Ford Transit USA Forum banner

BUILD THREAD: Bear Cave (aka Couples Therapy)

9752 Views 63 Replies 18 Participants Last post by  njvagabond
Format shamelessly borrowed from @maia's build thread. We're incredibly thankful for the wise and amusing threads from all on this forum. Shoutouts to @natecostello @gregoryx @orton @maia @RichBuilt @sYfte @CrewVanManInfo and many more.

Hello 2022.. We originally ordered the van in mid February 2021, it arrived in California mid January 2022 - good times. We sway between building stuff ourselves vs. just spending money to have it done properly, I suppose one of the attractions is learning new skills.

Van Purpose and Planned Use: Mainly temperate weather short jaunts, comfortable for working remotely, support vehicle for geeky activities. The focus is weekend and week long domestic US travel, especially during pandemic times - where other forms of travel are just too broken or too risky.

  • 2021 148" LB HR 350 CARGO AWD (W2X body code)
  • Carbonized Grey
  • 3.5L EcoBoost V6
Design Principles
  • Geared for 2 adults
  • Fail safe principles
    • When systems or electronics fail, have a backup plan.. ie: don't be dependent on a single water pump or a single source of house power.
  • Buy or purchase where skills or investment isn't worth it
    • Consider existing solutions that are pre-engineered and known to work, vs trying to gain new knowledge and use it one time for this buildout. ie: not trying to learn fiberglass 101 to build a custom water tank or buy a known flooring system vs. sourcing + learning to program a wood CNC.
  • Single "dashboard" to aggregate most telemetry systems - electrical, plumbing, wifi, etc.
    • The mess of various panels, knobs, and display gauges - none of which have a consistent size, colour scheme, etc triggers a strong design cringe.
  • Avoid proprietary systems or "vendor lock-in"
    • Where reasonable and practical.
  • Modern design aesthetic
    • vs. woodsy/cabin chic.
  • Capable of mild off-road on West Coast forest roads
    • but not necessarily Moab.
  • Start slow, increase complexity over time.
Must Have Features
  • Good insulation and ventilation.
  • Easily accessible composting toilet.
  • Indoor shower.
  • Comfortable bed which doesn't need to be re-assembled every night.
  • Flexible storage for hauling tools, microwave radio dishes, and other geeky crap.
  • 24VDC house system - Victron 3000W charger/inverter, Victron MPPT (100/30 for future growth), Shunt, Lynx busbar for battery input and DC output w/o costly Lynx BMS
  • 2 (possibly up to 4) Battleborn "Gamechanger" 270Ah 12V Lithium batteries (we really like the form factor and mounting options - would consider additional batteries for future A/C system)
  • "Orton" style CCP2 connection to simulate "shore power" into the Victron w/ separate 2000W inverter.
  • 24VDC to 12VDC 60A step-down 12VDC only devices - Maxxfan being the most obvious - fridge, lighting, USB converters are all 24V friendly.
  • Pin-and-sleeve "Yellow" 30A shorepower inlet - 1/3rd the cost of the popular proprietary SmartPlug, already weather resistant with locking connector.
  • Single 400W solar panel (Solaria PowerXT Mono), may end up with different panel(s) to "recess" into AVC roof rack - flush with 80/20 crossbars.
  • 4x Corny "Soda" (5gl) kegs with air compressor for pressure w/ regulator as our primary water source - the thinking being that we need a compressor for the tires already, might as well make it useful for other duties. Also, easier clean-up and refill by taking into grocery stores with a water fill station. Inspired by Everlanders.
  • 15gl grey water tank, planned mounting under passenger side sliding door.
  • Airhead toilet, planned to slide out from under bed or on drivers side.
  • Isotherm 65 fridge.
  • Single burner induction, portable - not recessed.
Layout Summary
  • 80/20 Construction, usual 2x2 + cardboard box CAD prototype approach.
  • AVC Rig roof rack
  • MaxxAir fan (planned for front mounting location, near kitchen and shower - rear has flare with drivers side window)
  • Flares on both rear sides, Arctic Tern window on drivers side.
  • 8020 construction
  • Havelock Wool insulation w/ peel-stick-roll sound dampening Kilmat
  • Floor kit from AVC Rig (both foam insulation + plywood)
  • Passenger seat swivel with Lagun mount
Indecision Paralysis
  • Bed system, considering the Flarespace wood bed system + mattress, really like how the mattress fits into the rear portion - but unclear on the weight limits.
  • Hot water - probably the 4gl Bosch point-of-use 120V unit.
  • UHF/VHF radio, probably something with a detachable head from the main radio unit itself. We're both licensed and often are in remote areas with zero cell coverage; also Starlink doesn't seem practical in the short term for updating the geofence settings.
Future Mods

