Grinding and Painting

Trailer Build Phase

Although sandblasting is the go-to method for rust removal and preparing metal for painting, we were DIYing it, and we don’t have any experience with sandblasting. Also, it requires purchasing sand, making a bit of a mess, and tracking down two working sandblasters for us both to use. Instead, under the recommendation of more than one experienced friend / family member, we decided to go at it with wire wheels, attached to angle grinders. This is the same tool we used for re-shaping and cutting the steel during the build, but with a different attachment on it (see pictures).

3-inch wire wheel cup

3-inch wire cup

5-inch wire wheel (straight)

5-inch wire wheel.

If I had any apprehension before about using grinders, it was all gone by the end of this process. Thursday, August 20th, we worked non stop from 4:00 pm until 11:30 pm and on Friday, August 21st, we worked from 11:30 am until 8:30 pm – JUST grinding off rust. That adds up to a total of about 15 hours of nasty, dirty manual labour. A hot shower and gas station sandwiches for supper were never so glorious in my life. At this point I was starting to understand why the quotes we got for this work were so high…lol. It’s like those scenes in army movies where the fellas in charge make the newbies scrub the floor with a toothbrush. Unbelievably slow progress. It was pretty mind numbing, but also sort of therapeutic in a weird way. We of course had respirators, gloves, safety glasses, and long sleeve shirts to protect ourselves, but even then we encountered a few rogue moments when the grinders fought back. I’ve got a bruise on one leg and Tim has a bit of a (shallow) gash above his elbow. But none worse for the wear! It was actually really cool to see the steel getting all prettied up; the quality of the welds and the integrity of the whole thing became much more apparent.

Right: Pre-grinding - Right: Post-grinding

Right: Pre-grinding  –  Left: Post-grinding

We were really nervous at the end of the night on Thursday about leaving the freshly cleaned steel overnight prior to painting. It only takes 3 hours for the oxidation process to start up again; however, it mustn’t be visible to the naked eye. When we came back on Friday, all was well and we just carried on. I should mention that all this rust I’m talking about is just surface rust, nothing major. The steel is brand new, but it is carbon steel, not stainless. Anyway, the anticipation was quite high to get going on our first coat of paint. The stuff we got (from my paint expert uncle!!) is a black epoxy paint, that must be added at a 1:1 ratio to a curing mixture (hardener). Once it’s mixed, you have 1.5 hours to apply it. We took a guess at how much we should mix – 1 litre of each, for a total of 2 litres. Lo and behold, we covered the whole trailer in an hour and 45 minutes, with not a drop to spare. Random luck. By the end of it, the paint was kinda like tar… you definitely gotta be quick with it. We just used a couple of rollers and a paint brush to apply. Actually, we used the brush for all of a minute towards the end, and it wasn’t very effective- rollers were best, for sure.

Me, grinding away.

Me, grinding away.

Tim, grinding away.

Tim, grinding away.

We set up Tim’s GoPro on a ladder to take our first stab at making time lapse videos. This is probably the best way to show you what we did. We made one of a portion of the grinding process (forgot the extra battery and charger at home), and another of the entire painting process. We’ve set up a YouTube account for this purpose, and I’ve also stuck the videos in here for you to see!

Since we got one coat out of roughly 2 litres, we figure we can get 4 coats out of our 2 gallons of combined black and cure paint. I don’t think we can handle putting more than 4 coats on, and I don’t think it’s going to be necessary. We did a killer job (if i say so myself) of the first coat, and triple checked all corners and undersides. Saturday, August 22nd, we applied coat #2, after letting the first coat dry for a full 24 hours. The process was repeated again on Sunday, and today (Monday), to complete the entire job.

Putting paint on bare clean metal was satisfying and easy to track your progress with. All subsequent coats, not so much. Trying to see black on black is basically impossible, and the dry paint looks basically just as shiny and glossy under the lights as the wet stuff does. We had to be much more methodical about the order in which we did things so as not to lose track. There was definitely a bit of touch checking to see if certain parts had already been done. Anyway, there’s only so much you can say about paint, haha. I’ve likely over done it as it is. This is our life now!!! And we’re loving it 🙂

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Moving Day #1!

