Building RV Furniture

I worked out a floorplan on my computer and mocked it up with cardboard to check the livability of it. Then I started to make the furniture. My only experience with tools was the previous attempt to convert my van, and that had been pretty difficult. With this project, I had a lot more to build. I would have preferred to have someone else do it, but by this point, with the unexpected transmission work, it wasn't in the budget to have custom furniture built.

Another complication was the lack of a workshop. During my previous van conversion attempt, I had a large loft apartment with a reasonable amount of space to work in. Now, I'm living in a tiny studio apartment. Here is my entire workshop:

It's just a simple table, 2ft by 4ft, built very low, since I'm doing everything from a sitting position. To the right is a dolly that I built to bring wood boards in from my van.

I've been doing everything in pine, using the cheap boards from Home Depot. That doesn't make this fine furniture, but I knew that was beyond my carpentry talents anyway. I just wanted it to be light enough to lift and sturdy enough not to break immediately. If I decide I want to live in the RV long-term, I can always save up some money and have it replaced piece by piece with custom furniture.

My construction techniques are very basic -- cut the boards approximately to the right size with a jigsaw. I do this because the 8 ft lengths from the store are too large to put on my workbench. Then I use the biscuit joiner to combine boards into the larger cabinet sides and so on. Then cut the thing to the right length with the circular saw, sand and paint. Pieces are all screwed together to make the furniture.

Painting is not so bad, although staining is another matter (I hate the smell.) Sanding though is a nightmare. Even with the door open, there's not enough ventilation in the apartment, and the sawdust goes everywhere.

My other main problem with construction (other than poor technique, bad tools and general ignorance) is that pieces get too heavy for me to lift and too large to work with. I can just barely stretch the two feet over the table to reach the far side of a large piece. Pushing the circular saw that distance is a real challenge.

So far, I've built the bed, a desk, a sink, a cooktop/microwave cabinet, and a shower stall (the toilet will go in the bottom of the shower, and I'll sit on a platform above it.) I'm working on cabinets to go above the desk. That will be the last of the furniture for now.

Unlike my previous projects, I haven't been taking photos of every step. Here is a picture of the bed, which tilts up against the wall to give me access to the cab. Inset is the sink cabinet during construction.

The RV systems still have to be done, including water and power. Electricity should be simple, since I only want enough power to run my computer, fridge and lights while I'm away from RV parks. Water is another matter. I'm still unsure of all the details of water tanks, emptying the sewage ("black water"), and where exactly I'm going to put tanks. The van conversion guys will have a lot of opinions about that.

I'm getting anxious to get some use out of the bus, which has been parked on the curb for most of a year. The general difficulty of building the furniture has led me to procrastinate endlessly, which is why this project has taken so long. I would also have preferred to use much better wood for the project - either furniture grade pine or some hardwood like maple or birch. Unfortunately, that would have made the large pieces like the desk just too heavy for me to move, as well as costing twice as much in materials.

More pictures, a floorplan and my budget so far, here.

September 21, 2007

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