"Carpentry is hard. I have a lot more respect for Jesus now."

I guess it is customary to start at the beginning. But I'm not entirely sure where the beginning of this tale is, I believe that title can be afforded to a non distinctive winter's evening sometime in 2020. When I came to the realisation that this surfing thing is quite enjoyable, even if 90% of the time it is just mother nature giving me a good old beatdown. And to maximise my time in the water and at the beach, a mobile dwelling would be required.

Surf

I don't know if you've seen the used van market in the UK, but it is perhaps in a more dire state than the housing market. I for one was mildly sceptical of the claims of the likes of “big_john_1976” that his 25year old VW Transport was “in impeccable mechanical condition” and “would easily run for another 100,000 miles” despite the having 300,000 on the clock and an undercarriage rustier than Mars. All yours for a modest 15 grand. I think it is easy to understand how my interest was quickly captured by the prospect of getting a new van (less than 100km on the clock) for less money. How bad could Russian car construction be? I'm sure this comment won't come back to haunt me!

Russia Wtf1 Russia Wtf2

Anyways, I thought I would make this first post a bit of a journey, and maybe a guide if you too want a poorly constructed van interior, on how I made my shit box van a little less shit? Hopefully.

The Van

Step 1 - Strip and Seal

Strip the van down to its bare shell, so you know what you are working with. Thankfully for a Bukhanka there isn't much to remove other than some seats, a thin fabric sheet for roof styling, and some mildly mouldy MDF flooring. Unfortunately for me this left a floor scattered with holes and now resembled a bird shot target.

Removed interior

I decided that my approach to this problem would have to be better than the folks in the UAZ factory, judging by the extent of the mould problem after less than 12months (most of which we spent hiding from the Tax man in a barn). Pop rivets, washers, and o-rings were applied to each hole. Topped off with a healthy dollop of silicon just for extra measure.

Stripped interior 1 Stripped interior 2

Step 2 - Insulate

My life plan at this stage was still to move to Sweden, and as such the prospect of freezing to death overnight at a ski resort was a key worry of mine. The solution, a comprehensive cavity wall so thermally unconductive that those Geography teachers might stop glueing themselves to motorways.

Shiny

All surfaces were lined with IR reflective foil. Hopefully further sealing the holey problem of the floor. The flooring was only tackled after I had finished the sides, as I had a rare moment of foresight that there would be serious struggles installing the side and roof insulation. And feared that any flooring would be subjected to significant collateral damage.

Battening left Battening right

After this, battening was affixed to the raised sections of the shell, further increasing the cavity. Fibre glass wool was the choice of insulation stuffing. (don't over pack this… Dom. It works by immobilising pockets of air). This was then sealed with another layer of IR foil, thus completing the cavity wall. IR tape was applied over all seams between sheets on the internal face.

Wool insulation IR foil seal
IR foil seal 2 Plywood surface

To provide a working surface and such that the cavity wouldn't be ruptured during vigorous sleeping activities, plywood sheets were affixed to the battens, adding another layer to the cavity insulation. The plywood was finished with anti fungal treatment (because I still am not 100% sure about the water tightness of this vessel) and more IR tape along each join, because I bought a 50m roll and I am damn well gonna use all 50m of it.

all walls and roof cleaned and anti fungal

To insulate the floor, Celotex sheets were used to provide additional support for my fat ass and because these were readily available to be yoinked from the Oldman. Spray foam for all the joints, cause it is always good fun to use that stuff. Topped off with a 12mm plywood floor surface with a hard lacquer finish.

floor IR floor foam
finished floor

Step 2+ - Additional Warmth

You may have already noticed in the centre of the floor, a black and red diesel heater. Someone with more foresight than I would have ensured the full working capacity of the heater before installing it and sealing it in place. I am not such a person!

smoking more smoke
ebay trading standards

It's always a reassuring moment when you receive an email from Ebay stating Trading Standards has found an issue with a product you recently purchased… So long as I am more competent at installing it than someone in Suffolk the risk of fire should be minimal?

heater internals 1 heater internals 2

A quick exploratory surgery and individual component testing got the unit running clean and chucking out a serious amount of heat. It was only now that I was able to turn my van into a mobile sauna, that I realised a significant oversight in my insulation campaign. The front window, that provides such panoramic views, was my Ozone hole venting all potential warmth into space. A divider was erected, with an access hatch large enough to facilitate easy humanoid movement through.

divider divider with hatch

Step 3 - Bed and Drawers

Space is already tight in this compact bus. So I needed to utilise every bit of space available, this meant ensuring all space under the bed frame was in some way used.

bedframe
bedframe with panels bedframe turned into bench

The bed was divided into three segments. The first, and most frontal, consists of a single large drawer that opens into the middle of the van and an area to contain the heater unit. The central section has top access through the bed frame, for storage and conversion of the beach into a rear facing bench. And final the rear section with battery storage at either side (more on those later) and three drawers.

battery 1 battery 2
rear drawers

It was at this point my inept ability at any form of woodworking became apparent. I must have spent 5+ hours trying to get these 4 drawers to open and shut smoothly without the roller bearings exploding everywhere as there's a 2cm difference in width between the front and back of the drawer. In the end this is as close as I got to a “flush” shut. It works okay. You can shut the doors and they roll in and out. Carpentry is hard. I have a lot more respect for Jesus now. I was very tempted to do a last minute redesign and incorporate some Ikea prefab'd drawers. But I dare say I have now come to like my imperfect and structural unsound creations.

