We Built An Adjustable Upper Bunk In Our Camper Van!
September 23, 2020
When we bought our van, the previous owner had built a storage platform over the back of the van, that just happened to be big enough for Noah to sleep in. However, we want to be able to have both of the boys sleep up there together, so we need to build something new.
When I was doodling up my ideas for this, the most important thing is that it is able to collapse back into the size of the previous platform. Well, actually the most important thing is that it doesn’t collapse and crush Lindsay and I sleeping below it, but after that the most important thing is having it collapse. With that in mind I made a couple of measurements and I figured out a way to make it work.
The first thing to do was get the pieces of plywood cut to size. My plan was to have them cut down in the store, but it was not available. The problem was, I had brought our 1977 Jeep CJ5 to the store. I thought about it for a minute, and this was the solution I came up with. It worked out surprisingly well, I strapped them to the top with a couple of ratchet straps.
With the transportation part figured out, now I needed to get them cut. I stacked them up on top of our picnic table in he front yard, and after lining the edges up I clamped them together so that they wouldn’t move and I could cut them at the same time. I had figured out earlier that I needed three pieces each measuring 4’-8” by 2’-0”. First I cut them to length with the 4’-8” measurement using our circular saw. I accidentally messed up my cutting line, but was able to go back and mostly correct it. Once that was done, I rotated the pieces and cut them in half. I tried to be super careful with this cut, as these were the edges that would be butting up against each other. Once I had them all cut to size, I set them aside and grabbed the 2×4 supports.
I needed to cut the six supports that will carry the weight of the bed to the same 4’-8” measurement. I measured each one and cut it off with the chop saw. Once I had them cut to length, I needed to cut each end at a thirty-degree angle. The topper slopes in pretty drastically, and if I wanted these pieces to fit they needed to have the same angle. Once everything was cut, it was time to sand. So. Much . Sanding. I had to sand all of the supports smooth, and to make sure that I removed all of the markings that lumber comes with. Once all of the supports were sanded, I moved on to the plywood. I am not going to make you watch all of that, as if you have seen me sand one thing, you can imagine what sanding anything else looks like. It did take a couple of full sheets though, as splinters on the edges of the lumber loves to rip the paper.
Now that all of the boring parts are done, we can get back to the fun part, assembling everything. There is no way to build this first and then get it in there, as the supports are as wide as possible to get as much support from the edges of the van as possible. That means that we need to build it in place. I slid in the first two supports and spaced them the 24” apart that I would need for the rear platform. Once those were in, I grabbed the first piece of plywood. I initially tried to put it in with the pretty side up, but then remembered that I wanted the pretty side down as that is what we would be looking at so I flipped it over and then got it into place.
Now that the pieced were in, I used a speed square to make sure the edge of the plywood was flush with the face of the support, and then clamped it into place so that it wouldn’t move. I measured in from the edge ¾” so that the screws would hit the middle of the supports, and then put a screw every six inches in from each side, which was eight screws. Once I finished on the front side, I did the exact same thing on the backside of that platform. With all of that done, the first platform is complete and it is time to slide it back into place. Now, I didn’t round the edges back there, and that was on purpose, I was able to push the platform back until it was about three inches from the back, leaving a gap. I wanted to leave the possibility for airflow from back there, plus it gives the boys a little extra leg room.
With that in place, it is time to get the next section built. First, I needed to get the next support in place. This one will stay connected to the last platform, so I attached them together with three screws just to hold them in place. The sliding edge of the plywood from the next section will rest here, so it just needs to be kept in place. Once those three screws were in, I put in the next support, and measured 24” away from the last one just to get it mostly in place.
I actually remembered to put it the right way down this time, and once I had it slid up there, I attached them together the same way. I used the speed square to make sure they were flush, then put in screws every six inches to get them connected. This only happens on the front support this time, as the intention is to let this section be able to slide up on top of the first one. It was time to see if my idea was going to work, and I was thrilled to see that it worked out amazingly well, at least for this first section. The tough part was going to be on the next section, as it had to stack on top of the first two.
The first thing to do is the same as the last time, and I needed to attach another support to the previous one so that the last section of plywood would have somewhere to rest. Three screws later, and it was time to get the last support put in. Once it was in place, I ran into an issue with being able to record what I was doing as there was no where to put the camera where I would actually be able to show what I was doing. Luckily, it was the same thing we did to the last section, and I lined up the faces of the plywood and support and screwed them together.
Moment of truth, is it actually going to work with all three sections. Looking from below, and it worked! You can see it all collapse into one section, and then I can pull them all back out again. Taking a look up close, and you can see what the platform looks like collapsed into a storage shelf. I am really, really happy with how it all turned out. Lets change it back into a bed platform now. So, you cant really tell from this, but that top section is friction fit in there very securely. It takes a good bit of force to get it to move, so it should stay in place even in the even of a head on collision. If it ever starts to loosen up however, I will just frill a hole through all three sections and drop a pin into them which will keep them from moving completely. If you have any questions about its strength, this is all 250 pounds of my climbing up there and moving around. It is tight, but even I can fit up here if I needed to. The thing I love the most about this, is that the end of the platform ends up being right next to the operable part of the windows in the topper, so the boys will have nice fresh air up there in the summer. This platform ended up being exactly what I wanted, and it works exactly like I wanted it to. It feels really, really good to have a project work out like this one did.