With this winter's cold weather upon us at last, our progress has slowed just like cold molasses. As such, it has been a little while since we've gotten significant work done on the trailer. Cold weather or no, however, we haven't actually stopped! Here's some proof of that.
In a previous post, we wrote that our trailer will have a sink. The sink caused quite a headache as we worked on packaging it into the trailer. A sink is such an odd shape, when the faucet is considered. The best shapes for packing are cubes. A sink is essentially a big, empty shell, and the faucet just sticks up there getting in the way of everything. We want to be able to store the sink neatly, but also have simple access to use it. Ideally it would be as close to the grill as possible, because they'll likely be used together most often. After countless redesigns, numerous configurations, and hours with pencil, paper, and eraser, we finally got a layout we like that should work well and checks all the boxes. So we got straight on with it.
In an effort to make this drawer a little more attractive than the grill one, we opted to use hardwood instead of plywood. The plan being if it goes well and comes out nicely, to rebuild the grill drawer with hardwood as well, to match. So let us know how we did!
Step one was laying out all the cuts to make for the first set of dovetails. Step zero, of course, was sharpening all the chisels. And the kitchen knives, while the sharpening stone is out. Pocket knife too...okay now you're just procrastinating. Right, okay. Make sure to mark which part of the dovetails is scrap, because it sucks to cut the last one the wrong way, then the whole piece is scrap.
Then you just rip cut down the lines and chop across the grain. And chop. And question whether solid maple was a good choice. Keep chopping. Make sure everyone has earmuffs on because it's loud! Remember, because you're doing it in the kitchen, because it's so cold outside. Finally, the first set of tails is done. Transfer the tails to make the pins.
Fast-forwarding a whole bunch, seriously it was like a week or so of cutting dovetails, and we have a 4-sided box. It's critical to make sure the joints always go together the same way, so each is match-marked. They go together and come apart and go back together several times during the process as there's several iterations of test fit, trim, test fit, repeat. But in the end, is it worth it? We think so!
What we haven't really described is the overall design. But the pictures do a really good job of that, so it's probably not totally necessary. But to shed some light, there is a small storage compartment "behind" the sink. Behind meaning on the opposite side of the faucet from the sink. So we had to make a divider, which would also enclose the storage compartment. For this it was decided to use a mortise joint on each end. I've never made a mortise so it was..."interesting".
I made what I anticipated to be the easier side first. I was definitely right about that. I probably could have done this quite easily on the table saw, but as stated earlier, it's been really cold out, so the kitchen was preferred for its warmth. Plus the rest of the drawer was handmade at this point, so we'll just keep it going.
With both ends of the divider cut, it was time to start on the last major hurdle of this subassembly. I wasn't really sure the best way to go about it as I'd never made one before. In the future, I'd make the joint just slightly wider, or get a smaller chisel. The smallest we have is 1/4" wide, which is the same width as the slot that needed to be cut. Unfortunately, that meant it was just a little bit too snug to cut lengthwise down the slot without ruining it. So I set about chipping out just a little bit at a time. This seemed to take forever. We couldn't wait to be done with the chopping.
Fast-forwarding a bunch again here. So much respect to people who can do this kind of handcrafted joinery in hardwood well. Not sure about those who do it for "fun" though...
Both mortises and all the dovetails complete was a major milestone, as it meant the worst (and loudest!) was behind us. It meant we were ready to apply glue, which was mildly terrifying because that means it's permanent. We triple checked that everything fit properly, and then glued it all together.
Next, we had a discussion for the top face. Should the grain go the long way or the short way? We both had it in our heads that it would go the long way, until we saw it both ways and realized we both preferred it the short way. So we cut one piece to size for both openings, then removed 1/2" strip in the middle for the divider, so the grain matches up.
During the great grain debate, we also discussed hinges for the storage compartment. We agreed that we didn't like a piano hinge across the top. Our preference was to see as little hinge as possible. So we looked at piano hinge with an offset, but it was kind of pricey, and not readily available. We perused the catalog of our local hardware boutique, maybe you've heard of The Home Depot, and found some workable options. We decided to go with a couple of overlay-style hinges installed backwards. Typically, the pocket goes in the door, but our door didn't have the depth to allow it, so we put the pocket in the storage compartment wall. Unfortunately, the forstner bit was M.I.A., so the pockets were also cut by hand.
