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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