Finishing Touches to Cook Station

With the black paint curing and time on my hands, I added a touch of flare to the station.  I settled on brass finishing washers and stainless screws.  This gives the station a Bar n Grill look.  I call it the ‘Rock n Roll’ vibe.

No verbiage this time, just pictures to show the finished product.

Check it out:


I still need to add the sliding cutting board (as shown earlier) and the counter top, which will go on after the install to maximize its size and shape.

For those of you just joining the blog, the cook station will be placed in the sliding door opening, accessible from inside or outside the van.  The opening is quite large.  The station takes up 1/2 of this space and adds a functional dimension to an otherwise overly large entrance.

Up Next:  Designing the galley (which will reside on the Port side behind the driver seat).  


Finishing the Cook Station

With the cook station designed and built, it’s time to apply a finish and move on down the trail.  But, there’s still one thing that needs attention.


The owner’s manual for my Engle fridge calls for 6″ of clearance around the end of the fridge for proper heat dissipation.  The shelf above the fridge is quite close to the top of the fridge, so I wanted to allow for more ventilation in this area.  With the cook station already assembled, I had to turn to my coping saw for this operation.


At first the cut is uneven and very rough…


But, with a little work from your wood rasp, you can have it looking very nice.  This will allow better air flow for proper cooling and doesn’t get in the way of my alcohol stove storage.

Now for the color decision:  Light or dark?  High contrast or low?  How does it all fit with the rest of the coach?  How does it all tie together?  After brooding over these details for several weeks, Jennifer and I decided to paint these kitchen pieces black, yup black.  Black creates a solid feeling to the bases and doesn’t get in the way of other colors which come later, like flooring and ceiling panels.  It will anchor the galley and cook station and  contrast nicely with a lightly finished counter top.

Check it out:

After the primer, it took 3 coats to get the job done.  


This is a semi gloss in black from Sherman Williams.  We used a water based paint to keep the VOC’s to a minimum.  

Now picture a very lightly finished counter top from Beach wood, like this:

These Beach counter tops come in varying thicknesses and lengths.  We plan to use 1,1/4″ thick panels for our counter tops.  

A touch more bling will be added to the cook station, stay tuned…


Spice Rack Simplified

Ok, I said I would design an integrated and removable spice rack, but I didn’t say how elegant.  

Check out the simplified version of what I originally intended:


Above you see what I consider to be the essentials for preparing a nice meal:

  1. Olive oil
  2. Fresh ground pepper
  3. Fresh ground sea salt
  4. Minced garlic
  5. Onion salt
  6. Soap detergent for clean up

All this fits nicely across the end of the cook station, but there’re slightly too deep for the GSI Basecamp Cook Set I planned to use.  Hmmm….

Plan B:


Above you see a Lodge cast iron 9″ fry pan with lid and a 1.1L Bush Pot from Four Dog Stoves.  Between these two pieces, you can cook a lot of great food for 2 people.


And the bulk of the seasonings can fit inside the Bush Pot.  I’ll weave a hot pad down into the pot to quiet the seasonings from clattering around.


So, the final set up looks like the photo above.  All seasonings are placed inside the Bush Pot which keeps then contained and the two larger items:  dish soap and olive oil, can reside on the shelf.  They’re both held from falling out by the top and bottom cleat.  You actually need to rotate them when removing.


Sometimes the best answer is the simplest answer.  As my dad and I often say, “It’s so simple it actually has a chance of working”.  

Slide Out Fridge Design

First let’s talk briefly about which fridge.  All claim to be low energy consumption and the market seems not to stratify the offerings beyond this claim.  Well, that’s not quite how I see it.  Download the owner’s manuals and another picture will emerge.  Others I queried, namely Dometic and ARB draw 7 amps.  However….(drum roll, please)…Engel draws significantly less energy.  That’s right, Engel fridges draw 0.7 – 2.5 amps.  That’s a game changer if your looking for energy efficiency.  That’s 3 x 10 times less energy coming off your battery!

So, now that you’ve heard why I purchased the Engel, let’s look at the application of the fridge within the cook station.


I first needed extension drawer slides.  The slides shown above where purchased off Amazon.  They’re 22″ full extensions slides rated at 500 lb.


