Gypsy Wagons
Design Seminar with Steve Habersetzer and Greg Kossow


Traditional Crafts Series Level: Level I


These are pictures of two of the six Gypsy Wagons (or "Vardos" in the Romany language) that Jim Tolpin has built.  The Ledge Style was built in the mid-eighties and the Bow Top version was finished in 2007. (It was shink wrapped and shipped by Fedex from Port Townsend to upstate New York).

Gypsy Wagons are the ulitmate cozy home on wheels - it is like traveling back in time to a beautiful place where one finds joy in a life pared down to the basics. Port Townsend is a centre of Gypsy Wagon makers, (perhaps that is overstating it a tad). But Jim Tolpin, Steve Habersetzer and Greg Kossow have all built (or are building) wagons and there are at least three other woodworkers in the area who have built one!

Warning! Warning Will Robinson! Building a highly detailed Gypsy Wagon is a long process. It took Jim Tolpin more than 2000 hours over several years to build his last wagon. A simpler version, however, can take less than half that time.

In these courses Steve and Greg will share the tricks and techniques that they have learnt - you'll still have your work cut out for you, but your learning curve will be much shorter. Steve and Greg are the main instructors for this class. Jim Tolpin will do a couple of presentations during the class and be available for a Q&A session.

Class Description

In this three day class we will explore how the late 19th century, English-made “Living Wagons” (called “Vardos” by the Gypsies)—were designed, built and used. Then you will discover how modern design and construction techniques can be used to create a wagon that will be enchanting and cozy, yet roadworthy for travel at today’s highway speeds. In the balance of the seminar you will have the opportunity to design your own wagon, from concept sketches to preliminary working drawings.

The Core Skills:

  • Designing a suitable chassis frame and running gear.
  • Wheel size, number and placement
  • Building strong, weatherproof floors, walls and ceilings.
  • Plywood versus traditional solid wood frame construction (both are viable options, though each have pros and cons).
  • Making attractive, but sturdy and weather-tight, doors and windows.
  • Creating traditional carvings and decorative details.
  • Designing and building the interior built-in cabinetwork
  • Bending hoops and working with canvas (for Bow-top versions)
  • Designing electrical and plumbing systems
  • Installing heating systems
  • Painting and varnishing
  • Outfitting the wagon for the road.


No tools are required for this course. Bring a note book and camera.


There are no prerequisites for students taking this course other than having a passionate interest in learning how to create the most cozy and lovable living space one could ever hope to spend some time in—on the road or in the garden

Class Information and Registration

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.

Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.

Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 20
Cost: $350
Materials Charge: None

2014 Class:

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.

August 18 - 20, 2014 Gypsy Wagons Register

Related Classes and Events

  • Gathering of Wagons at Fort Worden 
    We've decided that it would be stretching our resources too much to offer the Gathering of Wagons in 2013 or 14. We are hosting a major conference in 2014 so we'll consider holding the Gathering in 2015.

If you'd like to ask questions - please feel free to contact  us - (360) 344-4455 or by email.

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Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades Copyright © 2007-2014. All rights reserved.

200 Battery Way | Fort Worden | Port Townsend, WA 98368 | (360) 344-4455 | email

The Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit. Any donations made to the School are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.