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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
After several months of building my campervan, I’ve learned a couple of things. I describe one of those lessons below and perhaps others who have done a lot more of this sort of work than I have will also add a lesson or two learned.

Everything is a prototype
It takes 2-3 times longer to complete most projects because practically everything you make is a prototype. Here’s a good example. I added a cabinet door to my under-sink area in the galley. All I had to do was install two hidden hinges to a pre-drilled door and mount to the cabinet face with two screws – my estimate – 20 minutes. The real world – 2+ hours. Why, you might ask? I didn’t have large enough screws for the hinges, so had to go to the hardware store. Still couldn’t find large enough diameter screws that were short enough not to penetrate door. So, I had to cut the tips off each of the four hinge screws with a hacksaw. With the door problem solved it became apparent that the ½ inch plywood (trying to save weight) cabinet face would have to be reinforced before I could mount the door. This required gluing a strip of wood along the hinge-side edge of the cabinet door opening and waiting . . . for that to set before I could proceed.

What does all of this mean? While wondering if I am a real hack for taking so long on such a simple task I realized that the pro shops that build $100K+ vans have already figured this stuff out and have the correct parts and design down, making the construction much smoother. Imagine how efficiently you could build a van if it's the 10th or 100th time. For us DIYers and driveway mechanics, we can either get frustrated that seemingly simple projects take much longer, or we can take our time and enjoy the problem solving challenges of building prototypes. On most days I find myself doing the latter.
 

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2020 T350 EB SRW AWD HR EL
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That is part of the fun. LOL. Going half dozen times to Home Depot. Searching for hours for the right stuff on Amazon site. I am glad that I don’t make a living building vans. It is good that there is no budget and milestone to meet.

wifey asks: Are we there yet!!!
No Dear. :)
 

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This is why my van has taken me 5 months to design (working part time on it for 3 of them, and full time for 2 of them). I’m designing it the way I design other things for my job ( currently a robotics mechanical design engineer, used to be a body structures auto engineer). All these details, like fastener and hardware sourcing, take a lot of time, whether you do it on the fly or plan out before starting the build. IMO it’s much more frustrating and time consuming to figure it out while building.

it’s taken me probably 2x longer than I expected, because the more I designed, the more details I realized I had to figure out.

in my opinion, the more you plan beforehand, and the more details you work out, the better your design will be and the smoother the build will go. You can change things easily during the design phase, because usually one change will require other changes from affected areas and that’s easy enough to do. If you’ve already built half the van, making those changes is much more difficult. Of course problem solving IS fun.

Anyways, I hit ground zero on the physical build next week, so we’ll see how smooth and quickly the build goes with 95% of the design figured out beforehand. Hoping to do it all in 4-6 weeks.

My other advice, especially for people who are waiting in their vans to be delivered, is to order as many components as possible in the mean time. A lot of stuff takes weeks or months to deliver, particularly big/important things like toilet, 8020, batteries, etc. Also, spending a day figure out out all the hardware sizes you need, and ordering once from McMaster, is much more efficient than running to Home Depot throughout the build to get new fastener types you realize you need
 

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Probably better to just cobble it together the best you can and rebuild if the following winter, Which is what I did. After four years it still needs a little more rebuilding.
Ace Hardware is a mile from my house and they have every fastener you could ever want, Although some of it is a little overpriced. All of the big box stores are a twenty mile drive.
 

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I have built two conversions. Both designed before starting build with detailed Cad drawings. Expected the second to be built in half the time as the first because I was so much "smarter" about the process. Pipe dream.

4 to 6 weeks? We expect a report in a few months about actual time required. I underestimated both builds by a factor of at least 10.

Did find that having a shop with the correct tools was essential. Very important was having a collection of stuff saved over many years which reduced the number of hardware store runs. The stuff is the same stuff my wife has badgered me for years to "clean out the barn and get rid of that junk".

Considerable time saved by cutting and making my own 80/20 connectors. As I built I would need a connector so could make it in a few minutes and then continue the build. No waiting for deliveries.

Part of the enjoyment of building is learning new skills and using new materials not used before.

Detailed design before starting does eliminate making changes as you build or requiring several tries to get the right answer.
 

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@EnviroProf Yep. Such is the essence of learning as you build. It's how I have done most things in my life. I have come to believe that it isn't about getting it right the first time, it's about getting it right in the end. As to planning my build. I come at this from a very different viewpoint. When I got my van I just strapped down a bed and some milk crates and got out having fun. By golly am I glad I did. What I thought I needed and wanted turned out to be very different than what I know I need and want right now. Which will of course continue to evolve but much more slowly than it did in the first 18 months/12,000 adventure miles. The biggest lesson learned is that I don't need much to have a good time. The second was that the lack of 4WD was impeding my fun way more than the lack of an interior. So we saved up enough for a Quadvan conversion (which we pick up next week! Oops, I just peed myself a little!) instead of doing much on the inside. Once that is done, a floor, some insulation, a heater and a third seat. Then eventually a sink and built in water tanks. I am much more confident of a van build by evolution than a van build by planning.


