Saturday, August 11, 2012

Superbright LED

I'm in the process of refitting new clearance lights on the Sunrader.  Truth be told I have one installed, but it is about 106F outside right now so I'm using that as an excuse to stay in today.

A couple of questions have come up about the replacement.  It is really fairly simple, but time consuming.  I chose the M8 series from SuperBrightLEDs.  I've used their fixtures in my stop/turn/reverse replacement project and their replacement LED bulbs on the interior.  The M8 sealed units are wider than the original fixtures, but they're brighter, simple to install, and should last a very long time.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Some Kind of Vacation

I'm fortunate to have really good friends.  

Some folks are terrific at small talk and cocktails and big noisy parties.  Me, I'm one for a bench on the back patio and a long conversation, or a favorite mexican restaurant with extraordinary agave libations.  My friend Renee and I refer to this as "The Happy Place," and we return just regularly enough to ensure it is well maintained.  But I digress.

Joe and I met a couple of dozen years ago as colleagues on our university newspaper.  I'm sure he thinks that I was drawn to his dry humor and a shared taste in can't-tell-this-one-in-front-of-the-girls humor, but really it was his slammed Chevy S-10 that sealed the deal.  Did I mention he's a writer?  Respect.  We reconnected almost 10 years ago over cycling.  I can't recall, sitting here, what it was exactly but it was probably the first year of the Tour of California bike race.  Regardless, we've watched it together, all over California, ever since.

Like me, Joe is an avid cyclist.  He's a high-cadence guy, I'm a diesel, but we manage.  He hides in my slipstream on the flats, then drops me on the hard climbs.  Relationships are give and take like that.

Joe encouraged me to ride my first century.  A hundo.  Triple digits.  And he had just the plan.  A group of his friends were driving from LA to Portland to ride Reach the Beach.  Long story short, it was a special weekend.  New friends, a revelation on two wheels, sunshine and rolling Oregon green to a big-rock-beach sunset.  I met Helene and Wes, Joe's riding companions in So Cal. By met I mean we spent days together in a Ford 12-passenger van.  Over the next few years, we've gotten together to ride some great routes.  Levi's Gran Fondo in Santa Rosa is a perennial favorite, as is our annual self-guided trip from LA to San Diego (SAG drivers always wanted).  The combination of cycling, long conversations, great scenery and, most importantly, companionship, has made a huge difference in my life.

So in that context, it may actually make sense that Joe and Wes offered to come up for a weekend to help me work on my little Sunrader.  We've used it as a basecamp during the ToC, but it has mostly been my weekend project for mental relaxation.  I have had some amazing gifts in my life, but to have these guys drive most of a day each way just to do some finish carpentry for me...that's right at the top of the all time list.

So what did we work on?

As I've mentioned before, the cabinets in these RVs were designed for the showroom.  Particleboard, glue and staples were the primary building material.  In the 20 years since construction, the laminate facing became as much the primary structure as a decorative finish.  In this Sunrader, the kitchen cabinet was in the worst shape of the lot.  Heat, vibration and time have turned the particleboard into little more than tightly packed powder.  Doors didn't close properly, latches couldn't be secured and the cabinet shimmied and squeaked while underway.

The project is to completely replace the kitchen cabinet.  I have a new sink, a new laminate countertop that I've already fitted, but Joe and Wes came up to help with the tough part -- the real carpentry involved in building a face frame, drawers and bulkheads.

Demolition was a breeze.  What fasteners remained weren't holding tight to much.  Unsurprisingly, many had backed out of their intended anchor points long ago.  The 2x4 support for one side of the cabinet was actually floating free under the sink.  Quality optional?

The first task, per Joe's suggestion, was planning out the rough layout and location of the bulkheads that would support drawers and the countertop.  1/2-inch Birch plywood is the choice: easy to work with, stable and plenty strong.  We opted for a drawer set from Ikea rather than building our own box and drawers, though we'll do that for the more unusually shaped boxes that will go under the sink.

We got the table saw fixed (short delay of game), the bulkheads cut to size and the Ikea drawerset re-configured to fit the space over the wheel hump.  Joe built a really clean face frame for under the stove: poplar, glue and biscuits.  Yes Norm, we wore safety glasses.

We got the first bulkhead, by the entry door, fixed in place with wood screws into the door frame.  To install the next three, a friend who is a boat builder recommends we either fiberglass cleats onto the side wall of the coach and the floor, or use the 3M 5200 adhesive to glue them into place.

