Thursday, December 14, 2017

You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me

The Wife has been trying to learn about football this past couple of months.  Number two son made it on the junior varsity team this year and she wants to be supportive. For my part I know just enough about football so as to not have to turn in my M card.  But I bluff well and don't get frustrated like he does when explaining the difference between a punt and a kickoff (again).  So I have become the favored information source.   The two of us were sitting in a bar last night in my big city, holding hands and talking about football.  But between plays I was multitasking and thinking about a van problem.

As usually seems to happen on this project, thinking about the problem is the first step.  Then, shortly thereafter comes the step “paying for making the problem go away.”   For the couple of months I have been hearing a noise from the front of the van.  I was pretty sure, even with my limited grease monkey expertise I had a front wheel bearing going out.  But over the past three weeks it seems like the volume had been increasing dramatically.  Then this past weekend I drove the van home, ninety miles away.  I didn’t notice it so much even getting home but when I pulled out of my driveway to drive back to the city it sounded like the van was dragging a rock.   I started getting worried.  

There is a little family history of letting things like this go.  My father mentioned some noise from the front of his two ton truck.  A few days latter, driving back home with a load of ground feed from the elevator, he stepped on the brake and one of his front tires kept going in front of him.   An understated man, he said the first thought that went through his mind was, “That can’t be good.”  Then he said he checked the review mirror next with the hope maybe there was someone behind him who had lost a tire.  But by that time the front of the truck had started to dip and he knew where the tire had come from.   

He was lucky.  Five thousand pounds of ground corn in the back of the truck assured those rear wheels were going to remain in firm contact with the ground.  In the front, where the wheel was missing, the truck only just barely scraped the gravel.  I might have grown up fatherless had he been empty.

I went ahead and drove my van to the city (don’t judge) but I knew with the noise level going up so quickly I had to take care of this pretty quick.  Checking on eBay the part was available from $35-$100 depending on how english-first-language the advertisement read.   I went on to watch a Youtube video on how to replace a front wheel bearing.  I knew at a minute forty-five into it there was no way I could do it myself.  When I was driving in I had been thinking about my options.  Obviously I was still thinking about them that night over football.   

I know I am going to be home for a long weekend in a couple of weeks.  I have to get a little mechanic work done myself the clinic.  My plan for the past couple of weeks was to get the van at a local shop at the same time.  —Gotta support the small town.  The van and I would both be ready for another hundred thousand.   Getting this job done in the city though, my transportation options are somewhat limited.  It had to be someplace close or someplace on the bus route.  I took to and found a shop about a mile from me at work.  I read some reviews on the place and it seemed like everyone who wasn’t complaining about ambiance was giving it high marks.  Since The Wife was still in town, we dropped off the van at a shop and went out to lunch close by.

The place wasn’t  marked very well.  Twice I drove by a corner junkyard before I realized the junkyard was an old gas station, now the shop.  Walking inside I understood the reviewer’s opinions.  The place had a single path.  Everywhere flat was piled four feet or more with parts and projects.  

It was a double lift shop.  Meaning at one time it had two bays for working on cars.  Each of the bays fitted with a hydraulic lifts to raise the car up.  The first lift seemed to be inoperable, or at  least was now.  It was in the up position, a very rusty pickup with a heapingly loaded truck bed at the top of it.  Well the underside of a pickup, naturally would have quite a few places to hang things from.  Let me just say things were hung.  It formed kind of a wall.  I couldn’t see over to the other bay where the guy was working.

I thought about the glowing reviews.  Hoped they weren’t all from the guy’s brother in law and left my van behind.   Herself left for home right after lunch, she had Scoutmastering to do that night.  I went back to work and waited for my phone to ring.  About five I hadn’t heard anything.  I was a little nervous because I figured I would have my bedroom back.  I hadn’t lined up a couch for the night.  I gave them a call and they assured me it would be done by 7pm.  I hung out in my office for a while and then made the walk.  The van was way quieter on the drive back.

Of course a lot of the fun of a vehicle like this is when you drop it off you can play it straight. Don’t say anything about its purpose.  It’s a cargo van, right?  Then, when you pick it up you try to tell from the person’s face whether they have had a look or not.   This guy’s eyebrows were way up, the expression on his face looking like he really *wanted* to say something but couldn’t.  He had totally had a peek.   But, he didn’t say a word about it.  

I had two jobs done.  Replace the front wheel bearing.  I also had the guy take a look into the heater fan.  During the summer, running the AC, the fan wouldn’t run until you got the van up to about 70.  Then it would start up and keep running regardless of van speed, as long as you didn’t shut it off.   Once the weather turned cold I suppose the lubricant thickened up in the fan bearings or something.  Anyway it ran never at  any speed.  The shop guy thought the fan was likely shot.  I concurred.  He said if that was the case he would just replace it.

Picking the van up the final damages were $413.  That broke down to $73 for the blower fan.  For the wheel bearing it was $129.  Labor for the fan was $50 and for the wheel bearing was $125.  Never a great time to have a four hundred plus expense, and of course right before Christmas particularly cruel, but my kids shouldn’t really be fatherless either.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"A Plague on Both Your Houses!"

The stomach flu is moving through our house.   The guilty party obvious.  I was the first one sick, now the first one out the other side.  Or mostly out I should say.  I need to get to the point where I can look at food without getting queasy before I call myself fully recovered.  The Wife just had a rough night.  Everyone else has that haunted, wanted man, look in their eyes.  Wondering who is going do drop next.  Grandma has retreated upstairs to her room.  We will see her again once the all clear is signaled.  

The weather has turned cold again and now with this sickness I have been away from the van five days.  Am I nervous?  Uh, yes.  I know it was stocked up on propane and the days have had enough solar.  It should have plenty of heat and electricity.  So it really just comes down to “as long as nothing goes wrong”.  The van has been pretty stable though.  Everything seems to be working pretty good.

It is possible one of these flare fittings could be
leaking while over-pressured.

Right now I would really say I only have two problems in van functionality.  The first involves some type of propane leak on tank switch over.  If you are just joining us, I have two twenty pound propane tanks mounted in the back.  These are the standard tanks, just like you use on your backyard barbie.   The tanks are in a basket that drops through the floor.  I have an automatic switchover valve hooked to the tanks, so that when one tank goes empty, it flips over to the other one.  The indicator on the valve turns red telling me switch-over has happened.  Once I see red I know to swing by a station and do a propane tank exchange.

