Sunday, April 12, 2015

Modifying the Wardrobe Closet Doors...

Continuing with the build out of our cargo trailer camper, we are having to modify the closet doors for height. Many smaller campers simply use plywood or particle board with a photographed plastic finish to look like wood, but solid wood comes with a price...weight. In order to keep weight down, we decided to use stock bi-fold, hollow-core interior doors. Any builder store carries them in several designs, but we wanted plain old luan smooth finish doors, as they are the lightest.

There's only one problem, and I will explain. A normal interior doorway for a house is framed at 82-inches high, with the bottom of the jamb header at 80-inches. Stock doors are normally around 79 inches tall, which allows for most flooring under them. For exceptionally high floors, such as heavy padding and carpet, or solid hardwood floors, sometimes some extra clearance is needed. There are two choices...either raise the jamb slightly, or cut off the bottoms of the doors.

Our trailer is one of the "oddball" heights, where the finished wardrobe closet door opening is less than 71 inches.


Some construction basics on doors...hollow core doors are exactly that...hollow. They are typically built with nothing more than a honey-comb cardboard web glued to both sides of the inner side of the outer panel, mainly to add solidity to it without the extra weight of solid wood. The only solid wood that they contain is a small band around the perimeter of the door...barely enough to fasten hinges to.

You can't simply cut off the ends of hollow-core doors, as it leaves nothing to keep the doors strong, and they can warp. The empty void also allows places for insects (like spiders) to hide. An accidental bump of the foot can easily damage the skin of the door. All these are reasons to add a filler to put the strength back in the door.

The cut-off portions of the doors, showing the cardboard interior.
In the photo above, you can see what little bit of cardboard there really is in these doors. The pieces shown are the portion I had to cut off the tops and bottoms of the doors I used.

Typically, you would normally only cut off one end of the doors, but after measuring where I would have needed to make the cut, it fell smack dab in the middle of one of the hinges, no matter which end I measured from. I didn't want to move the hinge, and have extra screw holes to fill. Also, it would have thrown off the spacing between the hinges. So I decided to measure to the center, and then divide the length by two and measure that far each direction. It resulted in cutting off exactly 4-1/4 inches from each end. What you see above are what was cut off. 

For accurate cutting of any door, some kind of straight edge should be used to guide your saw, especially when using a power saw. They can wander off the cut line faster than you can correct for it. To cut bi-fold doors, it is always best to leave them fastened together by the hinges. I marked my cut lines first, using a straight edge. Then I moved the straight edge back about 1/16th of an inch, clamped it in place, and then used a utility knife to score just behind the cut line. This should always be done on the side of the outgoing cut of the saw blade, to prevent splintering. A hand-held circular saw cuts upward, so the score should be on the top. If using a hand saw, the score should be on the bottom.

Once the ends are cut off, there will be some cardboard filler strips in the opening that will have to be pushed out of the way. I use a sharp chisel, and carefully skim along between the cardboard and the door skin to break through the glue. Then I push the cardboard back far enough to be out of the way of the filler strip that I will be inserting. In this case, I used pieces of "one by" stock, which is nominally 3/4-inch thick, so that is all I had to push the cardboard back. If using "2 x 2" stock as a filler, which is nominally 1-1/2 inches thick, you would have to push the cardboard back 1-1/2 inches.

The next step is to ACCURATELY measure the interior thickness of the space you need to fill. This is where being able to measure with a ruler down to less than 1/64th of an inch is mandatory. You don't want the piece to be too thin, nor do you want it to bulge the skin of the door out. It must fit perfectly. The length isn't quite as important, as long as the piece fits into the opening without binding, you can be a 16th of an inch short without hurting anything. I always try to cut to fit exactly.

Each filler piece should be measured individually. Even though the thickness of the doors are pretty consistent, the filler pieces installed at the factory are not. In this case the pieces varied between 13-1/8th inches, and 13-3/16th inches. It's not much, but if cut short, the glue that is applied to the ends of the fillers may not hold anything.

In the photo below, you can see a properly cut filler piece being inserted in the end of the door for a test fit. ALWAYS test the fit before applying glue to it!

A test fit of the filler piece before applying the glue to it.
Once you know that the filler fits properly, spread glue on the surfaces contacting the door skin, as well as to the ends, and then push it into place until it is just flush with the ends of the door. If you accidentally push it in too far, you can use the sharp point of a knife along the edge to pull it back a little bit.

Once you have it in place, use a couple of scrap blocks of wood and some clamps to clamp everything into place until the glue sets. Clamping is important, because it also adds pressure, which squeezes the excess glue out, as well as forcing it into the fibers of the wood to create a better bond. If you don't clamp it, the glue will actually add excessive thickness to the door which might be visible afterward.

If you get bubbles of glue oozing out, you can wipe off the excess, but even so, you will probably want to sand the end of the door after the glue is all set up. I use a belt sander for this purpose, with a 120-grit sanding belt on it. That removes the beads of glue and smooths out any irregularities in the joint very quickly and makes the joints smooth enough for our purposes.

Clamps applied to the door filler.
After the fillers are all installed in the doors, I decided to attach a "continuous hinge", often called a "piano hinge" to the closet door. This will make a much stronger hinge for the bouncing down the road that the trailer will get. The normal hinges that come with the doors are only three "2-screw" hinges, for a total of six screws in each door panel to hold the weight of the doors. The piano hinges can accept more than 24 screws in their pre-drilled holes.

For right now, I am leaving the flimsy hinges that came with the doors, but if they work loose later, I can always change them out to piano hinges after we get on the road. Besides, I only had enough piano hinges in stock to do the outer sides, where the doors hinge to the jamb.

