All posts by Me

New Zealand

Taking stock

After spending an hour or so taking key measurements of the inside and outside of the caravan and sketching the dimensions out, the next step was to take the roof off and take stock of damage.

The roof has rails along the inside of it’s length on both sides.  The two end walls have runner wheels attached that move inside the rails.  Removing the roof was a case of removing some rubber stoppers from the ends of the rail and letting the roof slide right off the end walls.  Covering the caravan with a tarp is critical at this stage, as it is open to the elements.

The roof removed from the caravan

It then took me a good hour to clean enough of the accumulated grit off the fiberglass (mostly moss and algae) before I could see the sort of shape that the fiberglass was in.  The outer (gelcoat) surface has many small areas of mostly cosmetic damage, but nothing that I can tell that really needs structural repair (see the photos below).  Because of that i’ll be leaving the repair until the final stages of this renovation. as I don’t want to re-damage the gelcoat after putting hours into restoring it!

Rust stain Paint-over botch repair Holes through the gelcoat Nasty botched repair Algae damage Damaged rubber washers

The next step will be making a jig to support the roof as I work on it. Most of the time the roof will need to be upside-down, and without some sort of jig the fiberglass could very easily be structurally damaged.

The plan

Here is the plan for renovating the 1979 Liteweight poptop caravan:

Happening now

(i.e. Wife has approved)

  • Replace the peeling wallpaper ceiling with carbonised bamboo ply.
  • Install 12V recessed lighting (MR11), 230v driver circuit and wireless switches.
  • Attach small 12v winch and hidden pulley system to automate raising/lowering the poptop.
  • Add railing to one of the pop-out beds for 1yr old baby.

Happening soon

(i.e. Wife is thinking about it)

  • Replace hanging cabinetry with bespoke bamboo cabinetry.
  • Add LED strip lighting for reading lights and kitchen illumination.
  • Thicker foam squabs with new coverings.
  • New window coverings to match squabs.

May be happening (or not)

(i.e. Wide doesn’t know yet)

  • Replace damaged linoleum floor with something stylish.
  • Replace convertible seating/bed with permanent double.
  • Add fold-out table to other end of caravan.
  • New kitchen.
  • Re-paint interior.
  • Re-paint exterior.

Opera camper

The Opera camper has got to be my favourite folding caravan design EVER.  Sad to see it’s no longer in production.  Poor timing with the GFC.

Keeping score

Maybe for the first time on any project, I’ll be keeping an up-to-date record of effort and costs 🙂

DescriptionPrep/planning timeBuilding timeCost (NZD)
Totals so far26.5hrs$1236.88
Measuring and sketching all critical dimensions of interior and exterior before any work begins.1.5hrs
Purchasing trailer tarp and eyelet kit. Sewing corners into a fitted weather cover, and adding eyelets.2hrs$60.00
Removing roof and washing roof.1.5hrs
Shopping online and at local retailers for all the required parts5hrs
Purchase: 2x bamboo ply panels (1220 x 2440) from Three Brothers Building Center (Auckland)$138.00
Purchase: 24x 3W MR11 LED bulbs from AliExpress$67.62
Purchase: 4x 12v 1A LED drivers from AliExpress$31.48
Purchase: 12x MR11 downlight mounts from AliExpress$114.24
Purchase: 5m LED strip lighting from AliExpress$11.70
Purchase: 5m aluminium LED rail from AliExpress$76.16
Purchase: 4-gang wireless light switches (x2) and wireless control unit from AliExpress$119.00
Purchase: 12v batteries for lighting remote control$8.99
Purchase: 2x 5mm jack and plug from AliExpress$13.57
Purchase: Buttons for LED strip circuits$33.88
Purchase: Assorted electronic components (terminal blocks, wire etc)$4.40
Purchase: 12V 2000lb winch from savebarn (via TradeMe)$119.00
Purchase:Glue, gloves, cutting disc, sanding discs $55.44
Purchase: Fiberglass supplies (Acetone)$15.00
Purchase: Wire sanding brushes, builders bog$?
Purchase: Hardware for winch system$75.46
Purchase: Storage baskets for shelves$119.94
Purchase: Aluminium angle, box and bar for shelves and roof reinforcing$173.00
Remove old insulation and fittings from roof6hrs
Cutting, preparing and gluing central ceiling section 5hrs
Cutting bamboo panels1hr
Making shelves3hrs
Cutting holes for downlights1hr
Varnishing ceiling0.5hrs


Just a cool caravan interior for motivation!

Airstream interior

Image source.

Brains up top

Its getting hotter and drier – or more accurately, less cold and slightly less damp – and I’m starting to eye up the caravan parked up in the corner of the back yard.

