Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bulkhead Wall and Starting Cabinet Building...

OK, I think I've milked all the publicity out of the Ed and the Aberts video (previous post) that I can get. (:>). Time to move on.

Despite my absence of posting over another crappy winter, I have been making slow progress as weather permits. I just got sidetracked from uploading pictures from the camera and doing regular posts. Now that the weather is finally warming up, I should be making more regular posts...and progress. After all, as of today, we only have 113 more days, and we're outa here! (Hopefully).

The new step...

In reviewing the photos I uploaded, it looks like the first thing that happened was to finally build a step. Even though the trailer is fairly low to the ground, it is still a good 14 inches to the threshold, which is roughly double a standard step riser height. And we aren't getting any younger. So, first I rounded up some scrap treated 2 x 6's and made a rudimentary step that will suffice for our needs.

Our new 2 x 6 treated step.
To keep the step solid, it is assembled with 2-1/2-inch deck screws, with a center cross piece to keep the legs stable. the 5-1/2-inch nominal board width, topped with another 1-1/2-inch flat piece brings it up to exactly 7 inches, or half the threshhold height. Of course, that may change slightly, depending on the levelness of the ground the trailer is parked on, but it will be fine. And we can always add another board under it if we have to. We just have to get in the habit of ducking our heads when going in, so we don't come up under the top of the shorter than normal doorway. Been there, done that. It hurts!

The bulkhead wall...

The next project was to build the bulkhead wall. The framing pieces were cut first, but then the weather changed for the worse. I also discovered at that time that my pocket hole drill bit was broken, and had to order another one. Then I realized that I wouldn't have enough screws to do all the cabinet frames, so I ordered a 500-count box of screws. Both came from Amazon.

I used to have a biscuit cutter set and cutter for my larger router, but sold all of that in last year's garage sale. For those not familiar with joining biscuits, they are basically little football-shaped plywood pieces, about a 1/4-inch thick and two inches long. The cutter is a thin bladed disk that fits a router. It cuts a semi-circle into the middle of the wood joint, into which is glued a biscuit. But you still have to clamp the joint for a tight fit. With pocket hole screws, the screws pull the joint together, and no clamps are needed. 

Driving screws into the pocket holes.
I used my Black and Decker clamp table to hold the aluminum pocket hole jig while I was drilling the holes, and then used it again to hold the pieces of the frame while I screwed it together. The screws go in at an angle, and pull the pieces tight, but it also helps to use a couple of scrap pieces of wood on either side, clamped tight to keep everything flush.

Holding the bulkhead wall frame during assembly.
It was a little awkward working with such an assembly in such tight quarters, while trying not to bump anything and jar it loose, but I got it done. Above is the wall frame without the cross pieces for the electric heater opening. The wall, by the way, is 68-9/16" long by 40" high. The height was determined by the height of our bicycle handlebars, as they will be the main things stored in the back of the trailer, below the rear bunk.

The cross pieces being clamped for the electric heater.
In the above photo (please excuse the cell phone quality) you can see the cross pieces being installed for above and below the electric heater opening. Note the pocket holes for the screws that hold it together, and the clamps to keep the pieces flush. All joints were glued with Elmer's professional grade wood glue. Now it was time to move the entire assembly to the garage, where I could lay it flat for cutting and inserting the rigid foam insulation into the voids. I raised it off the work table on 2 x 4's just so I could reach under to check the underside, in case the foam pushed through too far.

The bulkhead wall, ready for insulation.
Note that the end pieces were wider than the center pieces of the framing. This was to allow for the installation of four barrel bolts, which were to hold the wall in place at the side walls of the trailer. I have since decided to forget about that. There is no need to remove the bulkhead wall once it is in place, as the piano can be loaded through the side door. So now, just a couple of 3/4-inch square stops, screwed to both the back of the bulkhead and the trailer sides, will hold it all in place. The middle will be strengthened by securing it to the cabinets on either side, in front of the bulkhead, so when all are secured, it won't move...even in the middle. Also, the bunk that sets on top of the wall will also have cleats under the front edge to go over the wall. It won't go anywhere.