Trailer Build Phase

As it turns out, professional sand blasting and painting is extremely expensive and outside our budget! We got a few quotes around town, and all were much more than we were expecting. I don’t know if this has to do with the fact that most shops are doing work in compliance with offshore steel requirements, or if that just really is how much they charge regularly. After very little deliberation, we decided to hack it ourselves, out at the build site. Three visits to motor registration later, in search of clarification on the rules of transporting the trailer, we finally received an in-transit permit on August 14th! This permit is basically a one-time-use document that allows you to move a trailer or other vehicle from one location to another, on an agreed upon date.IMG_20150814_165719 The conditions of this permit require you to have working electric brakes and all lights (tail and signal lights, front, and side amber marker lights), and the trailer must be unloaded. It was $15, and hassle-free; my favourite kind of permit! The next day, my kind and helpful brother stopped by and helped us wire up everything (he’s an electrician). We didn’t want to permanently affix anything to the trailer since it was all going to come off once we got it out to the build site anyway for rust removal and painting. So, we attached all the lights and wires to the steel with plastic zip-ties! Brilliant invention. I wish we had had black ones though instead of the white, as they would be a little less conspicuous. After we had finished, the trailer ominously looked as if it were held together by those zip-ties. I will discuss the ins and outs of the wiring later when we do it in a permanent way, since the focus right now was just to get it working for the time being.

On Sunday, August 16th, the trailer made its way from St. John’s out to the bottom of Trinity Bay without a hitch! Well that’s a lie, it did have a hitch, to attach it to the truck. HA! I wasn’t able to attend this monumental event since I had previously committed to coming out of retirement and attending a track and field meet in honour of my coach. I think this was for the best because I would have been super nervous and anxious about things that could possibly go wrong. Tim’s cousin who is a professional truck driver kindly offered to give us a hand and towed the trailer for us from A to B. We were so grateful to have someone so experienced help us with this! IMG_9035Apparently there were no issues encountered, and the trailer was just fine in transit! With the safety chains hooked on, and the 7-pin plug plugged in, away they went. Tim followed behind in our car. He said the only thing was that since the trailer was so light, completely unloaded, it did a bit of bouncing up and down when going over bumps. I was so excited to see the picture of the trailer from behind on the highway with the functioning tail lights!! This past week we’ve just been getting our things packed up and ready to head out to the build site for what we hope will be about a month of construction work to complete the shell of our tiny house. We are staying in a summer home out there so we can stay close to the build and have steady progress every day.

Trailer Build – Day 5 & 6

Trailer Build Phase

We are DONE with welding and construction of the trailer is complete! Five hours on August 2nd (Day 5), and another hour and a half on August 3rd (Day 6) saw all the last little details get taken care of and, at least mentally, a big milestone in our tiny house build was accomplished.  We were really trying to get it all clued up yesterday, so I stepped up my game and drilled a bunch of holes through plates of metal!! Sounds lame, but it’s actually really hard.

Drilling holes into the plate welded to the tongue jack.

Drilling holes into the plate welded to the tongue jack.

Drilling holes into the plate welded to the tongue jack.

Drilling holes into the plate welded to the tongue jack.

Tim had the great idea of welding a plate to the tongue jack and another plate to the tongue cross bar, allowing the jack to be bolted on when in use and removed when not necessary. Four holes (one in each corner) drilled through both plates accommodate the bolts.

Plate welded to tongue cross bar.

Plate welded to tongue cross bar.

Completed tongue jack attachment.

Completed tongue jack attachment.

Tim drilled the tiny pilot holes because I didn’t feel quite confident enough that I’d be able to make them perfectly straight. After that though, I took over and used a larger drill bit to bring them up to size, and let me tell you, if you need motivation to hit the gym, try doing a bit of this. I felt so weak…! It was especially tricky to get good leverage while drilling the holes positioned lower to the ground. It was so cool to have a little project of my own though and complete it solo. Proud moment, lol.

