Upgrading Speakers while Retaining the Original Trim (Speaker Housing)

I’ve been using a portable Bluetooth speaker in the Airstream, but with as much time as I’m spending in there these days, it’s time for something a little more “serious.”  The 5.25″ speakers from 1972 are unlistenable, and I really wanted to keep the original trim (the speaker covers), so I hopped online to  research car speakers that would work.  I didn’t need anything “crazy,” and was happy to find a set of Infinity car speakers (REF-5022cfx) with great reviews for $50.

When they arrived, I placed them in the original speaker housing, and while the diameter was a perfect fit, the “tweeter” portion of the speaker protruded too far from the “woofer” portion, and thus pressed up against the grill of the housing.  This was a pretty easy fix, but it did take a little while to scavenge the perfect objects to use for stand-offs/spacers (rubber grommets).  I tried both plastic and rubber, and rubber was definitely the way to go.  Not only does it have some give, but it also helps reduce vibration between the speaker and housing.  I also ended up using rubber washers to replace the original nuts that hold the speakers in place.

The new speakers were already quite a bit deeper than the originals (larger magnets, deeper cone, additional tweeter component, etc.), so I knew I would need to cut away quite a bit of the insulation behind the speaker housing to accommodate the new speaker depth.  I cut away the existing 1.5 inches of polyiso insulation, then TremPro’d a 1/2″ sheet of polyiso panel to the exterior skin behind the speaker hole and sealed everything back up with 3M foil tape to make sure there wouldn’t be any drafts from behind the speaker grates.

Because all this insulation is foil-faced, and since I used foil tape to seal everything up, I made sure to cover the posts on the speaker with electric tape so there wouldn’t be any metal-on-metal contact.

Before placing the speakers back in the wall, I hooked them up to take a listen, and was extremely disappointed by the thin sound, especially since so many of the reviews specifically commented on how great the bass was for these 5.25″ speakers.   I realized that actually placing them on/in the wall would increase surface area and create more vibration and reflection, but I didn’t realize just *how* much of a difference placement would make.  They actually sound great!

So now I have permanent front speakers that I can use with my temporary audio set up (a 12v powered Bluetooth receiver/amp that I feed with either my phone or the television) until I decide what I will be using for the whole-house media system.  (More on that in a future post!)

 

Laminating the Dinette Kick with Salvaged Aluminum Skin

Today I put the finish on the dinette kick by laminating salvaged aluminum sheet (interior skin) to the front surface.  I’ve found that the 4×8 1/4″ “utility panel” at Lowe’s is the least expensive substrate I can find, and it’s actually a pretty decent product.  It’s readily available (always in stock), plenty strong (especially once you adhere aluminum to it!), and in a pinch can even take a coat of stain and look acceptable on its own.

I cut the new kick panel to size from a salvaged ceiling skin, and then adhered it to the face of the kick plate with DAP contact cement (used for laminating countertops and available at any big box/hardware store).  Because of the inner curve of the dinette corners, it didn’t take much to clamp the aluminum sheet in place (it basically stayed there on it’s own, but I clamped the upper edge to be sure it was nice and tight).  This was fortuitous, as I was not looking forward to building clamp plates to hold the sheet where it needed to be, especially at those inner corner radii.

The salvaged aluminum sheet had some rivet holes from it’s previous life as a ceiling, so I shot rivets through those existing holes to further secure the skin to the utility panel since the holes would need to be filled anyway.

I will eventually paint the skin to match the rest of the Airstream.

I think it came out looking really nice, and it is definitely a strong and sturdy surface that I don’t need to worry about when it gets kicked and banged over and over again for the next hundred years!

Things I Learned on Roadtrip #5

So… we’re getting there.  This is the first trip where things started being… genuinely comfortable.  We traveled over two thousand miles in nine days from Denver to Alamosa (via the mountainous highway 285) to ABQ to the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas and back.

All appliances function as they should.  We’ve got running water and drains, a working toilet (which is completely custom and water-less, though not quite perfected yet), a working dishwasher, kitchen cabinets for pantry storage, a powerful whole-house vacuum (a must-have with dogs), a dining table with seating, television with game console (N64!), propane heat, air conditioner, a Fantastic Van, and comfy beds.  The only major thing that’s missing is a water heater (and eventually the radiant heat system), but we didn’t really miss it on this trip, even though there were times when outside temps were below freezing (in a pinch, if you really need warm water to wash up with, you can always heat up a pot on the stove).

I still need a more permanent window covering solution (we’re currently using panels that fit inside each window cavity), but I’m getting close on that.