Foam insulation in place in the bulkhead wall.
Since the storage compartment will be unheated, even though it will be contained within the trailer, I thought it prudent to add insulation to the bulkhead wall. I will also insulate under the bunk, as well as the wall at the very rear that goes all the way to the ceiling. In other words, when the ramp door is open you will not be able to see the upper bunk...just a blank wall.

We don't plan to remain in temperatures below 40 degrees, although overnight temperatures may dip below that, even in Yuma during January. But it also doesn't take much to heat such a small space, either. At this point, I have no intention to insulate the floors. We may put some rugs down if it gets too cold, or even add an electrically heated floor mat if necessary. We can't use it boondocking, but if it gets that cold for very long. we'll go somewhere with an electric hookup, and revert to our electric heaters, rather than waste propane for the Mr. Heater Big Buddy that we plan to buy.

The back side of the paneling being cut for the bulkhead wall.
At this point, it was time to cut the facing material for the bulkhead wall. I happen to have several pieces of nice blonde paneling, that will work well. Originally, my intention was to paint everything white, but since I discovered all this very light paneling, I will use it on most exposed flat surfaces except for the walls of the trailer. The face frames will be painted a complimentary color, as will the trailer walls. The ceiling will still be white. But the exposed ends of cabinets, and maybe the undersides, too, plus the front of the couch, can all be paneled. We think this will look very nice when we're done.

Note in the above photo, the six-foot aluminum straight-edge clamped to both sides of the panel. Rather than try to feed this large a piece through my table saw, and take a chance on damaging it. I used my contractor grade Ryobi circular saw. It has a large 1/4-inch thick base plate on it, that rides against the straight edge, giving me perfectly straight cuts every time. The paneling is raised off the table top with scrap 2 x 4's under it, and the saw blade is set to a shallow depth, so as not to cut into the table.

Note also, that the piece of paneling is laying face down. That's because the circular saw blade cuts "up", and any splinters that may pull loose will be on the back side, while the front remains perfectly smooth. On a table saw, it would have to be laid face up, because that saw cuts "down".

For our project, I am using the nicer paneling on the interior side, but the back side of the bulkhead wall is going to be plain old 3/8" CD grade plywood, and it will be painted. The reason for the heavier choice on the back side is that I plan to attach a couple of steel tool boards to the back side, and may end up attaching some other things there. For one, I want a place to anchor some ratchet straps to secure the two bicycles. I wouldn't want them bouncing around and getting all beat up.

However, I discovered an anomoly in the piece that I chose. It had a manufacturing defect in it. Somehow, a stray piece of plywood got caught in the gluing press and attached itself to the sheet of plywood. I could hide it by putting it toward the wall, but it would still stick out enough to cause a bump in the wall. So I got out the hammer and chisel and proceeded to chisel that bad piece out. The groove that it left won't be a problem...but a bump would.

An impressed splinter on the back of the sheet of CD grade plywood.
Personally, if I were a quality control inspector, this kind of crap would never make it to a lumber yard. It belongs in a salvage yard! But this is the kind of stuff you get occasionally, and if it's too bad, or unusable at all, the best thing is return it to the lumber yard and let them figure out how to dispose of it! You shouldn't have to pay good money for this kind of quality!

The rear side of the bulkhead wall, with the heater opening cut.
But once flipped over, and cut to size, the plywood will work fine for the back side. The heater opening was carefully measured and cut before the sheet was attached to the wall. Once the sheet was in place, it was secured with heavy duty 3/4-inch long, 1/4-inch crown builder's staples, shot in with my Bostitch pneumatic stapler at 100 pounds air pressure. Then I flipped the wall over again to add the nicer paneling to the other side. You always want to do your worst side first, in case of scratches, and then do your finish side when ready to install the wall.

The interior side of the bulkhead wall, with the heater opening cut.
The same process was used to install the interior paneling, with two exceptions. (1) this paneling had to be installed in two pieces, with the butting edges perfectly matched so as to make the joint appear non-existent. And (2) the air pressure on the stapler had to be reduced to 60 pounds...otherwise it will drive the heads right through the paneling! 

There were some previous nail holes in the salvaged paneling, but nothing that a decent blend stick will not fill. But minor things like that can always be done after we hit the road. My main concern now is getting all the pieces in place in the trailer. The cosmetic stuff can wait.