While I was doing this, Tim cut some triangular gussets out of scrap plate metal that he would later weld to the C-Channel belonging to the ball hitch for added rigidity and strength.

Cutting with the plasma cutter.

Cutting with the plasma cutter.

Gussets!

Gussets!

He also cut small rectangular pieces from the scrap plate to use as makeshift hangers on each corner of the trailer for bolting on the scissor jacks. We bought these (and the various bolts and nuts we required) at Princess Auto, and they’re each rated for 2 ton. These jacks are just used for levelling the trailer, which will of course be very important during the build as well as setting up the tiny house in temporary locations. They won’t be used as much when the tiny house is at its final destination, since it will sit on blocks.

 

Hangers for corner scissor jacks.

Hangers for corner scissor jacks.

A pair of the little rectangular pieces were welded on perpendicular to the underside of the trailer in each corner, spaced just enough apart to allow the head of a scissor jack to slide in between.

Holes in the head of a scissor jack to accommodate the bolt that will attach it to the hanger.

Holes in the head of a scissor jack to accommodate the bolt that will attach it to the hanger.

We will drill holes through the jack heads and the tandem pieces of plate to allow bolts to run through and attach each jack when it is needed. A lot of trailers and RVs have these scissor jacks permanently welded on, but we think the tiny house will look much better not having to have them on all the time.

Another clever idea from the mind of Tim that was not part of the plans we purchased: pieces of threaded rod welded to the exterior frame of the trailer (with accompanying nuts) to allow for the floor sheathing and base plates of the framing to be bolted down as a extra measure of security.

Can see the pieces of threaded rod sticking up around the edges of the trailer.

Can see the pieces of threaded rod sticking up around the edges of the trailer.

The sheathing is 3/4 inch thick, the 2 x 4 base plates are 1 1/2 inch thick, and we got 5/8 inch nuts to match the rod; so, we allowed 3 inches of each rod to stick up above the edge of the frame, and an addition 3 inches below to be welded on.

We cut eight, 6 inch pieces – four for each of the long sides of the trailer.

6" pieces of threaded rod we cut up with the bandsaw. These come in 36" lengths from any hardware shop.

6″ pieces of threaded rod we cut up with the bandsaw. These come in 36″ lengths from any hardware store.

The last task was to go around and grind down any uneven parts of welds, and to touch up any bits that needed a little extra TLC. Thus far, I had been very tentative to use a grinder, since I had no experience with them. When I did my safety hazard training at my old job, the example used to illustrate the dangers of taking on tasks that you’re not trained to do (which can lead to a health and safety incident) was, of course, using a grinder. So naturally, I was a little apprehensive. But, I was feeling extra confident today, and Tim was very thorough in his instruction and supervision, so I went ahead and took on the grinder! Feeling accomplished, indeed. IMG_8928
Next up is to wire the electric breaks (and potentially tail lights.. we’re not sure if they’re needed yet or not at this stage) for towing to the shop for blasting and painting, and then finally to our framing site. Also, here’s a pro tip: MAKE SURE to put your lug nuts on the right way round 😉 That means the narrow tapered side facing towards the hub. We just got back from Gros Morne National Park, so we’re getting back up to speed now. Stay tuned, there will be more to follow soon!

Trailer Build – Day 3 & 4

Trailer Build Phase

These two days I am discussing together, since they both had the same focus due to our very first mishap… dun dun dunnnnnn. Things had been going so smoothly, I guess we should have been expecting something to get fooled up. It wasn’t a mistake per se, more so an unexpected issue we wouldn’t have been aware of, had we not had the good fortune of getting advice from one of the employees at the welding shop. As it turns out, one of the welders at the shop used to be a mechanic, so he is very familiar with the particulars of a properly functioning trailer, and what needs to happen for the trailer to pass a mechanic’s inspection (required for motor registration and licence plating).

On July 30th (Day 3), the first thing we did was tack on and weld the tongue cross bar. IMG_20150730_153209As I mentioned previously, this adds rigidity to the tongue, and it is also where the tongue jack will be mounted. Next, we continued on with mounting tandem axles to our suspension system.