that's close enough it's pretty straight

The cushioning for the bed was cut from a standard double foam mattress. And let me tell you it isn't easy to cut up a mattress. I am too ashamed to show the mauled edges in any more detail… despite my best efforts to have a blade to rival a samurai. Removal casing were made from some old curtains by the unpaid labour of Molly, thanks for being a sucker bet you didn't have anything better to do with your weekend then make mattress covers!

one foam section poor edge
the completed set inc covers

Step 4 - Cupboards and Carpets

A custom, high precision, no misalignments, kitchen cupboard and work surface was constructed. With a sink/stove combo centrefold, don't worry I'm gas safe as in I know the smell of gas and how to shut off the valve to the cylinder. Although if it leaks whilst I'm asleep that might be a little more tricky.

sink and cupboards 1 sink and cupboards 2

Stretch carpet is magical stuff. Easy to apply. Just spray the shit out of both surfaces with glue and press, and work forward. You won't find a single crease or baggy section in my van. No sir, I'm a professional. This stuff is great at hiding poor craftsmanship, hence it has been applied almost everywhere.

carpeting
roof carpet 1 roof carpet 2
end results

It takes the whole vibe of the van from probable crime scene to pleasant space. Note, if you intend to do this mark any mounting points accordingly I still to this day have not been able to find the holes to mount that door handle.

door carpet door handle where
finished cupboards

I contemplated covering the cupboard doors with carpet to hide my feeble attempt, but it felt wrong plus they are not THAT bad. Only minorly warped and misaligned.

Step 5 - Electrics

If you go on any van construction forum or Facebook page, you'll get the impression that the electrical system of a van build is the hardest thing. It's not, 12v is fantastically easy to work with.

circuit diagram
negative chassis terminal electrical cupboard

Run all your negative 12v lines to a busbar, or just grind a piece of chassis and fix your terminals there. All in all, the van is now equipped with two 110Ah batteries providing up to 2.4kWhrs of power, normal use should be much less than this and batteries should be kept between 50-100% charge so maybe 1-1.5kWhrs of possible use. Two solar panels running in series feed into a MPPT solar control, basically a fancy voltage converter to drop form the solar panels 50+v to 12v whilst maximising power delivered to the batteries. Some electronics (like my custom bluetooth speaker) run directly off the 12v busbar, for most other electronics including phone charging and lights run off 5v, which is provided by two 5A 5V buck converters. Finally a 1.5kW rms 3kW peak pure sin wave inverter generates AC current enough to run the grinder if I need to do some serious mechanical repairs. Fridge also runs off the AC, don't be a fool and buy some 12v fridge for 5times the price.

solar cable hole solar cable glands
small fire damage hide the sin under more carpet

Drilling holes in the chassis to run the lines in from the solar panels made me feel dirty. That was made significantly worse when I had to get the grinder out to access the inside to affix the glands. Stretch carpet hides all sins. Even if it slightly singed. Just add more carpet and conceal the crime.

final electrical cupboard

Step 6 - Exterior Modifications

Not satisfied will bastardising the interior I thought the exterior should suffer too! An obnoxious lightbar had to be installed, this has already proved a useful tool burning the retinas of those assholes that failed to understand the need to dip their head light. Behold, the midnight sun!

front view
lightbar cable run 1 lightbar cable run 2

In an attempt to conceal the power line to the lightbar, I went out and bought some black silicon. The result was arguably worse than just having a loose cable, a sloppy gelatinous mess that I have to look at every time I approach the driver seat. Great job Dave. It was only after the fact I realised I had a reel of black wire that would have been naturally camouflaged and would have avoided this whole situation.

in rust we trust
more rust

Despite the somewhat sheltered storage of the van there was a disappointing amount of rust. This was removed and Lanogaurd undercarriage protection was applied to prevent further decay. During the application process, I too received a moderate coating. For the next week, despite multiple extended showers, I still smelt of sheep. So if that's your thing and you want Bovine lube…

rusty me lubed
post treatment

End Result

I'll leave you now with some pictures of the end result

rear view
work top

Of course the UAZ does not come with any sort of sound system or radio. So I thought I would make a bluetooth speaker that doubles as a car stereo. Batteries not included, yet.

central hatch
fridge and shelves fridge open

Full 40L of fridge space. And stocked with only the things you need. Plus a concerning stain after less than 2weeks of use.

gas and waste water cupboard water storage cupboard

Gas and waste water cupboard (left). Water storage cupboard 2x 25L with submersible pump to feed the sink or an external shower.

central chest
central chest internal compartments central drawer and space

Central storage chest, with internal dividers. Frontal drawer which opens into the main space.

front cab 1 front cab 2

I even spruced up the front cab. Only a little though.

out and about

Thanks and congratulations on making it this far! You're a real winner and reading this was hopefully, realistically not, a good use of your time.

I'd like to take a moment to say that undertaking this transformation took far longer than I first thought. I feel that was in part on me for only partially dedicating myself to this project, but also this shit is hard. However, in spite of the difficulties and extremely late nights measuring, and cutting, and recutting. The whole process was truly enjoyable.

A personal catharsis during what was a pretty shit time. And I feel the end result is a perfect metaphor. Rough on the edges, still needing some fixing and finishing, but ready for the world.

Tills nästa gång. Hejdå.