INDIANAPOLIS – In this week’s home zone, newlyweds get a great start to life by working as a team on a fun project. You master what appears to be a great challenge, but one that will pay off in the end.
Justin and Nicki Kollar repair their almost 30 year old camper. First, they are focused on getting rid of everything that was laminate and replacing it with wood. This is a makeover with tips and tricks that will make it easier, faster, and cheaper if you’re trying something similar. The entire project, including two sheets of high-quality plywood, inexpensive router, router bits, jigsaw, clamps, stain, and sealer costs less than $500.
“We have an old pop-up camper. It’s a Coleman Americana Sequoia. I think it’s 1995 and we just sort of fixed it bit by bit. We want to make it beautiful,” said Nicki.
There’s no doubt Nicki and Justin’s RV was in need of a makeover. But it has good bones and is definitely worth it. In addition, the couple likes to go camping and use it. The countertops were the focus of this project. They had a main table they ate at that needed replacing. There was also a long bench, a stove surround area and a sink area. All had laminate tops. There were six tracks in all and I helped the couple start the project.
“The laminate is blue and the pieces don’t really match the aesthetic we’re going for anymore, so we’re just changing it to look like pure natural wood to keep it fresh and modern,” Nicki said.
The first tip is to remove the old tops from the RV and measure the length and width of each piece. From there, go to a hardware store, buy some nice plywood and have them cut it roughly, but just a little bigger. This saves you time when cutting to size and also makes it easier to transport the parts in your vehicle.
After you have all the pieces you need, place the old laminate pieces on top of the slightly larger new wood. Then trace the shape from the old wood to the new wood. This way it fits perfectly in the camper again because it’s basically a duplicate but made of nicer material.
“His mom showed me stuff that Justin made at the wood shop in high school and it’s looking pretty good, so I think he’ll do a good job,” Nicki said.
Justin didn’t need any help to use a jigsaw which is the tool used in the first step.
“We’re going to cut off the edges of the tables because they have a rounded shape at the corners. We’re going to puzzle these edges as close as possible to the line we traced, but we’ll make sure we don’t cut on the line or go into the line. It’s important to cut outside the line,” Justin said.
After you’ve cut the piece almost to size with the jigsaw, it’s time to use a router to make it exactly the same size and shape as the old pieces. It’s the step that makes the edges nice and flush. You can also sand the extra down to the line you drew, but that would take much longer and wouldn’t be as accurate. Instead, use a flush cutting router bit.
Before you can use the router, clamp the old and new pieces of wood together so they don’t move. The ball bearing flush cutting head then follows the edge of the old wood as it cuts the new wood to mimic the shape and size.
“Security is paramount and these things are no joke. They can turn your fingers into minced meat, so you have to be careful,” Justin said.
Generally with a router you want to move the wood counter-clockwise. This is because the bit rotates clockwise. So if you spin the same way it spins, it can take off. Also, using a router is much faster than looping. We made each turn in about 10 seconds. After all the edges were cut, the next step was to protect those edges with T-mold molding just like the old tops. To do this, you need a slot cutter for your router. Justin came up with this tip to ensure the slit is cut exactly where needed without measuring.
“We put our slotting router bit into the router and instead of measuring exactly where the center of our new piece of wood for the T-shape is, I use the old one as a model. We loosen the cutter collar to allow the bit to slide up and down. Then place the router base on the old piece of laminate and lower the bit until it fits into the old slot. Then lock the router at that depth,” Justin said.
From there, set the router bit onto the new wood and bring the slotting router bit to its edge. You can now slowly start cutting the new slot in the new wood and it will be in the perfect spot which is generally in the middle of the edge. As with any router bit, you don’t have to get it perfect the first pass. Squeezing the router a little deep made our bit smoke. It was a pretty blue, but it also burned a bit and dulled it. When we were halfway through the tracks, we needed a new track. Lesson learned: don’t take off too much wood at once.
“We don’t have a house, we have an apartment. So our camper is like when you are a little kid and have a tree house and make it your own. That’s pretty much what it is for us,” Justin said.
Before applying the T-shape, Nicki and Justin sanded the tops of the pieces of wood. Then Nicki brushed on a wood conditioner before staining. It helps apply the stain more evenly and prevents staining. Now it was time to color. It took several thin coats over the course of a day or two. Remember to follow the instructions of the product you have chosen.
You did a great job! The end product was six perfectly cut pieces of wood, stained to her liking and finished with a protective T-shape bar.
Again, this six-part project costs less than $500, including the purchase of all supplies and tools. A contractor had his own tools and had offered the couple $1,000 to complete the three main parts. This isn’t a bad deal at all, but it just goes to show that with a little patience, help, and effort, you can do great work without spending a lot of money.
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