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Elevating Roof - a self build story
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vw4wd
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 12:04 pm    Post subject: Elevating Roof - a self build story Reply with quote

OK, where do I start? I have owned my current syncro for nearly eight years and in that time I have gradually changed it from a blind van with a full bulkhead and JX TD engine. It now has no bulkhead, side windows and a 2 litre Golf GTi engine. The interior now has Caravelle GL (captains) seats up front and the three seater 'rock & roll' bed in the rear. I have also built a kitchen pod as featured in this thread (http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=586856&highlight=kitchen).

This was OK for the occasional overnight stop but, now that we are using it more for camping, my wife & I have decided that it is necessary to have a pop -top roof to provide standing headroom. Given that I am 6' 4", you will appreciate how crouched I am in the tin top! We had fitted a full Reimo elevating roof to a previous syncro camper (25 years ago!!) and it rarely got used for anything apart from the standing headroom other than as storage space for bags or coats when camped.

When I researched what was available there seemed to be 3 main design choices:
1) full length rear hinged roof such as a used Westfalia or a new version from Reimo or a number of other small manufacturers that have sprung up in the UK over recent years (such as http://www.poptoproofs.co.uk/shop/product-info.php...id=30350).
2) A small 'straight lift' roof from Reimo or SCA as described by Kryptkat in this thread (http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=613769).
3) a larger 'straight lift' roof such as (http://www.poptoproofs.co.uk/shop/product-info.php?prodname=Mini-Roof-Big---Vertical-Elevator&id=30328 or http://www.poptoproofs.co.uk/shop/product-info.php...id=30373).
From looking at these and many other examples we felt that the larger roofs were too 'heavy looking' sitting fairly high when folded and with deep side panels. The smaller Reimo or SCA roofs look much lighter but, when I inspected a few vehicles fitted with them at Vanfest last year, I found that they did not lift high enough to clear my head! Also, they provide no storage space when open.

So, where did all this get me? In the end we decided that what we needed was a longer version of the small roof (say 6' x 4' instead of 4' square) which lifted by nearly 2' above the van roof. Since I was unable to find such a roof, we started looking at making our own.


Design Parameters
Setting out the design parameters, we had:-
- standing headroom (6' 6" minimum) when erected,
- low profile - minimum height increase over tin top when folded
- no bed but storage space when erected
- straight lift not hinged
- opening in van roof to be approx 1m square in line with side door.
The closest production roof, in terms of design, that I could find was this one -

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


Elements
After many hours of thought and making sketches on Google Drive drawings I came up with the following detail elements -
- light steel frame - this needed to be stiff enough to resist twisting and support the aluminium skin. It also need to define the size of the canvas tent and provide a fixing point for the top edge of the canvas and the gas struts. (25mm and 20mm square tubes 1.2mm thick)
- inbuilt insulation foam sheet (30mm thick closed cell building insulation)
- Aluminium sheet skin - as light as possible but thick enough to provide its own rigidity, especially along the side edges where it would form the line of contact and support when the roof is folded. (1.6mm thick)
- tubular folding 'H' frames at either end to give sideway stability (formed from 20mm galvanised electrical conduit)
- angled gas struts for lift, support and endways stability
- canvas screen with windows front and sides for light & ventilation. This was a key item I needed to source rather than make and a web search found me Leon at Concept Poptops at Poole. (http://conceptpoptops.com). He does a lot of replacement roof canvases for all manner of roof designs as well as interior upholstery.

Weight
The weight in kg of my components are -
frame 8.9
aluminium sheet 15*
edge seal 1.8
foam insulation 2.7
H frames & brackets 4.3
gas struts & brackets 4.2
canvas 2.0*
Aluminium strips for canvas edges 2.0
nuts & bolts 0.3*
* items are estimated weights
Total 41.2kg
I don't know if anyone can tell me the true weight of a standard pop-top but I have heard a suggestion that a T3 Westy roof could be as much as 80kg.

Detail Design of Components

I was fortunate that one of the modifications we had previously made was to fit a glass sunroof in the middle of the van. Being able to take out the glass and stand through the opening has been enormously helpful during the design and fabrication process. Reaching from the side all the time would have been most awkward.
Frame
I started by deciding where the roof opening would be and then allowed space around it for canvas fixing to come up with the width and front position for the canvas and so the roof frame (canvas has vertical sides). This put the front of the frame over the 'B' post ridge in the roof and from there it seemed sensible to put the rear of the frame over the rear most ridge. This would leave nearly 600mm of storage space behind the roof opening when the top was erected. It would also have a degree of balance and symmetry on the outside when closed.

