The 20k Project: Part 4 – Rebuilding the Dinette!

By this time, I had been working on the 20k project for several weeks in 100+ degree heat, and the transformation from “This will be a cool, fun mod!” James into “Can you please get that camera out of my face?” James was well underway.

(I’m trying to set your expectations for this video.)

So, keep that in mind as you watch.  Sometimes, we forgot to film steps.  Sometimes, we filmed steps, but never made any audio to explain.  Sometimes, I say “I’ll show you that later,” and then I just don’t.  But in spite of all that, I was able to piece together this video that should let most of you follow along.  You just may have to pay attention when it gets a little non-linear.  Here you go!


There are two main things you’ll see in the video.

First – The Dinette Build

This is largely a woodworking project, with some metal bits thrown in.  Basically, I build an L-shaped bench that’s attached to the structure of the RV.  The bench boxes themselves are fairly standard.  They’re attached to the RV with angle brackets that I made in-house, and I use those to attach to the walls and floor.  The pieces of the bench connect to each other using Festool Dominos, which provide a solid attachment that I can disassemble later if I need to.

I did cut all the pieces of the dinette bench using the CNC router.  I learned that if you want to cut a rectangle that’s 2mm longer on one side than its opposite, that’s really easy to do with CNC, but pretty hard with just a table saw.   I only had to build as far as the bench, and then Stef took over and was in charge of getting cushions and fabrics picked out for it.  That’s a very good thing, and you’ll realize why when you look at the finished product.

The dinette was finished off with the Sexy Italian Table Base from Lippert, on top of which I added a bamboo top that I sprayed in-house as well.  While I was at it, I made a smaller version of the table top for the passenger-side Lagun table that Stef uses.

I also made a couple odds-and-ends pieces for the dinette area (which you’ll see in the video), and wrapped the base of the table as a super-awesome scratching post for Mel.

Second – the Electrical Burn-In Test

In IT, where my day job takes me, when we stand up a new system, there’s typically something called a burn-in test.  This is where we turn everything on and turn it up to 11 for as long as we can stand it to make sure that it all works and everything can handle the loads.  That’s the other thing you’ll see in this video – the Burn-In Test of the 20k electrical system.

What I did is park Number One in the sun on a 100 degree day, unplugged, and cranked the air conditioner, and let it run.  All. Day. Long.

I’m happy to report that we passed the burn-in test with flying colors.  Sure, things got hot.  The inverter got hot, but kept running and didn’t even get into “warning” territory.  (That was the piece I was most concerned about – that inverter compartment outside in the sun.)  So I’m calling my fan and venting solution a success.  Other wiring and cabling maybe got warm… kinda.  But nothing concerning.  The circuit breakers got warm, but no warmer than they would get on shore power.  The batteries, happily, didn’t seem to heat up much at all.

Solar was on-line and contributing as well.  Our 455 watts of theoretical solar on the roof was consistently giving us 250 watts or so throughout the day.  No issues from solar.

It got dark and cooled off well before we ran out of battery power, but it looks like we could have about 14 hours or more of air conditioner run time in full-sun desert conditions.  Not too shabby!  That will get us an overnight stay with air conditioning in any conditions I can dream up.  I’m happy with that.

Though we don’t show it (because it would be super boring to watch), the next day we had the second part of the burn-in test… where we charged the batteries as fast as we could.  That also went well, and nothing overheated during that exercise either.

The Final Word

I am planning on one more video on the 20k project, but that one will wait until we have a few months of real-world usage on the system.  That’s where we’ll explain what it’s like to have such a system day-to-day, what we’ve had to do to adapt to the system, and how it’s changed our RVing style.  But since I want that to be as authentic as possible, that will have to wait.  (Plus, I want to include Stef in that one too, since she observes things from a different perspective than I do.)

I’m sure there will be questions.  Sound off in the comments below!!



James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he works for a large IT company.

    53 thoughts on “The 20k Project: Part 4 – Rebuilding the Dinette!

    1. Mike

      Do you know how much of a difference in weight there was between what you took out and what you put in?
      I remember you saying you weighed the seats while holding them on a scale but i do t remember if you said how much weight went in except for the carrying heavy stuff when its hot.

