A three day weekend that we were going to spend Climbing unfortunately fell prey to the weather gods, so we decided to stay home and work on the rig. The next part to complete is the refridgerator cabinet and little bench seat over the water heater.  That will define the negative space where the bathroom will go (in other words, the bath will take up the remaining space between the bed and the fridge). For the fridge to go in, we need to do a wall panel, the first we have done in cloth. But even prior to that is handling pesky foam blocks that bridge the space between the van cargo area and the cockpit. 

According to the interwebs, these foam blocks don't really serve any practical purpose. Our plan is to just break them off, cover them in our fabric, and reattach. In the picture above, Jen pins down the folds and lays the material on the blocks prior to spraying adhesive and sticking it down permanently. 

The purpose of these foam blocks is unclear--but they do cover a hole between the headliner in the cab and the cargo area, so we just covered them in cloth

The purpose of these foam blocks is unclear--but they do cover a hole between the headliner in the cab and the cargo area, so we just covered them in cloth

Neither of us have much textile experience so this is definitely a process as learning by doing. One thing that we learned after a few applications is you don't want too much spray adhesive: it can come through the fabric and show as a dark stain. In the picture above you can see some 'smudges' which are actually the adhesive discoloration.

the cloth looks a lot better than the plain foam blocks did

the cloth looks a lot better than the plain foam blocks did

They came out pretty great. A big improvement over black styrofoam. Next we created our first fabric panel to go above the fridge counter. We cut a 1/4" birch ply to fit the space, then covered it in headliner (1/4" open cell foam) prior to adhering the finish fabric. 

the foam headliner softens the panel a bit, which is both nice to look while providing a little play in the finish to cover gaps.

the foam headliner softens the panel a bit, which is both nice to look while providing a little play in the finish to cover gaps.

In the image above, the headliner foam has been applied to the plywood.  We then spray  the 3m 77 adhesive a couple of inches down the panel and carefully roll the finish fabric down, rubbing the fabric into the foam a bit to ensure a good bond. 

It takes quite a bit of adhesive to make a panel

It takes quite a bit of adhesive to make a panel

There is certainly some craft to this procedure we have yet to master; the end result panel has dimples from the adhesive curing unevenly. It's not super noticeable, but the finished product isn't perfectly smooth. As we make more panels, I'll be interested to see if we can come up with how to make the panels just right.

Fridge Cab

While Jen works on the the fabric panel, I tackle the cabinet the fridge lives in. The only thing interesting about this cabinet is that it needs an 'exhaust' vent: the fridge pulls air from the bottom, exiting it out through this vent. The fridge is a 12v/5A unit that uses standard fridge compressor technology, but is super efficient and runs on 12v. I purchased the trim kit that matches this unit which creates a 3/4" gap on both sides between the cabinet and the fridge as you can see in the following image. The bottom trim piece is also a inch and a half wide with grill slits, serving as the air inlet.

This truckfridge unit is pretty nice and a lot cheaper than other brands of roughly the same spec

This truckfridge unit is pretty nice and a lot cheaper than other brands of roughly the same spec

Now with the fridge in it's little home, I start working on the countertop. I ordered a chunk of black paperstone for the top of this cabinet. I decided to put a finer finish on it compared to the last one I made for the galley, down to 800 grit (which is as fine as I'd want. It's nearly a mirror finish. In the picture below, you can see the reflection shows the reflectex mounted on  ceiling). I really like this product: the only negative for this application is the weight (around 50 pounds). Of course, that is mostly to do with the 1.25" thickness. It would have probably been more prudent to use something thinner and not carry the pounds.

This PaperStone countertop is basically a BakeLite slab

This PaperStone countertop is basically a BakeLite slab

The next image shows the perforated stainless vent. I ordered a little piece on line, then routed out a space for it to be screwed down on the inside of the cab. I like the way it turned out. I'm thinking about the same application on the bathroom door to let a little air pass thorough.

A little stainless grille detail turned out pretty nice I think

A little stainless grille detail turned out pretty nice I think

It's a little distracting with the temporary puck lights casting odd shadows, but the cloth panel and bamboo ply look pretty nice together. The upper thirteen inches (a few above the switches) of the cloth panel will be covered by a small  cabinet, so I'm not too concerned about some foil tape showing through up in the right corner.

The cloth finish panels look quite a bit better than that reflectex!

The cloth finish panels look quite a bit better than that reflectex!

I sunk the fridge cabinet to the floor with self tapping screws, the plunged a few into the van wall as well. It's solidly connected and doesn't budge. With that done, I can turn my attention to the little bench seat that covers the water heater.