When this automatic switchover between tanks happens, there seems to be some leak from something, somewhere.  It has just been on the last couple of tank switches I finally tied the random propane smelling event to the switchover time.  I talked to a guy at the shop I am working in.  I proposed maybe there was some sort of over-pressure situation when both tanks were simultaneously  pressurizing the line.  He agreed that seemed plausible and suggested putting a regulator in the line after the switch-over.  That’s probably a good idea and I better get on that.

The thing is, I can’t really tell where the smell is originating from.  It could be the leak is part of some normal venting of the switch-over valve.  But then, rather than the gas going out through the bottom of my tank holder, is leaking into the cabin somewhere.  This seems doubtful, plus it really smells like it is coming from the front area.  Yet I can’t seem to detect any leaks there.  So a real mystery.  It has to be this over pressure thing.

The second functional problem I am having, I only *found* I was having, by luck.  One morning I was laying in bed and I started to wonder if a layer of reflective coating on the top of the bed frame cover would keep me warmer.  Then at the same time I started thinking maybe I was thinking about insulation wrong.  Back in the beginning my plan was to add insulation in, from the bottom where my propane tanks and batteries are.  How much insulation I put in depended on how much space I had once all my design was finalized.   I realized at the time this wasn’t a very good idea but I didn’t really have anything better.   

Laying in bed thinking about it I decided I was really going down the wrong path with that.   I should sacrifice an inch of ceiling height and stick a sheet of 1” poly-iso foam insulation between my mattress and my frame.  The poly-iso foam is foil lined on each side.  Like aluminum foil.  So that foil reflects your body heat back in.    Sure, putting that sheet in moves me closer to the ceiling but it would be one continuous sheet instead of piecemeal installation from underneath.  

Froli system plastic springs that support
your matress and leave plenty of space below.

I wasn’t actually that convinced I even needed it.   In my mind, the seven and a half inches of foam mattress I was sleeping on, should be providing all the insulation I need.  But why not give it a try.  I thought it might keep me a little warmer at night.  When I drove the van home for the thanksgiving weekend and mentioned this idea to The Wife, she was all over it.  She is always on top of any idea that features “warmer” as one of it’s selling points.

By Sunday afternoon I had the new insulation in place.  Got my mattress all re-installed.  I was actually checking the calendar to see when the next really cold day was going to be and looking forward to it!   Up to that point it had been uncharacteristically warm here in the frozen northland.    Herself had come in with and spent the night.  She rolled out at the crack of noon and joined me for lunch before heading home.  Of course I stayed plenty warm with another body there.  The second night I was back on my own plus it was cooler. Thirty degrees perhaps.  You know what, I did sleep warmer.  I think that extra inch of insulation and two layers of foil are making a difference.

When I got out of bed in the morning I thought the best test would be to lift the mattress up and feel the insulation.  If it was warm, that meant heat was transferring all the way through my foam mattress and into the base.  Prior to the insulation, it would have been going right out through the bottom of the van.  What I found though was surprising.

It was wet.  I was confused.  It didn’t take long with google to clear up my confusion.  Under mattress condensation is a thing in boats and campers.  Anywhere you have a cold surface underneath your bed which is in direct contact with the mattress you get condensation.  It doesn’t take long for the warm/wet cycle and you next have mold.  I did some checking around on the net and there are several options.

The dry deck tiles right in front of me.

Use Dry Deck Tiles.   These are one foot square interlocking plastic tiles.  They are used primarily on boat decks.  They are made so the water flows through them and you constantly have good traction, even if there is a lot of water coming onboard.   People in boats started using them next under their mattresses to end this condensation problem.  This material is 9/16” thick, so just over half an inch.  I would need a 25 pack of tiles and would use 24 of them.  I don’t actually have any of these tiles and yet I wanted a picture to illustrate what they are.  I was casting around the net trying to find a decent picture when I noticed on top of the cooler in the bar I am sitting in right now has them.  The cost would be $147 from Amazon.

Next is a product called Hypervent ( by one company.  It seems to also be available under different trade names at different price points. Hypervent is a spun polymer matting.  It has a very open cell pattern and the advertising lists it as uncrushable.  It has a light fabric bonded to one side.  I could see how this would have much better airflow than the Dry Deck Tiles.  But, I suspect on the non-fabric side of the mesh it could be quite scratchy.  I am concerned this scratchiness is going to erode the foil on my insulation.  Maybe I could spray-adhesive-down a layer of heavy duty aluminum foil on top of the existing foil?  I need to do a little more thinking about this.  Hypervent is thirty nine inches wide, 3/4” thick and costs $12/lin foot.  The same stuff under the name Aire-Flow is $10/lin ft. and these folks also offer free shipping.  I would need eight feet.

Sorry about the crappy photo.  It was the best
I could find.

Doing more research I discovered Hypervent and Aire-Flow are just marketing names for a product called Enkamat.  The intended use for the product is landscape drainage matting and might be able to be found through companies that sell these types of materials.  What you are looking for is product number 3611 or better yet, 3811 (which has fabric bonded to both sides)  You can buy it direct for $2/ft if you are willing to buy 1000ft.  Got friends?  Want to start a small business?

I am also thinking of solving it by homemade methods.   If I were to take a sheet of quarter inch plywood and drill a whole ton of one inch holes in it.  Then set that up on some glued on 3/4” strips my mattress would get some airflow under it.   I could also install a fan to force a little air into the space between.  If I had the fan on a timer so it would run for 30 minutes every morning after I got up, it would keep it dry.  Plywood would cost about $30.  

There is a product called capillary matting that people use in green houses and plant starting.  This product is suppose to draw the moisture away.  I don’t understand how this could work unless you have a bit of it exposed, hanging off the edge, like a wick.  It is supposed to evaporate moisture from under beds.  Uncertain of the price.

A toolbox, holding up my mattress to allow
airflow underneath it.  This is what I do
every morning.

Ikea sells mattress slats for a twin bed size.  Called “Luroy” on their web site they are available for $30-$50.  But for my bed these are too narrow.  I would have to add something to the sides to get them to work.  Plus I loose about an inch and a half, which is more than I really want to give up.   Also, they would punch holes in the foil of my insulation.  I would need to build something to protect it.

Another option is something called Froli system.  These are a series of spring pads made of plastic.  They give your basic mattress much more of a real spring-bed feel.  Supposed to be very comfortable and the people who buy them seem very happy.  But, 1-3/4” thick not counting I would have to add a layer of plywood to mount them too.  I don’t want to give up the space.  Plus $$$$  for my sized bed I would be looking at $241.

So I have some decisions to make.  In the meantime I have to block my mattress up every morning so air can get under there and dry it out.  

