Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mounting the TV

Mounting a TV to the curved wall of a cargo van was never going to be a home run on the first swing.

When I was making the first purchases of this project I knew a lot less.  I knew I wanted a TV on the wall, and I knew what wall.  I knew that TV mounting boards had to go in before the insulation and surely I would be putting in insulation by week two, right?  That was five months ago.  <sigh>  Lesson one, van building goes slower than you expect. 

The T-nuts from the inside
of the van.
Usually to mount a TV in your house you ideally find a stud in the wall and attach the mount with some big’ol lag screws into that stud.  That baby is there for the life of the home.  Less optimal, you use some plastic anchors in the drywall and hope your kid never decides to swing from it.  But either way your solutions are pretty well laid out and easy to achieve.

Neither of those solutions could work for me.  I mean I could do some sheet metal screws, through the plywood and into the metal stud of the van.  Likely that would have held it, but then the TV would be entirely in the wrong spot.  My walls, instead of sheetrock, are going to be 1/4” plywood.  A plastic anchor would never hold up to the bouncing and vibration of van life.  Not to mention tugging the TV into the perfect viewing position. 

Here is how the T-nuts look from the outside, their points
buried down into the wood.
I had talked to my friend Craigie about this a few nights before.  My idea was to cut two boards exactly the length to fit between the metal studs of the body of the van.  I would mount the boards to the van.  Then mark the spots where the TV mount holes are.  Remove the boards, drill the holes and epoxy in stainless steel bolts facing inward, into the van.  Then re-attach the boards to the wall.  If during the ensuing building process anything bumped the protruding bolt it could crack the glue and cause it to fail.  If the glue held and the bolt was bumped hard, it could even crack the board.  I knew this plan was crap, I just didn't have any better ideas.   

What Craigie suggested is to buy something called a T nut.   It works by drilling an oversized hole.  Then you put the nut through from the back and it has these sharp little points that dig into the wood.   Just pushing it in with your fingers (into pine) is enough for it to grab on allowing you to get your bolt threaded.  After that, the tighter you turn it, the more it digs in and the better it works.  

A couple of nights later I was picking some up at Johnny Menards and now have to say these T nuts are amazing.   I think now about how much easier it would have been to attach the propane tank switch over valve if I would have had them.   As it was, with a conventional nut that could only be accessed from inside by laying on the floor and pushing myself under the bed  and a conventional machine screw that could only be turned by being outside the van and leaning in through the propane tank basket.  I was able to eventually pull it off by taping the nut over the hole I drilled in the wood.   After about a dozen attempts I managed to thread it.   Then I clamped into it with a vice grip taped to the plywood to tighten it up the rest of the way.  *Way* more work than it would have been with the help of a T nut.   Very cool.

Tin shingles holding the boards in place.
What I did for this TV mount was to cut the boards to a rough length.   As it turned out one board just took a little trimming but the other one needed a pretty significant profile change to get it to fit into the contours of the back of the van.   Toward the front of the board at it attaches to the stud of the van wall, I picked up some steel strapping.   But then when it can time to actually attach it, somehow in all the tools and supplies involved in van building those straps got lost.   Craigie had some tin shingles though and so I cut one of those in half and used it to span across from the stud onto the board.

At the back of the van, I was trying to use some conventional drill bits drill a hole in the steel of the back stud so I could use some conventional drywall screws into the wood.   Drilling those holes was tough though.  The steel has a curved lip on it, plus it slopes back into the very corner of the van, past where my wood fit.  I was having a rough time of it.   Because of all the curves, I couldn’t get the bit to dig in, it would just chase over the surface.   Enter Craigie and the great set of tools again.  He had some drill bits that seemed just like normal but if you looked close you realized it had a little point at the end.   Baby, those bits dug right in.  Seconds later and I had a hole exactly where I wanted it.

The van back and the custom cut required.
You can also see the curved surfaces of the
van frame that had to be drilled into.
Once the wood was in place it was a four handed job to get that TV mount in place.   The screws provided with the mount were all too long for the TV I bought.  We had to add a stack of four washers to make sure the machine screws didn’t run too deep and ruin the TV.   We had to invert the mount to get it to fit right to the wall, then invert the final swivel to make the viewing angle right.   Finally drill the holes in the wood and mount it all into the T-nuts.  It was a big job.

And after all this was done….   The TV all mounted…   It sucked.   Like I said, no home runs.   I bought the this TV mount from Amazon and I thought it sounded like it would do every thing I wanted.   But one I started trying to use it I realized it was missing one axis of swivel.  With the slope of the van wall when I would pull the TV away and turn it for viewing from the front of the van, it was diagonal.  There was no way to make it level.   A little more research, now that I knew more about attaching TVs to walls, I found something called a “Full Axis” TV mount.  This was what I needed.   A couple of weeks later I picked one up and with the help of The Wife, we pulled out the mount Craigie and I spent so much time on and installed the new one.   Much better.

