Airstream Remodel (Part 9) – Exterior Electrical Port

The current setup for plugging the trailer into electric when parked is to run an extension cord down through a hole in the floor and bellypan and plug that into the outlet. One of the downsides to this is that there is a hole which mice can use to climb up the cable and enter the trailer. So over the years I try to plug it by stuffing it full of steel wool scrubbie pads or whatever, but it isn’t a great solution. Also, feeding that extension cord out is a PITA, it is thick and stiff and hard to wrestle down through that hole, and so I usually just use a lighter weight cord which I can run up through the hole. You know what, it would be nice to just eliminate that process all together. So I purchased a marine exterior electrical port.

NOTE: Do not take my word for how to do anything, I just followed the instructions. I am not an electrician!

Step one – I cut a hole in the trailer. There was not much space to play with, but it just fit between the existing electrical fuse box, and an interior rib.

Honestly, getting up the guts to drill the hole was the hardest part, and then I had Dave do it! He cut through the interior aluminum first, then confirmed there was no wiring in the way, then continued through the exterior aluminum.

Next, install the mounting bezel. I don’t know why I used pop rivits, I have Olympic rivits in my toolbox, I just forgot about them.

So far, so good. Now, cut off the existing cord, which is already wired into the fusebox – this way I don’t have to open up the fusebox and do anything with it. The color coded wires in the cord matched the color coded ports in the socket, so no problem wiring it up.

Getting the whole thing snapped back together was tricky because I think the cord is thicker than intended for this outlet, but I got it.

Fastened down, nothing here is going to be moving around. That wire wrapped up behind the box is a pre-wire for an air conditioner, it’s not hooked up to anything.

The only trick fastening it down was that there were pre-drilled holes in the bezel, but because I turned it a little to miss riviting into the rib next to it, the holes did not line up to have the port oriented the way I wanted it. I drilled my own holes and got it mounted. I pre-painted it silver so it wouldn’t stand out so much.

Next – attach the new connector to the remainder of the cord.

This was also pretty self explanatory. No issues.

The new plug has a waterproof casing that screws onto the outlet, so the whole thing is very secure once plugged in.

Another benefit is that now that heavy cord, which used to take up the entire side access area, can be stowed in the rubbermaid tub I carry in the car with other stuff for setup, and that will leave more storage space in the utility area.

One last check to make sure everything is hooked up correctly:

Airstream Remodel (part 8) – Re-finishing the woodwork

After I got the other new pieces of woodwork done, I was so impressed with the color of the new gel stain, and so disappointed in the color of the stain/poly blend I had used on the drawers, I decided to pull them out and re-do them. I wanted to get them right before I fastened the new pieces in place.

This stuff is THE STUFF!

You can see how dark these are comared to the wall, which is original.

I sanded everything down with 60, then back to 120, and then applied the gel stain. After wiping it off, I was much happer with the color.

I continued sanding them down between coats of poly, all the way to 400, then rubbed one final layer of poly on by hand. It is smoooooth now!

One other problem was the dinette seat closest to the bathroom was sitting on the edge of the wheelwell cover. This tipped it forward slightly. Since I had it all back in the shop, I took a dado blade and took off just a bit of the back of the frame to make room for the wheelwell lip, and it worked perfectly. The frame fit back into the trailer nice and flat.

Now I was able to reinstall them and install the backrest for the right side. The stain colors match really nicely!

The backrest matches nicely to the existing headboard.

And the piece by the door looks good and fits nicely.

That is all the major woodwork. Now I need to find some carpet.

Air Force One

President Biden made a trip through Portland yesterday, and I didn’t even realize it until later in the day after I got done with work and looked at the news. There wasn’t much time left, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do: Grab my camera and my longest lens, and head downtown to get a look at Air Force One as it flew out! I had missed my chance to see it a few years ago, and if we hurried, I might get to see it this time!

