two benches in the far aft of the bus, I did it.  While I set up detailed plans for the back benches in a couple of previous posts (Parts One and Two), I ended up making some variations based on our assessments of our stays in the bus over this last summer.

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

While I had planned to have pallet sections span between the two benches before, I had designed for only two pallet sections of ~29″ width each to be the ‘back’ of the bench.  What we decided to do was to make the span into three sections of 19 1/2″ width, to be stowed under just one of the benches.  While this loses a little more storage area overall, the sections are much easier to unstow, and there’s more accessibility to the storage area.

Oak & 2x3 frame, starboard side.
Oak & 2×3 frame, starboard side.

So, I started with a simple frame made of 2x3s and 1 3/8 x 1 3/8″ and 1 3/8 x 5″ oak that I planed down.  This gave a stable, and in places, visually appealing structure for the bench. Along the outside wall of the bus, I ran another 2×3 which I screwed into the structural ribs of the bus body for the wider planks to rest on.  In working on the counter in the galley area, I found that the pocket screws were a pain to put into the ribs.

Port-side bench, showing storage area for the pallets.
Port-side bench, showing storage area for the pallets.

On the port side, however, I put the storage for the pallets, so instead of a large open box, I ended up with a box-within-a-box sort of system.  This still left some shallow storage space above the pallet area and a deeper section all the way to the back.

The angled supports for the pallet sections.
The angled supports for the pallet sections.

One of my reasons for designing the original set-up for having the wider pallets being the bench backs was that they wouldn’t be able to slide around, as the back of the bus gets the brunt of bounces and tail-swing forces.  In storing the pallets under the bench-seat, though,  I designed the storage area to have angled supports, only dipping down about 3/4″ over 21″ of width.  I’ll have to decide after a few drives if I’ll need extra stops to keep the pallets from sliding out.

Rail & stile router bits and my handy pocket jig.
Rail & stile router bits and my handy pocket jig.

With the bench frames in place, I needed to build the outer shell of the benches, still using the flat panel wainscoting that I used elsewhere in the bus.   For this, I pulled out a set of rail & stile router bits and my Kreg pocket jig, which together make some really nice, secure wainscoting.

All the panel pieces, and some of the oak plywood ...
All the panel pieces cut and routed, and some of the oak plywood …

There were three pieces of panel to make up, as the fore part of the starboard bench opens into open space, it needed a section that the port bench (coming up to the bunk wall) didn’t.

Almost set, just needs plywood panels and the top rail.
Almost set, just needs plywood panels and the top rail.

Assembly was easy, just drilling for the pocket screws, evening up ends, and measuring for spacing of stiles.  Once these were set, I cut 1/4″ oak plywood for the panels, and set those in place with a single brass wood screw.  I don’t like to use glue for these, as the wood tends to expand and contract with heat and humidity, and I wanted to give it that flexibility.  On the other hand, I don’t want the panels (very literally) rattling around while the bus is rolling.

Panels installed, notches in top rail visible.
Panels installed, notches in top rail visible.

The last detail to work out was in the long top rails, so that the 1 3/8 x 1 3/8″ supports on the edges of the pallets would rest securely in place.  This is one of the places where having the oak frame was important, as it would be visible behind the notches.  But it all worked out nicely.

The port side bench with wainscoting installed.
The port side bench with wainscoting installed.

The port panel was more tricky, and involved some chisel-work to get the rail above the pallet storage to sit nicely and give a robust, non-routed opening for the pallets.  The bench tops were made of 3/4″ oak plywood for the hinged bench top, faced with a 1″ strip of oak as an edging, then the rest was oak boards that lapped over the supports.

Look the benches are gone, and now it's a bed!
Look the benches are gone, and now it’s a bed!

With the pallets in place, it makes a 58 1/2″ x 92″ bed-space.  One of the nice things about it is that the space under the bed is still accessible, either by reaching underneath from the front, opening the rear door, or opening up the bench tops.  I’m planning on getting some nice recessed handles that will make opening the lids easier.

The bench goes all the way around the back.
The bench goes all the way around the back.

But the modular design of the pallets makes them interchangable in all the notches, and allows for a U-shaped bench in the ‘observation area’ of the back of the bus.

So this new design fits better with our uses of the back area of the back, and makes it really versatile, as we could have the center pallet in as a table, and have several folks around it.


The fancy floorplan.

With the fridge finally in place, I have a firm ‘wall’ to start to build the kitchen in.  I knew for sure that the counter would be at the level of the base of the windows so that we wouldn’t lose visibility, but the actual arrangement of drawers and storage/access cabinets would depend on placement of other things, like the stove and the sink.  If you look on the original floorplan, you can see that there’s a whole lot of potential counter space where things could go.