None of these are planned until we have a few test runs in various weather conditions.
  • DC based air conditioning, leaning towards Cruise N Comfort USA - however the price is a premium and the installation - nice for native 24VDC support. Documentation on the thermostat wiring is lacking, would prefer to control it with our own automation.
  • Heater - unclear if we'll do enough wintering to justify just yet.
  • Awning.
--Matt @dorkmatt (he/him) and Reid @reid (they/them)

Smile Water Glasses Cloud Sky
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 5
1 - 20 of 64 Posts
USB-C cell phone holder.. a mash-up of ProclipUSA cup mount paired with RAM Quick-Grip. We both have Pixel Android phones, this combo is sturdy but took several attempts to align the cup hole mount. Wanted to avoid adding magnets to the back of our phones, as those get swapped out more often than our car mounts :)

Automotive lighting Hood Wheel Automotive tire Automotive design
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 2
Great start to the build thread! Bravo, @dorkmatt! 👏

Do some measurements on the bed. Just chatting yesterday with @Henchman about his mid-length on E-W vs N-S beds - discussing what we found in the Sprinter then re-evaluated in the Transit: the E-W doesn't save as much space as it seems unless going with a narrower mattress. The bed you mention / tag is 60" wide - same width as a queen - and it shows 80" to the edge of the flares - also queen length, but can't be an actual queen mattress because of the flares / walls - meaning a foam mattress versus a normal / real mattress. And with the 80" to the flares, you've gotta go with little to no insulation.

N-S placement /does/ take up a bit more space; but not as much as the 80-inch versus 60-inch seems. The trick is to measure with the rear doors closed from all-the-way against the doors / windows forward. Basically, there's more than 10" from the D-pillars to the doors. You end up with 8-10" lost in the N-S vs E-W, not the 20" it seems. But you get to run any queen mattress you prefer.

In our Sprinter, we ran the mattress all the way against the doors as described above. We ended up modifying the bed platform (which was very similar to what you linked but in aluminum) and shortening the length quite a bit. Maybe lost 6" or less from E-W. But ran a legit queen comfortable mattress.

In the Transit, we took up a couple more inches with the aluminum frame to accommodate the, "couch mode," setup. If I re-did it, we'd modify the frame to reduce length by another two inches and be down to about 7-8" difference.

Just something to consider if you want a comfortable bed.
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 3
Woohoo!!! SO glad you got your van and are getting started. Can't wait to follow along :)
  • Like
Reactions: 1
Lots of info on my build including section on 80/20. I am sure some of it would be useful for your build.

HOME | Orton Travel Transit (
  • Like
Reactions: 1
We had Allied Body & Frame in Berkeley do the Flarespace install - $1600. Took 3 weeks to schedule, dropped off on a Monday, picked up the following Monday. It sounds like they're averaging several installs every month, they're one of the few local "official" Flarespace installers in the Bay Area. My guess is without our hiccup (see below), the install would have been probably just about a week.

We're super impressed with the color matching, though neither of have much experience with body work on past vehicles. The drivers side has an Arctic Turn window, the passenger side is blank.

One minor issue.. Flarespace forgot to send a wooden bracket - this is sandwiched in between the window and fiberglass flare. Without it, Allied was quite confused of the gap and attempted to use some door molding to "beef it up", but they tested this with water and it of course leaked... A quick email to Flarespace, they responded on a Friday afternoon within minutes, acknowledged the problem, and sent out a "wooden spacer" that arrived a week later. We were able to remove the window, along with attempted door trim, and then re-install with the wooden spacer. It seems fit great, but we haven't done a complete soak test.

It was a little weird that Allied didn't reach out to Flarespace directly to remedy the problem, as they seemed to know each other by first name - but instead effectively left it for us to resolve.

Grille Automotive lighting Motor vehicle Hood Automotive design

Motor vehicle Automotive design Automotive lighting Aircraft Automotive exterior
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 2
4x standard (5gl) Beer Kegs
You might want to look into Cornelius (Corny) kegs. They already have 2 ports and the top can be removed to clean them out.
Agree, a lot of great stuff on this forum but watching YouTube videos from Ourkaravan, Seven O Savage and of course Humble Road are also very helpful! They all use 80/20
Love that cup holder/ cell phone. I have one that fits the cup holder but yours looks really nice!
  • Like
Reactions: 2
Whoops, that's what we're using - former "soda" kegs, yep - Corny ones.

You might want to look into Cornelius (Corny) kegs. They already have 2 ports and the top can be removed to clean them out.
Looks like you are off to a good start.

