Building a Camper Van for Alex to Live in


My friend Alexander finally got a van, and
it’s beautiful. It was a big, scary purchasing decision for
him, and now the really scary part is building it out ourselves. To live and work in this van full time, Alex
will need a place to cook, sleep, and most importantly, work. To pay the bills, he’ll need to edit YouTube
videos and that means having a no compromises workstation. We’ll get to that, but first I want to show
you how we got to this point, and what we learned. We’re now on day 5 of this van build, and
along the way we’ve had quite a few wins, and setbacks. The first win was the swivel seats brackets. To make the most of the van’s limited space
we wanted the ability to turn the driver and passenger seats around. This might seem as simple as installing some
brackets, but it’s actually tricky. Today’s seats have weight sensors, seat
belt monitors, and even airbags in some cases. All this wiring needs to move as the seat
turns all the way around. Luckily, Dodge knows these vans are used for
conversions so they leave a ton of extra wire under the seats, bundled up with a zip tie. We let those wires out, experimented with
some routing options, and covered them in wire loom to make it look neater. The swivel seat installation went scarily
smooth with no setbacks or missing parts. Another huge win was the sound deadening material. Commercial vans come empty with thin sheet
metal on the walls, so they’re much louder than, let’s say, your car. So before installing insulation or walls,
we applied this stuff called “killmat” which is the same as dynamat and other vibration
damping material. Just putting some of this on the walls and
ceiling made a huge, noticeable difference. Most guides say to cover at least 60% of any
thin metal panel with this stuff, which meant that Alex’s van would only need two boxes
of it. Doing this beforehand with all the panels
exposed was easy, inexpensive, and a huge win. Now for a lesson. Alex’s van came with this engineered wood
floor, which I assumed was held down with these D-rings. So, the plan was to remove the D-rings, pull
the floor up, install our insulation, and then reinstall the floor with longer bolts
into the existing holes. The problem? The floor didn’t want to come up. It was glued down with this gorilla snot stuff. Getting the floor up without cracking it in
half was a challenge all by itself. We used a 2×4 with a wide piece of plywood
on it, like a huge pizza server pry bar. With great difficulty, the floor came up,
and out of the van. Then to remove the gorilla snot, which took
hours. Lesson learned? Never underestimate a seemingly simple task. If I were to do this again, I’d start on
this particular task earlier in the day. Next is a win: Installing floor insulation
and putting the wood back down over it. I used that wood floor to trace and cut a
1/4” thick rubber mat, and 1/2” thick foam insulation. The rubber went down first to deaden road
noise, and the foam went down over it. To fill the space along the edges I used “great
stuff” spray foam. After it dried it was easy to cut away the
excess. All in all, this part of the build went very
smoothly and even cut back on the road noise noticeably. But then we learned one of our biggest lessons:
The finer points of insulation. That same day I installed 1 inch foam board
on all the walls. I filled in the edges with spray foam, and
taped the gaps between the insulation. As for the pillars and overhead spaces, we
used fiberglass batting like you probably have in your house. In a van, however, this stuff can collect
moisture from the walls. Think of it like a cold glass of water that
sweats on the outside. Batting plus moisture equals mold, and that’s
no good. After speaking to some of our friends who
have built vans already, we decided to take it all out. This set us back about 8 hours on an already
tight schedule. In place of the batting we used more foam
board and more spray foam which was messy and expensive, but the right thing to do. Lesson learned? What works in a house, doesn’t necessarily
work in a van. Now for a win, the walls. Our friend Johnny suggested we install furring
strips as vertical beams, and then install our walls, which were 1/4” thick plywood,
over them. This would allow us to easily find a beam
to mount to later when installing cabinets or furniture. It worked great. It was, however, impossible to space the beams
evenly because there were too many obstructions and obstacles on the body of the van. So we spaced them however we could, and then
started installing the plywood. Although the beams were flimsy and the plywood
was thin, they were surprisingly sturdy when combined with each other. This was a big win. Another win? The electrical. In any camper van you want to have a totally
separate battery to power your fridge, electronics, and lights, lest you run your actual vehicle
battery down and find yourself unable to start the engine. Alexander would be adding solar panels, and
possibly a second battery down the road, so making the whole thing easy to work on and
expandable was a priority. Since we didn’t have any of the accessories
that would go in his van yet, I ran wires from the battery area to different points
in the cabin, including the roof for solar, the walls for charging ports and accessories,
and towards the back for the fridge. For the benefit of our future selves, I cut
ports in the wall and covered them with blank switch plates. This would allow us to access wiring later
on, and even snake new ones behind the beams using a coat hanger. This system would be truly expandable, and
in our eyes, a big win. About now you might notice that the ceiling
and some of the walls are still bare, and there’s a very good reason for that: Timing. For certain parts of the van we’d be relying
on help from other people, which meant that parts of the van would need to be ready for
them on certain dates. Although frustrating, this compromise has
paid off. By having the driver’s side wall done on
Tuesday night, we were able to get Johnny’s help for all of Wednesday. If you
like woodworking, or just find it to be oddly satisfying to watch, you should absolutely
subscribe to crafted workshop. Johnny is one of our good friends, and his
YouTube channel is freaking awesome. With his know how and amazing shop, we were
able to install this tool chest, battery compartment, and workstation. Let’s start with the battery compartment,
which as we discussed would need to be spacious and expandable so we could add things later
on. We wanted to put this box behind the driver’s
seat so it could double as a footrest. With a removable top, it would also be very
easy to access to change fuses or hook up new accessories. Johnny drilled pocket holes so we could mount
the box to the floor, and cut out a beautiful top that fit the contours of the van. Because we’re all nerds we also installed
a transparent top on the battery compartment, which serves no other purpose than to look
cool. Ah, priorities. The next thing we did was install this tool
chest, which not only has lots of drawers for Alex’s stuff, but also a nice counter
top for things like food preparation. Best of all, with the turn of a key all the
drawers lock closed. This will keep them from opening when driving
the van around. Although this tool chest is fairly lightweight,
that also means that it’s made of thin sheet metal just like the rest of the van. So Alexander applied some kilmat to the back
and all the drawers. Johnny and I actually spent a few hours mounting
this to the floor and wall. It seems like an easy task, but this tool
chest could become a deadly projectile in a crash, so getting it perfect was the only
outcome we would accept. Once the tool chest was installed, we could
work on the fun part: The workstation. In most vans, this spot is usually dead space,
devoted to throwing jackets and backpacks. In Alex’s van, it would house a huge battery
compartment and a highly functional workspace. We’d need to get the height just right for
Alex, and also leave space for the driver’s seat to spin all the way around. It wasn’t easy, but we got our measurements
and stuck with them. For the work surface, Johnny used two prefabricated
stair treads, which he glued together to make one big piece. This would not only be stout, but also really
nice looking. On the side of the toolbox used to be a handle
which was fastened with four bolts. Johnny used those to fasten a support, which
would put the work surface at the exact height we needed for Alex. As an additional support we also used a flange
and a pipe to build a leg for the outer edge of the table. Since only one side of the pipe would be threaded,
Johnny used a wood block to fasten it to the table, which also added a few style points. It looked freaking awesome. I’d like to note that we purposely made
the toolbox lower than the workstation so that if alex spilled something while preparing
food it wouldn’t destroy his laptop. To charge Alex’s laptop, I installed this
12 volt USB C power supply. Without it, Alex would need a power inverter
and this wall wart which both create heat and waste power. This is as close to 100% efficiency as he’s
gonna get. This van is now a hodgepodge of incomplete
projects. We still need to finish the ceiling, walls,
solar, fridge, bed, and the garage. Between trips, normal riding videos, and other
obligations, these projects will be somewhat spread out throughout the spring. I want to thank you guys for watching this
van video. I know you signed up for mountain biking content
and this is a little off topic. But go to any trailhead around the world and
you’re likely to see a van very much like this, with a mountain biker living inside
of it. As we progress on this build I’ll post more
videos on it, but next week you’ll be getting mountain biking content once again. For those of you who want more van content,
make sure you check out the Singletrack Sampler to see Alexander’s side of this learning
experience, and of course, check out Crafted Workshop to indulge in every woodworking vice
known to humankind. Thanks for riding with me today, and I’ll
see you next time.

