Van conversion. From scratch to home on wheels. A Camper Van "How can I make one of those?"

Professionally built or converted Camper Vans can cost a small fortune.
A handmade option is a long process but very rewarding and one of the only ways to actually put value into a vehicle.

This was the third camper conversion project that I have undertaken.
Each time they have been bigger and better!
The van I chose was a Luton style box van. I felt that this size and shape would give me the most space for a 3.5ton van which is the maximum limit for a lot of standard drivers licenses. Choosing the base vehicle was obviously a vital part becasue I predicted that a large amount of my time would be invested into the project.
It's an LDV Luton box van with a Ford Transit 2.4 turbo Diesel engine and 5 speed Gear Box.
It's a great engine that has a cam chain, not a belt, which means it doesn't need replacing.
Being a Ford engine parts are cheap and readily available. 
I would advise to start with the best vehicle you can get within your budget, you're going to be in it for the long haul.

When I first picked up my van it had a rental company logo printed on the side. This was easily removed with a hot air dryer to warm the glue and a lot of patience. It read "practical" and I couldn't resist leaving a few choice letters until last. It's a Low mileage 2004 LDV with a Ford Transit 2.4tdi engine. It's a great engine in a well priced van.

All the fittings and appliances that are required for a full conversion can add up to be very expensive. For this reason I bought an old caravan. They are often advertised but I just asked around. It had a gas/ electric fridge, an oven, hob and grill unit, a sink and water system, a gas heater with external vent, not to mention the countless fixtures, fittings, materials and cables that could be salvaged. The door and windows had good seals, 
 with curtains to match. It was the perfect donor.

Below is a picture showing the fitting of the door. 
It was scary to cut the first hole into my wall! 
Have faith!

Once all the doors and windows were installed the whole van was insulated with polystyrene sheets, this was effective, cheap and readily available. The important areas like the roof, and the raised double bed were further insulated with a silver foil bubble type sheeting. The Insulation was then sealed in with light weight pine cladding. 
This was a substantial chunk of the budget but it is essential to create a warm and condensation free space.

The mess below shows the building stage, almost all parts and materials used were either salvaged from the donor caravan or were recycled. Fitting the cupboards and appliances is by far the longest part of the project. I fitted a leisure battery system to give me power that was isolated from the vehicle system, this runs anything from lighting, water pumps, music, phones or laptops. I plumbed in a gas system to supply the cooker, the fridge, the heater and the hot water boiler. The system operates from two externally stored gas bottles that can be swapped over and replaced.

I made a permanent bed double in the front next to a shower cubicle and a 
large couch that becomes a singe bed.

After all the structures were trimmed, appliances tweaked and cushion covers stitched the final touches and decorations were done. This was by far the most exciting stage.

At the back of the Luton box was a sliding shutter door that opens right up. I built a fake wall just behind the shutter. The idea being that whilst driving the shutter is pulled down and everything is secure and discrete but when the space is in use the shutter can be lifted to expose the door and window. 
This creates an outdoor storage area for boots, brooms and tools. I like to call this little space "the garage," it's where the gas bottles live. 

The van was envisioned as a full time live in vehicle.
Equipped with everything I could need, along with ample storage space.
  • Fixed full time Double Bed above the cab
  • "L" Shaped Seating Area to accommodate 3 to 4 people
  • Hot Shower Cubical
  • Vented Gas Central Heating
  • Three way Fridge Freezer (12volt/ 240volt/ Gas)
  • Large Sink with water foot pump (to allow water flow even with no power)
  • Gas Hobs, Gas Grill, Gas Oven
  • Recessed Spot "Warm White" LED low wattage lighting
  • 12volt 110amp Leisure battery with separate automatic charging circuit
  • Twin Water Tanks, one under sink drinking water tank and,
  • One Large Under Chassis Tank for the shower, with mains water float valve connection
  • Double Glazed opening windows all around
  • Sunroof skylight and roof top "Pop ventilation"
  • Rear and side Barn Doors
  • Fully Insulated with multiple layers in the roof and around the Double bed area
  • Hydraulic Tail Lift Verandah area
  • 5 Speed Gear Box allowing for nice motorway cruising and climbing of even the steepest hills
  • Twin wheels on the rear axle (6 wheels in total) meaning very slow wear on the tyres (they last twice as long)
  • There are as new tyres all round, including the spare
There are three seats up front in the cab, all with sea belts.
Above the fixed double bed is an opening sky light that allows you to watch the stars.
The "L" shaped seating area in the van functions as a large single bed.
There's also ample floor space for a fourth camp bed if required.

At the back of the Luton box there is a sliding shutter door that opens right up.
I decided to build an insulated wall just behind the shutter.
The idea being that whilst driving the shutter is pulled down and everything is secure and discrete but when the camper is in use the shutter can be lifted to expose the lockable door and window.

This set up created an outdoor storage area for boots, brooms or tools.
I like to call this little space "the garage," out here there's a little outdoor seat under the rear window, it's where the twin Calor gas bottles live.
Behind the rear shutter is where the 500kg Hydraulic Tail lift is, this creates a verandah porch like area (as seen in the pictures.)
The future vision for the tail lift is to convert it to also serve as motorbike rack to lift a bike onto the rear of the vehicle.