Leaf springs mounted underneath the axles.

Leaf springs mounted underneath the axles.

Perspective!

Perspective!

This went smoothly, and we were able to get everything on, until our friend at the welding shop pointed out a small flaw. So for context, I’ll explain a little more about the suspension system. suspension diagram

On each side, each axle is connected to its respective leaf spring by a pair of U-bolts. One on the inside and one on the outside of the spring. Our trailer is (as the internet tells me) “underslung”, meaning the springs go under the axles; we did this to give ourselves a few more precious inches of headroom inside the tiny house, since this set-up allows the trailer to ride comparably lower to the ground than an “overslung” trailer. This type of suspension set-up has the spring saddle sitting on top of the leaf spring (and under the axle), to translate a round surface to a flat surface. The anchor plate sits under the leaf spring to allow the U-bolts to do their job and clamp the axle to the spring (which is in turn bolted to the trailer frame as I showed in the last post). Here is the bit that we didn’t think about. Since the springs are fixed in place in their hangers on the inside bar of the wheel well box, everything attached to the spring would of course be landing in fixed positions based on the location of that bar. Our spring saddles unfortunately were positioned directly on top of the weld that attaches the hub to the pipe portion of the axle. I understand this is a lot of jargon and it’s hard to picture without actually being there. This picture gives a bit more perspective, as you can see where that inside bar of the wheel well box lies, and the weld I’m talking about on the axle. axle diagram

Our friend said that our current set-up would prevent the spring saddle from making proper contact on the axle (and right he was, as a weld is an uneven surface after all), and an inspector would not pass it. This meant that even though our tires had good clearance, our wheel well boxes were about half an inch too narrow. The only way to fix that was to cut out the entire section, shorten the connecting ribs between the two wheel well boxes, and re-install all the pieces of steel to allow for slightly wider wheel well boxes. WHAT A MESS!! IMG_20150730_192846Cutting all of this out with zip cuts and the torch, grinding down the uneven surfaces, remeasuring everything again and welding a second time over to put it the way it needed to be put us back about 5 hours. It was so disheartening. You definitely wouldn’t be able to do this sort of thing alone- two people were absolutely necessary to lift and hold all the pieces in place during the measuring and tacking process. About half way into our day on August 2nd (Day 4), we had gotten back to where we were, before finding out about our mishap. I was so happy to be able to help Tim with this stuff as much as possible, especially where he had mysteriously hurt his back over the weekend. We make a great team 😀

Me, tightening the nuts on the U-bolts. As you can see, the U-bolts are sitting inside of that dreaded weld that connects the hub to the axle pipe. Success!

Me, tightening the nuts on the U-bolts. As you can see, the U-bolts are sitting inside of that dreaded weld that connects the hub to the axle pipe. Success!

Tim, bending a U-bolt into alignment with a vice.

Tim, bending a U-bolt into alignment with a vice.

And, we're mobile!

And, we’re mobile!

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C-Channel with mirrored pairs of holes drilled in it to accommodate the ball hitch.

We then continued on to weld the piece of C-Channel to the centre piece of the tongue for the ball hitch to attach to. The holes allow the hitch to mount at variable heights, depending on the specs of the towing vehicle. That was all we had time for before calling it a night.

I know there are going to be more unexpected hiccups along the way, but I learned a lot on this first one. Particularly about your headspace and the effect it has on your communication as well as short term / long term outlook on the project as a whole. I think as long as I can remember that these things are inevitable, and all a part of the process (!) I will be mentally prepared to jump the hurdles as they come our way. This comes naturally to Tim, lucky duck, so I am looking forward to honing my skills on staying positive. It’s about the journey, not the destination,  right?!! 🙂