Half a tin shingle holding
the TV mount board in place
on the van front side of
the board.
When it comes time I will have to pull this all apart again once I get ready to install the final plywood over the walls. Installing this now will give me a chance to make really sure this is the right spot.  Make sure this full axis mount is strong enough to hold the TV while it is still relatively easy to change out to another one if need be.

A few last things I will mention about van dwelling.

Trains passing just behind the van.  Going by so often I don't
really even notice them.
My primary parking spot is close to the train tracks.  Being a huge rail fan, I don't mind the sounds of the trains going by.  What I have noticed in this spot is once the weather warmed up the homeless and the teen party-ier population has gone way up.  Just on the other side of the chain link fence there seems to be a constant stream of people going by.   About a block up the rail lines there is a regular homeless tent village.  In the wintertime the population is lower.  Homeless snowbirds, I guess.  Now that summer is here, the snowbirds are all back. Plus it seems to be a good spot for drinking teens around camp fires.  Just a couple of nights ago I heard some people talking just outside and I was pretty creeped out.   The downside of living in a metal box you can’t see a threat coming.  I am looking forward to getting the van self sufficient enough to find some new parking spots. 

The content of my pockets
needs a home too.
In van building, one of my planning tasks is to figure out a storage spot for this pile of stuff I carry around in my pockets every day.  I would like to have it some place close to the bed, maybe on some little shelf.   Additionally, maybe some glasses shelf because The Wife is almost totally blind and her glasses need to be within arms reach of waking up or she is totally lost.

People ask about van height.   Yeah, of course I would like to stand up in it.   Every moment I was parked I would be happy I had a taller or “Hi Top” van.   Pretty much all the rest of the time though, not so much.   Driving, parking, low clearance spots like many McDonalds drive throughs, wind.  All things that would suck in a taller van.  The Wife hates it most for getting dressed.   She likes to dress standing and I am sure, situationally she will perform this event standing outside. Of course this sort of behavior reduces stealthiness.  I will just have to do my best to live with it.   

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Key to Saving Money

It has been rare in this project for something to cost less than expected.

Since the first day when I was just looking at vans.  When I tried to start the engine that first time, I realized there was an ignition key problem.  After I bought it and a few weeks of driving, I had it’s tricks down.   By jiggling or very careful maneuvering I could get it to turn, if not right away usually within less fifteen seconds.  …Usually…   A few times it took longer.  Those were nervous times.  Fixing it, I figured, would require changing out the ignition slug in the steering column.   I don’t do that greasy hand work I hire it done and I just haven’t felt like I had the money.   A little bit of research told me it was at least a two hundred dollar job.   …But I had a laundry list of fixes as well so knew it could expand to five hundred or more pretty easy.

Still though I was worried.  I knew someday no amount of jiggling was going to fix it and I would be stranded. I knew also, given my luck, it would be a day it was super hot and muggy, on a black parking lot and that I had The Wife with me.

So I continued to research.  One thing kept popping up.  Not that it was the ignition slug as I thought but instead it was a worn key instead.  That seemed really implausible but by coincidence, I was walking by a key shop on my way to lunch this day and so I stopped in to talk to them.  I described the problem to the guy behind the counter and asked him what he felt the odds were a new key could fix my problem.  He said “Eh, about 90%”

Well thems bettin’ odds. I went for it.  Four hours and forty seven dollars later I was sliding a new key into the ignition.  It worked like a charm.  Wow!   $200 saved!   I can say that because I needed a spare key anyway.  

This past weekend it was raining all weekend.  I took the opportunity to have a look at the mess of wires in the floor to ceiling shelf.   If you remember, when I am building I leave the wires long.  I like having the flexibility of being able to mount something in some new location if the original one didn’t work out because of a plan change.   Once a certain tipping point is achieved though, things have to start to lock in.  Once I get enough things permanently mounted, I go back through and shorten up the wires.   Is it more work?  Sure it is.  You are essentially wiring the van twice with doing all the work of loosening wires from switches and cutting.   When I am doing the final wiring I am also using spade lugs on all the wires.  Soldering them onto the wire in the case of the solid core mainlines going back to the main fuse panel.

The before photo
I added a couple of buss bars, one positive and the other negative.   This allows me to build a sturdier, less trouble prone, wiring setup than if I had just used wire nuts.  I also joined the wire into bundles and zip tied them.   As a group I could then make the nylon wire loops I put around the wires and screw into the wood of the floor to ceiling shelf, more efficient.   And darn it, it just looks prettier with all those square corners and straight lines in the wire.  

When I am all done with this I will put some 3/4 blocks in a few various spots as spacers.   Then I will put 1/8” plywood over the whole mess, attached with some screws in case I need to get back in there again.   …I hope I never have to get back in there again…

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Leaving the Spittoon Behind

Tonight I got the drain hooked up to the sink so I no longer have to spit into a used McDonalds cup when brushing my teeth.   It is those little things in life that really make it all worth living.  It was another night of landing into my friend Craigie’s driveway.   He wasn’t home initially but since I was last there he has installed a brand new garage door opener.   No more having to hope his son was home to give me the door key.  Just remember a significant date in world history, punch in the year and the door went right up.