The little bench seat will likely be the best seat in the house

The little bench seat will likely be the best seat in the house

While it's hard to imagine a reason why we would need to access the water heater, we can't just enclose it forever, so I added a piano hinge to the top of the bench seat so we can get in the box. The top, back and fridge side of this bench seat  will have a cushion attached eventually. This might be the preferred seat in the van!

The challenge of how to hide the water heater ended up with a pretty nice solution

The challenge of how to hide the water heater ended up with a pretty nice solution

The Bathroom

Probably the most difficult part of this project is the bathroom. which really is a wetroom, since the entire room serves as a shower. The first part of this chunk of work is to define the walls, which is the first time I've had to deal with the tapering walls of the van. This is a tedious process of moving the panel in place and finding out the spot that makes it not fit, taking it out, jigsawing that off, and repeating. If I'd been smarter about this I would have cut a cardboard template then transferred this to the ply, but I wasn't. But now that I have the profile, I can use the template to make not only  the other bath wall, but the bedroom closet walls as well. The image below shows the panel in progress, replete with some wavy-gravy lines that improved as I continued to shape the panel. 

Starting the wetroom

Starting the wetroom

I ordered the 1.5" 8020 bar stock that I'll be using to make the front wall and door of the bathroom. With that, I'll complete the walls, allowing us to make a shower pan prototype. The plan is to make one out of wood so we can accurately communicate what we need to to a metal fabricator so we can have a pan welded out of stainless steel. This pan will have a little flat 'stage' for a porta-potti, then a small, sloped space for the shower pan proper. EDIT:  I've decided to not have a metal pan fabricated but instead fiberglass the entire inside. There is just too much building of the bath that needed to happen prior to knowing how to spec a pan fabrication. I've decided to build the entire bath out of plywood, then I'll either fiberglass it myself or hire it out.

some floor to ceiling boards make quite a difference in how the space feels in the van

some floor to ceiling boards make quite a difference in how the space feels in the van

It's quite a challenge defining the bathroom shape by basically stick-building it pice by piece. Unfortunately, the van curves and general un-square nature make it difficult for me to do it any other way. I clamped the door board to the side wall (which is just free standing at the moment) so I could get a look at what the 8020 door might look like:

The bath starts to take rough shape

The bath starts to take rough shape

Then I took the two pieces into the shop and glued them together using Dominoes (which are basically fancy biscuit joints):

I glued the shower wall together with about 25 domino floating tennons.

I glued the shower wall together with about 25 domino floating tennons.

I've been just screwing and plugging my cabinets together so far, but this one is pretty tall and might get torqued around a little bit with the vehicle moving around, so I decided to go full-strength with the glue up. It's sort of a pain.

Interlude: Working with 8020 Aluminum Bars

We received a box of 8020 1.5" bar stock for two doors: one on the bathroom, and one for the storage space under the bed on the cabin side. I've sort of forgotten how heavy 1.5" bar is. This will add about 75 pounds to the van, not counting the bamboo panels inside the door frames, something to seriously consider if you plan on using 8020 on your project. 

A pile of 8020 1.5 inch bar stock

A pile of 8020 1.5 inch bar stock

There's a couple of door handles sitting on top of the pile. The bar in front is a smooth round contour that I fit as the most visible outside profile in for the bathroom. 

The two door jambs cut to size

The two door jambs cut to size

I haven't shown a lot of the process of working with 8020, so let's take  moment here to show what it's like. First off, you can cut it this with a metal blade on a chop saw or table saw--or basically any bi-metal cutter. Once it's cut, there are several means of fastening it together. I'm only using one way, but it's probably the strongest: end tapping and screwing the bars together.  I'm doing all the bar prep myself, but 8020, inc will do it for you if you don't have the wherewithal. 

You can read about other ways to fasten the bars together if you are curious. The option I'm using, end taps,  only will make 90 degree joints unless you buy a special angle component (see the  8020.net site for full details), but it's really reliable. If you limit yourself to right angles, it's pretty easy to make it all come together after you do a prototype or two to understand the jointing basics and limitations.

Here's how I went about jointing the bathroom door threshold with the end fasteners. After cutting the two bars to be joined, one gets a drill hole through it. This is basically a port that allows you to reach the bolt with an allen key when you are ready to screw it all together:

In the picture above, I'm using a specialized jig to get the hole in the exact position that will match up with the mating bar tap location. It's not strictly required, the I can't imagine trying to get the hole to align correctly without it. After drilling the hole you now have a port for the allen key to fit through:

Now, on the other bar, you tap a hole using some cutting fluid (WD-40 in my case) and the correct size tap. The image below show the 1.5" bar I just cut. The hole in the center is where we will tap the screw threads.