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This gave me dimensions for the outside of the frame (1120 x 1870mm) which is welded up from 25mm square steel tubes 1.2mm thick. Tubes were added inside the frame to give additional support and to provide fixing points. I decided to reduce these tubes to 20mm square tubes 1.2mm thick. The two longitudinal members at the centre are for the handles to lift/close the roof. The short lengths at 45o angles are to allow for tie down straps in the corners of the roof opening - don't want it blowing away on the motorway! The small flat brackets near the corners carry the top ends of the 'H' frames.
The single, central tube at the front of the frame is to allow for a fixing to support the folded front H frame when the pop-top is closed. Being in the middle of the opening, I thought it could dangle and flap about when driving and present a head-banger risk when moving inside the vehicle.

U tubes
I had looked initially at using side mounted scissor support frames similar to those used on the Country Homes Camper top (http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=614310&highlight=) but decided there was rather more complex fabrication involved than using hinged U tubes as in the UK Poptops style pictured above. This is itself a simpler version of the sprung Westy design and may predate it.

Anyhow, with the loan of an electrician's pipe vice and some conduit I set to to bend up the designs I had sketched. After a couple of fails I got the hang of using the bender and produced U tubes I was happy with. I had decided that the inner U tube would be pivoted on closer centres (630 as against 800mm) so that when the two fold flat together they would not act like scissors and chew up any part of the canvas which got between them. The one aspect of the design I was less confident about was just how much space I needed to allow for the folded canvas.

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vw4wd
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 12:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some more photos of the H frames.

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The outer/upper U tubes are cranked at the pivot point so that the 'H' frame will go just beyond the straight position and lock out when the pop-top is fully up and the upper cross bar meets the lower vertical sections.

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


On the rear H frame, the cross bar of the lower U is curved to follow the shape of the van roof. I have also had to relieve the inside (the ceiling) of the pop-top slightly to accept the upper cross bar and allow the roof to descend much closer to the van roof.

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


The pairs of tubes are hinged together on M6 bolts and the top & bottom mounting brackets also have M6 pivot bolts.

Hinge Brackets
These are made up from sections of 25 square by 3mm thick steel tube, cut to form channels. The lower ones have a length of 25x2mm strip welded below to form the mounts to the roof skin. These are set at a slight angle to follow the curvature of the roof.

The upper brackets will bolt through slotted holes and the headlining into rivnuts in the flat brackets of the roof frame. This is because I felt there might be some need for adjustment in the initial installation to get the folded H frames to lie flat against the roof skin.

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The lower brackets will be bolted through the roof skin into M6 T nuts fitted in the plywood stiffener around the edge of the opening in the roof. The coloured finish results from the use of old steel and my decision to have it zinc plated and gold passivated. Should help stop any rust getting started.

Gas Strut Brackets
The top brackets are made from a triangle of 2mm steel plate folded in the vice to a Z section. The top face bolts to two rivnuts in the outer face of the roof frame and the Z gives the struts some clearance from the canvas in order to minimise risk of wear or oil transfer.

The gas struts are 900mm long when fully open and have a grub screw valve which allows adjustment of pressure - downwards only! A turn of the screw will allow a short burst of gas to escape so it will be a case of working around the roof, one strut at a time to until it is comfortable to pull the roof down and not too difficult to push it up. They were set at 250N force when purchased which, when vertical, would each support a weight approximately 25kg. Given that I am hoping that the lifting element of my roof will weigh between 30 and 40kg, I do have quite a bit of leeway even though, with the struts at 45o or less, their capacity is rather less than 25kg.

The lower mounting point each side is a 300mm length of 2mm steel folded to angle of 73o to match the cross slope of the van roof. This will be bolted through the roof skin into M8 T nuts fitted in the plywood stiffener around the edge of the opening in the roof.

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


Trial Fitting & Development
During the course of building up the roof & H frames bits have been on and off the van many times. Unfortunately I do not have an indoor space big enough to take the van so it has all been done on the drive. Fortunately, the weather has been pretty good during the months this has been happening.

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With two lengths of heavy string to prevent the whole structure pivoting frontwards or backwards I was able to 'pop' the top by standing through the sunroof hole. Awkward by easily do-able. It proved that my arms are long enough to reach the back H frame and pop it over-centre into the lock position.

