Our first build - a vardo

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Our first build - a vardo

Postby lgatlin » Sat Aug 01, 2015 2:35 pm

My husband and I are new to the world of travel trailers, although we are not new to building things. A couple of years ago online, I saw an intriguing "gypsy" camper that was a reworking of a small older travel trailer, and thought it would be a fun project -- my daughter ended up getting one for a hundred bucks and we helped her fix it up. But I wasn't sure about having one of our own until we spent all last year and this spring visiting the National Parks in the west. After our trip to Yosemite this spring, we decided we'd buy a small older travel trailer and fix it up for ourselves. My husband suggested, "why not just build one ourselves?" and I nixed that idea. Until I couldn't sleep one night, surfed the web and ran across this and other sites for do-it-yourself trailers and by the time he woke up later in the morning, I had all kinds of plans for us.

We decided on a traditional reading vardo style, and began by making a few sketches -- we're not big plan ahead people, although we do a pretty good job of getting where we want to be anyways. Here's our cardboard model:

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We got our Harbor Freight trailer during a sale + 20% off, got that built over a couple of afternoons. Sprayed the parts that will show black, I'm not a fan of the orange-red. We decided we also wanted a small deck off the back, so we built a platform and insulated it, after coating the underside:

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Then we topped that off with two sheets of 3/8 plywood, glued together to strengthen the floor. Then I left for a month to teach out of state. My husband is waiting for back surgery, so it takes both of us to do anything!

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When I got back this week, we proceeded to build the box, the back wall and the deck, and we are halfway through getting the front wall up.

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The back will have a bay window, and the sides will have stained glass windows -- I ordered a couple of panels on wayfair.com and they should be in this week, so we can build the frames out to know the sizes.

This little vardo is going to be completely over the top, decor wise. I'm an artist and I want the whole thing painted with some rather elaborate designs. When we work together, my husband Dale is the basic construction guy, and I do the finish work. We've remodeled and sold 3 houses and have skills and experience to handle making pretty much anything.

I'd share plans but we didn't really make any. I made the scale model and we're using that for measurements -- we added 10" ledges and the side walls are about 9 degrees outwards to a width of 7' at the widest point. The height of the back/front walls is 7' and we're kind of rethinking the mollycroft -- our original was an additional foot up and sat like a box on top of the flat part of the roof, but now we're considering this type:

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We left a 2' wide section across the top of the roof flat so we wouldn't have to try to integrate a curve - and, I like the ends curved and the top flat.

We aren't in any hurry, with my husband's medical issues we have to take it slow, so it's more a project we'll get done over a bit of time. We began putting the trailer together over the 4th of July weekend, and I took a 3 week trip, but now that it's looking like something, we're kind of excited about it! We're also trying to keep our costs down with a few splurges here and there (those stained glass windows!). This site has such a wealth of information --
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Re: Our first build - a vardo

Postby flbikejunkie » Sun Aug 02, 2015 6:49 pm

Nice job so far. I've always liked the look of Vardos so will be watching.
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Re: Our first build - a vardo

Postby S. Heisley » Sun Aug 02, 2015 7:53 pm

Vardos are fun! :thumbsup:
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Re: Our first build - a vardo

Postby Wolfgang92025 » Sun Aug 02, 2015 8:19 pm

looks like you are of to great start :thumbsup:
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Redesigned mollycroft

Postby lgatlin » Fri Aug 07, 2015 8:31 pm

After getting our vardo started, we were a little taken aback by the sheer size :D --- and we knew we were going to redesign it. So I worked with our little cardboard model and came up with this:
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We're much happier with this.

