Legitimising The Van – Boxes Pt.1

For a long while now (has it really been 2 years…!!!) I have been converting my Van to a Campervan. Most of the important parts are there but it’s still technically a Van, whether or not I’ve spent a night in it. In my eyes, any vehicle you’re happy to sleep in, could be called a campervan but I understand what when it comes to the DVLA registration of a vehicle they need to set certain standards.

  • A door that provides access to the living accommodation ✔
  • A bed, which has a minimum length of 1800mm or 6 feet – this can be converted from seats used for other purposes during the day but must be permanently fixed within the body of the vehicle ✔
  • A water storage tank or container on, or in, the vehicle ✔
  • A permanently fixed means of storage, a cupboard, locker or wardrobe ✔
  • A permanently fixed cooking facility within the vehicle, powered by gas or electricity ✔
  • At least one window on the side of the accommodation ✔
  • A seating and dining area, permanently attached to the vehicle – the table may be detachable but must have some permanent means of attachment to the vehicle. It is not good enough to have a loose table ✖

Reference: www.gov.uk

Most of these as you can see, I have met and I think I’ve done an alright job of it. Certainly, some of the DIY campers I’ve seen meet the minimum standards but wouldn’t be called pretty or sophisticated or even comfortable.

The last items on the list of compulsory equipment in a proper campervan (in their opinion) is to have a fixed seating area and table. I thought I could get away with the single bed acting like a sofa, and arguably I may be able to, but the table poses more of a problem. Can I really get away with my 40cm square laptop table? In my opinion it’s plenty big enough to allow me to eat and work in comfort so therefore classes as a table? However I suspect it would not be allowed on the grounds of being (un)officially the world’s smallest campervan table.

The first idea I had was to buy some bedside tables and use them. It would be simple; get bedside tables, screw to floor…. that’s it. So I sourced some on Facebook market place and collected them while I was up in Glasgow. When I got moving I noticed just how heavy they were. The weight in the van was noticeably more and I had them now. They may be exactly the sort of thing I need, but they were just too heavy to cart around. I ended up Facebook selling them again and made £10 in the process – it may just have covered the fuel I used to transport them 340 miles…

So my plan has escalated and now I will make a folding table (more about that later) and 2 storage boxes under the bed. These boxes will act in 3 ways to:

  1. Provide the aforementioned legal definition of “seating area”. The top will be a hinged board on which I’ll place the double bed part cushion to be the seat. It will be screwed to the floor of the van so it is “permanent” and to stop all my belonging roaming around as they please.
  2. Provide additional storage for bedding and clothing and whatnot*. At present I’m using a collection of bags and boxes including an old cooler box which its a bit battered and unsightly.
  3. Replace the rather cumbersome dangly wooden legs that currently support the bed. Therefore they need to be structurally stable and strong enough for the task.

I’ll then be able to sit on top of one wooden box and any guest I have can sit on top of the other facing me. Between us the table will be available and should make a cosy little place for dinner. And on top of all that, if I can make it all look good, then alls the better.

As with everything on this conversion, I started by just walking around the van, measuring stuff, picking up bits of wood, putting them down again, measuring some more stuff and then going “hmmm, if i just…” before going off to get another bit of wood and measuring it. Eventually a plan formed in my minds eye. I was careful and took my time because to achieve all of the above in one go was going to be tricky. In addition, it’s part of my overall life plan to reuse as much of the wood I’ve got in my shed as possible and reduce how much stuff I have to buy new.

I settled on a plan to use some sturdy, square section timber as vertical posts going from the underside of the bed directly to the floor. These would be the corners of the box and I figured would be the easiest way to control the height the bed would rest at. From this I built out a small frame. I made an attempt to join the wood using dowelled holes and glued them in position. I dont have the requisite equipment to do this professionally, but I was overall pleased with the result. Now these were glued in place, I build the other two long sides of the box and joined them all up with screws. Lastly I filled in the sides with some of the lightest but strongest board I had to keep it stiff, I’d be sitting on these after all. I didn’t want to get halfway through dinner and it break, or worse, halfway through the night and the bed collapse!

I was feeling quite pleased with myself and my plan for campervan seating domination. It even looked quite good and was square enough you couldn’t tell it was made by an amateur, but don’t look too closely… That is, until I slotted it under the bed for the final fitting. I was spot on the right height but off by the length by about 1.5cm. That’s not a problem. I can trim parts of it down to correct that.

The problem, that is now keeping me up nights, is that I forgot to include in the height calculations the thickness of the top board that I’ll be sitting on. It’s exactly the right height with the top of the box open and sits perfectly level until I finish the box by putting a lid on it. The reason it makes such a difference is how the extending “double” part of the bed works which means the edge of the bed can be lower than a certain height, but not higher. Unfortunately my 1cm error is going to be a tricky one to solve. The obvious thing would be to deconstruct the box and trim the corner pillars down to the right length however, because I dowelled and glued them together, this would be very messy to do. 1 cm is not enough to cut off to allow re-drilling the holes for the dowels, even if I could get them apart neatly!

The alternative is to move the bed support on the cooking cabinet up higher. This sounds like I’m shifting the problem around, and I suppose I am slightly but 1cm will not be noticable on the levelness of the bed and it will be a lot easier to adjust the bed support here as it is only screwed in place….

I’m going to give it some thought before doing anything as i don’t want to unnecessarily damage or weaken anything by making lots of changes. Also i don’t want these changes to be visible if i can help it… looks like I’m going to be spending some more time sitting on the floor of my van looking and hmmm-ing to myself…

*whatnot; known to take up far more space than necessary yet impossible to define how much.