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.

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vw4wd
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 12:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Insulation
In order to minimise the thickness of the roof structure I decided to sculpt the foam sheet so that the 25mm thick frame was set into the 30mm thick foam. This was not as easy as I had anticipated but with a combination of modelling knife, multi-tool (vibrating saw) and a hacksaw blade I was able to trim out the 20mm square channels across the sheet. Eventual technique was to mark the silver foil surface along either side of each tube, using the multi-tool to cut down the required depth and then to make repeated cuts to segment the strip to be removed. These cuts had to be diagonal to the strip as the blades minimum cut width was wider than 20mm.

I then used the end of the hacksaw blade to lever over and snap off each segment before going under it to lever it out. I followed this with running the slim spout of the vacuum cleaner along the slot to knock of any remaining projections and to clean up all the loose bits.


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The design idea is that the extra 5mm thickness of the foam forms a layer above the main tubes of the roof frame to isolate it from the aluminium skin when that bolt on top.

Roof Skin
The roof skin will be a single piece of 1.6mm aluminium sheet with the corners notched and the edges folded down to form the angled sides of the skin. Not something I can manage in my home workshop (it will start off something like 2.2 x1.5m!) but a 'know a man who can'. One of my neighbours is part of a family with a large local fabrication business and he has been a friend for years - often helping me with my 'little projects'.
With the frame in position on the roof I was able to work out the side slope angles and create a template for the front and rear faces which have a complex curve where the angled face meets the transverse curve of the van roof.

The front face will fold down at 53o just 5mm in front of the frame and meet the roof on top of the 'B' post stiffening ridge. The rear will match this. The sides will extend 50mm beyond the frame to provide clearance for the gas struts and bend down at 79o . I am hoping that the guys will be able to develop the corners in a conical shape so that it creates a 30mm radius corner at the bottom edge. This will help the installation of the edge seal all around the roof.

The skin will be fixed to the frame using numerous M6 flanged button screws into rivnuts in the frame. There will be 5mm plastic spacers set into the foam between them so that the screws can be pulled up tight without crushing the foam and depressing the aluminium. That's the plan anyway because, at the time of writing, it's as far as I've got with the mechanical elements.

Canvas
The canvas will be vertical on all four sides and give a height of approximately 560mm above the van roof at the centre line. I have gone for a medium to dark grey colour to compliment the grey & orange theme of the rest of the van.
Following Leon's advice I have gone for a plastic window in the front face and insect mesh vents in each side of the canvas. All three will flat bottomed 'D' shapes and have internal canvas 'shutters' which I originally suggested would be held closed with double handle zips. These would allow them to be opened varying amounts and in different ways. Leon has suggested his more robust method of using hook & loop strips rather than zips, partly because zips can fail and replacing them would be a big job.

Fixing of the canvas will be by trapping the edges under clamp strips. At the top these 19 x 3mm aluminium strips will be fixed at 100mm centres by countersunk self tapping screws into the underside face of the roof frame. The lower edge of the canvas will be fixed in a similar way to the van roof skin.

That is as far as I have got to date. I am waiting on the fabrication of the aluminium skin and the canvas before I can move on. Hopefully there will be movement on them next week.
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 1:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Popcorn Very Happy
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 1:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I like where this is going.
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 1:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You could play rooftop ping pong on that table.

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This is pretty cool.
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 1:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Looks interesting and good job bending up all the piping. Not sure I like such a small opening though.
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 3:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice work! Great ambition. Im betting a larger hole is cut after final top construction and seal installed. If hes like me, you fab and drive the same vehicle. Installing the glass sunroof and sealing the u tube bracket holes allows it to park outside in fowl weather and still be driveable.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 30, 2015 2:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

newfisher wrote:
Im betting a larger hole is cut after final top construction and seal installed. If hes like me, you fab and drive the same vehicle. Installing the glass sunroof and sealing the u tube bracket holes allows it to park outside in fowl weather and still be driveable.


That is exactly right. Having nowhere undercover to park means it has to be weather tight between work sessions. At present there are only four holes drilled in the roof and leaving the self tap screws in place fills them nicely.

The hole will be a bit more than 1m square, taking up most of the space forward of the back edge of the sunroof to just behind the 'B' post ridge. The gap through the middle ridge (by my elbow in the photo) will remain, with the cut line being at the inner edge of it. This leaves me a straight smooth edge for finishing off and fixing down the edge of the canvas and provides standing headroom over just about all of the central floor space and does not interfere with any structural components of the van.
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PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2015 9:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

To help explain my design a little more I am posting jpeg versions of my Google drawings.

