Warming up: wood heater installed

It’s been a busy Easter here at the block. Deirdre’s family has been down for a visit so we’ve had 7 people on deck working on the bus. Luckily we had good weather and enough little jobs that we all could be occupied. Having said that the major aim Deirdre and myself set for her families’ visit was to get the flue for the wood heater installed. We set aside Good Friday to be the day for this. What follows is a written and pictorial description of this process.

Installing the WOOD HEATER FLUE

1.Cut a hole in your roof panel and install the roof panel.

Make sure the hole is big enough and if not get out the japanese


Deirdre and her Dad, Hugh, working together to test the roof in the right place.


Deirdre and her Dad completing a dry run of the the flue to make sure it can fit.


Deirdre’s sister Ceara screwing the roof into place.

2. Complete a dry run of the insulation.

Assemble the flue pieces outside. Put the pieces together per instruction. Making sure to complete each skin. Carry these pieces round to the back of the bus. Take them up the ladder with you and from above put the pieces through the roof into place.This will be tricky and you’ll need someone inside directing you and your piece of flue into place. Be prepared to be shouting down flue parts and poking your head down flue pieces in order to be heard. Also be prepared that the pieces will be large and you may need more than one person to feed the flue from above. Furthermore some adjustment in design may be needed when working with the curved roof of a bus as the flue is designed to be installed in a house and not a bus. In this case it was working out how to sit the flue so it would hold in the roof without shifting or falling down. Some creative use of leftover pieces, such as a second rubber cowl place on the inside as well as the outside, helped alleviate this.


Hugh putting the first pieces into place during the test run.


Ceara. In the background Deirdre’s Mum, Mary, and sister, Mairead, are at work putting the fly screen in to stop the bus filling with wasps and flies.

3. Begin

When satisfied that the dry run has been successful take everything back down and put together with some pop rivets. Once the inner, middle and outer skins have been pop riveted take them back up the ladder and working from the outside in feed them piece by piece into the whole on the roof. Make sure that someone is inside ready to help guide them into the fire box as otherwise the bus not the sky may fill with smoke. After you you have got the outside pieces into place install the final inner piece and then add the cap and you should be ready for step 4.


Deirdre and Hugh pop riveting the inner skin


Deirdre and Ceara working together to put the flue in. Hugh is waiting inside guiding the flue into place.

4. Test it with a fire.

Build your kindling pile in the fire, light, watch the flames and step aside. Hopefully you will see smoke billowing out of the flue and not in the bus!


Hoping that after 2 and half years in the tropics my wood box fire skills have not been lost.


A pleasant and comforting sight. Fire at last. We want freeze come winter!


Deirdre and her sister Mairead watching the smoke exiting the newly installed flue!

So that is a guide to installing the wood heater flue in a bus. All in all it took 3 people around 6 hours to install. This is from reading through the instructions to fire. Time would have been shorter no doubt if we were installing it in a roof as we wouldn’t have to have added the extra rubber cowl inside and wouldn’t have had as many issues with the curved roof. But it was a rewarding day to see it all working.


Home strait: wardrobes, pantry and unpacking boxes

This past week has seen things slowing down on the bus front. With the bed and the couch in, the bus feels more like a home. This  has allowed us to settle into more of a life here than just the bus. It’s been good to have free time to do other things although it has taken sometime to adjust to. There’s still moments in which I feel guilty if not working on the bus all day, but if we are going to have a life here, it can’t just be all about the property. Anyway that’s enough of an intro, it’s time to get down to what we’ve been up to.

After the excitement of getting the couch finished on the Saturday, Sunday saw us take the day off and venture down to the markets and the local Taste of the Huon at the show grounds. We gorged ourselves on food and brought some honey and cheese and came back home to a relaxing afternoon in the bus.

Monday saw us get back into the furniture making. The plan being to make a wardrobe and a pantry to sit over the wheel arches. Again we had chosen an Ana White design for a cupboard. Although we soon realised that this plan was not going to work. The dimensions we were wanting to build were different to the plan.

Normally that would not be a problem in and of itself as you can just alter it. The problem was that the bus itself meant that each side of the wheel hub came out a different distance from the wall. This meant that each piece of timber would have to be tapered to fit. Afraid that this would alter the strength of the cupboard/wardrobes and make it difficult to add shelving we went with a different plan.

That was to create a box or cover for the wheel arches and build the cupboard on top of the boxes. To make the boxes we used some off cuts of ply we had from making the bed and the couch and cut these down to size. They were then pocket drilled together creating an opened ended 3 side box cover. The cover was then brought inside in order for us to measure the top. Using offcuts again we cut the top of the box and drilled it all together.