Looking down on the sliding shelf.  Remember, the donut plywood rings keep the fridge from shifting around on the shelf.  A stainless pad eye will be mounted on the front lip to strap the fridge down and prevent it from lifting upward as I pull it out.

I also added cleats to the stove shelf, to keep the alcohol stove from shifting around while driving.  
This is the easy access I’ve been talking about.  The stove, pots and drawers are easily accessed from inside or outside the van (when the door is open).  
Fridge in proper position, with sliding tray closed.  Notice how well the fridge will be ventilated.  Engle want’s 6″ of open space all around the fridge.  
Fridge tray fully extended, feels rock solid.  
The 22″ slide allow the lid to open fully past vertical.  
And, there happens to be enough room for paper towels mounted behind the lid.  I plan to use a bungie cord to pull the towels up against the underside of the top shelf.  This will keep them from unravelling as I travel down bumpy roads.  
Now, what keeps the fridge in place when I hit the brakes?
I made a small retention latch from solid cherry.  It’s show above in the closed position.  The plywood backer plate is acting as a shim and provides a wear surface for the high tech latch.  But, how do I properly tension the high tech retention latch, keeping it in this closed position?  
With a low tech bolt, secured with a nylock nut.  I can now get the tension exactly how I like it.  
High tech latch, shown in the open position.  

With the sliding fridge tray installed and secured, I can now focus my attention up above where I see space for another cooking essential, namely a spice rack.

Up Next:  The integrated yet removable spice rack


Cutting Board

Moving forward at a snail’s pace, I now present to you the cook station cutting board.

Check it out:

I first used my biscuit jointer edge join a solid cherry panel to the front edge of the cutting board.  This will look much nicer than the plywood edge.  
It will slide under the counter top (not shown) near the top of the cook station.  
The finger hole will make it easy to slide in and out.  
It will nearly double the working space of the cook station.  The counter top will keep it from tipping downward.  
The counter top will be placed over the cutting board.  It will conceal the cutting board by extending over the edge of the cook station by about 4″.   

Up Next:  Sliding fridge tray.  


Drawers for Cook Station

Drawers are critical for an organized coach.  Little things like the fire starter, spatula, eating utensils and pancake flipper all need a home.  I wanted the drawers to be accessible from inside or outside the van (when the sliding door is open).  They also needed to stay in place without sliding out when I drive around a corner.

Check it out:

I used clear pine for the material.  Planed to 5/8″ for drawer sides, with 3/4″ front and back.  The drawer bottom is 1/4″ okoume.
I cut out finger holds to open and close the drawers.  Think simplicity, flush fitting, no hardware to snag.


The margin at the top of the drawer front is necessary to raise the drawer upward 1/4″ to clear the retaining cleat.  This retaining cleat keeps the drawers in place when driving.
As shown, both ends of the drawers are identical and open from either side.  You lift upward and then draw open the drawer.


The cook station sits in the sliding door opening.  I can cook with the door open (while standing inside my van) or move outside, fold down the outrigger table (yet to be built) and cook curbside, while easily reaching all my cooking supplies.  The easy access drawers allow for 3 separate functions:

  1. Opening inside the van (cooking inside)
  2. Opening outside the van (cooking curbside)
  3. Completely removable (picnic bench cooking)

Up Next:  Concealed cutting board



Cook Station Goes 3D

I stole a few hours from my work day to hibernate in my wood shop, smell the fresh cut wood and bond with my camper van cook station.  Let’s start assembling this critical van piece.

Check it out:

I’m using clear pine purchase from Home Depot.  Easy to work, easy to sand and not overly expensive.  It’s also light weight, which works to my advantage.  

This is the general frame work.  I built this according to the specs of the cooking pieces I wanted to fit within the cook station.  You’r design may vary.

I couldn’t resist placing a few items in their respective places.  
Up top you see my GSI cook set.  The middle shelf will hold my two burner Origo alcohol stove. If you look closely, you’ll notice a difference between the bottom panels.  The outside panel has been built with a wider cleat (with holes drilled through it).  This is wider to accommodate hinges for the fold down table.  With the van door open, I will fold down a table for cooking immediately outside the van, while standing in the parking lot.  More details to follow…

The fridge will go in the bottom portion on a slide-out shelf.


