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Building a teardrop – Part II

  • Gordon Button
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    At the end of Part 1 of this project, the teardrop caravan shell was basically ready, and would soon get an outer skin of 6mm ply over the polystyrene. But before that, we moved to the inside.

    I wanted to keep the cabin area filled with as much light as possible, so I fitted two roof lights. In the picture you can see the inside after the ply had been given only two coats of Woodoc. This is an excellent medium to work with, and if four coats are applied, it will not mark easily. It does not like sunlight much, but is great on interiors.

    At the back wall you can see there is more than enough space for two pillows. There is 950mm of space between the top of the mattress and the roof. For natural light, there are two “skylights” in the roof. They open outward and ensure a good flow of air.


    The inside is also illuminated by three brass lamps on the back wall. The left and right lamps are 12- volt LED lights, running off a deep cycle 105A battery. The centre light is 220V.

    The four brass lights were made from brass bowls that I’d found. After I’d turned wooden inserts to house new downlights, the wooden plugs were placed in the brass bowl, flush with the lip of the bowl. I was then lucky enough to find four old brass light-switch housings, but, as these had no switches, I bought new toggle switches − and also made wooden housings into which these new switches could fit. (Very little heat is produced by LED lights.) However, I allowed the single 220V brass lamp to protrude slightly from the caravan wall.

    Note: On our first outing with the teardrop, we found that the two LED lights needed to be moved out to the corners, as I had placed them too close together.



    You can also see from the pictures that I installed a 40mm-deep first-aid box on the right, next to one of the drawers.

    The sill of the door opening is 250mm from the base, in order to accommodate the size of the mattress. For some perspective, take a look at the solid oak plank in a transverse position – this marks the end of the double mattress as it would fit in the finished product.

    When I built the cupboards from that piece of oak towards the back of the van, I used no glue at all. This is because the mattress may have to be replaced at some stage… maybe not in my lifetime, but in years to come. That’s also why I’ve made sure that the kitchen can be unscrewed in half an hour, in case a new mattress needs to pass through it.

    Wiring & Outside Finish

    After fitting the inside layer of ply, I positioned the light blocks to house the lights and switches. The outer 6mm plywood could then be fitted, once all the electrical cables had been drawn through.

    Besides the 105 amp hour deep cell battery, I also bought an EnerSol 100 solar panel, plus a regulator to prevent it from being overcharged.

    My electrical control panel has a three-way switch. In the up position, 220 volts A/C is provided, and the middle position is neutral / off. The down switch kicks in an inverter, changing the 12V D/C into 220V for a limited period of use before recharging the battery. The small fitted fridge draws 40 amp hours, so, from the 105 amp-hour battery, I have 60 left.

    You can see from the picture of the front that the jockey wheel is carried in a snap-on horizontal position. In this position, it can’t crash into any “middelmannetjie”. The hole in the stainless steel plate can just be seen on the right; a powerful spring built into the aluminium tube is controlled by the trigger handle, which slides the bolt into an upper hole when the wheel is required to be in an upright position. The stainless steel plate swivels from hole to hole.


    Make sure you get next month’s edition of Caravan & Outdoor Life for Part 3 of Gordon’s project, when he finishes the inside cupboards, outside kitchen, and shows off the final product in action!

    Gordon Button
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    The Americans use a purpose-made aluminium hinge for the kitchen boot lid on their teardrop caravans. This works like the interlocking of one’s fi ngers, both pieces being loose and moving within one another to give a waterproof hinge effect.

    Trying to import one of these hinges – which are not available in South Africa – would have cost +/- R3 800 (including shipping).

    It is for that reason that I chose to use the six solid brass hinges mentioned before. However, this action also had its problems − the 2mm gap where boot lid and caravan met was a potential water inlet point. So, as you can see in the kitchen view, the dark red strip at the point where the boot lid attaches to the caravan is actually a narrow gutter, situated under the six hinges. Any rain coming through the 2mm gap runs into this small gutter and out to both sides of the caravan via a ½-inch (13 mm) brass tube on either side.

    The small square white PVC tubing next to the number- plate houses six tent poles, and has a simple dropin brass bolt on a chain.


    We have our priorities right, so there is storage for six bottles of good wine. The wine and drinking glasses are held in place by simple soft rubber tubing, and housed with mirrors behind.

    I chose solid prime American oak for the kitchen, not only because it is a great wood to work with, but also because it is extremely strong.

    The boot lid struts are also solid oak, as are the beams under the legless table.

    The microwave has proved to be a plus. My wife, Sally, finds it extremely useful if we are not braaiing.


    The top drawer in the back houses a smart battery charger which controls the charge input, while the cavity below houses the inverter. The lower drawer has the 105 Amp deep-cycle battery.

    The small box attached to the side of the teardrop is weatherproof and slides up at camp to allow the fridge more air. It is held in position by a brass sliding bolt and has a built-in fly screen.

    The gas lifts holding up the kitchen lid were a problem at first. I had approached Gabriel for the purchase of these, not knowing just what lifting strength was required to hold up a 30kg boot lid. The first ones I looked at were pressured to 200Nm, but as I could pump them up and down easily, I figured that they could not hold up the weight of the lid. So, after working out the formula Gabriel gave me, I decided to buy two lifts which were each pressured to 400Nm bars. I fitted these one month before completing the teardrop.

    Sadly, these slowly started to sag under the weight of the lid, so I contacted Gabriel again. They were most helpful, and a technical fellow schooled me on how I should weigh the kitchen lid… something to do with a cantilever action of an object that becomes heavier.

    I did what he advised, and was surprised to find that the lid now weighed 36kgs – six kilograms more than when unmounted! This meant that the boot required a little more lift, so I sent the gas lifts away to be pressured to 500Nm bars. This did the trick, and the lid now remains stable.


    The blue pod you see attached to the side (we have one on each side of the van), is merely to give privacy on one-night stops.

    We now have a Howling Moon side room on the table side, which gives us a veranda room of 2.5 square metres. We erect this only for stops longer than one night.


    I did not want to use varnish on the exterior of the teardrop, as the sun plays havoc with it over time. Instead, I used Glatex 8 Clear Matt finish, and applied two coats. Because it is as hard as glass, it is more-or-less there for life.

    Final Touches

    Since building our little teardrop, Sally and I have thoroughly enjoyed five outings, each lasting five to six nights. Dark film was placed over the door windows, and Sally made up really nice folding blinds for complete privacy.

    Behind the mirror there is full hanging space for Sally’s dresses and my shirts and jacket. We thought long and hard about installing a TV – after all, is that not the kind of thing one wants to leave behind? However, we realised that on cold winter nights it would be great to be able to watch a worthwhile movie, so the TV and DVD-player were installed.

    Our first trip was to Glentana and Mossel Bay, where we are cracking a happy bottle of champagne. The final picture is of a gathering of friends who supported us during the construction.

    We christened our teardrop “TARENTAAL”!

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