The box waiting to be brought inside and tested out.


Clamped and waiting for the top to be screwed in.


The wheel arch boxes in place, matching the bed.

Tuesday was a day off. Deirdre had a job interview in Hobart so we took the chance to do some errands around town. The plan was to buy some paint for the wardrobe/pantry, some materials to make curtains, a woollen donna and to visit the tip shop for some pallets for our human manure compost bays and containers for our recycling. We left town in the afternoon with the paint and quilt with some added sheets and quilt set as well. We also managed to get some pallets from Bunnings.

On Wednesday we got back into the bus and cut out the sides of the wardrobe. The plan was to bring them up to the height of the window so that our LED light drivers could be inserted above. With the sides cut we then proceeded to cut the top. Again this being the bus it meant that each bit of timber was a different length. Meaning the need to double measure and check the measurements.


The side panel of the pantry at the right height.

After the panels were cut we pocked drilled and then brought the timber into the bus to drill in place (it would not fit through the door fully assembled). With the sides and tops screwed in we then cut some pine down to length to act as back supports to hold the side square. Once they were all in place we then cut out some 7mm ply to act as backing for the pantry cupboard.The pantry was then put into place ready for the shelves.


Adding the backing to the pantry cupboard.

Wednesday also saw the solar company visit with their electrician to work out the pole positions and the cabling to the bus and shed. The look on the face of the electrician showed that the site was more than a little challenging. After an hour of discussions we come up with a plan. We would be getting 9 panels mounted on three poles (2.25Kw). The conduit and cable would be run on the outside of the bus with the switches coming in from there (not as aesthetically pleasing, but practical). The good news was that it would be ready for installation from the 4th of April. The poles being put in one week (allowing concrete setting time) and the panels connected the following week. An exciting prospect indeed!

Wednesday night also saw Deirdre’s sister Tara arrive for a visit and helping hand on the bus. After showing her around the place on Thursday we got cracking on the bus. Tara set about planting out our succulents  whilst Deirdre measured and cut the wood for the wardrobe.

Once we completed those jobs the three of us then got to work moving the wood heater into the bus. It was difficult work but with some walking and lifting we were able to get the wood heater up onto the hearth ready for the flue to be installed.


Planting out the succulents ready to add a splash a colour to the front dash.


Taking the wood heater for a walk!


The McGowan sisters flexing their muscles!

Friday was another day off. With misty clouds and drizzle it seemed like a good day for a drive. So after working for a couple of hours on little odds and ends on the bus we headed for a late lunch an hour down the road in Southport. It was a chance to explore some of the region around us and enjoy the sights of the forest and coast.

Saturday saw us get back into completing the pantry and wardrobe. With both of them screwed into place we set about cutting and painting the shelves and adding a rail to the wardrobe. This hanging rail was created out of some of the overhead railing that was originally in the bus. Deirdre angle grinded it to length and we attached it using some of the brackets that came with it.


Testing out the shelves before painting. The pine under the third shelf is because all the shelves were off cuts and we had run out of wood the right length. The third shelf is actually two lengths of wood attached to the pine supports underneath.

Sunday we visited the Huon showgrounds for the small farm expo checking out some of the livestock and networks out there. We were both taken up by the prospect of Australian miniature goats and getting a couple of them to mow down our bracken. Of course it was all a dream at the moment but it is nice to begin dreaming again about all the things we can do on the block.

After the expo we came home and excitedly unpacked our boxes into the pantry, and bookcases. It was quiet exciting to see how quickly the place became our home. Most surprising of all though was that we still had plenty of space for more clothes to be brought in and future books and purchases. It’s hard to believe that in little more than 2 months we’ve almost completed our home!


Clamping the book case with my bum!

Next up the kitchen benches and flue and then it’s waiting for the tank and solar to be installed and we will have a completed home.


The bus gets some furniture part 2

Once the bed had been finished it was time to begin constructing our next piece of furniture. Following the theme of comfort we settled on the couch as the next piece to be built. Again we went with a design from Ana White. The design we choose was for a rolling cubby. With the slight difference that we would remove the wheels so it sat in the one spot. As fun as it may be to roll around on a couch it’s just a little impractical in a skinny bus!

The reason we went with this design was that it provided extra storage for us. A common but important theme that we are using for our furniture design. It also meant that we could perfect our techniques learnt from the bed as the cubby for the couch were similar to those of the bed.