Monday, November 27, 2017

Keyless Joe

This summer I drove my van with its nice comfortable bed and joined The Wife at Boy Scout camp out in the wilderness.  I think I had been there about fifteen minutes when I realized I had locked my keys inside.  The Boy Scouts have a program called High Adventure.  I don’t think it is similar to trying to get AAA to send a locksmith to the north woods but I think it should qualify.  It took all of a day including one amusing moment with the two of us on our cell phones.  The locksmith saying “I am driving around in the parking lot and I don’t see anyone” and me “I am standing in the parking lot, there isn’t anyone driving around”.  We discovered there are two similarly named scout camps six hundred miles apart.

Eventually we got it all sorted out and I got the joy of sleeping in a tent but ever since that time I have been thinking it would be really handy to have a door key made.  Because the van ignition/door key is one of the new chip keys, it is expensive.  About $70 I think to have one made.  But I just need to be able to get into the vehicle.  What can be done is just to make a standard key.  I won’t be able to start the van with it but if it is in a magnetic key holder someplace hidden I will be able to unlock the doors. This has been something on my todo list now for months.  I tend to think about it as I am driving down the road, or in bed trying to get to sleep at night.  I remember thinking about it earlier this week in fact.  But, I never get around to stuff.

Tuesday night I drove to the shop where I have been working.  I had a couple little things I wanted to work on. I came up with the plan of spending the night there. We have had some sunny days so the solar panels had the batteries charged up real nice.  In the morning I would have plenty of power to brew up a nice fresh cup of coffee.  Then coffee’d up a bit I would drive the van over to the donut shop by my work and pick up a couple of their great cinnamon rolls to chase my second cup. This all seems so easy, right?

It was really nice rolling out of bed in the morning. I brewed a cup and was sitting in front of the furnace vent.  Yeah, I was probably admiring my floor some as well. I happened to think, “I should start the engine.”  it was about a twenty one degree day. I leaned up into the cab and fired it up.  I was really surprised how little engine noise there is in the  back.  I really wouldn't have known it was running once the choke open up. …or actually I guess it would have been the computer simulated choke of the electronic ignition.

I sat in the back and enjoyed my coffee and the warmth. But then I started thinking…and that is when things usually start to go wrong. This was no exception.

The night before I was building something with some half inch hardwood plywood. When I was done building, I had ended up with a four inch hunk of scrap. At the time I had just chucked it into the scrap barrel.  But now, examining what I had built, I realized that scrap could be cut to form a separator between two parts.  I had been thinking I would use  some 3/4” —but I wasn't positive I actually had any 3/4”.  I reasoned the half inch should do the job since it was hardwood.

But my keys were in the ignition and the van was running.  I didn't want to shut the van off and restart it, right?  Isn't that bad for the engine or something?  I separated my keys rings to pull the token which opens the security door at the shop and left the van key in the ignition of the running van. Y’all can see where this is going right?

I went into the shop to retrieve my scrap from the barrel and went back out to the van. I went in the side door and ran my pre-departure check list. Water bottle caps secured.  Several loose items on the kitchen counter moved down into the sink.
A couple other things moved back onto the bed.  I was ready to go.  I exited via the side door locking it behind me.  Of course realizing my mistake nanoseconds later. The van was now locked up, engine running, keys inside.


I had my original key (the one I replaced a few months ago - The Key To Saving Money blog post) hanging from the wall of my cubical. I called for a Lyft to get to my office and back.  I suppose maybe 45 minutes round trip.  The engine was certainly all warmed up.  I am just glad I bought gas the night before.  I had sure considered pushing it off until my drive in.  I had been really low and I am pretty sure the van would have run out of gas adding another layer of complexity to this cluster.

Of course the real tragedy from this story is I no longer had enough time to get cinnamon rolls.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Slippery Situation

I am in my favorite environment tonight.  Sitting in a bar.  This one is the new bar in our little town.  It has that clean swept shopping mall look to it but at least the beer is cold.  Off across on the other side of the room The Wife is Scoutmastering her monthly committee meeting.  She spends a couple of hours with her board, planning the month ahead.  I spend a couple of hours drinking beer and telling a tale to all you fine folks.  Seems like a pretty equitable way to spend a Sunday evening.

Everyone is likely tired of me talking about my floor.  It is however amazing.  I was able to get three coats of linseed oil on it this summer.  In the fall I really wanted to follow up and get several more coats on.  I even cast around to all my former landing spots. I was checking to see if I could use the couches and bedrooms from my couchsurfing days.  I was thinking if I could put a coat of oil on the floor every night for seven days.  I would be well prepared for winter.  Every night while the oil dried I could visit my friends, land on their sofa for the night and ascertain whether they were happy to be seeing less of me or not.  But in the end it just wasn’t to be.  I had to get a bunch of other little things done first.  Then some other house projects came up that had to be dealt with immediately and snap, just like that, the weather turned cold.  The thought of oiling the floor now is out.  Running the furnace in such a confined area sounds at the least flammable and quite possibly even explosive.  Unless I can happen across a heated shop for a week I guess I will have to put this project off until spring.  I will have to be very careful not to get my floor wet.

Floor with the first coat of oil on.  I haven't
seen this much exposed floor on this project
before or since!
When I was installing the floor I took the time to sort through the boards, picking out the pretty ones.   When I laid them out,  I put several of the burl ones right in front of the door as I come in.  Now, as I applied the first coat of finish, it was my first time to see the beauty of that wood really show up.  I love oil finishes on wood and in particular I have always been a huge fan of boiled linseed oil*.  I like the way it soaks in and brings out the wood grain, particularly in burl such as walnut has.  I love the way oil darkens over the years and becomes more and more beautiful as the years go by.  Applying it is really easy.  I just used a folded up square of paper towel.  Dump out a puddle of oil, spread it around leaving the wood looking just wet.  No puddles.

One other suggestion about applying linseed to wood floors in particular, I don’t really do a final clean up.  I clean the floor after the coarse sanding by sweeping (not vacuum) but I do the final sanding and then I go straight from sandpaper to oil application.   This fine dust will press into the cracks between the boards and act as a wood filler.  In fact that is why I don’t use a vacuum for cleanup.  I don’t want to suck any dust out of the cracks, I want that dust to stay there.  It makes the floor a little more impervious to have those areas sealed up.  In my case, I had a spot in the burl where there were some small (~1/8”)chip-outs.  I pushed a bunch of that sawdust into those spots and over the span of a few coats I think I will be able to nearly level them.

