Cars and trucks have come and gone, but there is perhaps no other vehicle as iconic as the Volkswagen Microbus. The bus has a distinct rounded look that journeyman sheet metal fabricator Greg McFarlane decided he could duplicate with a spent propane tank, along with some additional metal. He was inspired to make a fire pit after seeing a similar device on his Facebook feed, and hearing his friend talk about grilling hotdogs for “Sausage Sunday” or “Weiner Wednesday.” McFarlane used his friend’s pit to make his flaming bus.
For those wishing to do something similar, McFarlane warns that you’ll have to go through a rather involved process to ensure all of the propane is gone from the tank. He even purged his with Argon (an inert gas) before cutting into it. This type of job is best left to professionals. He continues, “I wouldn’t recommend anyone opening a propane tank at home. It is insanely dangerous and could very well kill you. Find a shop that will remove the valve and purge the tank. Then before your ready to cut into it, purge the tank again with water to make sure there in no propane.”
Warnings aside, the build started off with McFarlane cutting the purged tank in half, using a laser level to draw a vertical cut line. From there, he cut the halves in half again, allowing him to insert a 6″ section in the middle to elongate the tank. He realized, after the fact, that he could have used a 30 pound propane tank to get the same diameter and, more conveniently, already be 6″ taller. He used this knowledge when building a second fire bus for his wife.
After this, he filled the middle of the tank in with another piece of 1/8″ hot rolled steel, elongating it 8″. McFarlane notes that matching up the radius of the propane tank to the steel he bent was the hardest part of this build, as it’s not a constant curve. Instead of rolling it he marked it every 1/2″ and kinked it using a template he made.
After the horizontal and vertical extensions were solidly welded into place, he cut up lengths of pipe for the wheels. He also added a 1/4″ stainless steel rod to form the belt and roof rack. Windows were cut out freehand with a plasma cutter and template, and filled in with perforated stainless steel as the “glass.”
At this point, it looked pretty good, and it worked well during fire testing. On the other hand, it was missing a few small details, including a pair of headlights, and of course, the iconic “VW” emblem. After another trip to the shop, and getting the emblem waterjet cut, these details were added. The base of a chipping hammer was also added as a handle for the door, completing this epic build.
If you’re wondering how McFarlane has such an awesome metalworking shop, he actually did the job out of his place of employment. The owner of said shop welcomes employees to work on personal projects when the shop is closed, which sounds like a really cool fringe benefit.
While most of us would have likely taken much longer, McFarlane’s metalworking skills allowed him to complete this build in an 8-10 hour period. He’s got 10 1/2 years of work experience, and was able to build this pit without a formal plan, or making any real mistakes.