With both hinges installed, we started to have a clearer idea of what this thing would actually look like. We were quite pleased. A couple of magnets (not visible here) were installed on the near wall to keep the lid shut over bumpy terrain.
If you've made it this far, you've been very patient. We can finally get to the purpose of this post. Which is the sink. We found a bar sink a while back at a local building supply store, that fit the dimensions we needed, without being uselessly tiny. The faucet, as mentioned earlier, was a long struggle. We found this awesome faucet from Ambassador Marine, which was a little bit on the expensive side, but has the wonderful feature of folding flat. Actually it folds beyond flat; if the mounting allowed, it would spin full 360 degrees. We searched quite a bit, but could not find anything like it that had hot and cold inputs, and seemed like a good quality piece. The drain is also from Ambassador Marine, and has a very low profile as well. It projects only about 1-1/2" below the bottom of the sink. The drain can be purchased here.
With the box complete, and the parts in hand, we simply drilled some holes for plumbing and jig-sawed out the hole for the sink. The assembly was very simple, and took only a couple minutes. And...voila!
We put a handle on so we could actually open the door!
And finally, we put a bottom in the opening, so that it was actually useful for storage. We haven't worked out what will be stored in here just yet, but for scale, below is a medium sauce pan and a small dinner plate. There's plenty of room! You can also kind of see the faucet in it's folded position.
If you were wondering why we put such large tires on a trailer, let us show you. First, we made an upside-down drawer. Next, we destroyed it.
Then, we made another upside-down drawer. With a different joint design, this attempt came out much nicer. When flipped over, this piece becomes the counter on which the grill will sit.
We wanted the cooking surface to be at a workable height, which required the use of 30" tires. The ground clearance is nice, too, since the trailer will see off-road use.
We acquired ball-bearing drawer slides 30" long with a 400lbs. capacity from Amazon. These will allow the grill to slide out it's full width, plus some extra for a small work space next to it. Standard drawer slides are used for the inner utensil drawer. These are 24" soft-close type from Home Depot.
Next, we made a smaller drawer to fit inside the upside-down drawer. This drawer-within-a-drawer will be used to store utensils and/or cookware, most likely.
We took a little self-made beer and food tour with some friends in Portland, Maine. The main purpose was to celebrate a birthday; the completion of our good friend Theo's twenty-ninth trip around our star. We found some things we really liked and some things that only whelmed us, so we would like to share.
Our first stop was the service plaza in Kennebunk...to use the restrooms. You didn't think we were touring truck stop foods, did you?! The continuation of the ride was uneventful. So uneventful, in fact, that we missed the exit we wanted. Someone was slacking in the navigation department. Oops! No matter, we turned around at the next one and still managed to arrive first of our group.
The second stop (the first planned one) of our tour was Rising Tide Brewing Co. We got a high top table and looked over the beer list, but we waited for friends to arrive before making any decisions. The next to arrive were (belated) birthday boy, Theo, and his wife, Kerri, along with their friend, Nathan. Credit for the planning of this tour goes entirely to Kerri; we're merely participants. We got signed into our tour while Theo's brother, Chase, and his wife, Christina joined us.
We found a spot at the bar to order a round, and it was then everyone else realized they hadn't decided. Not a problem, they moved out of our way and we ordered a Pisces and a Waypoint while they hemmed and hawed over the beer list. To be fair, Rising Tide offers a surprisingly large array of beers for their size, with 12 beers on tap. With everyone's hands full of beer, and their eyes protected with safety glasses, we began our tour of the production area, lead by Dan. As far as craft breweries go, Rising Tide is maybe slightly larger than average. It's just a one-room operation, but they have a handful of ~150bbl fermenters. Dan came across as quite knowledgeable of the process and science of brewing, as well as the company's history. He was very friendly and had us all laughing throughout the tour. Of the Pisces, I was a fan. It had been warm when we set out on our trip, though Portland was overcast, and a light gose is an awesome nice-weather beer. I enjoyed the Waypoint, a nice, smooth coffee porter. Even though the weather was spring-like, I generally prefer dark beers year-round.