The control wall of the floor to ceiling
shelf with one coat of primer on.

I heat the oil up before application by warming some water in the microwave then placing a small container of oil inside the hot water.  The warmed oil is thinner and soaks into the wood much better than cold oil.  Particularly in the initial applications spread a fairly generous coat.  Come back in half an hour and wipe up any oil left on the surface.  Stop back another hour later and wipe it up again.  The first few coats, the hot oil soaks in and disappears pretty quickly so there isn’t a whole lot to even be wiping up.  The later coats you will be spreading less oil and wiping up a greater percentage of what you do spread. 

One thing I have to bring up in case anyone ever chooses to follow in my footsteps and finish a floor or anything else using linseed oil.  A number of years back I purchased an old victorian house in a dual collage town.  Refinished the floors before I moved in.  I was in the wipe up phase of one of the later coats of oil.  Not as much was sinking into this floor at that point and so I was getting a stack of balled up and saturated paper towels in the center of the room.  Once a towel wasn’t picking up much I would crumple it and toss it to the middle.  This is labor intensive work.  During this step I try to work more oil into the logical traffic paths.  Hand rubbing the oil in to give the floors in those areas extra protection.  I was sitting back for a break from this exertion when I looked over at the stack of paper towels.  I did the classic (think of the old RCA dog) tilted head focus on that pile as I said to myself, “Is there smoke coming from that pile?” There was.  My first thought was to grab it with my hands and carry it outside.  It was of course too hot.  I found a metal paint roller pan and kicked the pile of towels into it.  The smoke level went WAY up when I did this as it got fresh air and neared full combustion.  I hustled it outside.

The Wife at work!

All that fresh oil on the floor, I have to realize I was probably less than five minutes from burning our new purchase down.  I swore to myself at that time I would tell this story to every single person I recommended towards using linseed oil in wood finishing.  Be careful.  The label on the can says oil soaked rags can spontaneously combust.  That’s no joke.  They can.  I have seen it with my own eyes.  Now when I use linseed oil, I keep track of every rag.  Never let them accumulate.  I spread the rags out flat on my lawn for a few hours until they are dry.  …Or, two three days until The Wife pesters me, depending on extraneous circumstances.

The white paint sanded through, with the
purple Trans-Tint applied over the top.

In addition to getting some finish on the floor I also put some on the bulkhead wall.  I wanted something looking just a touch rustic with some texture to it.  The Wife wanted something colorful.  I figured out a way to keep us both happy.  I applied some white latex paint to the bare wood.  The wood, in this case, is 1/4” pine “bead-board” plywood purchased from Johnny Menard.   Then once the paint was dry I used a vibrating pad sander to remove it in places.  The look I was going for was sort of worn white wash.  Transparent in places but solid white in others. Once I had this look I went back over it with some purple Trans-Tint dye (available through Rockler) diluted in water.  The dye soaked in quickly to the areas with bare wood.  Darkening those areas and giving them a purple tinge.  The areas that still had paint the dye stayed wet and could be removed with a dry paper towel.  I left a lot of dye on the white areas to get that a brighter purple tinge.   I thought the whole thing turned out looking quite nice.  When I was happy with the results I just let it dry for a couple of hours.  Then I went back over the whole bulkhead wall with a coat of varnish to protect the color and lock it in.  The results were great.

The purple as it is in the
final result.

These bulkhead results in hand we went to the paint store where The Wife picked out kind of a rose color paint to match for the floor to ceiling shelf and the outside wall behind the kitchen sink.  I even got a little bit of work out of her later when I put a paint brush in her hand.  In the end it took three coats of color on top of a coat of primer to get the shelves all looking nice.

One thing I was made aware of by the painting process was how my control panel on the back side of the floor to ceiling shelf is starting to fill up.  That’s amusing to me because when I first planned this whole thing I was going to put all these controls on a recessed panel.  Under that plan figured to build the panel about six inches tall and twenty inches wide to put everything I needed to run the van.  But thinking about building this way with a metal panel started to seem like too much work.  Wow, was that ever a lucky thing!

The finished bulkhead wall.
It took a lot more to control this van than expected.   What I have on my control panel right now are six light switches, a four port usb charger, 120v outlet, the control panel for the Tripp Lite inverter, the control panel for the solar charge controller, a seven inch flush mount computer monitor, the remote for the ceiling fan, an eye glasses holder, the thermostat and the color picker for the LED lights.  All of this is in a 18x30 inch space.  There was no way it would have fit in what I had originally planned.  A rare case of having the thing that doesn’t work out be better having not worked out.

Here is a problem with globalism and a lack of brick and mortar. Way back in January when I first bought my van I just knew I would be installing the ceiling lights in a couple of weeks when I was all but done with the project.   Well lets not go into that whole part.  But instead let me tell you about the puck lights I bought from Amazon.  They were amazing.  A 1/4” thick  black solid plastic on the back, silver rimmed on the front.  They only use 1.2 watts and put out an amazing amount of light.  Well you know the whole story, the van project hasn’t been done in a couple of weeks …Or, I guess even a couple of months for that matter.  As soon as I got some wires run I hooked them up.  They were my light.  But, in the time between purchase and their permanent home been rough.  They were living mid project.  I stepped on one.  I ran a saw into a second one.  Broke the connector off a third.   But they were great and they were from Amazon so I could always get more.  Life is good.  I ordered eight more.

The melted lights held in place now with some tape.

When the new lights arrived I noticed they were no longer black backed, but silver.  Who cares about this stuff right?  Very shortly I found out that wasn’t the only difference.  The new lights ran hot.  Really hot.  ...As in, this summer I accidentally left the lights on in the van on a warm day.  The lights melted (?!) out of their sockets.  It appears all lights are not the same.  I hit the repurchase button on Amazon but these new lights are not the same as the old ones.  They run much, much hotter.  But here I am, I have holes cut in my ceiling to accept a 2-3/8 zero clearance light.  That is what I have to fit.  Lets tag this, #unhappy

(* It is very important to use boiled linseed oil and not raw.  Raw linseed oil will not soak into the wood at all.  It forms a skin on the surface so it is like a totally different type of product)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

I Yam what I Yam

Here’s how it is being me, working on a project.  Back in the late spring I decided I liked my LED mood lights in the back of the van so much I wanted to buy another set to put into the “kitchen” of the van.  Something to make teeth brushing a little less harsh than turning on the three super bright puck lights.  So I bought a string of the lights on Amazon Prime.  Originally I was thinking I would wire them all together with what I have to make one long string. 