The Fewer Things You Have to Move for Access the Better

I made the dinette seating so you can keep bins below for “utility stuff” and other sundries (extension cords, bungees, lantern, tape, velcro, etc.), as well as access to the 12v system (batteries, converter/conditioner, and 12v fuse panel).  While it’s really nice having all that storage space, it really is a pain to have to move people, cushions, and anything else sitting on the bench before lifting the bench panels to get at the things you need.  And I found out quickly that I need to get at those things a LOT more often than I anticipated (don’t even think about keeping dog food under your seating!).

Future builds will definitely include a larger exterior-access utility bay for tools and other “heavy utility” things, and I am still working on ways to make the under-seating storage better without resorting to front-access panels/doors/drawers (I don’t like the look or the function of front access storage at feet level).

You Can Use a Lot Less Water Than You Might Think

Because I’m still dealing with freezing temperatures (March in the mountains), I have been testing out an auxiliary interior water tank system.  I found a nice looking 10 gallon, silver colored Thermos drink cooler (like you’d use at a Soccer or Football game).  I removed the bung/spout where you’d get your drink from, and replaced it with a valve that hooks directly to the water pump.  This trip was 11 days long (including two days in the driveway), and I only filled the tank once.  To be fair, we never ran the dishwasher, but I tested that before we left, and a full load of dishes only uses three gallons of water.  So teeth brushing, washing up (there was a lot of that with all the work on the Tow Vehicle), cleaning dishes, etc. didn’t use more than around 15 gallons for the two of us for 11 days in the desert (CO, NM, AZ, NV).  I’m sure we’ll use more in the summer, but that’s kind of the beauty of the auxiliary tank for winter use when temps are below freezing outside the Airstream.

Put a Conveniently Located Switch on Your Water Pump

After several stops where water was evident in the sink, on the countertop, and in various other places, it became apparent that it would be a good idea to shut off the water pump while driving.  At first I was just removing the fuse, but it’s a pain to access on a regular basis, so I decided to mount an on/off switch next to the kitchen sink to control the water pump.

Dogs Make a Huge Mess

There doesn’t seem to be any way around this. Towels and carpet are the only apparent “solution,” but they can only do so much (catch dirt and water to make it a bit easier to clean up).  A “buffer area” outside the door (under an awning with a rug) would be a good step, but we aren’t quite there yet.  Luckily I’ve got the whole house vacuum installed, so we could perform a “meaningful” clean up whenever we had an electrical hookup.  And the dogs had to learn to sleep on the floor on this trip.  There’s just no way 11 days on the road can be comfortable with two 80 pound, adventurous (meaning: covered in nature’s filth) beasts in your bed.

Your Refrigerator Might Not Be Closing All the Way

I couldn’t figure out why our fridge wasn’t getting cold enough.  I switched between propane, 120v, and 12v, but it just wasn’t getting much below 50 degrees F.  I tried cleaning the exhaust flue and making sure the exhaust fans were working.  I adjusted the propane flame.  I messed with the thermostat and the thermistor (the wire attached to the fins inside the fridge).  Nothing was changing the situation.  Finally I realized there was a small gap around the door and the door wasn’t sealing completely.  It turns out a plastic washer on the door hinge had worn away and the door was sitting slightly lower than it should have, thus it was rubbing against the bottom of the fridge and not closing completely.  This has also happened when items inside the fridge aren’t Tetris-ed perfectly.  Once I realized the door wasn’t actually closed (!!!) and fixed the problem with the washer hinge, our 50-year-old Dometic was back to keeping perfectly cool.

The Hensley Hitch is Massive Overkill for my Setup

With the ongoing issues I’ve had with the Hensley hitch (see other posts), I decided to use only the “back up hitch” on this trip (the kind with chain leveling bars and a small, friction-based sway bar).  It worked fine, and that included facing the huge trucks on Interstate 40 as well as crazy Arizona cross-winds.  The Hensley Hitch is still more of the “dream” while driving, but factoring in all the issues I’ve had with its inadequate design, plus the  added size and weight, I have decided that the standard WD Hitch works plenty fine for a 25ft. Airstream built to be a little lighter than factory issue… even when being pulled by my tiny Jeep Liberty CRD.  And the non-Hensley Hitch is certainly more dependable.

