Alternate title: "How to build a van in only two months (by having your dad do most of it for you)"
Alternate alternate title: "How to built a van in just two months (while only crying three times)"
Alternate alternate alternate title: "Before you build your van, build another van for practice"
The mostly-finished product first:
After buying my unicorn dream van
because Ford forced me to cancel the much-desired power sliding door from my 2022 order, the first decision I had to make after road-tripping it across the country (and averaging 19.6mpg
) was where to start the build. It was early September and the weather was going to be getting chilly soon, and we all know how much fun working on a van outdoors in the cold and rain is.
"Not to worry!" said my dad. "You can use the unused (heated!) loading dock at the back of my office."
Why thanks dad!
I never thought a garage would be so large that it could make an extended high-roof Transit look small.
The first step was to gut the interior. The previous owner had lined the entire thing with sheet metal, and it was held into place with like ten thousand rivets.
With a handful of cobolt drill bits, I went to work.
The walls actually went pretty easily. Plenty of the rivets spun, but they were all aluminum and eventually got drilled out without too much trouble. Dealing with such large and unwieldy sheets of metal wasn't easy, but it all came out pretty quickly in the course of a long day.
The floor was a different story. It was held in place with steel rivets, many of which spun and simply did not
want to come out. It took hours and hours, of putting all of my weight on the back end of my poor little cordless drill to try and shove it through this stuff, and I chewed up a bunch of drill bits in the process.
Once I did manage to drill out the rivets, I found the entire floor was also glued down with RTV silicone. In small batches this stuff isn't hard to deal with, but when it's entire sheets
that are attached down you are fighting against thousands of square inches of adhesion.
It was brutally
slow work, of prying it up inches at a time while trying to shove scrapers into the gaps to slice up the silicone, while also not denting/damaging the floor or paint too much. I was sore, cranky, and just about everything hurt by the end of the process. It was a full week
just to get the diamond plate out.
Then came the process of cleaning it the best I could, using plastic scrapers to get off as much of the RTV as was reasonable and the vacuuming up all the metal shavings everywhere from drilling out so many rivets. Fortunately, dad was happy to help me clean up (I figure he spent the last 38 years cleaning up all of my other messes, what's one more to make him take care of?)
I did pry up some of the plywood filler bits that the upfitter had put in, but they ended up being so difficult that I gave up and left most of them in place.
Then it was a solid few days of individually cleaning and painting/rust-proofing all of the ten thousand rivet holes, then also plugging all of the ones in the floor. Sounds simple, and doing a single hole is! But then when you're doing ten thousand, your knees and back quickly hate you.
Once I had the floor out and all the little holes filled, the next step was windows. I'd ordered slider-opening windows from Van Windows Direct during their black friday sale (a full year ago), with the intention of putting them in myself. But in the interests of time with cold weather fast approaching, I elected to take it to a shop and have the professionals do it. Auto Glass Plus
put them in for $200 per side, and had it turned around overnight. Very happy with their work so far, and it save me what would have probably been an agonizing week-long process to DIY.
With the windows in, it was time to start on the floor. Sheets of Mini-cell from DIY van were cut into strips to fill the grooves, then another solid layer went over the entire top.
Seems simple enough, but this actually took forever
. Every grove is a different width, it's all different lengths and funny shapes with weird curves. Almost every piece has to be custom-cut and fitted, and I'm unreasonably detail-oriented and don't know when "close enough" is close enough. In retrospect there's probably easier ways to do this, but you only really learn that after you're finished doing it the wrong way. Oh well, at least I've got this knowledge for the next van I build! 🥴
Speaking of lessons learned, the next step was figuring out where the heck I wanted all of the L-Track in the floor. This took me an embarrassingly
long time to figure out. Trying to balance the needs of what I was attaching, appropriate lengths, sizes, bolt placements, and working around everything that you can't drill into under the van (like the fuel tank!) is enough to drive you crazy. And actually drilling (and then de-burring, and counter-sinking) ~150 holes in all of the L-track was another saga that took an entire week
to figure out. I won't even go into that mess, but that was the first (of multiple) time that I nearly broke down in tears of frustration in this build process.
Anyway, I ended making measurements based off of references that I took while crawling around under the van of where I could/couldn't bolt stuff through.
When you're given unlimited options, it's easy to get lost in choice paralysis.
Anyway, I then needed to pull up all of the carefully-cut insulation to start drilling more holes in the floor of the van. Sigh
After all that was figured out it was time to glue down the insulation. First step was to give the floor a good cleaning with a mild de-greaser, to make sure the adhesive would grip reasonably well. I chose to have my dad do this for me because again, after 38 years I have him well trained in cleaning up after me.
Glued down for real! Now with the slices cut out of where I'll bolt the L-Track through.
Another sheet of foam went over all of the ribs and filler strips.
You've got two options for how to accomplish this.
Take very careful measurements, then test fit the foam in, then make preliminary cuts, fit it in again, then make small trimming cuts, try fitting it in again, basically spend an eternity slowing trimming the top sheet to fit because you have no idea what you're doing.
Have you dad (who spent ~6 years laying carpet professionally) do it for you.
I chose Option 2.
He was annoyingly fast at this.
What took me an eternity of fiddling, he had done in ten minutes. Doesn't even need to measure, he just eyeballed it and cut it perfectly the first time. Had the whole thing done in an hour.
Oh WTF there's an image-per-post limit?