A Study of Art, Adventure, Engineering and Enterprise
Category: School Bus
Welcome to the home of the El Dorado school bus conversion. We know we want a beautiful place to live while we travel around northern America building our online business. Even though the idea is exciting, the execution is full of fearful questions.
Ian and V’s School Bus Conversion
Is this legal? What challenges does owning a 30,000 pound vehicle bring about? Is this something for crazy people? Will I end up wasting too much money?
To be honest, I still don’t know the answer to these questions. But we’re doing it. Here’s our bus:
Left to Right – V, Ian & Jamie. Jamie (of Whole Foods) sold us the bus.
How Much Does a School Bus Conversion Cost?
We don’t know yet. That said, you can see our expense spreadsheet as they happen. Once we’re done, you can look at the below spreadsheet to get a great idea for every expense. That said, we’re in it now, so the spreadsheet just shows you how much we’ve spent this far. Feel free to check it out:
This video details what may be one of the more challenging parts of skoolie cabinetry, installing the hinge and other hardware.
The image below shows the completed cabinet doors.
The below image shows a closeup of the hinges. These are 1/2 inch overlay hinges. The brand I picked up was called Liberty. I spent $19.98 on a 10 pack of these hinges at Home Depot. If I were to do it again, I would have gone with the soft close option. Soft close means they have a piece of plastic inside the door hinge part of the hinge. That plastic pushes agains the hinge to soften the closing mechanism. It’s only a little more expensive, but it might add a bit more to the “wow” factor.
Here’s what the hinge I installed looks like:
Tips for Installing Half Inch Overlay Hinges
Use millimeters to measure your distance from the edge. 20.5 mm is far more precise than whatever it is in imperial increments
Use a square to draw a cross for exactly where you want your drill bit to start the hole.
The instructions say the mm size for the forstner bit. I used a 1-3/8″ steel forstner bit and it worked fine. It cost $16.99 at Home Depot. It’s available on amazon for $11.80 via this link (link). If blog saves you $5.00, let me know in the comments please. 🙂
Have a fast square on hand. I have an aluminum one that I purchased a long time ago, but you can find them very inexpensive on Amazon for less than $5.00 (link here). The fast square is a very useful tool.
I installed the hinges so that the center of the hinge is 3″ from the top and the bottom of the cabinet. I’m happy with this and I stole the idea for hinge location from some professionally built cabinets in my friends house.
The bag called the knob that I used a Liberty 1-1/8″ scallop edge round knob of antique brass.
Be careful, these are for sale on Amazon for $10 each in some scammy places. At Home Depot I picked them up for less than $1 each and they can be found on amazon for the same price.
These are really easy to install. In the video I demonstrate the process very quickly. Here’s some quick details just in case reinforcing knowledge would be helpful.
Measure 1 inch down and one inch inside the doors to make your mark for drilling
Use a 3/16″ drill bit to go straight through the cabinet
Hand tightened the knob with your thumb on the back bolt
If I find in the future that they are coming off, I can add a washer to the back and use a screwdriver to ensure they never come loose.
I would appreciate your feedback on anything mentioned in this post. Please feel free to leave a comment below with tips that I may have missed, or with specific questions you have regarding your own build.
In this video I installed the metal trim for the rear door of the bus. That trim came with the bus but it was rusty and ugly looking. As we’re trying to make the bus a really beautiful place that will last a long time, getting the rust off and dressing it up was important. All the grinding and painting happened off camera, but the installation is shown in the video above.
Once rust is completely removed, set metal on thin blocks. The goal is to make it so that the metal piece to be painted touches as little as possible.
Use white primer for the first layer of paint. Spray from 2-3 feet away and move paint can continuously while spraying.
Use whatever color you want after that. I used black for this trim piece.
Wood Filler Substitute
Off camera the night before, I made a mistake and cut my hole for the electrical outlet too long.
To remedy that, I want to fill the saw lines with wood filler. I don’t really like the normal wood filler that we used on the ceiling so I tried something new. It’s something that I think I learned from a DiResta video. Here’s how it works:
I use a combination of wood glue, saw dust and water to fill the mistakenly cut lines. I’m not 100% happy with the way it turned out. My guess is that the saw dust I used was too thick. If I could have found some more dusty wood dust, I think the final product would have been better.
Also, I would have mixed up a greater amount of the mixture. With more to work with, I can make more conscious decisions about the texture and construction of the material. In the video, you see it kind of working. I look forward to doing this again in the future with better results.
Wood Paneling the Skoolie
Paneling is actually a time intensive process. My process is to carefully measure, cut, sand and stain each piece. It takes a lot longer than I expect. IN the video above, I paneled the bed which encloses the 47 gallon water tank. This enclosure also encases the water pump and all the pipes that empower us to decide between filling the water tank or using city water. It was a tough collection of cuts.