Exhaust Will Find a Way into an Unsealed Airstream

Things are still getting covered by a fine, black film/powder (particulate matter).  Obviously, diesel exhaust is easier to *see* than gasoline exhaust, thus, I am privy to just how much tow vehicle exhaust is still entering the Airstream.  This thing is sealed up like a drum… except where it’s not.  I currently have a drain running “open” (not to a tank), and I also haven’t sealed up the front panel where the tow vehicle electrical harness enters the Airstream.  I can see lots of diesel dust at those points of ingress.  It’s amazing how badly vehicle exhaust wants to be inside our trailer!  I am certainly looking forward to finally having things all sealed up and not having to deal with black dust anymore.

Dinette Kick

Just some updates for the current build…

Working on the dinette kick plate.  This is the bracing that goes behind the finished layer of aluminum to match the skins on the walls. The minor cracks in the radius of the curve won’t matter, because they will be behind a sheet of aluminum.

I’ve also included a couple pics of laying in the LVP (“luxury vinyl plank) flooring.

Painting the Interior

In my initial interior painting tests, I experimented with several readily available (Home Depot/Lowe’s/auto parts stores) spray paints for plastic.

While Krylon Fusion seems to be the only one that says “this is made specifically for plastic and bonds chemically with plastic” (paraphrasing the text on the can), I have read and been told that Rust-Oleum 2x Painter’s Touch bonds with plastic in a similar way.

The Krylon Fusion is many people’s go to, but it comes in very few color choices.

The Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2X Ultra Cover has MANY more color choices (though you are still much more limited than mixing your own or using a Latex wall paint).

Some people have mentioned that Valspar (carried by Lowe’s) also makes some sprays, but the colors were so few (and nothing on the can indicated that the product would be *great* on plastic), so I didn’t include it in my test.

After doing some thorough surface prep with xylene and acetone (which actually “etches” the plastic for better adhesion as well), I sprayed different single applications and combinations of paint on the backside (where the experiment won’t be visible in the final install) of my two plastic sliding window inserts on our 1972 Tradewind. After waiting two weeks (plenty of time for the paints to completely cure), I did some scratch tests.

My final application includes several clear coats, which I experimented on separately after making my initial spray paint selection. I also tested various finishes and brands for the clear coat: matte, satin, semi-gloss, gloss, Krylon Fusion, Rustoleum 2x, Rustoleum Enamel clear, Duplicolor Acrylic, etc.

I did a similar paint test on the vinyl coated interior skins, examining how the “plastic specific” spray paints adhere to the glued-on vinyl coating.

The original covering for many vintage Airstream interiors is a substance called Zolatone that is actually still available (though more difficult than regular paint to apply and fairly expensive).  Some interior skins also utilized a glued-on Vinyl “grass cloth.”  Our Airstream has the factory adhered vinyl.  Some people choose to strip the vinyl from the aluminum skins, but unless you’re actually going to leave the skins aluminum (not painted), I think it’s best to paint the vinyl coating, especially since it’s so durable. Not only that, but getting paint to stick to bare aluminum is quite difficult, even with the “aluminum specific” primers and etchers available.

I have seen a few owner’s complaining about the vinyl coming off of their interior walls over time, but ours is adhered incredibly well, even after being stored in the PO’s barn and covered in various barnyard animal scat collections (be-do-bop-de-doo).

When I cleaned the skins (trying Simple Green, TSP, Goof-Off (xylene, 2-ethanol), and paint stripper), the vinyl stayed completely adhered until I left the paint stripper on for extended periods of time (lesson: if you want to get that vinyl coating off your walls to expose the bare aluminum, use paint stripper, leave it on for a while, and the vinyl will peel right off).

First impressions regarding spray paint on plastic panel/inserts and vinyl over metal skins…

Between the two main brands that specifically advertise “bonding to plastic,” the Krylon Fusion does seem to stick a bit better (it doesn’t scratch off as easily as the Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2x Ultra Cover and holds up to a clear coat much better). Places where I put down Rustoleum 2X Ultra Cover Flat Gray Primer before a coat of another color (no matter the brand/type) does seem a little more scratch resistant, but it’s probably just that the scratch is showing gray underneath instead of (very visible) white (the original surface). I think a better primer for bare plastic might be a flat Krylon Fusion. I am not as impressed as I’d hoped with Rustoleum Universal Bonding Primer. It is pretty thin and runs quite easily, though I do still use it for spray painting metal, especially shiny metal.

The Rust-Oleum Universal Metallic is probably the least durable on the  plastic inserts and end cap, but somehow the most durable on the vinyl skins. Go figure.

