Remember the old English/European gypsy wagons, I mean the bow-top light weight cylindrical design?
Well, it seems that the basque sheepherders in this country used a similar design for their mobile homes while shepherding. I built one of these a couple of years ago and have been living in it since, on the road, in town, and in the woods, and love the design for its simplicity, functionality, and affordability.
Tiny houses seem to be raging right now, and if you like houses tiny, then you are maybe in the right place. The floor plan measures 8 x 4 feet, or 32 square feet, but luckily due to the round design, at hip height, where the bed runs the width of the wagon, it is 6' 6"wide.
One great benefit to living in a tubular structure is that if you stand in the middle you can stretch your arms out to the sides, you can even spin around like a twirling dervish, if you have great control of course.
Another benefit to tubes is that because there are no corners to stick out, you can drag this house down most any roads your truck would fit down, if you tie it down properly, por cierto.
Introduction: Ok well. This is a little more complicated than I had at first suspected. After building this first wagon, I realized that there were a lot of things I will do differently on the next one. Some of these things are:
SIZE: I am relatively tall, 6' 6", and this was designed to fit me exactly. Turns out it is too narrow for me to comfortably sleep in it. If you are a few inches shorter it will fit you fine, but my next one will be 7 feet wide. The hieght too is fine for standing up, but sitting on the bed and in the hold is a little too cramped for my liking, and as it collapses being made taller shouldn't be a problem. If you decide to make it larger, you will need a different range of boards of different sizes, so go figure it out, or wait for my next wagon.
COLLAPSIBILITY: After building this to collapse, which is a great feature for long trips or where clearance is an issue, especially if this were built ontop of a truck bed, I don't collapse it any more. I haven't driven more than 50 miles at a time this last year and the gas savings havn't made it worth it to break everything down and set it back up each day. The next model is going to have solid studs and a wind deflecting nose cone.
SCREWS v's NAILS: This first wagon was nailed together with wood glue, which was terrible. It cracked the tongues, pulled off the studs and the nails popped out. For this write up I am recommending screws throughout. After years fastening wood together with all types of screws, I now use star drives exclusively. They don't strip, can be reused over and over, and cost just a little more.
THE NEXT MODEL: I am currently preparing to build the first production model, this write up being the first stage in the process. If you want to wait to see how that one turns out, that would be a sign of good judgment on your part. If I can get a camera cappable of it I will set it up to take a time-delay film of the whole process. I built this over a year ago and so I am describing it from memory….
Step 1: Materials and Tools
20+ 12' tongue and groove 3/4 x 5" boards
20+ 8' as above
15 x 8' 2x3's
a few 8' 1x4's for door and window trim, finish grade, (as in beautiful)
7 x 8' 2x2 for rafters (or better yet, small diameter trees with little taper, or bamboo)
Bottle of wood glue
2 boxes of 1 &5/8" star drive finish screws
Box of 1 & 1/4" star drive screws
Box of 3" star drive screws
Handful of 4" star drive screws
12 small door hinges 2 med door hinges (+2 for the front of the bench)
1 small tree to support deck
One sheet of 1 & 1/8" plywood (2nd if you want to make the decks off the front)
One sheet of attractive 3/4 inch plywood for bench, (or desk), kitchen, and shelves in hold Another 3/4inch sheet of any grade for the bed
Other random boards of different dimensions and lengths
8 x 4' utility trailer
Gallon polyurethane or other finish/stain/paint
2 sheets of plywood, any thickness, to get the design layed out on (or other flat surface you can draw on)
1 canvas tarp, I recommend Sunforger 10 oz, 12' x 14' (if you want compete water resistance, go with something like vinyl-impregnated canvas)
Linseed oil for the interior to keep the wood from drying out
For the stove: - 5 gal metal bucket - handful of sheet metal screws, 1 1/2"+ long - a few 1/2 inch sheet metal screws - a sheet of thin shiny metal, for a heat shield around the stove, about 16" x whatever - elbow and 6 foot section of 3 inch stove pipe - black stove paint - a hinge for the door and a little bit of wire
Tools: These are the tools I used, (or more accurately will use on the next wagon) and reccomend based on my desire for silence, efficiency, and safety, or basically a good ballance of what we call the hoogle-poogle, or the male and female energies. You could do the whole project with hand tools, but I am really looking forward to using a jig saw for cutting the doors out on the next one. And if you don't use a power sander, and don't have razor sharp knives and know how to whittle, it will probably end up with jagged edges everywhere, loozing you a lot of hoogle points.