The pictures below shows the inside of the fake wall with the shutter, both up and down.

 It's possible to have an ever changing view!

A summary:
The end result is a three birth, "live in" vehicle with plenty of space that has fantastic facilities. It's a great runner with low mileage.

A similar age and specification fitted mobile home could cost anywhere between 
£20,000 and £30,000

I'll leave you with a picture of the van sneaking around in the mist!

Open Fire Tripod for hanging cooking pots and kettles Gypsy style. How can I make one of those?

Anyone who has cooked over an open fire will know the shame of a spilled dinner from a poorly balanced pot resting on some rocks or old bricks.
Enough was enough when the last kettle I will ever spill came tumbling from it's perch.

 How can I make a Cooking Tripod?
I enjoyed this process so much and organised such an abundance of 
materials that I sell these items

To buy these Tripods click 

  • I sourced a supply of steel from a steel merchant.
  • I then designed a system for holding the legs of the tripod together at the top but still allowing them to fold for storage/ transport.

  • Having created the tripod I realised that it would need a case to protect everyone and everything from the black soot that is inevitable from cooking on open fires.
  • I sourced some lovely heavy duty canvas and stitched up some bags with my Nan.
  • The end result is a beautiful piece of rustic outdoor cooking equipment.

To buy these Tripods click 

Tree House - The giant birds nest approach. How can I make one of those?

Location, besides the obvious details of being in a tree... Was a critical factor

  • When walking through the forest I found a large fallen birch tree. It was next to another tree with forks in just the right places to support my platform.
  • Freshly fallen trees are ideal becasue there's no harm in cutting limbs and salvaging structural wood. Also the timber is guaranteed to be strong and rot free.
  • The only tools used in this construction were a bow saw and a knife.
  • This tree house used no nails and no structural rope. Rope was only used as a tool.
  • The tree house was 100% self supporting.
  • The first job was to cut structural pieces from the fallen tree with a hand saw, hard and slow work but strangely meditative in such a beautiful location.
  • Next the larger of the cut pieces were hoisted up in position using ropes slung over higher branches.
  • Laying timbers (progressively smaller in size) over and through each other to form an oversized birds nest created an ideal organic structure that just got stronger and stronger.
  • Finally I weaved small sticks into the nest, topped it all with layer and layers of bracken/ ferns and dried grass, creating a super soft mattress!
  • The same process was used to make the roof, which was designed at an angle so that water could run off.
  • For the first few days the natural roof held off light showers and provided me with a comfortable dry home.
  • Within a week I had to build a plastic sheet hidden into the roof structure to keep off the heavy rains.
  • Some nights the downpour was torrential as the bed remained dry.
  • I stayed in the tree house for a good part of a month, enjoying the early summer sunrises and wildlife from my high up hiding place. Regular morning visits from a local deer were a sheer delight!

Yurts - Living in the Round. Accommodation or Studio?

What is a Yurt?
A Yurt is a traditional nomadic structure of the Mongolian people. Yurts are often described as the bridge between a tent and a building. The majority of the Mongolian population still live in Yurts. (In Monglia a Yurt is know as a "Ger")

Here is a video of our Yurt inside and out:

  • There are many varieties of Yurts with many suppliers. I did a lot of research before sourcing my structure. (It's an obsession!) There's a whole range of issues to consider. Quality, ethics and suitability were among the most important for me.
  • English made Yurts (normally "Bent Wood" - giving a curved roof shape,) tend to be very expensive and normally have just a single canvas cover. They are almost always ethically produced and locally sourced however.
  • Mongolian Yurts tend to be much heavier structures with lager crown wheels letting in lots of light. Mongolian Yurt covers normally consist of multiple layers including felted sheep wool for insulation. On the downside, Mongolian Yurts often suffer from poor quality construction, toxic materials (...the lead paint) and generally unethically sourced wood and labour. Mongolian Yurts are rarely designed to hold up in our damp English climate which commonly results in leaks and mould.
  • The structure I used is a Mongolian Yurt, but one that is produced specifically for our climate. To me it seemed to tick all the boxes. It is produced by an English guy called Tim who has lived in Mongolia for many years improving production in his own workshop. Although similar in appearance and still implementing traditional design techniques and materials (horse hair ropes, Yak hide fasteners etc.) This Yurt is fundamentally different under the surface. The layered covers of the structure provide Hi Tech solutions for weather resistance and breath-ability. The four layers keep everything warm, cosy and quiet inside. The wood is all legally sourced and the workers respected and cared for.
  • Click HERE Have a look a look at Tim's website, it's full of great information.
  • Tim displays some of our Yurt pictures in the gallery on his website.
There was an old shed on the site where this yurt was to be erected:

The decking and preparation
  • After breaking down the old old shed and clearing some space a raised floor was made. (See above)
  • Being off the floor makes the space feel more solid, keeps it warmer and dryer and stops insects and other creepy crawlies from joining in the fun.
  • This decking (above) was made from old shipping pallets that were attained for free from a local farmer.
  • The pallet decking was then covered with a PVC damp proof membrane and then had a nine piece handmade floor board decking placed on top, this can be seen here:
Here's the yurt once it was erected

The interior

Earth Ovens - I want a loaf of bread (or a Pizza) but I'm in the forest and I don't have a oven. How can I make one of those?

