HOWTO: Coleman-Mach/RVP Blower and Condenser Fan Motor Replacement

Diagnosing a blower motor problem and sourcing the replacement motor have been discussed in part 1.  If you need to replace your blower motor, and have the part on hand, here’s how to do it.  Start to finish, depending on how many times you go up and down the ladder, should take less than an hour.

Tools needed:

  • #2 Philips screwdriver
  • #3 Philips screwdriver for outer cover (some models use Torx screws or hex nuts)
  • Wire cutters and strippers
  • 3 wire nuts
  • 9mm wrench
  • 5/32 Allen
  • Foil tape
  • Possibly a hammer and rust penetrant
  • Permanent marker
  • Camera (optional)

Before you go up on the roof, turn off power to the air conditioner at the circuit breaker.

Start by taking off the outer plastic air conditioner cover.  There will be 4 fasteners holding it on.  In my case, they were large-head Philips screws, though on some models these will be Torx screws or on older models a hex nut.  As long as you don’t expect any wind, just set it aside on the roof.  If there’s a chance of wind, take it down the ladder–these covers can get brittle and it doesn’t take that strong of a gust to carry them overboard.

Panel over compressor and electrical access cover will need to be removed.
Panel over compressor and electrical access cover will need to be removed.

Remove the Philips screws holding the flat metal cover over the compressor.  There are two types of screws–one with a pointed tip, and another with a blunt tip.  Use a marker to make note of which type goes where.  You’ll have to cut (or tear) the foil tape over the joint shown in the picture.  Also remove the access panel in the lower left of the above picture so that you can get to the wiring connections for the blower motor.

Blower motor removal.
Blower motor removal.

Remove the five screws holding the blower motor mounting plate to the evaporator housing.  There are three across the top, and one in each lower corner.  Also remove the two screws holding the motor support bracket to the bottom pan.  At this point, the motor is physically loose, but not free.  Go ahead and loosen the 5/32″ Allen screw that holds the condenser fan on the motor shaft. If it’s not too rusty, you may be able to slide the fan toward the motor, in which case you shouldn’t have to remove the fan shroud.

Fan shroud removal.
Fan shroud removal.

Assuming it doesn’t move easily, remove the screws holding the fan shroud in place.  There are 5 screws at each end, including one that also holds one of the refrigerant lines going to the condenser.

Follow the 5 wires coming from the blower motor through the wall into the wiring box (there’s probably a better name for it–I’m referring to the area behind the access panel you removed at the beginning).


Two of them (brown) will go to spade connectors on a capacitor–remove them, making note of which terminal has the wire with the white stripe.  Pull them loose, then identify the other three wires (red, black, and white), and look for wire nuts or crimp terminals already on them.  If they’re wire nuts, the blower has probably been replaced before, and you can just undo them.  Otherwise, you’ll need to cut each of those wires to get the old motor disconnected.


Next, remove the blower, fan, and motor as an assembly.  You’ll have to angle it out so that the blower motor clears the evaporator housing, but it’s pretty easy to figure out.  Lift the fan shroud as needed to get enough clearance.  Climb down off the roof with this assembly and head to a table with the new motor.  Make sure to take the 5/32″ Allen wrench with you.

If you don’t have access to the blower from inside the RV, measure the distance between the blower wheel and the backing plate.  Loosen the 5/32″ Allen screw holding the blower wheel on the motor shaft and remove the wheel from the motor.  This should require very little effort.  There’s a missing part of a blade on the blower wheel for inserting the Allen wrench as shown:

Blower wheel screw removal.
Blower wheel screw removal.

Remove the nut holding the motor support bracket on and transfer to the new motor.   Don’t tighten yet–it’s easier to get it lined up right once the motor is back on the AC unit.

Motor support bracket screw.
Motor support bracket screw.

Next, we need to separate the blower motor from the metal panel you see above.  There are four 9mm nuts holding it in place, under a foam panel.  If you use a box end wrench, you can feel for them and just let the foam tear slightly as you loosen and remove them.