Dupli-Color Trim & Bumper (Dark Charcoal) was a late addition to the test, and after just one day it seemed about as durable as the Krylon and Rustoleum that had been curing for more than two weeks (in comparison, a new color of Rust-Oleum 2X I added at the same time came off like butter when scratched the next day). The Trim & Bumper paint is advertised as having “Fade-X Technology” and also boasts “flexible finish” and “excellent adhesion,” but the colors are extremely limited (like… three colors: black, white, and gray). However, if it’s made for bumpers, I’m hoping it might be the most durable of the bunch? I’m also wondering about it’s possibility as a primer.

After two weeks (plenty of time for everything from the first batch of sprays to cure), I started testing

clear coats. The bad news is that when Rust-Oleum 2X Ultra Cover Satin Clear was sprayed on heavily, it caused ALL paints (every type and brand) on the plastic inserts to crack, bubble, and flake. Seriously. You simply can’t use it on Krylon or Rustoleum applied to the plastic in my Airstream unless you apply many, many very thin, light coats.  When used in a heavy application, the Rust-Oleum clear coat did OK for the paints that were on the vinyl, but be aware that it clouded up a bit at first and  then cleared up.

The Dupli-Color Acrylic Enamel “custom matte finish” gave  much better results.  Be aware though, when sprayed on thick, it did cause all the Rust-Oleum flavors to bubble and crack like the Rust-Oleum clear coat, though not quite as badly..  The Dupli-Color Acrylic Matte Clear did very well with the Krylon Fusion and even with the Dupli-Color Trim & Bumper (with minimal curing time; it became as tough or tougher over night vs. having to wait a week). I also like the matte finish of the Dupli-Color better (it’s more “invisible”) than the Rust-Oleum Satin (which has some sheen), but the comparison of the look isn’t really fair as it’s apples to oranges (matte to satin).

Also note that both the Rust-Oleum and Dupli-Color clear coats caused the Rust-Oleum Ultra Cover 2X Satin Aqua (the only actual color in the test) to discolor (both clear coats made it look a bit yellowed).

Like so many things Airstream related, it turns out the “most perfect” isn’t really “enough more perfect” to warrant basing my decision upon the results.  Practicality wins out over “the ultimate” once again.  To me, there wasn’t a big enough difference in the durability of all the products and combinations to warrant sticking with the winner (the bumper paint), and I just went with the one that I liked the looks of best.

I sprayed the fiberglass rear end cap and part of the rear vinyl skins (everything in the bedroom) with Rustoleum Universal Metallic in “Flat Soft Iron.”  It’s a charcoal gray I really like, and it’s got a nice, subtle, metallic sparkle to it when the sun catches it.  Since I used Rustoleum for the color coat, I decided to stick with their products for the clear coat in case it might aid compatibility.  I used two coats of Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2x Ultra Cover Satin Clear.

Next I painted the plastic “sliding shade” housing in the VistaVue windows with Krylon Fusion in “Satin Dover White” (the only “off-white” they offer, but also close enough to the original color). I also painted the actual vinyl coated aluminum “sliding shades” with metallic copper and finished with Krylon Fusion Clear Gloss (for metallics you need to use a clear coat, because a satin or flat finish clear coat will dull the metallic sheen).  I did try four different kinds of “metallic copper” ranging in price from five bucks to fifteen, but all of them seemed to look and perform exactly the same, so now I just purchase Rust-Oleum Bright Coat Metallic Finish by the case from Amazon for anything I’m doing in copper.

You know what I learned from all these spray paint tests?

Scratches gonna scratch.

While I did my best to get things as durable as possible, if something really goes to town on the skins (like keys, or a large sheet of something getting swung around), they scratch.  Also, where there is repetitive motion, whether from road vibration or repeated use (like opening/closing the shade), there’s really nothing you can do about the fact that the paint will scratch off.  There is some solace in the fact that the products I used are readily available, so touch ups are relatively painless.

The next step would be 2 part epoxies and gel coats, but at this stage in the game, I’m not willing to go that far, and I’ll just stick with touching things up every once in a while.

ALSO…

After all these tests, and the incredible amount of time and cost it took to do the small bedroom area with rattle cans (it took north of 20 cans of consumer spray paint for that small area), I decided to give rolling regular house paint a try in the kitchen area.  I cleaned all the vinyl coated interior skins with TSP-PF (the slightly more “earth friendly” version of TriSodium Phosphate) then rolled on a coat of Valspar Bonding Primer/Sealer and waited 48 hours for it to cure (probably overkill).  I then rolled on two coats of Clark & Kensington Interior Satin Enamel.