We went down to the waterfront by McMennamins, which was on the flight path out, assuming the winds didn’t change. Other folks were gathered up and down the walkway as well, including a very enthusiastic little guy who was VERY excited about it and kept telling everyone!

For a while there was nothing but eerie quiet, because all flights are stopped for a half hour before and after. Normally it is very busy here. We could see lightning off to the east past the airport control tower.

The only thing in the air was this Coast Guard helicopter.

Little bird chillin out in the bushes on the bank.

Time to ponder whatever was going on down there. Looks like a big boat being worked on!

Finally some action, about six of these guys came roaring down the river!

Coast Guard, with guns mounted on the bow! I wasn’t expecting that! There was a fisherman out on the river who moved out of their way, and a big yacht that was heading out and didn’t seem to be put off by the Coast Guard, maybe they just had to stay out of the channel or something.

And suddenly, there it was!

It’s beautiful! I have a crush on the 747 anyway, it’s always been my favorite plane, so distinctive with that second-floor cockpit and four big engines! Listen to it whine! And this particular one with it’s special color scheme, and of course ferrying around the President and other important folks and journalists. Pretty exciting!

What a beautiful airplane!

And just like that it was gone. What a cool thing to see! And I wasn’t expecting the Coast Guard activity to escort it out. That was a pretty neat thing to experience. I’m so happy I got to see it before they retire the 747 Air Force Ones!

Airstream Remodel (Part 7) – Electrical

There are a couple small electrical tasks to go along with this remodel. One is to put a light over the table, because nobody wants to eat dinner in the dark. The other is to install a 12v port by the bed so we can plug in our phones to charge them. Oh, and I will need a power source for the fan for the composting toilet. Oh, have I not mentioned the composting toilet. Oh yeah, we’re going to be doing that too.

I really got lucky with the light, because the Airstream has these nice square ceiling lights. I have three original ones, which I converted to LED a few years ago. Also a couple years ago, back before the pandemic, a friend with a 68 Airstream was cleaning out some extra stuff and gave me an extra light fixture. I didn’t needed, but she insisted, so it’s been kicking around my garage for a couple years. Well, well, it is exactly what I need now!

I contacted Dan at and ordered another LED set for the light – but he was out! Supply issues, you know? But when I told him I had hoped I could get it to match my other three lights, he scraped up the parts and put one together just for me! How awesome is that?!

I also had to order a couple 3 way switches, because this fixture didn’t have one and the one in the bathroom light had been acting a little funky for a while, so I got those from because of course they are hard to find since they have a non-standard extra long post to fit this fixture.

It was handy to have the bathroom light out for switch replacement anyway, because then I could look at it to figure out what to do with the LED setup.

Out to the trailer we go, ready to run some new wires.

Oh, I hated to do this, but it had to be done. It will be hidden under the new fixture. I ran the wires through the upper cabinets back to the closet, where I planned to steal some power from the reading lamp. But then I realized the reading lamp wires were not long enough to splice into, and what I really needed was a junction box. This way I could take the power from the trailer, and split off the table light, reading light, and future composting toilet fan. It’s not as chaotic as it looks. I might tape those wires in place though. I don’t want anything in the closet to get tangled in a wire and pull it loose. Getting those crimp connectors on all those wires to extend them to the new junction box definitely was a challenge though. The closet is only a foot wide!

Functional light over the table!

For the 12v Power by the bed, I started out by making this super complicated little box. Then while waiting for it to dry it suddenly became clear what I should do, and I just drilled a hole in the original piece of woodwork at the head of the bed and put it there. The wires drop straight down to the front junction block, where there was an open slot just waiting for it. This is going to be hidden under the shelf of the dinette seatback.

I don’t know why I try to do things the hardest possible way sometimes.

Airstream Remodel (Part 6) – woodwork and staining

This remodel has required a few new pieces to be built around the new layout, and this one piece by the door, which used to be the end of the original dinette, just needed to be replaced, and pretty much has needed work since we bought the trailer, so it is finally getting replaced. It had many extra holes in it, old repairs, and was delaminating.