The stove was easy to place, as my plan was to put it at one of the ’emergency’ windows that can be swung out and give lots of good ventilation if we need it.  As there are two such windows along the counter (colored red in the floorplan diagram), the stove could have gone along either one, but putting it along the fore window would give more ‘working space’ around the sink, which is fairly important when washing dishes and such.  And since we actually had the stove, I could place it so much more precisely than in the floorplan where there’s essentially a 24″ x 28″ space for the (three burner – ha!) stove.

The sink was a more dicey matter in terms of placement.  The window closest to the fridge is ‘sticky’ – there are some scratches in the aluminum frame, and it can make the window hard to close (at least form the inside). My original thought was to put it right in front of that window near the fridge to maximize the available counterspace between the sink and stove, but being able to have fresh air while doing dishes ranks highly, so the sink may move closer.  Actually doing the placement is going to wait until we ‘play’ with the space for a bit.  I had hoped to do this on one last camping trip of the Sprague Brook season, but it just never came to be.

The stove!The first thing I did was take measurements and figure out the placement of the stove.  I was planning for a 24″ deep stove,since I kept seeing that come up as a dimension for newer stoves, but ours is only about 20″ deep, leaving about 4 inches of counter behind it. And while the window comes out to be more than 24″ wide, the stove is only 21″ wide, and that measurement (like the depth) includes 1/2″ of overlap of the trim.

This gave me some concrete information to work with in making the countertop.  While I’ve seen lots of people using some of the pre-made household counters in their skoolies, my wife had shown me an article on how to build a counter that gave the look of thick oak planks and we both liked the look. However, the idea of having beveled edges between the planks seemed to just be an invitation to a continually dirty counter.  So as a compromise, I had decided to use oak to make a counter, with no beveled edges, and as few seams as possible.

It turned out that I had just enough oak in two almost 13″ wide by 1 1/8″ thick planks that, when planed down and jointed, came out to the right length for the counter from fridge-wall to side-facing seat.  These pieces were fixed together with the Kreg pocket-jig and some 1 1/4″ fine-thread screws.  

Kreg K4MS Jig Master System (Tools & Home Improvement)

List Price: $149.99 USD
New From: $138.93 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Even with some bowing in the plank, which was fixed with clamps, screwed, and sanded down to fit where the stove would go.

The stove structure and enclosure. 2x3" beams and 1/2" plywood, and some 3/4x2" pine to keep things even.
The stove structure and enclosure. 2×3″ beams and 1/2″ plywood, and some 3/4×2″ pine to keep things even.

In order to support the counter without actually having counters underneath it, I decided to build in some 2×3″ supports that would hold it up, and just fit the sides of the stove, with allowances for 1/2″ plywood on the inside of the enclosure to help support it.  The 2×3″ supports that attached to the wall rest upon a 2×4″ that is screwed into the wall supports.  I used more pocket screws to attach the horizontal supports to the 2×4″ and then attached the vertical supports to the 2×3″ that was attached to the floor.  The 2×4″ was attached to the wall at a height that would put the 7/8″ thick counter just below the level of the windows allowing for a 3/4-1″ oak backsplash to be added at a later time.

Counter supports in place.
Counter supports in place.

One additional support at the fridge wall and another toward the seat edge, though the one near the seat is back about 10″ so that I could put a small lower drawer and upper ‘bin’ at seat height that would have nice storage space for passengers and the counter above it.

The stove looks awesome in place!
The stove looks awesome in place!

With this all set, I stained the counter and slid it into place, checking the fitting and adjusting the ‘square’ of the stove structural fittings before using more pocket screws to sink things into place.  A 3/4×1 1/2″ edging was affixed to the counter after being rounded with a router and the stove was set in place (the edging had to come up to the trim of the stove.  This was also affixed from underneath with pocket screws.

The counter as seen from the captain's chair.
The counter as seen from the captain’s chair.

I had considered leaving the leading corner of the counter as a 90 degree angle, but thought that it would present too much of a chance for a bruise in the close quarters with several people on the bus.  Toward that end, I decided to trim the corner and make it a simple 45 degree angle, which was easy to work with for the trim.

The counter from the aft, by the bunks.
The counter from the aft, by the bunks.

With the counter in place as it is, it looks like a lot of space, though we’ll need to decide where the sink will go, and I was expecting to put in a full size sink as opposed to the RV sink that we salvaged from the trailer.  The salvaged sink is stainless steel and in decent shape, but it’s only 4 or 5 inches deep.  A standard kitchen sink is around 9 inches deep, and a double sink that deep could easily have one side filled with hot water and suds to wash and then use the other side to rinse and thus conserve water while still doing a full set of dishes for four or six people.