After a couple days of letting the interior house paint cure, I would say the durability of the rolled on paint in the kitchen is far superior to the spray paint in the bedroom.  You can still scratch it, but the house paint is able to heal a bit, whereas the spray paint is more brittle, and thus “breaks off” when scratched.  The house paint also allows for the second rolled-on coat to scratch and reveal the first coat, where the spray paint all comes off at once.  Looks like if I’m reusing interior skins that are c

overed in the factory vinyl, I’ll be rolling on paint from now on.

It just goes to show, that sometimes the easiest way actually IS the best way (not always, maybe not even often, but sometimes!).

Some links I perused ad referenced while doing the research for painting the interior skins:

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f7/starting-mostly-gutted-flying-cloud-83715.html

Interiors

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f39/im-restoring-my-1970s-end-caps-finally-124989.html

Bookmarked Airstream Articles and Information

Just some links I’ve found useful…

 

Boondocking

http://wbccicaravan.wbcci.net/boondocking-with-your-airstream/

 

Plumbing

http://vintageairstream.com/plumbing/

https://www.trekwithus.com/the-complete-guide-to-rv-water-filtration/

 

Propane Lines and Quick Connects

http://www.introductiontoeverything.com/2017/03/connecting-my-lp-generator-to-my-rvs-lp-port/

 

Tripping

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f42/campsite-pics-174884.html

Dinette Table Base

I am always baffled when I see Airstream interiors with a couch or two chairs under the panoramic window.  What a waste of space!  The dinette with seating that wraps around a table is obviously the way to go, so one can maximize on seating, have a decent table at which to eat, and also to collapse into an extra bed. Not to mention all the extra storage in the dinette bench seats!

However, I can’t believe how hard it is to find a decent telescoping base for a dinette table!

Most of the choices come from yacht outfitters, and are thus astronomically priced.  The few “RV Specific” bases I have found seem to be poorly reviewed as a result of being poorly constructed (weak materials that lead to wobbling and bending).  The two companies that come up most often in a search for RV dinette/table bases are Springfield and Garelick.  The products from each company look to be fairly similar, but for what it’s worth, the reviews for the Springfield products are much better than those for the Garelick.  This means that either the Springfield bases are a superior product, or Springfield has a better social media and internet team.

Through Deck vs. Surface Mount

Since I’m rebuilding from scratch, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue for me, but it definitely does lock you in to the position you originally install (since it telescopes through a permanent hole in the floor, and sticks out into the belly pan area).  I think most people will want a surface mount base, and since there isn’t much difference in availability between surface mount and through-deck, I’m just going to stick with surface mount (which is ultimately an easier install anyway).

The surface mount, telescoping pedestal base that seems most solid, best reviewed, and within price range (though still more expensive than I would expect at around $400) is the Springfield 12″ – 28″ Anodized Air-Powered 3-Stage Table Pedestal.  There are three slight variations that included differences in lift range and finish materials, but this one has the lowest price (by about 40 bucks) and the highest reviews.  It’s also conspicuously similar to the base pictured in the Airstream brochure photo above, so there’s that.

Another interesting and slightly less expensive (around $250) option from Springfield is the lever lift Springfield Marine 1660203 Polished Aluminum 12-25 Inch Adjustable Hinged Boat Table Pedestal, though it’s quite a bit bulkier, and I see lots of opportunity for pinched (or even lost!) fingers.

Penguine Eng LTD looks great and has a lot of selection, but it’s in Great Britain, so there’s VAT and shipping on top of already “luxury” pricing.

Motorized Pedestals

Motorized is great for the “wow” factor, but my philosophy is, “The more you motorize things, the more opportunity there is for mechanical failure.”  If you can make something function well without sacrificing ease of use, that is the way to go.  Can gas/air systems fail?  Of course.  Will they fail as often as something that uses electricity, plastic gears, wires and solder, etc.?  Nope.  If gas/air makes it easy to lift/lower a table (vs. a completely manual system which is difficult to slide up and down and lock in place) while minimizing the chance of mechanical failure, then for me, a gas/air lift telescoping base is the superior choice.

 

Have you found something else that you like or think works better?  Leave a comment and let everyone know!

Insulating an Airstream (part 2: practical application)

After weighing all my options (see part 1), I decided to go with Polyisocyanurate rigid panels for insulating the Airstream.  Both Lowe’s and Home Depot carry PIC, but I like the Home Depot brand better (Rmax, made in the USA).  The PIC panels are far superior to styrofoam and extruded polystyrene in just about every way (except price, but they’re actually only a few dollars more per sheet).  PIC is certainly more fire-retardant (though not fire proof), and definitely equally if not more moisture resistant.  They don’t call it moisture proof, but I assume that is for legal reasons only.