At a Rainbow Gathering in Sussex a collective effort was made to create this oven.

  • First a lightly woven oven frame was made from soft green (alive) twigs and string, Modelled here beautifully by Chris.
  • A tightly packed mud/ clay foundation is created to support the walls. (See below)
  • The "Igloo" like structure was then covered with layers of damp newspaper.
  • Mud was then layered up over the structure until a thick wall was created.
  • Mud ovens are best left to dry naturally, using a fire to dry the clay will result in more cracks and a weaker structure.
  • Finally adjustments to the door and any ventilation will need to be made so that the oven stays lit and is easy to use. These adjustments will be different every time and need to be assessed on a case by case basis. In general the top of the door should be more than half way to the ceiling of the oven. (The oven below would need to be fitted with a "chimney vent" allowing for a convection.)
  • To use a Earth Oven a fire is made inside, once a nice pile of embers has been achieved these are pushed towards the back and sides of the oven. It's these glowing embers and the residual heat stored in the thermal mass of the thick walls that can bake your bread (or Pizza!)
  • Between baking's straw and light twigs can be used to "flare up" the fire... This sinks more heat into the oven structure and maintains the temperatures.
  • Earth/ Mud ovens like these are capable of reaching much higher temperatures than a conventional domestic oven. Resulting in professional Italian standard Pizza.
Pictured below is an oven made at a Swiss Rainbow Gathering. 
It took many days to complete.
The Bread was lovely! Not to mention the Pizza!

There is no one way to make a mud oven, nor one way to use a mud oven.
The best way to learn, like many things, is to just get out there and do it!

If all that seems like to much work though and you just want to get a pot on, a simple kitchen structure can be dug into the ground in no time (see below.) Local rocks, clay cement and some old Road Pins made a very effective Hob.

Apple Press - I've got loads of Apples, I wish I had an apple press. How can I make one of those?

It was that time of year when all the apples were ready
So I built this machine to press them and make lots of lovely juice.
  • I found an old car jack, it's this that supplies the power to press the apples.
  • The timber frame could have been made to many designs, I decided to keep it simple.
  • The timber used in constructing this press was once part of a shed that I demolished.
  • An enamel baking tray was used to collect the juice. I fitted a drainage hole and a pipe to channel the juice to my containers.
  • The apples were then mashed into a pulp with a sledge hammer in a bucket. (see below.)
  • The pulp was wrapped in net curtain fabric to make little packets.
  • The packets were then stacked under the press one on top of each other.
  • The pressing Began!
  • Collected juice was then bottled with added brewers yeast and left to ferment.
  • After fermentation was complete the Cider was bottled and stored in a cool dark place.
As soon as I built this machine offers of apples came in from every angle!

Horseshoe Trivet - Bushcraft fire Camp Cooker, Camping Stove, Iron Tripod

Handmade Horseshoe Trivet
Bushcraft fire Camp Cooker, Camping Stove, Iron Tripod
Put the kettle on! 
Anyone who has cooked over an open fire will know the shame of a spilled dinner from a poorly balanced pot resting on some rocks or old bricks.
Enough was enough when the last kettle I will ever spill came tumbling from it's perch.

 I made a trivets from scrap horseshoes
I enjoyed this process so much that I decided to sell these items. They're a rare item and always very popular

    To buy a Trivet click 
    Off Grid cooking, ideal for festivals and camping

    To buy a Trivet click 

    Tripod Trivet - Cooking on an open fire is a joy! How can I make one of those?

    Anyone who has cooked over an open fire will know the shame of a spilled dinner from a poorly balanced pot resting on some rocks or old bricks.
    Enough was enough when the last kettle I will ever spill came tumbling from it's perch.

     How can I make a trivet?
    I enjoyed this process so much and stumbled across such an abundance of materials that I sell these items.
    To buy these Trivets click 
    • I sourced a supply of horseshoes. Stables and Horse owning friends were a good start.
    • I chose a design and found some legs, old road pins worked well.
    • I learned to weld, (it's easier than it looks!) Use all the correct safety equipment and pray!
    • Lastly I rubbed down the frame before coating with a heat resistant finish.

    Trying it out for size!
    Off Grid cooking, ideal for festivals and camping
    To buy these Trivets click 

    Boat Repair - I wanted a cheap boat, how can I make one of those?

     A half rotten 26year old boat

    • I located a rotten old boat, this one was a gift from
    • Then the job was to cut back all the rotten wood and peel away all the flaky and old varnish.
    • Next I mixed some resin and hardener to soak some fibre glass sheets.
    • Layering the fibreglass sheets over the holes and eventually making good with sand paper.
    • I used epoxy filler to fill any recesses left in the repair work.
    • Then sanded down the filler and touched up with wood stain to hide the repairs.
    • Lastly I rubbed down the whole boat and re-varnished.
    The finished article

    Now, just for a name. Any suggestions?