Again the first thing to was to cut the wood to lengths. This provided a little bit of a challenge as the height of the design was smaller than the height of the couch we were wanting to construct. We researched and came to the conclusion that the sitting height for the couch should be 46 cm’s. Knowing that we would be adding cushions to the couch we worked back from this height and figured out the best height for the dividers was 41 cm. With the height worked we cut the dividers and  top and bottom like below.


The plywood cut to length.

The pieces cut we then assembled the cubby in much the same way as with the bed. That is:

  1.  Drill the pocket holes on the three ends/dividers.
  2. Attach the two end pieces to the bottom and drill them into place.
  3.  Measure centre for middle dividers.
  4. Attach top to the ends.
  5. Insert middle divider in between
  6. Screw middle divider in place.

Assembling the cubby. Marking out the middle so we can easily line up the divider.

As those who remember the previous post may have noticed this process is slightly different to the bed cubby’s. Having made the mistake of putting the divider in the middle before the top we altered the approach this time with much better results. The divider lined up better, it was easy to tap into place and it was fairly square.


The cubby almost perfectly square, an improvement on our bed cubby’s.

With the cubby made it was time to then paint before assembling it in situ in the bus. To paint the couch we went with a stain, this time a darker maple water based stain. The idea being to add some richer colour and contrast into the bus. The darker stain also suited the charcoal material that we had purchased to make the cushions from.


The cubby stained and ready for the splash of colour.

Whilst I stained the couch Deirdre got out the sewing machine and set up a make shift sewing centre in the bus using an off cut of ply and the saw horses as the table. She then sewed the couch covers top and bottom and a couple of floor cushions. The cushions having been brought from Clark Rubber when last in town.


Deirdre and her make shift sewing centre.

After the staining the couch I realised that the couch cubby still needed some extra colour. We had some sample pots, that had been purchased to paint the interior door which we weren’t going to use. So I decided to paint a couple of the cubby’s blue and green.


The cubby three coats later waiting for the back to be added on.

With the couch painted and the cushions made it was then time to assemble it. Shifting the cubby into the bus we screwed the back into place, added the cushions and had ourselves a new couch for the bus!


Adding the back to the couch.


Relaxing on our new couch! The bus is starting to become a home now!

The bus gets some furniture (part 1): week 8

As the last post showed we are gearing up for the final stage of the bus build: the furniture.  It’s exciting and a little sad. It means that the 3 months we’d planned to build is almost at an end and we have to confront the idea of entering back into the world of work (Deirdre’s got an interview this week and I’m applying for a tipshop job.) But as Deirdre keeps saying it needs to be sustainable and for that to happen we need some form of income to be able to afford the kitchen garden, food forest, yoga studio/work studio and ultimately the house that we desire.

The final stage also means that we have to be precise with our cuts and designs. We both want a crisp clean finish for the bus. Something that stands out and does justice to the lightness of the floor and the walls. It’s going to be a challenge for our skills and our knowledge but something that we are probably more prepared for than we were 2 months ago when we begun pulling down that metal railing. In that light what follows is the first of two furniture posts. This one is of our first piece: the bed!

The bed

When planning the bus, all those months ago in Mount Barnett, we were adamant that the bed had to have a dual purpose. A place to sleep and somewhere to store our clothes and the like (storage being something of a premium in the bus). In researching Deirdre found Ana White’s website and her design for a full size storage bed.  We printed out the design and have kept it with us on hand, if interested you can print it here: Ana White – Full Size Storage Bed – 2014-08-27

The first port of call was to head down to the local hardware and collect the timber. The design dimension were all American making our work a little more difficult. After some help through online conversion we settled on purchasing 2 bits of 17 x 1200 x 2400 plywood. (The design stipulates pine but unable to get the pine boards we went with the easiest option of plywood.)

First thing to do was to cut the plywood down to 305 mm ( 12 inches) wide strips. These strips would then be cut down to the required lengths for the side and end cubby’s. Using the circular saw Deirdre proceeding to cut 3 lengths of wood from each of the plywood sheet.


Deirdre measuring (twice!) the wood for the bed cubby’s. The circular saw is on hand ready to rip the wood down to length.

After cutting the timber into the required width, Deirdre then set about cutting each of the lengths of timber for the cubby’s. As the design shows the bed is made of three or cubby’s (or bookcases). Two on the side are the same length and one on the end is a little shorter. The great thing about having the plan on hand was that we were able to measure straight from the plan without any need to fit around wall frames and steel beams. It made for quick work and fairly soon we all the pieces cut.


