Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sidewalls going up

Been working on the sidewalls.  Matte finish panels are really not that bad to work with in regards to sanding.  I have a sacrificial, finishing sander purchased from Harbor Freight to use for sanding the panels.  It uses 1/3 of  a sheet of sandpaper and usually takes 2 sheets to sand one side thoroughly.

Basically just knocking the matte luster off each side.

As far as cutting the panels to prepare for the 'birds nest' sleep overhang, I have the same issue as when attempting to gain 45 degree angular cuts on both sides of the vertical riser behind the cab.  I can very easily obtain the needed angles in the appropriate direction on one side of the sheet.  However, due to the orientation of blade-to-table on the circular saw cannot obtain the necessary angles on the other side.

So, to eradicate this one issue for the construction of the camper's sleep area, I have decided to go another route.  In the bedding area region where the underside panel will be installed I have decided to cut out a swath on the interior of both side panels to accept the underside panel, without using angles here.  I set my blade depth to keep exterior skin intact while cutting the swath to remove interior portion which will accept the width of a panel.  Now just glass a piece of Nida Core into place in this area.

Later on will install a 1/8" x 3 x 3 aluminum angle to reinforce the sleep area's lower panel over this exact area.

The 4" grinder with standard grinding wheel worked well to cut through the polypropylene honeycomb underneath to release the strip, just cut.  Then used a flap sander disc on the grinder to clean up the remains of polypropylene.  [always wear leather gloves when using the flap sanding disc, just trust me..it will eat phalange flesh and with much ease]


Managed to get one of the side walls up and the glassed in this evening.

The weather has been so nice today with nighttime ambient temps around 75-77 degrees, for now! A tidbit humid but not too bad, so I decided to work right on up through nightshift to accomplish a little more progression.

Started cutting the side panel for the driver's side.  Same issue as I have run into on some other occasions,  no way to obtain the appropriate 45 degree angle I needed on this sheet.  So what did I devise?  Understanding that I am cutting lightweight material I decided to turn my blade around on the saw and pull the saw along the cut, instead of pushing, thereby rendering the necessary 45 that I needed.

Did i break any safety rules?  "Absolutely!, Most all of them".
Did I obtain the much needed angle?  "Yes indeed"

First I had to tie back the blade guard with bailing wire to keep it out of the way, turned the blade around backwards, and pulled- instead of pushing the saw. (laughing) 

Was not that bad really, of course I would have never attempted this on thicker material or wood, but it did indeed work fine for composite panels.  Just need a secure guide clamped in place to aid in the cut.  Worked like a charm although it did induce more torque on the motor when used in this manner.  Well this saw is a sacrificial saw purchased for this project anyway, not that I am desiring to destroy the saw, but the tool is to get the project completed.  Understanding the havoc that fiberglass fibers wrought on stators and magnetos was the motive for the purchase.  Do not want to ruin my better circular saw.

Notice the blade on the saw, turned around backwards.
Then just pulled the saw along the guide slowly.  Teeth on blade were still cutting from underside-upwards so that element was the same.  However you are pulling against the natural flow of the saw's gearing which creates extra torque on the motor,  but not too much being the material is lighter.  Next I am drawing up a set of plans for the invention of a circular saw whereby the table will set on both the x, y plane.
 There is that beauty, that 45, no other way to obtain the 45 of this orientation because it is impossible to work form inside corner outward but with the ingenious 'circular saw pull effect' we have a winner.

Now have both side walls up with the appropriate overhang needed to accommodate the construction of the camper sleep area.  These two side portions of the camper were both cut from whole sheets so that cantilever physics can do its best work.  I decided to reserve necessary splicing for the sidewalls, towards the end of the camper rather than in the sleep area region.

Awaiting the arrival of some more 1/32" Milled Fibers and Aerosil so that I can move on to the sleep area underboard install.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fiberglass "Structural Peanut Butter" Recipe

As you have read through my posts you have heard me make mention of Fiberglass Structural Peanut Butter. Well here is the recipe:

This stuff is great for filling in crevices where panels join together leaving small voids, just fill in the void areas with this mixture prior to installing fiberglass cloth tape.  Also, great for filling in a hole, various types of repairs, creating reinforced areas for bolt throughs, and so on.  Not only does this mixture fill in voids but it is actually structural in its composition when cured.  Thus, leaving you with a very strong, high load, high tensile strength region when cured.