But then I got thinking, it would be nice to control them independently.  Being able to turn those lights off would be nice.  —I keep it pretty dim in here at night.  Plus the power savings, only running the lights I needed to.  It just seemed like a good idea.   Additionally, I found out how much I liked the touch panel control I bought for the first set (…and finally got installed.)  It is a really intuitive color picking touch panel.  It even remembers what color you had the lights set to the night before and that’s how it comes on.  It has a couple of quick present buttons for the rare times when I want to choose something other than dark red. I can’t say enough good things about it.  (

Loving this one so much, I decided I wanted another control panel exactly like it to run the front lights.  So another delay while one is ordered.   I now had the two pieces in my hands and I was thinking some of getting it wired in.  That was the point that I noticed another problem. The first set I bought from Johnny Menards included a crappy IR remote control.  I threw that away.  So, didn’t care at all about the new set I bought not having one.  I was just going to throw it out anyway.   Ah, but wait.  True, I did throw away most of the crappy IR remote but I had kept the little wire with the five pin adapter on it.  I had no way to attach wires from the controller to the LEDs.  Nothing is ever simple here right? 

Officially these are called LEDENET 5 pins
10mm LED RGBW Strip Light Quick Connectors.  I call
them "grippy things"

I did more looking on Amazon.  I found the little five pin/wire adapters.  I also found they sell color coded five conductor ribbon cable.  Specially colored for these LED light setups.  Well gosh, that could be kind of handy.   Then I also found little grippy-ends.  These will allow me to cut the LED light string, attach a grippy-end wired to some ribbon cable and after some distance reverse this.  Going from wire to grippy to LEDs.  Excellent!

Here is where I will use that.  I will run some of the five conductor ribbon cable over to the other side of the van.  I will put the balance of the LEDs from the kitchen, over underneath the table. So I will get some pretty accent color under the table to match the kitchen lighting.   Very cool.  I could totally see how if I had a bigger space…. Say like a school bus or something… I could get totally carried away with accent lights and cute little features.

I went ahead and installed the control panel before it could fall into the vortex.   You see because…

A week later (theoretically) I had everything I needed.  See here is the thing though.  We are now up to four elements.  The lights.  The five connector ribbon cable.  The grippy-deals. The LEDs.   They have all arrived over the span of a couple of months. Really, there is a fifth thing as well.  Electricity.  I am going to have to solder these wire ends together and I can’t do that from my batteries.  Doing so would use all my juice.  I am going to have to be someplace where I can plug in.  But anyway, at no point since …I am guessing… ~June when the final bits arrived, have all five of these been within my reach at one time.

I realize who and what is to blame here.  I own it.  I know.  I was so close, two weeks ago.  The LEDs had been sitting at my house, just above my sock drawer.  They fell out of a box several months ago and that is where they have resided since.  But this weekend when I saw them I tossed ‘em into the van.   I had to buy 25 of the little grippy pieces even though I only need two.  They were poorly packaged in a damaged tyvek envelope when they arrived back in June.  Riding around in a holey envelope for six months.  Shuffled between my various boxes of van construction stuff has led to them being sort of strewn across several of them as a few would leak out.  I know the two I found on the floor cab are now poking up out of the drink cup holders of the console.  Then there is the five pin adapters.  I only need one of those and had to buy a ten pack.  They are in a pretty secure white envelop but three or four got taken out over the months to be examined and not put back.   They fell into the vortex.  Two weeks ago there was one showed up on my table.

Sorry for the crappy picture.  It is an Amazon photo, not
mine for the reasons explained within.

It was that five pin adapter that made me think of this whole project.   I was sitting at my table, having just taken some home cooked leftovers out of the microwave.   I was parked at the shop but a little unsure of what I should work on.  Seeing that adapter made me think, “hey, I should get those lights wired!”  The lights were on the floor in a grocery bag I had loaded into the van.  I found them right away.  I had my five pin adapter.  The grippy things were everywhere.   All I needed was the wire.  I searched the van.  But when it wasn’t in a couple obvious places I was pretty sure I knew where it was.  At home in my garage where the overflow pile of van project materials sits.  In the wire box.  It wasn’t to be that night.

This past weekend though I remembered to look at home.  Sure enough!  There was the wire.   Now I knew I had it.  Everything I needed to get this project done.

That brings us to tonight.  I have the wire, I have the LEDs, I have the grippy things.  Do you think I could find that five pin adapter that was just on my table?  Or any of the five pin adapters?  Hell no. 

Damn.  Yeah, I own it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Getting My Chill On

It has turned cold here in the frozen wasteland I call home (and home on wheels).  Last week I kept the van all toasty warm.  It was in the twenties overnight but I left the van set to 75 degrees 24/7.   Felt great, climbing in a nice warm van from the cold parking lot.  Sprawling out on my nice soft foam mattress in the back.  Really quite lovely.   Sadly, I burned through a twenty pound propane tank in about six days.  The goal of this project is to live cheaper not find profit by investing in propane futures.  This past week I have been turning down the thermostat at bedtime.  Each night turning it a little lower.  Then on Thursday night I said to myself, “I am staying plenty warm”  Turning the thermostat down all the way is ~50. “With all my blankets on, I think I will just fine.”  

I woke up about 4am.  I was not just fine, I was cold.  I tried to tuck in a little better and might have drifted in and out a bit.  But no way around it, I was cold.   What a wimp!  Right?   That’s what I was telling myself.   Four blankets and I can’t even handle 50 degrees!   I just wasn’t drifting back off to sleep again I was going to have to give up.  I turned up the thermostat.   …Silence.  I turned it up some more.  Still nothing.  I turned it up a lot.   Ugh.  No heat.  Ok, well now we had a problem.

I turned on the lights.  Took a bathroom break and thought about it.   Earlier in the evening I had been working some with the area around the thermostat wires.  Maybe I had knocked something lose?  I had just put in a fresh propane tank the night before so I was sure I wasn’t out of gas.  I realized it was pretty seriously cold in the van.  No ice in the bottle of water I had on the table but still darned cold.  I thought about rounding up the tools I would need to access the wires.  They were up in the cab where it was likely colder yet.  Then kind of at the last minute before I dug in I happened to wonder if the furnace got turned off by accident?  I have master furnace power switch right by the entry door.  I looked.  Sure enough, it was off.  

The padauk against walnut.

Flipped that one switch and I had power again.  The furnace started right up and ran for a long time before it got back up to 50.  I don’t really know how long.  I was curled up in bed and asleep.

