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If you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to lately, wonder no more! Here are all the gory details (and pictures of Travato innards) to fill you in.
It started off with an RV electrical gizmo I wanted to test out. It arrived one day, and after unpacking it, reading the directions, and getting the Cross-Eyed-Cat-Seal-of-Indifference from Mel (who was really more interested in the box), I decided to head out to Lance to see where to mount this thing up.
The device required 12 volt power, and a high mounting location. The best spot I could find that had (I assumed) 12 volt power nearby, and was high up in the rig was behind the television.
However, in my zeal to quickly get the job done, I sort of accidentally but kind of on purpose damaged one of the pieces of trim inside the cabinet, like this:
So, I went inside to ask Stef a series of guided questions to get approval for what I wanted to do. Here’s how that went:
Me: Hey Stef, um… when’s the last time we watched the TV in Lance?
Stef: I don’t know. Last August?
Me: Yeah. I think that’s right. So, you know how you’re always mentioning bringing the grandkids along in the RV?
Stef: Yes… Where is this going?
Me: Well, not that I’m saying it will happen, but if we ever did bring grandkids along, we’d need more storage, right?
Stef: Well yeah, I guess.
Me: So getting rid of the TV and getting more storage in its place would be a good thing, right?
Stef: Uhhh… I… I guess? Wait. What?
Me: Sweet!! I’m off to the wood store!
And just like that, I had myself a project!
The most awesome part of any project is tearing stuff out, because you get to be careless. First out were the TV and mount (which were actually heavier than I thought they would be), and the rather substantial wiring harness that came with it.
Then the rest of the electronics came out. Then the rest of the cabinet, which was assembled mainly with Pocket Screws.
And eventually, I was left with this, with all the wires labeled, of course:
Well, pretty much the first thing I do whenever I tear apart some part of our RV is to take the opportunity to insulate it better. This was no exception, and so I immediately did this, because I’m me:
So with the cabinet out, I could turn my attention to building the new one. I actually decided to do this with Melamine. I know Melamine is heavy, and doesn’t hold screws as well as plywood. But since this cabinet was small, and I had removed about 15 pounds of TV and wire, I figured I could get away with it. The main advantage melamine had was that it was immediately available, and I didn’t have to take the time to laminate it myself. Also, it meant I got to try using Melamine Glue, which I had never used before, and I saw it at the wood store and it looked like fun and I thought for a fraction of a second that the glue might actually dry purple because of the label. (It didn’t.)
The cabinet itself if basically two end caps held together in the front with a frame. I also used some plastic T-edging on the exposed ends of the end caps and face frame. I did this for two reasons: First, I thought the plastic edging would be more durable than standard melamine edging. Second, it meant I got to buy a new slot cutting router bit.
I won’t go into the step by step on this part of things, but just suffice to say that I used a jigsaw, some creative pattern making, template routing, and my new slot cutter. I actually did wind up using parts of the original cabinet to form the template for the new one.
I also wound up using parts of the old cabinet to build up a lightweight frame for the bottom, as well as to locate the holes I would need for lighting, switches, electrical boxes, etc. While I was at it, I beefed up the mounting cleat on the back so I could get it really secure on the rail inside the van. Here it is on the bench in my shop, waiting to go in.
Getting it back into Lance though, was a bit challenging. Due to the clearances and the way things had to mount up, there was a very specific order in which I had to assemble things. It was so particular, that I actually made myself instructions after I had figured them out. The first step was to hold the cabinet in one hand, and thread wires through with the other.
Then, swear a lot, take it all down, and head back into the shop to fix things where I didn’t cut a big enough hole to allow the connectors to pass through…
That tool I’m using is a Fein Multi-Master. It really only does one thing well (plunge cut). They advertise it like a Dremel tool though, with attachments to do a million things and make you breakfast. In the real world, it royally sucks at all those other tasks. But when you need that plunge cut thing, this tool is a life-saver.
Anyway, with that fixed, it was time to re-thread the wires, and mount the cabinet inside of Lance. There are actually 11 screws holding this cabinet to either the metal frame of the Travato itself, or to another cabinet member. So if the storage doesn’t work out, I can use it for a chin-up bar.
And yes, what you see in the back of that cabinet section does look like carbon fiber. It isn’t though. That part is just a decal. I needed something that would hold the back pieces together and act as a hinge. It worked.
The only thing remaining to do was to rewire the lights and other electronics, and to mount up this, which we had been meaning to do for some time.
I always find humor in this next bit. The picture below shows all the hardware that was “left over” from reassembling the cabinet. To be fair, the construction of my cabinet is quite a bit different from the original, but I still wondered if I should be alarmed by this:
With that done, it was time to turn my attention to the doors. After working with the melamine for a while, I had resolved not to use it for the doors. Partly because it was heavy, and even bigger partly because I was really sick and tired of cutting my hands to shreds on the exposed edges, which are really sharp. So I got to head back to the wood store (YAY!) and pick up a sheet of Ultra Light Plywood.
But a raw plywood door meant I needed to have something to laminate over it. Plain grey laminate would have looked boring. So the next most not-really-logical-but-it-sounded-like-fun-so-I-wanted-to-do-it choice was… wait for it… Carbon Fiber! But this time, not a sticker. Actual carbon fiber sheet.
I ordered the carbon fiber from Protech Composites. It’s not cheap, but it’s not like I built million dollar cabinet doors either. Working with the stuff is actually pretty straight forward. It cuts with regular shop tools. So in this case, I used a razor knife to cut the sheet just slightly larger than the door substrate.
This also was an opportunity to pick up some of the most high-tech splinters I’ve ever had!
Then, it’s just a quick wipe-down of the plywood with denatured alcohol, and you apply the sheet to the substrate with a double-sided film adhesive from 3M. They shipped the carbon fiber with this adhesive, so I didn’t have to shop it separately. Once you’ve got things lined up, apply pressure (I used a hand roller) and you’re good to go.
I cut the carbon fiber ever so slightly larger than the door to allow me some slop in laminating it. So after each side of the door was laminated, I cleaned up the edges with my new toy tool, a Festool MFK 700 trim router, because none of the other tools in my shop would have done this job and I needed it. That’s what I told Stef anyway.
The last thing to do to complete the doors was to break the rather sharp edges of the carbon fiber with sand paper and then mount the doors. I decided to go with frame mounted European cup hinges, which require boring 35mm holes in the door. Fortunately, once it’s laminated to the plywood, the carbon fiber works more or less like wood. I already had the 35mm bit, so this part was easy.
Then it was mount the doors, install the handles, and add a gas strut to the larger door and we were done.
And there you have it. All in all, I’m calling the project a success. I mean, sure, there’s a new cabinet with carbon fiber doors. But more importantly, I got to buy plenty of new tools, and I have carbon fiber remnants that I can use to laminate nearly anything in carbon fiber. Surely the cat needs something made out of carbon fiber, right?