- Written by Brock Butterfield
The basic tools needed for a skoolie conversion.
In the four years and two bus conversions I've done, I've been wanting to share a basic list of the tools I find myself using the most. In my opinion you could easily complete a school bus conversion with just these basic ten tools and a little ingenuity. Skoolie conversions consist of a warfield on metal and a funky sawmill operation on wood.
The task of removing the seats is typically first on the "to-do" followed by removing the subfloors, walls and ceiling. After some preventative measures towards rust and insulating, the real fun begins with attaching wood to metal and designing a functional living space.
Here is my list of what I believe are the top 10 tools to get you started with a school bus conversion.
- Angle Grinder and cut off wheels
~This by far has been the most used tool. It will do just about anything you need done to metal and is a rusted seat bolts worse nightmare. I've been running a Ryobi angle grinder and have beat the snot out of it but it still keeps going. Dewalt, Porter Cable and a few others make angle grinders as well.
A angle grinder and cut off wheel will be the go-to tool for rusted seat bolt removal, rivet removal, rust removal, etc. I'd recommend getting a face shield, dust masks and ear muffs. I've seen cut off wheels blow up and send shrapnel in all directions. Last thing you need is your ugly mug getting any uglier...
~ I recommend the fiberglass handled hammers as opposed to wood. You'll be "hammering away" on a constant basis and having a hammer that can take the abuse will be worth it.
- Tape Measure
~If reading a tape is a daunting thing and calling out fractions sounds like a whole other language then I'd recommend getting one with the fractions clearly printed for you. Work smarter not harder.
- Speed Square or Building Square
~Ok, this could make you confused AF but yes, a "square" is actually a triangle. I presume it gets its name from helping you "find square" when building something that fits together as planned. Anywho, this will help you mark straight or angled lines.
- Rafter Square
~I find this square most helpful with laying out the floor plan or putting up a dividing wall in the bus conversion. If you use this building square throughout your planning and building, you'll notice things line up nicely and come together as hoped for.
- Chalk Line
~The obvious use of this is to mark large sheets for long cuts but you should also be using this inside the bus for things like marking a straight line down the whole length of the bus ceiling so that you have a line to follow when installing the first ceiling board whether tongue and groove or plywood.
- Circular Saw
~This tool if used right can do just about everything you'll need done with wood. With a few hacks it can easily serve the place of a miter saw (chop saw) and table saw.
- Drill Set
~You'll want at least two drills if you want to be efficient with your time. A regular drill and an impact or driver drill. Cordless is obvisouly the way to go but if you're doing a lot of drilling for the day then you may want to also pick up a corded drill for all your pre-drilling. The impact / driver drill will be another favorite tool you come to appreciate as you can pretty much drive a screw into anything.
- Cobalt Drill Bit Set
~Why Cobalt? Because you're going to be drilling into lots of metal and cobalt bits last the longest. Ordering a set as opposed to individual bits is the way to go and ordering a couple extra 1/8 and 7/64 bits is also a wise choice as you'll be using these the most.
- Orbital Sander
~Whether it's sanding the outside of the bus to prep for paint or sanding down cabinets, a palm sander will save you hours or work as opposed to hand sanding.
Now while these are just the basic top tools I'd recommend, there is definetly a much more extensive list of tools that will make your bus conversion much smoother if you have the budget to invest in. Guess I'd better start composing that article!
Top 10 Recommended Tools For School Bus Conversion
- Written by Brock Butterfield
How to Build a First Aid/Emergency Kit for Camping, Hiking, and Beyond
Guest Contributing Writer: Jamie Strand
Intro: Brock Butterfield
One of the worst feelings in the world in my opinion is being unprepared for an emergency or first aid situation. I've made it a habit now to carry a first aid kit and some emergency supplies in my school bus conversion as well as my hiking backpack, work backpack and our additional car that travels with the bus. I've been lucky enough to provide supplies to exhausted and lost hikers, gauze and other medical material to a dog that got clipped by a truck as well as extra food for myself when I thought I had packed enough and found myself out in the woods much longer.