Back in the summer, a few weeks before, I had gotten my plumbing hooked up and my drain in place. I had running water at last! Not that I actually run all that much. Everything had really been working very well, but really my water related tasks were very small.  Also since I just drain into the ground, for stealth reasons, I don’t use much even for the small tasks.  I don't want someone to notice water coming from the bottom of my van, or a big wet spot where one shouldn't be.  How much water does it really take for oral hygiene and to wash one fork?  A few shots and that is it.  Because of this I hadn't noticed what was really going on. 

The first time I actually used more than a few squirts of water was after acquiring some take out food from this amazing Indian food place on the east side.  I brought it home in styrofoam packaging.  —Not something I like to microwave food in.  I off loaded it into a plate.  I had also purchased some lettuce I put into a bowl.  I was sitting there at my little table thinking I was living like a king, my food arrayed in front of me.  But when this meal was gone I had actual dishes to wash!   It was now I discovered a critical design flaw. 

My fresh water tank came with a bunch of ports.  When it arrived all those ports are sealed over except for the fill port which has a cap.  If you want to use one of them you have to drill it out first.  -making sure of course to not mess up the threads.  I was only using one port, in the back that I had hooked to the water pump.  Maybe others can already seen the problem.   The cap on the fill port is not vented.  So the first time I used significant amount of water, washing these dishes, everything was fine for about fifteen seconds or so.  Then the sides of the tank sucked in, the water slowed to a near stop and the sound volume coming from the pump went way up.   The tank had was not vented in any way, there was no way for air to get in.

I had to think about this one for a bit.  Here is the problem.   If I was building a nice stationary tiny home for instance, using a tank fresh water system, I would just replace the fill cap with one I made incorporating some mosquito netting.   Everything would be just fine.  The difference with my home on wheels is I go sloshing down the road in it.  Turning corners and generally doing things that are gunna cause whitecaps in my freshwater tank.  If I have an opening somewhere, water could easily come shooting out of it as I turn a corner.  I thought about something based on a valve of some sort.  Open would be the “parked” vented position and susceptible to leaking.  Closed would be the road worthy sealed up position.  This step, to close the valve, would have to be added to my pre-departure checklist. …Thats a list is already longer than I want it to be.

The Mini Vent in place, attached to one
of the ports in my freshwater tank.
I got the idea from thinking about places where you add a bathroom to an old house.   Usually drains from sinks, tubs and the like have to be vented up to the roof of your house.   This venting does two things.  It allows sewer gas from the greater sewer system to escape up into the sky rather than getting into your house and making it all smelly. But the other thing a vent does is prevent suction when you are using your drains.  Without a vent, when you would pull a stopper to drain a sink, the water would actually be greatly slowed in the pipe because of the vacuum it would create behind it.  But when you start to look at remodeling an old house sometimes running a pipe up to the roof just really isn’t an option.  Imagine tucking a half bath into the space under a stairway.  

They make something to answer this call.  It is called a Mini-Vent or more formally a Air Admittance Valve sometimes even a Branch Vent.  The job of the mini-vent is to allow air into the drain and prevent this vacuum problem but be closed any time some sewer gas wants to get out.  Well, I thought about the problem I had.  I want air to get into my freshwater tank but I don’t want any water blowing out.  This valve is perfect.    

The valve I chose was made by IPS Corporation and is labeled a Studor Mini Vent.  Johnny Menard had three different varieties of these on his shelves.  I chose this particular brand because it has a built in filter to keep the wee beasties from climbing in my fresh water tank for a bit of a swim.  Of course it was the most expensive one at around $30.  Installation was easy, I just had to buy a few adapters to take it from inch and a half threads down to half inch.  Once installed it has worked perfect.  

The nicks out of my thermostat wire.  Unrelated to my
heat problem up above.

In the side of the floor to ceiling shelf I wanted to add a flush mount monitor that will be my “in” to all the various data and controls I have planned for the van later.   When I bought this little monitor the flush mount feature was really the one I was looking for.  But when I got it, I realized all of this stuff is likely meant to be mounted on either plastic or thin steel control panels, not the 3/4” wood I have.  All the mounting hardware is way too short to fit.  I will have to do some looking into options for mounting.  I did a bit of cutting and fitting to move this project along though.  In the process I very nearly cut off the thermostat wire.  Instead I just took a very large nick out of it.  If I was planning on always using this thermostat, I would want to replace this cut wire.  But, I have other plans down the road so I will just leave it for now.

And finally one more thing I did involved the back shelf.  I glued a strip of padauk to the front edge of it.  Then when the glue was dry I used a half inch round-over bit in a router to cut a round edge on the front.  It was looking nice.  I heard some that a problem with padauk is it has a tendency to fade to brown as it ages.   I didn’t want it looking just like the walnut.  I wanted to preserve its color.  And granted, exposure to sunshine is the main reason why it fades.  Inside the windowless van I don’t get a whole lot of sunlight.  So this wasn’t a huge thing, but I wanted to do what I could to keep it vibrant.  I looked on the interwebs to see what I could find.   It was crazy what they suggested, but I kept coming across the same solution time after time.   To keep the color from fading in padauk you finish it with super glue.

Thinking this was going to be a crazy thing
to do, but it worked out great.  Using
Superglue as a wood finish!
I couldn’t really imagine how this could work.  What they suggested was taking a bit of paper towel.  I used a McDonalds napkin.  Put some superglue on the napkin and spread it over the wood.  I thought sure all this would do is glue the napkin to my project but it really didn’t.  The napkin kind of conformed to the rounded edge profile and hardened in that position.  All I had to do was squeeze out some glue and rub it on the wood.  It goes without saying you work very quickly.  The dry time is maybe eight to ten seconds.  You have to spread out the glue in a thin layer.  You get a couple of swipes.   But to keep a wet edge, you have to keep moving across the project as well.  I worked fast and really it was an interesting process.  I suppose I put on four or five coats.  There were a couple of spots I over worked and those places ended up a bit cloudy.  I discovered I could go back over those small areas and the finish would blend right back in.  Sort of like working with shellac at Ludicrous Speed.  Word to the wise though, ventilate well.  Super glue, drying with this quantity and amount of surface area exposed, puts out some wicked fumes.

Monday, November 13, 2017

We Can All Get It Wrong Sometimes.

I got a few little van things done this week.   First off I cut out the back shelf.   For the past couple of months as I have been using the van, the back side of my bed has butted up against some plywood crossing in front of the back doors.  The back (door) side of that plywood is the control panel where I am mounting all the electronics.  But at the top of that plywood there was just space, about ten inches of it, before the back door. To keep the cold out I put some pillows across the gap.   That helped for sure but still a lot of cold air was coming in.