A quality jig saw (better to buy quality used on ebay or craigslist then some piece of junk that will jump all over the place and make you hate wood working, I got a sweet Bosch for I think $80.
A nice new Sharptooth handsaw, the longer the better, unless your arms are very short.
4 foot level or straight edge
Cordless screwdriver (or one of those eggbeater drills, one of those old school push yankee drivers, converted to take stardive bits, and a brace.) I use all four.
Piece of string (for marking circles)
Tape measure (at least 2, I always have 3, at the start of the day anyway..)
A lot of pensils, at least a dozen or you will spend half your time looking for them.
A couple of nice stable saw horses with a 3/4" sheet of plywood top makes a great work table. Get a third horse to support the other end of boards as you cut them.
A random orbital sander with multi packs of a range of grits, like 80, 120, & 220
What have I forgotten?
Step 2: Measuring, Marking and Cutting
The first thing we did was to stain/seal the floor plywood, so that it would be protected when we began standing on it as we built.
Layout: We sketched the design out on the two sheets of plywood. You could do this on any flat surface you can mark on, such as concrete. This was a little tricky. We began by marking the height we wanted, 6' 9", then we marked the width at the mid-height, 6' 6". At the base we marked two feet out from the midpoint to the left and the right, and then measured back in 3/4" to allow for the width of the side walls on the floor. Now came the tricky bit of joining all these points up. We did this with the help of a piece of string with a pencil tied to one end. Next we maked 5" increments up the plywood, starting with the flat end that will be on the floor. The 16th one takes you to the top of the curve. These are the measurements of your end boards.
Measure the WIDEST part of each board, we learned this on the first one and used our extra 12 footer to make up for it. Now pair up the board lengths so that you get the longest board and the shortest out of one 12 footer, then the second longest with the second shortest, and so on. Number them as you mark them, or enjoy the puzzle of assembly. Mark the middles of each board too for easy lining up later. If your boards are the same as ours you will find that there is one pair of boards that together are longer than 12 by less than an inch. If this is the case, then do what we did, share the difference between the two and it will all work out swimmingly.
If you choose to make it any larger, you will have to figure out the board lengths yourself, I recommend doing this BEFORE you purchase the materials.
If using a handsaw, here is what I recommend, either clamp it, put a foot on it, or have someone sit on it. Hold the saw with your index finger pointing down the saw, relax and let the saw do the work. If you are straining, get a sharper saw. Work the whole length of the blade, go for length over speed. Cut against a speed square to keep it square. If you haven't sawn by hand before, this will be a good time to learn, as these cuts are only rough cuts..
Step 3: Assembling the End Walls
The process of building the end walls is easiest done in four sections on a table.
The base boards need the groove ripped off, so that the board will sit nice and strong on the floor. I did this with a handsaw and the wood is so soft that it didn't take me long, but feel free to use a circular saw, jigsaw, or better yet a table saw, if you have access to one. If you are not used to handsaws, ripping will probably be a surprisingly intense workout for you.
Cut the studs in half. Mark where the studs for the door are going and screw them in place with the inch's and five eight's finish screws. Then screw the studs to the table from underneath so that nothing will move on you as you continue. Mark and screw the other two studs in the same manner and then square up and screw the other ends of the studs in the same manner, now you know it will stay square. It is worth remembering that it is hard to measure things too many times, use the square and the tape to compare and contrast and everything should stay groovy.