Slats for the New Bus Bed
Today I also did a lot of table saw cuts.
The bed needed to be built differently. The existing 1/4″ plywood was cracking if I rested on the open span areas. Also, there is a chance that the lack of ventilation with the old build strategy would have been quite limited. It had to change.
I took the old 1/4″ in plywood off and used 3/4″ plywood strips cut at 3 1/2″ in to make up the bed. I spaced the 3/4″ plywood slats apart by 1 1/2″. A single slat and it’s space between the next one added together for an even 5″. Because a Queen bed is 60″ in by 80″ in I knew that (60/5) I would be needing 12 slats to complete the project.
That said, I knew I had to develop a different strategy for the area which covers the water tank. I wanted to easily be able to access the water shed should we need to make adjustments. For that reason, I stopped at 7 slats. I’ll do the next 5 ASAP.
ASAP isn’t accurate. I’ll do it at my next opportunity. I was exhausted from this day of projects so I went to bed.
Thank you for watching. Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions or concerns.
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Today I did a lot of sanding. The sofa that I made in previous videos needed to be sanded down and stained. I also stained the tops of the ottomans.
My life is quite lonely now while V and I are apart so I find the most solace in working. I’ve been doing a lot of projects.
The furnace is almost 100% complete now, which is a really cool feeling. Things are coming to completion one at a time. For so long, the ‘to-do’ list was infinite and growing faster than I could do things. Now, I’m actually getting to the point where I find myself saying, “Wow… that project is done!”
If you have any specific questions regarding the projects related to this video, please ask in the comments below. I’m happy to elaborate on all my processes and point you towards the right direction if I can. Thank you for commenting.
It’s a bit pretentious to declare, “This is how to paint a skoolie!”
That’s not what I’ll be saying in this blog post. This is just how we painted our skoolie and the lessons we learned. The intention of this piece is to provide the suggestions that I wish I had before we started.
We Are Not Professional Painters
We didn’t know anything about this process before actually doing this. In the video series, which documents our skoolie building process, I generally try to provide detailed information on how we did what we did. The night we painted was just too stressful and dirty to do my normal videos
The cleaning process took longer than expected. The taping process took longer than expected. The final painting process took longer than expected. We began working on this process at noon. We wrapped up the final tool cleaning process around 4:30 am. It was a massive day and I would charge $2,000 – $3,000 dollars at the very least.
Thank you for visiting this blog. I hope you find this a useful tool for when you decide, on your own, how you will paint your skoolie.
We are fortunate to be less price sensitive than many others who are attempting a school bus conversions. That said, we spent far more money than we expected and are very motivated to limit costs at this point.
So we made a cost/benefit analysis which I believe we are happy with. We wanted a long lasting, non-fading, professional look that we could apply ourselves with hard work and little previous paint experience. Here is what we came up with.
How to Paint a Skoolie
Power drill – I prefer the Milwaukee drills because they are the most powerfully built.
Mixing Drill Bit – Painting can be a stressful time sensitive process. The ability to mix hardener and paint together with 100% confidence and in a fraction of the time is importantly useful when painting a large project like a skoolie.
TSP – Tri-sodium Phosphate can be thought of as a cleaning chemical similar to dish soap, but it will take the paint right off the walls. The kind pictured here is in a powder form. Our process was to take a 5 gallon bucket and mix a handful of this stuff in about a gallon of water. Even when the TSP rich water gets dirty, it still picks up dirt in a way that is exceptional and important for those hoping to apply an expensive paint product.
Heavy Duty Nitrile Gloves – We started the process with some cheap nitrile gloves and ended up with broken gloves and TSP soaked hands. Not cool. The heavy duty ones work great.
Hardener Product – See the PPG industry material sheets below. This is referred to in those documents as “Component B” I believe. We mixed this product 1 to 5 with the one pictured here marked with the number 6.
Paint Product – See the PPG industry material sheets below. This is referred to in these documents as “Component A”. I screwed up in the video above as I never really premixed this component alone. At the time of writing this (Sept 30th, 2017), it doesn’t seem that this misstep has caused any negative results. I did shake the paint a good deal, but I never mixed it. If I were to do it again, I would pre-stir the paint by it’s self, then mix the two chemicals together, then stir them with the mechanical stir tool (items 1 and 2 in the above image).
Paint Thinner – I’ll go into greater detail on what I learned using paint thinner in a section below. This is a critical element of the process. Without the ability to thin paint and clean tools, the project would have been a mess.
Tool for Opening and Closing Paint Buckets – A large flat head screwdriver works just as well as the knife pictured above. It’s important that your can opening tool is heavy enough to hammer the lids back on while you are painting. A light opening tool and an additional hammer would work fine too.
