Category Archives: Fiberglass Camper Reno

Camper painted

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*  highlights from hindsight, aka “Learn from our mistakes”:  Prop the roof of the camper up before you get it spray foamed- it will solidly hold the form it is in when it’s sprayed.  Also put the windows and roof vent in and mask them all off good with garbage bags, before spraying.  See this post. Take foam off in little layered chunks instead of trying to make it smooth – see near end of this post.

There’s been progress on the camper front.  After a long hiatus, we’ve got it painted inside (mostly).

IMGP4682This stage was delayed because in order to paint inside, we really needed to be able to pull everything out of the inside, and that meant having a roof to move everything into.

But at long last we did it.  When we pulled all our stuff out we got to fix a few things, add some screws where strain had been showing, replace the floor underneath the bed, run new wires to the brakes, and a few other adjustments and improvements.

You can see how happy he is about it
You can see how happy he is about it

The big job was definitely carving the spray foam insulation.  As we were advised, we got some bread knives from goodwill and went at it by hand.  Whoowee, what a job.  H.W. did the majority of the labour while I was fidgeting with other things, but what a task.  Early on we surrendered the idea of making it look good, or smooth.  That was out of the question.

And how happy I am
And how happy I am

Even flexible knives are hard to work when held in a curve, and that gets old over time.  Then the blades lift little crumbs and chunks out of the foam.

It didn’t look very good, and it was tough sawing away, really tough to work with arms overhead for so long.  We decided we’d be satisfied with more consistent headroom and taking down the major protrusions.

On the bright side, it improved greatly when it was painted.

IMGP4691The carving was long and hard and exhausting.   All the crumbs of foam clung to us all over with static electricity and trailed us around like PigPen.  It was a huge mess.  We ruled out the sander early – it made an even finer, messier dust and didn’t have great results.  The grit immediately filled with foam and was useless.

IMGP4688So it looked bad, and we let go of that and  just beavered away at it until we couldn’t take it any more.  H.W.’s thumb sustained some damage from flexing the knife all the time and had to have  a day off.  I emptied a couple cans of expanding foam in little voids, hidden cutouts, and burying the tail light wires into the wall.  It acts like glue, really sealing the framing into the body of the camper.  I also sealed the edge of the arborite sheet we laid down under the bed as floor with foam.

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We generated four bags of garbage and spend ages vacuuming every inch of surface

Next we painted, and things went from bad to worse.  Rolling was out of the equation with the irregular surface so we dabbed and dabbed and dabbed with brushes.  The foam and all the pores and gaps in it sucked it right up, so that we ran out of paint early and just barely were able to cover the visible areas, leaving orange in all the cupboard spaces.  IMGP4709That was a really depressing stage.  It’s one thing when you see results for hard work, and another when it takes longer and is harder than you expect and it doesn’t look good.

The rough foam prevented painting (cutting) a tight line against the wood trim around the windows, or the cupboards, or countertop, or anywhere.  Ugh.

DAP to the rescue!  I decided latex caulking is pretty much paint, only thicker.  I caulked around all the windows, really pressing the tip into the foam and smearing it out into the painted area.  IMGP4743We were using untinted paint and brilliant white caulk; this may not fly so well with coloured paint.  The expanding foam out of the can, much less dense than the spray foam, accepts the caulking much better; it kind of permeates and impregnates the foam, hardening stiff.  And once there’s a bead around the edge, it’s much easier to paint up to.  So caulking saved the day, making clean transitions between foam and Corex and shelves, etc.

What we didn’t expect was how the look of the painted foam would change.  The parts that really looked good after painting were where I had taken slices out of the foam in layers, sometimes it made a herringbone pattern.  IMGP4786This was largely my work, as I’d gotten lazy and was just trying to take down the material and not make it fancy, hacking chunks out.  Painted, that looks kind of cool, almost like rock.  I suggest tackling foam in this way from the beginning.  There’s going to be texture one way or another.

