Friday, March 30, 2012

Westfalia Improvements - Part III

As I've previously mentioned, the Vanagon Westfalia camper conversion is very space efficient.  Sometimes too much so.  So much uitility is packed into a small space that one function can sometimes infringe upon another.

A small forward and larger rear table are ingeniously mounted in a manner that allows them to swivel into place, then stow without removing.  Westly's front table was missing when he rolled into my life and as it didn't seem all that useful, I've never replaced it.

The rear table though is much in demand for food preparation and serving, coloring books, map reading, perusal of the Bentley Manual, etc.   Two locking knobs (In Westly's case two metal rods welded on) allow the table to be locked into a multitude of handy positions.  The table stows nicely out of the way of the seat / bed, but  in doing so blocks access to two storage lockers and the hanging closet.

Van Kid munches on snacks and colors a treasure map at the table
The rear table stowed  - out of the way, but limited access to cabinets
Access to the closet involves cutting the lower part of the door just below the hinge and permanently attaching it to the opening.  I never use the closet that much, so haven't done this.  But Van Kid keeps his clothes and other stuff he can't leave home without in the lockers, so I began to cast about for a solution.  I noticed some Westy owners had modified their tables to be height adjustable and after considering the different ways they accomplished this, I set about shamelessly copying their clever ideas.

Rear Table Height Adjuster

I went to my local home improvement store and purchased a 3/4" X 24" galvanized pipe, a 3/4" PVC box adapter and a 3/4" PVC union.  I cut the pipe to 22"  leaving the orange plastic thread protector on one end.  Then I removed the table swivel base and used a cut-off wheel to detach the original galvanized stub.

Trimmed pipe with the union jammed into one end
The box adapter goes in the hole in the swivel base
The box adapter went into the hole in the swivel base from below, then I bolted the base back in place.  I jammed the union into the end of the pipe with a mallet, then put the pipe down through the table leg hole where the union slipped into the box adapter.

How it all fits together
Swivel base bolted back into place with pipe dropped in
The pipe with plastic sleeve pokes through here
The table legs slips right over it and down to the base
The table leg went back in the hole over the new pipe which is just the right size to fit snugly inside it.  The orange plastic thread protector gives it just enough tension to slide smoothly and eliminate rattles.  Now the table can be raised to any position and locked in place while retaining it's swivel function.  A higher table elevation comes in handy when the pop-top is up and tasks such as cooking are being performed while standing.  And it can be used as a night stand for the top bunk. Parts were about $10.

Raised position allows access to lockers
Outside Table Mount

While I was poking around online finding information about table height adjustment, I came across a thread where cunning Westy owners had made a bracket to mount the table outdoors, using the jack point on the side of the van.  At least one vendor sells this ready-made and it looks real slick, but as usual, I had my own ideas. Gathering some leftover odds and ends from around my shop, I put this together:

What is this thing and why is it in my Westy??
The rear table sets on a adjustable rod
Higher for cooking
It will raise another 11 inches if necessary
Lower for dining
(camping scenes simulated for illustrative purposes)
Pipe fits into jack point, hitch pin holds it in place
Here's what I used:  21.5  inches of 1.5" ABS pipe cut to 12" and 9.5"
                               1.5" X 3/4" PVC T fitting / threaded in the 3/4 opening
                                3/4" X 18" galvanized pipe (leave the orange cap on one end)
                                Suprotek PC-110 rebar pad (the foot)
                                Structron Super Handle - shortened to 23"
                                1/4" X 1-3/4" cotter-less (spring loaded ball) hitch pin
The Super Handle is a telescoping fiberglass pole used by painters and janitors. You twist the two parts in opposite directions to loosen, then the inner part can be raised or lowered.  The threaded end where a brush or broom was intended to be attached is just the right size for the Westy table to rest on.  To trim it to size requires taking it apart and cutting the two parts individually.  When I had the size correct, I epoxied it into the upper (longer) ABS tube.  The two ABS tubes were then attached to the T fitting ( I didn't glue them in so I could break it down for more compact storage), the galvanized pipe was drilled to accept the hitch pin (just inside the jack point opening - see picture).  The rebar foot needed a little sanding to press-fit inside the lower ABS tube.

