Building Your Own Vardo

I began version one of my Vardo Caravan eleven years ago this month.  As I published updates and details along the way people have for a detailed “how to” for building a vardo.  Since everyone’s needs, skills, and resources are different, I will leave the task to others.  My suggestions are this.  Decide on your basic design wants.  Traditional or modern construction?  Consider size and weight (I went for the minimum of both).  Consider materials.  This will determine construction technique.  As for traditional or modern?  Go look at some used RVs for sale and see how flimsy they are built; not to mention probable issues from toxins in the plywood, pressboard, adhesives, plastic veneers, etc.

Drink in as many details as possible about other wagons.  Are they for show or can they take the hammering of bad roads?  How do you think they will hold together in a wreck?  What kind of long-term maintenance are you prepared to perform?  This is why modern RVs are covered in sheet metal or plastic.  If you convince yourself that you want to use materials others don’t, then ask yourself why.  Are you building an RV that looks “old fashioned” or are you deciding to build with traditional techniques?  (Neither is bad, but it may not be practical to mix and match).

Final sketch that built the Vardo.

Above is the written plan I used to create the Vardo.  This is obviously not exactly how it turned out as changes were made based upon availability of materials and constant reconsidering of different options.  The essentials didn’t change.  This is how the arc of the roof was calculated and overall dimensions worked out.  I chose to use traditional techniques and plywood only in the ceiling (for ease of building and stiffening the structure).  Although glue is used in some areas, the structure depends upon screws and bolts in all critical areas.  I decided I was willing to maintain my wagon so the exterior finish is simple oil paint over wood.

Sketch, sheet 2.

The second sheet of the plan was mostly used as a way to gauge sizes, raw materials, and habitable space.  I didn’t really build from the sheet.

Figuring it all out.

This is just one of many sketches used to figure out space and arrangements.  I looked at Irish Open Lots, Vardos, Bow Tops, and Sheepherder wagons.  With so much experience out there, the best arrangements have been worked out many times over.  Here’s the link to the rest of the photos from the build:

Study and read as much as you can about what you want to build.  Make many sketches and plans.  Cut out little scale paper dolls to measure out spaces if it helps. 

Make a model.

Take a deep breath. 

Dive in.

11 thoughts on “Building Your Own Vardo

  1. Jim Tolpin ( has a nicely done pdf available on vardo design and construction, not plans but considerations, ideas and experiences from his several builds. I found it worth the small price and printed it out and put in a binder to use as reference in my shop. Rob

  2. What are your bed dimensions? I have an old small cattle trailer here in the UK and it’ll be getting converted this year, for either selling on or creating an air bnb. Only trouble is, the width, it’s just slightly too small for an adult to comfortably stretch out. I guess you built yours to custom fit?
    Great project though. I’ve been reading all about it all. First discovered you on pinterest.

    1. I know it’s hard to find all the dimensions in the posts. The interior with exactly fits a standard futon mattress. About six and a half feet. The length of the second build is 12 ft long on the interior.

  3. Just wanted to thank you for the vardo info and especially the info on the Four Dog stove. I bought one and it’s very impressive. I just ordered a buck saw from them too. I am waiting for my 6×12 trailer to be built and should have it in the next couple of weeks. I’ll get to pay the highest lumber prices ever, but am determined to get this built. I plan to use the shell to move cross country, store some things, then finish the inside and live in it. I continue to come back to your design, because it makes sense and creates a structure that you can live in.

    1. Thanks so much Teri. I’m glad it really helped you. When I first started this journey there was very little practical information out there. That’s when I began to share my progress. All the best to you on journey.

  4. Off to buy some lumber today. I found a nice source for western cedar. I’ll at least get enough for the interior. Can’t decide if I want to go with pine or cedar t&g exterior. They only have the pine in 8′ lengths and I have a 12′ trailer. I’ll know more when I actually get to look at this.

  5. This has turned out to be a bad time for my build. After waiting 6 months for my trailer to be built, I started looking for alternatives. (They called the week I gave up, saying it was finally ready to be built but would be another $400.) I found a 6×10′ utility trailer. It will do. I need to have electric brakes installed and paint it. The downside is that it has about 3′ steel walls. I am considering using them. Cutting out the walls will be beyond me and I suspect it might affect the strength of the trailer. Also, building materials are more expensive.

    But I am on my way! And I didn’t do a bad job backing it up my first time either.

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