I used it as a template to cut out a new one, but with a shortened top. It doesn’t need to hold in a back cushion like the old one did, so it can be a little shorter. Also, I have always wanted a door there to access the stuff in that storage area. I need to get in there pretty much every time we set up, because I need tools out of the toolbox I keep there.

I stained it with the same all-in-one stain/poly I had used on the dinette seats/drawers, but for some reason it came out terribly blotchy, and sanding and adding more coats was just making it worse, it looked awful!

I asked on my woodworking group and one person recommended General Finishes Gel Stain, so I found some in Mahogany on Amazon (couldn’t find it loca) and waited a week for it to arrive. Once I got that in, I sanded the panel with 60/120/220 and then tried the gel stain.

Wow! It’s gorgeous! I was about to give up and toss the whole panel, I can’t believe how nice it turned out!

I glued the frame onto the door, and then gave both pieces the old sand-poly-sand-poly treatment until it was really looking good. Added a little hardware, and a few pieces on the back to help fasten it to the rest of the existing framework and the floor, and it’s ready to go in the trailer.

The other main piece is a new item – the backrest for the dinette. One side is the backrest, the other side faces the new bed and will have a shelf to hold phones and glasses. It will mate up with an existing piece of woodwork that is attached to the wall at the head of the bed, which will have a 12v power socket in it for handy phone charging.

I wanted the shelf to have a little personality, so I decided to make it curved. I cut it out to match the curve on the previous piece, and then took a thin piece of wood and soaked it in boiling water for half an hour to soften it up, so I could bend it to fit the shelf.

My first time bending wood, I was pretty excited!

Test fitting! I decided I didn’t like that pointy corner though. And the shelf needed edging on the flat side too or glasses might fall off onto the dinette side.

Much better.

I held off on staining this one until I figured out the problem with the first panel, so this one only got the gel stain used on it. And it was beautiful.

And then the ol’ sand-poly-sand-poly

Oh yeah, that’s the stuff! Look at that shine! The only problem I had was the bent wood on the shelf – where the clamps had pressed it into shape while drying, the wood did not take the stain well, and it has a light spot where each clamp was. Extra stain didn’t help. It’s no big deal, just something to think about next time I bend wood for something.

So now this piece is also done. It gets some pocketholes on the dinette side, which will be hidden by the cushions, and it is ready to install. Everything is coming together now!

Airstream Remodel (Part 5) – Cushions and a Bed

The old cusions were not quite the right size in any direction for the new dinette, so I consulted with friends who had done their own trailers, and ordered new cushions from The nice thing about this store is you can enter your exact dimentions and they will cut them to size, unlike some places that sell them like sheet goods. On my friends advice I bought hard foam seats, with a 1 inch layer of soft foam on top, and medium foam for the seat backs.

I carefully unwrapped the bundle and it sucked in a bunch of air and slowly started inflating itself – it was pretty weird!

There we go!

But when layed out flat they are tighter than I would like. I am going to need a little more room once they have batting and fabric on them.

Whipping out my handy-dandy vintage electric turkey carving knife, I lined up the edge of the bench underneith and a guide board on top, and slowly, carefully, trimmed a little off of each seat cushion.

And that gave me just enough room for them to lay flat and have a little extra space around them.

Much better. I think these are ready to go to the seamstress for covers now. I also took her a couple small throw pillows from the fabric store to cover to match the new cushions. I’m super excited to see how they all look!

Meanwhile, I think you can see what looks like a matress peeking in on the right. I was getting ready to go buy a double foam matress at Walmart to cut to size when I saw a post on my Airstream Club forum from someone selling (for cheap) the original matress from their 16ft Airstream. That caught my eye because I know the 16s have their matress in the end of the trailer, so it has two curved corners, which is just what I needed. We drove to Salem, Oregon and snapped that up. Brought it home, dropped it in place and …

Well, that is almost perfect! Let me get my handy-dandy vintage electric turkey carving knife…

Perfect! This looks ugly, but it will all be hidden under the bedding.

