Rob Gray :: ontheroad :: wothahellizat :: wot2 :: diaries :: issue-020


Thu 29 May 2008

Peter has some friends staying. Greg and Jeanette are heading north in their 4x4 Isuzu motorhome and they've dropped in to stay for a few days.

Now that we are out of the workshop proper it's free for other uses, so Peter has moved Slineaway into the spot we recently occupied and has removed and had reset the rear springs. Meanwhile Greg is doing the same to the front springs of his truck, we feel a bit left out, and Wothahellizat's springs need resetting as well because at the new weight they have all settled at different heights. The truck is looking decidedly unlevel but that job will have to wait.

 Wothahellizat, Mouse Trap, and Slineaway, it's beginning to look like a motorhome repair shop around here.

We now working on the interior lining and that is taking a very long time. Will we ever get back on the road?

Mon 9 Jun

So what are we lining the inside of the truck with? We hate painting (and re painting in five years) so the materials have to be self-colouring. Light in both colour and weight is good, and if there is some extra insulating properties that's even better.

Bearing this in mind we've decided to use 8mm core flute for the paneling and then cover as much of the remaining steel as possible with timber.

We would like to use Birch for the timber but it's well nigh impossible to find, so instead we're using clear pine. As the name implies, clear pine has no knots.

Core flute is that board material used by sign writers. It's hollow with the two sides joined every 5mm or so with long "flutes" that run the full length of the sheet. These flutes cause a slight striation on the outside of the sheet which we find to be a pleasing pattern.

The 8mm version is quite strong and can have light objects such as lights attached directly to it.

Core flute also comes in any colour you want as long as that colour is white, which fortunately is exactly what we have in mind. It cleans well (Chris tested some) and the air gap will provide some extra insulation. All in all it seems it would make a good lining material.

The only problem is that the cut edges aren't that pretty to look at so we'll be covering them where necessary with aluminium channel.

As it happens 12x12x1.6mm channel fits perfectly over the 8mm core flute, but straight "aluminium-look" channel used for edging thing looks a bit home made, so we've ordered 22 lengths to be powder coated in white to match the core flute.

Another criteria we have is that all panels must be removable so wiring, leaks etc can be accessed in the future. To accomplish this we are screwing through the channel into the frame, the stainless steel screws will be visible so I'm countersinking them so they're flush with the channel.

It's looking pretty good, and while not the polished finish of a store-bought motorhome, at least we have access to everything, unlike many of the professionally-made rigs with wires, pipes etc placed behind glued lining sheets. After all, by the time it needs fixing the vehicle will be out of warrantee.

Getting back to the timber, it will be coated with a water-based varnish, four coats on the dress side for looks and wear, and one on the off side just to seal the timber. To the best of my knowledge it's only the water-based types of varnish that don't yellow with time. We've yet to prove this of course, but I do know that every oil-based varnish I've used over the years has yellowed, despite what it says on the can.

Thu 19 Jun

For what seems like weeks now we've been doing the internal lining, I always knew this would be fiddly but that's an understatement.

And to compound the issue we've decided to cover as much of the exposed internal steel as possible with wood. Initially we thought that we'd just paint the steel and in fact that's what we did in the bedroom. However we didn't like the look that much and there's also the thermal issues to consider.

As most (probably all actually) of the steel is connected to the outside world through other steel or aluminium there's a direct path for heat to travel into or out of the body, this is called a thermal bridge.

So as I said we've decided to cover all the steel and this has added enormously to the job as every little piece has to be hand-crafted to fit (of course nothing is dead square).

 Some of the pieces required for the bedroom.

 Detail of two of the above pieces.

A typical example can be found in the bedroom roof hatch where I've had to make some channel with the router to cover the hatch's framework.

All this is taking a very long time and partly explains why I'm not posting much these days, nothing really gets done from day to day, leastways nothing worth reporting on.

Sun 22 Jun

One of the projects I've been working on for the last couple of days is a shelf for the kitchen. Like most of the wood work it's solid timber with lots of angles, mitres and (hopefully) seamless joins.

 Two views of the under side of the shelf before installation.

There are four downlights mounted underneath the shelf and behind a small pelmet. This will allow good light over the kitchen bench without any harsh lights in our face.

The lights are angled outwards to make better use of the beam.

We're using 10-watt halogen lights almost exclusively in the interior, mostly because the new LED lights are so expensive and we don't like the coldness of fluorescent lighting.

Fri 4 Jul

Friends Steve and Jill arrive today in their recently-built Bedford/Austin hybrid.


Steve put an Austin school bus body on a Bedford (R4 I think) chassis and the result is a fantastic off road motorhome.

Fri 11 Jul

One of the unfortunate things about a project such as building a motorhome is that in the early stages when you're really keen you're doing all the stuff that people will never see, for example the engineering under the body.