Once the wall was temporarily set in place in the trailer, I attached the electric space heater to it. The back side of the heater projects through the wall slightly, but that was planned. The cord comes out the bottom past the wall, and will plug into my power distribution center on the left wall of the storage area. 

The back side of the bulkhead wall showing the heater installed.
The front side looks nice with the trim installed on the heater, and is exactly as planned.

The interior side of the bulkhead wall with the electric heater installed.
So now all that is needed is to install the 3/4-inch square stops down each side of the back of the bulkhead wall, and that part will be done. But before I do that, I want to build the cabinets that go against that wall. This will allow everything to join together without strain, and find their own natural place.

The itty bitty closet...

Although I have the face frame pieces cut for the "accordion closet" and ready to drill for pocket holes, I decided to go ahead and get the other side cut, and since it was smaller anyway, and I didn't have enough width for pocket holes, I just went ahead and assembled it with glue and clamps.

As I said, due to having to move the bulkhead wall forward more, the extra 4 inches had to come from somewhere. I couldn't take them from the wardrobe closet because we have to have a minimum of 31-1/2 inches to store the Bivouac Buddy shower enclosure against the back wall. The rigid pan on it won't collapse any smaller. We couldn't steal from the kitchen cabinet, because it is already laid out to fit a 48-inch width for everything that it must contain.

Between it and the front couch, I need a minimum 13 inches for foot space for my size 13 shoes, so I don't have to twist sideways when sitting at the flip-up counter extension. And the couch is already sized to our needs, with coming out from the wall 21 inches in couch mode, and extending to 34 inches in bed mode. It will be up against the kitchen cabinet in bed mode.

So the only thing to do was "narrow up" the only closet I could. Originally it was going to be a shirt closet...but no more. Unfortunately, it will only be good for flat items laid on edge now, but so be it. I told Sharon she could store her cookie sheets in it. (:>) 

Since the entire height was of no advantage anymore, I decided to put a shelf in it, about two-thirds of the way up. For ease of access, the top will remain open. There will be a piano hinge on the upper bunk platform right at the edge of the bulkhead, so the front can be lifted out of the way when getting into the lower cabinets. But it will normally remain in the down "full width bunk" position, so the little cabinet will be covered most of the time. On the opposite side will be a similar but wider (about 14  inches wide) short closet which will hold Sharon's accordion on the bottom, and a file folder box on the top. That will also remain "open top" and be covered by the front portion of the bunk platform.

The cabinet frame for the left side in front of the bulkhead wall.
I'm not even sure about whether to add doors to this little cabinet, but I probably should, just to keep things from sliding out. Due to their location and what they were for, I did not create a toe space at the bottom. These go all the way to the floor, as will the wardrobe closet and couch. Only the kitchen cabinet will have a toe space, because that is the only one we will have to stand at to work at the sink.

Narrow cabinet with sides attached.
Once I had the frame built, the next task was to add sides to it. They didn't need strength, so I found a scrap piece of eighth-inch paneling. It didn't match the other pieces but it didn't have to. I chose to put the back side facing in and the face side out. No one will see it anyway, as the left side will go against the bulkhead wall, and the right side against the wardrobe closet. Only the face and top will be showing. The inside will be just clean bare wood, the same as most cabinets of this type. I did find some 1/4-inch white Masonite paneling to use as the shelves, just to brighten it up a little. Once it was done, and the face sanded lightly, I carried it out and set it in position in the trailer.

The wardrobe closet...a start, anyway...

The next project, still waiting for some warmer weather, is the wardrobe closet. I have the face frame, jambs and stops assembled, but didn't get a photo of them this time. In order to get them into place in the trailer, I can't build the whole closet in one piece. It will have to have the walls built first, and then set into place. There will be no back on it. The walls will be secured (by screws) to the walls of the trailer with the same kind of 3/4-inch-square stop used to anchor the bulkhead wall. Then the face frame/jamb will have to be attached after they are where they all belong.