It doesn't take long with 1.5" bar to get the hang of tapping--1" bar is much harder to tap correctly. There isn't much metal on the tap die required for the smaller hole. I've snapped a few dies tapping 1" stock. It's also a lot harder to cut with so little torque you can apply with the thinner, smaller tap. You have to keep backing out and re-running the tap with cutting fluid, carefully cutting the screw threads just slightly before backing out again. 1.5" is much easier on the hands and nerves, making it much more of a pleasure to work with. The only real negatives to 1.5" compared to 1" are cost and weight.

Tapping the 1.5" is a breeze, taking about a minute to cut the threads on one side of the bar.  After tapping all the female ends, I first make sure the bolts will thread smoothly, then do a rough assemble of the bars.

The bolts are pre-fed in little clips in the t-slots, then an allen key pokes down though the mating bar port we drilled first, allowing you to torque the screw down. The clips the screws sit in bend a little but want to resist that bending. This makes the connection very resistant to loosening due to vibration, due to the spring action of that clip (not pictured)

The door jamb is roughed in. The bottom will be fitted with a panel of bamboo, as will the (yet-to-be-built) door:

In the picture above, you can see the access ports drilled through the smooth side of the bar. On the top of the bar, I accidentally had my jig oriented backwards, causing me to drill the hole too far down the bar. Oops. I'm thinking about how I want to cover these holes since they are a little distracting. I might not do anything to them, or I might try to fill them with a dab of gray silicone.

The channel on the far side door jamb will have a rubber gasket in it to seal the door. 8020, inc has a lot of small parts such as this rubber strip to suss in your doors just so. The bath will be a wet room, and I want to make the door water tight. 

After checking the fit, I removed the door jamb, taking it back into the shop to fit the door and the bamboo panels

The Door panel was a made of U-profile 8020 bar stock so it can take a bamboo panel inside. The panel was 3/4" ply with a rabbit cut on all four sides so it will fit into the track t-slot.  The hinges are metal 8020. They are designed to go into track receivers, but I'm mounting them straight to the face frames here, so I just drilled and then tapped screw holes to mont the hinge directly. The gap between the door and the jamb will be fit with a rubber flange to make the door (hopefully) water tight. The back of the door and theshold panel will be entirely encased in fiberglass to make it water tight.

The Door panel was a made of U-profile 8020 bar stock so it can take a bamboo panel inside. The panel was 3/4" ply with a rabbit cut on all four sides so it will fit into the track t-slot.  The hinges are metal 8020. They are designed to go into track receivers, but I'm mounting them straight to the face frames here, so I just drilled and then tapped screw holes to mont the hinge directly. The gap between the door and the jamb will be fit with a rubber flange to make the door (hopefully) water tight. The back of the door and theshold panel will be entirely encased in fiberglass to make it water tight.

The bathroom door certainly makes a big impact to the feel of the space when it's installed. Suddenly we have a room. 

With the bath space totally defined, I can now start to build out the remainder of the room, getting it ready to fiberglass. The porta-potty will need to sit on a little box to get it to a better height. I also need to order the shower plumbing gear so I can do the rough plumbing prior to closing off the van wall.  It's taking a fair amount of time to stick build this shower in place, but so much thought has to go into each little bit because of little hairy details I'm just sort of accepting that getting the shower waterproof and operational will likely take a sizable chunk of the total time we will spend building the Sprinter out. More than any other aspect of this project, the wet room needs to be done well, so I just need to keep reminding myself to take it slow and be patient.

I routed out a little porthole fitting for perforated stainless like I did for the fridge cabinet, then added the rubber gasket which made the door fit too tight by quite a bit. I re-cut the 8020 for the door to make it fit. sigh. Next, on to the fiberglassing of the wet room. This requires plywooding the entire inside then (gasp) drilling a hole through the floor. Below, you can see the pilot hole so I can confirm I like where it's going before I put the big hole through. The drain hole will be fiberglassed all the way through the van so the shower pan will continue in one pice out the bottom, so if any water gets below/behind the shower drain plumbing unit (which you can see sitting on the counter in the picture below on the right), it will go out the bottom of the van.

You can find a good thread full of more 80/20 info here.

More Finish Panels

Jen's been fabricating cloth panels. The one pictured below and the back doors are the last ones to build.

We applied the back passenger cloth panel, completing the passenger side wall! Yay team. Those dimples in the fabric are the result of  us mashing on the panel as we installed it. The headliner foam has a little memory. It takes a bit for it to re-fluff.

