My younger sister came to me with an exciting proposition, Turn her newly acquired Chevy Astro into her new home! She was an easy client, all she requested was a bed, a place to sit with her computer, storage, and lastly she wanted to help. Oh and she had a budget of $200, ok great, lets get started.
This is not a new concept, So before starting the build I did a little research to see how others converted their vans into campers. In fact, there are some other vans right here on instructables, In particular, I found great inspiration in the multiple posts by Audrey Desjardins, I recommend checking out her work.
Step 1: A Blank Vanvas!
The foundation for this build was an Empty Chevy Astro Van. As you can see all the seats were removed, and subsequently sold on Craigslist. My sister happened to arrive with a new area rug on the floor and black out shades already applied to the windows, so this was our starting point.
Step 2: Schematic Design - Dimensions and Layout
We made sure to document the critical dimensions, including the van, the storage bins my sister already owned and even her height, head to toe. We came up with a basic layout that accommodated a bed, a full desk, a place for seating and ample storage. Fortunately for her she was short enough to fit in a bed oriented perpendicular to the main axis of the van, this allowed us to situate the bed across the back of the van, maximizing the "living space."
our short material list consisted of :
- (2) sheets of Sande plywood
- (1) box of screws
- (2) piano hinges
- wood glue
- (1) roll drawer liner
- (2) memory foam pads
The total cost came in just over $200 (more than half of which was the Foam pads).
Step 3: Design Continued - Rough Fit, Full Scale Layout
We cut the ends off one sheet of plywood so we could place it in the back of the van for a rough fitting. This gave us an opportunity to make sure my sister would fit in the bed comfortably. In addition, it also allowed us to layout everything in full scale, drawing the plans directly on the plywood.
Step 4: Rip
Once you are confident with your layout (measure twice) then it is time to rip the boards and supports to the proper dimensions. The table saw is of course the perfect tool for long square rips, however because you are working in a van, many of your cuts may not be truly square. In this event you can make do with any straight edge, such as a long level, clamp it to the plywood at the desired angle and use it as a guide for your circular saw.
Step 5: Scribe and Shape
Once again, this is a van and unfortunately nothing on the interior is square or plumb, so in order to fit all the pieces snugly in place there will be a lot of required scribing and jigsawing, and scribing and sanding and more scribing and sanding. You can purchase a scribing tool (they are fairly cheap, I have no excuse for not having one), but I find can do just fine with an adjustable square and eyeballing it.
Once you have all the pieces cut to their desired shapes I recommend rounding over all of the corners with a router, this gives it a cleaner look and minimizes any chance of splinters.
Step 6: Assemble
This was an exciting step for my sister because she could see things finally coming together and could really start to envision the finished product. Our chosen method of assembly was wood glue and pocket screws. The Kreg pocket hole kit makes this a cinch, this small jig only cost $40 and included all the necessary drill bits and driver bits.
The desk platform was connected to and partially supported by the bed platform via two flat Simpson metal plates screwed to the underside of both pieces and bridging the seam.
Step 7: Details - the Storage
We wanted the rear storage at the back of the van to be accessible from inside the van when the doors are closed. To accomplish this we incorporated two hinged hatches in the bed platform. When laying them out it is important to note that you must make sure that there is ample clearance to clear the wall the van on the up swinging of the hatch door. As an added measure we recessed the hinges into the panel so as not to be felt through the mattress (probably not necessary, but hey, looks cooler).
The other important detail to note here is the bungee cords that were stretched across the storage bins. This seemed the most economical way to keep the bins from sliding while the van is in motion. The cords attach at each end through a 3/4" hole drilled through the Plywood supports.
Step 8: Details - the Bed
The final completed mattress consisted of two foam pads, the pictures above show only one, however it was later decided to add a second for increased comfort. We snapped our lines on the foam with a chalk line, and cut it cleanly with multiple passes of a utility knife.
Step 9: Details - the Desk
The desk took a bit more scribing and shaping to make the parts fit. I made sure that the shelves and compartments had stops on all sides, nailed in place with a finish nail gun. These stops, in conjunction with grip liner (the kind meant for lining drawers) on all the surfaces would help keep objects from sliding around while the van is on the road.
Step 10: Completion
All that is left is for you to personalize it however you like. Please share your build, and Happy Travels!