Slicing layer after layer is an easier motion to make, too.  Slice in and snap off the chunk of foam.

*Oh! Crucial advice- we were using dressmaker's pins at all times, constantly checking our depth to make sure we never got too thin on the insulation.  We kept it a consistent incn and a quarter to inch and a half deep.
*Oh! Crucial advice- we were using dressmaker’s pins at all times, constantly checking our depth to make sure we never got too thin on the insulation. We kept it a consistent inch and a quarter to inch and a half deep.

Doesn't show up quite the same with flashAfter that, it was just reinstalling the Corex/Coroplast we’d unscrewed to paint around, putting the doors back on,and reloading all our stuff.  The whole event was about five days.

It doesn’t look bad.  It’s much brighter with all the white, the curtains look sharp, and there’s more clearance everywhere.  The painted foam is sealed, no longer crumbly.  Inside closets where the foam was cut down and not painted, it sheds crumbs at a regular rate.  Someday I’d like to seal all that in with paint too.

Foam around the base of the wall over edge of arborite

There are still touchups and more caulking to do, because we didn’t have the luxury of time to really finish the minutiae, but the big things are done, and importantly, we shouldn’t have to dismantle the camper again, or even move out of it wholesale.

It’s sort of adobe like, or like stucco.  It’s a cozy natural texture.

Closer to finished!

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Last camper post, and the full collection of posts about our fiberglass egg reno.

Accessory shelves

Here are some little shelves we made for the kitchen.  So simple.

Curved piece of plywood with a little strip of Corex on the edge to hold stuff in, carved into the hard foam, and attached at one point to the window frame.  That’s all.

After it was all dry fit, I shot a squirt of expanding foam in the cut in the foam, then put the wood in to stay.  I figure since that stuff’s basically glue, it’s there to stay when it dries, and it oozes out around the edges and fills all the voids.

We made bigger ones on the other side anchored to the fridge side cabinet, and H.W. made a couple for his little zone.
The rest of the camper project

Sigh, the wiring.

I learned a few things at this stage too, surprise surprise.  Converters and Inverters are different things (inverters change power down from 110V to 12v, converters convert power up from 12 to 110).  Batteries are finicky.

We have a 155W solar panel, and a 12V, 4amp fridge, the kind for truckers and tailgate parties that run off a lighter socket.  We’ve got a charge controller that I got with the panel, and then the converter that came with the camper, that also has a shore line.  Two deep cycle batteries of dubious condition.  Then a generator.  And a 2amp battery maintainer.  And a standalone converter unit, also for running off a vehicle lighter.

Figuring out how to put it all together involved a great deal of mental anguish, time on the internet learning about electricity (I was all good for Ohm’s Law, but when it came to the PEIR wheel I hit overwhelm), and looking for people who knew more than me that could explain stuff.

I think I hit an electrical turning point this time though.  By the end of it, it just all seemed so simple.  It just all follows back to what’s hot and what’s ground.  For years, that has not seemed simple at all, but it’s not so bad.

So without all the many hours involved in the learning curve and emotions, here’s what I did.  The solar panel is wired through its charge controller to the battery.  The charge controller is awesome, because it reads out the panel output or the battery charge.  The converter is suspect, so that is not wired to the batteries.  It’s a glorified extension cord.  It’s wired to the battery maintainer, though, so any time the camper is plugged into the genny or shore power, the batteries will be getting a little bit.

Continue reading Sigh, the wiring.

Buttoning up the cupboards


Shelves look pretty scrappy loaded with stuff without doors.  Frantic with the visual noise of all our belongings in such a little living space, we had to get doors on all the cupboards.

I had the idea that we could use Coroplast for everything that would otherwise be a thin panel board, like all the side walls of the cupboards.  I got the idea from Ikea.  I’d seen coroplast used in the door panels of one of their cupboard choices.  At the time I was annoyed with it.  “That stuff’s so cheap, and they’re selling it for how much?”  But it did look sleek.  We’re talking about the corrugated plastic that’s used for election campaign signs everywhere.