Contributing guest writer Jamie Strand reached out to me and asked if he could submit an article on First Aid/Emergency Kits for camping, hiking and beyond. It's a good read and gentle reminder that "chance favors the prepared mind." Give it a read.
Whether you’re taking the kids out for a hiking adventure, heading out for a romantic night in the woods with someone special, or taking your beloved dog fishing, you need to know how to keep yourself (and the people you love) happy and safe. While modern conveniences have made camping a mostly safe activity, there are still dangers lurking in the woods. Here is how to build a first aid/emergency kit that can handle whatever comes your way - from camping and hiking to road trips and even long traffic jams
First and foremost: Essential medical supplies
A good first aid kit needs to be able to handle anything from minor cuts and bruises to more serious injuries that require a doctor. Many times, a first aid kit is the stopgap between wherever you are and the hospital. With that in mind, here are the essential medical supplies any good kit should have:
- Adhesive bandages (standard and triangular), compression dressings, medical gauze, and medical tape
- Scissors, tweezers, and small pocket knife
- Antiseptic wipes and ointment
- An instant cold compress
- Breathing barrier (mask)
- Non-latex gloves
- Aspirin and Ibuprofen
Emergency hydration and food supply
Dehydration is a real concern if you get lost camping, hiking, or are stranded in a car for a long time. Your kit should include enough food and emergency water rations to last at least two days (three or four is better). For proper hydration, make sure to drink water every 15-30 minutes during physical activity. But in a survival scenario where you are dipping into an emergency kit, drinking at least a liter of water per day should work in normal circumstances.
Your food kit should include easy-to-eat, easy-to-store, non perishable items like protein or fruit bars, cereal or granola, peanut butter, beef jerky, and dried fruit. If you want to pack a larger kit, canned meat, fruits, and veggies and a can opener can also work.
Remember, you’re not the only hungry animal out there. Proper storage of food at all times may be all that stands between you and a bear, aggressive raccoon, or a plague of insects. The KOA blog suggests “packing your food in tight, waterproof containers and storing them in an insulated cooler.” Don’t forget to hang your trash on a tree far away from wherever you sleep. With this in mind, one-pot camping meals are also a good idea for an emergency kit. They are really easy to clean up because you grill everything in the same pot. A cleaner area means less chance of unwanted visitors.
First aid for animal encounters
If you’re out in the woods the chances of interacting with a bug, spider, or snake are pretty high. Your first aid kit should include medicines and remedies for interactions with animals and insects -- think hydrocortisone, calamine lotion and antiseptic spray Pack a high-quality insect repellant (bugs like ticks aren’t just annoying, they can carry diseases). And don’t forget an EpiPen - you never know who in your party will be deathly allergic to bees or other stings.
Don’t skimp on the other essentials
When you’re out in the wilderness, the only barrier between you and anything ranging from a rotten time to severe injury is a solid first aid/emergency kit. Apart from the aforementioned (extra supply of emergency water and food, first aid kit), make sure your kit includes: a flashlight, extra batteries, whistle, all-purpose camp tool, poncho, waterproof matches, zip ties, and a crank-powered radio/battery.
A solid essentials kit isn’t just good for camping. You should keep one in your car at all times - especially on longer road trips. You never know when the need will arise. You’ve heard the motto “be prepared” your whole life, and it’s cliche for a reason. It’s because it’s important.
Online First Aid / Emergency Kits to explore
- Written by Patrick Schmidt
This bus is SO hott, it needs TWO(2) AC Units
to cool it off!
We’ve gotten quite a few questions about our A/C setup in the bus. So, now that summer is coming to an end, we decided to write a little article about how we kept ourselves cool in the bus for the past 3 years.
"The bus came with a front and rear AC installed. Neither of them worked when I bought the bus."
1990 International Amward 3800 with DT466 engine linked to an Allison transmission.
"Purchased in March of 2015, this Big Blue Church bus has been a dream come true."
Don't get me wrong. I fully understood when I bought the bus, that even with the most beautiful interior and exterior renovations, it will continue being a 1990 International bus. At the end of the day, it's a metal/aluminum tube with old cranky, leaky windows. I knew the entire process would challenge me.
