DIY version of Outside Van bed panel frames?

ddunaway

Member
This is a great post. I am waiting for my 4WD Crew 144 to show up at the end of the month, and a bed is sort of the defining feature for layout...so this is helpful.

I saw a post a while back where someone laminated a foam core with 1/8 or 1/4 in plywood on each side. Anyone considered or done this? Seems like it has the possibility of being lighter than some of these options.

I did something like this (w/o the foam) in my house where thickness was limited and I needed high stiffness. Wood glue was the adhesive here.

One might consider a metal cross member on the ends foam in the middle and plywood on top and bottom. Not sure what the adhesive would be.

Just a thought, laminate constructions can be very light and strong...................
 

GeorgeRa

2013 Sprinter DIY 144WB, Portland OR
For my subfloor I will be using ¼” Versatile sheet from Space Age Synthetics. http://www.spaceagesynthetics.com/thermoliteproduct.aspx. Recently my priorities has shifted and finishing work of my conversion plummeted. I had to move my 5’x10’ ¼” Versatile sheet to storage and was amazed how easy was to move this awkward sheet around due to its stiffness and low weight. This is a good video about these materials https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5Q7GmJuegA

If I would need to build 3 (or more) panels bed I would use some combination of glued and screwed Space Age Synthetic material with 80/20 quick frame for example this one.


http://www.amazon.com/80-20-Square-Single-Flanged/dp/B00J3YETME

or just plain square Quick Frame. I used #9025 Quick Frame profile for the table panels in my conversion and would do over again.

George.
 
Last edited:

ddunaway

Member
George,

That thermo-lite looks very interesting....more insulating than plywood. Will you put another flooring on top of that? I am interested in building out may van for backcountry skiing among other things, so an insulated floor is of interest. Do you buy it from the company or somewhere else?

Could one just use a 1/2 in piece straight away without a frame for a bed? Just some cross-members below.
 

GeorgeRa

2013 Sprinter DIY 144WB, Portland OR
George,

That thermo-lite looks very interesting....more insulating than plywood. Will you put another flooring on top of that? I am interested in building out may van for backcountry skiing among other things, so an insulated floor is of interest. Do you buy it from the company or somewhere else?

Could one just use a 1/2 in piece straight away without a frame for a bed? Just some cross-members below.
I will be mechanically attaching the ¼” substrate and gluing down linoleum on top of the sheet.
I bought 5’ x 10’ ¼” sheet from http://www.appliedplasticsmachining.com/

I think some edge cover should be deployed, it is pretty rough. I would recommend to contact manufacturer directly to see how thick material would be necessary to take the load required for a bed as well as about the unfinished edge. Applied plastics or Space Age Synthetics can cut panels to size to reduce work and likely cut shipping cost.

I think it is great idea to have just a sheet, no frame, perhaps edges could be painted just like Hein does with light weight PVC.

George.
 

jcmaros

Member
FullSizeRender-19.jpg


and the largest section of the platform can double as a bunk for when I go surfing with my buddy and we don't want to sleep close each other
 

jcmaros

Member
now off to powder coating and to buy plywood. I weighed each section and the total came to approximately 130 lbs. I am not to worried about it because I am not putting cabinets or filling it up with a whole bunch of stuff. I have wheel boxes coming but thats about it.

I can carry a max load of 3229 lbs with people and cargo. That gets eaten up quickly. The bed is a little overkill as far as weight, but I am 260lbs alone. It needed to be bombproof.
 

Inertiaman

Active member
That thermo-lite looks very interesting....

Could one just use a 1/2 in piece straight away without a frame for a bed? Just some cross-members below.
I've been looking at Thermo-lite for the top layer on my panels. Some things to keep in mind if you're considering it:

1) Its fairly expensive. $4.50+ per sq ft in the 1/4" thickness. The pricing varies w/ panel dimensions and densities, but $4.50-5.00 is representative for 1/4. So if you're thinking of a top/bottom sandwich construction, you're talking $400-ish for the Thermolite. Pricing tracks somewhat linear with volume, ie 1/2" sheets are nearly twice the price of 1/4" sheets.
2) Weight wise, its on par with marine plywood, perhaps heavier. A 4x8 of the 1/4 inch 32 lb/ft3 density Thermolite is about 21 pounds. The 6mm okoume marine plywood I'm looking at is 18 pounds in 4x8. EDIT: the Thermolite starts getting a weight advantage as the thickness increases, since the middle urethane foam layer begins to account for a higher proportion of the volume; in other words, 3/4" Thermolite is lighter than 3/4 plywood, maybe 50-55 lbs versus 70 lbs. per 4x8.
3) I'm very skeptical the 1/2" panels are stiff/strong enough to bridge the ~ 68" van width without a frame. You'll need some sort of frame. I think that 1/4" top and bottom with a foam middle, sandwiched in a frame of 1.25" .125" wall welded aluminum C-channel, or in the appropriate 8020 extrusion, could work in 2' x 6' panels without cross members (ie no windowpane frame members). Or the 1/2" on top of a frame with no windowpane cross members if the frame is 1.25 or 1.5" aluminum. But until someone tries it, we're only guessing at rigidity.