Transfer the plate to the new motor, and reinstall:


What you should have left is the old motor by itself, with the condenser fan still attached.  Because it has spent time out in the weather, it may need some healthy encouragement to slide off–this is where the rust penetrant and hammer come in.  Don’t be afraid of it, but be careful not to hit the fan itself–hold the fan (better yet, have a helper hold it for you), and strike the motor shaft.

Slide the fan onto the new motor’s shaft as far as it will go, but don’t tighten the screw.  If you have access to the blower wheel from inside, do the same for it.  If not, replace the blower wheel with your measured distance and tighten the screw.

Head back up to the roof with the 9mm wrench, 5/32″ Allen wrench, wire nuts, foil tape, and the rest of the tools you used (or left up there) when taking the motor out.

Re-mount the metal plate that goes on the evaporator housing first.  Then feed the 5 wires through the grommet and reconnect them using 3 wire nuts and pushing the two brown wires back onto the capacitor as before.


Anchor the motor support bracket to the bottom pan with two screws, then tighten the nut on the back of the motor with the 9mm wrench.  Slide the condenser fan back in to place and tighten the Allen screw.  If you removed the fan shroud, replace the screws holding it on.

Optional: Before you close everything up, take a picture of the air conditioner’s name plate.  This contains the model number and a number of other specifications that could come in handy in the future.

Replace the wiring access panel, and the top cover over the compressor and blower motor.  Use a piece of foil tape over the seam at the evaporator housing.  Replace the outer cover and its 4 screws.  Come down off the roof, bringing all of the tools.

If you have access to the blower wheel from inside, and haven’t tightened its screw, now is the time to do that.  For best performance, you want the open end of the wheel (furthest from the motor) as close to the evaporator as possible.

Starting position for blower wheel.

The picture above shows about where the wheel probably sits if you shoved it most of the way on the shaft.  Below is how you want it to end up, in order to get the most airflow.  Just make sure it’s not touching the styrofoam to its left.  Snug the 5/32″ Allen screw to hold it in place.

Blower wheel in ideal position. Rotate to missing fin to tighten.

Replace the inside ceiling assembly, restore power, and test it out.  That’s it!

Coleman-Mach/RVP Blower and Condenser Fan Motor Replacement

In 9 years of full-timing, having owned a total of 4 Coleman-Mach or RVP air conditioners (two on my current RV, two on the old one), I’ve replaced three blower motors, but never the same one twice.  The failure mechanism on all three was the same–the bearings (or bushings most likely) would fail causing the motor to drag to the point of not operating or making loud squealing noises.  On two of them, I was able to extend their life by lubricating the bushings, but they still progressively got worse and eventually needed replacement.

In this post I’m not going to address the electrical side of blower motor failures in detail.  That’ll be a different post at some point, though the replacement process is the same.

Here’s how to check things out:

  • With power off, remove the ceiling assembly.  This will vary by model, but should be pretty straightforward.  In most cases, such as with the Chill-Grille, remove the air filter, one screw in each corner, and 3 under the filter cover.
  • Reach up to the blower motor and spin it by hand. It should have very little resistance, it should be smooth, and there should not be any noticeable slop either up-and-down or forwards-and-backwards along the motor shaft.  If there is, you’re going to need a new motor, either now or in the near future.
  • In some cases, the motor may seem fine mechanically, but hums instead of spinning when you turn it on.  With the ceiling assembly still off, turn power back on.  Being very careful not to get your fingers where they could get pinched, give the motor a nudge in the right direction to see if it starts going.  If it does, that tells you that the motor’s run winding is fine electrically, and you’re into a problem with the start capacitor and/or winding.  In other words, if you’re in this position, don’t replace the blower motor yet.
  • Head up to the roof with a camera and remove the outer cover.  Get a good picture of the label on the blower motor.
Label on original blower motor.
Label on original blower motor.