We finished the tour and were joined by Theo's dad, Wax, and his wife Marie. There was also another woman, Julie. We all stepped outside to find the Japanese-inspired food truck called Mami. We ordered rice balls per Dan's suggestion, as well as a steam bun, recommended by Nathan. The flavors were great, and the food was the perfect little snack to quench our very slight hunger.
As our group milled about, sampling different foods outside and beers inside, we popped in next door at Maine Craft Distilling to see what they had. I was mostly interested in their whisky situation; which was only a couple shots left in one bottle. We talked with the bartender about how that was great for their business, yet unfortunate for me. We learned it is available at Whole Foods and a couple other nearby locations. I tried a small sample anyway. Unfortunately, I didn't LOVE it enough to try to track it down. Nathan strayed in a few minutes behind us and he sampled a dry gin next to a barrel-aged gin. He preferred the dry, though he later confessed that he wasn't in love with the samples either.
Next, we drove across town to check out Allagash Brewing Co. As soon as we parked, we realized they had expanded noticeably since we were last there, a few years ago. We got signed in and checked out what was available in the tasting room while we waited for the rest of our group to catch up. I drooled over the bottles of Curieux trying to decide if I should buy one or 12, while others got a sample of house beer. Eventually, Bella rounded us up and took us out onto the production floor. As an engineer, this place always fascinates me. The production equipment is just beautifully designed and integrated. It's really more of one giant machine, than several separate processing tanks.
Bella told us of the rocky start for Allagash Brewing, back when no one in America had acquired the taste for Belgian-style beers. It was interesting to think about how the taste of a nation can affect a company and, through perseverance, how a company can affect the taste of a nation. Allagash kept producing their flagship White through the early years, unchanged, and eventually it caught on. About a decade later. We moved on to the experimentation area where the employees can try out their own ideas. It was cool to see that although their production scale is so massive, Allagash still approaches brewing like any other craft brewery; they still think they're small. We passed through the wild yeast and fruit addition area, where my beloved Curieux is made, on our way to the barrel-aging room. Here we tried out Map40, Hoppy Table Beer, and St. Klippenstein. They were all great, in their own distinct ways. They were all very different from one another. I was very impressed by the flavor of the Map 40. It is a Belgian-style stout infused with cold-brewed coffee. In my opinion this beer was better than the Waypoint I had gotten at Rising Tide.
Back in the tasting room, we made some decisions and bought a few items to bring home and save for a rainy day. As the rest of our group did a combination of purchasing for now and purchasing for later, we chatted about our plan, and eventually made a move towards the door.
We walked the short distance down Industrial Ave. to Foundation Brewing Co. and grabbed a table on the patio. It wasn't quite that nice outside, but we were optimistic. We held the table while the stragglers caught up and lined up to get flights. We skipped out on drinking here, though the reviews from our fellow tourmates were good all around. Bedrock had the most positive responses of everything.
Just three doors over from Foundation is New England Distilling, which we went to next. I inquired about the whisky situation, of course - more specifically, bourbon. I asked if they make bourbon, which as it turns out, was the wrong question. The answer was yes, so I got excited. Attached to that yes was a big ol' BUT. "Yes, we make bourbon BUT we don't sell it yet." Apparently there is disagreement among the company about which proof they should bottle it at, and they need to reach a consensus before they can sell it. Oh well.
We drove across town again for our next and final stop at Little Tap House for dinner. We arrived first, and well ahead of our reservation time, so we asked if we could just grab a couple seats at the bar while we waited on the rest of our party. Our table was ready, we were told, and would we rather sit there? So we got seated and ordered some maple bacon mixed nuts. When the nuts arrived, we realized we were both very hungry. They were totally delicious. We devoured them.