The cubby’s lengths all cut to size. On the left is the end cubby, followed be the 3 dividers, one of the side cubby’s and the ends of the cubby’s.

Once the timber had been cut to length it was time to begin assembling the bed. This would be the moment of truth in which we would see how good our cutting and measuring was. To assemble the cubby’s we needed a top, a bottom, two ends and a divider. To do this was a two stage process.

First we had to make pocket holes using a Kreg. For those who haven’t used one, the Kreg allows you to drill at 45 degrees so you can screw two pieces of wood to each other on the inside of the join. This adds extra strength and also a neater finish as there are now screw showing on the outer edge.

After measuring and drilling the holes with the Kreg we then went to assemble the pieces. We attached the top of the cubby to the two end pieces using clamps and our hands to hold them in place. We then attached the divider in the centre of the top. So far, so good. The drill holes lined up. The cubby ends fitted the top fairly flush.

We then come up to the trickier part, which is illustrated in the photo below: attaching the bottom of the cubby to the sides. As you will notice in the photo the bottom is suspended from the ground and rests on the divider. On the design plans this was to be 19mm. As we discovered though, one side was higher than the other and we couldn’t match it to the 19mm line. In the end we ended up getting it as close as we could and screwing those together as it wouldn’t matter to much.

This whole process was then repeated for the other side and end cubby.


Making the cubby’s. The difficult part was lining up the bottom so it suspended. Our cutting and measuring were a little off and so the cubby’s are not as square as desired.


Testing out in situ. End and side cubby’s complete just waiting on backing.

With the side cubby’s and end cubby built it was time to add a backing and some cleats (the wood on which the bed slate sits.) The backing was made from 7mm ply cut down to 320mm and nailed into place. It was quick and easy process and gave us a sense of completion. Deirdre then used the mitre saw to cut down the bed slates.


Deirde using the mitre saw to cut down the cleats and bed slates to size.

We then screwed in place the two cleats along the back of the side cubby’s ready for the slates. The cubby’s completed we then stained them with a natural clear varnish.


The cubby’s being stained with natural varnish.

The painted beds were then brought inside and the slates attached. The bed completed on Deirdre’s birthday as we had originally planned.


The bed in place. Completed and finished too schedule on Deirdre’s birthday.


Deirdre testing out her birthday present!

Last thing to come was our bed which arrived mid Friday morning and was quickly unpacked and made ready for us to move into and enjoy.


The bed complete!

The bus gets a lick of colour: days 36-48

So it’s been awhile since I last posted. The bus has been gaining momentum again and we’ve been caught up in this world. To catch up with all that’s been going on I thought it’s best to share some pictures of the bus and it’s transformation over the past two weeks. So here we go: photo post #2.


Deirdre at work adding a window sill to the back wall. Turned out to be trickier then we thought. It took Deirdre and myself 6 attempts at making templates and cutting out the wood with the jigsaw before we got something that was okay.


Something that worked the first time. The air vent in the wall where the wood heater goes. After attaching the wall I drilled the four corners and using the japanese saw cut from corner to corner. A quick sand brought it back to line and the first niche in the bus was created.


Deirdre working those forearms as she paints the roof in it’s undercoat.


Deirdre and Shane at work finishing off the cutting in and roof undercoat.


The wall after the first coat. The colour is flour dust in case anyone is wondering.


Another view of the painted bus. The gap in the roof is being left as an access point for the electricians to run lights into.


Oscar enjoying the new shelf as he chases after a native bee.


After decking out the front area we decided that for easy access to the front seat we would need a platform for the wood heater to sit. After much debate and different attempts at designs this is the base of the wood heater.


The wood heater is finished. The base was made out of excess 35 x 90 pieces of wood that were the old bus bed. The top is a 17mm piece of ply that we got for the back window sill and furnishings.


With the walls complete and the wood heater platform made we were now able to lay the floor.


Deirdre laying out the first of the underlay. We started at the back as this was the widest point to begin from.


The first bit of flooring in place. Fairly easy if you follow the instructions that came with the kit. We thought we would quicken the process up by cutting the boards to the same length and working back from each end. It was more complex than needed and looks to joined.


Cutting the pieces to complete the bedroom part of the floor.


Laying the floor the instructed way. It was kind of addictive once a rhythm was found and we were


The floor at the halfway stage.


The floor in the back complete. At this stage we have finished 3/4 of the floor with some final parts to go.