Here’s where things get a little interesting.  There are several part numbers on the label.  At the far left, you’ll see E4203, there’s a number 1468-306 in the middle, which is the OE part number, and then 7184-0156 just above and right of the words “THERMALLY PROTECTED”.  The last number is the one we want.  Of course, yours may not be the same number, but the process still applies.

Head over to the FASCO motor cross reference web site, and search for your motor.  Here’s what came back for mine:

FASCO Part Number OEM Part Number Notes

The FASCO part number on the left is the one you’ll want to make note of, as that’s what you’ll be looking to buy.  Search however you’d like–Google, local motor supply houses, etc.  For this one at least (on all 3 replacements so far–one AC unit made in 1991, and 2 made in 2004), I’ve consistently found the best deal on Amazon, and since it’s Prime eligible you get quick delivery, and it can be had next day for only a few bucks more.  If you look through the reviews and questions there, you’ll see that Coleman/RVP has used a ton of different part numbers for the same exact part.

Figure out which motor you need and get it on the way.  Part 2 will be up shortly to show how to replace the motor.

Dishwasher Drawer and Boondocking

If you’ve been following the kitchen rebuild, one of the things that I added was a Fisher-Paykel DishDrawer.  I’ll do a more thorough review later, but I’ve seen a number of comments about water and power usage, and various remarks about not wanting or using one because of boondocking habits.

Less Water Consumption

Contrary to a lot of those discussions, the water consumption in particular for the DishDrawer is the main reason I put one in.  At under 2 gallons per load, which holds quite a bit more than a sink piled full of dishes, it can get the dishes clean with a lot less water than I can washing by hand.

Very Low Power Consumption

Today, I decided to actually get some real-world numbers for power consumption as well.  Since I have the DishDrawer plugged into an outlet in the back of the cabinet (that I can reach!), I unplugged it and connected a Kill-A-Watt power meter.  I might get a little more sophisticated later and actually record the data, but for right now I just wanted to see total energy consumption.

The specifications list peak draw at 5.8A at 110-120V.  That means for the 2-hour cycle, it shouldn’t use more than 1.4kWh.  We expect that it will be a lot less than that.  If we take a look at the EnergyGuide label, it shows 141kWh per year, assuming 4 loads per week.  141kWh/(4 loads per week)/(365.25 days/year)*(7 days/week)=0.676kWh per load.

The first test is running the normal cycle, with Eco mode turned off.  It’s a 128-minute cycle, consisting of a 120F pre-wash, 130F main wash, a rinse, a 130F final rinse, and heated drying phase.


During the drying cycle, I was surprised to see that power consumption held steady at only 10 watts.  If I wanted to be a little more precise, the chart would show 4Wh over the last 25 minutes, but that’s pretty negligible.

Cost per Load

Lets look at cost per load with a typical 12-volt DC lead acid battery system, and assume 80% overall efficiency.  That should take care of getting to 120-volt AC power at the dishwasher.  The EnergyGuide number would then equate to about 70Ah per load from the batteries.  In the real-world test (which doesn’t include the energy for the hot water), we used 0.45kWh, or about 47Ah from the battery bank.  If you’re paying for electricity, at the 2014 national average electricity price of $0.125/kWh, that’s just over a nickel per wash.

So far, I’ve been running the dishwasher once every two days or so.  That includes tossing in pots and pans, which fill it up fairly quickly.  But given these numbers, if I had 400W of solar on the roof, we’d be talking less than an hour per day to take care of the dishwasher.  Better still, since most of the energy is consumed at the beginning of the cycle, I could run the generator for a few minutes up front and have negligible impact on the batteries.

To each his or her own, but from now on I’ll be pushing a little button to get the dishes clean.  I’ll do another post later on with some more general comments about this machine, but if you can’t tell yet I’ll spell it out: I like it.

The Grey Ghost’s New Kitchen, Part 5: Pulling out more workspace

Want to read about the kitchen remodel from the beginning?  Click here.