This one shows how I reckon the mechanism & fabric will work out when the roof is down.

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Some detail of the mechanical elements:


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Tent design:

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Roof skin:

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I am hopeful that both the canvas and the aluminium skin will be ready in the next week or so. I am wanting to get it all fitted ready for camping at the end of the month!
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PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2015 9:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would make sure that when the top is closed, the attachment point of the struts to the top is BELOW the attachment point of the struts to the van. That way, the struts will be assisting in keeping it closed when it is closed and assist in keeping it open when it is open.
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PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2015 3:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dang, man! This is GREAT! Nice job so far! Great job on the "drawings" too.
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PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2015 10:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Incredible work. Thanks for sharing the details. Can't wait to see the finished product.
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PostPosted: Tue May 19, 2015 9:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Feeling quite disappointed today. Had to finally admit that my roof is not going to be built ready for our holiday at the end of next week.

I have a list of all the small stages that need doing, in an exact order, to complete the roof but the first thing is to get my hands on the aluminium skin. I have checked and re-checked that list but there is nothing more I can do until it arrives.

The canvas arrived in plenty of time and looks good but there are continuing delays with the aluminium skin. The fabrication firm are very busy and it feels like they are giving my work low priority.

I am hoping that they can produce the promised test piece of the front slope shape so that I can try it before we go away and that they can then make the whole skin in time for my return. I have a two week gap before intending to camp in the van again.

Wish me luck!
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PostPosted: Tue May 19, 2015 9:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good luck! Very Happy
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PostPosted: Tue May 19, 2015 12:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Check with your local semi truck trailer repair shop. They would have it in stock to skin the sides of damaged freight trailers.
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PostPosted: Wed May 20, 2015 1:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very nice engineering. I just want to raise a small issue I see with the locking mechanism. It will be affected by the struts. If the struts are stronger than the roof counter weight, the locking will not occur as long as you don't add a snap-lock to hold the H-frame in the lock position.

It seems you are going to use four struts. My experience with these kind of struts is that it is difficult to find them with low power, and with four of them they will without a doubt overtake the weight of the pop top.

If this happens to your design you could make the H-frames a little bit different and let them hit each other before they reach the max stretch. That will have the struts hold the roof though. You rely on the struts and not locking through gravity.

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.



Another version would be to mount the struts on the H-frame instead. Then the struts will help you to push up the roof and force the H-frames into locking position.
Also, if you adjust the struts to reach their max length when the H-frames are in locked position, they will also help holding the roof steady (not wiggle back and forth).

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Just my two cents to a great design. Smile
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PostPosted: Wed May 20, 2015 2:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

...and, as I mentioned before, move the strut to van attachment point UP so that it is above the strut to top attachment point when the top is closed. That way the strut will help keep it closed when close and help keep it open when open... Otherwise, if whatever latch mechanism you are using fails, your pop top will pop open suddenly and unexpectedly.
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PostPosted: Wed May 20, 2015 4:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Andrew A. Libby wrote:
...and, as I mentioned before, move the strut to van attachment point UP so that it is above the strut to top attachment point when the top is closed. That way the strut will help keep it closed when close and help keep it open when open... Otherwise, if whatever latch mechanism you are using fails, your pop top will pop open suddenly and unexpectedly.


Yes, totally agree.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2015 12:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Guys,
thanks for these last few posts which were posted while I was away and I've only just seen. Some good thoughts re the strut positioning.

The struts I have are adjustable in that they have a bleed screw to allow reduction of the internal pressure and therefore the force exerted. My intention is to get the basic assembly completed then reduce the pressures gradually until it is enough to assist with the roof raising but not too much.

It's that long since I did the trial assembly that I can't remember the exact correlation of the upper & lower strut mounts with the roof down. They may not be as Andrew suggested but they will be very close to 'flat' or level. A change of upper brackets could improve this situation if necessary.

Svenakela - your second edit of my drawing is an interesting proposition and not one I had thought of. Certainly an idea to keep in mind if the original design proves unsatisfactory.

The main issue at the moment and the reason I haven't been back on this thread is that I am still waiting for the aluminium skin to be fabricated! The company have really let me down on this. I have got to get some more pressure on them tomorrow.
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