After using the van with the simple platform for a bed, table and place to hang out for a year, we decided it was time to go to the next level: Build an all-in-one bed-table-benches-storage! Our goal was to add more storage to the livable space in the van, to create a space where 4-5 people could easily eat together (after a day of skiing, mountain biking, or hiking around in the mountains, it is nice to have a place for a well deserved beer and some snacks!), and to have a large super comfy bed (which can fit 3 comfortably, and surely 4).
We came up with the idea of this u-shape bench with a table in the middle. This table then comes down at night to complete the surface for the bed. In the next instructables, we will show how we also made the cushions to fit both in bed and in bench modes.
In total, it took us about 4 days to make and varnish the benches and table and to install them in the van (with 2 people). Materials were around 450$ for the plywood, the hinges, the varnish, and the leg for the table.
DISCLAIMER: This is the first van conversion we are doing, so this is certainly a process of trial and error! We tried to describe at every step the reasons why we made the choices we made, so hopefully you can see that we used common sense to design this process. I am an industrial designer and design researcher and my boyfriend is a landscape architect with some knowledge in wood working. We see this project as an experiment and as a wonderful place to try out some ideas about design, materials and fabrication.
For an overview of the work we did, take a look at our timelapse videos!
Step 1: Materials
You will need:
- 2 sheets of 4' x 8' 5/8" thick plywood. We used tuckernut plywood, since it was available at a store close by. It ressembles nordic birch plywood.
- 1 sheet of plywood for the table. Ours is 25" x 42". We used a cedar plywood since it matched our walls.
- 1 leg and 2 mounts. We found ours at CamperWorld.
- 8 2"x2" of 8' long pine studs
- Wood glue
- Nails for the nail gun (1 1/4" long, gauge 18)
- Screws (size 8, 2" long; and size 5 3/4")
- Bolts, nuts, and washers (about 25 sets, 3 inches long).
- 8 hinges.
Step 2: Tools
You will need:
- A miter saw
- A drill with wood bit of 1/8
- A table saw (or a friend who has one and can help)
- A nail gun
- A measuring tape
- A square
- At least 4 clamps (with 2 at least 4 feet long)
- A flat surface to work on
- Paintbrushes and varnish. We used Broda's (a Vancouver BC based company) PRO-THANE Ultra-Clear Cabinet & Trim, with a matte finish.
- Sand paper (a variety from coarse to fine)
Thanks to the Vancouver Tool library for most of the tools!
Step 3: The Plan!
The benches are made of 3 units: 2 identical side units and one long back unit. We start with the side units.
Step 4: Side Benches - the Frames
The side unit dimensions are: 47,5" long x 13" tall x 21" deep.
Our strategy was to use a mix of frames and full panels to build the benches. By using frames instead of full plywood sheets where possible, we were able to reduce the amount of material (and weight). We also chose this strategy because the floor and the back wall were already finished in the van and we were ok with seeing this finish instead of a fully enclosed plywood box for the storage part.
We started by making 2 frames that would be placed at the bottom of the bench unit, to hold the plywood walls. Each frame is made by 2 x 2 pine studs. Dimensions are: 22 3/4" x 20 1/4".
The steps are:
- Cut the 2 x 2 pine studs to dimension. (2 studs of 22 3/4" and 2 of 17 1/4", for each frame)
- Add wood glue to the junction points.
- Place the clamps to keep things in place
- Using a square, make sure each corner is at 90 degrees.
- Use a drill to make a small hole for the screw.
- Add a screw to each corner.
* Repeat all the steps to make a total of 4 frames.
Step 5: Side Benches - the Side Panels
Once the two frames were done and the glue dry, we combined the frames with the side panels (3 for each side).
We used the table saw to cut those panels out of the 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. Each panel dimensions are: 20 1/4" x 12 3/8".
Here are the steps:
- Cut the panels to size.
- Add glue to the sides of the frames that will touch the panels.
- Position 2 panels and 1 frame side by side.
- Use 2 c-clamps to tighten the grip.
