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10 Things I Learned Building a Vardo Wagon

Here is a guest post by Ricardo Villanueva on building tips for a vargo wagon. 

For me, a vardo is a Romani inspired tiny house that’s built to travel. This means a vardo has more limitations in space, weight, and balance than a tiny house that will only be moved on occasion. If you are thinking about building your own vardo, here are a few suggestions that might help.

1. Before you build anything. Build the whole thing (in detail) in your head or on paper. This will save grief over routes for wiring, plumbing, and gas lines. Yes, the plan will change, but you will know how changes in one place will affect your design elsewhere.

2. Make guides for your circular saw. For example, you can cut up to 8 foot lengths of mdf (medium density fiber board) say a foot wide. Cut this strip using the straight (manufactured) edge as a guide. Then glue these strips together so that your saw tracks along the upper edge. This will produce a straight edge on the strip you have glued. This makes cutting large sheets of plywood or paneling fairly easy.

10 Things I Learned Building a Vardo Wagon


Images © Ricardo Villanueva


3. To make, a screen door, tape cellophane around the jam (frame for the door). Glue the screen door frame together in the jam. Gently remove this then add countersunk screws.

4. If you make sash windows, like I did, screw them together without glue. If the pane is damaged, you can pull out the silicone seal and replace. The same goes for the screened portion.


5. I built a molly croft, it was heavy, and with six windows, would leak someday. It kept it simple and used manufactured trailer vents. I spent my weight capital on sturdy trusses. They hold up ¼ inch marine plywood and a 60 mil layer of EPDF membrane. Marine ply is expensive because it’s glued with epoxy and not just white glue.


6. I also used ¼ inch plywood as my skin over the 2×2 framing. I had to map out each section so I would know where to put the counter sink exterior screws. The exterior panels were also applied with expensive glue, this forming a monocoque structure (like an airplane where strength comes from frame and skin combined). Even using expensive marine topside paint, there were some cracks after the first winter. This is normal given that the structure undergoes compression and tension. When this happens, you sand, fill with epoxy, prime and paint the areas affected. This will only make your structure stronger. Tongue and groove boards look very cool on a vardo, but you will be paying with weight. Shingles are even heavier.


7. A port-a-potty behind a screen and showering outside isn’t for everyone. I installed a bathroom, using a commercial composite shower pan as the floor of the whole bathroom. My Eccotemp shower is installed inside and vented with generic ducting horizontally. I provided clearance and wrapped the sheet metal duct with muffler tape and fiberglass insulation where it passes through the wall. Metal flanges and high temp caulking finish this nicely. It works. Also I added an additional gas valve to the unit for extra peace of mind. This was my method. It is not a warranty. Always use Teflon tape for gas connections and check with soapy water for leaks.


8. Instead of a kitchen, I installed a galley and storage in the back of my vardo. The rear swings up to provide shelter.


9. To make decorative panels, you can use a router for the main features and dremel and chisels for detail. When you prep the wood, prime all of it to prevent warping. Then color with artist’s acrylic. Once this is dry, you can add several thin coats of marine captain’s varnish. This will protect your work and weathers well.


Images © Ricardo Villanueva 

10. As in boxing, protect yourself at all times — eyes, ears, and a mask rated to absorb any solvents or paints you use. Any further advice, gladly given in the spirit of open source information.

A big thanks to Ricardo Villanueva for sharing his vardo wagon building tips with us.

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Andrea is a contributor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the Tiny House Newsletter! She has a passion for sharing tiny and small house stories and introducing you to new people, ideas, and homes.
{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Dennis Reynolds
    July 13, 2015, 5:28 pm

    Great ideas, and great trailer !

  • alice h
    July 13, 2015, 6:59 pm

    I like that outdoor kitchen. Great idea for small spaces, keeps things a lot cleaner inside and really cuts down on excess moisture. I think I’d keep a tea making station inside though.

    • ricardo
      July 14, 2015, 11:29 am

      Your read my mind, alice. My light food prep table is over my fridge in the front.

  • Joe
    July 13, 2015, 8:43 pm

    To bad you opted to not use the molly croft roof.We did ours and love it. As far as leaks we used boat windows in the top and they seal great. Your trick for the circular saw is a good one. We do something similar but I glued a strip of wood along a factory edge of a panel then laying my saw along side the wood and cut the panel.Now I just put the cut edge on a line and follow it perfectly.Thanks for sharing you have some great ideas.

    • ricardo
      July 14, 2015, 11:31 am

      Your molly croft sounds cool Would love to see it.

  • July 13, 2015, 9:18 pm

    When building any Tiny House always be sure your framing is perfectly square. Doing so makes all the rest of the build much easier.

  • Marsha Cowan
    July 14, 2015, 9:46 am

    Very nice vardo. Great advice! Thanks!

  • Glema
    July 14, 2015, 5:44 pm

    Nice job, thanks Ricardo, for sharing with us. God bless and happy trails!

  • Richard
    July 19, 2015, 12:48 pm

    Yes, yes and yes, great job. It’s nice to see an inventor/builder consider weight and balance.

  • Gabriella
    April 3, 2017, 2:23 pm

    Naif and so much good will.

    April 3, 2017, 7:24 pm

    Micro size this trailer so it could be towed by a recumbent bike, and it would be exactly the same only different in color to what sits in my carport….! Some day I hope to get around to finish building it as it needs doors and windows… I’m planning to tow it behind my recumbent to the Florida Keys one day….

    • Natalie C. McKee
      April 4, 2017, 5:18 am

      Oh that would be so excellent!

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