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Old 05-02-2017, 09:38 AM   #1
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1981 31' Excella II
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Newbie walls/interior skin question

I'm a little confused about how many layers there are to the Airstream walls, and would love some help/feedback! So, obviously there is the outer shell, then insulation, then...the interior walls? But are the interior walls 2-layered (metal & then whatever covering - vinyl, wood, etc. - you want)? Or is it just 1 layer after the insulation? If we buy an Airstream that is totally stripped (to the shell/frame/ribs), are we needing to add 2 layers (metal, then whatever surface we want for walls) after insulation? Or could we just go straight from the insulation to vinyl? Or does it really *need* that interior metal skin, so we would need to do that first? If so, do people often paint the metal? (Ideally, we want white walls.)

Clearly, we have a LOT to learn! Any & all input is so appreciated.
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Old 05-02-2017, 09:45 AM   #2
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Metal is important

Aluminum inner skin forms part of the overall structure. Some people leave the aluminum bare (or even polish it).
Other alternatives include paint, vinyl, "mouse fur", wood, etc. Choice is yours.
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Old 05-02-2017, 09:54 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by BambiTex View Post
Aluminum inner skin forms part of the overall structure. Some people leave the aluminum bare (or even polish it).
Other alternatives include paint, vinyl, "mouse fur", wood, etc. Choice is yours.
Thanks! So...the metal interior is a necessity then? We couldn't just do vinyl paneling on top of the insulation because it wouldn't support the structure?
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Old 05-02-2017, 10:20 AM   #4
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Opinions differ

I was led to believe the inner alu skin is part of the structure. The point is certainly open to debate. Pretty sure you need something there but perhaps it need not be metal?
I have heard of owners replacing it with wood paneling without apparent problems. I added wood paneling to my previous trailer but installed it over the existing skins. Perhaps someone else will chime in...
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Old 05-02-2017, 11:16 AM   #5
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Skins

The interior skin is not open for debate. It is crucial to the strength of the trailer . One layer of aluminum exterior is not enough.
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Old 05-02-2017, 11:40 AM   #6
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The interior skin is not open for debate. It is crucial to the strength of the trailer . One layer of aluminum exterior is not enough.
Good to know! Is it unsafe to transport an AS without the interior skin? We are looking at purchasing one without interior skin 6 hours away.
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Old 05-02-2017, 11:45 AM   #7
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Actually, there are several threads on the forums that debate how much the interior skins contribute to the overall structure. One of my favorites is right here:

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f36/...ry-141728.html

That being said, these conversations usually begin with "can I get away with towing my trailer 100 miles without interior skins" as opposed to "I want to do away with the interior skins altogether." The answer may be slightly different in the two cases.

In my own experience, I towed my trailer hundreds of miles without any interior skins, and the trailer lived to tell the tale, with no damage. I did notice that the shell seemed a bit more "flexy" than it does the the entire interior in place. So, unless properly compensated for, this flexiness could allow for a door without a deadbolt to work its way open, etc..

Most people who want a fancy interior will put it on over the existing aluminum skins. In this way, if there is aditional motion/flexiness, the interior skins keep the rivets from tearing out of your birchwood or papier mache, or whatever you plan to put in place. They also help keep your new interior from developing a ripple as your materials react to temperature cycles, etc..

Would I recommend buying a "gutted" trailer that has been stripped to the ribs, with no interior skins included in the deal? A resounding NO! I replaced all of my interior skins at one point, and even with all of the wonky shaped original skins as templates, it took over a month (evenings and weekends) to layout and cut out the new pieces. Having no templates to start with would be an absolute nightmare.

good luck!
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Old 05-02-2017, 12:21 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Belegedhel View Post
Actually, there are several threads on the forums that debate how much the interior skins contribute to the overall structure. One of my favorites is right here:

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f36/...ry-141728.html

That being said, these conversations usually begin with "can I get away with towing my trailer 100 miles without interior skins" as opposed to "I want to do away with the interior skins altogether." The answer may be slightly different in the two cases.

In my own experience, I towed my trailer hundreds of miles without any interior skins, and the trailer lived to tell the tale, with no damage. I did notice that the shell seemed a bit more "flexy" than it does the the entire interior in place. So, unless properly compensated for, this flexiness could allow for a door without a deadbolt to work its way open, etc..