First things first, I was again having a very tiny gas leak at a flare union under the area of the kitchen sink.   This is the same spot I took apart last week and thought I had fixed.   Before it had a very small sliver of copper that was crossing the surface of the flare and allowing a very small leak.  I think before it was a remnant of the tube cutting about the thickness of a hair.  An obvious problem with a simple solution.  I was sure finding and removing it would fix the leak but last night when I got in the van I could smell a faint hint of gas again and tracked it down to this same spot.   What I tried to do last night when I found it was was tighten it up just a touch more but I could really barely turn it.   When I would spray on the soap solution it was putting out a small bubble every second or so.  Tonight, fixing it once and for all (again) I applied a very small amount of thread-lock onto the surface of the flare.   Then on the threads I applied some oil.   These were both solutions found on the you-tubes so I will have to see how they pan out for me.  If this again doesn’t work I am going to replace the union with a shutoff valve.

Then on to the drain.  I don’t have money for a holding, or “grey water” tank right now so I am just going to run the drain out through the floor.  My plan is to use a bucket under the pipe if I am going to be going through a lot of water, like washing dishes or something.   For just the small time, teeth brushing, hand washing, I am going to let it run out on the ground.   When you are putting in a drain in a house you have to have what is called a “trap” under the sink.   This is an S curve in the pipe so a little water stays in the drain at all times.   The reason for this is so sewer gas can’t come back up the drain causing a (best case) smelly or (worst case) explosive, gas buildup inside your home.   In my situation I don’t have that worry so I could have just run a pipe straight down.  But, I decided to install a trap any way just to prevent a possible bug infiltration point.  I don’t need mosquitos, which are particularly vicious up here in the frozen wasteland, walking their asses up the drain.

It took a couple of trips to the Big Box to round up all the parts I needed.  I ended up using the components of two different drain pipe kits to amass all the right parts to get this to work.   Most of the kits are made for drains that move the water horizontally to a wall where your house plumbing drain pipe is.   Some are made to move the water downward, through a floor drain pipe, but those don’t move the water horizontally at all.   What I wanted to do is go from the drain of my sink, horizontally to the side wall, then down and through the floor.   By purchasing a couple of kits and an extra 1-1/4” elbow I got all the parts I needed.

I was just looking into my next task when Craigie got home.   I had cut two 1x6 boards, planning on mounting them to the steel frame members of the van down at the foot of my bed.   My original plan was to mount them into position and mark the bolt positions for the TV wall mount.  Then, unmount the boards, drill the holes and insert stainless steel carriage bolts poking from the outside, into the van.   I would shoot some construction adhesive over the base of the bolt and then remount the boards into place.   But, I admit this plan had some problems.   I am not ready to install the interior plywood yet.   Having these bolts sticking into the room, requiring this exact pattern to be drilled into the plywood and then the plywood fit into place without knocking the bolts loose, I knew that was going to be tough.  Plus, I was somewhat worried the glue on the bolts might come loose just from the vibration of driving.   If this happens down the road-a-ways, after I have the walls all done, I could have some real problems if I ever need to remove the TV mount.  I won’t be able to do it because  unless the glue is holding, the bolt will just spin when I try to loosen it.

A T-nut. 
This is where it really helps to have a friend in the business.   He suggested using “T nuts” that would attach to the back of the wood using some little built in spikes that would dig into the wood.  Doing it this way instead of my plan I will be able to fit the plywood in without worry about dislodging the bolts.   If the plywood had to flex, I will be able to do so.  He didn’t have any of these nuts in stock in his van so I put this project off to another night after I picked some up. 

No glue required.   Using a Kreg jig and screw
the joint is unbelievably strong!
What we did instead was cut the walnut floor boards to form the frames for the table legs to fit into.  Again, my friend in the business has all the cool tools.   He introduced me to something called a Kreg jig.  These tools use a special drill bit and special screws to tightly join wood.   In my case I took some of the walnut flooring I ripped down to remove the groove side of the board.   Then, I cut a 45 degree angle into the corners making basically a picture frame with a two inch hole in the middle, like to hold the picture.  Then, using the Kreg jig, we were able to cut screw holes at exactly the right angle to join from one corner to the facing corner.  One screw in each corner and the little frame was amazingly strong.   

With these frames now built I am a step closer to the day I can get the rest of the flooring installed.   Can’t wait!

One more thing.   The last night I was at my borrowed shop I did one really cool thing.   Sitting there, leaning against a shelf of paint cans was a solar panel exactly the physical size I want to install on the van.  It was a few years old, so it was rated a third less wattage than panels built today.   Still, it provided me with a great idea of how the van will look once I get the panels installed.

A 6" PVC pipe clamped on to hid the under
side of the solar panel.
My idea is to run a couple of pipes from the front roof rack frame to the back one.   Then mount the panels on top of that frame.   I want to be able to swivel the panels up to gather peak sunshine during the winter when the sun is low.  And I want  then to sort of blend in and be disguised up there on the roof if possible.   Digging around a bit more I found a 6” PVC pipe and I was able to clip it on under the panel to provide some camouflage to the underside of the panel.