You will need the following materials which are readily available at fiberglass supply stores online.  I purchase all of my stuff from USComposites in West Palm Beach, Florida because of their high quality resins and cloth, quick shipping, great packaging of items shipped and you can speak with a Fiberglass Technical Representative anytime by simply making a phone call.  Very knowledgeable tech reps by the way.

This is all you need to make the mixture:
  1. Aerosil - resin thickening agent
  2. Glass Bubbles
  3. Glass Reinforcer material:  (choose only one of these)
    • 1/32" Milled Fibers for very small cracks and voids
    • 1/4" Fiberglass strands for cracks 1/4" wide and wider
    • 1/2" Fiberglass strands for cracks 1/2" wide and wider or for filling large areas where greater strength is needed such as reinforcements for bolt throughs and for larger voids
  4. Polyester Resin
  5. Catalyst
  6. A couple of hard plastic (2 cup) measuring cups for mixing mixture in.  The type that are sold at most Dollar Stores work really well.
As far as the mixture reinforcers are concerned, simply choose one dependent upon type of repair at hand.  
showing three parts used to make runnier type mixture for small voids

showing three parts used to make mixture for 1/4" cracks and larger
Glass Reinforcer Agent Choices (the pictures below are close up views of #3 ingredients above)
These agents really give the mixture its strength, without which the polyester resin would simply become too brittle and would crack.  These agents not only bind mixture together through a chemical matrix but provide structural strength that yields high tensile strengths. 

  • 1/32" Milled Fibers for very small cracks and voids
  • 1/4" Fiberglass strands for cracks 1/4" wide and wider
  • 1/2" Fiberglass strands for cracks 1/2" wide and wider or for filling large areas where greater strength is needed such as reinforcements for bolt throughs and for larger voids

To make the mixture I would suggest starting out with 4 ounces of resin.  This amount works good for providing you with ample amounts of work time so you do not have to worry about your resin pot life.  You can take your time and work the repair properly by filling in with this compound, not having to worry about your mixture curing out while you are in the middle of a job.  So this is a good amount to start with.
  1. Pour 4 ounces of polyester resin into measuring cup
  2. Add appropriate catalyst 
  3. Stir thoroughly 
  4. then add your Aerosil, glass bubbles and choice of glass reinforcement material using the small medicinal cup that is provided with materials at purchase
Stir all the agents thoroughly with small tongue depressor until it is obvious that all elements have become homogenous with the mixture. 

You can tweak the mixture by adding more fiberglass fibers, fiberglass strands or if you need a little thicker mixture - add some more aerosil to the mixture.  Aersosil (Cabosil) will change the consistency of the mixture making it thicker.  It takes quite a bit to change the consistency of mixture so when ordering Aerosil, order twice as much as the other ingredients.  

You can make it to any consistency that your repair needs. - Need to inject the mixture within a tight crevice with the use of syringe just mix loosely, need to repair larger void mix more Aersosil and make to consistency of peanut butter.  Hence, Fiberglass Structural Peanut Butter.


Now this mixture is a little loose for it is composed of the 1/32" Milled Fibers.  I wanted this mixture to be a little loose because I am using it for filleting inside corners and need the capillary action of the mixture to be drawn into some 1/16"-1/8" cracks.

However, if you were to add the 1/4" or 1/2" fiberglass strands to the mixture along with more aerosil (cabosil)  it would indeed begin to be comparable to Peanut Butter in consistency, whereas this particular mix is not necessarily so.