I looked a SIP panels as a frameless alternative. SIP = Structural Insulated Panels sometimes used in buildings. I found a local guy w/ 18' x 6.5' x 2.5" thick SIP panels, but he wouldn't sell less than full sheets. I'm confident a product like that could work without a frame (though it would need some sort of edge treatment). They are fairly light, too, but the thickness wasn't attractive to me. Every inch counts for me (bikes underneath and 6'3" person above, hoping to sit up in bed) so 1.25 inches is the bed panel height to beat for me.

I'm leaning toward Thermo-lite rather than okuome plywood, but I don't feel strongly about it. I have reasonable access to Thermo-lite and I'm not on a budget, so $260 on Thermo-lite versus $160 on okuome isn't a big deal to me. I have no doubt that the Thermo-lite is stronger and I just sort of prefer composites.

EDIT/PS: I think 1/2" Thermolite with unwelded cross members of 1.25" or 1.5" square aluminum tube 0.125" wall could work, with cross members on 18 to 24" spacing, if the Thermolite is mechanically attached to the crossmembers. Rather than bolt all the way through the aluminum, one could drill holes every 12-18 inches and place rivnuts in the top wall of the tubing, and then bolt the Thermolite to the rivnuts. The edges of the Thermolite (near the van walls) would not be supported, but the strength/stiffness of the 1/2 Thermolite should be more than sufficient for that 18-24" gap, especially since those panel edges see the least force.
 
Last edited:

Inertiaman

Active member
Out of curiosity, I did some math on a no-weld approach w/ alu tube and Thermolite.

Assumptions:
- use 1/2 inch 29lb/ft3 density Thermolite
- four panels, each 19" by 70" (= 70x76 bed)
- use 1.5 inch by 0.125" wall square alu tubing in 70" length, two per panel (one each edge)

Weight per panel = 11.2 pounds Thermolite + 9.4 pounds of aluminum = ~ 20 pounds
So bed is 80 pounds before any upholstery or padding.

Cost per panel is ~ $60 for Thermolite and $50 for aluminum so $110 per panel and $440 total.

Practically speaking, I think your Thermolite costs will be higher, as my estimates assume no waste. Still, the example is representative.

Structurally, I think this could work well, especially if the 1.5" aluminum was also bolted to the side rails when installed (essentially producing a rectangular rigid frame).

With some trial and error, maybe we could learn that 1.25" square tube and 3/8" Thermolite would work with the same approach. But I'd hesitate to go that route on first attempt.
 

Inertiaman

Active member
The Thermolite "Tough" series in thicker panels might be viable without any supporting cross members. The 1.5" Tough panels with 1/16" inch wall aluminum 1.5" angle glued to the edges/underside (primarily as edge protection and compression protection at the rails) could yield a bed panel is very short time. Surprisingly heavy though (about 120 pounds for the bed). The 1" Tough series would cut that weight by 25% or more, and *perhaps* be structurally adequate. ??

I haven't priced the thicker panels. For 1 inch I'd guess about $500 per 4x8 based on the 1/2" pricing I saw.

So many ways to accomplish this! But given my objectives (minimum stack height, minimum weight, maximum strength, modest cost) I still haven't found anything that can beat 1" square aluminum TIG welded into windowpane panels with 1/4" thick Thermo-lite Versatile on top. Total weight for 3 panels 26x70 is a tad over 60 pounds and total material cost is $350 (not counting rails or top upholstery/padding).
 

DieselFumes

2015 4x4 2500 170 Crew
In my barn I've got some 2' and 3' wide foam core aluminum panels with edges that are designed to interlock with the next panel. They were left by the previous owner. I think they are either wall panels or garage door panels. The aluminum skins are thick (commercial rather than residential grade). The panels are are about 2" deep, completely filled with foam.

I just put one of the 2' wide panels on two saw horses spaced around 6' apart and stood on it. No noticeable deflection.

I don't know where these come from, or who manufactures them (PO was a general contractor on commercial jobs - also left behind a lot of thick commercial grade alu siding that I used to finish the barn). I couldn't find anything similar online after a quick search, but it does suggest that the foam core approach is viable for strong lightweight panels.

Best thing about them is the lack of weight. Carrying a 9' long 2' wide section around is very easy.

I can provide better numbers for weight, wall thickness, deflection, etc if people really care. Main point though is that the foam really does seem to have great structural properties.
 

pfflyer

Well-known member
Part of a wall for some sort of commercial cooler? We have a local Manf. That builds walk in coolers but the wall panels are usually wider than 2-3'.
 

d_bertko

New member
Inertiaman,

Your specs for AL are in the ballpark. My atv ramp extrusions basically use a square box beam of 1.25" of .125" thickness. Weight is 12.5 lb for a 75"x15" welded laddered ramp. The support for ply inserts is substantial with raised edges to hold the panel and less than 11" of span since the extrusion is wider than the box beams.

These atv ramps are similar and cost $138 for a pair of 15"x72" ramps. So 3x138=$414 for three pair. You only need 5 of the 6 to form 72x75 bed. (The extra ramp section makes an excellent shelf.) The ramp sections should be easy to trim if 70" is the desired width.