From the Amish sawmill I had a six foot long, ten inch wide 5/4 walnut board.  Heck of a chunk of wood.  You could almost make a mantel for your fireplace with it.  It was rough sawn and ended up about an inch thick when I got it all smoothed down in the planer.  After planning I cut the board to length, then traced out the corners a bit.  Sort of rough sawing it to get it to kind of fit.  Eventually I got it so it was in place and from the very furthest point back on the door to my board was about two inches.   I took a two inch scrap of oak and used that between the door and my pencil to trace the pattern of the back doors onto the top of my board.  I think it took about three touch ups to get it perfect.  The hardest part was figuring out exactly where the latch has to swing.  Then, cutting that arc on the board.

Gluing on the strip of padauk.  I did all this
work to cut the back profile but now realize
I didn't take a single photo of the process.
Once cut to fit, I ran it through the jointer at the Maker Space shop.  Smoothing down and flattening the van side of the walnut board.  To that I glued a strip of  3/4” padauk.  The red/orange of padauk is an amazing contrast to the dark brown of walnut.  Great having a shop where I have all these clamps!

On to bigger projects. The first bit of the finished ceiling I put in with the help of number one son. We made a measurement error of about an inch because we didn't account for the curve of the ceiling where it meets the door.  Certainly coverable with some wide trim next to the floor to ceiling shelf. But that was also a small, less than 4ft sheet. The balance of the ceiling could then be done in one eight foot sheet but not by just one guy. I again called upon my friend Craigie to help me out.

Craigie works full time in the construction business, working for a small job carpentry company.  Doing… whatever the politically correct word for a handyman is.  Every morning he looks at the calendar on his iPhone(3!?) and the day's tasks are all lined up on there.  A very slick system! But he doesn't really know what he is getting into until he arrives. So it is a real think on your feet kinda job. 

I have a ceiling!  Woo hoo!

That kind of background has been invaluable for my van project which is small job after small job with a few unpleasant surprises in between.

But once in a while the best of us can get it wrong.  In this case I had planned to stop the ceiling plywood at the bulkhead.  I  didn't really plan on doing anything forward of that point. But Craigie pushed to extend the wood beyond the bulkhead wall up into the cab where in about ten inches we could tuck it under the material of the cab ceiling.

He had such a great idea a couple weeks before to extend the van floor out over the step.  This one I was less sure about but after some hemming and hawing on my part I went with it.

It was a complicated cutting job. We had to notch it on the side and end to go around the floor to ceiling shelf.  Also there were six holes for LED puck lights. I called out the measurements and he cut it all out.  But then it was time to install it.

We discovered a problem almost right away.   To get the sheet to fit into the space over the bulkhead we had to have the sheet nearly flattened horizontally.  Here is how our decision effected us.  If we would have just been stopping at the bulkhead, we would only have to bend the sheet a few inches to clear the sides of the floor to ceiling shelf.  But, because of the extra length of going in front of the bulkhead. But, we were more than a foot from having cleared the floor to ceiling shelf at the corner.  We had the bend the plywood A LOT.  And then, we were so close, just one extra little push we knew we could make it fit.

The problem with trying to apply too much bend.

The plywood tore, just at the corner where it meets the shelf.  First only a little bit, and then a jagged eight or ten inches.  We swore but all the pressure suddenly released it finally slid into place with ease.  Then we evaluated.   In hindsight I should have just stopped at the bulkhead.  This isn’t a make’r look perfect in the cab kind of project.  There wasn’t any real good reason to have any wood come forward of the bulkhead and actually given some thought I think it will cause a few problems.  But, I never said this is anything other than a learning experience type project.  Craigie was giving the best advice for the family van type project where you want everything to look the best everywhere.

At that point it was dark. We were sweaty from the struggle.  The mosquitoes had found us.  Craigie asked me what I wanted to do.  Because we hadn't attached it yet, we could have ripped it out. I didn't have another sheet, but one could have been bought for another night.  At the time I was only thinking “god, do I want to go through that again?  Hell no!”

We dropped it down enough to slap some construction adhesive in there and nailed it up.  We put some wood glue in the ripped spot and fashioned a brace to hold it in place until the glue dries.  Then it was going to be a wood filler job.

A great older pickup camper which could be the excellent
base for a remodel project.
In other news, the wanderlust has struck Craigie as well.  When I pulled into his driveway sittin’ there on stilts was a used pickup camper.  I guess he and his wife went through three and half degrees of hell in the lead-up, show-up, and post arrival of the camper she opposed.  These things happen. If I have given the impression moving my own wife from my initial words “I'd like to buy a van” to the point of actual purchase as being some sort of panacea I want to correct that right now. That's my own problem though.  Being an accomplice to Craigie's whole deal put me in an awkward spot.  Lucky for me they had both declared peace the day before.

Cuz I gotta confess, I might have tipped him over the edge.  Talking to him about my own van after the first camping trip with The Wife I said to him, “Craigie, we’ll never sleep in a tent again” and I think at that moment all six foot seven inches of Craigie was on board.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Complex Things Built Wrong

I know I start to sound like a broken record but every step along this path, when something major gets done I am just so happy.   Getting the table in.  Getting the floor all installed.  Even more stuff done in this post.  I am lovin’ it!

I sort of glossed over what we did while installing the floor in the area of the side door.  My van is one of the double door versions.   So instead of a sliding-family-van style door it instead has two doors on hinges.   I picked this type mostly because of the stealth reasons.  These are the types of cargo vans I typically see.   But I was also interested because I felt like there would be less energy waste.  Typically I would only open this door to slip in and out and so I felt having this smaller opening, less heat would slip out with me.

It is handy to have the larger opening.  Moving things in and out.   Having the hinged door was great on the summer camping trip with The Wife where we could just leave the door hanging open, a mirror mounted to it.   All that stuff was great.   But I didn’t really need the step in front of the door nearly as much as I needed the couple of extra square feet of floor space that covering it up bought me.  If I would have known I was going down this path earlier I would have run sub floor out in this area too. But really the wood flooring, 3/4” walnut is plenty strong enough to just hang out in space a little bit, but the outer corner did need some support.  

The quarter inch plywood

To make this support piece I started with some paper and scissors and cut out a close approximation of the piece I needed.   I used that paper to cut out a template from 1/4” plywood.   Then I could really fine-tune the design and get it to fit just perfect.   When I was done with the template I transferred that design to some 3/4” walnut and I ended up with the ideal piece to fit in with my walnut floor.  I attached this piece with construction adhesive on the bottom and back.  On the top I used some wood glue and some two inch pin nails down through the flooring.  