By the way, wear a good respirator for filtering out fine particulates, you certainly do not need to be breathing in 'glass spheres' or milled fibers.  I like to wear a combination particulate matter filter/organic vapor filter in my respirator. Has both filters made into one cartridge, breathing in the styrene vapors from polyester resin is extremely hazardous to our central nervous system.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Mini Disaster occurred during recent thunderstorm

Unfortunately, I do not possess the great fortunes of having a huge workshop to work on a project of this capacity.  I would be hard-pressed to find any breathing room if placed inside of my woodshop. (laughing) But none-the-less, where there is a will, there is a way.

So most of the build has been constructed outside.  Due to the overwhelming heat and humidity here in North Carolina the past week or so, I could not tolerate sitting in the direct sun while sanding, cutting and ....  So I retrieved my $130.00 festival tent that i use when attending festivals to place over the project, only temporarily.  [One to block the sun and two to prevent resin from being destroyed from the dew fall when working at night.]

I had been watching the weather news and understood we might be in for a severe thunderstorm within a couple of days.  I thought to one's self, "No problem, i will just remove the tent prior to the storm's arrival."  In a perfect world this would have worked. 


I was attending other matters during the time when ol' mother nature showed up.  "Of course"!

The wind picked up the tent, ripping the small stakes from the ground and apparently the legs of the tent aided in flipping the camper upside down and both were propelled against my shelter's 4x4 post.

Good news:  The Nida Core panels were not damaged at all - tough stuff. 
Bad news:  My like-new, $130 tent however was destroyed, of course. 

To reveal just how strong cured out fiberglass cloth layers are, the only seam that is holding the vertical riser panel in place is the butt splice as seen in photo below.   This one seam supported this entire ordeal, that panel never shifted and none of the corners were even lain.   

I did have a slight issue when cutting this vertical riser panel.  I could not obtain the 45 degree angled cut that i needed on this side of the panel because a circular saw's table only tilts one direction.  This inhibited me from obtaining the necessary 45 degree that I needed.  There is no such thing as advancing the blade into the stock while the table is sitting at 45 degrees for to do so creates an arced cut in the material. So I had no way to work from this inner corner to the exterior of the panel.  I decided to go with a 90 degree squared cut and will fill in with fiberglass peanut butter for structural support.

Of course, you can tell the entire camper is now inverted upon this panel and it remains intact and those corners were not even fiberglassed in.  
While the camper's slide in portion was already inverted I went ahead and painted the bottom with white, marine grade Pettit EasyPoxy. I originally wanted to spray the camper but without having a large shop to do so in, I settled for rolling with foam and mohair rollers.  Looks ok, but i must change brands of the mohair roller.

I have found a brand at Jamestown Distributors that supposedly work fairly well with this Pettit Easy Poxy leaving an orange peel effect. I can live with that, so I will more than likely be going that route.

This whole incident eases any concerns I might have had about the overall strength of this camper after being completely built.  That panel never moving or even shifting during this incident has yet again proved to me of the overall strength of properly bonded fiberglass structures.  After all sheets are bonded together to form the entire camper, this slide-in camper unit should be very durable and long lived.

c-ya around, Chris

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Creating Reinforcement Understructure for Eyebolt Anchor Tie Downs

Needing to mount the eyebolts that I purchased securely in the camper for tie down points.  The minimal thickness of the fiberglass skin covered polypropylene honeycomb guts, calls for some reinforcement measures to be taken in these regions where these eyebolts need to be installed.

So i rounded me up a 4" hole-saw and after obtaining the appropriate measurements for the placement of the 1/2" eyebolts, I cut out the marked regions.  I only cut the side of the fiberglass panel where the nut will be installed, leaving the fiberglass skin intact and undisturbed on the opposite side where the 'eye' of the eyebolt will be, which is the exterior of the camper.

After cutting through the fiberglass skin, I simply used a screwdriver to dislodge the cut out section and to pry out the honeycomb.  Basically, just created myself a pot in which the Bondo will be installed.  (note: i used the bondo with fiberglass strands which adds greater strength than ordinary Bondo, which you would not want to use in this capacity.) This will serve as an underlayment reinforcement, underneath a section of angle iron which will also be installed.