Getting the panel up there was a bit of a chore since I am working alone.  They are heavier than I expected them to be.   It was really great seeing what the van will look like with the panels on.  The whole  setup/teardown and photos took me over an hour but it was totally worth it to get this glimpse into the future!

The panel in place with the 6" PVC disguise
pipe mounted underneath.
The panel will actually have to be moved forward on the van
some so I have room for the roof vent to open behind it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Gas Pipes and Fittings

A compression type fitting on copper pipe.
I  wrote this a while back.  One of the last things I wrote for a while.  If you have been following my story from the beginning, you will recognize when this was actually went down.   You see because it was really…

…in a roundabout and really indirect way, the fault of my friend the Naughty Bookkeeper.   I posted a few weeks ago about hooking up the furnace.  I wrote it all out and posted it.  She has been really supportive of my project and always Likes & Shares my posts on Facebook.  (Which is great for getting word out about my project) Almost immediately from one of the Bookkeeper’s Facebook friends there was a response.  It was castigating me for my usage of compression fittings in favor of flare fittings in hooking up the gas pipes.  To bring you up to speed in this drama, flare fittings involve a special tool that bends outward, or flares, the end of a copper pipe.   If you have remembered to put the nut onto the pipe first, before you flare, (the bane of flare fitting history) you tighten that nut up against an angled male fitting.   Personally, I have always had trouble getting these types of fittings to seal.   I used instead compression fittings which have in my past been more fool proof.  I also felt I had some Google research to back me up.

A male flare fitting like I should have installed
the first time.
Here’s the complication though.   I used to work as a contractor with the Bookkeeper’s dad.  He had been a small town general carpenter for years and pretty much had to tackle whatever project got thrown at him.  In the span of a year working with him I took my own small-town-farm-boy handy-ism up to an all new level.   One day we were putting in a shower housing, the next we were bracing up a hundred and fifty foot barn so we could cut out and replace the bottom three feet of the outside walls.  So just by that association I have to give the Bookkeeper’s friends more weight than the typical person who is mad at me on Facebook. 

Let me take a little side trip and tell you about  just one job in a day of working with the Bookkeeper’s dad.   It was late march or so, and the two of us met at the client’s house.  It was a beautiful spring day.   Maybe only high 40’s, but bright and sunny.  The sun, really starting to gain some heat now.  It was great to be alive and under thirty.  To think of it now, for the first time in all the times I have told this story, I realize the homeowner was the grandfather of a man once married to the Bookkeeper herself.  Yeah, small towns.   Anyway, he had a task list for us.   We mixed a wheelbarrow batch of concrete and laid up a little two course concrete block raised bed on his patio..   We looked at some other small job on the list, I can’t remember what.   We passed on that one.   Something was going to have to be ordered.  We pushed that back to another day and if it ever got done I wasn’t involved.  Next we replaced a window but it was an exact replacement so that was only about forty five minutes work to pop off the exterior trim, cut the nails, slide it out and pop in the new one.

Then, there was one last job.   The Grandpa had gotten that new “cable Tee Vee” last year and he was sold.   “The wave of the future”, he didn’t want an antenna attached to the side of his house any more.  We walked around to take a look at it.   The house was your basic one story eve-less rambler.  The antenna pole was nothing more than a two inch iron pipe, driven into the ground at the bottom.  At the top it had a bracket with two bolts that had nuts inside the wall of the attic.   The Bookkeeper’s dad looks up at the attachment, then looks at me and says “You’re the young guy.  I’ll go up the ladder,  you take the attic side.”  Frankly, I was fine with this.  It was still March and though the beauty of the day had not faded, the sun was extending away.  Temperature was dropping quick, even in my heavy sweatshirt I was happy to be on the inside.  

Grandpa and I went inside the house and he pointed up to the attic access door.   It was a two foot plywood square in the ceiling of a hallway in the middle of the house.   Poking my head up through the doorway I realized there was no attic floor.   Just a thin layer of insulation between the rafters. Below that little bit of insulation the (likely thin) sheetrock.   I would have to step, from rafter to rafter while bent over at the waist.  Any mis-step, if I put a foot instead between one of the two rafters instead of on top of it, the sheetrock would not support my weight.   I would break through.

Given these details, precise foot placement was imperative.  I had 100% focus on my feet.  Measuring balance each time before I placed a foot forward.  Eventually though I made it to the end of the house.  I let my partner know.   He was just outside on a ladder.  We could speak through some slits, cut through the wood and the siding in the gable end of the house.   The bolts were there, poking through at me, and I selected one of the wrenches.   The original plan had been that he would use his ratchet wrench on the outside to quickly turn the bolts.   Me, holding onto the nut on the inside to keep them from spinning.   Initially anyway, something failed in that plan.  There was something in the way that prevented his wrench from working to speed the job.  We discussed it through the slits, like I was talking to the Good Father in the confessional.  In addition to keeping track of the exact placement of my feet, and my balance, it was decided I had to do the turning from the inside.  The bolts were long.  Lots of turning.  