The final piece glued into place.
While I was working in this area I also put a trim piece in front of the other door. On the front, I used just a strip of the 3/4” walnut about two inches wide. I finished the whole thing off with some walnut door stop to cover the last of the flooring end grain. 

It has turned cold again now but it wasn’t very long ago that I swatted two mosquitos in one night inside my van.  No mystery where they were coming in from.  I have an open floor vent to draw air from under the van while the ceiling fan is running.  It is about two inches wide and about six long.  I could just as easily be getting rodents as well as mosquitos and I really needed to build a screen to cover it.

Photographic evidence proving I did in fact
measure (at least once). Strange how the
pavement looks below the van, it must have
been late in the day to be so bright.
Now I’m not really very shy when talking about my mistakes.  I make them all the time.  I figure I have learned from other people’s errors, that’s the best way to learn.  The more I share mine, the less people will be making the same stupid mistakes I did.  So here is how I launched off to build the screen cover for my floor vent.  I took measurements, wrote them all down, and then went inside the Maker Space shop to build what I needed.

I didn’t want the screen up at floor level.  I thought having it there would just cause a hole to somehow get ripped in it.   I felt the best thing was to build a tapered box allowing the screen to be down below floor level.  Maybe I will put a heavier duty material up top with bigger holes.  Something I could actually stand on, sort of like a floor furnace vent cover in an old house.  That might come later though.  For now I just don’t want to wake up in the morning down a quart and be covered in bites.

I took some of the scraps left over from installing the flooring and cut them into some strips about an inch wide.  This will be the frame for the box.  I ran them through the saw a couple more times to cut a rabbit into the corner of the strip.  Then marked them from my measurements for length and width and used a power miter box to cut a 45 degree angle to make the corners.  Once the pieces were all together I clamped them together dry, just to hold them while I built the tapered box.   

Getting ready for the glue-up.
I have a stack of 1/8” plywood “hobby sheets” they are called at Johnny Menard’s stores.  Marked 18”x24”, no surprise they are 17-1/2” x 23”.  Johnny does keep making money somehow. <eye roll> On the short side of the frame I just built I measured the base of the rabbit on the inside.  From this I subtracted a quarter inch so the end panels will sit inside the side panels when the box is formed.  I decided to make my tapered box about four inches deep.  I cut some of the plywood into a four inch strip, then in the power miter box I set the cutting angle of the blade to about 3 degrees of angle.  I thought that would make it small enough at the bottom to stick out through the metal floor of the van.   I made two of these tapered ends.  Then two sides cut to the total length of the inside rabbit of the long side of the walnut frame.  

At this point I had all my pieces.   This is a small part with lots of surface area of glue joints.   I didn’t think it needed any nails.  I just used lots of glue and clamped the whole thing up.   Great to have a shop with tons of clamps!   

Gluing up the tapered box.
The next day I came in and admired my work.  It was great!  Solid as a rock.  Really strong with no flex anywhere.  I cut a bit of window screen to lap over the tapered end.  I secured it with some glue, then on top of the glue I wrapped one later of aluminum tape.  My thought was this would protect the edges of the window screen from fraying.   I had just used fiberglass window screen so I thought it might be susceptible to fray.   In my house somewhere I know I have some metal screen that wouldn’t have had this issue but I couldn’t find it when I was home for the weekend.

With the screen in place I had built the perfect part to answer all the needs.  I knew it was going to look great and as soon as I felt the glue was likely setup under the tape I walked out to the van to drop it into place and admire my work.  Totally prepared to pat myself on the back, I tried to drop it into the floor vent hole.  My beautiful part was about two inches too long to fit!  As near as I can tell I must have used the outside measurements to mark the insides of the miters I cut. But it wasn't exactly that either.  The moral of the story is measure twice, build complex parts requiring multiple cuts and glue ups once.

No fit-ski.  Damn.

It’s always depressing to have something like this happen but it is inevitable.   I chucked my floor vent cover up into the cab for a couple of weeks, disgusted with myself, and tried not to think about it.  But then I was about to go on the first camping trip with The Wife.  I knew she would get vocal about the mosquitos so I dug it out and had another look.  My fix was to run the table saw blade almost all the way up and using a miter fence set to 90 degrees, ran the box through the saw and cut about two and three quarters inch off the end of it.  I still had a little bit of the walnut strip left.  I cut a short chunk and drilled through it to attach it to my tapered box.  Another little bit of the 1/8th plywood taper cut for the end.  More glue and clamps.   

When I was all done, the box, maybe to a true craftsman might have looked odd with it’s 45 degree joints on one end and 90 degree joints on the other.  But the important thing was it worked.  It keeps the bugs out.  Maybe someday I will replace the fiberglass window screen with some “no-see-em” mesh as someone in the shop suggested to me.  For now though I am happy!

Not quite deep enough, I pull this
one and and drill a touch deeper. 
In other van projects I have finished the ceiling insulation.  Now I am going back through and countersinking the screws holding the wood strips. These screwheads have to be under the surface or the plywood going over the top will not fit tight to the ceiling.   To countersink them I have been, one by one, removing the screws and drilling out the hole with a 1/2" drill bit.  Then, re-inserting them and moving on to the next.   In a few cases of course I have been drilling too deep, going all the way through the quarter inch.  When that happens I just move over a couple of inches and re-drill.

Then after I got those screws inset I was able to install the first sheet of plywood on the ceiling!   Woo hoo!  I guess this is the post for mistake admission.  When I marked it and cut it, I didn't account for the curve in the ceiling next to the back door. The sheet was about an inch short at the floor to ceiling cabinet.  Sigh.  I guess that is what wide trim is for. 

Pay no attention to all that mess in the background.  It was
the maid's day off.

If this were a real camper I would have a water tank filling port mounted right on the outside of the van to fill up my fresh water tank.  But things like that make people, and particularly parking enforcement police officers, take a second look at my van.  I don’t want that.  I don’t want people like that taking even a second glance.   So I had been looking for a good way to get water into the tank from the inside, thinking maybe some sort of short hose.   But what I saw at my local big box lumberyard was this bendable funnel in the clearance section.   Perfect!   It flexes at the end so I will be able to keep the pour-into end up while shoots-out-of end can be at 90 degrees, into the fill hole of my tank.  Best part?  The funnel came with caps at both ends so I will be able to keep dirt and wee-beasties out of my drinking water tank!