I did not want to use the Bondo simply because I would rather make my own 'structural fiberglass peanut butter mixture'.  I do not like the thoughts of utilizing resin products from store shelves whereby most often they have superseded their shelf life and the resins are typically inferior to those purchased from fiberglass only firms.  I buy most all my fiberglass related resins, cloth, etc; from USComposites out of Florida.

These guys sell thousands of gallons of resin daily and are always getting in fresh stock thus their resins are never old.  Plus, their resins are much better than the cheaper stuff one would find at an Auto Zone, Walmart, Lowes, etc;

But, I am really pressed for time in this build and cannot wait until the components arrive in the mail for the composition of my structural peanut butter recipe.  It may be a few more days still, until the most recent order arrives and I need some advancement on the project.

If I was not planning on placing a piece of flat iron in these regions as well, i would have steered clear of this Bondo approach altogether.  I did have some 1/4" chopped strands left which I added to the mixture to beef up the structural element.  Although, I had purchased the Bondo with fiberglass strands, i added even more to beef up the compound.

 So I cleaned out all of the honeycomb and vacuumed the hole thoroughly.  I removed the debris, although not overly concerned with struggling to remove all of the remnants of the polypropylene attached in the bottom of the hole.  It would be ideal if I could achieve a bond to the fiberglass underneath all of that polypropylene in the bottom of the holes but it would take too much work to get it all off.  The bondo will simply serve as a filler plug to prevent crushing of the panels and so it really is not all that critical if it bonds to the bottom of the holes or not.

 You can see the plug is in place, have four areas to do.  I used Bondo mixture for two of the plugs but the quart size can ran out.  I ended up just awaiting the arrival of the necessary ingredients to make my fiberglass structural peanut butter for the remainder of the plugs that had to be poured.   

Got some sleep to grab guys -- see you around!  Chris

Friday, July 20, 2012

A little more progress on the bottom portion of the camper

Managed to get the bottom footprint of the camper pretty much assembled, glassed the corners using two layers of a 7-8 ounce fiberglass tape followed by a 6" (6 oz.) tape.  The interior corners were filleted with a structural fiberglass peanut butter to fill in small voids and to create an internal radius for the laying of the cloths.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Received HappiJac System Turnbuckles

I located some HappiJac Stainless Steel Turnbuckles on Craigslist, well let us just say the set I obtained was one of many sets I attempted to purchase.  Many craigslisters simply were not into packaging something up for me and shipping them, within the good ol' US of A, might I add.  I thought this was a little absurd being they had their 'for sale' items listed on the world wide web in the first place.  Is that not the purpose for listing items on the web, your customer base is 'larger' thus raising a potential buyer.  Of course, I projected I was going to pay shipping costs.  ---Nope, was their reply.

Anyway, after a continued search for approximately a 1.5 weeks and sending just one more email I was finally able to secure a purchase from a nice gentleman out in Texas.  This guy was extra cool and boxing up the turnbuckles and shipping them was no big issue with him.

HappiJac S.S. Turnbuckles
The hassle I had to go through was well worth the efforts however for I paid $55.00 for these and new ones are at the least $127.00.

Message in the bottle - "perseverance"  seek and you shall find....

HappiJac turnbuckles are specially designed for truck campers whereas ordinary turnbuckles cannot even compare.  The front pair (longer barrels) possess an interior shock absorbing spring inside the cylinder .  The rear pair designed to hold down the rear portion of one's camper are labeled stressguard tie downs.  Not quite sure about the stressguard engineering design concept.

Although I appreciate knowledge of systems that I utilize, I can rest my anxiety I suppose for the the business has been around for over 35 years so they must understand a little about tie down systems.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Constructing Camper's Slide-In Portion

I have been cutting the sheets for the slide in portion of the camper and bonding them together.  All has went fairly well except the July heat and humidity which has been putting somewhat of damper on progress.

Fiberglassed, both the interior and exterior corners using structural fiberglass peanut butter filleted in the inside corners then followed with three layers of cloth.  All lain while wet to obtain a better bond.  I am using a 7-8 ounce industrial weight cloth for the layup followed by the third layer which is 6" wide - a lighter 6 ounce cloth on top.