After a minute or two, once the turning became rote, I didn’t have to focus quite so much.  It was then that movement in the top of vision that caused me to pause.  What happened next occurred to me a number of years ago that I do not confess even to my children.   But I can remember the next five minutes of my life as clearly as I can remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. (Just coffee, two cups.)  I glanced up initially and dropped my eyes back down again.   It took a few seconds of processing time.  Then I slowly moved my eyes back up.   About a foot above my head there was a paper wasp nest.   It extended from the gable end of the house about three feet back on the rafters over the top of me.  It was the largest such nest I have ever seen, including even today with the help of google as I was confirming they were paper wasps.

That nest was literally crawling with walking wasps.  I suppose it was the springtime hatch.  But none of them were flying.   I suppose maybe had we done this part of our task list at one in the afternoon, the sun shining on the black roof above me, there would have been a little more activity.  But as it was, about three pm standard time, that’s getting towards evening in the frozen wasteland in which we live.  In the attic it was just cold enough to keep those bastards semi dormant.   I whispered through the slits “There’s wasps!”   “WHAT? “ he shouted.   “Wasps!” I whisper-yelled in return.   I did my job, I did not pee my pants, and I got out.  I just know that if even one of those wasp’s would have taken flight, I would have freaked the fuck out and fallen through the ceiling into the living room below me.  But I didn’t, and the next day we were doing something else.

So any Facebook friend of the daughter of the town carpenter got more credit when they said I should have used flare fittings or they would eventually leak.  I told The Naughty Bookeeper's friend I felt I had done the best thing, spouted some quoted text from a page I googled.  I promised I would keep an eye on them.  Since then I have sort of.  I poked at them once in a while with a finger. But once I got the temporary countertop in I haven’t been doing as good of job I admit that.   No gas smells, it had to be tight.   

But then, as preparation for going to Craigie’s house to put in that countertop, I needed to get the last of the expanding foam in to seal up that wall.   The weather had turned cold again and I needed to warm up the van to get the foam to work.   So I went to the shop.

Pulling out the countertop, and  getting some last bits done I gave those gas pipe connections a poke when it had been admittedly three or four weeks, damned if they didn’t wiggle.   A little additional wiggling around and I could smell gas.   

I didn’t have the parts to fix it.   I knew that.   It was to late to get to the big box lumber.   I stayed at the shop that night and it was the following morning the owner of the shop showed up early and caught me there.   You now know the rest of the story.   The next day I drove the van home to my house and spent the weekend redoing the gas lines over to flare fittings.   I can see now why they failed.   It was the wiggling around.   The compression fittings more or less form a fulcrum at the waist of the band that surrounds the pipe.   Any wiggling, out on the end of the pipe (the lever) cause the soft copper of the pipe to be deformed inside the fitting.   This will lead to leaks.   Compression fittings might be fine for your ice fishing house but not a vehicle that is twisting and flexing it’s way down the road.  Save yourself the agony I and use flare fittings on your pipes.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Countertop Install

Look how pretty my floor is by now!   I feel really great about getting this much of it in and being able to look at it.  But here is the problem.  I can’t really go much further.   My plan has been to make frames (holes) in the finished floor down to the subfloor that the table legs will drop down into.  I think this will make for a really solid table leg.   I now realize, because of the whole experience of installing the frame around the floor vent, that making something like this is no trivial job.  I can’t go much further in building the floor until I have the table legs positioned.  I will have to build a mockup of the table, then I can build the two legs, get them all ready to attach to a table, I can use them to position the blocks on the floor.   Really I can’t position the legs until I have the leg set built.  So it is a series of catch-22s.

I know now that to build this frame into the floor I need to have some space leading up to it to begin to plan where the seams will line up.  So the flooring is partially done but now on hold.  

My main news is last night I went to my friend Craigie’s house and we installed the kitchen countertop.   He had put his hands on a 56 inch length of Paperstone.   I needed 52 inches, so this piece was perfect!   If you are not familiar with Paperstone, it is just that.  It is made out of recycled paper and a non-petroleum based resin, hard as a rock.  You wouldn’t think much of it really from hearing that description but I tell you what, it is a great material!  

Remember when I mentioned how hard Paperstone is?   Here is an example.   Craigie was cutting the straight runs with a skilsaw with a new blade.   He could only cut a few inches at a time because the blade would heat up so much it would warp and bind in the cut.    I was cutting the round corners of the sink and cooktop.   I put a new blade in my jigsaw.   I would cut an inch, and it cut pretty well.   The next two inches were not near so easy and by the fourth inch, that blade was shot.   I used five blades in the process of cutting eight corners!