I had to sell H.W. on it, since it’s a plastic product.  I figured it would be extremely lightweight, plenty strong, attractive in its simplicity, easy to wipe clean, wouldn’t harbour or spread mold, and perhaps above all, installing it would be dreamy.  It was flexible, and it could be cut up with a knife, instead of taking multiple runs at it with a jigsaw (making all the curves).

It was all those things and more.  Oh, it was so easy to install.  I didn’t have to move.  I’d cut my piece, that took about 10 seconds, then carve away at the foam to make a slit to fit it in, then shave my piece a little (repeat, repeat), get it all snug in, and then slice off the outer edge if it was proud, all in situ.  Wow.  I was thrilled with that, thinking of the back and forthing with the saw if we were using wood- worse even than I’d imagined.  It was finicky work, but still went smooth and faster than anything else had.  I have a lot of respect for the original builders who were working with an uninsulated shell.  I screwed it on with wafer screws, which look flashy and modern.

The thing I didn’t expect, that I realized as soon as I got a couple sides up, was that it lets light through!  Instead of creating little caves when the sides go up, the insides of the cabinets are flooded with natural light still.  Continue reading Buttoning up the cupboards

Moving right along to the inside- camper floor and framing


It’s more comfortable to be working with wood again, that’s for sure. I hated the bondo and fiberglass. Unnatural stuff.

Now we’re into things that I recognize, we’re hitting the ReStore hard for various bits of wood. On this nearly dollhouse scale, scrap leftovers are more than adequate. For instance, we got our lovely countertop out of a partial box of bamboo floor.

The actual floor H.W. put together at the same time out of four pieces of salvaged hardwood click- the good kind, 3/16 of real hardwood, refinishable, on a plywood T+G base (as opposed to a digital photograph of wood glued onto a piece of composite plastic, like most laminate floor is).

H.W. glued the four pieces together and clamped them with truck straps, and then we had the central floor, floating on the rigid styrofoam.

Total cost for fabulous countertop and hardwood floor? $10. Such is the glorious bounty of the Re-store. Continue reading Moving right along to the inside- camper floor and framing

Camper comes together- windows and welds

In which, H.W. learns to weld, the camper gets its eyes back, and many sticks are thrown for the dog.

The Dog.

H.W. learned to weld real quick to install a system for the motorcycle to travel on the trailer.

  His talented friend generously encouraged H.W. to visit and learn, and H.W. made some very nice welds welding on the arch that protects the egg,  and that the bike ties off to, and some tiedown points.

This whole motorcycle mount project was a bit long and involved, as we were pretty much making up the design in the store based on what sizes of steel angle iron and flat stock they had.

I cut up the aluminum with a ‘cip saw and the pro did the more exacting aluminum welding to make the laddered channel.  We bolted that onto the frame with U-bolts.  In theory, that way it can be swapped out for a toolbox, etc, if the bike doesn’t need to be transported.

-Moving on to the windows>

Voila- the Little Green Bug, the Aphid, the Ameracauna Egg…

OMG, we got it back!  So excited!  It looks so good, all shiny and new.  I love it one colour and I love the colour.  It’s bright in the sun and much darker and more olive-y in the shade.

The body shop guy was solicitous, going over and pointing out all the flaws in their paint job, especially the ones they couldn’t help.  We kept telling him, we don’t have a Mustang here, and we certainly didn’t pay for a Mustang finish. It was a fabulous job, and we got it for a budget price, no question.

Another thing about painting fiberglass- it has some weird property that it can have micro cracks that only show up when it’s painted.  They were minor, of course.  Our giant side patch turned out so well.  I was so proud.  It’s the largest smooth spot on the trailer now, and it’s so close to perfect.  At just the right angle with the right light the outline of the former holes are visible.  But who cares!

We spent the drive home thinking up names for it and also catching glimpses of it in the mirror and having a jolting moment of “What’s behind us?!”