I made a lift-up center section to access the storage underneath, using the original table as a pattern.

I have a couple gas struts to fit on this to hold it open while we rummage around in storage. Im saving that for when the big stuff is all done. Getting close!

Airstream Remodel – (Part 4) The Table

My Wilsonart ‘Betty’ Laminate finally arrived, in a box as tall as me!

Grateful for my Mobile Workshop pieces, I laid my table saw, bench, and router table out to make a flat area big enough for the laminate to unroll and relax a bit.

First step is to cut this down to something approximately the size of the table, with a little extra on each side, which will be cut off with the trim router later.

I clamped a couple boards down to hold it still, and give my jigsaw something to ride on. I put a new blade in my jigsaw and carefully cut it. A few chips flew off here and there, but because of the excess this was not a big issue.

I put everything inside the house for a few days so it could warm up, because the contact cement warned it needed to be applied at over 50 degrees. Luckily we got a warm, if rainy, day a few days later, so I set up a sawhorse table in front of the garage (under the porch cover) for the table, and set the old trailer table on the table saw, covered in paper to protect it, and put the laminate on there. While wearing a repirator I applied the very stinky contact cement liberally to both the laminate and the table, rolling it out, and then set back and waited for it to get tacky.

No pictures of the next part, because I had my hands full, but I was able to apply it just like the instructions I had seen online, but putting dowels on the tabletop, centering the laminate, and then removing the dowels and pushing it down. Then I rolled the heck out of it with a laminate roller. Then I used a flush trim bit in my trim router and cut off the excess.


I filed the edges of the limoleum to make sure they would be easy on our hands and sanded the plywood edge of the table until is was silky smooth, and then finished it with a clear protective finish. I like the look of the bare plys.

After that all I needed to do was attach the old leg and mounting strip from the original table, and sand and refinish the mount that held the table to the wall. I’m reusing all the hardware from the original table to save some $$$, and it’s all good hardware, so why buy new? I installed the mount, with Dave’s help to get everything level, and… golly, I have a new table! This is such a big step forward, I’m starting to think this project is really going to turn out ok!

Airstream Remodel (Part 3) – Utility cover

Covering the Utility Tunnel under the new dinette turned out to be trickier than expected, because there was one level I wanted to keep everything at, so the cushions will lay flat over the whole area. So I built the seats based on the height of the existing tunnel wall, and I want the covers to sit down in there flush with that.

The seats are actually 3/4 inch higher, because the tunnel covers need to be higher next to the seats, and lower in the middle area, because when the table is folded down, that is where it will go, and then the whole thing should be flat.

Because I am concerned about weight, I didn’t want to just use 3/4 Plywood for the raised part, so I used 1/2 ply, and 1/4 strips to make a frame under the ply to add up to 3/4. Maybe more work than necessary, but it also let me use some scraps instead of cutting into another expensive piece of 3/4 ply.

Then I did build the table out of 3/4 ply, because I want it to be strong and sturdy.

And by some miracle it actually all fit together and is nice and level on top. But when I looked at mounting the leg on the table, I realized I had forgotten the leg was long enough it would need to go under the table and back into the tunnel area.

This caused me a lot of headach as I tried to figure out how to remove the existing support, build a new support that would hold up the two tunnel covers, and yet make a little slot for the leg to fold up into, and there was also a limitation of how far down the whole assembly could go because the whelwell liner is in the way. I ended up needing to use my new dado blade to remove 1/4 off the bottom of the table, and then I could modify the tunnel structure just enough to get my piece in there, and by golly, it all worked, at least in theory, since the table is not fully assembled with the leg yet, but I’m confident I’ve got it worked out. Everything test fit ok.