As a few more of our party arrived and got situated, our waitress brought us a complementary sample of a bean relish, from the chef. It was pretty good, though not our favorite. We realized that some of our group would take a while to catch up, so we ordered a few various appetizers to share. Among them were pomme frites with parmesan and truffle salt, a cheese plate, Reuben eggrolls, and hummus. All the food was amazing, and helped us decide on entrees. I ordered a brisket. I ordered chili. The brisket was over the top good. We had to bring the remaining chili home because it was delicious but enormous portions. Yay for leftovers!
Like any good camper, we have to incorporate some method of stabilization. This prevents the trailer from tipping over when we get inside it. That would not be a good situation to be in. Since our trailer is pretty tall by conventional over-the-road camper standards, the stabilizer jacks also have to be fairly tall. When they're collapsed, this height becomes length. So we had to find a way to fit these rather large jacks into a rather small trailer, while minimizing the effect on ground clearance. No problem. First, we ordered this pair of Bal stabilizer jacks from Amazon. (If you wish to purchase these jacks, use that link; it will help us to continue to make these posts!)
We planned to mount the jacks flush with the top face of the trailer frame, so that they would hang down beneath the trailer as little as possible. We mocked up a few different mounting configurations to get a better sense of which would be best. Note that as the jacks are deployed, the "feet" move closer and closer to the action end of the jack (where the drive nut is located), until the legs are nearly vertical.
Because of the action of the jacks, we didn't really like this arrangement. When deployed, the feet would be very close together, thus preventing them from offering much stability. However, we did like the convenience of being able to deploy both jacks from one location at the back of the trailer.
Here we tried an asymmetric layout, but we didn't like this either. It just looked dumb.
Finally, we decided to mount them in this arrangement. This will have the feet as close to the sides of the trailer as feasible when deployed, for maximum stability. Initially, we planned to mount them flush with the top of the frame as stated earlier, to maximize ground clearance when stowed. However, that would have required drilling through the frame rails in order to have access to the drive nuts on the jacks. While doable, this is a fair bit of work. To save some effort, we moved the jacks down about one inch, so the drive nuts sit fully below the frame rails. The sacrifice in ground clearance is minimal, we feel. The jacks have a very low profile to begin with, so this should not (hopefully!) cause any issues.
I cut some lengths of U-channel to fit and used the jacks to locate the channels before welding them in place. Drilling the holes was pretty straightforward, again using the jacks themselves as a guide.
As you know, or maybe you don't, a trailer's receiver tube needs some lateral stability. Going down the highway, for example, it's being pulled in a straight line and it's not as critical. But when you're coming around a tight bend in a trail, hung up on rocks and going up a hill, the forces in the receiver tube get pretty crazy. So the trailer design must allow for all the tubes to share to load. Or as many as is reasonable. We connected the receiver tube about halfway down the crossmembers. Then we connected it to the side rails of the frame with angled 2" square sections. We'll reinforce the rear corners in the future.
But let's talk about mistakes first. I thought that I knew how I wanted to mount the interior walls to the frame. Because I got excited, I got ahead of myself. I cut and welded stuff on before I really took a step back to look at what I was doing. These brackets were aligned well and all; they were exactly where I intended to put them. But they just...well they looked bad.
I spent some time working on other areas (see previous posts on water and propane), trying my best not to look at these stupid brackets. Not just because they looked stupid, but because I didn't know how I wanted to resolve it, and I refused to think about cutting them off. Yeah, of course I finish-welded them on because simply tacking them in place would have been too simple to fix.
Finally, I'd run out of other stuff to do for a bit and I came up with a better solution. Then I mustered the will to admit my screw up which meant cutting them all off. The collateral was about 3 and a half cut-off disks and a sore back for the evening. But after that, I'd got back to where we wanted to be. Square #1, that is.
Then I made up a bunch of what I'm calling nut plates, although they're really more like nut angles. It just doesn't sound right. And then tacked them in place. From here on out everything gets tacked until we're done. In the end, it was only a minor setback which cost very little other than time and pride. But I'm sure the lesson will prove valuable moving forward.