I mentioned this a while back but I took a material saving shortcut in building the floor to ceiling shelf.   Because a sheet of plywood is 48 inches wide, I cut it in half to get two pieces at 24.   But really I only got twenty two inches of that by the time I got it shaped to fit the exterior wall of the van.   On the other end though, where the cooktop is going to be, I absolutely needed the 24 inches, as clearance for the flame of the burner.   In my temporary, particle board countertop, I accounted the need for this by making a jog, out and around the cooktop.   Doing this in the Paperstone however, would be a much greater problem.  Shaping and smoothing an inside corner would be very difficult.

We used my particle board top as a template.   I hadn’t done a real good job of cutting it out.  It was after all just a prototype.   For one thing it wasn’t cut real square so we marked on the board a couple of places where we had to add a little to the size.   We cut a long taper from the stove jut-out to 3/4” beyond where my floor to ceiling shelf will line up with it.   That way I will be able to put a trim strip on the front of the shelf and cover the plywood edge.

I was a little bummed out because I bought an under the counter mount sink and these don’t work well at all with Paperstone.   For one thing, there is the shaping of the inside corner again.   Maybe it could have been done with a drill-sized drum sander and a whole passel of sanding drums.  I bet it would have been a time consuming job to make this corner look nice.   But beyond this, another “problem” with Paperstone is nothing sticks to it.  In use this is a great feature.  This us the attribute that makes it so stain resistant.  But in this case it is a disadvantage because even silicone adhesive won’t stick for very long.   Proven to us in fact because it had previously mounted to a counter using silicone and when I was cleaning the peice up, getting ready to start making and cutting it, that bead of silicone pulled off easily and cleanly in one big long rubbery strip.   It was easy and the Paperstone wasn’t marked or stained in any way.  

We could have maybe gotten around this non-stick issue by building a support frame under the sink but it all really seemed like just too much work.   I guess I will live with my surface mounted sink.  First world problems!

Being in the business, Craigie has every size of Milwaukee hole saw imaginable.   We were able to find exactly the right size for cutting the faucet hole and soap dispenser.   But, I could tell by the bottom of drilling the holes I was going to be buying him a couple of new holesaw blades too.  I don’t think any other type of bit would have cut it.   I have a hunk of the scrap we cut off and one of the things I wanted to try was to see exactly how long a spade bit would last.   I am guessing not long.

We popped it in for a test fit and it was neigh on perfect so we pulled it back out and cut the sink and stove holes.

Even though the material is really hard we decided it would still be a good idea to put a strip along the bar to keep it from sagging.  For this, Criagie had some oak door trim.   We glued and screwed it to the plywood of the wall.

Then to smooth the front cut edge we used a belt sander.   Belt sanders to me are always a bit of a dangerous tool.   They move a lot of abrasive surface area in a very short amount of time.   So it is usually very easy to cut too deep and put a gouge in your project.   Of course we didn’t have that issue with this material.   It really took a long time of sanding to get even our very small saw marks out of the edge.   This again reenforced the realization that sanding the inside corners of  either the jog, or the undercounter sink corners would have been impossible.

Finally as a last step we used a router and cut a round over on the front top edge.  Once done with that stop we installed it.  The install was simply a matter of laying down a bead of silicone along the back and two sides and sitting the counter top in place.  True, as I said the silicone won't hold it under great upward pressure, but to keep it from sliding around it works perfect.  

Each time I complete one of these monumental projects I am amazed what this cargo van is becoming.  

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Mess of Wires. The Building Process.

Here is how I go about building projects.  I spend a lot of time researching and planning.  During the planning phase diagrams must be created.   Floor plans, elevational drawings and sketches.   Sometimes scale models.  Once in a while a particularly complex and integral custom part might need to be created.  —A part with out which, the entire project would fail.  In this components' building is the very proof the project would succeed.  But once researched, planned, drawn and even in the latter case an element built  …sometimes after all of this is done, I just abandon the whole thing.  For really, once the planning is all done, the actual building of the project is rather anti climatic isn’t it?  The Wife can read you a list of these I have had over the years.  She actually considers this a character flaw?! ;-)   Me?  I just have all these cool things I have been part of!

But on this project I am a little more involved.   Plus, I have you my audience, my confessors and friends, who are keeping me driven.   I don’t want you reproaching me at social occasions, emails and Facebook pokes when you ask me “Hey, how is that van project?” if I was still surfing couches.

What I do while actually building though is more of a draft.   Take the wiring for instance.   One of the first things I knew when designing this project was I wanted a light switch at the side door to turn on the main lights.   I knew beside the bed I needed a table.  I knew the table would have electrical needs.   Cell phone/laptop charging, rice cooker when the kitchen countertop is occupied.  Stuff like that.   

I build like the AD/HD man I am. (Squirrel!)  I installed that light switch by the door but the table is so far only a rough draft on a sheet of paper.   I left a loop of wire in the table’s spot where I know something is going to happen, I just don’t know what.   I did the same thing on the other side of the van as I built the floor to ceiling shelf.   I know this is going to be a central hub of wires, switches and information, but I didn’t know what.   So during this phase of building I had several loops of wire hanging down.  As I put more stuff in I left a foot or two of slack in the wires in case the switch I plan on putting at the top of the shelf really needs instead to be put at the bottom.  Some of the wires even had switches wired to them hanging in mid air.