Skoolie Paint Tools Not Pictured Above
The above tools are the ones that I have left over from when we completed the paint job a few day ago. There were a few tools that were critical to our success as well. You see them in the video embedded at the top of the blog post. Find them listed below.
Roller – Rollers are amazing for large, flat surfaces. With the roller I was able to paint large portions in 3-5 minutes which would have taken me 20 minutes to do with a brush.
Rolling Paint Tray – These trays allow the painter to control the amount of paint on the roller and to store the paint they will use in the near future. It’s important to roll the roller up and down until you have a uniform coat of paint across the entire roller.
Natural Bristle Paint Brush – Though we didn’t try nylon paint brushes, the people at the paint store assured us that the cheaper, nylon bristled brushes would cause problems. We went with the more expensive paint brushes at the local hardware store. Though there were $1-$2 brushes available, we didn’t want to risk having bristles on our final paint job.
Mixing Containers – I used containers provided by the paint store. We could use any disposable, translucent containers providing they have accurate, numbered measures printed on the side. We need to know how to achieve a 5 to 1 mix of paint and hardener.
Painter’s Tape – The blue tape is the best. I would not recommend using the brown tape. Sure, it’s a good deal cheaper, but when applying ~$500 worth of paint to a project, spend the extra $20 on proper tape. It allowed me to protect the things I don’t want to be covered in this professional grade paint.
Painter’s Plastic – Painter plastic can be used to rapidly cover larger areas like bumpers, tires and other larger surfaces which you don’t want to have paint on.
The type of paint we used is called Acrylic Aliphatic Urethane. This type of paint is suggested for topcoats in which color and gloss retention are primary considerations. It provides chemical and heat resistance.
This is a two part product. We mix 1 part of the hardener with 5 parts of the paint. It smells like a 50 gauge pistol kicks. My wife and I didn’t feel the need to wear a respirator but our friend did.
Thing I Learned From Using Paint Thinner
The day described in the video above describes my first experience with paint thinner. I went into this having never used any of these products before.
Paint Thinner Separates Paint
I reuse paint thinner to clean tools. This seems obvious but it’s an important lesson. I put about 1/2 gallon paint thinner into a 5 gallon bucket. We used this bucket to clean the tools and paint containers as we painted.
As the project progressed, the paint thinner became heavily mixed with paint. At one point, it was too full of paint to use as a tool to clean paint from tools. I poured that mixed paint thinner into a separate container and let it sit. After about 20 minutes, the paint had separated from the paint thinner and rested below the paint thinner. I could use the paint thinner which had separated, like oil and water, from the paint again. I would just pour the top level of paint thinner back into my primary cleaning vessel.
Rollers Save a Lot of Time
Use a roller for as much as possible.
You’ll see in the video that I started with a paint brush. That was going incredibly slowly. I decided to try a roller and I was able to paint all the flat surfaces of the bus in a few minutes. These flat surfaces made up about 40% of the old school bus’s exterior.
Sometimes we need to use a paint brush to paint small, hard to reach spots. That’s fine, but if possible, use a roller for as much as possible.
Skoolie Paint Lessons Learned – Tape and Paint Properties
Make Sure to Push Paint Tape Firmly Against Surface
We taped this school bus rub rail at the last minute and it’s possible that we rushed it a bit. I’m guessing that here we didn’t press down firmly enough on the painter tape after setting it into place. Because of this, some paint dripped behind the tape and got onto our surface. It’s a bit of a mess.
Drippy Paint Comes From too Wet of Brushes
Above, the texture is the result of using brushes overly full of paint. That paint doesn’t dry immediately and starts to blob if applied to heavily. Above you can see that the heavy application caused for a dripping look.
If I had used a brush with less paint in it, these drips might not be marring our surface. You can see below, the paint surface looks excellent. This is where I used a roller with, what I feel like is, the perfect paint surface.
Paint Can Get Through Tape
I wrapped the above reflective device with tape first and then put a single little tape square on top of the wrapping job. Its clear that some paint worked it’s way through the tape and onto the surface that I didn’t want to have paint on it.
It would be better if I wrapped the reflective device after I put a piece of tape on the surface.
This Paint Doesn’t Work Well on Silicone
On the silicone container it says, “not paintable.” It turns out that that is correct. The above furnace vent cover is covered in silicone. I really over-did it and never got the silicone off the surface of the vent. For that reason, the vent looks pretty terrible but I think I can scratch it off later with a razor blade. I won’t know until later.
In the image below, you can see that the paint covered a lot of bolts that are covered in silicone. It’s possible that V did 3-4 coats on these parts so the paint is just adhering to it’s self. Only time will tell how well this will work over the next 2-10 years.
That is it. If you find this post helpful please let me know in the comments below. If you have something to add, please let me know in the comments below.