By the time you get to the fitout stage where things are fiddly and time consuming but also have to look good, you're sick of the whole thing and just want to finish.

So it's very tempting to rush things and wind up with an interior that looks like crap. I hope I'm not doing this.

The interior is in fact looking pretty good but still not as professional as I would like, but then nothing ever is, I always aim for perfection and settle for OK.

 The kitchen shelf and oven, bedroom in the background.

 The main fridge and coffee nook, so called because that's where we store the makings for coffee and tea.

 The nook and fridge again, this time looking towards the rear of the truck and the lounge room.


 Closer view of the nook, microwave oven at the top. The bench top has two lift up sections, one is used to access a small Engel 15-litre backup fridge stored in the cupboard below, and the other allows us to drop rubbish through into the bin which is also stored in the cupboard, next to the Engel.

 An even closer view of the nook showing the microwave.

Note the two switches at the left of the microwave. One controls the down light (visible under the microwave) and the other the microwave. I've done this because, when living with solar, it's important to actually switch appliances off at the wall so they only use power when in operation. To switch the microwave off at the plug in the normal manner I would have to have an ugly lead and socket visible and I don't want that, so the switch controls a behind-the-scenes socket into which the microwave is plugged.

There's another reason for the separate switch. Many appliances don't draw enough power to pull an inverter out of standby mode and this microwave is one such appliance.

Let me explain.

Many inverters have a standby mode in which they test for a load buy applying power to the system for a split second and testing the amount of current drawn. If more than X amps is drawn then the inverter reasons that something has been turned on and it keeps the power applied. Less than X and it goes back to sleep for a second or so.

You can set the value of X and in our case the minimum value allowed by the Trace inverter is 16 watts (0.06 Amps). The trouble is that some appliances draw less than 16 watts, a common example is a bread maker when it's not heating. They often have the power whipped from under their feet by the inverter because it thinks the device has been turned off, when in fact it's simply not drawing much power.

Some appliances draw enough at start up to hold the inverter in, but then go into a low power mode at which time the inverter removes the power, then on the next test cycle they hold the inverter in again but soon after they go back into the low-power mode and the cycle starts all over again.

You can of course put your inverter out of the standby mode but one common method of dealing with this problem is to have a small pilot light that is turned on whenever you are using one of the problem appliances.

So, getting back to the above mentioned switch, it also turns on a pilot light that, when added to the microwave's small amount of power drawn before you start heating something, keeps our inverter on.

 The storage drawer for my 65 beer bottles doubles as a pull-out bench.

The cupboard door above the beer drawer holds our Endel 35-litre drawer fridge. This fridge is the one we access during the day because drawer fridges don't loose all the cold air when open, so going to it 30 times for a drink doesn't cost us much power or loose much cold.

Whether or not the power used by this fridge is less than the power we would lose by opening the main fridge 30 times is debatable, but we had the Endel and decided to use it.

 The roof hatch over the bedroom.

 Gas oven and bedroom roof hatch. The small black round things are light switches. Above the oven is a roof vent which allows the hot air to escape.

 The round black vent is the heater outlet, and the stainless-steel grill the air conditioner return.

The devil really is in the details however, these photos don't show half of the work involved because much goes on behind the scenes.

Fri 18 Jul

I've started working on the lounge room floor, both of them. In fact the lounge room actually has three floors, one runs down the middle and is used to walk on, the other two are elevated and for sitting on.

The elevated floors are such because we need the space to hold water tanks, and also we reasoned that you don't need a lot of headroom over the area where you sit.

A cross section through the lounge room floor.

As the vent and rainwater fill plumbing runs along the top of the tanks we need to box that lot in, and because these boxes are right next to our chairs we decide to make the tops into shelves for holding our coffee cups, current book etc.

The floors are made from large panels of joined clear pine planks. However the largest panel we can buy is 600mm (2 feet) wide and we need about one metre (39"), so I have to biscuit-join 400 and 600mm panels.

 Two panels held with sash clamps while the glue dries.

 And after a couple of varnish coats.

Once dry each floor panel is cut into three pieces, one becomes the lid for a storage box at the end of the lounge room (the boxes can be seen half completed in the background of the above photo), another piece becomes the top of the plumbing box, and the remainder is the actual floor on which our new recliner chairs will be placed. I do this so all horizontal surfaces on the floor will have the same grain pattern and be aligned.

Mouse over the photo to see the location of the cuts.

And speaking of recliners, we weren't going to have them in the new truck because they are normally too large and we haven't got much room. But you find the damndest things where you don't expect them.

While in a baby shop (well we thought they might make small electric blankets for kids) we found a great recliner chair. It's also a rocker and it swivels, plus there's a separate footrest that rocks in line with the chair and which we can use for visitor seating. And for good measure the chairs are smaller than the standard household recliner.

