Building The Beast: Expedition Truck Conversion Stage 1 – Insulation

Everyone knows Wayne.

On our way to Romania, we stopped at a campsite in rural Hungary. The owner was British. He knew Wayne.

One evening, as we were watching Ben Fogle’s documentary Harbour Lives on TV, Wayne popped up on our screen. It came as no surprise.

The first part of this post is the story; scroll down for technical details. 

Windy Wayne
Wayne on Chesil Beach in Storm Brian

I know Wayne through my voluntary work with the NWF (National Watersports Festival.) Wayne runs his own artisan business, Surf Mirrors, and hand crafted the NWF’s unique, wooden trophies. A windsurfer and fellow northerner, he lives close to our non-travelling home in Dorset, on the sunny, south coast of England. Very early on, over a few beers, Wayne told us his story,

A selection of hand-made trophies from the NWF

“New Year’s Day 1995, I drove my VW from Nottingham to Poole Harbour for a day’s windsurfing – and never went back. I lived in my van for a year! I got a job and bought a flat, but always dreamed of doing a Surfari. So, I built a bigger camper, sold the flat, quit the job and drove to Morocco for a few months  windsurfing. 18 months…”

Mark and I moved to Dorset for the windsurfing. We also decided to live full-time in a caravan bought by accident, and recently purchased a 24.5 tonne, ex-army truck on a whim because, “I’ve had enough of Brexit. Let’s go to Mongolia.” It’s little wonder we get on.

“Look what we’ve just bought!”

When we posted excited photos of our new truck, The Beast, on Facebook, serendipity happened. Wayne spotted them and commented,

“Remember, I can convert that for you!”

It was a eurika moment. We had jumped through all kinds of hoops to purchase The Beast and get her home – and here was the solution to our very next hurdle; ‘find an affordable way to make the metal cargo box on the back of a truck habitable.’

We needed an affordable way to make this habitable

Wayne has extensive wood- and metal-working skills. He has already converted several vehicles and has invaluable, practical knowledge and experience gleaned through many years as a full-time van lifer. Plus, he’s our mate.

It’s been a bad couple of years for our travels. Last year, our adventures were curtailed by family illness and this year by Covid-19 – we’re currently in Italy and unable to return to the UK. Once Europe opens its borders, we don’t intend to sqander our last few, valuable months of pre-Brexit freedom-of-movement, so we won’t be around to project manage The Beast’s conversion. But we trust Wayne – and would much rather a mate got the business.

I sent Wayne a magazine article showing a truck conversion with some interior shots that I liked.

“I know the guy* who did that.”

“Of course you do!” I replied.

Wayne knows everyone.

But the first job is to insulate The Beast. With the UK in coronavirus lockdown, obtaining materials has been difficult. Wayne’s contacts have proved very useful, as has the fact that our home in the UK is falling down!

installing_battens_to_truck_interior (2)
Adding battens. Sourcing materials has been difficult in lockdown. Luckily, we were helped by Wayne’s contacts & the fact that our house is falling down!

Hell hath no fury like a pack of petty pensioners. We had to fight hard to allow essential roof repairs on our apartment building at home to go ahead during lockdown. It is a major project, which needs to be done in the better weather and will take most of the summer. For urgent safety reasons, it can’t be put off until next year.

A small number of our neighbours punch well above their weight. They are retired, but instead of enjoying the peace, tranquillity and beauty of semi-rural surroundings in the grounds of a former stately home, they fill the twilight of their days to the fullest by seeking out ever more innovative ways to cause as much trouble as they possibly can for those who have all the responsibility and work forced upon them; i.e. us. They are plagued with an affliction that affects much of the human race; given paradise, they have transformed it into Gehenna.

When we purchased the apartment, we became one of eight directors of the management company. “How hard can it be?!” we joked, not realising that, unpaid, it meant having omniscient responsibility for everything that happens on the entire estate. This has included all manner of things, from, “My neighbour planted a geranium 1mm over the boundary of my land!” to “Please don’t fire your guns in the communal gardens; in particular, don’t dress your 12-year-old son in camo gear and get him to zig-zag across the lawn while you shoot at him from your balcony.” Just normal, run-of-the-mill property management stuff, really.

Curtian-twitching cuts both ways, so we know that they were quite happy to welcome the postman and delivery drivers right to their front doors and take regular, lockdown trips to Sainsbury’s. However, our fellow residents objected to the proposed building works on the grounds of social distancing. It mattered not that UK Government guidelines encourage the continuation of considerate construction, nor that, other than the gunman, the majority of complainants do not live in or anywhere near the building in question. They rejected our argument that the contractors could easily maintain social distancing because they would be working outdoors, on scaffolding more-or-less in the stratosphere, on a cordoned-off building, four storeys above a spacious, ten-acre estate.

They threatened a blockade!

“But how will you maintain social distancing if we accidentally climb four storeys up scaffolding on a cordoned-off building that is at least 500m from where we live?”

Personally, I hoped that their blockade proposed more adequate social distancing measures than when their ringleaders accosted the builders on the drive to quiz them about works on a property that does not even belong to them.

The contractor is a local firm, and the Boss showed us his appreciation by sourcing insulation and battens for The Beast. In lockdown, the large roofing contract will keep his company afloat and his staff employed; a point dismissed by our delightful fellows. In their jaundiced, vindictive little world, people’s livelihoods are a piffling irrelevance compared to a chance to hide behind the mock outrage of danger to their persons. They could not pass up a prime opportunity to spoil someone’s day.