Trailer Build – Day 2

Trailer Build Phase

We continued work on the trailer the very next day- Sunday, July 26. We punched a 10 hour day, from 11am to 9pm, and man it feels good to see such fast progress! We put in the remaining 5 ribs, as well as the section that will accommodate the axles, AND the tongue! There’s really just a few odds and ends that need to be finished up, and then we’ll be ready to get the completed trailer sandblasted and painted to prevent it from rusting. I forgot to mention in the last post that we were very fortunate to have most of our steel cut to size by the welding shop where we’re doing our work. There was just one 40 foot length of C-Channel we had to cut into 7’7″ pieces for the remaining 5 ribs. I was glad they didn’t do it all actually, because this way I got to see the bandsaw in action and learn how to use it. Here’s some pictures of us cutting a piece of steel:

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IMG_20150726_125322There was a lot more welding to be done today, so we made sure to wear proper respirators (with the appropriate cartridges, of course) to protect ourselves from the fumes. It gets pretty stuffy and warm wearing glasses, respirator and a welding shield, but it is totally worth it to not have to smell gaseous phases of metals (duh).

The pair of us with our respirators.

The pair of us with our respirators.

I should explain the difference between tacking and welding- the ribs we put in on Saturday were just tacked, which means a small little blob of metal to hold the corners where they need to be. Once all the pieces of steel are tacked in place exactly where you want them, then you weld around all the edges to make it permanent. So we tacked in the remaining ribs, and then Tim welded all the top and bottom edges to the exterior main frame. The same applies for the small section near the centre where the tandem axles go.

IMG_20150726_120423We framed out some narrow rectangles on each side that will house the tires, and then put in two shorter ribs between those two sections to maintain structural integrity. We were kinda nervous about our pre-determined measurements for the wheel wells since we did all the math prior to actually seeing our tires (and by we did math, I mean mostly Tim). Decided to take a gamble and just tack in our pieces and hope for the best. The tires came with the rims on, so we just popped them on the axles and positioned them inside our wheel wells to check and see if they fit. Good news!! It worked out perfectly. Then we were set to attach the hangers.

A hanger!

A hanger!

These little do-dads are used to couple the suspension to the trailer frame. The suspension system is made up of two leaf springs on each side (under each axle) connected by an equalizer in the centre. All of this is held together by a series of nuts and bolts.

Suspension system on one side.

Suspension system on one side.

After we got all that fitted up and were comfortable with the axle situation, we were able to get at the tongue. The axle presented its own complications in terms of calculations to determine acceptable clearances for the tires and positioning of the leaf springs. The tongue on the other hand was a whole different kettle of fish. The tongue was all about trigonometry, transferring angles, and finding the exact centre of a triangle with undetermined angles. I am so, SO grateful that Tim has a head for math, because it just doesn’t really come naturally to me. I can follow it and understand what’s going on once it’s explained, but I wouldn’t be able to figure out what to do in order to get the desired result from scratch, like Tim did. IMG_20150726_175640In this picture, you can’t see the centre piece very well, where the two tongue arms meet, but Tim made a 4 x 3 box by welding together two 6 inch pieces of 4 inch C-Channel. He was hoping to find a scrap piece of 4 x 4, but I will add that I came up with this neat substitute 😀 (shamelessly proud of myself for a tiny contribution, lol). The smaller piece of HSS laid on the tongue arms parallel to the front end of the trailer needs to be cut down to size a little, and will be welded basically in the same position it is in the picture, but flush with the rest of the pieces. This is to add strength to the tongue. The hitch will be mounted to the front of the centre piece. You can actually see our hitch in the picture, sitting on the ground a little ways in front of the trailer (it’s painted black).
In a nutshell, what he did included the following:

  1. Draw the estimated angles for the bevelled end of the tongue arms directly on the HSS with soapstone.
  2. Bevel the ends with a torch + grinder.
  3. Find the centre of the front end of trailer, and place the centre piece that will adjoin the two tongue arms together at the correct distance from this point.
  4. Make sure that the centre piece is completely parallel to the front end of the trailer.
  5. Tack the two tongue arms in place.
  6. Measure everything again and ensure it’s all level.
  7. Weld everything.

He asked me to say that he would have liked to mark the exact angle on the tongue arms, but he would have needed some sort of protractor tool that he didn’t have, so estimation was required. It was ok though, because any small discrepancy could be made up for by a thicker or thinner weld- whichever was needed to make it perfect. Precision and accuracy were paramount for this part of the job, because if the tongue wasn’t perfectly centred, the trailer would not tow straight when being hauled by a truck. It would compromise the entire tiny house, in essence, due to unequal forces being distributed to either side during towing.

