Pop-top Canvas (Screens have own topic)


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This is very helpful. Thank you. Could send me a pic of that tool for the corners that you made?


New member
Hi Jay; my mechanic suggested a siicone based treatment instead of something like Thompsons Water Seal. You want something that allows the canvas to breathe. So I used Scotguard spray for outdoor tents etc. About $10


Recent tent replacement experience

I hope I've got this posting in the right place. Mods?

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Our Westy now has a new "OEM" (actually supplied by Günzel, a major German VW "stuff" source, although bought domestically) tent.

First and foremost, the pop top stayed on the vehicle. IMHO, taking the top off is far more work than it's worth. Whatever your choice, beware of the springs in the support arms!!!

My general work flow was the same as the Vimeo video (featuring Kris Knight, who has an auto top business - see the video - google Kris Knight Vanagon to find the video) making the rounds. As a side comment, if you haven't done a tent, the video seems to tell you everything you need to know. It doesn't. There are some useful tool tips; for example, but the casual way Mr. Knight snips the darts into corners is misleading. It's fine if you've done so many tents you can do it in your sleep. For the rest of us, "measure twice, cut once".

Notice, too, there's no use of a power screw driver in the video. Attractive as it may seem, most power drivers end up getting in their own way. Stick with a non-powered driver. And, yes, the flex tip will make your day during this project. The screws on the top section use a #2 point while the ones on the bottom use a #1 point (magnetized tips will help with setting the screws). Use the right tips and don't mix the screws together after taking the old tent off. Be sure to mark where extrusion came from (and do it on the hidden side - once done, who wants to see "this end up" markings). Each piece takes a slightly different set. Mixing the pieces around is not a good idea.

Centering the ends of the tent and vehicle are crucial. The technique of matching seams to find the center of a tent end works well. The existing center screws are probably centered but it won't hurt to verify this by measuring the top with a tape and looking for the center that way.

Once the old tent is off, start by putting the front center of the tent, with the welting under the extrusion, in place with a screw. I sat on the cargo carrier while doing this part. Run the center screw in, but don't clamp the material down. Trying to keep the welting place can be frustrating but you only need about 3" of welting tucked in under the extrusion, on the side you're going to work with next. Pull the material on a corner (I picked the passenger side because I'm right handed), get the welting under extrusion at the end of the extrusion, and start a screw into welting. It's possible to get a stretch (more of a "pull it very tight" than actually stretching the material) and start the screw without a second person's help. Honest. (I found that, with few exceptions, most of the work is actually easier to do without outside help - having a gofer getting dropped screws, etc. is a big help, though) The video mentions that the seams do not go on the corners - this correct! Trying to make a seam sit on a corner, in most cases, simply won't work. Either the tent will wrinkle or something bad will happen to the fabric.

Here's a tip not mentioned in the video: Once the center and one corner screw are in place, add at least one more intermediate screw (between the center and corner - run it down but not tight) on the side (passenger or driver) you just worked on. Do the same thing with the other end of the front extrusion. Other than leaving the end screws a bit loose (helps with the side rails later), when both corners are fitted, run the other screws down. Look for bunching or missed bit of welting or welting sticking out. Loosen screws and tighten fabric as needed.

With the front anchored down, go for the back rail. The process works exactly as the front does, only it can get a bit cramped in the back. Still, the work process is exactly the same. I then installed the side rails (again, I hope you marked which side is which). Begin at one end, re-stretching the material as you set a screw into the welting. Repeat this at the other end of the rail. From there, stuff welting under the extrusion, set and run a screw in part way, over and over. Then tighten every screw down. Repeat this for the other side of the Westy and the top of the tent is done. Again, check for bunching and that welting is in the right place.

Expect this part of the job to take two hours or less. Fitting the front and rear rails isn't that hard, except that working in the back of the bunk can be a little challenging because of the lack of room.

Now comes the fun part: the tent bottom. As recommended in the video, lower the top about 6" and prop it up with a board. Do not bet the top will magically stay in place, and be certain the board can't move out of place. Having the top collapse suddenly could really ruin your day. Keep the zippered windows closed.