In this photo you can see the shelving for the two drawers that will be placed on the right side.  I plan to place utensils in these two shallow drawers.  They will be designed to pull either direction, hence into the van or out into the doorway of the van.  This will make picnic table cooking more convenient.  It will also make the contents quick to grab when cooking curbside on my drop down table.

Up Next:  Building the pull-out drawers.  

Cook Station Beginnings

With the design work done on the cook station, it’s time to start actually building this critical piece.  The design time probably exceeds the actual build time, yet cannot be short changed.  We all use our vans differently.  We all have different hobbies, objectives and desires.  The design time allows you to incorporate these needs and wants into the end product.  Our cook station is a great example of this principle.  We are splurging a bit on the space were allocating toward the cook station, but feel it’ll all come back to us in the end as we voyage along while enjoying fine van cooked meals.  And, who wants to be subject to eating out every meal?  We often prefer our own cooked meals as opposed to the local options available, which sometimes will be nothing.

I’ll now show you the humble beginnings of the Cook Station:


It takes tools to build beautiful things.  Not a lot of tools, but the right tools.  I’ve never had a bench top Mortising tool, but for this project I really needed one.  Without this tool, I would have a difficult time making the mortise joints needed for the face frames of the cook station.

Here’s how it works:


You buy a mortising bit, which includes both a chisel and inner bit.  The combination of these two pieces enables you to cut square holes into your wood.  These square holes form mortises, in which the tenons snuggly insert themselves.


These pieces form the stiles of the cook station.  Notice the neatly created mortises.  I love having the right tools and never feel guilty about spending money on such gear.  I promise good tools will outlast your cell phone, computer and iPad combined.


These are the cross pieces, the ends of which form the tenons.  These tenons are easily cut on your table saw to exacting standards.  You want the tenons snug but not overly tight.


The pieces then clamps together to form the panel.  My cook station requires 3 panels.  I clamp them up one at a time to ensure they’re done right.  There is a right and wrong side to them, so I needed to go slow and deliberate.  Always measure the diagonals for squareness.  If un-square, use an off-centered clamp to bring the panel into perfect squareness.  If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice the middle blue clamp is off-centered and providing the corrective force needed to bring the panel square.


This side view of my plan shows the panel specs.  It’ll make a lot more sense when assembled.

Stay with me, much more to come!

Apache, my Overland Touring Trailer Build

While waiting impatiently for my van to arrive, I decided to spend my time building an overland touring trailer to compliment my van and add more kid sleeping capacity for weekenders.  This idea has been floating around in my mind for several years, but I never took the time to complete the concept until now.

The concept is two fold:

1-add room for a couple of kids for short weekend outings with the touring van and

2-allow me to explore overland touring routes like the Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route with my son, by pulling the trailer behind my 4runner.

In essence, the overland touring trailer fills both niches and even makes quick overnighters much more possible by keeping all my camping gear organized in one place.  When I arrive home from camping, the gear remains loaded in the camper and is never unloaded.  I love to camp, but hate the brain damage of gathering up all the gear.  It takes longer to gather the gear than quality time spent enjoying the out of doors.  I’m hoping this little trailer will change this time equation and provide me with more days in the backcountry.

Check it out:

The basic design is an Explore Box.  I purchased the plans from:  Compact Camping Concepts.  I made a few changes, but keep things very basic.  
With this design, the cooler and water jug reside on the front shelf.  The overall trailer is very light and nimble.  Fender are yet to be installed.  Notice that beautiful roof top tent.  
The rear compartment is for the larger items.  There’s also a small storage compartment up front on the Port side.  
Here you can see the rear tailgate and fenders mounted along with rear drop down jacks.  
Safari style camping for on the go overland touring.  

All my trailers and boats acquire a name.  This little overland touring trailer will be referred to as Apache.  This name came to me after watching my favorite movie ever made:  Geronimo, with Matt Damon, Wes Studi and Robert Duvall.  This is one of Matt Damon’s first movies, he’s not even mentioned on the cover.  If you’ve never seen this movie, you’re missing an American classic.  My kids and I quote lines from this movie on a daily basis.  One of my favorites, “Have they taught you to lie, Gatewood?”