So excited to finish this off and hopefully not break the bank on sandblasting and painting! Thanks for reading  🙂

Trailer Build – Day 1

Trailer Build Phase

We woke up early on the morning of July 25th, at which point it still hadn’t quite sunk in that we were actually starting the tiny house for real. After getting together all our work clothes, gear, and a quick breakfast, we headed out!

It was an awesome first day!! I learned so much, and Tim is a first rate teacher. Being around welding and in a welding shop is kind of intimidating at first, but as long as all safety precautions are followed and, obviously, someone experienced is doing the actual welding, it’s actually really, really fun. I guess the part I found fun is what’s considered the fabrication part of the work- this involves the fitting of pieces in the correct positions, and making all the pieces square and level. We started out by welding on two end pieces to our side rails in order to bring them both to a full 28 feet. In order to do this, Tim had to prepare the pieces of HSS by bevelling their edges to an angle, using a torch and a grinder.

Tim, about to bevel the edges of the two adjoining pieces for one side rail of our trailer.

Tim, about to bevel the edges of the two adjoining pieces for one side rail of our trailer.

This was the first time we really had a good look at the steel we had ordered and could visualize the full length of our tiny house. Once that was done, the front and back end pieces were tacked on to make the exterior box portion of the trailer frame (using 2 x 4 HSS). This was a big step, since it represented the footprint of our future tiny house! I can’t believe how fast time goes when you’re doing this kind of work. There are so many tiny adjustments that need to be made, and problem solving is a constant. What I hadn’t even thought about is that tiny discrepancies in accuracy or precision with respect to materials and the environment you’re in can have a big impact on the integrity of something new being built. Even the floor isn’t perfectly level everywhere. So, it was key to have scraps of metal and wood around us to shim and prop up our pieces of steel, making sure all of Tim’s welds resulted in flat and square corners. I think my favourite fix was the situation in which we used a hammer to bang on the steel perpendicular to a weld while it’s still molten, in order to squish it into place. I’ll just let some pictures do the talking now, since they tell the story much better than I!

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Bevelling!

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Removing slag with a chipping hammer, after a weld was completed. Slag constitutes the tiny impurities in the metal rods used for welding, which float to the surface and are easily removed once the weld is solid

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Stick welding! Don’t worry, I was wearing a shield to take this picture (and at all other times, too).

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This is what the contact point looks like between the stick attached to the whip and the molten puddle of metal, from behind a welding shield. It’s not this blurry in real life, the camera couldn’t really focus. Just wanted to give perspective

Pretty weld! :)

Pretty weld! 🙂

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Standing on one adjoining end of a weld to pull it level while it’s still molten.

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Tim with his torch. Reminded me of some weird welding version of American Gothic, haha.

Me with all my gear on! Fortunately, I already owned coveralls, boots, gloves and safety glasses from my last job as an geo-environmental scientist. Tim had an extra welding shield, which was lucky!

Me with all my gear on! Fortunately, I already owned coveralls, boots, gloves and safety glasses from my last job as an geo-environmental scientist. Tim had an extra welding shield, which was lucky!

The exterior trailer frame! Aka, footprint of our tiny house. Feels big!

The exterior trailer frame! Aka, footprint of our tiny house. Feels big!

Buffing the welds with the grinder to make them flush.

Buffing the welds with the grinder to make them flush.

Progress by the end of day 1. Exterior frame, and 6 of the ribs on the front end of the trailer.

Progress by the end of day 1. Exterior frame, and 6 of the ribs on the front end of the trailer.

When it was all said and done at the end of the day, we had completed the outside main frame of the trailer, as well as 6 of the 11 ribs that are positioned perpendicular to the side rails (not including the section for the axles). The ribs are made of 4 inch C-Channel, for reference. We worked for about 9 hours, and were happy with our progress! The tricky bits are on the docket for Day 2, including the tongue and axles.