Tuesday, May 29, 2018

DIY Storage Cabinet

Almost complete, just needs the splash board installed and then secured to the floor.
As we spent time in the van over the past year, I started envisioning our need for some kind of storage for our pots and pans, camp stove and water.  We wanted something more convenient than the plastic storage boxes kept under the bed, a huge pain to dig through in the dark or when its cold. My vision started as a sketch of a "chest of drawers" with a special slide out to keep our cooler on. Thanks to my visionary wife, Rajo, I saw we could pare it down to a single set of drawers, a slide out and a counter top.

After a second set of drawings I set about deciding how to build the thing. Initially I planned on using 3/4" plywood but I don't have a lot of woodworking tools or skill, nor do we have much room to work with/store large material. As an amateur welder, I decided to take on build the frame out of 1" square steel tubing and intended to construct the drawers with pocket hole screws. I sketched out a plan, took some measurement and called an order into the local steel yard.

After a bit of rummaging around the internet I found a place in San Diego that will build sized to fit drawer boxes with full length sliders, so I chose to go that route to save myself some time. In hindsight, I should have just used the pocket screw joinery as it took over a month to get the drawers back which put me into he middle of the worst time of year for working outside. I have since built the box that sits underneath the flip top counter, where we will store the stove/utensils and what not, and it is really easy to make nice boxes using the Kreg brand joinery tools. Also, it requires you have only a circular saw, straight edge and a drill to build functional drawer boxes. Regardless the drawers are nicely constructed, though some of the edge laminate has come off already. They cost ~$150 plus shipping, which included the slide rails and hardware. Not too bad, but if you are on a tight budget you may want to stick with DIY.

As the fabrication progressed I bought some 90 degree corner jigs to help assemble the frame squarely. They have come in useful for the frame and building boxes with the pocket screw kit

Covered sides
I finished the top with a nice stain and several coats of polyurethane to protect it from water damage. I installed a piano hinge and attached the rear part of the top to the frame using riv nuts. The water tap is a Whale brand Mark IV hand pump. I really didn't want to have to mess with too much plumbing and the van's motto is KISS (keep it simple stupid), so a hand pump seemed to best solution. The Whale came highly recommended by other van builders so I spent the money. The tubing runs out the back of the hidden box under the table top and will eventually go into a secondary cabinet I will build out of melamine to store the water container and the 1 Gal propane that fuels our Mr Buddy heater.

In order to give myself a place to attach the side cabinet, and the future potential of adding a flip up auxiliary counter extension, I used a 1/2"ply, stained and urethaned to cover the side of the kitchen console. I used 4MM corrugated plastic, the kind they make signs out of, for the front side of the cabinet since it will essentially be unused and the material is very lightweight.

The cooler slide in action

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A year in

We bought the bug out van a little over a year ago and started the conversion a year ago this weekend.  After a couple chaotic months of initial build out time we took it on the initial voyage, a 10-day road trip through California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. We've since logged 25 additional nights on trips of various lengths and have been making notes about what to do next.

Crammed in
One of the first things we took notice of was how challenging it can be living out of large plastic totes for things like kitchen ware and food stuff. Its fine in the summer time when its warm enough to setup kitchen on a campground table or our small portable rollup table, but when the weather starts getting cooler, and we want to heat coffee/tea water in the morning before heading outside, it is less than ideal. The inconvenience of having to dig through the container on ones hands and knees, in the dark, under the bed made building a "kitchenette cabinet" our first upgrade priority.

We installed a recycled, folding Ikea table just before the inaugural trip. It has served us well, but is starting to come apart. It was never our intention to leave it in as the primary work surface, especially since it doesn't offer any storage utility.

The rough design
We debated whether to install a full blown inset stove top but have decided instead to continue using our dual burner Camp Chef which allows us to cook outside when the weather allows (I actually hate cooking in the van but sometimes its too darn cold or dark outside).  We want a solid work top and since we have so far eschewed plumbing of any kind, no inset sink basin either.  We have instead designed a steel frame "cabinet" that will encase 2 slide out drawers, a slide out cooler shelf, and a flip up work surface that exposes a "hidden" storage compartment for the stove and utensils. The rear legs will extend up above the work surface to provide an attachment for a "backsplash" onto which we can attach additional storage or bungee netting or magnetic strips.

I prefer working with metal over wood, so I have chose to build a frame out of 1" square steel tubing. My woodworking skills are horrid and I don't have some of the larger tools one needs to make nice wood cabinets. Also, I've planned it in a way that allows for maximum future flexibility where possible, like if we add a fridge or real furnace at some point down the line. And since my woodworking skills aren't great, I found a place on the internet that will custom build drawer boxes to size, for a very reasonable fee, leaving the wood elements I have to build to the base for the slide out cooler shelf and the bottom of the "hidden" storage area under the work surface.

We will skin the front and sides with corrugated plastic, the material they make political signs out of. It is very lightweight and very inexpensive. Its also allows light to pass through so it will help passively lighten up the inside of the cabinet ... at least that is the theory. I don't intend to skin the back since it will be facing the wall, but we can decide that once we get ready to install into the van.
Left and right main frame