Airstream Remodel

Cabinet Door Catches

For a house that moves, it's nice for cabinet doors to have catches to keep them from swinging open.

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While our drawers have magnetic child locks on them to keep everything secure while we're underway, the cabinet doors didn't quite need such a robust system.  We used these chrome ball catches for all of our cabinet doors.

The tricky part is figuring out how to install them so that everything lines up perfectly.  Here's what we did.

Install the ball catch flush with the inner edge of the cabinet.


Put the screws in the protruding part of the catch, and lock it into place.  It helps to push the screws a little toward the arc of the door, or they'll hit the door a little too far to the side.


Close the door and give it a little push into the screws.


Open the door, and note the marks where your screws will go.


Install the catch in the door, and you're in business.


These catches require a slight push to latch, and they give a satisfying click when the door is in place.

Shaker Style Cabinet Doors and Drawer Fronts

Now that I have the drawers installed, I need to manufacture some cabinet doors and drawer fronts.  Like everything else, they need to be lightweight.  I'm using a simple shaker style built from pine 1x2's and 1/4" plywood.  Use the "premium pine" 1x2's for this, not the cheaper stuff.

I want my doors and drawer fronts to overhang by 1/2", so I'm measuring the space I need to cover and adding 1" to each dimension to get my finished size.

Before I begin cutting, I'll remove all the safety mechanisms from my table saw.  Unfortunately, none of them are compatible with the dado blade.  It's always nice to take a moment to appreciate how quickly this could become a "shaker style going to the hospital" post.  Please note that my fingers are closer to the saw blade in some of these pictures than they should be -- that's because the saw is OFF.  Please also note that I'm not wearing gloves.  NEVER wear gloves when working with a power saw.  If it catches the glove, it can suck your hand right in.

I found it easier to cut a dado in full lengths of 1x2 stock, then cut those pieces to the lengths I need.  If I cut to length first, I end up with pieces that are too small to dado without putting my hand dangerously close to the blade.  To get the groove dead center, I make one cut, then flip the board around and cut the other side.  It takes a few tries on a scrap piece of wood to get the saw adjusted to the exact thickness of your plywood, but it's pretty easy-going after that.  I want the groove to be exactly 1/2" deep.

Next, I need to cut all my pieces to length.  The left and right sides of each piece are exactly the same height as the finished piece because they go all the way to the edge.  The top and bottom are two inches less than the width of the finished piece, because they only go as far as the end of the groove in the sides.

The sides are done, so now I need to cut the ends of the top and bottom.  The shoulder of this cut needs to be exactly the same as the depth of the grooves we cut earlier, and the thickness of the wood that's left needs to be exactly the same thickness as your plywood.  It may take a few tries to get the saw set up, but once it's done, you'll breeze through all your cuts pretty quickly.

The plywood panels for each of these doors should be two inches in either direction less than the finished dimension.  In my experience, it helped to cut 1/8" or so smaller that that to make sure everything fit together nicely.  After test-fitting all my doors and drawer fronts to make sure everything fits, it's time to glue.  You don't need very much glue.  If it's messy, you're using too much.

Once your piece is assembled, clamp it together.  You really do need to clamp it, it'll be much stronger that way.  Check your bottle of glue to see how long it needs to be clamped.  If you have a limited number of clamps, this is where a fast-setting wood glue comes in handy.

If you're going to paint your doors/drawer fronts, you need to caulk the seams between the plywood face and the frame.  Use the cheap latex painters caulk for this.  You don't need silicone or anything fancy.  If it's the cheapest caulk in the store, you've probably found the right one -- just make sure it's paintable.  Do not skip this step or there will be an unsightly crack in this area.  You'll also want to sand the edges of your doors/drawer fronts to smooth everything out, especially at the seams in the corners.

Installing these drawer fronts can be a little tricky.  There isn't much overlap between the corner of the drawer and the "meat" of the door.  You want the screw to hit the pine frame, not the plywood panel.  Here's my method for mounting these drawer fronts.  I put a screw in each corner of the drawer from the inside out, just far enough to poke out a bit.  Then, I close the drawer and line up my drawer front.  When I get it where I want it, I press the door into the screws that are poking out of the drawer box.  Now, I can open up the drawer, line up the screws with the marks I made, and permanently attach the drawer front.

There we have it.  Shaker style doors and drawer fronts.

The Grand Unified Couch Theory, Part 2

Next step on the Grand Unified Couch Theory is the cushions.  Fortunately, my mother is a professional interior designer with her own workroom, so I can cheat. Thanks, Mom!

