Latest update December 28th, 2016 1:27 AM
Dec 28, 2016 Abel Longoria Equipment Review, Vanagon 8
Every time I travel, one of the things that always concerns me is the security of my camera equipment and laptop. I often times take both my camera bags into a restaurant or pub with me for fear that my van will get broken into while I’m not around. Not ideal.
I got to thinking how I can add a large volume lock box to my van specifically for this reason. A lock box will allow me to place my larger valuables inside and lock it up while I’m at the beach or in a restaurant. After an exhaustive search I finally came across a Buyers Products 1703349 Toolbox on Amazon and thought I’d give it a try and see if I can make it fit work. The box measures 12″x14″x18″ long. My plan was to install it under my bench seat out of the way and inconspicuous.
The Buyers Products 1703349 Toolbox is a metal constructed lock box that is normally installed under flatbed wreckers and other truck equipment. It’s door is normally vertical since it’s designed as a front loading box. I plan to use it as a top loading box instead.
The box features a nice large locking handle which is keyed. I’d probably prefer a combination lock but I can settle for having to use a key. Not a deal breaker.
Since the lock box is normally intended for exterior mounting, the door assembly is nicely sealed in order to keep moisture out. In my case the added seal helps keep the box lid from rattling while driving.
The large plastic lock cover is a bit big and bulky. Fortunately this can be removed pretty easily which I do plan to do soon.
Since the box was intended to be mounted with the door opening vertically they’ve included these cable travel limiters that keep the door from swinging all the way down. These will do us no good since I plan to have the box be a top loading box as shown.
The lower mounting point for the cable travel limiter will come in very handy! One less thing I need to worry about. You’ll see.
Since the Lock Box was intended to be mounted with the door opening vertically, I will remove the cable travel limiters. I’ll replace them with a pair of Apexstone Gas Struts in order to keep the door propped opened. Nice!
The Apexstone Gas Struts come with two mounting brackets. One we will use and the other is no good to us. The StrongArm SA3000 Ball End Kit is a 10mm threaded ball end that we can install into the existing mounting bracket inside the box.
Use a Ratchet and a 3/8″ Socket in order to remove the nylock nuts that mount the cable travel limiters to the lock box door.
Both cable travel limiters have been removed. You can rethread the nylock nuts back onto the posts.
The lower end of the cable travel limiter is riveted to the bracket inside the box. We need to completely remove this cable and rivet in order to install our new 10mm Threaded Ball End.
I used a Bosch 5/16″ Drill Bit on my Dewalt Right Angle Drill in order to drill out the head of the rivet freeing the cable travel limiter completely.
Then I mount a Irwin Tools Unibit to my Dewalt Right Angle Drill and proceed to drill out the rest of the rivet locked into the bracket.
Once the rivet is completely removed. Proceed to enlarge the hole in the bracket using the unibit. You want to drill out the existing hole to 5/16″ in order to accept the new threaded Ball Stud.
Place the threaded Ball End through the mounting bracket and add the included washer and nylock nut to the back side. Use a 7/16″ Wrench for the Ball End and a 13mm Wrench for the backing nut. Fully tighten.
Now the Threaded Ball End is in place for the Gas Strut. Repeat the process on the other side of the box.
We will use one of the mounting brackets that came with the Gas Struts but we have to enlarge the mounting holes in order to accomodate the larger studs on the the lock box. I clamped a scrap piece of wood to a chair. Used the included 2 screws in order to secure the mounting bracket to the scrap piece of wood. Then I clamped the whole assembly down.
Using the unibit on my drill I then drilled out one end of the slotted hole on the bracket. I enlarged it to 1/4″ in diameter.
Repeat the process for the second bracket as well while keeping in mind that the ball stud will need to face outwards from the box and the larger hole needs to point towards the lock box hinge.
Use a Ratchet and a 3/8″ Socket to remove the nylock nuts then place the mounting bracket onto the threaded stud then retighten the nylock nuts down.
This is the orientation of the mounting bracket. Ball End faces outward.
Using a Small Flat Head Screwdriver pry back the retaining clip of the gas strut just a tad. This will let you pop the strut onto the Ball End. Remove the screwdriver and push the retaining clip back into place locking the gas strut end to the ball end.