It isn't really as messy as it looks.
As a quick aside, I have mentioned, this is really my first non-lethal-voltage wiring job.   So the consequences of these light switches hanging in space were essentially nil.  Sure, if I bump one against the other there might be a small spark and I blow a fuse, but that is the extent of it.  Yet I found myself reaching very slowly toward them anytime I wanted to turn the lights on.  Touching them only by their safe grounded edges just like if they were the 120 volt light switches in your house.  The ones that could kill you if you touch the wrong spot.  It was just funny when I would catch myself, basically every single time.

Maybe because of this reason, this feels like a really big night.   I used my new Dewalt jigsaw with a fresh blade to cut two square holes in the floor to ceiling shelf.   These holes were for three switches and one four port USB charger.  I made the holes just large enough to allow the screws from the cover plate to pass through unimpeded.  Then into these holes I mounted in the charger and two wired switches.  Into the forth spot I installed and unwired switch I will some day use to control two all weather LED strip lights up on the roof rack.   —If some late night somebody knocks on the door, I want to be able to flip a switch and light up the surrounding area pretty good.

Eventually I got the cover plates mounted and some handy little labels taped above the switches to help me remember what they are.   With this they really look great from the front.  From the back they are still pretty rough.   I still have loops of wire because I wanted to keep my options open.   It is those fine details of a plan that I work on later.   For now it is just a rough in.   Coming up I am going to have hours of living in this van.  I will go in and rewire and shorten all of these wires once I am absolutely certain I know where everything is going to go.

I mentioned a while back that my friend Craigie told me he could likely find me a hunk of countertop.   He is a carpenter to the class of people who rip out a hundred thousand dollar kitchen to put in a new hundred thousand dollar kitchen.  So in his day to day life he comes across salvage countertop every once in a while.  With the floor to ceiling shelf installed I had put in a temporary countertop mostly to test fit the cooktop and confirm it’s orientation.   

But the particle board I used was only half inch.   Not really strong enough to hold much of anything even with the brace I stuck under it.   I figured I should either build something more permanent or at least stronger.   Or, should just give up on getting something free?   Buy either countertop or maybe some butcherboard. --Strong but very heavy.  I was wavering in my decision.   I decided to text him and see what he felt the odds really were of finding something.

He wrote back fairly quickly saying he thought the odds were fairly good.   What he didn’t expect was just such a piece would land in his lap about fifteen minutes later.  Fate lending a hand, or a countertop, as it were.   This time in the form of a kitchen showroom where he was picking up some materials for another job.   The owner said, “We are throwing all this stuff out.   You want any of it?”  There on the top of the pile was a hunk of Paperstone countertop just four inches longer than what I needed.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The First of the Flooring

It has been a long time since I have written.  I blame that mostly on life.  Building a van, and writing about building a van, were both cutting in on it.   I still had a few articles in the pipeline and I will push these out first, then bring you up to date.

The time I have been waiting for in this whole project is starting.   Installation of the hardwood floor.   Here I am actually already a step ahead.  I already have some flooring left over from a bedroom remodel in my old house.   Plus I have done some hardwood flooring before.   Mostly Johnny Menards specials -- oak, unfinished wood that has a surface rough enough to four-wheel across once you get it installed.   Plus, in that wood there is often a lot of short pieces, knots, chip-outs, etc. so you end up wasting more as you install it.   It is more work because unless you really want to waste wood, you end up cutting a lot of tongue and grooves to use the wood on both sides of a bad spot.  They say you should measure the square feet of your floor and add ten percent.   So I did that, plus I added an extra ten because of what I am used to.   But here is the difference.   I live in Amish country now.   I ordered black walnut flooring from an Amish man in a neighboring town.   It cost me Menards grade-two-oak pricing ($4 sq/ft) but the difference is, this Amish flooring is perfect.   Smooth, long lengths, perfectly milled and it fit together like a puzzle.  I re-floored that bedroom (it was also less work to assemble because it fit together so perfect) and ended up with a big’ol stack of wood left over.  I only need about fifty square feet for the van.

The vent hole, cut into the floor.  
I tell you what though, it was a funny situation that day I was picking up that flooring along with some eight inch black walnut trim and other millwork.  I really wasn’t thinking and I brought The Wife with me.   She runs toward short skirts and has bright pink hair.  And the thing was, the boss was away from the mill that day.  The oldest son was in charge, so the shop was running a little loose.  I hadn’t paid yet, not even a down payment when I ordered it a month earlier.   The son and I headed off to the office where the bill had to be calculated.  The boy was nervous with his maths.   It took some serious cypherin’, and four repetitions to get a one-to-three tie breaker answer.   Meanwhile out in the shop those Amish men had never seen anything quite like that at the sawmill.   There were about six of them sort of orbiting around.  Trying to look like they were working.  She tried to talk to them a little but when she did, they were tongue-tied blushing and looking at their shoes.  I had never had so much help loading the pickup.