It is amazing watching Joe and Wes work.  The fabric of friendship is a powerful thing, bringing different perspectives to the table in highly constructive (oops) ways.  Joe is the carpenter, but Wes is a problem solver.  Joe knows the how and why of a face frame.  Wes pays attention to the last 7 details I'd consistently overlook.  One of the best parts of this experience, for me, was getting that sense of cohesion and combined achievement.

Next up is designing the second face frame and the under-sink drawers.  I also need to be careful because I have a strong itch to tear into the other side of the interior and start reconfiguring the closet and inverter panel.  One step at a time, one step at a time.

And hopefully Wes and Joe need another vacation sometime soon.  And yes, we did get in a good bike ride up to the dam too...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Top

I'll start this by saying there wasn't really anything
wrong with the original fiberglass countertop. It was in good condition, easy to clean and not altogether unappealing. That being said, it lacked a lot in the structural department.

Apparently the construction method favored by Gardner Pacific, the long since defunct maker of the Sunrader, involved almost as much silicone adhesive as it did staples. The substance is indeed tenacious, but once it loses its grip it is completely useless. And in this case, the countertop had long since broken free of its original silicone attachment to the cabinetry. In addition, the builders used a number of plywood braces on the underside of the counter to make up for its rather limited stiffness. Around the stove in particular, strips of plywood acted as braces and provided purchase to the wood screws that held the stove in place.

During a previous removal of the stove I'd used some gorilla glue to reattach said braces, but it was only a temporary fix if that.

The bigger issue of the 'floating countertop' was really the lack of structural strength (integrity, really) of the cabinet itself. There really isn't much more to it than a particle board face frame and a few bits of 2x4 lumber to hold it up. Weight saving and cheap. And without the shear strength (no, not sheer strength) of the fiberglass counter to keep it square, the cabinet does an awkward version of the hula on the highway. Cue squeaky clattery noises. Ack.

Removing the counter is relatively easy. The stove comes out with just a few wood screws, the sink is held in by wing-nut tensioned clips, and the plumbing is all very straightforward. The only tricky bits are cutting (breaking) the fiberglass where it encircles the drain vent AND separating the support for the drawers from the underside of the counter. I used impatience whenever the utility blade couldn't quite make it through the luan. I know there are better techniques.

All the screws that had originally held the counter to the exterior wall had come loose, so it only took a little bit of coaxing for the last bit of silicone to release.

Fortunately, my source for custom counters came through in just a few days. With a little trimming using a router, the new top went in easily. I installed some 2x4 supports along the front of the cabinets (vertically) to provide some much needed rigidity and to provide a cleat for some wood screws up into the counter. The difference in structural strength for the cabinet is dramatic.

I got a new matching sink at the H-Depot and cutout the space for the stove after half a dozen more careful than usual measurements from the original counter. For the most part, everything went in quickly and easily. Next up is plumbing. I haven't worked with Pex before, but it looks simple enough.


2012 - The New List

I'm not quite sure whether it was the discovery of BBC's Top Gear on Netflix or just the call of an old friend in the driveway as I walk back and forth to work on a winter morning, but I've been back to thinking about new projects for the little Sunrader.

First up, the counters are getting replaced, along with the sink and a few other bits that go with them. I had considered completely redoing the kitchen cabinet section, but I've thought the better of it for now (I am no cabinet maker). Lucky for me, Beth's dad manufactures laminate countertop, so I have a great resource for a little bit of custom work!

Next, I'm replacing all the clearance/marker lights with new LED units sourced from I've had good luck with their products on the tail lights already. The clearance lights are still original on the rig. They have held up admirably, which is to say that they all work. Mostly. With a few taps and fiddles now and again to work a clean spot back onto the contacts. I've already removed one of the red lights along the rear roofline and it literally crumbled in my hands as I tried to get the silicone around it to release. Time for an update, indeed.

I've discovered that I may actually like fiddling with the Sunrader as much, or even more than I like heading off on a camping trip. Nothing like a good bit of tinkering to clear the head, and nothing like signs of progress to warm the heart.

Also on the list for 2012 will be new curtains, new locks on the exterior compartment doors, finishing out the interior lighting, a new powered HD antenna...hmmm that's enough for now I reckon.

Must check the tyre pressures before the Stig takes a practice lap. Ta for now.