Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rock-N-Roll, Baby!

Who's ready to Rock-n-Roll?

I'm nearing completion on my project to replace my cheap Craigslist conversion van bench/bed with a Westfalia-style Rock-n-Roll bed.

More after the jump...

Looking back, this was our original bed system, based on a MarkIII conversion van bench from a Dodge.  The bench seat folded back conveniently, but because of how the mechanism worked, it would never lie perfectly flat.  The seat back and bottom were also curved, and apparently made of two different densities of foam.  Add in the transition to the extra rear platform extension (with yet another different density of foam mattress), and you had a 3-section bed that was guaranteed to make your hips and back ache by morning.  Definitely worse than sleeping on "that bar" on a pull-out couch!

I'd purchased the reproduction "Rock-n-Roll" hinges from BusDepot several years ago, and I'd even made an initial attempt at characterizing the movements of the pieces as the mechanism went from "seat" to "bed", using my old battery box as a base:

I couldn't get all the critical dimensions I needed on the first pass though, so when I re-started this project in earnest, I used more scraps to build something approximating the correct dimensions for everything except width.
It took a lot of fiddling with the box dimensions to get things tall enough to fit my water tank underneath, but to sit low enough for the Astro's relatively low overhead clearance.  We still want to be able to sit up in bed, which has always been a tough constraint in this van!

I liked the reproduction Westy bed hinges, but since my little girl rides strapped into the back seat, I didn't feel comfortable building the box/bed system out of plywood.  (Especially since Astro vans don't have a rear firewall to tie into like the VW vans.)  Instead, I fabricated (mostly from scratch) a frame from steel tubing.

Seating surfaces are 1/2 birch ply (same as my cabinet), but the frame provides all the strength.  The "corner blocks" are 1" x 3" rectangular tubing with captured nuts to mate with the hinge plates that normally fasten directly to the plywood surfaces.

Since safety was a concern, I harvested the top of the seat-back from my conversion van seat, since it had all the punched holes and hardware necessary for a full (removable) headrest system.  The headrest posts slot down into the guides, right between the seating surface and the back trim (see below.)

This made the seat back a bit more complicated than the bottom (since it includes a couple of vertical steel supports for the stamped headrest section), but otherwise the construction is the same.  You can see that the Valterra 12 gallon tank still fits under the seat, although it's been reoriented 90° to allow maximum storage space next to it.  I could have make a solid "box" and accessed this storage by lifting the seat bottom (as in Westy VWs), but by pushing the legs out and leaving it open I have a space ~24" x 28" that is accessible from above, the front, or the rear.  More on how I'll use this space in a future installment...

I trimmed the back of the seat (covering the headrest system/innards) with this nice 5mm "RevolutionPly" stuff I had leftover from another project.  Continuing with the motif Kimberley established with the fridge cabinet build, all the wood just got sanded and two coats of wipe-on polyurethane, no stain.

Since we don't have a rear firewall/bulkhead for the bed fold back onto, and since having a perfectly flat sleeping surface is one of the driving forces of this build, I designed adjustable supports into the frame.  The black cross-piece with the two bolts catches the seat back as it folds down.  This is slotted so it can be raised/lowered to make sure the back portion of the bed levels out perfectly.  The rear extension platform (which will take the place of the VW engine decklid) rests on the same black bracket at the forward edge, and on adjustable legs at the rear.  The angle of the seat "bottom" (forward portion of the bed) can be adjusted by shimming the support brackets.

With a Rock-n-Roll type bed, it's necessary to keep the frame "locked" into seat mode so that things don't fold back in an accident.  I used a hotrod-style "Bear Claw" trunk latch from AutoLoc that works perfectly. The bolt (pictured above) attaches to a tab on the seat bottom and holds the mechanism tightly closed until the knob is pulled.

Still left to do:

  • I've rebuilt my "water pump box" to fit against the new seat, but I need to finish re-plumbing to the (reoriented) water tank.
  • I've got an Ikea foam mattress I'll be cutting for the seat/bed cushions.
  • I'm still deciding how I want to upholster the cushions, but I may stray from the "All DIY" approach and just order zippered slip covers from one of the many inexpensive internet retailers that will make them to order.  (I don't mind sewing, but that's a lot of work that needs to be done accurately and I'm running out of time/energy for this particular project.)  For the rapidly approaching American Adventurist Rendezvous, I'll most likely just throw a blanket or sheet over the foam pieces... 

UPDATE: Part 2 of the build is here.

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