Both Gas Struts are installed here on the box side.
Close the lid far enough so that the other end of the gas strut lines up with the ball end mounting plate thats attached to the box lid. Use a Small Flat Head Screwdriver and pry back the retaining clip a tad. Pop the gas strut end onto the ball end and remove the screw driver. Push the retaining clip back into place making sure it locks into place.
Now both gas struts are in place.
This will keep the door open and in place while you load your gear into the lock box. Nice!
I only piggybacked onto the single mounting point of the box but you can drill a new hole through the box lid in order to add another screw here so that the mounting plate is completely secure. This is optional.
The lock box as is will not fit where we need it to fit. The rear wall under my 1987 Westy bench seat has the standard incline and vertical bump. We need to modify the Lock Box in order to conform around that profile.
I test fitted a cardboard box under the bench seat in order to make sure I get the right dimensions to cut the lock box. Here you can see I used a Silver Sharpie marker in order to draw my cut lines.
Take note of the dimensions and how they correlate to the opening of the box. The bottom back corner of the box on the hinge side. At this time go ahead and use a small Flat Head Screw driver and remove the Gas Struts we installed earlier. I’d recommend doing this so that the metal shavings don’t get onto the shafts of the struts and possibly blow them out when opening the door.
I bought a Harbor Freight 4-1/2 in.Heavy Duty Angle Grinder, a nifty Safety Guard for Angle Grinders and a pack of 4-1/2 in. 40 Grit Metal Cut-off Wheels.
Remove the stock Angel Grinder guard with a Phillips Head Screwdriver.
Install the new Angle Grinder Guide onto the Angle Grinder. This guide allows the Angle Grinder to be used much like a circular saw. This makes cutting a straight line so much easier. I had to remove the two wing nuts and the base portion of the guard in order to get the guard onto the Angle Grinder correctly. Tightened the new guard on, then tightened the new cut off wheel, then reinstalled the lower base of the guide. For more info please refer to the Instructions included with the guide.
I took a Tape Measure and measured from the edge of the cut off wheel to the edge of the guide base. This dimension of 1-3/8″ is how far I need to place my wooden guide from my cutline on the lock box. This dimension may vary for you so you’ll need to measure this yourself on your own Angle Grinder setup. For this install I’ll continue to refer to my own 1-3/8″ dimension.
I had a straight, scrap piece of MDF wood laying around which makes for a great guide. Some people use thin materials as a guide but I found this thicker material worked out well. More on that in a bit. I used two 36″ Clamps in order to clamp the wooden guide and box down to the wooden chair. This way everything is nice and secure.
I measure 1-3/8″ away from the cut line. This is where the edge of my wooden guide should be. Measure this in three spots, at one end of the box, the middle and at the other end of the box. Once you’re certain you’re at the right dimension off of the cutline, fully clamp the wooden guide into place so it won’t move during your cut.
Here you can see how the Angle Grinder is used like a small circular saw. The way I have it orientated allows the sparks to fly downward into the box. Make sure when you install your Angle Grinder Guard that the cutoff wheel cuts downwards and not upwards. It’s much safer when the wheel rotates downwards.
One long cut is completed so I repeat the process for the other long cut on the box. Again measuring 1-3/8″ from the cutline and locking down my wooden guide. Make the cut. Slowly and Surely. No need to rush it.
Now I move to the end of the box. Measure 1-3/8″ from the cutline. Lock down my guide and cut.
This next cut is a little different. Start out near where the two cutlines meet. Proceed to do a plunge cut, This is where the thickness of the wood guide comes in handy. You place the Angle Grinder against the wooden guide, start the grinder and slowly push it down so it plunge cuts into the box. Once the wheel has cut into the metal and the base of the guide is flat against the box then you can walk it forward like normal completely the cut.
Take a Rasp File and file off all of the burs along every edge you’ve cut. Making sure to rid the box off all of the metal burs that could possibly cut you. Run a Shop Vac and clean out the inside of the box and give it a good wipe down.