As we mentioned in an earlier post, our friend Ryan (of 2180miles) graciously donated a set of wheels to our cause. They are originally from a Jeep Wrangler YJ, I believe. They had been sitting out in the harsh New England elements for too long. We took them into our home and nurtured them back to life. We set out to give them purpose again.
The patina was not severe. We've certainly seen much worse. We agreed that we didn't need a show-car finish; we just wanted them to be one color. So we scrubbed them with a green scrubby pad what's that called? brillo pad? scotch brite pad? and water to knock down the texture formed by the surface rust. This smoothed out the surface of the wheels sufficiently for us to be satisfied. I sprayed a rust-preventing primer on the inside and outside of the wheels. Then, the insides were sprayed black and the outsides silver.
Then came tires. We ordered (3) Falken Wildpeak ATs in 30x9.5x15. To save some money, and to satisfy my curiosity, we decided to mount them ourselves. This has since been considered as a poor choice. I wouldn't recommend it.
We enlisted the help of our neighbors because we were in over our heads. (Luckily for us, they accept payment in beer.) Also, I did it backwards, unknowingly. Leave this step to professionals. At least now we know what is involved, and we may have saved a few dollars. But the effort involved seems hardly worth it.
I found Plastic-Mart while searching for a suitable water tank for the trailer. They have this awesome table that lists all their tanks by volume and includes length, width, and height dimensions. There's tons of options, and most given volumes have a few different shapes available. When you order a tank, you can give instructions on what size and quantity of fittings to put on the tank and where, which is great. We requested a typical feed, drain, and vent setup. I was a little worried until the tank arrived because we'd laid out the frame to exactly the dimensions given in the table. I had no idea who these people were, or if their drawings were to be trusted. And there's no tolerance given on the dimensions either. What if it comes in 1/8" oversize? I'd have to cut the frame apart, which I really didn't want to have to do. We were ecstatic to find that the tank fit perfectly. It was built to exactly the dimensions given.
I'd held off on making any mounting components until we actually had the tank so I could use it as a reference for sizing things. Once we had it, I got to work making up a mount for it. It's pretty simple, really. Two of the frame crossmembers sandwich it to prevent fore-aft movement, as you see in the picture. On the left and right, two lengths of steel angle between the frame crossmembers prevent side-to-side movement. A simple steel angle frame lays on the top and fastens to the lower mounting to prevent up-and-down movement. A representative at Plastic-Mart told me that the entire bottom of the tank has to be supported. So I cut a skid plate for the water tank and welded it in place after making some small drainage holes. We don't want any water hanging out near our water.
We have way too much propane storage.
See it started off innocently enough. We had set a minor goal to not have the propane tank visible on the outside of the trailer. It was mostly aesthetics-related, and as such it wasn't a mission-critical item. Plenty of trailers have small, external propane tanks and that's perfectly fine. We looked at tank options. 11lb. tanks are really popular for this sort of trailer. We already have a few 20lb tanks at home, maybe those would work. We would have to fill a 30lb. tank less often. All sorts of things to consider, and then we looked at horizontally-mounted tanks and suddenly there were twice as many options. We worked up the layout drawings using a 30lb. tank footprint as a worst case scenario. We could install a smaller tank, no problem. After some fiddling, we got a 30lb. horizontal tank to fit under the bed. Then we moved it to the front of the trailer. Then back under the bed to a different location.
Once we were content with the layout, we got a tank on order. And immediately after, we decided to change the layout again. D'oh! "Well, that's okay, we can just return it and get something else." So we received the tank and I got to work organizing the return. No big deal, I've done this several times before. Got my return label and headed down to UPS to send it back.
"We can't ship that, sir."
"But you just shipped it to me..."
So that was a very interesting conversation. I'll save you the headache. I told Amazon the situation that I wanted to return the dang thing because it wouldn't work for us, but that I couldn't actually return it, so they told me to keep it and refunded me the full amount. At that point it became a no-brainer to just stick with what we had and make it work. Because, well, if it's free it's for me.