I was then, as I am now, prepared for anything. To be cold and hot, to take cold showers not take showers at all, to eat cold meals, to need more blankets, or to sleep with a fan running, limbs spread far apart, sweating into my pillow top mattress.
Bus Life, to me, has always been about simplicity and living with less.
I have learned to be grateful for what I do have.
In comparison to the Skoolie Love bus, our great friends living the BlueBusAdventure don't have a bathroom, minimal insulation, storage, less space, etc and they are doing absolutely wonderful living in their bus. It’s about balancing your needs and your wants, keeping everything in perspective.
They absolutely love their life, and you can tell in the way they look you in the eyes, speak with you, and give you the most heart warming smiles and hugs. A little is a lottle!
"I had been online friends with Nick and Jessica for a long time, until I met them at Descend On Bend in 2017"
What do you NEED and what do you WANT?! You can get by with much less, and have so much more time and space for other things in your life.
Installing the A/C Unit(s)
Parked on my parents property, the Big Blue Bus was converted in Las Vegas, Nevada during the summer of 2015. It was a ridiculously dumb idea to build it during these months - May to August 15 - as we had nuclear temperatures in the bus.
"16% Humidity, with a current temp of 122, and a high of 131."
When I initially day-dreamed about the road trip in my new Skoolie, I was not that concerned with how the interior would come together. I was prepared to slap some wood in, lay down a mattress and poop in a bucket. There would be a foot-pump hand wash station. The conversion would be done super quick and I could hit the road with most of my savings intact. Now I have full electric, plumbing including a 6 gallon water heater, lamps and LED ropes. And much less in the way of savings.
My dad was adamant about adding an Air Conditioning unit right from the start.
“No way old man, you don't know what you are talking about."
"I do know what I'm talking about. You're going to love having it."
"I don't have to listen to an older, wiser person that happens to be my dad. I'm a mountaineer and camper."
"Sure you are."
"I DON'T NEED IT!”
"A brisk walk uphill - 14,411 feet on top of Mount Rainier in Washington."
My parents were not having that. They were not going to support that kind of lifestyle. If it was going to be a bus home, it was going to be a proper and beautiful bus home. Something I am proud to show off, and happy to come home to. They would not work on a literal dump bus for me to live in, as much as I wanted it to be "minimal."
So it has become what it has become - The most beautiful home I have EVER lived in.
Once we really got working on the bus interior, as it got into late May and the temps in the bus were constantly above 100 degrees, it made complete sense to install an AC. It was clear to see that installing one would help make the build more tolerable. I am glad that my parents talked me into it. It has been a COMPLETE LIFESAVER from day one.
Once we decided to go ahead with installing an AC, we wondered how we would go about it. We did not want a window unit in an actual window, for safety reasons. I also did not want an AC on wheels, because those have huge vent hoses, and I did not want to worry about storing something that tall when not in use.
There was really no other simple place where we could install a permanent window AC unit. So my dad and I decided to cut a hole in the back of the bus. We went to Home Depot and measured their AC units, and got the biggest one we could fit into the available space at the top end of the bus.
My dad cut the hole with an angle grinder, and then we wedged the AC in, after cutting off the feet and small nubs of the unit, and sanding down the sharp edges of the brand new hole in the bus. The AC unit fit like a charm! We attached small pieces of wood around the unit, encased the inside of the wall with Styrofoam insulation, siliconed all sides of the unit, secured it, and installed wood trim around all of it. It has been doing a necessarily fantastic job!
"Dad, you were right."
"I'm glad you're enjoying your new home."
Be ‘COOL,’ listen to your parents
Adding a Second Unit
For the past 3 years, the unit in the back has been working out great. Once I close the curtain and put the AC on 65, it blasts out cold air and spreads out into the bedroom. While the bedroom has a chance to cool off, it became apparent quickly that the unit does not, and never really has, covered as much square footage as advertised.
Anywhere I've parked, as the outside temperature, and ambient temperature of the bus became warmer and warmer, and the windows were taking on the sun's rays, the AC unit couldn't produce and push cold air past the 20 or so square feet that is the back bedroom. The conditioned air barely reached the hallway of the bus.