Next take the first board off and slap on a spiral of glue on each stud, then screw it back in with three screws in each stud. Add the next board, fastening with glue and two screws per stud. If building this in a wet winter, tap the boards close together, if in a dry summer space them a little apart, about a 16th of an inch maybe to allow for expansion in the winter. When you have reached the middle (the 8th board) cut the studs flush with the bottom of the groove.
I recommend adding mini-studs at the edge of the curve, as in the pictures.
Repeat for the upper section of wall, starting the studs at the top of the tongue, so that there is about a half inch gap between studs when the wall is assembled. Attach the top to the bottom with temporary braces.
Then repeat the whole procedure for the other end wall.
Use the string method again to mark the curve on one of the walls, cut it out with jig saw, jab saw, or lots of handsaw cuts and rasping/sanding to clean it up.
Lay this wall out on the other wall after smoothing the cut and trace the curve onto the other wall.
Step 4: Making the Center Half-wall, Cutting the Door/window Openings, and Fastening to the Floor
For the center wall, copy the lower front wall. Next mark the door openings, the curve done with the string and pencil again. Before cutting screw temporary boards to all the boards you are cutting out, as this will hold them together until you frame them up. If you are using a jig saw, you can angle the saw blade to cut the doors so that they fit into the wagon, kinda like a pumpkin lid. The same can be done between the double dutch doors so they close snuggly together.
Now you can fasten the end and middle panels to the floor. Do this with 3 inch screws every few inches. Then plumb them and secure with diagonal braces to keep them plumb as the side walls go up.
Step 5: The Side Walls, Bed, and Upper End Walls
Now it is time to rip the side base boards, which must be done at the proper angle to ensure a tight fit to the floor.
You can measure this with an angle gauge, or hang the board down and mark it. If you have a table saw, this would be a good time to use it. If not, the jig saw will do a fine job, once you set the proper blade angle. If like me, you have neither, then you are in for some fancy angle hand sawing and a lot of hand planing. Well, what's your body for anyways?
Screw the side baseboards in at the right angle to keep the screw within the wood, about every foot. Then fasten them to the end and center walls with 3 or four 2 inch screws per wall. I recommend pre-drilling these holes, as splitting is likely otherwise.
Keep adding boards with the same spacing between boards as the end walls.
When the side walls are taller than the half-end walls, rip the last board down to match their hight, then round and sand them down.
For the bed screw a couple of 2x2's to the studs at the hight you want the bed frame at. Then screw a couple 2x3's or 2x4's laid flat across from 2x2 to 2x2 to support the middle of the bed. Then size the plywood to fit in the framed in space, and notch out around where the studs protrude. OK, bed done.
The Upper Walls:
To make attaching the upper walls easier, brace them together with scrap wood while you put the hinges on. I recommend 6 hinges per wall, or one per each stud.
Step 6: Doors and Windows, Permanent Braces, Rafters, & Decks
The win-doors were for me the trickiest part. If you cut them at at an angle, like a pumpkin lid, then their installation will be much easier and their fit far superior to a straight cut.
I recommend 1 x 3's or 1 x 4's for framing, or maybe even 1 x 2's, if a quality strong wood. The trim can lap in the middle, or not, as on the back win-doors.
The permanent braces keep the walls upright, the front ones going on the inside, the rear ones on the outside because of the bed. The front ones need notching where the hinges stick out, or use metal along the sides of the studs, my preferred method for next wagon.
We made the rafters out of 2 x 2's and since then have slowly been replacing them with small fir trees, as the roundedness is gentle on the canvas while touching as little as possible to reduce wicking in the rain. I used 4 inch screws on these as 2 inches of them goes into the stud and siding. The two additional removable rafters are set in those manufactured cup things for holding closet dowel racks. If using these put in an extra screw or it will rotate.
The deck is attached to a 2 x 2 which is attached to the rear wall. The three trees could probably be scaled down to two, we just started with the middle one, so we ended up with three…
I recommend something more water capable than stain and shellac..
Step 7: Bench/Pantry, Kitchen, Cook Stove, Central Heating Stove/Under Bed Sauna, Shelving Etc...