The foot is not adjustable, as it is on the slick vendor version.  For uneven ground, a rock or stick wedged under the foot will suffice.  The stand flexes a little when people are stepping into and out of the van, but not enough to worry about.  The tire jack can be put in place on the opposite side to stabilize ( BTW - this is also a useful trick to stabilize the van in strong winds or when lots of motion is taking place inside).

After I made this, I saw a jack that was modified with a tube and locking knob on the side so the table and it's leg can be set into it.  Great idea - you're already carrying around the jack in case of a flat tire, and now it has an additional use. I'll try this sometime.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)

The AC-110 volt circuit in the Westfalia conversion consists of an outside electrical cord connector, a 15 amp circuit breaker, one duplex mounted below the rear table, and one duplex inside the cabinet below the stove/sink (that's where the fridge plugs in).  The original brown bakelite was cracked and chipped, so I made plans to upgrade.

The GFCI mounted in the proper Euro fashion
It has a tiny LED showing when you're connected to the grid
Black and red buttons are for testing and resetting
The lower plate contains the 15 amp circuit breaker
A GFCI monitors current flowing from hot to neutral, and disconnects the power in about 1/30th of a second if it's imbalanced.  They are required by electrical code in damp areas because in case of a short circuit, you could become the path to ground especially if you are standing in, or have your hands in water which conducts electricity readily. They can prevent a fire, and/or keep you from getting burned, shocked, or electrocuted in situations like a broken cord shorting out, or your curling iron falling in the bath.

Since camping with Westly often includes some type of wet inside and out, it seemed a logical choice to add one.  Because of the circuitry inside, the GFCI tends to be a little deeper than a standard duplex.  I added a deeper utility box to accommodate it (remodel box from Ace Hardware) and new white vinyl plates for the duplex and the circuit breaker.

Seat Back Backpack

Really just an old day pack that was sitting around.  I hung it on the back of the passenger seat where it serves admirably holding a litter bag, first aid kit, extra batteries, coloring books, TP, in short a lot of stuff that we would otherwise be constantly searching for all over the dash, floor, seats, squirreled away in some bin somewhere.  It also detaches easily to use for it's intended purpose.

See more modifications here...


  1. I'm SOOO copying your rear table-raiser idea!
    Keep the ideas comin'...

    1. Zippyslug - Yes! Please do & let me know how it turns out.

  2. Regarding the Rear Table Height Adjuster:
    Was easy to find the 3/4" X 24" galvanized pipe at the hardware store.
    Even found the 3/4" PVC box adapter -
    But after 2 different store visits and an online search, I can't find the 3/4" PVC union.
    Any chance you know how to get a hold of them?
    Thanks and GREAT idea!

    1. I'm pretty sure I picked up the 3/4 union at Lowes and if I could find my receipt I'd give you the part number. Did you check Hopefully you've found something by now anyway! Since installing the table height adjuster, I always stow the table at the same height as the range/sink. That way the storage bins below are always accessible and the table edge rests against the curtains so there's no bumping into the wall while driving. I did have to put thread lock on the two bracket bolts directly under the cabinet top as they kept working loose. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Does your table indeed lock into position? My mounting bracket has a metal flap that fits between the screw and post. This offers little resistance to swivel even when torqued down as tight as I can. This allows the table to swing out when taking a hard left. Have you had this issue? I was thinking about grinding the flap out and punching divits into the post to allow the screw to seat into various positions. Thoughts?

    1. My table locks very securely. I've driven for weeks with it in the raised position and it doesn't move at all. It may be because with the metal rod welded onto the threaded post I can really crank down on it. Mine does has the metal flap inside as well and when I took it all apart, i noticed the contact surface was surprisingly smooth.

      I think your solution would work, but before you do that and lose some of the adjustability, you could try roughing up the contact surface of the flap with a file or grinding disc. Let me know how it works out!

  4. Thank you for the prompt response.
    I was looking into getting some 1/4"x3/4" metal strap and creating some hangers for the tray above the stove. I haven't done it yet so I was going to start with 6" and then use a mallet and my vice to bend them into shape:
    | |

    Plasti-dip them with a color that matches my van(same as yours) and banana, pan and voodoo doll hangers.
    I want to use flat metal as opposed to the round ones to limit rocking and sliding.

  5. I like that idea! I tried some magnetic clips, but they weren't strong enough to hold anything heavier than a recipe, and how often do you use a recipe while you're camping? I wonder if the rain gutter hooks for hanging lights on the house would work? I'll check that out tomorrow.