diy Location Independence

I turned my camper van into a workbench I can sleep in

By
on
28/11/2019

For a long time I was looking at camper vans, build logs and made up plans – until I noticed something peculiar: As tiny as they are I didn’t really know what to do with all the space.

I know that a couple square feet of metal box do not exactly seem spacious and by comparison to the regular apartment any camper vans are indeed tiny. But then no one really expects to fit a bathroom and pool table in there or they would a bendy bus instead.

Finished Project first

I love this cutie.

The camper van portion of the build

For me a camper van will always be just a hobby machine, a weekend warrior and something that I roam the streets with whenever I need some time alone and away from everything – a friend for hard times.

Real life Tetris

And that means that all I really need is a place long enough to sleep in – which I built as a quite nifty double-purpose tool storage in the rear part of my double-cap work truck. It folds up to reveal some pretty serious storage space – and it folds down to make for improvised, not exactly legal emergency seats and of course a surprisingly spacious sleeping area.

With this clever use of space I quickly found that I had more than enough space for everything I would usually do with a van – and there’s always the front row with three seats and the huge bed of the truck that are both downright luxurious.

Surprisingly comfortable

I can transport six people – tried and tested – and still carry the average  household’s worth of furniture in a trip or two. It is a real fun machine and I enjoy my time with it greatly – and so naturally I decided to stuff a little more capability in there.

The actual build of this was stupidly simple, the previous owner had been nice enough to do the heavy work of removing the rear row of seats for me (in favor of a tool rack that was pretty impractical):

It was pretty hard to get into this.

With that out of the way all I really had to do was to build a wooden box with a folding top and cut two grooves in the bottom to accommodate for those notches you can see in the picture above.

This is way too practical for how simple it was. I hope this picture shows the layout of the box, I don’t have a lot of pictures but it was really simple with hardware store boards that I had cut to size right there.

The total cost of this bench/storage/bed/trunk/secret compartment was just over fifty bucks for the wood and two hinges and thanks to those two notches and being screwed to that wooden board you can see on the back wall it is so sturdy that it doesn’t move an inch when you sit down on it. I have spent my time and money on worse projects if I’m honest, I’m really happy how this turned out.

With a bit of comfy stuff on top you can’t even tell it’s a tool storage from the outside.

The workbench portion of the build

I am an avid crafter, tinkerer and own a little more power tools than the average programmer truly needs – the only thing I don’t have is a proper workshop. Or any workshop really, I live in a third floor city apartment and neither the stale-aired basement nor the fire-proof wooden attic make for great work spaces.

To be honest this idea of turning a flatbed truck into a rolling workbench had always been in the back of my head – I just hadn’t known whether I could pull it off. But it turned out that it worked just admirably, the bed height was perfect and I got some free outdoor ready laminated wood to build a little workbench.

That is literally just a wooden board mounted to the side of the truck and to two wooden legs and it’s so sturdy I can stand on it with my full weight. it’s pretty much perfect just like the bed/trunk

The result is surprisingly sturdy and useful, I have built a lot of things using it somewhere out in nature or just on the industrial parking lot where I park it.

I got all the wood for free from a guy who had just bought a house and needed to get rid of a rabbit coop in his backyard – just about the perfect opportunity to score some wood that had already been outside for a decade. That laminated wood is really strong, in fact it’s the same stuff that the truck bed floor is made of and you just can’t kill it.

I added the vise but frankly that is not cool, being outside in the elements it deteriorated just like I expected and now I’ll have to restore it.

Instead I now use a folding workbench like this:

That folding workbench is really good for all kinds of things, you can even clamp a wooden board into it and you have a work table:

Me restoring a crowbar that we found magnetfishing

Of course living in the city means I routinely get trash tossed onto the open bed that I have to take care of – but it also led to this mind-blowing find that still makes me wonder about the chain of events leading to it:

Vise never sleeps

Having the truck converted in this manner was the first time I could really start using my tools, skills and ideas like I wanted to – and subsequently I started crafting and building a lot more. Started camping out a lot more, now that I had ample time, project ideas and the means to build stuff.

So to draw a slightly early conclusion: I have gotten a whole lot of value out of this truck even though I remain just a hobbyist, just a weekend warrior. When you take into consideration how many people I could help out, how many nights I spent camped by a lake staring at the stars and how much cool stuff I built over time I have easily made up for the 3,000€ that I spent on the little yellow cutie.

The newest evolution: I covered up the rear bed

As I type this I’m still waiting for the actual cover tarp to arrive, I bought it used from a guy and shipping takes forever even though it’s just two hours of drive away and I could have long gotten it myself. But I digress.

I had long wanted to cover up the bed to allow me to use it regardless of weather and now that has become a necessity as I’m about to move out of the city at the end of January when I can all but guarantee that the weather will suck pretty badly.

The frame without a cover. It’s stable enough to do pull-ups on and since it’s bolted together I can remove it when needed.
I used 90° bends like this that are really sturdy. I had to widen the holes to 6mm so I could fit the sturdy bolts through but that was easily done and only took a minute per bend.
This is how it all connects, it’s really sturdy and I can do pull-ups on those bars without issues.

I built it this way so that I can disassemble it easily should the need arise, in particular that cross-bar running across the bed might have to be removed for the occasional larger item as it is under standing height this way.

Now that this build is complete I’ll be able to sleep on the truck bed portion as well – and it can serve as a garage of sorts for my little moped:

I love this thing, at 60€ a year(!) in insurance you just can’t get more smiles per mile. Plus the previous owner even added a trailer hitch and pannier racks for me – if only people didn’t keep stealing my trailers.

I have built a little wooden ramp to roll up the bike as well as heavy things like washing machine and fridge in my upcoming move.

Conclusion: So much car for so little money

The longer I own this truck the more I fall in love with it and I still struggle to believe how much value I have gotten out of it during the two years I’ve owned it.

And there’s another thing I might add: I have not had a single repair in that time, I just keep the tires filled with air and the fluids topped up and my little Mercy is always game for a ride when I feel like saying goodbye to the city.

I hope you enjoyed this post and the pictures of the build process, I sure love the truck and how versatile it is.

Interested in my favorite craft projects built with magnetfishing finds? Here you go:

https://losingmyconnection.com/some-cool-stuff-i-made-from-magnetfishing-finds/

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Malte
Germany

Hi, I'm a programmer by day, creative writer and outdoors guy in the evening. This site is my happy place where I write about my journey towards financial and location independence and the obstacles I encounter along the way.

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