Building Furniture

I considered many options for the construction technique for the cabinet work and eventually narrowed the choice down to two: building frames and skinning them in a thin laminated ply, or building out of thicker structural laminated ply. I decided on the latter as the more I read about the frame-and-skinning method, the more it seemed like a lot of extra work and trouble; with many stories of thin ply warping with changes in heat and moisture.

When it comes to form, I have always been a fan of the ‘clean’ look of fixtures and fittings that tend to be favoured by small camper van converters as opposed to the quaint-country-cottage look that characterises many (but not all) British made coachbuilt motorhomes.

The decision to build in structural ply meant that it was logical to follow a tried and tested path and to use the same material favoured by many converters throughout the industry; i.e. 15mm lightweight ply, laminated on both sides with a coloured / textured finish of choice. There are numerous different brands of such furniture board available but Vohringer is perhaps the best known in Europe and carries a reputation for high quality. To seal the deal a major dealer for the brand and all round good company to deal with is within easy striking distance for me (unfortunately they have since stopped selling to the public and only supply the trade).

I had decided early on that I didn’t want loads of screws, modesty blocks, and angle brackets and the like to be visible on the build and so had some rough notions of Sikaflexing hardwood battens to the interior grp skin of the truck’s walls and then Sikaflexing furniture board onto those. I also had some vague notion about dowels…

Enter Alan: a local cabinet making craftsman. He agreed to become involved in the project and was an awesome source of expertise and skill. Together we were able to turn my rough notions of how things should look into actual three dimensional structures that at times seem to hang from the walls and roof with no visible means of support. In spite of appearance, the structures are immensely strong and usefully contribute to the integrity of the overall build. Bearing in mind my decision to build onto the rigid bed, and rely on the chassis’ torsion relief system to absorb any stress, this extra stiffening of the box, intuitively at least, seems like a desirable state of affairs.

The construction method for each piece of furniture was very similar. Essentially, where possible, all of the Vohringer panels were located against the inner walls / ceiling using dowels and then Sikaflexed into place. Where Vohringer panels meet at 90 degree junctions they were joined by a combination of methods, the most usual being biscuit joints or dowels, followed again by the usual application of Sikaflex. Where dowels were impracticable, or in the case of heavy load bearing structures (bed bases for example), beech battens were Sikaflexed to the load bearing surface - augmented by counter-bored and capped screws. Vohringer was then Sikaflexed to the beech as appropriate.

The edges of Vohringer are - as it is supplied - just exposed ply and need to be covered to make them looked finished. For our build - depending on how much ‘abuse’ each edge was deemed likely to receive in normal use - we employed one of four different edging solutions. The first of these was to simply iron on a pre-glued finishing strip of laminate. This edging material is widely available and is alright if the edge is not likely to be stressed or carelessly ‘caught’ in any way. For edges that were deemed likely to be knocked, then a plastic T-piece with a single lipped edge was used. These trims need a 2mm slot cutting into the edge of the board and then knocking in. This trim is quite robust but has its limitations in that it looks awful if strained to fit round a 90 degree corner. Care was taken on the truck to minimise such edges and to radius any that couldn’t be designed out. For the edges that are very exposed and that were deemed likely to be knocked by heavy objects, then the edging material of choice was equal angle aluminium. The final finishing solution, chosen purely for decorative / cosmetic reasons, was to hand-craft and glue a thin strip of beech around the Vohringer perimeter. This solution was used for things like cupboard doors and the kitchen worktop. The worktop itself is otherwise very conventional and of the type supplied for domestic applications, albeit of decent quality and with a good impregnation of resin to help with moisture resistance.