One wall of the wardrobe closet, top end near the bottom of the photo.
The wider piece at the top was necessary for three reasons, (1) for the contour of the top to be cut from one piece, (2) it will provide plenty of backing for which to attach the closet rod, and (3) the square bottom allows the studs to be all cut to the same length, for ease of assembly.

The angle on the bottom right is to fit over the angled cover that will go over the curved portion of the ceiling edge. I was originally going to fit aluminum flashing into the curve, but decided that it wouldn't leave enough space for wiring and other things to be fished through behind it. Instead, I will make paneling covers for it, to be screwed into place, in case I ever have to get behind them. Basically it will be a "utility chase". There will also be an angled cover in the right rear corner of the wardrobe closet to get wiring from overhead to the battery compartment at the bottom of that closet.

If there are any "irregularities" in the contour of the tops, it won't be much, and will eventually be covered by flexible trim, so minor gaps are unimportant right now. After all, I'm not running a CNC shop here, nor do I have that kind of equipment. Caulk, trim and paint are my friends. (:>)

I started the frames for the wardrobe closet walls, but ran out of time to get all the parts drilled for pocket holes. Then the weather turned cold and wet again. Tomorrow, the day after Easter, is supposed to start a warming trend again, so I plan to be working more often and longer each day as the weather improves.

But at least I have the tops cut and contoured (close enough) to fit the ceiling of the trailer, and even the paneling is cut for the exterior of the closet. I just have to cut the interior panels yet, and then it can be assembled and installed in the trailer.

Final thoughts...

The pegboard...

I mentioned earlier that I was going to add steel tool board on either side of the electric heater in the rear storage compartment. I just happened to have one piece that was not currently being used elsewhere, and decided that my makeshift tool bench in the trailer was overcrowded and a mess. So I used a couple of steel S hooks scavenged from some rubber truckers bungees, and hung one piece of it over the bench...horizontally.

Half-sheet of steel tool board temporarily hung on trailer wall. 
Once the bulkhead wall is fastened in position and painted on the back side, this tool board will join another just like it, and be installed vertically on each side of the electric heater.

This is just one piece of the very high quality tool boards that a work associate and I imported from Sweden in 2004. It has about twenty different styles of lock-on hooks and attachments, plus three sizes of bins that fit on it. There are also plain attachments with screws in them, from which you can attach any kind of special anchor of your own design, from shelves to special fixtures. These hooks have to be manually removed. They can not fall off while going down the road. However, the tools themselves can fall off the hooks if the wrong type is used. For our trailer, we will be using mostly spring clip type attachments in three different plastic sizes plus steel ones. We also have some steel rings, that might be used for the ratchet straps to secure the bikes.

We see this as a good place to carry our four-foot-long BBQ forks, collapsible fan rake, a shovel and whatever small hand tools we need to keep available. Any other general hand tools are going into a lockable flight case with wing pallets in it.

My table saw setup...

The last thing I want to mention for this post, is the table saw setup I use.

My Rockwell Compactool 6-inch table saw and folding table.
When I graduated from high school, I won the North American Rockwell Corporation Award for Excellence in Industrial Arts. As part of that award, I received three pieces of shop equipment from the new (at that time) Compactool product line...the 6-inch table saw shown, plus a table model drill press and a 4-inch jointer. These tools are now 49 years old, and still work like new, although I have replaced the motor bearings on the saw once already, and the drill press now needs a new cord on it. I really had no use for the jointer in future plans, so I sacrificed it to a person who really wanted it and will take care of it...the husband of one of our postal workers.

I built the folding table back in my apartment management days. It was originally a 5 x 9 oversized sheet of 3/4-inch plywood, designed to hold rescreening equipment for the patio door screens. Then I got the idea to cut one end of it so my small table saw would fit into it flush with the top. After I left the apartments, I shortened it to six feet long. Now I can cut larger pieces, like full sheets of plywood, doors, shelving, or anything else too large to fit on a small table top. I also fitted it with folding "library table" legs, so when not using it, I can lean it against a wall, or transport it to a job site. It has been very handy over the years, but will be sold before we leave here. Not the saw...just the table. I'm keeping the saw and the drill press for my own puttering around.

Going forward...

So that's where we stand right now. I should have the closet walls done and assembled in the trailer by tomorrow evening, and hopefully get the other short closet done, too.

