Ledge Style Gypsy Wagon

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Introduction: Ledge Style Gypsy Wagon

This Instructable shows how I built (a work in progress) my ledge style gypsy wagon. I'm a newbie at this site and this is my first post so please forgive me if I've done anything wrong.

Step 1: Design

I know it's not a classic wooden boatbuilders idea of design/build but I used AutoCAD. This turned out to be a very useful way of designing on the fly. Instead of lofting the entire design, I printed out specific parts at full scale on an as-needed basis, for example, when I needed to tilt my table saw blade to a particular angle. For other fitments, like getting the right distance between the sidewalls at the top I could obtain the correct distance on the drawing then use a tape measure for accurate placement. Worked well for me anyway.

Step 2: Scrounging Wood.

I took the 5/4 cedar siding off this building to make 3/8" (or thereabouts) T&G siding. With no router table or shaper, I used a table saw; each board required multiple passes.

Step 3: Floor Framing

The floor framing is store bought 2x4's with the width milled to design dimensions (1-1/2 x 2-1/2 Inch). All framing connections for the floor and walls are glued butt joints using the Kreg pocket screw method.

Step 4: Wall Framing

Wall framing is 1-1/2 x 3/4 inch hand milled Douglas fir from a tree that I grew up with. It blew down in the Seattle area Inaugural Day wind storm in 1992. All sheathing is marine plywood, glued and stapled (1/4-inch crown staples) to framing. The 3.5 degree angle of the front and back walls had to be incorporated in the ledge riser.

Step 5: Angle Braces

I built the angle braces using dovetailed through-mortise and tenon joints. The shape was cut after glue up. Siding on the ledge riser was installed at this stage because of easier access. Framing for the ledge lateral is mocked up on one side. Final placement of ledge laterals awaited plywood sheathing top (1/2-inch ACX) and bottom (6mm marine).

Step 6: Ready for Sidewalls...But First

I decided to make glue-lam beams at this stage to confirm fitment of the two sidewalls. I lofted the 8-foot diameter circle and screwed gluing stantions along the curve. They looked pretty rough after glue-up but cleaned up really well with a hand plane. The glu-lams are made from six layers of 1-inch wide by 1/4-inch thick doug fir. They were plently flexible enough to bend over the curve. I used Tight-bond III, which is kinda flexible and the glu-lams sprung back a little upon removal from the gluing jig. "I'll figure that problem out later."

Step 7: Sidewalls and Endwalls

These show the sequence I used for wall installation. The sidewalls were temporarily braced while the endwalls were built. Siding went on over the marine plywood. It's beginning to look a lot like a gypsy wagon!

Step 8: Decorative Porch Roof Supports

I decided to carve the decorative supports before beginning the roof framing since the porch roof is integral to the rest of the roof. I have very little carving experience and after I did the first one, I had to make the second one's nose different because I was bored with carving. I used clear Alaska Yellow Cedar, which carvers claim to be among the best carving wood species. I can see why, it does carve easily and smells wonderful. The ears and tongues are made of scraps of marine plywood. I painted them with acrylic paint before final installation.

Step 9: Roof Framing and Construction

Since I wanted to include a mollycroft, I had to cut 6 of the 10 glue lams into thirds. That took some commitment! Framing for the mollycroft top was glued seperately and installed as one assembly. Bead boards were installed with stainless steel screws. They look really nice from the inside. The spacing of the glu-lams is equal to the width of the roofing panels because I wanted to be able to screw the roof hardware with long screws into the beams and not just the bead board. The horizontal brace in the last photo was used to hold the full-length beam to the correct curve (remember, they sprang back a little after glue up). This was not needed for the shorter ones associated with the mollycroft.

Step 10: Metal Roofing

The roofing material was commercially purchased. I wanted the ribs to conform to the roof curve rather than straight lines along the length of the roof so the panels and ribbing were fabricated to the design curve. The ends of the short panels were bent as part of the flashing using a low-tech, home-made bending tool. A lot of thought and effort went into design and construction of metal flashing for the mollycroft. Sorry, I don't have any pictures of that.

Step 11: Time for Trial Mounting Onto the Trailer

I designed and had built a steel frame that bolts to the floor joists and also to steel cross members of the trailer using grade-8 bolts. One design constraint was that I had to be able to get it through the garage door. I had about 1 inch of clearence. Whew! Looks pretty cute on the trailer.