I’m a big fan of the Aphid.  It’s exactly aphid colour.  But it’s totally an Ameracauna Egg!  It’s a fiberglass egg – a green one.  Hahaha!

Painting

After going over every inch of that camper with sandpaper and primer and filler, we knew the features of that shell like skin.  There are lots of flaws from the original molding that I’d never seen before.  After the intensive body work, though, it looked so much better to me.  Primed, as it were, to step into a new stage of life, renewed by paint.

We made one last stop on the way to dropping off the camper to see one more  rack of paint swatches.  That and we’d run out of primer.  We did our final priming and sanding touches in the parking lot of Lowe’s.

It was really tough to imagine a tiny square of colour over the whole camper, let alone how it would translate in the sunshine.  We were settled on a very tight range of tones in green, but there were still many hesitations. Was it too light?  Too pretty?  Too pastel?

The cost had made our decision to have it all one colour.  It was considerably more to have it two tone, so it was an easy choice to go one colour.  It will make it look more like a Boler.

Among the many other things I knew nothing about in the realm of automotive body work was something about paint.  Most cars are painted with a two stage process.  One stage for colour, then a clear coat.  This is more expensive (much more), and apparently it’s not the right thing to do on fiberglass.  Not everyone does the older style of single stage painting any more, where they mix the clear coat or “glossifying” agent in with the colour.  There’s more, about matching colour painted on plastic bumpers versus metal, and “side colour”, the tone of paint as seen from the side.  It’s a science.  We heard the dramatic price difference and sought out single stage please; one colour, sure.

When we brought it in we got good reviews on our bondo work and were approved to drop it off.

It was a big step, dropping the whole camper off in the back lot of the body shop and leaving it behind.  Totally different than leaving the chassis to get work done.  We’d spent so much time with it lately, and now we were just going to drive away and wait.  On the other hand, it was a relief to stop vacillating about paint colours.  We’d cast the dye.

Last look at the camper in its vintage two tone.

 

Great body! Bondo and sanding

While the chassis was gone on its welding and powdercoating improvement journey, the egg was “up on blocks”, and its time for the body work.

We went out to get our supplies, and learning from the last stage, to do preliminary research on the cost of painting the egg after it was all prepared.  Insert parade of idiots and outrageous quotes here, and cut to a couple beneficent guys standing in stores with us giving us crucial instructions, and one angel of a guy at a body shop who broke down every stage of what we needed to do.

We had to clean it all with a scotchbrite pad and comet.  Giving it this “mechanical scratch” is enough for the paint to bond.  For our repair patches, we had to build up the bondo and sand it down, sanding and refining with a primer/filler, arriving at a grit of 4-600!  That sounded insanely fine to me, coming from woodworking, but for automotive finishes, 400 grit is not fine enough.

The hardeners were different colours. At this stage of the bondo, it was mixing pink. See giant patch almost blending with shell now.

Fiberglass is an unusual animal, and it turns out it’s not very well liked in the automotive world.  Too finicky.  It shrinks and holds paint differently, and it doesn’t bond with bondo (automotive filler) that same way. Over the fiber, there’s a gel coat that ages with exposure and gets dull, like old boats do.  He suggested that we could dispense with painting it and just restore the original surface by buffing out the gel coat.  “To preserve the original colours because they were so nice?” I asked.  No way was I doing all that work for 1970’s orange.

Continue reading Great body! Bondo and sanding

Up and off: chassis welding and powdercoating

For the next stage, we had to separate the chassis and the egg.  Six bolts through the 1″ plywood of the floor and the fiberglass into the frame were all that held them together.  However, bolts attacked for years by road salts don’t have threads any more.  They were just little chunks of rust.  We got under the jacked up camper with a sawzall and cut them off.