- Make sure that all the elements are perfectly aligned on the front side of the bench. This is important because on this side, we will add a full plywood panel on top and it has to touch at all points.
- Use the nail gun to secure the panels into place.
- Once this is solid enough, add the second frame and the third panel. Use glue, clamps and the nail gun to attach it.
Step 6: Side Benches - Support Studs
Once the side panels are done, we added two pine studs at the top back of the bench, each of 22 3/4" dimension.
- Cut the stud to dimension.
- Add glue at both extremities.
- Place stud at the top back of the bench, between each panels.
- Use the c-clamps to position them and use the square to make sure they are properly positioned.
- Use the drill to pre-drill and screw the end of each stud to the side panels.
Step 7: Side Benches - Front Panel
Once the top support studs are dry and finished, the next step here was to add the front panel (dimensions 47 1/2" x 12 3/8")
- Cut the plywood to dimensions.
- Add glue to the studs and panel edges in the front.
- Place the plywood panel in position.
- Use c-clamps to secure the position.
- Use the square to make sure everything is square and flat to the edges.
- Use the nail gun to secure everything into place.
- Let the glue dry.
Step 8: Side Bench - the Top
At this stage, we were getting ready to make the top for the benches. We decided we wanted to have doors that opened on each compartment so that we could use this space as storage in the van.
We cut to size the plywood with the table saw to make 4 doors (17" x 23" 3/4) and 2 4" wide strips (47 1/2" long) to be placed at the back of the top, to hold the hinges.
We placed on top of the frame the 2 doors and the back lip. We needed to check that everything was fitting properly. Once we were happy, we added glue under the back lip and put it into place. We used the nail gun to secure it into place.
We did not attach the doors with the hinges here because we wanted to varnish them first.
Step 9: Back Bench - the Frame
In addition to the two side benches, we also built an additional section for the back side of the van.
The dimensions for the back bench is: 67" wide x 23 1/4" deep x 13" tall.
We followed a similar principle as for the side benches for the back one. However, since we wanted to have access from the back doors, and not from the inside of the van, we didn't plan for doors, but rather for an open back.
In this case, then, the plan was to make the frames so that they will be placed vertically to hold the bench's top and front.
- We used 2 x 2 and cut them to size with the miter saw. The dimensions are: 12 3/8" x 21 1/4". We cut 2 studs of 12 3/8" and 2 of 18 1/4" for each frame.
- We put glue to the end of the interior parts and hold the frame tight with clamps.
- We made sure everything was at a 90 degree angle with the square.
- When everything was square, we used the drill and screwed the pieces together, like for the side benches.
We made 4 identical frames in total.
Step 10: Back Bench - the Panels
Once the frames were done, we assembled them with the side and top panels.
We started with the front panel. We took our measures to leave enough space on each end to let the door locks go through (see the photo). From there, we placed the frames at equal distances from each other. Once our marks were done, we put glue on the sides touching the front panel. We used clamps to hold everything together and used the nail gun to secure everything.
Once this was dry and solid, we turned the platform over and did the same process for the top. We always used the square to make sure everything was at a 90 degree angle.
Step 11: Varnish It All!
To protect the wood, we varnished the benches inside and out, with 2 coats. We used a matte finish for style reasons, but a glossy finish would work just as well. We used Broda's (a Vancouver BC based company) PRO-THANE Ultra-Clear Cabinet & Trim, with a matte finish.
Before applying the varnish, we used sand paper (from coarse to fine) to prepare the wood. We sanded following the grain of the wood. Once the surface was smooth to touch, we made sure there was no dust left. We did this outside so that the dust would not be in the same room as where we would apply the varnish. We used a vacuum cleaner to get the most of the dust, and then a humid rag to finish.
With a soft brush, apply a thin layer of varnish on every surface of the benches. Make sure you catch any varnish running on the opposite surfaces as you get to the edges. Let dry following the instructions of the varnish you chose.
Once dry, use the fine sand paper to polish the surface, again following the grain of the wood. The first layer of varnish usually makes the grain of the wood rise a bit, so it is important to do this step before the next layer of varnish.
