Jim Tolpin's Gypsy Wagon

GYPSY WAGON
This traditional "Vardo" has been re-designed to withstand the rigors of the road.

SHOP OWNER:
Jim Tolpin

LOCATION:
Port Townsend, WA


    The "Vardo," in the tongue of the Gypsies (Romany), is a caravan — a wagon for living in. For a woodworker, the Vardo is a fine piece of hand-crafted furniture on wheels. I first saw one when I was starting out in woodworking in the late '60's and knew someday I had to build one for myself. Over the years I did get to build a few for an occasional customer and now, finally, I've begun one for myself.

Detail view of Jim's most recent Vardo.
    My Vardos are not reproductions — they are interpretations. The biggest distinction driving the difference is that I designed mine to be pulled by a vehicle at highway speeds, not by a horse. To make the structure stronger, to stand up to wind stress, I make the walls as plywood-skinned torsion boxes. (The originals were mortise-and-tenoned frames to which were nailed tongue-and-groove siding boards.)
    To make my versions lighter and far easier to tow — especially backing up! — I use only a single-axle wheel system rather than a four-corner wheel setup. It doesn't look as authentic but it's far more practical — though practical isn't necessarily my primary goal here!
    I make the bow top roof by steambending strips of cedar, fixing them in place to the sidewalls and then covering with synthetic canvas (Sunbrella "Topgun"). I used to use true canvas, but in the damp climate up here in Washington, it would only last about three years. The synthetic stuff will last three times that long.
    Because my wagon wasn't made for commercial gain, I made nearly all the moldings and edge treatments with handtools. No routers were used anywhere. Nice to get away from both the noise and the standardization.
    The outside of the wagon is nearly done at this point, and I hope to do the interior next summer. I'll send more photos when there is more to see!

. . . Jim Tolpin
October 19, 2004

[For an update on Jim's Vardo, go HERE.]
 
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