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Building furniture

At long last Eleanor and I have found time to work on rebuilding the furniture for our 1968 Airstream Caravel. It’s awfully late to be starting this project, in the home stretch of our visit, but it’s now or never. All of the wood has been stacked in the shed for weeks, along with glue, fasteners, sandpaper, polyurethane, and all the tools we need. Our excuses for getting started this late are simply that we’ve been ridiculously busy on other things, and the relentless rain. But excuses don’t get the job done, and now the pressure is on.

charlotte-thunderstorm-lake.jpg

A thunderstorm passes over Lake Champlain  

On Saturday we got a break in the weather for half a day, so we got started on the project. Each piece of furniture in the trailer is to be recreated in new ash wood, duplicating almost exactly the original elm wood. With a light oak stain, the finished product would be nearly identical to the original in grain and color, but at this point I am leaning toward finishing with no stain, thus lightening the wood considerably from the original honey color. It should go better with the yellow/tan Marmoleum floor that is already installed in the trailer.

charlotte-caravel-woodshop.jpgOur workshop is a 20×10 tent structure with a blue tarp floor. The ground is sloped to one end, enough so that a loose pencil will roll off the table. Tomorrow I will have to try to level it up a bit more, but so far we’ve just dealt with it as-is. Rainwater leaks around the perimeter and pools on the edges of the tarp, so any good wood has to be kept off the ground to avoid water staining. The tent is infested with spiders, Daddy Long-legs, and flying insects of every description, so much that each piece of wood must be brushed clean of insect legs and wings before use. As a result of the rain-saturated ground, it is intensely humid in there, even with the door wide open. In short, it is far from an ideal wood shop, but it’s all we have.

charlotte-caravel-wood-joinery.jpgGetting started on a big project is always the hardest part. I did the first couple of hours alone, to get a sense of the process and the specific challenges. Then Eleanor joined in. Once we got past the first hour and both of us began to understand what we were doing, we began ticking along pretty nicely. She is specializing in drilling the joinery holes using the mini-Kreg, which involves careful clamping and adjusting. I mostly cut pieces to length and sand them smooth. Together, we manage the long rip cuts on the tablesaw and assemble the finished pieces.

charlotte-caravel-wood-armada.jpgThe only really safe dry storage we have is in the Armada, so all finished pieces are going in there, with loose parts taped and the original pieces alongside for reference during re-assembly. We can’t fully assemble the furniture, because it has to go back to Plattsburgh in a compact format, so we’re assembling all the flat sections and labeling how they go together.

Today we put in another four hours before the heat of the day arrived. Progress has been reasonable. So far we have built the face frames for two closets, one side of the dinette, and the kitchen. We’ve still got another dinette side and the gaucho to go, plus two overhead cabinets, six cabinet doors, and a few simple bulkheads.

Whether we finish before we leave depends mostly on the weather. I’ve cleared some time in my work schedule this week, but if the thunderstorms continue it may not matter.   I can’t use the tablesaw or chop saw when it’s raining (since they have to be set up outside the tent).   In any case I’m not wild about building furniture in such humidity, since dry winter air will almost surely cause joints to open up.   If conditions are really adverse, we can at least take some of the plywood down to the basement and start cutting it to shape with the jigsaw.

This weekend we’ve been visited by several friends from far away.   Yesterday Abe and Melissa dropped by, visiting from Virginia.   We just saw them a couple of weeks ago at the Vintage Trailer Jam, but they needed to come up to Vermont this weekend for somebody’s wedding so they popped by the house for a few minutes.   Abe scored big points by bringing me a dozen maple donuts from a bakery in Waitsfield VT.   He knows how to make himself welcome.

Today we had a sort of open house/beach party and invited several friends over.   Among the guests were Felix and Patricia (with toddler Nicholas), who were the unnamed friends in a previous post from Tucson.   Felix and I went to the same grade school in Vermont, and were by happenstance reunited last summer while we were both back in Vermont visiting.   It turns out that he and Patricia now live in southern Arizona not far from our place, so we meet up at both ends of the country from time to time.

Splitting the time between work and fun is the only way to go.   The Caravel project has the potential to be a nightmarish thing, but it should be a pleasant exercise if we handle it right.   I actually do enjoy building things when I have time, and in the end there will be a lot of pride in having done it ourselves (and well), so if it comes down to rushing madly to complete the job or leaving it unfinished for next summer, we will leave it unfinished.   At this point my goal is to get all the frames done, cut all the plywood pieces (so as to reduce them to manageable size), and deliver it to Colin up in Plattsburgh for winter storage.   Finishing with polyurethane, hardware, final assembly, and fitting can be next summer’s project.

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