One of the biggest reasons we chose a bus over a sticks-and-staples motor home is for the former’s reliable construction. They are built like tanks! An accident between a bus and a minivan/motor home/5th wheel trailer will leave the latter conveyances almost unrecognizable. To continue the solidity of the bus frame, we needed to weld components to the frame to continue its structural integrity where it counted: the walls, the kids’ bunks, and overhead cabinets.
Fabricating the Components
The floor and ceiling pieces for the walls consist of 1-1/2 inch “L” brackets that measure to about 2″ in length. The bottom versions sit on a plate that welds to the floor frame. The holes on both sides of the “L”s are staggered so as to not have the threaded ends bump into each other. For the cabinet supports we used 1″ flat stock about 2-1/2” long and rounded the ends where the fastener’s hole sits.
We used a band saw to cut the pieces and a bench grinder to round out the edges. A drill press with a metal-cutting bit ensured the holes were perpendicular to the face of the component. After we made a rough hole, we would slowly tilt the drill in all directions to slightly widen the cavity into which the bolts would sit. This gave the bolts some give when inserted.
The process might sound obvious to the seasoned handyman, but it mystified me until I tried it. Holding a band saw terrified me as did the drill press. Visions of cutting a digit and getting whacked by a “caught” metal or wood piece rotating on a drill press bite were all I could imagine in terms of my success in using these tools. But with Michael coaxing me that he was teaching me the safe ways to proceed with the machinery, I calmed down long enough to utilize these tools effectively.
It’s really not that bad! The mystery of new experiences is dispelled once you try it and survive it.
Weld to the Frame
The easiest method to attach the metal pieces to the frame was to stick-weld with a mix of Oxygen and Acetylene. The portable tanks allow us weld anywhere! Uncle Frankie had the supplies; all that Michael had to do was practice the technique. A plethora of time could have come in handy, but we did not have that luxury. We only had 2 weeks away from our departure and we still had not installed the insulation, subfloors, exterior wall panels, nor ceiling. The critical path lay stagnant because of these little metal tabs, so we abandoned the sticks.
Michael resorted to the method he had practiced: Mig welding. This required a couple of 50′ long cords plugged into the shed and supplying power to the welder we carried into the bus. We had never videotaped Michael doing a weld before so we took the opportunity at hand.
If welding is still a mystery to you, let YouTube be your teacher. This is how Michael learned. His craftsmanship may not be worthy of Instagram, but the tabs and “L”s he welded have held this bus together while barreling down the highway.
Some advice mentioned on the video is worth reviewing for your projects.
- Before you do weld on your bus, van, or car, first disconnect the positive battery cable
- Wear protective clothing despite how manly you are and despite how hot it is outside
- Tack first on one side and then weld on the other.
- Overhead welding can be tricky because the molten metal, via gravity, wants drip down away from the joint.
- Space out where you welding so as to avoid getting one particular area too hot.
- Roosters make nice background sounds to complement the crackle of welding
- Ugly welds still do the job needed.
The fabrication and attachment took one day to complete. There was no need to prime the pieces because they were not going to be seen. The initial setup cost about $200 to get the welder, flux core wire, welding helmet and gloves.