Fillers and piano hinge installed on the wardrobe closet doors.
In the photo above, you'll see that the door is "doubled up". Typically this would be "a" bi-fold door assembly, which can be used by itself on one side of a jamb, or added to another bi-fold door on the other side of the jamb, for wider openings. But our case is a little unusual, in that we are combining two of these doors into one narrow opening. This is why we needed the extra thick jamb in the trailer. The two doors back to back are 3-1/8-inches thick. You will see why in a minute.

Below is shown one of the bi-folds setting in the jamb (not yet installed) just to see how it will fit. Instead of mounting the door inset beyond the casing, I decided to purposely allow it to be flush with the casing, to allow more interior space in the closet. I know 3/4-inch isn't much, but when working in small spaces, every little bit makes a difference.

One of the bi-folds being test fit into the door jamb.

Once the doors are installed into the opening, they will first open like a normal door, and then the inside will fold out...forming an extra depth to the closet (which will also contain the porta-potty) to make for a larger privacy enclosure as well as to keep unpleasant odors contained and directed up to the Fantastic fan directly above the enclosure.

The closet doors folded out into "enclosure mode" as seen from the front.

The fan will draw air in from under the door, through the hinge openings, and from above the door, and immediately exhaust it outside. The added depth to the closet will also aid in sitting and standing, as well as dressing, and provide better privacy than a single bi-fold door. Due to the narrow aisle in the center of the trailer, a single door would simply never work, as it wouldn't open all the way.

                          The right side bi-fold in "enclosure mode".
By using the doors this way, it will effectively add additional space of roughly 30 inches wide by 15 inches deep to the porta-potty closet, and provide both privacy as well as odor control. They may also have an added benefit of sound control, even while sleeping. By opening the left door in front of the rear bunk, it might help with minimizing snoring noise from the other bunk.

(I won't comment on who does the snoring or who is going to occupy which bunk.) (:>)

So other than some piddly finish work, this is as far as I can go right now until I go buy some more "one by" boards, to be ripped into the necessary face frames and other parts for the other cabinets, beginning with the kitchen cabinet. That will be my next project. Then will come the couch frame.

The weather is gradually starting to warm up, and I may soon need some air conditioning in the trailer. For now, the ceiling insulation does a nice job of keeping the roof from radiating the sun's heat into the trailer. I am finding that if I open both the side door as well as the rear ramp door, I get a nice breeze in there. But as I finish the rear bunk and wall behind it, that breeze will go away. And the humidity here in Arkansas in the summer is terrible! So I am sure I will need that air conditioning sooner or later! 

And as indicated in the previous post, there are more things coming besides just cabinet work, even though we still have to build all the overhead cabinets yet.. We are going to have to finish off the roof work soon, so we can install the roof racks and solar panels, plus we have the rest of the wiring and electrical distribution to finish. We already discussed the hint of a solar water heater concept, to be detailed in a later post, plus, we have a few things to do on the van before we leave.

We're sure that you want us to get on with some travel adventures, as do we, but all of that will come soon enough. Our deadline for getting out of here is still July 28th, if all goes as planned. We're not too concerned about things that can be done after we get on the road. It's the more immediate things that could delay us.

We still have a lot of things to sort through, to sell off, or to go to storage yet. We have already said that whatever doesn't sell by the time we get ready to leave, probably isn't worth much anyway, so whatever is left will likely go to someone who buys up "left over" stuff. We know they will only pay about ten cents on the dollar for it, but we aren't concerned about that. It's likely all it will be worth. We are pulling the more expensive or unusual items to go on eBay, the intermediate value items, or difficult to ship items for garage sale. 

Certain items that we want to keep but don't need to take along on this first trip will go to temporary storage, hopefully to be absorbed into future travels as we can make room for them, maybe in a larger RV at some point. We have a LOT of stuff to be converted to digital...LP record albums. cassette tapes, print photos, photo slides, 8-track tapes (believe it or not, there are some of those that we want to preserve)...and of course, paper records. As we go forward we are gradually going "paperless", with many things being done online, but we will have a ton of scanning to do, also. We aren't going to have time to do all that before we leave, so some of it will go to storage, and we may have to pull a little at a time, to work at during our travels.

The house itself is not an issue, because our leaving here is not dependent upon selling it. In reality, we aren't even going to be in a position to show it, with all of our stuff still in here and being sorted. In fact, whatever hasn't sold or been disposed of by the time we leave here, we may sell at the very last minute, or else let the realtor deal with getting someone over here to take it, and THEN they can sell the house after we leave here and it is emptied out and cleaned. Paperwork can always be mailed. Dealing with real estate by "long distance" is done every day. There's no reason in the world to stick around until paperwork is signed!

We will make sure the realtor has our phone number, and if they need to send us something by overnight mail, we will have them send it to "general delivery" at whatever PO we plan to be closest to on the day it arrives. We can pick it up, sign it, and immediately put it right back in the mail again! Or if legalities and their technology allows, they can send it to us on signable PDF forms on the computer, and we can email it back to them. Whatever works!

But at least we won't have a house to maintain after we leave here, other than payments and taxes! (The insurance is included in the payments now.) We plan to turn the utilities off.  That will free up a BUNCH of time and money to get rid of this money-pit!

If we ever get too old to travel, we'll just rent a place and let someone else have the hassles with maintenance. We are gradually getting to the point where we can't do many of the things we used to anyway, and would have to pay someone to do it. The costs won't change that much. But by letting someone else own it, the element of surprise expenses is eliminated. No more of this having to pay out over $9000 for a complete septic system replacement! No sir! Never again!

Anyway, that's my thoughts for now. I might have an update after we pick up our solar panels. This will be the first "road trip" this far away (about three hours) that we have been on since our trip to Indiana two years ago! It will be good to "see the road" again, even if it is a route we have been on many times before!

As always, let me know your thoughts, or what questions you have. Thanks for reading.


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