Then comes the nightmare project...the kitchen cabinet unit. It will have several drawers on side-mounted slides, two pull-out pantries, space for one of our 8-gallon Reliance Hydroller fresh water containers (several others will be spares in the van), a water pump, a future electric water heater (maybe), plus the bar sink and all of its plumbing, along with extra reinforcement for the weight of the countertop mounted refrigerator. Oh joy. It will be a work in progress for awhile.

And keep in mind that all of this is being built the same way as any cabinets modular that in case we decide to upgrade to a slightly larger 7 x 14 trailer, we can remove screws and pull all this stuff out and put it right back in a new trailer. I certainly don't want to have to build it all again!

So what do you think so far?  Out of all the subscribers I have, there should be more than the same two or three all the time that have something to say. So how about it? Something...anyone!


John Abert said...

I have always believed that although function is important, form makes it pleasing to both the eye and the mind. It isn't only my wife I have to please, but I would want it that way even for my own use because I take pride in myself and the quality of work I do. In some ways, I am even more particular than she is. This is going to be our home for as long as we can tolerate it, and taking personal pride in how it looks and makes us feel goes a long way toward our extended happiness with it. We could never be satisfied with plain plywood and 2 x 4's as finish materials, and light colors also adds to making it seem more spacious. We will also add some mirrors to add to that spacious look. We may even add windows if we keep it long enough. Angel is going to want one in the bottom of the door so he can see out. Overall size and maneuverability in an RV is far more important than stealth, no matter where we may park for the night. And for full-time living, it also must be comfortable and pleasing to the eye (within reason). If it weren't, it could affect our daily moods and how we feel about ourselves, how other people react to us, and even the decisions we make going forward. A clean shaven man in a suit is going to feel far better about himself and interact with other people far better than an unwashed, unshaven person in dirty work clothes. The same thing goes for our personal spaces and what we live in. It may be only a cargo trailer, but it doesn't have to look like a chicken hauler on the inside. But everyone's skill levels are different and ideas are different on what works for them. The bottom line is that whatever you have, if you are happy with it, then that's all that counts. You are the only one you have to please.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Glad you're finally able to get back to work, John. It looks like you're making some real progress. The weather and various circumstances can slow us all down. I like the way the heater worked out in the bulkhead wall. It looks good and should be very functional in that location.

You're lucky to have a place to work with all the tools at your disposal. When I built My McVansion I didn't have a garage or patio like you have to work on and to keep materials out of the weather. I was also limited in the tools I had to use. My McVansion still gets many compliments from everyone who sees it, but it would have, could have and should have been much better, but since I just wrote a post on would, shoulda, coulda, I can't go there. It is what it is and it works pretty much just as I designed it to function, so for the money and time I have invested I'm pleased. But, I am anxious to see your trailer when it's done.

Now that you're able to make regular progress (since it appears the weather has broken) I'll be watching for more posts and photos of your progress.

John Abert said...

Thanks Ed. Although I won't have a shop, I will have smaller power tools with us, and with using the proper techniques (such as the straight edge trick), even larger pieces can be cut if we need anything else down the road. With the right knowledge and experience, along with some thinking outside the box and the desire to have everything done right...anything is possible. There is an old saying in the trades that a craftsman can take junk and turn it into something beautiful, while a wood butcher can take beautiful material and turn it into junk. It's all in the mindset. Anyone can learn to do things properly if they want to. With today's internet, the answers are all out there for free, if one takes the time to search them out.

For travelers who are handy, a good set of battery powered power tools, including a small circular saw, drill, saber saw and sander can often be bought in kits, as well as individually. Things like clamps, a pocket hole jig, and hand tools can all fit into a lunch box size container. A six-foot straight edge can always slide in somewhere along the floor. We even carry a six-foot step ladder that collapses into a box about three inches square, and can slide in under the left side of the back seat in the van. Folding saw horses can also be stored very compactly, or in many cases there will be a picnic table available. With these things, I can build an entire kitchen, as long as I have enough room left to haul the plywood back to the camp site. As with anything, we all have our priorities based on our own skills and desires. What works for one doesn't always work for another...and that's OK.