This is the part of the tent installation the video skipped over. Be sure to have the right extrusion right side (the channel side) up. Put the center of the tent edge under the center hole. The white plastic welting must stick out from the extrusion! Failure to do this means a baggy tent. How much welting should stick out? The inside edge of the welting roll should be firmly against the extrusion edge. At the front center screw, the space between the extrusion and the locking mechanism for the top should just allow the welting to fit in the space. Again, try to get 2-3" of welting in place on either side of the center screw.

There are actually two corners to fit on any one corner of the tent (that is, the extrusion makes two 45° turns, not one 90° turn). The snips in the welting that Mr. Knight does nearr the start of the video should be done. But where they go matters a lot. Stretch the material away from the center screw and run a screw into the first hole (on the side you're working on) next to the center hole - don't run it in fully. Do this on the other side (the corner you'll do after the one you're working on now) - stretch the material and set a screw next to the center screw. Don't run either of these screws down fully.

Stretch the material as much as is practical (hint: no special tools needed - just pull the stuff firmly with one hand). Mark where the first corner in the extrusion (the one closer to the center of the vehicle) lies on the welting, which should be in the correct place (sticking out properly from under the extrusion). You're looking to mark the center of the coming turn in the top. Once marked, back out or remove any screws that keep you from snipping a V (almost a 90° "pie piece") in the welting, with the cuts centered on your mark. Fit the piece away from the center screw and on the other side of the first corner (this bit makes more sense when you look at a corner with the existing tent). Mark the location of the second corner and snip as before. Fit the first end in place (trim the V if needed) and anchor it with a screw. Fit the short piece of welting in place, set it with a screw, and finish up with the remaining section of the tent bottom. Repeat the process on the other side. Put in the remaining screws in the extrusion and the front is done. Resist the temptation to lift the top to see how the front looks. You will most likely bend and tear things.

The tent goes under the rear extrusion the same way as you did in front. As with the top rails, access to the tent bottom is a challenge but it can be done single-handed. Plan your work and take a couple of breaks along the way. With the front and back lower rails in place, the hard work is done! I'd budget about three hours, worst case, for this part of the job.

All that's left is the bottom side rails. Again, keep them channel side up and put the small bend at the back of the Westy. Set the screws at either end, then pull the welting through, run in a screw, and repeat as needed. Look for bunching along the way. Once done, repeat the job on the other side and you're done! Figure about an hour for this part of the job. Aside from the 2-3 screws near the back hinges, the rest are just "position the welting, set a screw, run it in".

Now comes the really neat part: pushing the top up and stretching the tent. First, check that all of the screws are fully tightened. Pulling on loose strips is no fun (possibly lots of repeated work, possibly twisted strips, possibly torn fabric...). Slowly ease the supporting arms into place. If anything looks like it wants to pop or tear - STOP! Re-work the offending bit and try again.

I did almost all of the job without assistance. I'm not a top fitter or anything of the sort. I didn't use any tools not mentioned in the video (screw driver with flexible shaft, awl, diagonal cutters, 10mm socket and wrench for the pop top bolts). Although I took about six hours of work time or seven hours of clock time (I burned about an hour with distractions), it's not unreasonable to think the job could take at least an hour less.

I know a number of posts say the pop top should come off for this job. A) It's a job that will take at least three people (the pop top is heavy). B) The springs for the front support arms are strong and can give a nasty kick if they're not handled well. C) Removing the rear hinges is easy enough, but getting them aligned correctly, with the tent hanging from the top of the pop top, is no fun. In short, this is no time saver or work saver.

Revisiting stretching... this is a point glossed over in the video. At least with the tent I worked on, "stretching" means nothing more than firmly pulling a hunk of the tent into place. Forget using canvas clamps or stretchers. Anyone pulling fabric with Vice Grips is headed for heartache.

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I have a related question. Does anyone know a quality product for cleaning the canvas? My canvas is in great condition but covered with what looks like grease smears. I've tried several products with no success at all and I'm loathe to try dish soap as I'm worried about the paint.


I have a related question. Does anyone know a quality product for cleaning the canvas? My canvas is in great condition but covered with what looks like grease smears. I've tried several products with no success at all and I'm loathe to try dish soap as I'm worried about the paint.

Use Dawn detergent. It won't hurt paint but does a number on grease. I would not, however, just rub at the stains. Have someone hold a backing board (something sealed - maybe a plastic cutting board) on the opposite side a stain as you use water and Dawn on rag. Otherwise you'll stretch the material - Not Good.