I actually did a test where I fully submerged pieces of PIC in sealed jars full of water and let them sit for extended periods of time.  After three days submerged, the PIC came out weighing exactly the same as when it went in (indicating that it took on little to no moisture, or it would have been heavier).

After two weeks the PIC did weigh a bit more when I first removed it from the water, but after letting it sit for around an hour, it returned to its original weight.  I did another check at 6 months and got the same results.  Maybe not the most scientific test in the world, but good enough for me.

I went a little crazy with the actual application of the PIC panels.  I decided the best method is to first cut the 1/2″ thick PIC panels into small pieces and then glue them with TremPro 635 to the exterior skins.  I tried a bunch of different stuff for adhesive (TremPro 635, Vulkem 116, Silicone, 3M VHF tape, etc.), but I think the TremPro 635 is best.  It works whether you’re applying it in hot/cold weather, and it’s definitely going to last.

At first I was cutting the 1/2″ thick PIC into tiny 1.5″x1.5″ pieces (see photos in gallery below), but that was taking too long, so I started using 1.5″ strips (at whatever length was good for the location).  I then cut sections from 1″ thick PIC panels to fit between ribs and cross members.  This leaves an air gap against the skin for airflow and moisture runoff (and the possibility of running more wire if I ever need to).  This method also makes it easier to repair damaged exterior panels if that dreaded moment ever arrives (vs. spray foam, which is crazy-hard to remove when repairing the exterior skins).

In places where there is a curve in the wall, you need to score the PIC to allow it to conform to the curve.  After I scored my PIC panels, I resealed the cuts with foil tape.  This is pretty easy where it’s just the simple curve of the upper side walls, but it gets tricky for the compound curves of both end caps.

Finally, I sealed everything up against the ribs and cross members and window frames with Nashua 324A Foil HVAC tape (see photos in gallery below).  Nashua 324a foil tape is my best friend.  Be careful though, it will slice you if you run your finger down the edge!

 

I purchased two 3″ wide rolls at Goodwill for $10 about a decade ago.  When I ran out of that, I was worried because all I was finding online was a 60yd. roll for around $40, but luckily after checking the big box stores I found it at Home Depot for $17/roll (60yds., 2.5 inches wide).  It’s rated to hold from -25F to 325F.  That wouldn’t work if it were applied directly to the exterior skins (they actually get hotter than that in the sun), but it’s fine for using to seal the interior of the PIC panels.  It sticks in the extreme cold, and it sticks REALLY well (even during application, which works all the way down to -10F).  I’ve got a roll of some other non-marked foil tape (thought the cardboard roll does say Nashua), but it may as well have NO adhesive whatsoever compared to the 324a.

I also decided it was a worthwhile endeavor to put a thermal barrier between the ribs and the interior skins.  The interior skins are aluminum like the exterior.  The ribs are also aluminum.  That means when the sun is baking the exterior of the Airstream, all that exterior heat is transferred via the ribs to the interior skins and basically turns your Airstream into a toaster oven.  I have NO IDEA why Airstream doesn’t utilize a thermal barrier on the ribs from the factory.  I did some research on materials (using EPDM rubber, rolled polysterene, etc. –I even researched aerogel) and found that the best bang-for-the-buck solution is the blue polystyrene you use when laying framing on a foundation.  It’s only $6 a roll at the big box stores, but I often find new rolls at salvage places for $2.  It’s light, it’s thin, rivets obviously go through very easily, and it makes a HUGE difference to the interior temperature.  I used an infrared temp. gun to take some readings of the interior skin over the ribs with and without the polystyrene barrier, and on an 80 degree, sunny, Colorado day, there was up to a 120F difference!

Regarding the idea of a moisture barrier… The PIC is foil faced on both sides and then sealed with foil tape on the interior.  I think that is plenty for the “exterior” moisture barrier, not to mention the gap between the exterior skin and PIC panels for moisture to shed.  Regarding the idea of this causing too much moisture to be trapped inside the Airstream (especially when using the propane appliances and heat)… I guess time will tell how bad it could get.  One can always open vents/windows, so we’ll see how it goes.  Luckily I’m not too worried about moisture collecting in/on the PIC panels, after doing my fully-submerged panel tests.

Finally, I am using two 2″ layers of PIC with air gaps between the panels and at the decking for insulating the belly. In addition to acting as a thermal gap, the air gap between the underside of the decking (floor) and the first layer of PIC also helps eliminate floor rot from moisture collection.