In order to get everything tucked neatly under the bed for a lower final height, we're using the water tank as a reference. The water tank is already situated and strapped in, so if we keep everything "shorter" than that, we're all set. So what that meant was we had to lower the propane tank a bit below the bottom of the frame. Since it is above and behind the axle, and only protrudes a couple inches, we're comfortable with it. It should be safe from impacts. But just in case, we built a rugged skid plate for it, which doubles as its mounting bracket. It will take a bit more work to take it out and get it filled, but the upside is that it shouldn't have to be filled very often. So it is in that way a blessing that we ended up with such a large tank.
I didn't want to use a through-bolt arrangement for mounting the skid plate to the trailer frame. The primary issue is that you have to use two tools; one to remove the bolt, the other to hold the nut (or vise versa). I could weld the nuts in place to alleviate that issue. But the other concern is that when the bolts are tightened, they will have a tendency to crush the crossmember tube. Probably not a visible amount, but it's not ideal to have the clamp load taken up by the tube like that. So I sleeved the mounting holes for 3/8" hardware. Then to prevent the load being take up by the welds that hold the sleeves in place, I stuck some nuts to some large diameter washers to help distribute the load in case the welds fail. Since we won't have access to the top side of the fasteners when it's all together, the nuts are welded in place. To fill the propane tank, we will remove the skid plate, then remove the tank. A little labor intensive, but it shouldn't be terrible.
In parallel with the trailer frame fabrication, we ordered a custom axle from Redneck Trailer Supplies. It arrived right about the time we were ready for it, and I heaved a huge sigh of relief when it matched up perfectly to what we had made so far.
We had also bought 2,000lb leaf springs, U-bolts, and mounts from a friend who decided to go a different route with his trailer. Score! And we got a set of old Jeep wheels for free from another friend (we have lots, apparently!) who was ready to throw them away. Perfect! So of course, we had to bolt things together right away. Suddenly, it sort of looked like a trailer!
So, we tacked on the spring mounts to the frame. With the exception of tires, we’d built down as far as we could. It’s time to build upward!
These project tables were free so there's no guilt about totally destroying them! The white one we found in the woods on a Jeep adventure. Who leaves a table in the woods?! So as a bonus for cleaning up the environment, we got a free table! The other one...well we had to buy a house to get it. So it's either really expensive, or it was free. However you want to look at it.
Anyway, you can see some brackets on the frame that we haven't really talked about yet. It's tough keeping up pace with the writing, but also I kind of screwed them up. I've since fixed it, so we'll get there soon.
The tubing we recovered from the horse stalls at Rockingham Park is 1-1/2” square and 2” square about 1/8” wall steel. We don’t know how long it had been in service there for, but it had some light surface rust, as well as some patchy black paint. We devised the following process to clean up the tubes inside and out. First, a tube gets a bath in a rust remover product, Evapo-rust. It works reasonably well.
After a thorough rinse and drying, the ends get taped and the tube is filled with a primer designed for rusty metal surfaces (in case there was still some rust inside) and the primer is sloshed all around inside. The tape is removed from the tube ends and the excess primer is recovered for reuse. Then, the tube is left to dry for a day or two.
We addressed the remaining paint and rust on the outside of the tubes by using an abrasive wheel in the drill press.
This was of course a long process. But it gave us time to work out the design. So, by the time the tubes were ready for assembly, we were too. We laid out the ladder frame in accordance with the drawings we’d made and welded them up. Of course, the first one was in the wrong spot. Rocky start. But we caught it immediately and corrected it.
It hardly looks like anything now, but it was a lot of planning and effort to get us to this point! So much work has to go into defining our wants and our needs, deciding what we will actually install, where it will go and how it will all fit together. We had to consider multiple modes; over the road, it must be as small, light, and well-mannered as possible. Off road, it has to have ground clearance for obstacles, it must be sturdy to withstand a beating. In use, it has to be comfortable for cooking, cleaning, and sleeping. It has to be ergonomic, accessible, etc. And we had to figure all that out before we actually did anything that we wouldn't be able to undo. Hopefully this works!