Construction techniques for van cabinetry

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Jameshow

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I'd use birch ply if you can afford it.

No cheap but lighter than standard ply and easy to finish.
 

AES

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With my own v limited experience, I doubly agree with the caveats posted above about weight.

Please PLEASE forget about "decent" ply and/or MDF, it starts out far too heavy and just gets heavier and heavier by the time you add door hardware, drawer runner, screws or whatever, then fill up the water tank, put disinfectant in the portaloo, etc, etc. It all adds up alarmingly quickly and affects not only the vehicle's maximum LEGALLY allowed load limit (as mentioned above), it also affects tyres (Type, rating, and wear rate, as also said above) and these days particularly, affects the MPG the users will achieve.

While it is (was?) horrendously expensive to buy new, the "composite" sheets made of "honeycombed plasticised cardboard" epoxied onto very thin waterproofed veneers - in various "metal" and "wood-effect" finishes) as used for passenger aircraft galleys, toilets, etc, are what you really want. As said, v expensive new, but look out for specialist component suppliers (a couple already listed above, but I'm LONG out of date with the UK sorry). And look for such as specialists who break wrecked caravans and motorhomes. You'll find them advertising in the back pages of the - I guess - still several caravan and motorhome mags published in UK.

Jointing "cabinets" made from these "high-tech" materials is not as difficult as you may think, and is generally quite light too. Mainly epoxies and foaming polyurethane adhesives. Bits of scrap play and softwood plus loads of masking tape provide suitable jigs for ensuring cabinet/s, sink unit, etc, come up straight and square and LIGHT! And if necessary, the careful use of ali extruded sections from the local DIY emporium, such as "T"s, & "L"s, also glued in plus perhaps a few self-tappers will all stiffen things like under work surface places nicely. And look for things like "rock n roll" bed frames to suit the vehicle too. Again the ads should put you on the right path.

It really is all MUCH different to any sort of cabinet making for the house, and with respect, such techniques are best IMO left "in the home".

HTH, good luck
 
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Jameshow

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For what your making either a side or back kitchen unit I wouldn't worry about weight too much.

The bongo has capacity to carry 8 people on heavy seats, take the seats out too and you have over half a tonne of payload....
 

Droogs

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Before I fell ill, I helped a chap I know make some units for his Puegeot conversion. He is a very experienced cabinetmaker and had wanted as few sharp corners as possible inside the van to knock into in the dark. He had come up with the idea of using of using bendy 3mm ply to make the cabinets and get his nice curvy shapes. What he did was create a frame and inside and outside curve formers in scrap MDF and then hot glue the 3mm ply sheets to the former and fill the resulting 3mm gap with expanding construction foam. This gave him very rigid, extremely light weight cabinet sides etc and when set he vacuum bagged some lovely walnut burr and pippy oak to various parts to give the van a very high end feel. The resulting cabinet for the sink/cooker with drawers ended up weighing less than a standard 600mm base cabinet frame.

hth
 

AES

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For what your making either a side or back kitchen unit I wouldn't worry about weight too much.

The bongo has capacity to carry 8 people on heavy seats, take the seats out too and you have over half a tonne of payload....
James, I'm FAR from experienced, but regardless of van type (never heard of a Bongo before, probably here under another name?) I firmly believe that WEIGHT, or more properly, the reduction therefore, is absolutely vital. So disagree, sorry "yer takes yer choice ....." and all that!
 

AES

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Before I fell ill, I helped a chap I know make some units for his Puegeot conversion. He is a very experienced cabinetmaker and had wanted as few sharp corners as possible inside the van to knock into in the dark. He had come up with the idea of using of using bendy 3mm ply to make the cabinets and get his nice curvy shapes. What he did was create a frame and inside and outside curve formers in scrap MDF and then hot glue the 3mm ply sheets to the former and fill the resulting 3mm gap with expanding construction foam. This gave him very rigid, extremely light weight cabinet sides etc and when set he vacuum bagged some lovely walnut burr and pippy oak to various parts to give the van a very high end feel. The resulting cabinet for the sink/cooker with drawers ended up weighing less than a standard 600mm base cabinet frame.

hth

Thanks Droogs, IMO, that's much more "like it"! As above, excess weight is the No.1 enemy in any van conversion. But others have different views and experiences it seems.
 

Jameshow

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James, I'm FAR from experienced, but regardless of van type (never heard of a Bongo before, probably here under another name?) I firmly believe that WEIGHT, or more properly, the reduction therefore, is absolutely vital. So disagree, sorry "yer takes yer choice ....." and all that!
The bongo us a tiny van think transporter but smaller.
The type of conversion that's going to fit really is small.

Of course weight matters but is a 10kg really going to matter?
 

paulrbarnard

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For what your making either a side or back kitchen unit I wouldn't worry about weight too much.