We finished the ends, notching both ends to accept the rafters, and then we rounded off the rafter tails. Not sure if we're going to add another one in the gap where the mollycroft will be. We can make that decision later.
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We set the rafters in and began to frame in the sides before it got dark.
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While we were working this week, I also made windows. I had some leftover leaded glass panels from a project I did last year-- I bought 4 of these panels off craigslist for a bargain of $25 (total!), and used one of them in the front door to our house, and one in one of our bedrooms when we took out a window AC. So I reworked the panels and made the three panels for the back bay window:

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Not sure how these will function yet, but I'm leaning towards having the large center one open on a top hinge and leaving the two side panels stationary. Before putting them in the sash, I added an acrylic panel that will protect the outside, and left the beveled side inwards.

I also purchased two stained glass panels from wayfair.com - about $110 each. Quality is average, but this will do for our windows. Again, put a layer of acrylic plexi on the outside when putting them in the sash. They're about 18 x 24 inches each. These will be hinged on top and we'll put one on each side of the wagon. I've still got a little bit of my leaded glass panel left, I may make that into something for the front door, and we've got room on the side with the door to add yet another little window, so I'm keeping my eye out for something to add there.

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I still need to sand down these last two. The sashes will be painted.

So that's where we are. We are hoping to put skin on the sides this week. While my husband does the major construction, I do the small detail jobs -- so I'll get working on a dutch door.
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Re: Our first build - a vardo

Postby PKCSPT » Fri Aug 07, 2015 10:28 pm

Love the windows
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Re: Our first build - a vardo

Postby mikeschn » Sat Aug 08, 2015 2:27 am

Looking good so far! Which way do you have the bed going?

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Re: Our first build - a vardo

Postby rebapuck » Sun Aug 09, 2015 12:00 am

What are the measurements? Looks huge.
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Re: Our first build - a vardo

Postby KCStudly » Sun Aug 09, 2015 11:46 am

The workmanship looks good and the design is very cute...

...but it does look very tall yet narrow at the base. With a lot of roof framing in the trolley top it might get a little top heavy, relatively speaking, and would be one to watch out for tipping in high winds... especially with the out slopping walls acting like scoops, or pockets, for the wind... making a slight up lifting vector compared to a flat wall. Add to that the overhanging eaves and the trolley top to catch more wind up high.

Just saying, something to be concerned about that you may not have considered. The wind acting on a large surface area can have a very forceful effect, and the taller the surface the more leverage that force imposes; narrower the footprint the less resistance to the leverage, and then you have the "perfect storm", or compiling of conditions that allow bad things to happen "unexpectedly".

It is not all doom and gloom, just something to consider and be mindful of, especially if you will be traveling in wide open spaces where strong winds are more common, like out west where all the good parks are.

Did you say, is it 4 wide or 5?
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Great questions

Postby lgatlin » Sun Aug 09, 2015 3:52 pm

We're planning on the bed at the tongue end - it'll be across the width and will pull out across rails to accommodate a queen sized mattress (folded in half when not in use). Underneath will be storage, drawers, etc. and a pullout table top.

The measurements are 4 x 8 on the trailer with a 10" high, 10" wide ledge, so just under 6' wide at base, angled to be 7' at widest point (about a 9 degree angle outward). The highest point is 7' off the trailer (9' from ground).
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For roofing, we are looking at using the titebond/canvas method, adding rigid foam insulation between the rafters and then putting in a thin plywood ceiling at the bottom of the rafters. That brings the interior down to about 6' 8", which is about right for my rather tall husband. We do want to keep it light at the top, that's been a concern for sure -- we were just talking last night about how we are going to handle the roof overhang on each side - wanting to keep it minimal for drag, but still wanting it to shed water properly. I'm also working out a lightweight plan for the mollycroft framing - the pictures I posted in the top post certainly looked heavy relative to what we're working on - it'll likely be skinned over framing of 1 x lumber before waterproofing. I'm also using lexan windows up there to save on weight.

thanks for the feedback! we appreciate the points to consider!
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Window

Postby lgatlin » Wed Aug 12, 2015 4:47 pm

We're working on figuring out our roof, but I got most of the bow window put up yesterday. You can also see that we started putting in the ceiling with the leftover pieces from the side panels.
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I had to go pick up some hinges so I can add the center panel. I think I'm also going to add a sloped roof for both looks and to make it more aerodynamic. I am going to build a set of travel shutters (a shout out to paleotools blog here: http://paleotool.com/2012/03/12/travel-shutters/) to protect the glass. here's a screen shot of his shutters open and closed from his blog above:
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I also cut out the door and added some trim around a newly cut window:
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I've got to cut a piece of lexan to put in before I install the window ---
I built the window from the last portion of my leaded glass panels by piecing together the leftovers:
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I also need to finish framing out the doorframe and get it sanded so I know my final door size. I picked up some colored and patterned glass for the top half of what will be a dutch door.