 The interior corners are going along perfect.  I have been obtaining really good bonds in this region.  However, the exterior corners are leaving some air pockets which i will have to grind down later on, after cure out and rework.  There are a couple of spots that I noticed as I was lying the cloth this evening that simply would not lie down.  I think the issue is arising because the exterior corners are subjecting the cloth to a sharp 90 degree bend whereas the interior joints have a radius fillet for the cloth to gracefully change its lay.

Not sure just yet what i will do to resolve this issue, other than reworking after cure up.  I will find a solution and of course keep others current.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Best way to remove fiberglass fibers from skin

Anyone that has ever worked with fiberglass in any intensive capacity is all too familiar with the nagging fiberglass fibers that love to work their way underneath our skin.  I think I have one of the best means of removing fiberglass fibers during your wash off than any other method.  Hopefully preventing those ugly fibers from ever working their way under your happy flesh.

---------Shampoo------- the ticket!

Yep, get yourself a bottle of cheaper shampoo with the viscosity similar to that from Suave Shampoos, these work great.  After working with fiberglass, DO NOT rinse or otherwise manipulate the fibers that have landed upon your arms and hands.  You can attempt to shake off excessive fiberglass dust but then go no further.

  1. Get a good sized amount in the palm of one of your hands
  2. Pat the shampoo along your arm, covering the fiberglass - do not rub the shampoo on, 'Pat It On'
  3. Pat it over your entire arm in this manner
  4. Then without rubbing, scraping or otherwise doing anything to entice fibers to gain derma access - rinse the shampoo off of your arm with cold water only

The thick viscosity of the shampoo holds onto those annoying fibers that lie loose all along your skin's outer surface.  Rinsing the shampoo with water only and not touching the shampoo any more after having pat it on your arm will literally rinse away 99% of those annoying fibers.

I have had my arms covered in fiberglass dusting many times and every time I always rinse off in this manner.  Sometimes I may have one or two itchy spots somewhere along my arm but that is it.

If you were to rub it in anyway, forget it....it's worked its way under your derma then bud...shampoo will not help you at this stage.

Try this method.  I am confident in saying you will be pleasantly surprised at its results.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Creating Camper's Floor and Side Walls That Will Fit Truck Bed

Prepared and cut the camper's footprint for the truckbed, cut the piece for the floor to fit between the wheel wells and the vertical risers that will create this camper's footprint.  The piece for the floor was cut on 45 degree angles about its perimeter as was the two vertical side walls for this region.

This mixed array of angles that had to be cut consolidated with the distance saw guide needed to be clamped from cut line, saw's plate width from blade dependent upon direction of travel and the correct angle setting surely called for the 'thinker' to be placed in gear.

All of my corners are being cut with matching 45 degree angles so that the polypropylene honeycomb inerts are not exposed to any of the Isophthalic resin as the corner joints are fiberglassed in.  Nice, tight joints should create a very tight juncture with less than a 1/16" crack between the fiberglass of each sheet, on the interior and exterior, as they form these corners.

Sawblade for Cutting Nida-Core Honeycomb Composite Panels

For the past week, I have been wading through the humidity here in North Carolina, trying to find dry pockets so that I could attempt some cuts on some of the first panels.  The humidity consolidated with the heat has been unbearable to say the least.

We have been dealt a blessing, for today and the rest of the week some cooler air has moved in.

So, I tried my hands at cutting some of the first Nida-Core Honeycomb Composite Fiberglass panels this evening.  This stuff cuts really well with a circular saw fitted with a 40-60 teeth carbide blade.  I purchased a sacrificial 7-1/4" circular saw for the job because of all the fiberglass one would have to encounter and had originally tried a steel blade with approximately 100-120 teeth.  The cut went fine with the steel blade but towards the end of the 48" pass, the blade pretty much resembled a butter knife.

If you have to cut any of this stuff, just buy yourself a 40-60 tooth tungsten carbide blade, they work fine and only splinter the fiberglass minimally.  I was pleased with the cuts, no major disturbance of lamination at these new edges, just a little surface frays where the blade comes through.  Really not bad at all, now just a pass with a power sander and all will be well along these new edges.