The first roof panel is now ready to install. It ended up one of the more complicated set ups between the cuts and the various electrical aspects, but it looks pretty nice. This one will go up in the dining area. The bank of five 1W recessed lights will be just about directly above the little dining table. The switch closest to those handles the dining lights. The big square hole is where the vent comes down. It has a finishing pice the slides up into the vent that will be put on after this panel goes up. The larger single recessed light in the foreground will be hooked up to pre-existing vehicle door lights, so it will come on when the slider or rear doors are opened. The two switches in the foreground operate the outdoor fixture: one for the red light, one for the white.

I took the following picture  looking up at the installed panel. Only one joint doesn't come together perfectly (upper left of the picture below), though I'm not sure anyone will notice. We just friction-fit the front side of the panel under the existing grey headliner, then ran some finish screws through the headliner and the new panel behind it to tighten the joint together. That worked out well. On the right side of the frame, you can see the cargo light wires exposed in the corner. Unfortunately, Mercedes runs the interior light wires on the inside of the van space. We decided not to re-route these wires into the walls, leaving them basically untouched, because we will be affixing cabinets in front of these wires, so in the end they will not be seen. At the moment they are sort of a mess, but that will change when we get around to building the cabinets. With the panel in, we completed the panel by installing the van finish facade.

 

Cell Booster

I also routed the 4G booster up front. I upfitted a 3db exterior antenna which is a big improvement over the tiny one included. I'll be interested to see how well this setup works when tethering my computer to my phone.

The unit itself pictured above will be hidden by the upper cabinet installed later. The unit works with two antennas: one picks up the cell signal outside, then the unit boosts the signal, rebroadcasting it through the interior antenna I routed over behind the passenger seat.

That black bar is the interior antenna. You are supposed to mount the antenna about two feet from where you want to use your phone, so I guess I'll be computing from the passenger side seat.

Plumbing

It's far past time to get the water hooked up and pressure tested. I've already covered up a few of the pex connections; I'm not concerned with them leaking as we are creating a low pressure system--I'm not sure what the pressure is but it's no where close to the +-100 psi of municipal water. It would be best to get an eye on every fitting possible  under pressure before sealing them up behind a wall. 

The first step was to provide the inlet for the freshwater. I ran some 1.5" ABS to the inlet of the tank, then ran the other end out to the back of the van. We will use a hose to fill it from there. Unfortunately, I didn't measure correctly with the result of not having enough drop in the run to the tank. For now, we will just run the water really slowly to fill the tank; at some point, I'll redo the run so it slopes enough to fill quickly.

I didn't plan the tubing placements particularly well. I'd rather of had the pump tucked farther back next to the wheel well. It's all going to need a box over the top to protect it. It would be more efficient with the space to kill more of that shrunken rectangle in the back to the left of the wheel well with the pump box. The Flo-Jet pump has garden hose fittings for some strange reason, so I needed to buy a garden hose to 1/2" FPT fitting, then take that down to pex.

The branch off the outlet side splits one to the hot water heater and shower, with the other going to the galley faucet. The inbound side is hooked up directly to the freshwater tank which resides just on the other side of the wall by the wheel well. I'll wrap the electrical in some split loom, but most of it will be covered up in the box. The positive side runs through a switch mounted  in the galley panel.

Testing the system under pressure revealed a few loose fittings that were easily tightened down. The pump puts out enough pressure, but you can really feel it pulsate; it's nowhere close to a steady stream. This was also the first time to fire up the water heater, which worked for a bit but then our propane system seemed to not deliver enough gas. This is sort of odd, but we will talk to Van Specialties (who installed the propane) about it as there is likely some knob or screw that's not obvious to me that will set things right. In the end we got hot and cold water out of the tap. For now, it just drains into a five gallon bucket under the sink. The drain side of the system is a project for another day!

Edit: went for a few days out after the plumbing install. Heading up into the foothills of Mt. Hood, we notice water running on the floor. Pulling over, we discovered the freshwater tank was leaking somewhere! we dumped the 25 gals in the tank, and I started blaming my poor plumbing skills. I thought for sure it was a loose fitting that I didn't tighten down well enough. After returning home, I pulled out the tank to pressure test it, revealing that the tank had a defect in it (there was a hole in the seam that was obviously a manufacturing issue). The leak only showed itself when there was enough pressure from the water sloshing around in a full tank caused a pinhole. I patched that up and pressure tested it outside the van before re-installing and driving it around the neighborhood full. It looks solid now.