Most people who want a fancy interior will put it on over the existing aluminum skins. In this way, if there is aditional motion/flexiness, the interior skins keep the rivets from tearing out of your birchwood or papier mache, or whatever you plan to put in place. They also help keep your new interior from developing a ripple as your materials react to temperature cycles, etc..

Would I recommend buying a "gutted" trailer that has been stripped to the ribs, with no interior skins included in the deal? A resounding NO! I replaced all of my interior skins at one point, and even with all of the wonky shaped original skins as templates, it took over a month (evenings and weekends) to layout and cut out the new pieces. Having no templates to start with would be an absolute nightmare.

good luck!
Thanks so much! That's super helpful.
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Old 05-02-2017, 12:25 PM   #9
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Does anyone else know about putting up new skins without templates? (Maybe places to find measurements for templates online?) We've found a lot of conflicting reviews about this. Some who say it's a nightmare in general, but particularly without any template, and some who say it was the easiest part of their rebuilding since they just overlapped the metal. We definitely don't want to create unnecessary work for ourselves, but we do rather like the idea of building up everything new so that we know the quality of everything beneath/around/above us. We plan to live in it full time. (But we also don't have much renovation experience, though we are hard workers & fast learners and have a lot of helpful family & friends with more expertise than us.)
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Old 05-02-2017, 12:29 PM   #10
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My '67 Caravel had two aluminum sheet metal layers on the interior in strategic places. Mostly near the top/roof where someone might add anchors for bunks, etc, and to possibly add extra strength for roof top a/c units, etc.
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Old 05-02-2017, 02:12 PM   #11
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Part of what makes creating the interior skins without a template difficult is the front and rear corners, where the metal wraps around, and you try to maintain a nice looking level edge. If you don't give a rip about keeping edges level, don't mind random overlaps, etc., then I suppose it gets easier. But, even without the corners, you have plenty of windows and other penetrations that need to be acommodated, and a pattern makes things a lot easier. No patterns available on the internet that I have ever heard of.

You say you plan on rennovating and then living in your trailer? Is there a timeline? Having to recreate your interior skins from scratch will add a fair amount of time to that schedule.

I guess I just can't see any reason to drive 6 hours to recover someone else's aborted project. Even if they are giving it away for free, you will spend $700 minimum just to buy replacement aluminum sheets, and that is just the beginning of the money you bleed while doing a full rennovation. I can't believe there isn't a better trailer a lot closer to you than that. Don't get lured into a money-pit project with a low starting price. It can't be that good of a deal!

good luck!
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Old 05-02-2017, 02:44 PM   #12
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Thanks so much for your info! It's our understanding a renovation is going to be 10, 15, or even $20k. We plan to gut anything we get fully because we want to be sure of the integrity from outer wall through to inner cabinets / furniture. Therefore, we plan on putting in $700-$1k walls regardless. Is your only concern the fact that we have to design/cut these without a template? We do want to make sure we are making a smart move. So we want to fully consider all advice, and want to fully understand your point of view.
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Old 05-02-2017, 03:20 PM   #13
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There are many, many, many of us first time Airstream fixer-uppers who dreamt of finding the perfect trailer, doing a few months worth of work, and then traveling the country, or living in the trailer full time. Usually, our superficial spruce-up job becomes a shell-off when we discover the rotten floors and the disintegrating frames, and the project stretches out for years.

So, it sounds like you have a reasonable budget in mind, and if you expect to take it down to the ribs anyway, then maybe you are realistic about how much work there is to do (at least in theory).

My word of caution is that rebuilding one of these trailes is A LOT of work, and can take years. Give yourself the best chance possible. If you buy a trailer that has all of its interior intact, then at least you have options when the reality sets in as to how much work you are facing. You can choose to dig less deep, replace less stuff, redesign less thoroughly, etc.. If you buy a trailer that is already gutted, then you have no choice, no options, and no templates. There is a good reason why there are gutted trailers for sale on Craigslist--it is easy to get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task at hand.

Most of the people who end up replacing everything during their rebuild will hold onto all of the original parts until the job is done, not only to use as templates but also to answer that "how did they do this in the first place?" question.

good luck!
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Old 05-03-2017, 06:34 AM   #14
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I concur that starting from scratch on one of these trailers requires a considerable amount of time and money invested. I purchased my Uncle's '67 Caravel that was in decent shape with the intention of doing a mild refresh. Well, one lead another and I gutted it and am approaching the renovation/restoration finish line one year later and about $10k (not including purchase price) in total cost...maybe more. All the work done by me (except upholstery, granite, and SS countertops).
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