With the overland trailer now complete, I’ll turn my attention back to the cook station.  

The Cook Station

One of the features you’ll need to consider during your DIY camper van build is how you wish to prepare food.  Do you eat out during your voyaging or do you prepare your own food.  How often do you prepare your own food vs eating out.  By answering these questions, you’ll be better able to design and build your personal cook station.

My dad’s camper van cook station consisted of a basic backpacking stove, but we’re going with more cooking power.  We like to prepare our own food and enjoy the experience of cooking out of doors so we’re allocating more room to our cook station.  


The cook station will be located on the Starboard side of the van, in the sliding door area.  The above photo shows a curb side view of the station (with the sliding door in the open position).  So, if my sliding door were open and you walked up to my coach, this is what you’ld see.  Fridge on the bottom, stove slot above, drawers and pot/pans above the stove.  The fridge slides out on heavy duty rollers toward the right side of this drawing (into the walk way).


This is an end view of the cook station.  The fridge tray slides out this end, towards you.  This whole thing will make more sense once built, but this is the basic drawing.


Meet the Engle MT17.  Engle fridges draw 0.7-2.5 amps.  The competition all draw 7 amps.  That’s a huge difference in energy consumption.  The diminutive size makes it barely adequate for two travelers. Originally, I considered a larger fridge, but quickly realized it wouldn’t fit my design.  So by keeping the fridge small, it stays within the size requirements of a small van.  And, this is an on-road touring van, so supplies are never far away.


This is the sliding tray that will hold the fridge.  I needed a way to keep the fridge from sliding off the tray, so I cut small donut size pieces from 3/8″ okoume scrap.


I rounded the exposed corners and mocked up their location on the tray.


I then glued and stapled the donuts into position.  I then re-tested using the actual fridge to make sure they were properly located.  Success!!  Now, when I slide the fridge out, It’ll stay in position on the tray.


My cook station design calls for face frames but I have no way of making mortis and tenon joints.  After thinking through this, I decided to add a Powermatic bench top mortising tool to my work shop.  Now I can build the face frames needed for this design.  It does cost some money to build cool things.  So, you can either pay some expert to build your van and hope he can read your mind, or order the tools you need to build it yourself.  At this point in my life, I’m much more comfortable doing the later.

Choosing a stove system:


After much research and discussion, we settled on the Dometic Origo 3000 alcohol stove as the heart of the cook station.

Why alcohol?

  1. Alcohol stoves are not pressurized.  This makes them much safer for confined cooking area.
  2. Alcohol doesn’t stink when spilled and quickly evaporates leaving behind zero residue.
  3. Unlike propane, alcohol is lighter than air, so it moves upward and away from confined areas.
  4. Alcohol stoves require no external hose, regulator and tank.  All fuel is stored inside the stove.  This makes it quicker and easier to move to a picnic bench and much smaller to store.
  5. Alcohol stoves are very simple and reliable.  This Swedish design has been used for years on sailboats.  And, if the Swedes designed it, guaranteed it’ll work.


This shows the stove in the open configuration.  Notice the two stainless alcohol containers.  These containers store enough alcohol to burn 4.5 hours on high.  That’s a lot of cooking.  The black rubber discs covering the opening prevents the evaporation of alcohol when not in use.


When opened, notice how the lid sits flush with the counter top, preventing the stove from falling backwards.  This is good simple engineering folks.

The stove will store neatly in its slot in the cook station.   When cooking, it’ll be placed on top of the counter top.  By building a storage place for the stove, the counter top is free for other functions when we’re not cooking.

Now for the pots and pans.


We settled on the GSI Pinnacle Basecamper Large cook set.  Check them out online.  This system provides a ton of capability for minimal size and weight.  Enough room to toss a salad in the 5L container and prepare lobster bisque in the 3L container.

This is a very small van, hence all the pieces need to be chosen with care and purposeful consideration.  By keeping the pieces small and efficient, your overall size remains workable.  Get the pieces too big (and it can easily happen) and you’ll be crowded and over stuffed.