And just like that, we have cushions overnight.  We made two identical cushions for the seat and one slimmer cushion for the back.  But because of how shallow the seat is already, and the fact that the back is constructed of 8-way hand-tied springs anyway, I think it's more comfortable without the back cushion.

Slumber party mode uses the duplicate seat cushion to make a flat mattress.  It's a twin mattress, plus about an inch of width.

I Scotch-Guarded all the fabric to make for easier cleaning.  Since this is our only living room seating as well as Luna's favorite sleeping and squirrel-viewing area, Scotch-Guard was a no brainer.  It took four cans to do two coats.

The shelf behind the couch is made out of a scrap of oak butcher block I had left over from the countertop.  It's both a console table and support for the back of the couch in "lounge mode," and a nightstand in "slumber party mode."

I built the drawers the same way as all the other drawers in the Airstream using this method and these soft-close drawer slides.  The drawer fronts are made of a single piece of oak 1x10 so that the grain matches across all three drawers.  The hardware are salvaged letterpress drawer handles from A Vintage Parcel on Etsy.

I'm pretty happy that my Gransfors Bruks small splitting axe fits perfectly inside the drawer next to the wood stove.

How to Build Drawer Boxes

A typical drawer consists of a simple open-top box with drawer slides attached to the sides and a decorative drawer front attached to the face.

There are lots of ways to build drawer boxes, but the method we used makes strong, lightweight boxes with inexpensive materials and minimal time investment.  You'll need 1/2" plywood for the sides, 1/4" plywood for the bottoms, 1-1/4" cabinet or trim screws, wood glue, and a table saw with a dado blade.

Measure the space your drawer needs to fit into and subtract the thickness of your drawer slides.  Our drawer slides need 1/2" on both sides, so we're subtracting 1" from the width of the opening in the face frame.  For instance, if the space our drawer will occupy is 16" wide and 18" deep, the finished dimensions of our drawer box will be 15" wide and 18" deep.  The fronts of our drawer boxes are flush with the face frame because our decorative drawer fronts will overlap the face frame.

Cut your drawer sides out of 1/2" plywood.  The sides of the drawers should be exactly as long as your drawers are deep.  In our above example, that's 18" long.  The front and back of the drawers should be 1" shorter than your drawers are wide.  In our above example, that's 14" long.

Next, we'll cut the dado for our drawer slides.  My dado set comes with two 1/8" thick blades, which together are exactly the same thickness as a 1/4" piece of plywood.

Set your fence to be 1/4" away from the blade, and set your blade height to 1/4".  I like using a scrap piece of 1/4" plywood as a guide.

If this is your first time using a dado blade, take a moment to appreciate that you have just removed all the safety guards from your saw.  You should be wearing eye protection and ear protection.  Your body should be to the side, not in front of the blade in case the saw picks up your workpiece and throws it back at you.  You should NOT BE WEARING GLOVES.  Wearing gloves with a power saw is dangerous because if the blade catches the glove, it can grab the material and pull your hand in.

Generally, don't put your hands anywhere you wouldn't put your genitals, and you should do fine.  Sorry for the coarse wording, but it's remarkably effective at generating safe behavior with power tools.

Now, use a scrap piece of 1/2" plywood to make a test dado cut to check for proper fit. 

Once you're happy with how your saw is set up, go ahead and make your cut along the bottom of each piece you've prepared.  Take a moment to check the plywood for defects before cutting.  Sometimes you'll find a void in the plywood that would compromise your dado, so don't cut that side.  You can fill the void later.

Now that we're done with the dado blade, you can put your regular blade back in and cut your drawer bottoms out of 1/4" plywood.  The length and width should be 5/8" less than the finished dimensions of the box.  In our above example, that's 14-3/8" wide and 17-3/8" deep.

Now that you have all the pieces of your drawer boxes, test fit them together.  Remember, the drawer sides extend all the way to the corners, but the front and back are overlapped by the sides.  Make sure there are no gaps at the corners -- the drawer bottom tolerances are pretty tight, so if you cut your bottom too wide or your dados to shallow, you may need to recut your drawer bottom to get everything to fit perfectly.

Once you're satisfied with the fit of your drawer box, remove one side at a time to apply glue.  Put a thin bead of glue inside the dado cut, as well as a thin bead where the sides meet at the corner.  Use a couple of 1-1/4" cabinet or trim screws to secure the corners together.  You need to aim for dead center of the plywood you're drilling into.  I like using these star-drive trim screws because the small gauge and trim head cause less splitting. If you find you're having trouble with splitting, or just want to be on the safe side, drill a small pilot hole before installing each screw.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  That raw plywood edge looks pretty rough.  Are we really going to have to look at a raw plywood edge every time we open the drawer?