TremPro 635

All Kinds of Goo (Poly Caulk and Other Seam and Leak Sealers)

There are SO MANY different kinds of stuff to use for sealing seems and leaks in an Airstream.  The Original stuff used in manufacturing was called Vulkem 116, and it’s still available (either as Vulkem 116 or TremPro 626), but the original Vulkem company was bought out by TremPro.  Vulkem 116 is gritty and will stick to EVERYTHING.  It also takes FOREVER to cure (so cleanup rags will remain gooey for days).

There are a LOT of varying opinions about what’s best to use for what, so I am posting what I’ve learned from researching and using the various products.

The original factory “caulk” is Vulkem 116 (gray), and is now marketed as either Vulkem 116 (the original name) or TremPro 626.  It’s a texturized (gritty, like it contains sand) poly that takes FOREVER to cure (which can be a good thing when you’re talking Airstream).  The “official” cure rate is 48-72 hours, but it can take a lot longer than that, depending on the actual environmental conditions.  Vulkem 116 also cures fairly hard when completely cured, and is thus best for exterior panel seals, a/c installation, setting window frames, etc.

Vulkem 631 is Vulkem 116 but in different colors.

TrempPro 636 (gray) has a slow cure rate (4 hours), has more solvent (better for exterior applications), and is non-textured (smooth).

TremPro 635 (gray) has a faster cure time (90 minutes), and is a low VOC/solvent free silane terminate poly.  So far, this stuff is my favorite, especially for things on the inside.  If you’re doing Airstream restoration, I recommend having at least two tubes of this stuff around, as it’s not available from a lot of places and often takes a while to ship and arrive.

Sikaflex 221  (black) has a fast cure time (60 min.), but seems to require a cleaner surface for adhesions, whereas the Vulkem and TremPro will stick to just about anything.  Some people think it looks better (smoother, more like typical caulk) and is a little easier to work with (doesn’t stick to everything).  It’s typically used for things like interior vent, window, latch, etc., applications.

The products above are for more “construction” type applications.  There are several products like that can be used to seal tiny cracks and leaks around rivets, etc.  These sealers actually wick into the cracks and crevices, whereas the products above are more for adhesion and filling larger gaps and holes.

Acryl-R seems to be a lot of people’s favorite for a wicking sealant, but it takes a special applicator.  The “go to” product for sealing on the road seems to be Captain Tolley’s Creeping Crack Cure.

Parbond from Parr is a sort of “in between” product that comes in a “roll-up” tube (like toothpaste) instead of a caulking tube. It is silver, so shows less than something like Sikaflex on exterior applications.  This is a good product to have with you on the road when you don’t want to store a caulking gun and larger amounts of sealant.

Butyl Putty Tape is what you need to use when setting windows, a/c, vents, and other things that have a collar and set in to a hole in your Airstream exterior.  This soft, flexible product is like a roll of flat Silly-Puddy that will seal two surfaces together and keep them that way.

Walbernizer specifically formulated for Airstream coated aluminum surface.

 

Rivets!

If you’re going to work on an Airstream, you have to know about rivets.  Here is some basic information to get you started.

You “pull” a blind rivet.  You “buck” a solid rivet.

First of all, there really shouldn’t be any screws on an Airstream.  Screws will back out of their holes with the constant road vibration that an Airstream experiences, so eventually a screw will no longer be holding whatever it was screwed into.  Rivets are more “permanent” in that they stay put.  But don’t worry, they are easy to drill out if you need to change something you’ve riveted.

Blind Rivets

There are two types of rivets on an Airstream: bucked rivets and blind rivets.  Airstreams use only two sizes:  1/8″ and 5/32.”  The 1/8″ rivets are generally used for trim on the exterior, and to hold the skins to the ribs on the interior.  The 5/32″ rivets actually hold the Airstream together (panels and ribs).

Blind rivets get their name because you can install them in situations where you can’t see both sides of the surface being riveted (there is a blind side).  So if you are fastening something to another surface without being able to see the back (like skins or trim), you would use a blind rivet.

There are two types of blind rivets, often referred to as “Olympic” and “pop” rivets.

blind rivet (olympic rivet)

blind rivet (pop rivet)

The pop rivet is a pin with a bulb head (the mandrel) inserted through a cylindrical shaft.  The rivet is “pulled” with either a manual or pneumatic puller.  The center pin pulls into the shaft which in turn expands and keeps the rivet in place.  The pulling tool cuts the pin at the head once it pulls into the shaft leaving a dimple in the head where the pin has been cut off.

manual rivet puller

manual rivet puller

pneumatic rivet puller

pneumatic rivet puller

You can get a manual rivet puller from Harbor Freight for under $10.  This is pretty nice to have on the road, as you can pull rivets without needing an air compressor.  The pneumatic rivet puller is a bit nicer, especially if you are doing a LOT of rivets, but obviously it requires a compressor, so it isn’t as portable for road repairs.