The bench is pretty simple and it holds a lot of food. The kitchen was cobbled together out of what plywood scraps we had and as we figured it out. As a result it was far more work than necessary and less graceful. Things I recommend/plan on doing differently:
Shelves to wall not studs so things don't keep falling through. Shelving all same size and all the way out to the door.
Area behind sink with divider to store things so sink can remain empty and useful. Storage next to sink of different heights, and with more dividers so things like forks don't keep falling over all the time and getting lost.
Because it is summer now we cook with alcohol and so the wood stove is not in its place. The hole in the wall is for the smoke stack and the oven rack above is a great place to put hot pots and dry things out and keep other things warm. Our stove was made out of a 5 gal bucket (another instructable) and has its own heat shield, the sheet metal you see was put in for a different "manufactured over-seas" stove, which sucked ass and so was replaced.
In the winter the futon that was then on the bed was starting to mildew in the damp cold, so we moved the stove under the bed and warmed the wagon that way. It needed a heat shield on the ceiling as it was pretty close to it and it cranked the heat out, glowing red when fully stoked. It dried the bed out and then some. In actuality it got so hot in the hold (the little room under the bed) that we put a blanket over the doorway and used it as a sauna.
It got so hot under there that our thermometer over heated at 160 degrees.
For shelving I recommend saving the most beautiful scraps of wood you have, and elastic pouches work great too.
Step 8: Final (as If Anything Is) Thoughts and Where We Go From Here...
This wagon has been through a lot in the two years we've lived in it. We backed it into things, took it down roads so rough and steep the truck lost traction on all four wheels, and we had to unload all the weight to drive back up again. At one point doing about 50 the solid wood camper shell blew off (OK it wasn't fastened down, I thought it's weight would hold it, my bad) and smashed into the wagon. It mangled most of the hinges, broke two rafters, tore the braces off took a chunk out of the tops of the walls, and tore the canvas. Wisely, we travel with tools and we had it screwed, braced and tapped back together in less than an hour. That's one of the reasons I love working with wood, if it had been aluminum it would have had scrap value at that point. The camper shell was also fine, just some pretty heavy road rash.
Now that the prototype is finished and out of the house, I am looking for a workshop space in Eugene Oregon to begin construction of a for-sale model. It will most likely be a little taller, wider, a couple feet longer, and may or may not collapse, depending on demand. The bench may also be replaced by a desk and chair, the bed and kitchen will probably be wider and I will offer Vinyl impregnated canvas as well as SunForger for the roof.
The roof by the way, is super flexible, roll up one or both sides as far as you want, support them out as awnings, or take it off completely to see lots of stars. You can do like we are doing right now living in the city, use another blanket/sheet on one side and the canvas on the other and have a huge skylight to let heat out and air in and still have total visual privacy on both sides. Audio privacy is another matter entirely, we overhear a great number 20 sec of conversations as people walk by, a couple feet away, separated by a layer of canvas. You won't want to sleep in this in noisy neighborhoods, unless you have ear plugs.
Step 9: 2 Years and One Wagon Later...
Well, the first wagon is finally done and it is currently up for auction in the San Fransisco bay area.
And the second larger one is in the finishing stages.
We learned a lot through the process these wagons have been.
Changes since this posting are:
Wooden rafters replaced with EMT (electrical metal tubing) notched into the wall studs for strength and easy removal, to sleep under the stars with nothing above you.
Wood stove moved under the bed into the hold to heat the bed (obviously) and dry the wagon from the floor up.
Kitchen torn out and replaced with full length counter top with much larger sink and room for a propane stove.
Roof replaced with Sunforger canvas with a strip of vinyl down the middle for a skylight.
Trailer prepped, primed and painted , same with wheels and all metal.
Stoop in front of door mounted onto trailer frame.
Cabin door type latch on door.
And other things I can't think of right now.
Our website is: hpwagons.com
And we are auctioning off this little wagon on fb here:
If you would like to own it, you may even bid on it there!
Ok, thanks for reading and drive safely,