!5"w laddered sections are as light as 26" box beams on a sq ft basis and the support is so good and wide that 1/4" ply does not require any kind of foam stiffening.

The welding quality was very good on my Reese ramps. And I found lots of ways to make use of the other features like slip pin hinges that the extrusions allowed. Sometimes mass production gives you bang for the buck.

Dan
 

Inertiaman

Active member
Dan,

I agree that loading ramps are a good solution. They are strong, light and accessible. When I've inspected similar ramps at Lowes and elsewhere, the length (in your example above 73") includes the small bent "tabs" that are intended to hook onto the tailgate. Once those are removed/cutoff, you've got a 69-70 inch length, which is nearly perfect for a Sprinter width.

The extrusions on the ramps (all the little edges and ridges) provide good structural integrity at relatively thin wall thickness and low weight. That's one advantage over generic 1" square tubing, which has a lower moment of inertia per unit weight than some more complex extrusions. And if you assume the material is aluminum, then the moment of inertia of the tube cross section is the sole determinant of stiffness/deflection (for a given span width and load, of course).

One idiosyncrasy of the ramps is they sort of fix you into a specific width (multiples of ~ 14.5" in this case). That's not a major problem, but it may get in the way if you're after a specific dimension to meet another objective.

I still intend to weld mine, not because its a superior solution (though it does have some advantages/versatility), but simply because I can, and its an interesting fabrication/design project.
 

Inertiaman

Active member
Ok, So some progress has been made. First off the rails....

View attachment 67137
The photo above is the "problem spot" for longish beds in a 144. Glad to see someone else tackling this issue.

My bed height will be higher, so not only are the two pillars there offset, but the one closer to the door is sloping, so problematic to attach a rail directly to that pillar. Since I'm using rectangular (1x3") tubing for the rail, my plan is to sort of terminate the main rail against that offset pillar seam, and have a secondary short rail extension (~ 24 inches, also 1x3) which is welded to the main rail for about 15", but offset toward the centerline of the van, and extending 9" across the sloped pillar and partially into the door area.

That will get me a full 76" bed length. I just dread the inevitable painful encounters with the rail protruding into the door area, especially when the front bed panel is removed. I'll smooth it and pad it, but I'm sure I'll still curse myself at some point during entry/exit.
 

jcmaros

Member
Yes that area is a major PIA. My bed is 72" long. I can deal with my feet hanging over 2". I actually don't think they will if I put my head right up against the back doors. Either way, no biggie. I can alway get an extension made up. I wanted to go higher, I just didn't feel comfortable not having meat in behind the rails. I scratched my head forever figuring out how to do it. It can be done obviously. Whatever, i will be fine.

My current dilemma is figuring out how to secure an attachment point for the bunk. If I was to use the small L track type fittings, would that hold if Rivnutted to the roof rails. It needs to hold at least me (260lbs) do i need to put a backing plate in there somehow to support the anchor. Any help would be appreciated
 

VeloVan

Member
First post here. Lots of good ideas for bed platforms in this thread. I am starting off keeping my bed platform simple with 2 priorities 1) raised 38" + to clear bike storage below, 2) bed platform is remove able and is adjustable for different lengths .

I used horizontal E- rack ( $20.00 ea for 8' lengths, + 2x4 support brackets @ $4.00 ea + 1.5x1.5 x72" epoxy coated fence posts + 3/4" plywood panels with foam pad and covered with carpet inset to the cross rails . I had vertile supports made that support the E-track at the 38"+ height - 1/8" rolled to match the side contour and reinforced with 1/4" bent to th contour ( thanks to a friend with a metal shop).
The plywood panels at a tight press fit and when installed the whole platform is very solid .

Hope the attached photos help explain ( again this is my first post so we will see if they show up)
 

JP4

New member

Attachments

Whippet

New member
The Thermolite "Tough" series in thicker panels might be viable without any supporting cross members. The 1.5" Tough panels with 1/16" inch wall aluminum 1.5" angle glued to the edges/underside (primarily as edge protection and compression protection at the rails) could yield a bed panel is very short time. Surprisingly heavy though (about 120 pounds for the bed). The 1" Tough series would cut that weight by 25% or more, and *perhaps* be structurally adequate. ??

I haven't priced the thicker panels. For 1 inch I'd guess about $500 per 4x8 based on the 1/2" pricing I saw.

So many ways to accomplish this! But given my objectives (minimum stack height, minimum weight, maximum strength, modest cost) I still haven't found anything that can beat 1" square aluminum TIG welded into windowpane panels with 1/4" thick Thermo-lite Versatile on top. Total weight for 3 panels 26x70 is a tad over 60 pounds and total material cost is $350 (not counting rails or top upholstery/padding).
I've seen a few of your posts related to the 3-panel system. Did you end up making your panels this way? What sort of rail system did you end up using? Do you have any drawings you could share? Sorry for all the questions. As you said, there are so many ways to accomplish the 3 panel bed.
 

Top Bottom