We also picked up the supplies to work on the roof, so we'll be working on that this week!
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More details done

Postby lgatlin » Fri Aug 28, 2015 11:07 am

I've started a new semester at school (I teach), so work had to slow down a bit, even at our slow pace. I did get some work done on the exterior, mostly getting openings and trim around the edges done. So, first, I got the door frame trimmed out. Used 1/4" plywood, so I could get the arch put together without as much piecing as using dimensional lumber (which I've been cutting down to 3/8" thick).
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I also put trim around the window openings, filled any gaps with bondo, then sanded smooth. So the side window openings are ready to install the stained glass panels. Did the same around the arched door opening.
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It's these little things that take so much time. I also added trim around the four corners, and all along the bottom edges of the body, and vertical strips to trim out the body.
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You can also see in that picture the framing for the mollycroft, which stands 6" above the roof. It still needs a roof, but we had to get some scaffolding so we can reach the top. We didn't have any ladders tall enough to work comfortably up that high. You can also see that we set a ceiling in. We will get to the insulation this weekend, and hopefully get a skin over the top. I added in blocking for the bay window end, have to get that done today for the overhang over the door. I also have the upper side trim for the roof cut, but need to get that sanded before I put it up.

I also made the dutch door. Started by building the lower half with dimensional lumber, adding some trim pieces leftover from other projects. This will be painted, so paint grade is fine. Fitted that, trimmed and sanded that (still need to caulk), and then built the top half of the door. I started that by building a window, cutting stained glass into strips and making slotted trim to put that all together. After I built the window, I built the door around it by overlapping dimensional lumber cut to fit. got that all glued up, sanded, and ready to hang and paint. In that arch space, I'll be putting in a mosaic.
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And finally, got the back bay window installed. I still need to install some hardware to keep it closed, but for now I have a little toggle to hold it snug.
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A little dusty, and I'm less than thrilled with the way the hinges look right now, but they'll get painted along with the trim, so hopefully they blend in. Still have some sanding and small trim to do around here, and I'm not sure if I'm going to put a small roof on it. We'll see how that goes.


So....progress, but still a long ways to go!
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Re: Our first build - a vardo

Postby dales133 » Fri Aug 28, 2015 11:41 am

Looking good youve done some tidy carpentry there.
If i may be so bold as to offer some advice... i would be inclined to rebate the hinges into the window frame and edge of the sash.
It will look far better and should give last longer.
You can now get easy fit hinges where one leaf fits into the other eliminating the need to mortise the hinges.
Nice job on the windows otherwise
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Re: Our first build - a vardo

Postby lgatlin » Fri Aug 28, 2015 11:55 am

If i may be so bold as to offer some advice... i would be inclined to rebate the hinges into the window frame and edge of the sash.
It will look far better and should give last longer.
You can now get easy fit hinges where one leaf fits into the other eliminating the need to mortise the hinges.


I think I may do that. I was also looking at piano hinges, but that would be a better solution. I'm not happy with them, they look so awkward! Since I have two more windows to put on, I want to get it right! thanks for the idea, I'm going to give that a try --
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Re: Our first build - a vardo

Postby typoagain » Fri Aug 28, 2015 11:57 am

You have done a lot of work adding quirky little details. And boy does it show.
That is going to be one good looking rig.
I can't wait to see how you finish painting it. So far you are setting the bar pretty high for the rest of us.
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