We’re finally at a point where I can talk about something that is a little more unique.  Previously, at the left end of the kitchen, there was a cabinet section with 3 drawer fronts and the subwoofer for the sound system.  The top drawer front was a tip-open panel that covered switches for the water heater and tank heaters.  These have already been relocated (here) along with the subwoofer, which allows the drawers to extend vertically higher and lower than before.  With the sink mounted further to the right,  the depth of the drawers is limited only by the equipment attached to the inside of the exterior wall and the switch panel.  Previously, the two drawers were only about 16 inches deep, now they’re 25!  That extra depth and the additional drawer (which is 11 inches high) means that a lot of the space lost from getting rid of the pantry drawers has been regained.

That alone would have been a nice improvement, but I decided to complicate things a bit.  Years ago, I saw a pull-out countertop section in a Chariot truck conversion–and thought it was a neat idea.  I thought that this location would be perfect, and decided to see if I could make it work.

All closed up. Still waiting for the drawer fronts to be delivered.

As with a lot of the other cabinets, I built the face frame first.  I wanted it to sit flush with the other cabinets, so I allowed for a 1/16″ gap all the way around (in other words, the dimensions of the insert were 1/8″ smaller than the opening).

Underside of the pull-out, showing drawer glides mounted on the inside.

I made the sides of the pull-out with 3/4″ plywood, and had to get a little creative when I realized that the sink would still interfere with the top drawer (we moved it left last-minute to avoid a narrow piece of countertop at the front right corner).  You can see that in the image at the top of this post.

I also wanted to conceal the drawer glides, but wanted to keep using the same style of soft-close full-extension glides I had been using.  To do this, I didn’t put a bottom on the pull-out, and mounted the drawer glides on the inside of the plywood sides.

Back side of pull-out, inside cabinet. Near side is the left end of the kitchen, and will be covered by a door allowing access to switches and wiring.

It was going to take some framing inside the cabinet anyway to support the stationary part of the glides, so it really didn’t complicate it that much.

View of wiring, with access door and pull-out open.

Originally, I had planned on making the side panel of the (stationary) cabinet a solid piece.  At some point while putting the switch panel together, I realized that I could make another face frame on that end, and give myself a door that would let me get to all of the wiring.  It would be tucked away at the back of the cabinet, but extend the pull-out, open the door, and everything is easy to see.

In the next two pictures, you can see the extension opened, and that there’s still room to fully open the drawers when the slide-out on the opposite wall is open.

Pull-out open. 3 drawers, and a 13×20″ Maple work surface.

DSCN1367The top for the countertop extension didn’t come from the same piece of butcher block as the rest of the counters.  There just wasn’t quite enough to make it all work.  I didn’t want another big piece, and the smallest they sold was more than I wanted to spend.  A quick search turned up a maple cutting board that was big enough, and the same thickness.  I ran down the two edges with a router to allow the cutting board to sit on the top edges of the plywood sides–it won’t go anywhere, but it can be easily lifted out for cleaning.

I’m still going to add an outlet on the pull out so that it’s a short reach to use a small appliance on it.

What do you think?  I’m sure there are a number of rigs out there where something like this could be built even if you weren’t tackling a complete kitchen re-do.

P.S.  If you look at the sink cover, it’s turned around backwards.  There’s a roast cooking sous vide in the sink, like this.

The Grey Ghost’s New Kitchen, Part 4: Doors and Drawers

If there was one part of this project where I really wanted to hand off some of the work, it was in building the cabinet doors, drawer boxes, and drawer fronts.  For the doors, I’d have a lot of money in tools for the various profiles on the rails and stiles, and would have to make up the raised panels without a planer.  Most of the drawer fronts wouldn’t have been too bad, but they also weren’t that expensive.  The drawer boxes needed to be fairly precise, to make sure operation was smooth–I wasn’t comfortable cutting a lot of larger pieces with just handheld tools.

Test-fitting new cabinet doors.
Test-fitting new cabinet doors.

There are a number of companies that will make this stuff to order.  I ended up using Barker Door for the doors and drawer fronts.  They had a standard door configuration that was a pretty good match, and I was able to order online and specify all of the options I wanted.  What I’ve received from them has been very well made.