Both 24 and 48 volt systems are good concepts - depending on your goals.
Yea dorkmatt nice game plan and progress!...Yes @gregoryx makes a great point about the n/s beds versus e/w.
If you want to even further minimize the loss of interior space beyond running the mattress to the rear doors in n/s mode, you can always make the bed shorter depending on your height. I'm around 70"....So I'm thinking of making mine around 75"ish so the net overall loss will be minimal. Of course you'll need to mod the mattress but your having to do this already I believe where the other end meets to rear doors.
This way you'll NOT have to crawl over your partner when you inevitably have to take a leak at night:)
Plus you'll pick up valuable bag storage space on both sides of the bed for whatever and with your flares your be living large:)
Happy building!
  • Like
Reactions: 1
We had a brief scheduled hiatus for some medical procedures - yaya, mid-life crisis timing! Though I'd bet our pace will be slower than others on the forum, new skills, day jobs, and all that.

We're back at it and have a mostly finished Aluminess Driver Side Tire Rear Rack installed. This was a bit tricky, learning the process of placing clear vinyl wrap (that is provided) that protects the door from the brackets. We avoided bubbles mostly and were amazed at how well these stick, when the procedure is followed correctly.

Liquid Bottle Fluid Drink Alcoholic beverage

Hood Automotive tire Grille Automotive lighting Grey

We ended using both of the provided "spacers" or thicker washers, along with normal size washer on the opening side door bracket. For the weather stripping, we used sheet metal shears and will likely look at a Sika product to "rubberize" the exposed portion of the stripping. Note that the 2021 stripping has is not 100% rubber, but has some aluminum bits which must be removed (sorry, forgot to take a picture of this portion).

Tire Hood Automotive tire Vehicle Motor vehicle

Automotive parking light Automotive tail & brake light Tire Car Vehicle

We're waiting for the Kiley Owen alternative tire bracket (found on the Facebook Ford Transit USA Owners group), instead of the weak Aluminess provided "U" tire bracket. It's unclear what pricing and availability will be, otherwise we may end up with a SendCutSend order ourselves :unsure: Kiley is working on a 6 lug AWD version.

Glasses Font Eyewear Cool Wood
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 2
This way you'll NOT have to crawl over your partner when you inevitably have to take a leak at night:)
For a male you do not need to crawl over your partner. Bring the container to the body instead of bringing the body to the container.
  • Haha
  • Like
Reactions: 3
We finished up a Maxxfan install towards the middle/front of the van- the thinking being we'd like to exhaust food cooking smells and a portable shower steam in this area (more so then the back of the van). We mashed up a few different videos for building a large checklist of prep tasks, install steps, tools & materials required.
The major lessons we learned:
  • Countersinking the wooden frame holes was a mistake, migrating to t-nuts mostly worked - but a few "lost teeth" and just spun. These we replaced with washers and lock nuts, in fact we ended up using lock nuts for them all. It's surprising how many installs just use self-tapping sheetmetal screws, without any frame to cinch into.
  • Bolts paired with butyl tape gave us a lot of control on sinking down vs. screws, hat tip to boating community.
  • As well documented, self leveling lap seal is difficult to control but manageable with patience and a bit of luck. We'll probably cover it all with grey lap seal at some point.
  • A single layer thin trash bag isn't thick enough to catch a molten hot roof bit, two of our initial holes burned right through the bag and fell onto the floor - but this did at least capture most of the metal bits.
  • We used some scrap packing straps to "center" the Maxxfan white bracket + DIYvan mounting bracket over our blue wooden frame, this pre-drilling was mostly worth it. If we did this again, we're only pre-drill the brackets + actual metal roof, but not the wooden frame.
Guessing that @Hein's DIYvan bracket needs to be covered in lap seal fully to protect from the elements? We haven't gone lap seal crazy yet.

Boat Boats and boating--Equipment and supplies Wood Rectangle Automotive exterior

Plant Wood Grass Wood stain Rectangle

Tire Wheel Workwear Automotive tire Motor vehicle

Architecture Font Line Automotive tire Brickwork

Automotive parking light Vehicle Grille Automotive lighting Hood
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 4
Indecision Paralysis

  • UHF/VHF radio, probably something with a detachable head from the main radio unit itself. We're both licensed and often are in remote areas with zero cell coverage; also Starlink doesn't seem practical in the short term for updating the geofence settings.
We have both an IC2300 and an IC7100 on board. We tend to rely on the HF for calling help if we need it. We can also send and receive emails and text via HF. If you have a general or extra class ticket I would look into HF.
Sadly we're just Technician class licensed, but I've hear Vera FM paired with Winlink is popular on 2m. We'll probably end up with a 2m / 70cm radio + Starlink (supposedly roaming is enabled now) + Weboost + Garmin inReach for comms.

