Blog post #3

Starting the 30" high top build

Kelvin Smith

11/23/20204 min read

  So here's where it really begins.  I plan quite a bit in my head for my projects, but when it comes to measurements, things really need to be drawn out and added up.  I won't go into massive detail about this, but I made some careful considerations as to how I would integrate my design with the van structure and certainly made some drawings.  I knew I wanted something big, but how big?  How big would be safe and how heavy could it be? I searched a bunch of pictures online and looked at the "off the shelf" tops for ideas on what to do and especially what NOT to do.  I mean, why do something small when you can do something big? After all you could just grab a conversion van top or a fiberglass top and call it a day right?  Then of course the van would look like a bunch of others.  For me, if I'm going to put in the effort it needs to be worth it.  I decided on a 30" tall top with an over cab bunk which will allow a 3/4 bed (that's a thing apparently).  The design, considering the dimensions of the van, would allow for 51" wide and just over 15' length.  Since I was going to cut the top off the van I needed it to be structurally sound, as the new top would take over some of the structural rigidity from the stock roof. I started by using 1.5"  1/8th inch mild steel angle iron in continuous lengths to run the length of the roof and beyond the front.  This would be the guide to which the actual frame would be welded to.  I drilled holes through the roof from the underside on the pinch welds at each of the roof cross brace locations and bolted the angle iron to these points.  There are 5 points on each side and in the front there would be two additional bolts in the center on the front foremost roof brace, as this location would have the most force extorted upon it. I used cheap low grade bolts initially to hold the angle iron in place while I built the rest. These later were replaced with 12 grade 8 bolts with matching grade nylon locking nuts.  By using this method, the stock drip rails on the van would continue to function as designed to allow water to move from the top down (nobody wants leaks right).  The structure material is 1" 1/16th" square mild steel.  I chose this because it is relatively strong, lightweight, and easy to weld.  It would also be easy to rivet the panels into later and attaching things as needed on the inside for the build.  I made the front section on the ground and made sure that all the angles were correct.  I fully welding this piece on the ground (easier) and then proceeded to make a back section.  The back section was needed to ensure that the top would be straight and level once the pieces began to be assembled. I placed the pieces onto the top into the channels and I then proceeded to tie the front (tack welded) into the rear, by taking measurements to ensure it aligned properly.  Once this was done I welded it every 6" to 1 foot with 1-2" welds to the angle iron.  I then began to add additional trusses, and the all the square tubing was welded in all areas.  The front window and rear side windows I purchased on EBAY beforehand, so I knew exactly what dimensions the window frames would need to be.