      1. James - Post author

        I didn’t measure the weight in exactly that way. It would have been too difficult to measure each wire and cable, and I kind of don’t care, as long as there’s enough capacity for us to travel and bring all the things we want.

        We did go to a scale after this project, and fully loaded for a multi-week trip, we still had about three hundred pounds of capacity available. So it’s all good as far as we’re concerned.

        1. Mike

          Awesome. I know all the wires can add a ton of weight, and i figured you would get a weight when you were all done. Thank you.

    2. Bill Sprague


      Could you supplement the Truma with waste heat from that monster inverter? Or, would I be so minimal as to be silly?

      Please made caps for those battery terminals…..I’m frightened! 😉


      1. James - Post author

        Well, when the inverter really puts out heat is in the summer, when we don’t want it. We tend not to use as much inverter power when we’re not running the air conditioning. SO I think inverter waste heat isn’t worth chasing.

        The terminals are now covered with a bar/cap, and then there’s a storage area built over that. They’re safe!

    3. Terry McElroy

      Hi James,

      Can you please do a video on the new range top (and how you chose this specific induction stove model) and how you reversed the position of the stove and sink. It looks awesome.


      1. James - Post author

        There will be a video coming on that. I’ll warn you though – it’s not a beginner mod. I used a CNC router to cut the top… after I made laminated it from raw materials.

    4. Greg C

      What is plugged into the outlet under the seats?

      What is the temp of the inverter when on shore power, running the AC and charging the batteries?

      Fair and full disclosure I have two of the same batteries and same inverter and the temps get up there under the conditions listed above.

      Thanks, Greg

      1. James - Post author

        That’s the ventilation fan plugged in under the seats. It only needs to have power when the inverter/charger does.

        I actually did use the inverter to charge the batteries and run the AC one time (the day after the burn-in test). I didn’t track the temperature super closely, but it remained cool enough to not reduce its output. The ventilation fan was running full-blast, full-time though, so I’m sure that helps more than I know.

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen the inverter temperature up over about 42 degrees celsius. (I’ve since found the setting to change the display to Fahrenheit.)

        I won’t be able to do any more testing of that until it warms up again next spring.

      1. James - Post author

        Nope. We do not. And that’s not an oversight.
        The thing is, with 5 batteries, none of them are working hard enough to heat up, whether charging or discharging. Running the air conditioner only asks about 22 amps from each battery.

        Think of it this way: It’s not like one guy picking up 300 pounds. It’s 5 guys lifting 60 pounds… nobody breaks a sweat.

    5. Duane

      Nice build but the Coachmen 20XG/22XG has similar specs to the Ekko but already has a dinette built-in behind the drivers seat, and the drivers seat rotates. Its also built on the Transit AWD dually chassis. Did you look at any of the Coachmens? I would be interested in your thoughts if you did, and why you chose the Ekko over the Coachmen. Thanks!

      1. James - Post author

        Yes, if you’re willing to take the 45 minutes to do it, the driver’s seat does spin around 180 degrees. (There’s a video somewhere on YouTube of me failing miserably to turn the driver’s seat.)

        As-is, the seat is a bit low, but if you use the cushions Winnebago provided for the driver’s seat, then the height is just fine. The height of this table is just about the same as the factory table.

    6. Fred Tom

      With two circuit breakers, are you wiring the Auxiliary DC Breaker signal from the Accessory Connector of the first battery to both circuit breakers, or are you wiring the Auxiliary DC Breaker signal from a second Accessory Connector from a second battery?

      Also, are you using the FCC signal from the Accessory Connector to the Balmar regulator?

      1. James - Post author

        Sounds like you’ve got a good handle on this.
        The DC breaker signal from one (and only one) battery is routed to both of the DC circuit breakers.
        The FCC signal (from the same battery, and only that one battery) is wired to the Balmar regulator.

    7. william seng

      Love the dinette. I am looking at the Planet table leg. Did you get the sliding 4 direction model, or the sliding 4 direction rotating model?

      1. James - Post author

        I didn’t show it in the video, but ours rotates as well.
        We never really rotate it though. Would have been just as well off with the sliding-only model.

        1. william seng

          Thanks for the reply. Helluva workshop you got there. My son is a carpenter in NW Montana. He would be impressed.