Installed and finished doors before installing handles.
Installed and finished doors before installing handles.

For the drawer boxes, my initial plan was to use Barker.  I had purchased a few from them previously, and they make a very nice dovetailed box.  But once I got the cabinets finally far enough along to confirm measurements, Barker’s lead time had grown to about a month–I guess summer is a busy time. Unlike the upper cabinets, where as soon as the boxes were mounted I could put stuff away, missing drawers meant maintaining a mess.  I didn’t want piles of kitchen stuff laying around for a month.

My dad told me about another company, BHK, that wasn’t too far away, and when I checked them out I learned they had a quick-delivery program.  As long as you stuck to certain specifications, they would ship within 5 days.  They were also close enough for normal delivery to be only one day.  After a few phone calls to track down a distributor and get pricing (very reasonable, at roughly $20 per drawer), I placed my first order with them.

A BHK Fast-Track Drawer
A BHK Fast-Track Drawer

They weren’t going to be dovetailed drawers, instead drilled and dowelled Baltic birch.  Not really a big deal in my mind, and still a big step up from the stapled particle board drawers that were in the old kitchen.  BHK delivered right on time, and everything was just as ordered.

For drawer glides, I already knew that I wanted ball-bearing, soft-close, full-extension glides.  I’ve used them before–the soft-close mechanism provides enough resistance when fully closed that they won’t open going down the road, and full-extension means that the back of the drawer box gets all the way to the front of the cabinet.  I ordered the drawer glides on Amazon (more info here), which ended up being about the same price as buying locally.  With one of the first few drawers I got impatient and bought a set of drawer glides locally–compared to what I ordered, that set was a much lighter capacity with looser tolerances–with some weight, the drawer would sag when fully extended.  With Prime delivery, the good stuff was only 2 days away anyway.

Next time, I’ll show how I built a pull-out countertop extension that, as a side benefit, gives me easy access to all of the wiring near the main door.


Amazon’s Prime Day

If you’ve read much here, you’ll notice that we make use of Amazon Prime a lot.  Usually it’s just because it’s an easy place to find what we’re after at a fair price.  When you’re travelling, especially when you’re only going to be somewhere for a few days, the certainty of when something is going to be delivered is very valuable.

I also find myself doing the math comparing a trip to Lowe’s or Home Depot to ordering online.  In one case, I needed a dozen or so M4x6mm machine screws.  If I went to Lowe’s, it would be almost $2 for each pack of 5, and I wouldn’t know until I got there if they had enough.  Even with the extra charge for overnight delivery ($3.99), I had a pack of 100 in my hands before lunch for less than $10.

Why am I talking about Prime now?  In celebration of their 20th anniversary, Amazon has decided to make today Prime Day–a day of sales that they say rivals Black Friday.  I wasn’t going to go quite that far, but a quick look this morning shows that there are some pretty good deals to be had, and a long list of them.

Sign up for a free Amazon Prime trial here, or if you already have Prime, go straight to Today’s Deals.  Most of the good stuff can be found under Today’s Lightning Deals.

Part 4 on the kitchen project should be up this afternoon, showing how we sourced cabinet doors and drawers, putting them up, and finishing them.


Introducing RV Fitness

In this series, we are going to talk a bit about how to stay fit while living out of an RV. While this can be a challenge, the hardest part is usually finding the motivation, not actually finding the space to work out.

While quite a bit of our workouts are done outdoors, John has found that he can get his bike workouts done quite easily indoors in an RV, and Dave knocks out his weight lifting sets with a fairly compact setup.

If it involves working out in or near an RV, we will write about it here!

The Grey Ghost’s New Kitchen, Part 3: Demolition Down Low

This is when things really start to get interesting.  Going into this phase of the project, I knew I’d have a lot of re-measuring to do and was expecting some surprises.

New upper cabinets in, old stove out.
New upper cabinets in, old stove out.  Dave working, Milo supervising.