The Olympic rivet operates on similar principal to the pop rivet, but the containing shaft splits into three arms that hold the rivet from behind the sheet being riveted (like a drywall anchor).  You can machine/shave a blind rivet to make it look like a bucked rivet with a smooth head (see photos below).

Here is a good thread on Airforums containing the photos below regarding how Olympic rivets work (the photos are from user flyfshr).
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f381/olympic-rivet-removal-and-installation-23.html

photo credit: flyfshr on airforums

expanded Olympic rivet

photo credit: flyfshr on airforums

rivet shaving tool

photo credit: flyfshr on airforums

unshaved Olympic rivet

photo credit: flyfshr on airforums

shaved/machined Olympic rivet

For the record, Olympic is actually a brand name, not a type of rivet (like Kleenex is synonymous with tissue).  There are many types of rivets made under the Olympic name. Only one type is originally used on Airstreams. They’re called Olympic Bulb-Tite Shaveable Head rivets, either 1/8″ in size or 5/32″.

Bucked Rivets

buck rivets

buck rivets

Bucked rivets look like tiny metal mushrooms.  There are no moving parts.  A bucked rivet is hammered with a pneumatic riveting gun, and the soft aluminum mushrooms out to hold the rivet in place.  Buck riveting usually takes two people, because someone needs to hammer one side while someone else “backs” the rivet by holding a small anvil (the buck bar) against it.

Advice on rivet length from this thread:

Always try to use the correct length rivet. It should be long enough to penetrate the parts to be riveted and still protrude to a length approximately 1-1/2 times the rivet diameter. In other words, a 1/8″ diameter rivet should stick out about 3/16″ (certainly not less than 1/8″) before it is bucked.

buck riveting gun

buck riveting gun

bucking bar

bucking bar

 

The rivets on my Airstream aren’t all perfect (some are far from it, in fact).  There seem to be a lot of factory rivets that were skipped or at least skimped on.  Below you can see some examples of what I’m talking about.

Before (through the holes, but not really mushroomed and holding anything together):20151206_140752

20151206_140801

After (mushroomed out and actually holding the two pieces of aluminum together):20151206_140811

Clecos

clecos

clecos

I love clecos.  Mostly just because they look cool.  They are like clamps for riveting.  Basically they are temporary rivets.  You place clecos in rivet holes using a special cleco tool (cleco pliers) that makes the spring-loaded cleco grab and release by pushing on the end of it.

cleco pliers

cleco pliers

clecoed in place

vista vue window clecoed in place

Removing Rivets

Rivets are removed by drilling them out.

Sometimes you will see/hear people using a number instead of a size (inches or millimeters) for a drill bit.

5/32″ is .15625 and a #21 is .159; thus the #21 drill bit gives a 5/32″ rivet a little clearance to slide into the hole.

#40 = 3/32”

#30 = 1/8” (which is the shank size of the rivets used most extensively in assembling the interior of an Airstream)

#10 = 3/16”

For removing Olympic rivets, Andy from Inland RV says:

An Olympic rivet is 5/32 which is .15625 inches

 

#20 is .161
#21 is .159
#22 is .157

 

The best drill bit size to use is a #21, since a hole will not be perfectly round, unless using a drill press.

Andy also says:

Olympic rivets for Airstream usage have always been 5/32 shank, but with the same size “brazier head” as the 1/8 buck rivets.

That is so the looks do not basically change and the strength of the shank was maximized, so as to be similair to the buck rivets shan strength.

For what it’s worth, I have just been using 1/8″ and 5/32″ drill bits to remove rivets and to install rivets.  I simply use the bit to route out the head, and when that pops off (sometimes you might want to use a sharp chisel to carefully shave the head if it’s being stubborn), I make sure to be centered and drill out the old rivet body.

Other links used for this post:

Removing a solid rivet: http://wiki.matronics.com/wiki/index.php/Removing_Solid_Rivets

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f381/right-size-drill-bit-for-olympic-rivets-85451.html

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f381/factory-rivet-vs-repair-rivet-6368.html#post49015
post #14 = pics of all the rivets

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f381/buck-rivets-or-olympic-rivets-32693.html

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f381/buck-rivets-look-wrong-using-wrong-air-hammer-bit-120715.html