Cutting just a bit more from the bulkhead door.  I did a taper
cut from about a quarter inch out on the outside to nothing
next to the hinges.
The bedroom flooring project was done three years ago and I have had this stack of wood sitting ever since.   Shortly after I decided this whole van thing was something that was going to happen, I knew what the flooring would be.   I checked online a few places and saw it had been done before.   I have been waiting ever since to put in the first of it.  

In my research I learned it was good to install it on the bias (that is to say, diagonal) on the floor.   Remember, you aren’t building a house here.  You are building a structure that routinely has to twist.  Diagonal layout better allows the van to flex in all directions than if the flooring is square.   It didn’t take me installing very many pieces to be really happy this was the case.   Looks-wise, this floor is way more interesting than if the floor ran length-wise.

Cutting with a sawzall this
close to the floor caused
me to gouge it out some
from the tip of the blade.
However, that said, it was at least five times the work to install it this way.  The majority of the first pieces went through the saw about seven times, cutting angles and T&G before they were ready to install.   Throw in a couple instances of  “shoulda measured twice” and it was a long night for what seems like very little accomplishment.  Still though, I think it is amazing to see that flooring laying there.

To start this out, the first thing I did was crawl under the van with a drill.   I put four holes, one in each corner, up through the insulation and sub-floor, into the van.  Thus marking the corners where back in the beginning of this project I had number one son and his friend cut a hole for what will eventually be my floor vent.   Once I had the holes, I drew a line between them and used my jigsaw to cut out the block.   When I did it, I threw that block in the trash.  Now, as I type this out tonight sitting in my night parking lot, I hope the trash doesn’t get emptied tomorrow.   I want to pluck that block back out of there.   I will attach the block onto the plywood square I made to cover the hole.  Winterizing is as easy as keeping the block in.  (I will be making a window screen cover as well, so I can keep it open as a vent and keep the bugs out.)

Craft paper, covering the sub-
floor, ready for some walnut!
Doing some more looking into this as I prepared to move on to laying flooring I realized I had made a mistake.   Though I had cut off my bulkhead door back as one of the first steps, I cut it off straight.  However the door actually sags.  So, on the end of the swing it was hanging down too far to allow the flooring.  Additionally, with the bulkhead wood in place, I didn't have the ability to remove the door again.   I just figured this was something I would never have to do.  I ended up cutting it in place, though I gouged out the sub floor a bit doing it.

Next, I built a frame out of the hardwood flooring to go around the vent hole.   All the flooring that butts up against this frame will need to have the groove cut into the angle so the flooring locks together.  The same at the bulkhead doorway, where those pieces will all need a tongue cut in them.  It is amazing to see it going into place!

Frame built from the flooring.  This goes
around the floor vent hole.
Some things I am discovering…   The LED lights I bought cheap at a certain Big Box Lumber causes the watt/volt/AH meter I bought to blink and appear to reset.   The lights are really cool and have to stay somehow, but the information from the meter is going to be really valuable.  As it now sits I have the LED lights wired straight into the fuse panel in the back.  Then I have a wireless remote I can use to change the light colors and brightness.   As I have the meter wired in right now in the floor to ceiling shelf, about every minute or three the panel zeros like it is reseting, then changes to what look like the correct numbers.   So it isn’t like it is losing any information or anything.   But, rather worrisome.

Let me talk to you a little bit about what van life is like.   Last week I charged up the van in the shop on Wednesday night so I was at 100% when I left there at midnight.  I turned on the LED lights for about an hour, charged my device and laptop. Thursday night I begged off van work and spent two hours in a bar.  So in the van, the furnace was not turned on until eleven pm.  When I got back I ran heat, charging laptop/device, LED lights for two hours.  Friday I turned off the heat in the morning and the van was empty over  the weekend.

Monday at one in the afternoon I popped out to the parking lot and turned on the heat.   At one thirty pm, The Wife arrived from the city park she had been enjoying.  I left my desk and joined her for a nap in the back.   I tell you what, the van sleeps better with a warm body next to you.  No doubt about that.   At two thirty my alarm went off and I had to return to public service.   The Wife, all warm and cozy said she would sleep just a bit longer.    She was staying in town this day to pick up Number One son and his girlfriend, just back from far off warm places.  She had to pick them up at three.   

In the meantime, I was in contact with Number One Son and they were running late.   I did a family finder on my iPod and guessed The Wife was sound asleep.  I texted her several times, never got an answer.   Finally I walked out there a little after four and woke her up.   Obviously the van sleeps just fine without a warm body beside you as well.   Those blackout shades I installed work great!

After two nights of work, the flooring is
looking great!
There were other cars at the shop tonight.   A bummer because unlike the the night before, I was really looking forward to getting in and getting some things done.   But here is the deal.   There is another project going on in the shop tomorrow night.   I can’t get in.   The silver lining of all this means I will have run four nights full occupancy and two cold weekend nights where theoretically nothing is being used, since the batteries were last charged.    So it will be interesting to see how much percent my batteries will be drawn down.