The stove and what was left of the pantry cabinet came out first, followed by the sink.  The left end with all of the control panels and switches took some time to carefully disassemble, while still leaving enough hooked up for the RV to function.

Wiring mess.
Wiring mess.

One of the goals getting into this was to clean up a bunch of the wiring, and at the very least get it to a point where someone could reasonably follow what was going on.  There were way too many quick splices used, and in many cases daisy-chained one after another.  That meant that a number of circuits had really low voltage once a load was applied, causing problems ranging from fluorescent lights not starting to phones not charging.

Since the new appliances had already arrived, you’ll notice that they were being put into the empty spaces almost right away just so we could walk around.  They were also used to check and double-check dimensions.

One of the first surprises was seeing how the sink’s drain line was run.  As it sat, it would have forced the range out about 6 inches away from the wall, which wasn’t going to work.  The end where it went under the refrigerator and into the holding tank didn’t leave much room for reconfiguration.  In the end, the fittings at the sink end were cut off, and the pipe angled back closer to the wall.  It wasn’t optimal, but it got the stove back even with where the cabinets would be.  The spice rack, a Rev-A-Shelf 3″-wide pull-out, would have to stick out to clear, but since it would end up even with the refrigerator this didn’t seem to be a huge problem.

It did mean covering the side of the spice rack though.  3/8″ oak plywood was added on the oven facing side.  It might not seem like much, but that turned into a couple of other changes.  It shifted the range left, along with the dishwasher.  But the dishwasher didn’t have room to go left, as it was butting up against the water heater.  That meant getting clever with the face frame design and leaving the DW slightly offset.  If you look closely, you’ll see that the 1×2 on its right side is turned so that only the 3/4″ width is between the dishwasher and range.

Dishwasher test fit.
Dishwasher test fit.

You can also get a better feel for the mess of wiring, ductwork, and plumbing.  In this picture, I had already re-routed the furnace duct–previously it ran over the top of the water heater, now it runs in front.  The drain plumbing would go through a few iterations before I got the setup I was after–I wanted to maximize the open space in the cabinet, and had to tie in to pipe at an odd angle.  A lot of the freshwater piping was eliminated–what they were thinking when it went in I’ll never know, but they kept it really close to the wall and tucked around the water heater opening.  That was always where it froze first in winter.  I lost count of the elbows that came out.

You can also see the spice rack, range, and dishwasher at least partially installed.  The dishwasher is a Fisher-Paykel single drawer, and the taller of the two form factors they make.  Not wanting to spend between $700 and $1,000, I looked for scratch-and-dent stuff. It ended up an eBay purchase, and with freight was about $500. I was using this thing as soon as it was installed, and it’s been running about every other day.  The project was a success as far as I was concerned as soon as this was operational.  There are far fewer dishes that end up in the sink, I don’t have to wash them myself, and the drying rack isn’t a permanent fixture on the counter any more.

The range and microwave were sourced from AJ Madison–one of the best places to see virtually every appliance on the market–and for those two, they also had the best price.  The range is made by Avanti.  I picked it for its size (20″ wide), having a true (“waist high”) broiler and storage drawer, and price.  So far, I’ve been very pleased with it, though if I had to complain it would be to say that I wish low was lower on the stove top burners.  All of the appliances will get a more in-depth review once I’ve used them a little bit more.

Test-fitting countertop section, and checking for level.
Test-fitting countertop section, and checking for level.

The countertops are actually a workbench top ordered from Grainger Industrial Supply.  I paid almost twice as much (~$400) as what Lumber Liquidators wanted, but Grainger delivered to me next-day, where LL wanted 3-6 weeks.  They were also prefinished from Grainger, and a little bit thicker (1 3/4″ instead of 1 1/2″).

Compared to a laminate or solid surface top, this was easy to work with.  The notch in the top over the dishwasher section was started with a 3/4″ hole at the inside corner, then cut with a circular saw and Kreg Rip-Cut jig.

Main countertop section set in place.
Main countertop section set in place.