Step 12: Door and Windows

Because of the 3.5 degree angle of the wall, I had to fabricate an angled door casing so the door could be plumb. While this complicates construction a lot, I think angled endwalls look a lot better than pumb endwalls (the endwalls and sidewalls were built at the same angle). I used oak veneer glued around a gluing form. Window frames are typical style/ rail construction. This is the front window, which is a casement. Two of the side windows are awning windows (next step).

Step 13: Painting, Exterior Finishing, and Glass

I used acrylic house paint over an oil-based primer. Exterior brightwork is polyurethane; beadboard ceiling is multiple coats of Seafin. The door glass etching was made by an art student in Bellingham but the work was contracted out by Seattle Stained Glass Overlay and I don't know his name. I wish I could acknowledge his work here because he did a beautiful job. The picture window was made by Seattle SGO using vinyl coloring and lead tape . I know traditionalists will not like this but that's the way it is.

Step 14: Wiring

There are three seperate wiring systems: 1) 12V running lights (LED) powered by tow vehicle battery; 2) 12V interior lights (LED), radio, and other devices powered by on-board battery and through battery charger/ control panel; and 3) 120V system (outlets only) powered by shore power. I used a 120Volt/ 30Amp charger/ controller.

Step 15: Mounted on Trailer and Exterior 90% Complete

Before mounting on the trailer, I installed 1-1/2 inch rigid foam insulation, then covered that with plastic. Was the vapor barrier a mistake? Please provide your opinion about a vapor barrier here. I'm all ears. The side clearence at the fenders is about an inch. In the photo, the wagon is suspended on camper jacks and the trailer is being rolled underneath. After installing electric brakes, I took it to a local weigh station. I estimate it's gonna weigh about 3000 lbs when done and loaded. Kinda heavy but my truck can haul it easily. In transporting it to the Seattle area, it rolled very well at highway speed.

Step 16: Interior, an Ongoing Project

Here's photos that show the interior, a work in progress. It's coming along but, frankly has languished a bit over the last year--too much else to do! The window trim is cherry that was given to me several years ago. The sink is made from Western Red Cedar and finished with thick fiberglass resin. The sink cabinet and chest of drawers (black walnut) are a work in progress as is the full-length closet, which is lined with aromatic cedar. The PlatCat heater (made near Olympia) is temporarily installed in it's own small cabinet. Paneling is 60-year old 1/4-inch CVG fir veneer plywood that has been through at least two floods and stored outside. I love it's distressed patina. It's finished with polyureathane. I even made the cushions but I've done lots of sewing and these were pretty easy to make. The lights are LED's and I made this fixture. Some people think it's a shower head because I used copper plumbing pipe. (You might need to click on the image to see the light.)

All for now. Thanks for your time in looking at my gypsy wagon. Please contact me through Instructables.com if you have any questions. After taking the 2009 gypsy wagon class at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking with Jim Tolpin and Steve Habersetzer, I thought I knew it all. They were a wealth of information. But there's no better teacher for me than experience. I spent a lot of time on the internet doing basic research regarding safe trailering; RV plumbing, wiring, and heating; and LED lighting. While I've been an amateur woodworker most of my life, I've never glued veneers over curved forms, never made a dovetail joint, and never used some of the construction techniques I learned at the PT Wood School. But it ain't rocket science. Just start cutting wood!

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    86 Discussions

    very nice work. There are several things I would do differently (for instance your under ledge framing, if I have to do undersized framing I'd use plywood as it will still have great strength in the narrow strips, better than softwood), but still a great end product.

    I am wondering why you made several glue lam beams, instead of using wider boards to start and just building up one beam and cutting it into several beams using a table saw or bandsaw?

    Now that it is a few years old, are there any portions which you would do differently or changes you would like to make? I am considering making a vardo, and am looking for clues from previous builders as to what they believe their mistakes were, if any.

    Thank you.

    I have a stupid question here ... maybe someone.. anyone can shoot a clue at me. First of all this is amazing and beautiful and really a work of art! Gorgeous! My hubby has a standard work sort of cargo trailer. He has a number of tools and has attached them to benches attached to the walls. The shake, rattle and roll of the trailer consistently works the attachment screws out of the walls. we've even had the benches themselves rip out of walls over a rough bump. How do we deal with this and stop this from happening. It's frustrating when a drill press crashes to the floor and then the switch needs to be rebuilt etc. Help! beautiful beautiful trailer. you are very talented!

    2 replies

    a bit late, but here goes.