We purchased the caravan before the last holiday season and used it over Christmas without doing any work on it before deciding what needed changing.  We actually made up our minds, after several outings, that the fold-up/down feature of the caravan was unsuited to camping with 2 children under 3 years old.  We planned to sell it and then buy a more standard (but still ‘loved’ – read: in need of project) type of caravan that didn’t need to be set up.  However, after taking stock of finances and the hefty price of a decent caravan, we’ve decided to try again for another season.

A few repairs are required to get the caravan ready for this summer, but I’m not going to go overboard on renovations until we’ve given the caravan another trial run.  The roof of the caravan is a fiberglass cap, and the ceiling is a sort of heavy wallpaper that is glued up against the inside with a thin layer of insulating foam between.  This is starting to come away from the ceiling on one side of the caravan.

Of course – if I’m going to do a little work to the ceiling, I may as well do a few other bits and pieces to improve the caravan.  Instead of gluing it back up, I’ve decided to rip out the existing ceiling and redo it in stylish carbonised bamboo plywood with recessed ceiling lights and LED strip lighting – remote controlled, of course – and I’m going to install a winch and hidden cable/pulley system (with a remote control, of course) to automate the lowering and raising of the roof.

Because the caravan collapses and folds away like some sort of transformer robot, the roof is not connected to the walls.  One wall has the power point on the outside, and only that wall is wired for electricity.  The lights, power points and fridge are all along that same wall.  It would be almost impossible (or at least very expensive) to alter the electrics in the wall, so the best way to add features to the old girl is to add them into the ceiling.  The ceiling will contain several 12V LED drivers, wireless units for remote control, with (hopefully) hidden access hatch in case of maintenance.  A short lead will run from one of the existing wall lights to the ceiling to provide the 230v main power before stepping it down.  The ceiling will contain several 12v outputs to run LED strip lights below the kitchen cabinetry.

The main items have been priced up, and it looks like the total cost for this tech roof will be somewhere around $800NZD ($600 USD / £400 GBP / €475EUR).  I’ll be keeping a detailed spreadsheet, so it will be interesting to see how that develops.  In my estimation, this renovation should add over $1000NZD to resale value – even though that’s not the main concern here.

I have a lot more plans for the caravan, but one step at a time.  I’m getting excited – another project on the horizon!

A beautiful example of carboinised bamboo (flooring, in this case). Image source

Renovating a vintage caravan

O.k., so 1979 may not be vintage, but it is almost as old as I am.  That makes it pretty old.

We’ve decided that a caravan is the ideal way to encourage us to get out more and see this beautiful land of ours.  I was also desperate for another project.  Wife, being her usual  commonsensical self, has suggested we use the caravan for a season before doing any work on it.  That way we can find out what we actually want to change on it before pulling out the power tools.  Bleh. Boring 🙂

We selected a pop-up/pop-top trailer caravan because it is easier to tow, and easier to store at home.  There are some great canvas-sided caravans out there, but as soon as we saw this solid-sided model we had to have it.  This is a 1979 Liteweight Expander, originally produced by Liteweight Caravans in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Let the renovations begin!


Assembling the bits

I had the newly welded frame of the bike, plus the forks and handle bars, sand-blasted and powder-coated.  The closest colour that they had to chrome is a colour called ‘sparkles’. And yes, it is as disco-barbie as it sounds, with bits of glitter all through it.  It doesn’t look too bad though, as only small parts of the frame are visible.

With almost all the bits on hand – just waiting for the front wheel now, it was time to assemble all (well, most of) the bits.

I added some clips inside the box to tidy the wires – not much room in there!  There used to be space at the top, but I have now mounted the battery charger under the seat.

Here are the ends of the battery box, ready to install. In the end there was not even room for the cooling fan, so I have left it out.  Hopefully the airflow through the grills while riding will be enough to keep the parts cool.  The charger has a little fan built-in.

The front grill in place.

A close-up of the seat, showing the leather flaps added along each side of the battery box.  These are to add a little detailing, and to hide the edge of the seat which is a tiny bit crooked 🙂

Here is the new 20″ wheel with disk brake mounted to the hub motor.  I haven’t tested the brakes yet, but they should have plenty of stopping power now!  I decided to go for white-wall tyres for a more classic look.  The front wheel (which is on order) is a retro-styled wire wheel with a classic spoke pattern.

Still to do:

  • Hang the front wheel once I get it
  • Make some custom handle bars. The current ones don’t have quite enough range without hitting the fairing
  • Get a new, longer, brake cable (doesn’t reach up to the bars)
  • Mount the brake levers and thumb throttle
And then it is ready to ride.
Some time soon:
  • Source lights and design a 12v lighting circuit
  • Make the badges


Welding the bits

Welding is not currently in my list of practical skills, so I needed some help in this department.  Well, it could be in my list of skills, but Wife wasn’t prepared to let me buy a welder, pipe bender, gas torch and assorted equipment to find out.