        2. william seng

          Hi James. Sorry to bug you but I called Lippert and they are having trouble finding the Planet table leg in their system. It’s listed in their catalog, but they can’t find it. Any help on how you got yours would be appreciated. Thanks!

        3. James - Post author

          Let me try my contact at Lippert and see if there’s a proper process for this. Hang tight.

        4. James - Post author

          OK. I heard back from Lippert. If you want to order it, here’s what they said:

          “The part number is 2021027273 and it has a 6 week lead time. The retail cost is $332.95.

          If someone wants to purchase it, they will have to call the Care Center 432-LIPPERT and order it that way.”

        5. william seng

          Thank you so much for the prompt reply and ordering info. Much appreciated!
          Your professionalism is impressive. I’ll be placing the order today.

    8. Michael Beattie

      I thought 600 lithium amps (7200 watts?) in my Promaster was a lot but 1600?! I’m not a scientist or a woodworker and I defer to you in all do-it-yourself but I do wonder… with my modest system and a rooftop Coleman we get sufficient overnight cooling to sleep in South Florida. By morning we do need to run the twin alternators to get the bank full again. Our Promaster built for us by CCC in North Florida is well insulated maybe that helps.
      The question I am trying to get around to is the weight and recharging requirements against the usefulness of the size of the bank.
      I don’t mean to be critical, and one can never tell online but I am sort of wondering. Perhaps the further testing will give me better answers.
      Best wishes

      1. James - Post author

        Yes, the battery bank is huge, but that doesn’t mean we use it all up every single day!
        If we don’t use more power than you do on a day-to-day basis, then it takes us no longer to fully charge after an evening than it does you.
        The difference is, we don’t *have* to charge the next day. And if we wanted to spend all day in Death Valley with the air conditioner on, we could.
        But those would be extreme situations. In all seriousness, it really doesn’t take us longer to charge than anyone else.

        As far as weight: We didn’t have a generator, and the seats I removed were well over 100 pounds. We gained a little on the weight, but maybe only like 60 pounds. We’re good!

      1. James - Post author

        Love it. I especially like that it has the speed chart built in and I don’t have to go looking up in a chart how fast I want to run it.

      1. James - Post author

        We ran that as a promotion some time back. We don’t have any more of them.
        But now that we have a new RV, we probably need to make new ones!
        Watch our channels, and when we settle on a new design and campaign, we’ll be posting it.

    9. Robert Gedzelman

      I wonder: the dining table has sharp corners…perhaps it’s a little safer with chamfered/rounded corners? Overall, a really beautiful job and what’s really nice? Your considerable attention to detail AND precision cutting, shaping etc. so everything fits REAL TIGHT! Your workshop is really nice, too! (I live in a small apartment in NYC, so projects even approaching 5% of this are really not possible for me). I do enjoy your videos…and thanks for your time & effort!

      1. James - Post author

        We’ve actually been living with it a while, and nobody has banged into the table even once.
        It helps that the table is very easy to push out of the way when we’re not using it. Even so, I could always round them over in the future if it becomes an issue.

        Even in an apartment, you could always try working with hand tools on smaller projects? Every so often, in Fine Woodworking’s annual shops issue, they show someone who’s built a killer shop in a London closet or something. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

      1. James - Post author

        I used a long and reasonably wide piece of plywood to span the two metal pieces. I also put a few short screws into the luan just for good measure.

        BUT – due to the way the “L” comes together, I ran a continuous brace across from the short side that intersects the 48 inch side at 16 or so inches. I also anchored the plywood to that. Basically, if you see how I cut the seat top pieces, I don’t have an unsupported 48” span anymore.

        Maybe I’m not explaining that right. In any case, there’s been no sag or creaking in our usage so far. I would have preferred to find some structure in there, but it worked out OK even though I didn’t.

    10. Don Kane

      Hi J&S

      Really nice job.

      Wondering if you might list some of your construction materials, in particular:
      Baltic birch plywood: thickness? (I have some 3/8″ somewhere in the van, maybe the bike slider)
      Bamboo wood: thickness and source?

      So, in the end, did you mount your back support brace to the two pieces of metal you found? I would have been tempted to use a 1/2″ piece of plywood supported on the floor or batteries if no room, tacked in loosely to the wall.

      I used 1/2 oak plywood though out the van, including the toilet box, which is smaller but similar in function to your build (this stuff: It’s just thick enuf to draw it together using pocket holes/screws, and reinforce with glue (or not). Finishes up pretty.