Yet we know them well enough to be certain that exactly the same mock outrage would have been deployed on the grounds of negligence and danger to their persons had the essential maintenance work failed to go ahead. Secretly, part of me hoped that some masonry might fall on their heads.

truck_insulation (2)
Recticel 40mm PIR insulation applied between the battens

Our charming, new neighbours make us so glad that we live in a caravan. Now, if we don’t like those around us, we just move on! It will be a good few years yet before we move back into The Brick, so we can hope that our dream home will have returned to the same, joyful state that it was before they all moved in and poisoned each other. In those heady days, we used to cycle to the pub with our fellow residents, drink wine on the lawn and raise money for charity by organising sports tournaments, live musical recitals and pilates classes to enjoy together. As Mark said,

“With a bit of luck, by the time we have finished our travels, they will all be dead or in a home!”

I’m not particularly proud to say that I giggled in agreement, but it is the truth – and I did vow always to tell you the truth! At least I will be able to write a fitting obituary. When that day comes, I shall be free to eviscerate them in my memoirs without fear of being sued.

Well that was the battens and insulation! Laminate for the interior walls has been more difficult to source, but fortunately, Wayne had a trick up his sleeve.

“Stained panels will look great and be significantly cheaper. Spruce ply has great grain and takes stain well. You’re looking at well over a grand for laminated panels, so this self-staining methods will also save a few quid.”

stained_plywood (2)
A stained, spruce panel

Wayne promised a silky smooth finish to the wall panels, “They will be stained and varnished, the same as the frames for my mirrors,” he said.

That was a relief. Dust traps are a pet hate of mine. In the history of trends in interior design, I found louver doors and plantation shutters a particularly bleak development. Despite the ambitious array of solar panels proposed for The Beast, I can’t see us having sufficient power to vacuum the walls as we pass through dust bowls like the Gobi Desert. In any case, as we have discovered through eight months of cohabitation with hessian wallpaper in our rented Italian apartment, there is much more to life than hoovering walls.

So, the conversion has progressed more slowly than expected, but something else has come up that could require extra, unbudgeted work. I got an email from Wayne,

“Hey, we made a campfire last night by The Beast and heard some very strange noises. The usual contraction of panels as the day cooled down, but some clunking inside going on… I think the truck has a poltergeist!”

We may have to get a priest in soon!

The Technical Stuff

The Haynes Manual Build Your Own Overland Camper by Steven Wrigglesworth has been a very useful companion to our research. 

1. Battens

Wooden battens have been fitted to the ribs of the truck to take the stained, wall panels. This ensures that no interior fixings are in contact with the outside of the truck, which prevents any thermal bridging.

  • Vertical wall battens were affixed with Tek screws, which go straight through metal without pre-drilling.
  • Roof battens were fixed with Sikaflex bonding adhesive. The metal ribs on the roof are folded into a top hat profile, making it impossible to drill in a mechanical fixing.

2. Insulation

The Beast needs to be fit to face the extremes of both summer and winter, since she will be used year-round in some challenging climates.

  • We used Recticel Eurothane® GP 40mm PIR (Polyisocyanurate) rigid insulation boards. It came highly recommended because;
  • 40mm is a perfect thickness to provide the insulation required. It also fits 5mm shy of the battens, so it won’t protrude and affect fitting wall panels.
  • All of the truck’s aluminum ribs have had insulation strips placed both behind and on top of them. As Wayne says, “It is time consuming, but it’s done only once, and ensures there are no cold spots.” Wayne also noted – “Average sunny day in the UK. Dark roof. Roof ribs are so hot that they can’t be touched for more than a few seconds! So, three layers of foiled insulation over them.”
  • 4″ foil tape seals every join on the insulation.

3. Panels

The stained wooden panels will be bonded, with a few hidden screws to hold them in place. The stain effect is achieved by washing them with watered-down paint before sanding and varnishing.

Click here for previous posts covering how we came to buy a Belgian army truck in Holland and got her back to the UK on Austrian plates when Mark’s LGV licence ran out in Italy.

*The guy is Ashley Webber of campervan conversions, featured in Vanlife magazine.

If you would like a wonderful, unique, hand-made gift, Surf Mirrors is still very much in action and can deliver both in the UK and abroad by arrangement. It’s not just driftwood or surfboard-shaped mirrors, either. This is one of Wayne’s latest creations, ‘Midnight Surfer’, £65. I need this! 


Affiliate Disclosure

This blog contains affiliate links to Amazon. If you make a purchase, I may earn a small commission, which might eventually help to cover the costs of keeping this free-to-read blog online. This does not affect your purchase or the price you pay in any way. Please see my Affiliate Disclosure for further details. 

I don’t get any commission from Surf Mirrors (and I don’t want any!) I recommend Wayne’s work because he’s my mate and I like to support small businesses, but mostly because I think his artistic creations are FAB! 

Please Share on Pinterest!Overland Truck Build Insulation Pin

Published by Jacqueline Lambert @WorldWideWalkies

AD (After Dogs) - We retired early to tour Europe in a caravan with four dogs. "To boldly go where no van has gone before". Since 2021, we've been at large in a 24.5-tonne self-converted ex-army truck called The Beast. BC (Before Canines) - we had adventures on every continent other than Antarctica!

5 thoughts on “Building The Beast: Expedition Truck Conversion Stage 1 – Insulation

  1. Thank you! There’s an element of chomping and an element of resignation. Everything we’ve read suggests that projects such as this take years, so we’re being quite ambitious in our timescales, although clearly, we’re not doing the conversion in our spare time – Wayne is ‘on it’!
    I am so excited about our proposed travels in The Beast, but we still have a few to come with Big Blue and Caravan Kismet – starting next week!


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