One of my concerns right now is that the 29″ height that the counter is at (the bottom of the windows) may be a bit low to be comfortable tpo work at for long periods of time since most counters are at about 35″ height.  That said, I do make cookies and bracciole at our kitchen table and it’s only about 29″ tall, so … time will tell.






Problems with getting things done on the bus …

Every job has its problems.  Some of those on the bus are relatively simple to deal with, like the curved roofline.  To combat that, I made up a template using one of the interior endcaps and some sturdy MDF.  Voila, I can now cut a curve for wall paneling or shelf ends that will fit any section of the interior roof to a shape that will fit pretty well.

But some things are bigger problems.  Like in working on the electrical system, I’m up to the point in blogging where I *should* be installing the DC Circuit Breaker box.  It’s a wonderful thing from Blue Sea marine rated so it’s good with moisture, separate wiring for backlighting, and available in 12 or 24 volts, and you can have all the breakers wired to one power source, or source them separately (which is what I’ll do).  

Blue Sea Systems WeatherDeck 12V DC Waterproof 6-Position Circuit Breaker Panel, Grey (Sports)

List Price: $99.99 USD
New From: $96.92 USD In Stock
Used from: $89.10 USD In Stock

But I can’t put that in the system yet.

The breaker box in place in the frame of the wall between the captain's chair and the rear-facing bench seat in the passenger area.
The breaker box in place in the frame of the wall between the captain’s chair and the rear-facing bench seat in the passenger area.

Why, you ask?  Because it has a cascade of other jobs that need to be done before I can get there, each job hinging on the one before it.  The circuit breaker job, for example, needs to have paneling up before it can be installed in place.

Some nice flat panel wainscoting in the galley/bathroom wall.
Some nice flat panel wainscoting in the galley/bathroom wall.

Now, I’ve been doing some nice flat panel oak wainscoting on the walls, and was planing on doing more of it for the area behind the captain’s chair, so it would need to be built to fit around the existing electrical outlet, captain’s chair back, & AC breaker box.

Just to port of the captain's chair all these lovely toggles connect to what seem like miles of wiring!
Just to port of the captain’s chair all these lovely toggles connect to what seem like miles of wiring!

Oh, and around the housing for the electrical panel and  bus wiring that’s just to the port side of the captain’s chair.  Under the plastic there’s lots of empty space and I need to decide how much needs to be taken up with what and how best I’ll get access to the wiring that will still reside in there.

And of course, I have to build the paneling and enclosure around the vents for the defroster (by the port window) and the vents down by the floor for the driver’s heater outlet.  Oh, and the control for the heater core fluid flow.

Unlike modern school buses that have a dial like your car that opens and closes a vent that allows air to flow through or around the heating core (a miniature radiator), our bus has a 1/4 turn valve that allows or restricts (or stops) the hot coolant from flowing into the core, which is mounted just under the big panel of toggles and switches.  Unfortunately, it’s a little thing with short wings, and is really difficult to turn on or off while driving.  As such, I have the body for an old ratchet that I need to weld to the valve  for better control.  And this needs to be built into the paneling in such a way that the hardware of the valve can be attached to the back so it doesn’t move about.

Battens, insulation, & new subfloor.
Battens, insulation, & new subfloor.

But before I can get to working on this paneling, I need to deal with the floor.  I took apart all the original floor up to the captain’s chair and replaced it with batten strips, insulation, and plywood underlayment. But the floor fore of that, is still the old rubber and marine-grade plywood.

Some of the remaining old flooring, with the edge of the transmission cover plate on the upper left.
Some of the remaining old flooring, with the edge of the transmission cover plate on the upper left.

Which is held in place in the front with metal plates. And there’s also a big plate that covers the opening over the transmission for the shift lever to come through, with a nice rubber boot to seal it all up.  And, of course, the plate needs to come up so that the floor can be replaced.  But to take the plate up, the boot needs to come all the way up the lever and off over the shifter knob.

Five speed manual transmission shifter - steel plate and boot on down at the bottom of the lever.
Five speed manual transmission shifter – steel plate and boot on down at the bottom of the lever.

Said shifter knob needs to be removed so the boot can come off the lever, but has (so far) resisted all my attempts to unscrew it.

And then, last but not least, is the captain’s chair itself.  The chair has six bolts holding it down, and the seat belt is held down by two more bolts.  While these really shouldn’t be a problem , there’s a more complex chassis configuration in this area, and it’s rather hard to get to some of the bolts from underneath.  And I’ll actually have to drill up through the new floor in order to put new bolts in the right places to reseat the chair and seat belt hardware.

All to install a DC circuit breaker box …

(That said, I will be getting things done …)