I definitely wanted an undermount sink, and wanted a reveal large enough that the cutout would sit on the sink rim.  With a constantly curving border and the need for a narrow kerf, that pretty well meant that the jig saw was the tool for the job.  Remember how I mentioned that the Grainger tops were a little thicker?  They would be at the very maximum that the jig saw could handle, but we got the job done.  A little bit of sanding and squaring things up with a router bit finished the opening up.


Now this is a sink! Only one bowl now, but a whole lot more useful.

I went back and forth while planning the new layout on whether to buy a new sink or re-use the old one.  The old one was okay, still in a like-new state, but it was pretty shallow with center drains. I wanted the drains at the back to keep the plumbing out of the way, but I also wanted a deeper sink.  I didn’t want to lose more counter space though, and double-bowl sinks less than 27″ wide are pretty hard to come by at a reasonable price.  This one was ordered from Amazon, and does the job well enough.  The water jug in the picture didn’t fit at all in the old sink.  Installation of this sink was made easy with the butcher block countertop.  Screws from the underside start easily, and hold it well.


Now back to wiring.  I’ve introduced the topic of switches in another post, and here’s where that method is being put to work.  All of the switches are now the same type (Carling Contura II), with different color lenses for different functions, and arranged in one group just inside the door where they will sit behind the pull-out countertop.  The heights for the two main rows of switches were set to that they’d line up in between drawers, so that the drawers could extend further back–they ended up at 25 inches deep!  The shallower controls for the leveling jacks sit in the middle, where they don’t interfere with the drawers, and the awning controls have been replaced with a single on-off switch and 2 momentary switches to control the individual awnings.  It’s a little hard to see in the pictures, but every wire is now labelled with what it controls, and all of the quick splices (at least in this area) have been eliminated.

New switch panel.
New switch panel.

There’s still a little bit of work do be done, mainly to mount a new pilot light for the water heater (and clean!) to be able to call this panel finished, but it has come a long way from where it was.

More on getting things finished up in part 4.




The Grey Ghost’s New Kitchen, Part 2: Starting to Build Cabinets

So here’s where things get interesting.  How  do you build a nice set of kitchen cabinets with only small power tools?  As it turns out, it’s not really all that difficult, if you’re careful with a tape measure, and have the right stuff.

For this project, I bought a few new (small) tools:

  • Kreg K4MS Jig Master System — If there were one tool that was absolutely critical, it would be this one.  It has the jig, bits, and clamp to make pocket screw joints.  When I bought it, it also included a screw kit.  I only really used 2 of the screw types, and needed more of the fine-thread screws.
  • Kreg KHC-RAC Right Angle Clamp — this didn’t get used too much, but it helped when putting together the toekick and a few other joints.  The face clamp was used extensively, and is part of the master kit above.
  • Kreg KMA2675 Rip-Cut — this was bought before the kitchen project, but had already proven its worth (and introduced me to Kreg stuff).  My battery-powered 5″ circular saw’s worth was increased tenfold with this fence attachment.
  • Kreg KMA3200 Shelf Pin Drilling Jig — Should be pretty self-explanatory, but this made it fairly easy to get the holes drilled without too many screw-ups.
My old Safari's kitchen cabinets, at 21 years old, put together with pocket screws.
My old Safari’s kitchen cabinets, at 21 years old, put together with pocket screws.

The decision to use pocket screws was based in part on my first motorhome–at 21 years old when I sold it, its simple pocket screw cabinetry was still in great shape, and outclassed most of the wood stuff on newer RVs costing several times as much.  The new cabinets would use face-frame construction, like the old ones, but would use 3/4″ plywood for the sides (where they were 2 sheets of luan with 1/2″ pine strips between them).  All of the wood would be red oak, mostly 1x2s, easily purchased locally at Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Pictures are going to be pretty scarce through some of this, as I was working alone for much of it.  In addition to the new tools I purchased, I also used a drill, 7″ chop saw, orbital sander, and a 5-inch circular saw–all stuff that can fit in a fairly small space (the chop saw taking up most of it).