Once the egg was free, it was so light that H.W. could lift one side of it at a time.  The frame and the egg have a step in them, and the form of the egg sits between the wheels.  Even with the wheel off, the egg still has to lift over the hub, and we weren’t thrilled about just dragging all the weight of the fragile fiberglass across the hub.  H.W. lifted, and I jammed in bits of lumber, and we levered and pushed and adjusted, and eventually slid the egg over the hub,  off the frame, and to its resting place on some pallets and plywood without incident.

There they are, apart.

The chassis looked awfully flimsy without the egg, and it sure bounced around on the highway, squeaking and crashing around behind us.  We drove it all over looking for advice and somebody to do some welding for us.   We wanted a bike rack made, some improvements to the frame, and possibly to have the axle replaced, before having it painted.

This stage of research was characterized by a lot of driving, wild goose chases, and a whole parade of idiots telling us what to do, punctuated by the occasional bright spot of clear and good advice.  Like, the guy getting into his truck next to us at yet another sandblasting place, after yet another exorbitant quote from someone else who wouldn’t be able to bring it in for “another couple weeks at least”, who said “Have you considered powdercoating it?  You should talk to this guy, just up the road, I’m on my way there right now, you should follow me over.”  We let go of painting the chassis then, and turned to powdercoating.

We stood in parking lots in the rain asking RV repair people and trailer people and welding people and painting people about what we needed done, and they threw out numbers I recognized as “I don’t want to touch this job with a long stick but if you’re stupid enough to pay me this much I guess I’ll do it” quotes.  Continue reading Up and off: chassis welding and powdercoating

Camper gets cozy: spray foam insulation

Spray foam day!  Over a year after initially inquiring about the qualities of this soy-based spray-on insulation typically used for sealing basement walls, I finally had the guy over to spray my camper.

The contractor came with a big self-contained work trailer with his compressor/engine/miles of hose and drums of product.  He fired it up- it was very noisy, sounded diesel, and took some time to prepare.  I was too tired to get nosy but I gathered that there was compressed air, then the liquid product that must be pumped or pressurized somehow, delivered in two hoses and mixed at the gun as it’s sprayed on the walls.

The very beginning

A third hose is supplied air to his breathing apparatus.  He suited up and got into his breathing mask, dragged all the hoses from the trailer to the camper, and began.  He knelt on the floor and did systematic side to side passes with the gun, occasionally doing a depth check by stabbing it with a screwdriver.  He sprayed over the walls and wheel wells and ceiling until it was all one puffy peach coloured surface.  It didn’t take very long.  It had no smell, inert as soon as it dried (almost instantly).  Continue reading Camper gets cozy: spray foam insulation

Camper reno: adventures in fiberglass

Before the camper could be insulated, there was some work to be done.

First, it needed to be dug out of the snow.  I almost got my truck stuck in the axle deep mud hiding under the dense old snow. (This was March), the shoulder season of melt water almost flowing underneath heavy snow .  Plus it rained mid-mission, so it was absolutely the worst timing for excavating the camper.

The original  interior surface layer was a sort of textured beige vinyl with a quarter inch of foam backing glued on to the fiberglass surface.  A whole quarter inch of “insulation”, wow!  Either time or the heat or the original glue had that layer so stubbornly adhered to the fiberglass that when I was tearing it off originally, only the vinyl came off like wallpaper, leaving the meat of the foam behind, which is black.

So I had to finish scraping out the vestiges of black foam with a drywall knife.  Sometimes it would come away in satisfying chunks, sometimes only in crumbs (which had a great knack for finding cuffs and collars.  At any rate, it was tedious, slow, and tiring.  A never ending task.  Naturally, the overhead stuff was the most difficult, probably baked on by 40 years of sun.

Mostly done chipping away

Next, the fiberglass repair.  This was my first experience with fiberglass resin, and I have to say it put me over the edge.  I used to think Acoustiseal was bad, and wire fencing worse.  Now, what I wish on my worst enemies is that they will someday have to do overhead fiberglass resin repairs.

Officially, the most diabolical product EVer.  Continue reading Camper reno: adventures in fiberglass