      As for lounging about, we seem to use the swiveled driving seats more than the toilet top. Maybe because we have the 10 point seats, we can get them higher, like a seat more comfortable for working on the computer?



      1. James - Post author

        I used half inch baltic birch for the seat tops.
        The bamboo (plyboo?) is 3/4 material. I got it from “woodworkers source”. They’re not the cheapest, but all the stuff I’ve gotten from them over the years has been good quality. When I’m buying something without seeing it, that’s important to me.
        See my answer above about the mounting of the seat support. I thought about adding a floor-based support, but it hasn’t been necessary.
        As for turning the seats… we really dislike the Ford factory swivels. I think I’ve turned the driver’s seat maybe once since having the van. They’re that bad. If we had the ProMaster seat swivels, I might think differently about the space, that’s for sure!

        1. Don Kane


          Do you know which swivel base Winnie is using? We have SCOPEMA swivels and sort like them.

          Love: Wonderful on the passenger side, with a normal stock seat on it, and our van doesn’t have a steering wheel on that side. Easiest to swivel when the door is open but very easy with the door closed.

          Love/hate: The driver’s seat, which is a 10-point electric seat, is slower. First, you need to raise the seat all the way to clear the pedestal. And to clear the steering wheel you need both to flip the seat back forward and move the seat forward. So a lot of adjustment, which is a pain, made worse by the fact that you need to do it slowly.

          Some wiring worries too, with close clearances.

          Nevertheless, the swivels are not made to work with the 10-point, so that’s our fault. We got that seat so the Rachel (5′ 2′, eyes of blue) could more easily drive the van. And that has worked great.

        2. James - Post author

          Winnebago is just using the factory Ford swivels.
          The problem with those swivels is that the swivel rides on top of the slider. So the seat can only actually move in a straight line, forwards and back. Though it can rotate freely.

          The infinitely better solution is to do what they do in the ProMaster, and have the slide ON TOP OF THE SWIVEL.
          This way, the seat can move and rotate anywhere within a circle, and not just up and down a straight front-to-back path.
          That makes the seat very easy to rotate, even with the door closed.

          Are the Scopena swivels “a swivel on top of a slide” or “a slide on top of a swivel”?

        3. Don Kane


          I am thinking that the reason that Ford might have done that is for their 10 point seat. The slider motor is right over the hole that the wiring harness comes thru, and preventing the slider from rotating would ease some wiring difficulties..

          I went out and looked at ours; the mounting screws for the seat to the slider are different from the mounting screws from the slider to the pedestal, so you can’t just move the slider up. You would need to drill new holes. But I bet you could do it if the swivel has enuf fore aft distance..

          You could just (“just”!) remove the slider and replace it with a Scopema, if you have multiple hundreds of $$ lying about. If you do that, do the passenger side first, that seat is the easiest to flip.


        4. Don Kane

          Opps, and I didn’t answer you Q, yes the Scopema is between the pedestal and the slider. Actually I think all the commercial sliders are in the same position.

      1. James - Post author

        I linked it in the post above.
        You’ll have to contact Lippert. Tell them you saw it here!
        They were able to get one in from Europe. It took a while though.

    11. niel schurig

      James as a former woodworker I’m in awe of your shop! Every time you are in there I sob a little. I had to end my shop work due to arthritis and sell it all. You are a true craftsman and your planning is remarkable. Thanks for sharing

      1. James - Post author

        Lol. 🙂

        I tried two different stud finders. They weren’t super reliable. A construction diagram… now that would have been reliable.
        And yes, I have a bit of a clean thing. I clean up the shop at the end of every day and periodically as I work. It helps me reset the brain between tasks (and find things!).

        1. Andy Brickman

          Hi S&J,
          Did we notice correctly that you ordered your Van Made window shades with reflective material? Is that an optional add-on and is it effective for both warm and cold climates? Did you have a windshield shade in your Travato, requiring removal of the W supplied shade?

        2. James - Post author

          Yes, we’ve always ordered our Van Made Shades with one reflective side. We face that side outside in the summer, and inside during the winter.
          We had them in our Travato as well, and uninstalled the Remis shades (that I had installed myself) to be able to use them.

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