The upper cabinets actually went together pretty quickly.  The face frames were pretty easy with the Kreg system, and accurate measurements when cutting the wood with a chop saw meant that everything fit together nicely.  You can imagine my surprise when I lifted the cabinets up (in 2 sections) and they fit cleanly between the cabinets over the entry door and the refrigerator cabinet.

Upper cabinets installed, without doors.
Upper cabinets installed, without doors.

The microwave was a little more complicated.  I didn’t want another hole in the wall for the vent, which meant spacing the microwave out away from the wall and building a duct up and to the right of where the old hood was. It wasn’t pretty, but the microwave isn’t going anywhere.  It only sticks out about 4 inches more than it would have otherwise, and it’s higher than normal by a few inches so it doesn’t close the space in too much.

Once they were up (though it should have been done earlier), I used the shelf pin jig to drill the shelf holes, dropped the shelves into place, and was almost ready to start putting things away.  Before doing that though, I added 3 4-inch LED downlights, one under each cabinet.   They’re bright and at only 12W each still use less power than the 2 little halogen puck lights they replaced.  These lights are bright enough that the quick picture I took left the cabinets looking much darker than they really are–I’ll definitely get some better pictures as things progress.

The cabinet over the door (far left in the picture above) was kept, but has been sanded down in preparation for stain to match the new cabinets.  We’ll talk about doors and drawers in a later post.

Demolition down low starts in part 3.



The Grey Ghost’s New Kitchen

One of the biggest nagging complaints about the layout of the Grey Ghost was its kitchen.  There was plenty of storage, but a lot of it was hard to access.  All of the necessary appliances were present, but they were RV-grade and left something to be desired.

The Grey Ghost's kitchen, as it was at purchase.
The Grey Ghost’s kitchen, as it was at purchase.

Last fall, the RV refrigerator was replaced with a residential unit picked up at Home Depot.  The whole refrigerator was about the same cost as replacement door seals on the Norcold, and its power consumption has averaged 37 Watts where the Norcold was at 200 Watts.

After two and a half years of ownership, Dave decided it was time to go ahead and re-do the rest of the kitchen.  This would involve complete demolition, and replacement of all of the appliances.  Here was the wish list going in to the project:

  • Increase countertop space.  There was effectively none when the sink and stove top were in use.
  • Squeeze in a drawer-style dishwasher.  At 2 gallons per load, it’s much more water efficient than washing a sink full of dishes by hand.
  • Replace the separate microwave and range hood with an over-the-range convection microwave
  • Increase countertop space even more!

Even though it provided a lot of storage space, the decision was made to get rid of the pantry cabinet between the stove and refrigerator, and extend the countertop that direction.  Of course, that meant that redoing the upper and lower cabinets would be linked together, but it seemed like the best option.

New Layout
New Layout

Working from right to left on the bottom, we’d have a pull-out spice rack, the new range, the dishwasher, sink (with water heater in cabinet underneath), and then a pull-out countertop section with drawers in it.

To pick up a little space down low, the cabinets would be squared off, with the left section at 30″ deep and the rest at 24.  Both dimensions were there before, but the angled transition at the sink would be eliminated.  This would make for a bigger cabinet in front of the water heater, which would have enough space for a garbage can.

Up top, it would be all cabinets, save the microwave hood.  I wanted to gain some storage here, so two of the cabinet sections would be extended closer to the countertop (nominally 18″, like normal residential construction).  They would also only be 12″ deep, where the old cabinets were 15.  The reduced depth would open things up a bit, and really wouldn’t be missed too much, as deeper cabinets often just meant things getting lost in back.

Upper cabinets gone, starting to halve pantry cabinet.
Upper cabinets gone, starting to halve pantry cabinet.

The upper cabinet demolition looked straightforward, with just a little bit of electrical work and the microwave to deal with.  It was all down in about an hour.

Easy.  Now who’s going to build the new cabinets?  Check out part 2.