During the first part of my road trip, I spent the winter in Florida, and then made my way back to Vegas during that following summer, a year into Bus Life.
I went back in Summer because...well...that's how Life wanted it. So I came back to Vegas at the end of April, heading into Eternal Hellfire that is a desert summer. I knew what I was in for.
It was not fun being stuck in the bedroom of the bus in order to stay cool. I did not want to be in bed all the time while reading or working on the laptop. Since the AC unit did not work past the bedroom, most definitely not the 300+ Square feet it advertised, the front of the bus became roasty toasty, unbearable to spend time in.
I still wanted to be “Home” while parked on my parent's property, so I stayed in the bus as long as I could, before heading in to the house to live in my parent's guest room. To escape the heat.
My dad and I brainstormed what we could do, from trying out a swamp cooler, to adding a rooftop AC, or installing another window unit.
But where and how would we put it?!
This is what we came up with! We were able to install a bigger BTU unit into the emergency window. We found a unit at Home Depot that fit right into the window when it was opened.
My dad got to work right away on building a sturdy and safe mount. He used scrap pieces of wood to build a base that supported itself against the outside of the bus, as well as an extra piece of wood on the interior side that sits against the metal frame of the window.
Then he put together a metal wire support system, attached to holes on the underside of the roof/window rivets. The black wooden support base is simply laid on top of the window frame, nothing is physically attaching it. The weight of the AC unit, and the cable supports, is all that's needed.
** This is ONLY for when I am permanently parked. **
This is not safe when driving. I only use it once it gets hot, when I am permanently parked somewhere. Otherwise it is too much of a hassle to set up if its only for a night or two. I store it in its original box inside the bus when not in use.
More Appliances means More Power needs
It’s plenty nice to have 2 A/C units, but not as much fun when you can’t run either of them.
With my limited 200 watt solar setup (Amazon Link), with 4x 6 Volt batteries with I believe 215 Amp Hours, I am unable to run either unit while I am on the road. They simply draw too much power for the battery bank and Inverter to keep up. Both units only work when the bus is plugged in to Shore Power.
You would need a minimum of 400 watts, full sun and high quality batteries to be able to run either of these units. Both come with an Energy Saving mode, as well as only a Fan mode. The fan mode, only to move some air, DOES work when on the road. If you have a generator, then you might be able to run both units.
The permanently installed unit in the bedroom is functional all the time, where as the unit in the window is only temporarily in the window if I am parking long term.
The Square Foot coverage that the AC advertises is not true to Bus Life. The back unit said it was good for 300+ sq ft, and it barely cools the bedroom down. The front unit, when on full blast, cools off the front area of the bus very nicely.
However, in the 100+ degree heat this summer in northern California,we needed both AC units running the entire day, as the direct sunlight was heating the bus us to 95+ degree temperatures easy.
Without them, it would be extremely difficult to get through such hot temperatures. You can open the windows as much as you want, if there is no breeze, it's simply hot. NO matter where you are and what you live in, when it's over 100 degrees, it's just going to be hot. The AC units do make it extremely bearable to live in the bus.
Our neighbors were living in an older RV, and their roof top AC units were not able to keep up. Even at full blast, it would be in the upper 80's and climbing into the 90's in their RV.
Thanks to my parents, especially my dad, for making sure that my bus became a proper Home, a place that I can feel comfortable in, no matter where in the world I am.
If you are going to be traveling and living in your bus, I highly recommend adding an A/C into your home. No matter where you are going to be parked, you'll be happy you have an AC during the warmer months.
Companies also make AC / Heater unit combos. Those would be perfect to keep you cool in the summer, and warm in the winter, without a need to find storage for the unit during either season. For our specific build, the hole in the back, as well as the available space in the windows, we found these units were too big, too heavy, and too expensive to consider.
Another positive that my wife and I found, running the A/C or only as fan-mode, it helped our tinnitus and made it easier to fall asleep. The white-noise was able to distract our hearing enough to get better sleep.