The new wheel arrived from China within a week of ordering it ( – highly recommend it), and looks like it has all the right bits so that the scooter can finally have working brakes.  The only problem is that the new wheel won’t fit in the current frame. So modifications had to be made.

I sourced some metal tube with the right inside diameter to fit over the existing frame. The guys at Manawatu Muffler Center came to the party with a pipe bender and bent it to shape.  My angle grinder came in handy to cut the pipe to length, and then back to Manawatu Muffler Center for some welding.

Plug: The guys at Manawatu Muffler Center are great – friendly, helpful, and more than happy to help with my project even though it was outside of their normal work. They only charged me a token amount and did a great job.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them if you need any sort of actual muffler work done.  They are building a stock car for the boss’s daughter too, so they obviously had the skills for my job.

Here is a photo of the new tubes welded on. Perfect.  I just need to clean them up a little with a grinder (new tool! yes!) and repaint the frame to stop rust.

This photo shows the old part of the frame laid on top of the new one.  You can see it is quite a bit wider, and about 50mm longer too.

I found some old pieces of steel lying around the garage and made these new tabs to hold the rear axle.  I love my angle grinder. It makes sparks. So pretty 🙂

And here is a comparison of the new wheel (in the frame) against the old wheel.  I decided to buy a bigger wheel (20″ – BMX size) instead of sticking with the smaller 16″ wheel (kids BMX size).  The old wheel was good for about 32km/h – the bigger wheel should get closer to 40 km/h (25 mph).

Next steps are to attach the disk brakes, paint the frame, coat the fairing/body (UV protection), get a new front wheel the same size as the back one, and put it together.

Staining the bits

Stains aren’t always a good thing, especially brown ones, but when it comes to woodwork they are ok.

On the suggestion of a friend who is building an electric skateboard, I decided to stain the scooter before clear coating it, instead of leaving it as bare timber.  The unfinished timber is birch and is very pale, so I chose a medium dark brown called ‘Rimu’, a native timber found here in New Zealand.

I also wanted a racing stripe, so after a few experiments to check if masking areas worked with wood stain, I proceeded to mask the racing stripe with a good quality painters masking tape.  The stain itself was very easy to apply – it is rubbed in with a clean cloth, and spreads evenly without patching.

Some parts of the scooter are very tight, so I folded the cloth around the end of a flat-head screwdriver to get into those tight spots.

The Rimu colour has a red tint, and is very close to the colour of the leather seat. The photo below is a little deceptive due to the bad lighting in my work space.  The colours are actually much closer under natural light.

The masking tape removed cleanly with almost no discernible bleed, except in areas where the tape was raised slightly because of less than perfect build quality (parts not lining up exactly flush).  Overall, I am happy with the result.  I may end up staining the racing stripe with a very dark stain rather than leaving it as bare timber, so that it matches the seat – not yet sure.


Widening the bits

Having no brakes is not that safe.  I think I may get some.

Well, truth be told, the scooter does have brakes, they are just very, very (very) poor.  When I purchased the original kick scooter and (attempted) to kick it home from work on the day it was delivered, the brakes had no stopping power even then.  Now it is 25kg heavier and 25km/h faster.

So I ordered an e-bike disk brake from the manufacturers of the motor in China.  Only took a week to arrive, which is great!  I now have a shiny new disk brake set-up with nice grippy cable-driven callipers.  And they don’t fit.

The problem is two-fold.

  1. There is no mount for the disk/rotor on the motor
  2. There is no room between the rear forks for the brake installation

The following part of the post is mostly for the benefit of Father, who is a former fitter and turner (engineer).  He’s going to make sure my plans to widen the rear forks are solid, and then hopefully do it for me 🙂  Go Dad!

This is the current rear of the frame.  The forks need to be widened slightly (perhaps 60mm) and lengthened (although, not strictly necessary, so even 50mm will do).

This is the current rear frame

These are the measurements of the rear assembly:

Rear assembly with measurements

And here is my plan to widen and lengthen the forks:

  • Hacksaw off part of the existing tube, including the axle mounts.
  • Take some tube the same diameter as the current frame (28.7mm) and weld it along the outside of the current tubes.
  • Make some new axle mounts (or carefully re-purpose the old ones) and weld them to the new tubes
  • This will give an extra 50mm of length, and extra 57.4mm of width, and removing the end of the existing tube will give extra room for the brake assembly.

Plan for the modified rear end

What do you think dad?  No bending required, and hopefully not that much fabrication.  But will it have the requisite strength?