When embarking on our #Vanlife build we had no intention of doing a full build out as this is a weekend warrior rig. The initial plans we’re to put wheels and tires on it, roof rack, and maybe throw an air mattress in the back and go camping. But once we got started, like most projects, we couldn’t stop. First up building out the bed platform with storage options.
As this was a church van in its previous life, our 1993 Dodge Ram Van 350 came with 3 rear bench seats, and two of which were immediately removed. One cool thing we discovered is that the front two bench seats were quick detach and the brackets were functional regardless of seat position. The remaining bench seat was then turned backwards giving us free built in seating without modification. Next up was removal of the seat belts. As there were no seats in the back and our new couch wouldn’t be used during transit they had to go. We popped over to Greer Automotive Services to have them remove the massive star key bolts holding them in.
Once we had a clean slate within the cargo area, we started to map out our build. After some quick measurements and a budget in mind, my Dad and I headed to the local Home Depot on a supply run. Picking up (2) 4′ x 8′ sheets of 3/4″ sanded plywood, (4) 2 x 4s, (2) boxes of screws of different lengths, (4) Simpson Strong Tie Metal Straps, a Monster and a Diet Coke, we spent just over $100. Starting pretty late in the evening the intent was to at least get the structure done and come back later for fine tuning.
To build the base, we essentially built two walls like you would in a house with vertical supports at the end and one approximately in the middle. From the beginning the plan was to tie the supports into the bolts that used to hold the rear seat in, and that exactly what we did. We attached the Simpson Metal Ties straps to the bottom of the frame on one end and over the bolts sticking up from the floor, securing them with the factory nuts, on the other. With 4 points of attachment, we knew the frame wouldn’t slide from side to side. Still, we found the base lacked the stability we wanted. Originally wanting to have storage open front to back, we quickly adjusted our plan. Grabbing some scrap from around the shop we cut a pair of cross braces to sure up our 2 x 4 base.
Moving on to the platform we cut the plywood just short of the 69″ width of our van. Putting this first piece in closer to the couch, it will allow us to cut some traps doors later if we need to add more storage under the platform. To make sure getting onto the platform from the side doors was safe and easy, we jigsawed out the wood above the step. We ended up redoing this portion two days later as we were rushing due to the late hour. The last steps for Day 1 of the project was to cut the remaining plywood to the correct width and length and screwing it all down.
Day 2 began with figuring out how to get a jigsaw or router into the van with enough clearance to redo our previous cuts. What we ended up doing was taking the top of the platform completely out and cutting outside of the van. Once the cut away was reprofiled with a jigsaw, we broke out the plunge router and rounded all of the outside edges of the wood. Not only does this remove the sharp edges, it really gives the platform a finished look. We then sanded the pencil lines and all the edges, applied some finishing wax, and reinstalled the platform.
Having a good amount of left over plywood from the build our next step will be to add a drawer to the center section on an upcoming weekend. This is the first build of our #Vanlife build, so follow along as we turn this church van into the ultimate adventure vehicle!