Apply the last coat of varnish. And sand very lightly if necessary at the end.
Step 12: Install the Benches in the Van
The next was super exciting because finally we were bringing the benches in the van.
First, we positioned the benches sections properly. This meant that the two side benches were parallel. This was not as easy as having them touch the walls, because, in the van, everything is a bit tapered and curved. So we took our measurements from the space between the 2 bench parts.
Also, more importantly, we left at least a 1/4 inch between the benches and the walls. From our previous experience with the platform and the cedar walls, if things are too close together but not attached together, there is so much cracking and rubbing noise when we drive that it can drive us crazy! For the same reason, we also added small felt auto-adhesive pads between the side benches and the back bench, to prevent them from being to close together.
To secure the benches to the platform, we used bolts, nuts and washers.
- Making sure the bench doesn't move, drill through the bottom studs, the carpet, and the plywood platform. It can be tricky to find spots that are not aligned with studs from under the platform. To help with this, we had one person under the platform and one on top. We both measured the distances.
- Insert the screw with one washer on top, and one under.
- Secure with the nut.
- Once one is done, add another one at the opposite side. Once two are in, there are no chances then bench moves.
- Do the same for all 3 parts of the bench. We used about 8 screws for each side bench and 8 for the back one too.
Step 13: Attach the Tops With Hinges
We placed the tops on the side benches. We placed the hinges (2 per door) at the same distances on each door.
With the drill, we directly screwed two screws (gauge 5, 5/8" long) on opposite sides. Once secured, we finished the other 6 for each hinge. Here, it is really crucial that the hinges are perfectly aligned. If not, the doors won't open.
Step 14: The Table
Now, we focused on the table.
We chose a 3/4" plywood with a cedar finish, to match the walls. We had it cut to size (41 1/2" x 25").
We sanded the edges, cleaned it and varnished it (2 coats) with the same varnish as for the benches. We let it dry.
We found the center of the table and, at the bottom, we positioned one of the leg mounts at that center. With the drill, we attached the mount to the table (with gauge 8 5/8" screws).
Step 15: Install the Table in the Van
The last 2 steps in this build are the ones that really brings it all together. They really make the conversion of the table into a bed and vice versa!
To make the table a table, we installed the second leg mount on the top of the platform floor. We positioned it so that it was a bit more back, to leave some space in the front to step on the platform and take a seat. Like for securing the mount to the table, we used the drill to attach it to the floor. This is it! Tah dah!! Now, we can install the leg and table whenever we want to eat or hang out!
Step 16: Install the Support for the Bed
To allow for the table to become the missing piece of the bed, we needed to find a way to support it flat to the level of the benches.
We had 2 strips of 3 inches that were left from the cuts in the 4 x 8 sheets. We cut 2 to the length of the side benches: 47,5". We sanded and varnished them.
We positioned them on the side of the benches in the van. Since the doors of the benches are 5/8" thick and the table was 3/4" thick, we had to make sure they would be at the same level once the doors of the benches would be closed. Once happy with the height, we secured the position with small clamps.
We predrilled holes for screws with a 1/8" bit. We then screwed the small band in place with gauge 8, 1" screws. We used 10 screws for each side. It is crucial that this is really solid since the table will be set on this when we sleep.
Step 17: Missing Piece for the Bed
We purposefully decided to make the table shorter than the benches so that we would have room to climb onto and sit on the benches comfortable. Because of this, we were missing a small part to complete the bed: a 6" x 25" piece of the same plywood as for the table. We cut it with the table saw.
When it is bed time, we can pull it out of the storage bins and install it in the missing part!
Step 18: Add Security Locks for Driving Position
Finally, we needed to make sure the table would stay in place when we drive. We opted for securing it when in 'bed' position with 2 simple locks.
We used the drill to attach the lock to the bottom part of the table. We then measured where the locks touched the benches walls and marked it. We used a drill bit that was the size of the lock arm to drill a hole and voilà!
Step 19: Enjoy!
This is it! Next step is to make the cushions to go on those benches... so stay tuned! On the photos, you can see the white foam, already waiting for its covers!!