November 29, 2008

#49 - Michele Inspects the Progress

Michele and I took a trip to Plattsburgh Wednesday so she could see where the project sits and we could start to get serious about our floorplan. It was great that she finally got to see the trailer in person. This project has been going on a long time and this is her first look at it.

October 03, 2008

#48 - Window Frame Polishing

After a lot of trial and error, I've come up with an efficient process for removing the heavy oxidation and corrosion from the window frames and creating a near-mirror finish. My method isn't cheap. It requires an investment in consumable abrasives, pads and polishing compounds. I haven't added it up, but I know I've spent more than $200 in consumables just to polish the 9 windows' frames. That's in addition to an air compressor and an angle grinder. After trying it a few different ways, I'm convinced the best tool for the job is a pneumatic 1/4" right angle die grinder. Get a cheap one for under $30 on eBay.

Here are the steps on the aluminum frames:
1. You can waste a lot of time trying to get the heavy oxidation off your windows with the wrong tools, abrasives and polishes. You have to overcome your fear and be aggressive. This isn't the trailer's ALCLAD skin so you can use tools you'd never dream of using on the rest of the trailer.

Use 80 grit (yellow) 3M Bristle Discs in the 2" size on your grinder. Grind all surfaces that will be visible after installation. Bristle Discs are going to scratch the hell out of your frames. But they're fast and they get all the oxidation and corrosion off that you're going to get off. You might want to buy a few 1" bristle discs, too, for tight spots. Do NOT use the 3M radial bristle discs. They gouge.

2. After you've scratched all the severe oxidation and corrosion off, you need to fix the scratches. Get some 320 grit and 400 grit wet sandpapers and hand sand everything you just took the grinder to. You have to go over it a lot to get out all the swirls from the bristle discs. Don't hurry this step. Clean frequently. Make sure the swirls are gone. Now instead of swirls, you will be left with finer scratches going the length of the frames. The second photo below shows the "before and after" of the hand sanding.

3. From here on, you'll be back to the power tools. Place a cotton 1.5" cylindrical or goblet-shaped buff in your grinder. Use Nuvite F9 polish and slowly polish everything that has been sanded.

4. Use a different buff to do it again with Nuvite C polish.

5. At this point it looks pretty good. If you would like, do it again with Nuvite S and a third buff, but I'd recommend waiting until it is installed back in the trailer before worrying about Grade S.

A note about what to polish and what not to polish... While you want to get all the oxidation and corrosion off all the parts, some parts of the frame don't need to be polished through all 5 steps above. Obviously the exterior of the front frame should be a mirror. But the backs of the back frames will basically not show at all and can be left in a clean but unpolished state.

October 01, 2008

#47 - Proper Window Restoration

To begin a window restoration, the window needs to be disassembled. Front frame and back frame are separated at the hinge. Then the vertical center channels are removed from the frames. Take care with the extruded aluminum front frame channels. The 4 rusty mild steel screws that hold them in place easily break off inside the channels.

After the channels are off, the old screen is removed from the back frame and the glass is removed from the front frame. To get the glass out, you'll be removing lots of little rusty fasteners that secure the L-shaped aluminum glass holders behind the glass. Throw the screws and nuts away. You can get new screws and tension nuts from Vintage Trailer Supply.

All the dismantling is necessary so you can de-rust and repaint the steel back frame channels. You're also going to replace the old screen material, get new glass, and then spend hours and hours removing corrosion and polishing the aluminum frames. The photo below shows a pile of back frames. The first two frames show what they look like when the oxidation and corrosion have been mostly removed (but before detailing). The rest show the extremely heavy oxidation and significant corrosion you'll encounter.

If you've polished an Airstream, you know about oxidation. It's not quick to remove, but on a trailer skin it isn't really that big a deal because the oxidation is generally even and rather thin. You can read my article on polishing an Airstream if you don't know the basics.

Polishing 53-year old window frames is nothing like polishing an Airstream. Repeat: nothing. Rub your finger across the back frame's sill. Feel how rough that is?. That's extreme oxidation and corrosion. The oxidation builds up into little craggy mountains of oxide. It cannot be polished off with aluminum polish. Don't even try. You're going to be grinding it or sanding it off. After you get it off, you're going to see little pits and valleys in the aluminum. That's corrosion and you can't entirely fix it. You can minimize it by continuing to grind and sand, but some of it is going to be there when you're finished. Fortunately, the only place the corrosion will be especially noticeable after you reassemble everything is in that exterior sill area. And that's not visible when the windows are closed.

In my next post I'll detail how to remove the severe oxidation.

September 21, 2008

#46 - Back in the Saddle

My daughter is now 17 months old. My excuse has grown old.

With a wet New England winter approaching (again), my trailer must have its windows soon. The plastic sheets taped over the rough openings in the trailer are tattered. They won't last another winter.

Inspired by cold weather, I retrieved the large box of windows in my basement where I stashed them nearly two years ago.

There are 6 large windows (4 make up the Caravanner's trademark "Panoram" on the street side) and 3 smaller windows on the curb side. All 9 windows are Hehr Standard windows with gear type operators, as was the norm on 1956 Airstreams.

Hehr (brand name) Standard (model name) windows were the most commonly used windows in the vintage trailer world for all types of trailers built in the 1950s and well into the 1960s. They were used on Airstreams starting in 1952 and used as late as 1960 on a few models. They were used by canned ham trailer makers throughout the 1960s. They are now obsolete and the only parts available are those we've had reproduced.

Hehr Standard windows are awning style windows with a hinge on top. They have two primary parts: the front frame and the back frame. The front frame is the part that swings and holds the glass. The back frame is the part that is stationary and mounted in the wall of the trailer. It holds the insect screen.

After 50 years of neglect, my windows were in desperate need of restoration. Rusty steel fasteners, latches, operators and channels all needed replacing or de-rusting. The aluminum was, at best, heavily oxidized. At worst, it was heavily corroded. The glass was scratched. The vinyl rubber gaskets dried and shrunk. The galvanized steel insect screen was heavily corroded to the point of reducing visibility.

The only way to restore a Standard window correctly is to remove it entirely from the trailer body. That's because you have to do a lot of work to the back frame...including replacing the back frame gasket that is mounted by slipping part of the gasket between the back frame and the trailer skin with the rivets holding the back frame to the trailer going through the gasket! (There's an early 1950s variation on the window that is mounted slightly differently.)

In subsequent posts, I'll talk in detail about how to properly and completely restore the back frames and the front frames.