Once the edges are all filed down, take a can of Black Spray Paint and spray two coats over the exposed edges of metal. This will help seal the bare metal keeping it from rusting in the future. I didn’t mask any of this off, I just lightly sprayed the area coating the exposed edges. You can mask it all off if you like. I didn’t see a real need to do so since this portion of the box will be towards the back of the bench seat and out of sight.
To further protect the box edges and the van, I purchased some of this Rubber Edge Trim. This trim will slide onto the edges where we made our cuts and protect us from cutting ourselves while handling, installing and using the lock box.
Pick a good start point and simply press the rubber edge trim onto the metal wall.
The corners can be a little tricky. I turned the corner with the rubber edge trim and lightly tapped on it with a Hammer making sure the rubber trim seated correctly onto the metal walls. Do this at every corner necessary.
Here is the box with the complete rubber seal trimming. Nice and clean!
Go ahead and reinstall the Gas Struts using a Small Flat Head Screwdriver.
The cut out is nice and straight and protected now! We’re almost done!
Here’s the bench seat of my 1987 Vanagon Westfalia. In order to get our lock box installed into the area beneath it we’ll need to remove the lower cushion of the bench seat.
Lift the bench seat up and proceed to remove the phillips head screws that mount the bracket to the base of the bench seat with a Phillips Head Screwdriver. Do this at both ends of the bench seat. Set the lower bench seat aside.
Drop the Lock Box into place.
You can see the cut we made to the back of the box and how it now sits nicely around the bump and angled back firewall.
Close the Lock Box door.
Put the lower bench seat back into place and reinstall the phillips head screws that mount the bracket to the base of the bench seat. Do this at both ends of the bench seat. This box can only be installed and removed with the lower bench seat removed. Added security!
Now you have a nice Lock Box for all of you larger goodies such as cameras, laptops, purses, pistols or whatever! At this point you can fasten the box to your van in any way you see fit. I plan to use some 3/4″ long screws and screw the box down to the wooden floor of the Bench Seat.
In order to help make the Lock Box more user friendly I’ve purchased a OxyLED T-02U USB Rechargeable LED Light to install inside the box. This light is motion activated so when I open the box and reach in, the light will illuminate the interior in order to help me see what I’m doing.
One of the things I like most about this light is that it’s rechargable so there is no need to worry about having spare batteries. Simply plug it up to a USB charging port in the van until fully charged. Done. The light simply mounts to any surface via some 3M double stick tape on the backside of the LED light.
Since the LED Light is rechargeable it needs some way to easily remove the light from its installed position so the light has a magnetic strip on the back that allows the light to be removed when its time to charge. Very cool!
I mounted the LED Light on the Lock Box door so now when I open the box at night it’ll automatically turn on. =)
So there you have it… My new Vanagon Lock Box! This will make me more comfortable leaving my expensive gear in the van while I go hike and explore various locations. No need to worry about coming back to all of my camera gear being stolen. This box will keep my stuff safe!
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Very nice and the weight of the box is not excessive. The price of all items
are a bargain. And your skillful attention and work is what makes it all come together.
I was thinking these modified boxes would be a good item to sell through your store.
Now that you’ve used this for a while, would you use 2 struts or would one get the job done?
One would probably be OK… I don’t see why not. I just prefer having one on each side to keep things from possibly binding when closing.
Great write up! Have you come across a motion sensing led light that can just be hard wired to 12v DC? Would be great to just connect it to my aux panel. Thanks!
Any idea if the westy bench seat compartment is the same dimensionally as say a standard interior or Carat Z-bed compartment? Clearly the overall width is narrower due to the cabinets. Bench board to firewall, Seat bottom to floor?
It is definitely not the same. Standard passenger vans, syncros, and carat’s have an entirely different bed frame, and are much lower in height than Westfalias. I’ve come up with a $5 solution that securely locks the entire area underneath the bench though. Feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com for pics.
Just finished the lock box project . It looks wonderful. I drilled the floor and used 5/16 carriage bolts to secure. Got my box on used Amazon for 100$ off still in the box. Thanks for the Great work and pics. Made this project very smooth. Mike
Machesney Park Il.