98 thoughts on “Building a Camper Van for Alex to Live in”

  1. Seth this is great content it might be off topic for some but this is the real life of a dedicated mountain biker ,
    to help out a friend get his mountain bike home kitted out and on the road just shows what sort of people you are . Life" IS "one big journey so why not peddle most of it and fly the rest. MTB is for the living !

  2. I work for Home Depot and I canโ€™t tell you how many times Iโ€™ve seen those husky tool chest keys break off in the lock

  3. I havenโ€™t been paying attention to the video very much but did he install a toilet, if not, where is he going to take a shit?

  4. Great build ! Be very carefull with expending foam. Puting it against your walls might creat a lot of problems later on as the foam keeps expanding even after it has dried out. Professionnal camper van,here in france, are strongly advising against it. You don't want the body of your van to have bumps due to expanding foam, this stuff as a very strong power and can put a lot of pressure on the walls.

  5. Coming from a shop background, all well rounded riders should be versed in as many useful skills and trades as possible. Great content!

  6. Nice Seth. You are a really good pal to Alex. Everyone should have such a competent and generous friend… I'm a big fan of yours. Alex seems like a really good guy too. Cheers

  7. Poor Alex..The title of the video and how you describe "Alex" it's as if he's some helpless special needs person who can't do anything for himself! "Building a van for poor Alex" Poor Alex was barely able to even buy this van it was just soo hard for him..now we need to help poor Alex build a van to live in because, well, you know, poor Alex is "special"

  8. I'd watch any content as long as it is so incredibly professional and entertaining presented like you always do

  9. Hey Seth. Thanks for posting this video. It's super helpful to learn from it to build/buy a van and to get ideas on what we need. I noticed you mention you used fiberglass batting to insulate and then had to remove it due to the possibility of getting mold. I know you ended up using spray foam instead but during your research did you hear anything about organic sheep's wool and reflectix? My wife and I are looking to buy a van that was insulated with that but I want to make sure it's not something that will collect mold. Thanks in advance for the help!

  10. Those batteries need to be vented externally due to the acidity of the vapors. Or use Optima gel batteries.

  11. One method for insulation that might work better would be to line what you need to with vapor barrier, trim the interior with 1×1 then sheath it with marine grade ply wood. After that you just drill holes and fill it with slow rise foam. its basically how you build a built in walk-in cooler box. the foam should fill in any nooks and crannies. to finish, you just trim the excess foam and plug the holes. best thing is that slow rise foam has an r-value of close to 8( or more) per inch and is generally not nearly as susceptible to condensation( hence it's use in walk in coolers).

  12. Way late to the party, but 20 lbs of dry ice and a air chisel will have that gorilla snot out in under an hour. Freeze it then tap with the chisel itll come right up

  13. Should have at least added some rockwool insulation. Fireproof, stops sound transmission, and good R-value.

  14. 9:46 – 10:17

    h- Holo? ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ’ฟ

    SIMPLY-THEME SKREEEEE

    As a long-time-SimplyNailogical-fan That was a special moment for me ๐Ÿคฉ๐Ÿ˜ข

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