And let me tell you, we get amazing sleep on the bus. The bus has one of the most comfortable mattresses I have ever owned. When the temperature is right on the bus, it is the most perfect place to be. Making the decision to install the AC units is one I would make over and over again in future builds.
You can always just leave where you are, and head to cooler climates.
If you don't like it around here, leave. GET OUT!
That's the beauty of living in a mobile Skoolie Home, isn't it? – Don't like it here? Drive somewhere else!
Products mentioned in this article:
- Written by Madi Bowman
Why We Decided Not to Build a Bathroom
By Contributing Writer: Madi Bowman of The American Field Trip
When we first started making plans to convert a shuttle bus for full-time living, we assumed we’d want to include a bathroom. But as we did more research into what a bathroom build would involve, we started to question whether it would really be the best use of space and resources. Ultimately we opted for an outdoor shower and a self-contained toilet, but in 18 months of living on the road, we’ve never used the toilet and only occasionally made use of the shower.
If you’re navigating bathroom build issues, consider this—
What if a bathroom is not as crucial as you thought!?
How big will your water tank be? A low-flow shower head will use about 0.5 to 1.5 gallons of water per minute. If you’re very efficient when showering and turn the water on and off as you need it, you’ll be able to get clean without using too much water. But if your water tank is small, even a short shower will run you low, in which case you’ll need to find a spot to fill up. Often, the most convenient spots to fill up water will be campgrounds, which generally have showers available.
Do you need hot water? If you want your shower warm, you’ll need a way to heat the water. Most water heaters need to be vented to the outside, so installation can be tricky. A solar shower, which can be made of black PVC pipe and mounted to your vehicle’s roof, is a good option, but if you want to shower inside the vehicle, you’ll need to pipe the water in from outside; this can work well, but your water supply will still be limited, and you’ll still need to fill up about as often as you’ll shower.
Where will you be staying? If you’ll be primarily in campgrounds, you'll usually have easy access to showers and bathrooms. If you’ll be in wilderness areas, you can go au natural (just be sure to use proper Leave No Trace potty protocol!). If you’ll be staying in Walmart parking lots, stealth camping, or otherwise remaining in town often, you’ll probably have access to a public restroom except in the middle of the night—in that case, it’s good to have some kind of alternative, in the form of a self-contained toilet or simply a jug.
How many people will be using the bathroom in your rig? If you’re living solo, your water-filling and tank-emptying chores will come up less often. But small black tanks and self-contained toilets fill up quickly, especially if there’s more than one person using them, and require that you stay on top of cleaning them out. If your tank fills up and you’re in a jam, you’ll have to find another place to go anyway; and if the tank fills up mid-stream, you’re in for an unpleasant backup situation.
Would you rather deal with finding a place to go, or with regularly cleaning out a black tank? Cleaning out a black tank doesn’t have to be nightmarish, but it’s one road life chore you can easily eliminate. If you’re willing to deal daily with finding places to go, it becomes just another little piece of living on the road—and in our experience, it’s almost always a very simple one.
What you can do instead:
Shower in campgrounds—usually these showers take quarters, so even if you’re not staying at the campground, you can ask whoever’s in charge if they mind you using it; no one has ever turned us down when we asked.
Wash off in the nearest body of water—showering in lakes and streams can be an awesome back-to-nature experience, even if it’s a bit chilly at times. Just be sure to use biodegradable soaps and make sure you’re downstream from any water sources.
Plan on parking in spots where you can go when you need to go—if you’re in a remote area, get comfortable with going in the woods; if you’re staying in a more populated area, make sure you’re near a public restroom.
Keep a container on hand for emergencies—in a pinch, pee in a bottle or jug. Men have it easy in this situation; women, invest in one of these SheWee units.
It might seem odd at first, to have a home without a bathroom—and I certainly wouldn’t have thought 18 months ago that such a situation wouldn’t give me pause and maybe a shudder or two. All I can say is that, as with many aspects of road life, you get used to it!
If we had more space to work with, I’m sure we’d have enjoyed a bathroom of our own. But with 4 people in 80 sq. feet, we just didn’t want to sacrifice living space, or be in constant close proximity to each other’s intestinal output :)
Make it a wonderful day!