I think we'll end up with an NMO for the FM stuff (any antenna suggestions) and probably some pop-up option for Starlink + Weboost.

We have both an IC2300 and an IC7100 on board. We tend to rely on the HF for calling help if we need it. We can also send and receive emails and text via HF. If you have a general or extra class ticket I would look into HF.
We got our Aluminess Rear Door Tire and BackPACK installed. The provided instructions were badly photocopied, printing out a fresh copy from their online available PDF's was much more legible. It seemed like some additional spacers (thicker washers) would have been useful, but we made it work in the end.

Our biggest recommendation would be to take photos of your doors ahead of time, otherwise you may be trying to over optimize the re-mounting. The BackPACK hit against the welded frame, we added some Neoprene Rubber Trim to damped the slam noise (I don't remember which exist size from the sample pack).

We'll probably try to glue this, thinking of using "3M Black Super Weatherstrip Adhesive, 03602", which describes itself as .. designed specifically to bond rubber gaskets and weatherstripping to metal surfaces.

Motor vehicle Hood Automotive tire Automotive design Automotive lighting

Automotive tire Tire Automotive design Bumper Automotive exterior
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 5
Finished an initial Thunderbolt Lock install, starting on the rear doors. Instructions are piecing together their provided YouTube videos, no useful written instructions were included (pretty branding tho). In the great tradition of vendors rushing to adapt products to the adventure/vanlife space, they forgot to mention any rust protection after drilling several holes.

Our install includes the safety "Lock Inhibitor Relay", essentially meaning that the deadbolt won't trigger when 12V ignition sense is present (aka - the van is running). The wiring for this is a little complicated, also due to their current shipping relay setup uses different colored cables - than their online videos.

Our van configuration had a 12V cigarette outlet on the rear passenger side (aka Auxiliary PowerPoint). I used this as the ignition sense into the Thunderbolt relay. This is less than ideal, as this is still energized once the engine is off for some timeout period (around 30 minutes). I need to research a better ignition sense cable back here.. suggestions welcomed.

Their offered rivet tool broke after two rivets (they were nice enough to send a replacement within a week, even responding on a Sunday evening). One set of holes we accidentally drilled too big, the provided rivets were too small - we ended up using some 8-32 stainless steel bolts. While threading the cables on the passenger side, we included a spare DC cable for future efforts - say a reverse spot light.

The deadbolt is very effective and works as advertised. The workflow is a little odd.. say you unlock the van with Ford's remote, one-click just for the front doors. Start the van, the inhibitor will kick in and prevent the deadbolt from receiving any power. The problem here is the rear doors are now locked and not safe for emergency personal to open at an accident. The workaround appears to be always clicking the open remote twice, to open all doors - this way the deadbolt is already in the locked position when the inhibitor kicks in.

Automotive tire Automotive design Grey Carbon Rim

Motor vehicle Hood Automotive design Automotive exterior Trunk

Fixture Camera lens Cameras & optics Grey Gas

Hand Tire Wheel Bicycle wheel Bicycle tire

Hood Motor vehicle Bumper Bag Automotive tire
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 3
In our focus to complete all things external to the van, I started tackling the shore power connections. Our design goal here was to minimize too much bending over, sadly the resulting bracket just turned out to be too tall (where it will likely drag in the dirt at certain angles, being lower than the factory tow hitch).

The good news is my Fusion 360 skills are slowly improving, and it's amazing taking a lasercut MDF prototype and turning it into cut aluminum real world piece. Further lessons learned include, just get it powder coated - spray paint looks awful, even adding a paint roller texture made this worse. Credit to @natecostello for inspiration.

Light Product Font Auto part Camera accessory

Wood Bumper Gas Automotive exterior Door

Electrical wiring Cable Electronic engineering Electrical supply Wire

Automotive tire Motor vehicle Hood Bumper Tire

Automotive tire Hood Garden hose Electrical wiring Grass

The next version will be black power coated with a 90° bend. The focus will be on all the external connections - 12 VDC out, Ethernet RJ45, 120 VAC out, and a rear backup light. We'll move the 120 VAC in to the under D pillar recessed square hole, likely with a small L5-30 "pigtail" to make the insertion and twisting a bit easier; instead of having to crawl around to find the correct orientation. Also adding some pilot light 8mm indicators for power in and power out state.

Pattern Drawing Auto part Circle Line art

Camera accessory Camera lens Cameras & optics Font Lens
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 1
Would the deadbolt work better for you if you changed the fob to global unlock? One instead of two clicks.
  • Like
Reactions: 1
1 - 20 of 64 Posts