A little bit off the table…
Just enough room for the folded up table leg.

And everything fit back together just right.

The hand slots make it easy to pull up those tunnel covers for maintenance.

Now to finish the table and get that all assembled. Waiting for my awesome retro Wilsonart Laminate to arrive…


More to come…

Airstream Remodel (Part 2) – Dinette Seats

I started with the Dinette seat. They were going to be small, because they will butt up against the utility tunnel, and they will have drawers for storage. I followed Steve Ramsay’s Tablesaw Cart video because it was just what I needed, except mine was going to be even simpler. One big drawer. Or I thought it would be simpler. All the details actually got more complicated as I went along.

For one thing, things were complicated by it being so cold I had to bring everything into the house to glue up.

Super helpful, Mighty.

A little extra weight applied from the pantry.

I got a pocket hole jig which made assembly super easy.

And in no time I had two nice frames with drawers. Of course then the drawers tipped forward when you pulled them out too far, so a friend suggested rails at the top to keep them level, and then they needed to stay closed while on the road, so I added magnetic catches. I painstakingly stained them Bombay Mahogany, which I thought matched the deep reddish color in the trailer, but then I realized that the trailer was several different colors inside due to fixes done over the years. Well, now we are going with Bombay Mahogany.

Before staining I countersunk all the screws in the frame and filled the holes with a bit of oak dowel, just to hide the screw heads.

I added nice handles to kind of match what had been there before, and got them installed.

The final step was adding a piece that fit into the top for sitting on. Once that was in I could start test fitting the panels that will go over the utility tunnel.

But that is a story for next time.

Airstream Trailer Remodel (Part 1)

I have a 1968 Airstream Caravel 17′ travel trailer.

I bought it in 2003 and camped in it that summer. Then in 2004 I did a partial floor replacement, welded up cracks in the frame, replaced the axel and replaced the fridge and heater, and did a few other miscellaneous things, but left it as original as possible. I have been enjoying it like that ever since, with tweaks here and there. It is time for an update.

The original layout was a dinette in the front, and a gaucho on the side, which is a couch that pulls out into a bed. My issue with the gaucho has always been 1) we have to pull it out every night and put it away in the morning. 2) the bed design is terrible and the legs fall off frequently while you are on it and then you have to get up and put them back in. 3) If you sleep with your heads at the back end the heater blows in your face all night, and you are right next to the bathroom with it’s bathroom funk (we keep it clean, but be real, RV toilets can be funky sometimes).

We like the dinette for sitting at and eating, playing games, etc, but much of the time we will have it folded down into a lounging area.

Barclay enjoying the dinette lounge while camping.

So I decided to do some upgrades to the layout. This was a hard decision for me, because I have always taken pride in my trailer being original, and just how people have enjoyed it since 1968. But my choices were coming down to selling it and let someone else enjoy its originality, and buying another trailer to remodel to my taste, OR redo it so I could enjoy it more. I decided to stick with ‘the devil I know’ and do a remodel.

The plan is to build a two person dinette on the side, and put a permanent bed in the front. The dinette will also fold down into a lounging area, and will have storage in the seats. None of the existing utilities will be moved, so the dinette must work around the existing ‘utility tunnel’ against the wall where the wheelwell is, and the water pipes and wiring runs. The bed will not disturb the existing water tank, and will lift up for access to the two big storage areas in the corners. I think I will leave the center section of the bed open because it is handy to be able to store things under it for quick access, Well, maybe half of it anyway, if things go too far back you’d have to crawl under to reach them.

So that is my plan. It is not undertaken lightly, I put a lot of thought into it. Because I love my trailer, and all the good times it has given us. I want it to be our vacation home for many years to come.

I started by piling the entire interior of the living space into the garage, so I had room to measure and work in the trailer, and got started building the dinette.

Mighty guarding the pile of trailer interior that buried my kayak.

Off we go…to be continued.