Yes.  But you can vastly improve the look with a little touch-up.  First, sand the raw edges with 100 or 150 grit sandpaper.  This would be a good time to wear those gloves and save your hands from splinters.  Just a few minutes with sandpaper will drastically improve the look and feel of your drawers.

Next, if you have any voids in the plywood showing, you can make them virtually disappear with a little glue and sawdust.  Apply some glue to the void, then shove some sawdust in there, then more glue, then more sawdust.  Keep going until you have a fairly solid surface.  Then, go over it with sandpaper to smooth it out.  Finally, smear a layer of glue over the area, and gently sand around its edges, creating a fine sawdust to coat and smooth the area.  Once the glue dries, you'll forget the void was there.

That's all there is to it.  Once I make my decorative drawer front, I attach it to the drawer from the inside with cabinet screws.

This is also the same method we used to make our sliding pantry shelf system.  We're basically just making a stacked drawer, with multiple dadoes cut in the front and back face of the drawer.  If you end up cutting across the grain, it helps to put a strip of masking tape on the wood before you cut, which will help prevent tear-out. 

The Grand Unified Couch Theory

The Airstream originally had a gaucho, or sofa bed, up front.  The couch cushion had a sheet of plywood attached to its underside, and the whole thing sat on top of an aluminum frame.  This design makes for a cheap and lightweight piece of furniture with a good bit of storage underneath, but it makes for lousy sitting and sleeping.

I set out to make a durable, comfortable piece of furniture.  This is really our only inside seating area aside from a small desk and ... ahem ... the toilet.  So the couch needs to be comfortable.  We also wanted to be able to convert it to a bed that's a bit more comfortable than a bunch of couch cushions sitting on the floor.

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I researched common furniture dimensions here and here, and got pretty deep into a Youtube upholstery hole.  I found a very useful set of videos for hand-tying springs produced by, and ended up getting a bunch of my supplies from them.

Since I want this furniture to last, I'm building the major load-bearing parts out of oak, and using dovetail joints for the higher stress areas.  None of my local hardware stores carry dovetail saws, so I picked up this Japanese dovetail saw over at Amazon that I'm very happy with.

After a few practice joints, we're off and running.  It's good to leave a little extra on either end of the joint, which you can trim flush with the dovetail saw or a block plane

After watching a bunch of YouTube videos of carpenters saying they do just fine marking their dovetails freehand, I tried it that way.  Then I picked up this dovetail marking tool for $12.  If you want to cut dovetails, just buy the marking tool.  It'll easily pay for itself in frustration and wasted material.

Frames are 6' long by 20" wide.  11 sets of 20" spring bars per frame made for fairly even spacing.  Also got the big roll of Ruby Italian Spring Twine and a box of spring nails.  About 300 knots per frame and we're in business.

I used a piano hinge to attach the two sides together and test fit the assembly.  Lounge mode on the left, slumber party mode on the right.

I built the base and attached legs to the front of the seat.  The legs will support the front of the seat when it's pulled out into a bed.  I also started work on the arm rest, which will angle slightly outward.  I considered building shelves or drawers into the space between the arm rest and the wall, but I think we're going to like the freestanding look better.

Next, I removed the piano hinge from the frames and started on covering them.  First burlap to cover the springs, then 1" edge roll around the front and sides.  I probably could have used 1-1/4" and got a little flatter seat.  I did not put edge roll at the back of the seat or the bottom of the back because I don't want you to feel a lump behind your tailbone when sitting, or in the middle of the bed when laying down.

One layer of cotton batting with the edges tucked behind the edge roll, then another layer on top, hanging over the front.  This will smooth out the back and seat a bit, and protect the fabric cover from the springs wearing through it.  The fabric we chose is this charcoal colored linen blend.

Next, we reattached the piano hinge to the covered frames and reinstalled in the Airstream.  The frames are fairly comfortable by themselves, but much better with a layer of cushions on the seat.  I have the back angled at 26 degrees.  Since the seat is horizontal (no backward angle), if the back reclines too much, you'll feel like you're sliding forward off the seat.

The seat cushion is going to be 4", but the back cushion is going to be pretty thin.  Every inch of back cushion takes away an inch of seat depth, and 20" is on the shallow side for a couch seat anyway.  If I didn't have to work around the wood stove and hearth, I might have used 21-1/2" bar springs for the seat to make it a little deeper.  But the seat back is pretty comfortable even without a cushion, so we should be fine.

Luna approves of our progress.