There are circular saw, 'fiberglass specific' blades made out of tungsten grit, which resemble some of the masonry - diamond cutting blades on the market.  However, they are significantly higher priced than a carbide blade and I am not sure they could do any better than the carbide teeth blades do.

I have the flooring cut and the first vertical sides for the portion of the camper that will fit the bed....(see here)

(update 6 months later) I am still using the same sawblade, the carbide toothed blade, after 6 months of usage it is cutting this stuff just like day one.  "Carbide" is the only way to go when cutting fiberglass.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Camper Tie Down System - HappiJac Tie downs

As you know from one of my previous post, I was deliberating on which tie down camper system to go with.  Since this custom camper build will end up inherently lighter than all other commercial campers on the market, I was looking for a good system but simply did not need the superior Tort System.  I decided on HappiJac tie downs without the stabilizer bar addition.

I have discovered there are some others that have utilized this system without the stabilizer bar in place for hauling much heavier campers.  Although i would highly advise otherwise.  So my thoughts were, they should certainly suffice for a camper that will eventually weigh in at 600-700 lbs, half the weight of the manufactured units.

I totally understand the added benefits of the stabilizer bar and the physics behind it's design.  However, I simply think with the implied weight after construction the HappiJac tie downs and turnbuckles will suffice to meet my requirements. The turnbuckles for the front of the truck bed have an internal spring located within barrel to absorb movement, yaw, roll, etc;

The projected dry weight as of now, without any amenities is approximately 320 pounds.  I am more concerned with air lift and windshear at this moment than I am with other forces.

My projected calculations for the overall gross weight should chime in somewhere in the ballpark of 700-800 total pounds after it is all said and done.  That is significantly lighter than even the lighter slide-ins on the market.  .

There are only a handful of tie down systems on the market that I could find.  There you go for a niche business idea...create a good system and make your millions.

So I found some on Craigslist for $40.00, can you believe that?  The great folks, Walter's Travel RV, that sold them to me actually took electronic payment and were willing to ship, much more than I could say about a bunch of other craigslisters.  "What is it with craigslisters posting items to a national customer base and not wanting to ship, anyway?"

These tie downs were originally 93.99, so i was enthused and they were shipped really fast.

I was wondering prior to their arrival how I would install these brackets in the truck bed without assistance, understanding there are two pieces for each side of the bed.  I was thinking I would need "Go-Go Gadget arms" to hold brackets in place and to install nuts and bolts.  But, to my utter amazement, this system came with plates that have all been tapped and threaded, there are no nuts to install....hooray!  The plates themselves are held momentarily in place by a small self tapping screw while you mark and drill your holes in the front wall of the truck bed.

There was even a hole drilled for this purpose already and the self tapping screws came in the baggie included.  Wowsers! - that was unbelievable.  These HappiJac camper mounts must have been made in America,  they just had to be and apparently designed by engineers that obviously spent some time in the 'field', as they all should. 

So it is a simple install:
  1. measure and locate plate in bed appropriately 
  2. screw backing plate onto bed momentarily using a small self tapping screw which is provided
  3. then drill 4 bolt holes (hands free)
  4. have wife hold the front plate in place
  5. simply thread bolts into tapped holes
   there you go, about a 7-10 minute install, now move to the other side of the bed

As for the rear mounts they get attached to the rear bumper - on the ends.  Looks like a 1/2" hole will have to be drilled through bumper.  The neat thing about these, when not in use, the turnbuckle attach point removes easily from the bolt.  There is a bushing on the bolt shaft that makes this possible.  Simply slip them off when not under a load.

Throughout the years I have constructed and made various structures, mechanical and electrical forms and I must say that for something as simple as a camper tie down system, I was amazed at the fore-thought that went into the design phase of these tie downs.  Most often, engineers design systems that need modifications wrought by the end-user in order to install. That was not the case with these camper mounts, thankfully.

Thanks to HappiJac for creating a stress free install.  Those engineers were sticklers for attention to detail.

I'll see you guys later on for the install. -chris