The bongo has capacity to carry 8 people on heavy seats, take the seats out too and you have over half a tonne of payload....
Seat came out at the weekend. I need to build some kind of rock and roll seat/bed as well.
Before I fell ill, I helped a chap I know make some units for his Puegeot conversion. He is a very experienced cabinetmaker and had wanted as few sharp corners as possible inside the van to knock into in the dark. He had come up with the idea of using of using bendy 3mm ply to make the cabinets and get his nice curvy shapes. What he did was create a frame and inside and outside curve formers in scrap MDF and then hot glue the 3mm ply sheets to the former and fill the resulting 3mm gap with expanding construction foam. This gave him very rigid, extremely light weight cabinet sides etc and when set he vacuum bagged some lovely walnut burr and pippy oak to various parts to give the van a very high end feel. The resulting cabinet for the sink/cooker with drawers ended up weighing less than a standard 600mm base cabinet frame.

hth
That sounds like what I would like to do far more than what my daughter wants 😂
 

paulrbarnard

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James, I'm FAR from experienced, but regardless of van type (never heard of a Bongo before, probably here under another name?) I firmly believe that WEIGHT, or more properly, the reduction therefore, is absolutely vital. So disagree, sorry "yer takes yer choice ....." and all that!
It’s called a Fury in the US.

I think the metal work that came out was heavier than a couple of sheets of 15mm board. It’s probably going to be lighter once finished.
 

Jameshow

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It’s called a Fury in the US.

I think the metal work that came out was heavier than a couple of sheets of 15mm board. It’s probably going to be lighter once finished.
Mine definitely did!!

Each seat 10 iirc weighted 25kg so 250kg which was replaced by camping units weighing 3 sheets 1/2 ply, 66kg + some 4x2 for the bed and 1 1/2 by 1 1/2 framing for the kitchen and loo..

Contents of kitchen prob only weights 10kg so 100kg max.

Leaves plenty of payload for oak beams, lathes, table saws etc that I come across on my travels!!😀😀😀
 

Stevekane

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A friends daughter also has a Bongo and I beleive they are a Japanese import, her one has a 3ltr petrol engine and an auto box so its not the sort of thing you would want to go far in!
I know that older campers and caravans used light ply on softwood frames but I think that now they might use a foam sandwich type stuff??
Steve.
 

TobyT

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My last van I converted myself from a transit. I generally used 4mm ply on softwood frames. I didn't create sandwiches, but single ply seemed strong enough. Consider what is actually needed inside. I made and put in the whole moorcaravan requirements, bed that folds out to a minimum of 6', sink, cooker (that have to be permanently attached), wardrobe, electrics, window in the side. It was all completed but never finished nicely, mainly with bare ply. It worked for me, but I think in 5 years I used the sink twice. The cooker was a 2nd hand microwave as it had to be fixed and to gas cookers designed for vehicles aren't cheap and needed to be fixed. It was used about 3 times to heat baby bottles. The rest of the time we just cooked outside. The wardrobe was useful for hanging wetsuits. It used to be that converting to v5 recognised motorhome was a couple of hundred quid and provided a large discount on insurance. Now the Govt changed and the cost is something like £1900. So you may as well insure as a van with mods that you need and you don't have to worry about the requirements.

I used to belong to the Self Build Motorcaravan Club. Various forums on conversions and plus it gave discounts on things like insurance. SBMCC | Self Build Motor Caravanners Club

The Bongo Friendee I think was also known as the Ford Freda. It's a Japanese grey import and I think the most recent models are 2010ish, so getting a little long in the tooth. Some of them already come with factory conversions like pop up roofs and kitchen items. I looked at one for the current van but decided it was too small for us and the kids and all the %^&* we carry when camping.
 

paulrbarnard

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I think I’m going to go with 15mm light weight ply from one of the caravan build suppliers. I will only need one and half sheets so not too ridiculous price wise. I can get the half sheet in a “worktop” colour to give some contrast. Adding some coloured t-edging will also make it a bit more modern.

All I need to do now is buy some power tools 😈
 

RobTy

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I think I’m going to go with 15mm light weight ply from one of the caravan build suppliers. I will only need one and half sheets so not too ridiculous price wise. I can get the half sheet in a “worktop” colour to give some contrast. Adding some coloured t-edging will also make it a bit more modern.

All I need to do now is buy some power tools 😈
15mm ply is way overkill.

I converted my T6 2y ago. combination of 8mm & 5mm bamboo ply, lacquered finish / melamine laminate in places. Frame fit sliding doors and CNC cut to my design (slim cabinets, curvy edges). With a bit of planning and some willingness to recess its surprising what's possible, my furniture is far more space efficient than off the shelf options.

Tbh the 8mm was overkill in places..... 15mm is just wasteful (space, weight).
 

Jones

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Nothing to do with woodwork but as Toby t says you can register a converted van as a motorhome. I don't know if insurance is cheaper or not but a normal van is only allowed to do 50 mph on A roads whereas a conversion can do the national speed limit of 60 mph . I found this out the £ 60 and three points way
 

paulrbarnard

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15mm ply is way overkill.

I converted my T6 2y ago. combination of 8mm & 5mm bamboo ply, lacquered finish / melamine laminate in places. Frame fit sliding doors and CNC cut to my design (slim cabinets, curvy edges). With a bit of planning and some willingness to recess its surprising what's possible, my furniture is far more space efficient than off the shelf options.

Tbh the 8mm was overkill in places..... 15mm is just wasteful (space, weight).

Your conversion sounds fantastic and what I would probably aim for for myself. In this case it’s for my daughter and I have be allocated the entire bank holiday weekend to start and finish it.
It’s down to availability, choice of finish, available accessories (like corner channels, t edge, etc), ability to pocket hole and not needing an internal frame. One and a half boards is not going to be an issue for weight as I have removed the old unit which was built from 18mm ply. Having also removed the seats I’m going to be lighter overall.
 
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