Now, I know my standards are lower than most of you. Heck, I spend about a 1/3 of my time at my off grid place where I don't have a flush toilet, just an outhouse. In fact, between living on boats and cabins in the woods most of my life I have spent the vast majority without a flush toilet. I know this wouldn't work for most so YMMV!
 

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I’ve been working on mine 6.5 years. Most would have thought it finished years ago, but I’m happy when I think of something else to add. I developed an allergy to computers when I retired, so one board can require maybe 50 trips between shop and van until I get the fit right. Keeps me fit.

Like this silly one:



that became this (PM, not Transit):

 

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There is another factor that affected my build: being older. Every so often I review a piece of work that I did in my youth. With a screwdriver, plyers, saw, and hammer I did jobs that amaze me.

Now I need a plan (often reworked multiple times), carefully researched materials, and a whole bunch of tools. I really enjoyed building out the van, but sometimes I missed the simplicity (speed, creativity, confidence, flexibility, naivete) of youth.

Cheers.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
My other advice, especially for people who are waiting in their vans to be delivered, is to order as many components as possible in the mean time. A lot of stuff takes weeks or months to deliver, particularly big/important things like toilet, 8020, batteries, etc. Also, spending a day figure out out all the hardware sizes you need, and ordering once from McMaster, is much more efficient than running to Home Depot throughout the build to get new fastener types you realize you need
I did a lot of that, filling my garage with tons of components when they came on sale or were hard to get during the Covid shutdown. My worry with doing this was I was going to get a defective part and not be able to return it after a few months, but so far everything has worked as promised. I will admit to ordering one or two duplicate plumbing parts, forgetting that I had already ordered it.
 

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After five years, we've just returned from our third cross county trip (6,453 miles). This after I've re-built the van twice - and had to make adjustments while on the road. And now that I'm home, I will make more those temporary road adjustments permanent. It never ends - and that's the best part. As much as I hate to say it, Orton was right - there is no need for shower in a van. I removed ours after using it four times in five years.

Remember, you can never have enough hooks and, sooner or later, traveling in a van means somebody will see your bare ass.
 

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I go into every modification as if it's a prototype, and expect to keep nothing as ideas change and things evolve. But I'm not building a campervan, I'm just making camping in it more pleasant.
 

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Besides warranty, there's also the risk of changing your mind. I think the risk is worth it, though, and also advocate buying early.

I haven’t "rebuilt" my van. The underlying plan is exactly as I envisioned it in the beginning, and all original components are untouched, but I also usually have a to-do list after every trip. In fact, I’m kinda disappointed if I don’t, since my favorite thing to do at home is work on the van.

I've spent some time pondering what if I were forced to start over—like van gets totaled. There's almost nothing I would change structurally. Electric would get better organized because over the years items have been added wherever.
 

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Year and a half in. Power is mostly intact. Elevating bed is next on the list. Unless something else distracts.
 

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There is another factor that affected my build: being older. Every so often I review a price of work that I did in my youth. With a screwdriver, plyers, saw, and hammer I did jobs that amaze me.

Now I need a plan (often reworked multiple times), carefully researched materials, and a whole bunch of tools. I really enjoyed building out the van, but sometimes I missed the simplicity (speed, creativity, confidence, flexibility, naivete) of youth.

Cheers.
Shoot. All I needed to go on a 1 month road trip was my bicycle with panniers, 30 pounds of camping gear and a hundred and fifty bucks (US). Equipment research was magazines, local shops and mail order catalogs. Route planning was library books an AAA maps/travel guides. Communication of location and life with my parents was refused payphone call from person with name = current location.

I sometime think about how I got through life before the "benefit" of having the internet. In reality were better off in a LOT of ways.

Overchoice takes place when the advantages of diversity and individualization are canceled by the complexity of buyer's decision-making process - Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, 1971
 

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2021 High Roof, AWB, EcoBoost
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Part of the enjoyment of building is learning new skills and using new materials not used before.
Amen, brother.
on the first van I was conservative and stuck mostly to materials and techniques I knew. On this one I am trying to do things differently (better?). Went for a much more robust and sophisticated electric system, more easily reconfigured for various uses, more Spartan. These intent are really slowing down the process, but in the end I am stretching my mind.
 

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After the first year it was not a full rebuild, I kept my insulation, Walls, Ceiling and floor. I just felt I needed new "Furniture"
 
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