We fell in love with them instantly and bought two.

Oh and we never did find small kid-sized electric blankets, apparently they don't make them, something to do with bed wetting and electricity being a bad combination I think.

Thu 21 Aug

Yes yes I know, it's been a month since I posted a diary entry and you're in need of a photo fix, so here's a few.

I've been working mostly on the lounge room fitout and wiring, what a carry on. Every little piece of wood has to be hand-wittled, and to complicate matters almost all panels are removable for maintenance. This means screws instead of glue and often pins that insert into corresponding holes on a neighbouring piece. Some areas are like those wooden puzzles you get which have 30 interlocking parts.

And speaking of screws, I'm using stainless steel fasteners and they are a real pain in the arse. I've always hated using SS screws because they break so easily leaving you with half a screw in the hole and a half-hour job to try and remove it without damaging any surrounding material.

I have however come up with a procedure that works well (most of the time),

  • Drill pilot hole
  • Get a normal tek screw with the same thread pitch as the SS screws you are using and run this in and out a couple of times. This taps a thread into the hole.
  • Put a lubricant on the SS screw, I use a zinc-based anti-seizing compound, but I'm sure any grease will do.
  • Using a cordless drill (I doubt this would be possible with a hand screw driver) and LOT of pressure, attempt to fasten the screw. No room for meekness here, if you don't show it who's boss you can strip the screw gate.
  • Move to next screw, OR, go find a lot of other tools to extract the broken screw bits.

So, without further ado, here are some photos.

 Chris's side of the lounge room, looking from the deck towards the front of the truck.

Note the new chairs, we finally took delivery of them after some drama with the local courier company wanting over $1000 to deliver two chairs a distance of about 30 kilometres. We call them rocker-recliners but the manufacturer calls them "gliders", they don't actually rock but sort of "slide and tilt" to and fro. The matching foot rests do the same which is quite neat.

They are also smaller than standard household recliners, important for a motorhome.

Note also that the foot rest is sitting on a raised section of floor, this is because we felt that they needed to be a bit higher, so we put the area to good use by making a box for them to sit on inside which I can put stuff, most likely the large photographic books I've been wondering how to store.

The floor of this box is removable to access the batteries, and the process is duplicated on my side.

 The area behind Chris's chair.

This cabinet hides the toilet, spare toilet cassette, shoe locker, and inverter (all accessible from the house entrance on the other side), a bookshelf for Chris's cooking books, and the two bicycle front wheels (accessible from this side).

On the front we have the control panel and under that a door that opens to reveal the front of the inverter and all the heavy battery wiring, DC circuit breakers, shunts etc.

To access the bicycle wheels we open this door and remove the bottom side panel (under the 45-degree angled timber) which is held by spring-loaded clips.

The angling of the wheel-storage compartment is not an accident, it allows Chris's chair to rock when the back is reclined. If it had been square her chair would hit. With a small vehicle you have to be clever, it's much harder than building a large one.

 The left hand bookshelf, lighting and switches.

Above both chairs are bookshelves, these are hollow which allows me to run all manner of wiring through them and this in turn allows me to put a stack of switches within easy reach while we're sitting.

The switches control fans, lights etc and there are one or two spare in case I think of something else one day. There is also a headphone jack (we usually listen to the TV with headphones) and a 12v plug just in case.

Note the two different lights, a triple LED and a halogen downlight. The halogen lights are mostly for mood, they provide a nice warm light that is suitable most of the time but not bright enough for reading, which is where the LED lights come in.

The LED lights are very bright and can be rotated to focus the beams either onto our reading material or the coreflute wall to provide a softer light. These lights are supposed to be battery driven but I don't want to be feeding them for ever or recharging every day or two so I pulled them apart and soldered wires directly onto the circuit board, now I can power them from two small 5v isolated power supplies.

 The other end of the left hand bookshelf, the square grill covers one of the stereo speakers.

 My side of the lounge room.

Now onto my side, it's mostly a mirror image of the other side, the main difference being that the cabinet behind my chair holds an office.

 The "wall" behind my chair is actually a tri-fold door that opens to reveal my office.

Animation showing the tri-fold door operation.

The tri-fold door in operation.

The office holds most of my computer stuff, including a pull-out, slide-sideway desk for the laptop, about 20 battery chargers (why do there have to be so many different types of batteries?), external disk drives, scanners, a printer, and storage for the billion CDs/DVDs that hold my photos.

It's all a bit of a dog's breakfast at present because tidying it up this kind of thing is a low priority, we can do that anywhere, at present we're concentrating on the jobs that really need to be done in a workshop.

So far this is working well, I can sit facing the rear of the truck and the TV (or maybe one day a nice view), then swivel around in my chair to use the computer.