    1-mount tables/benches to walls and floors using through bolts using both lock washers and nuts with loctite (use blue, red will make it hard to undo if you ever need to rearrange table positions.)

    2-mount tools to benches also using throughbolts and loctite (again, blue loctite, not red).

    Don't forget to waterproof where you put the throughbolts through the exterior, I recommend rubber gaskets and/or a good silicon caulk.

    Instead of reinforcing everything with bigger screws or bolts, first stop the motion. Use bungees and rachet straps to stop tools from moving. The drill press can be blocked then strapped.

    Hi craig.powell.3781: My sincere apologies for being so slow to reply. I've recently moved and lost track of the paint can. But just today, I needed to get more of the same color because I'm making a cover for the front window (front as in towing direction). I used Benjamin Moore acrylic paint, the color is Chrome Green (PM-10). As an aside, I've been invited to bring it to Portland for the Tiny House Conference, hence the need for a window cover. Regards, Russ Prior

    Hi Russ
    Just wondering would you have the AutoCAD dwg file available still? I have just started a gypsy wagon build and would really love to get the full front and rear walls dimensions and the angles and radius of the roof. I do some AutoCAD work but am struggling a little to get the wall angles and roof correct
    Regards and congrats on a really awesome Vardo. You put a lot of hard work and thought into it

    The wall angles are 3.5 to 4 degrees. The roof radius is 8 feet. I'd be willing to email you a copy of my DWG file but I'm not sure you'd be able to make much sense of it. For example, it does not have dimensions (I did that as I went). If you can figure out how to send me a private message through Instructibles, give me your e-mail address and I'll send the file to you. I used AutoCADLite 2013.

    This is lovely. I've looked at vardos for years and never thought about making or having one constructed.

    1. What is a guesstimate on the time you have thus far worked on your vardo?

    2, I realize that you used much reclaimed wood. In your estimation, how much did you spend on the necessary materials?

    3. Do you need an apprentice?

    Thank you for sharing your masterpiece.

    All beams spring back some when released .The timber layers you used should not have moved much though. I don't know if Tight-bond111 is waterproof but a good epoxy is best for beam construction. Putting a mechanical fixing through the whole lot is useful because they are likely to separate later. Drill down from the top through all layers and use a hex slotted stainless batten screw that won't go all the way through is the best way I have found . If you have to get the roof curve right as its in compression mostly you can cut the beams many times from the top down 1/2 way through and fill the cuts with epoxy whilst holding the beam with slightly more bend than you need

    3 replies

    Gorilla Glue - strengthens when wet. . .

    Gorilla glue is polyurethane it absorbs moisture to cure but if you look at it after you cut off the excess squeezed out its not terribly strong in itself. Foamy and easily broken up. It also requires clamping to hold the joint together while it cures .Epoxy however you will find very difficult to break in your fingers in a similar way and its waterproof proper.

    Their web site says "Tight-bond111 Passes Type I water resistance " this
    does not mean its waterproof and constant saturation in water will
    soften it . I would not use it . Test it out all glues used for exterior and in the plywood should be tested . Take a small sample of the glued ply or timber and boil it for 1/2 an hour in a pan . If it comes apart don't use it . You have been conned.

    All in all its come out very nicely and I applaud your skill. I especially like your carvings

    Think it wise to use treated timber down low . Plenty available and it will last after spending the time you have to do it properly. Same with the plywood .Treated pine would be better . There is a basic principal missing here too. Timbers move around and warp and twist .Normally noggins are used top bottom and midway to stop this movement inside your walls over time . Plywood glued on stops this of course especially if you have an inside lining glued on too . Not just nailed at points .

    How much did it cost to build?

    OMG! Your caravan is absolutely gorgeous. I've always been in love with Gypsy wagons and yours is better than any I've ever seen. Thanks for posting I've got the exterior photo as my desktop image. Then I can drool everyday. I would love to see lots of photos of the interior.

    Fantastic build and a beautiful wagon. It was yours and one other that served as the framework for the georgian vardo that I have been building. Your a great builder ... hope you don't mind the similarity with my creation. www.instructables.com/id/Gypsy-Wagon-Construction/

    1 reply

    Wow! High praise, Scott. Thank you very much. I really like the detail you're doing. I started to do that but quickly realized I'd never get the damn thing done if I continued to spend time on that sort of thing because I'm slow. As time goes on, I'll likely do some little embellishments here and there.