Camper Cabinets: Rebuilt for Better Aesthetics and Functionality
Updated cabinets took the ultimate camper from shabby to chic.
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Building New Cabinets on Curved Walls
To accommodate a new cooktop, we tore out the old sink-and-stove cabinet and built a new one. Mostly, it was a standard cabinet project. But the concave walls threw us for a loop. There are lots of tools and techniques designed for scribing cabinets and countertops to perfectly fit a wall. Our method usually involves whatever we happen to have on hand — in this case, a piece of cardboard.
Make a Marking Tool
We cut a scrap of cardboard, making a point at one end. With the cabinet as close to the wall as possible, we poked our pencil through the cardboard at the widest gap between the cabinet and the wall.
Follow the Curve of the Wall
Holding the cardboard level, we followed the wall with the point, allowing our pencil to transfer the wall’s contour onto the cabinet’s side.
Cut the Curve
Test the Fit
The cabinet fit the wall perfectly. But that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it’s necessary to tweak the curve a few times with a belt sander.
Finding cabinetry solutions for the unusual spaces was a fun challenge!
My Favorite Filler
With decades of dents and dings, our cabinets needed wood filler. There are lots of wood fillers available, but most have a gritty texture, making it difficult to fill the smallest imperfections and achieve a smooth finish.
When painting cabinets or doors, we use MH Ready Patch instead. Ready Patch has the texture of joint compound, but it’s harder and more durable when it dries. It sands smooth, leaving no trace of the dent or hole being filled.
Cabinet Doors from MDO
Our cabinet doors were in rough shape. Since they were just slabs of birch plywood, it was going to be easier to make new ones than to repair them. And since they would be painted, we chose to use MDO (medium-density overlay).
MDO is basically plywood with a layer of resin on both faces. Developed for sign-making, MDO is smooth, holds paint well and stands up to moisture. Like most plywood, MDO has ugly gaps in the edges. We filled them with our favorite filler (mentioned above). MDO isn’t carried by most home centers, but you can special-order it. We paid about $50 for each 4 x 8-ft. sheet of 1/2-in. MDO.
Fastest Finishing Standoffs
When painting the cabinet doors, standoffs let us coat the backs, then flip the doors over to coat the edges and fronts. You can buy finishing standoffs, but why? It’s possible to run screws through blocks or strips of plywood, but this is even quicker. Using 3/4-in.-thick plywood strips, just shoot 1-1/4-in. or 1-1/2-in. brad nails through the strips, spaced somewhat evenly.
A Smooth Paint Job
Flat cabinet doors like these are much easier to paint than raised panel doors; all you need is a paint roller. But which roller will give you the smoothest finish? We tried flock foam and microfiber rollers but found that a cheap foam roller (and high-quality paint!) gave me the best results. The only downside is that foam doesn’t hold as much paint as the others, so you have to dip it in the tray more often.
Door Pull Drilling Jig
Got a bunch of pulls to install? A drilling jig makes it fast and easy. Carefully lay out and drill the holes on a scrap of plywood and attach a fence to the edge for easy alignment. Just clamp the jig on the door and drill away!
Hot ‘New’ Countertop Surface
Richlite has been around for about 70 years. It was originally used for industrial tooling and pattern-making. Recently, because of its extreme durability, it’s being used in many other products, from guitar fretboards to sunglasses to high-end countertops.
Richlite is 65 percent recycled paper and 35 percent phenolic resin. The surface is smooth, but the random pattern of the natural fibers in the paper imparts an eye- pleasing texture.
Richlite is easily workable with standard woodworking tools, comes in lots of colors and thicknesses, and can be used alone or bonded to a substrate. For this countertop, 1/4-in. Richlite was bonded to 3/4-in. Baltic birch. Bonding to a substrate is best done with a vacuum press, but you can also glue it down with contact cement.
Flooring as Tabletop
Thinking about a durable table surface for a rec room or an RV? We used luxury vinyl plank (LVP). Made to endure heavy foot traffic, it’s super-durable and comes in many colors and patterns. LVP is only about 3/16 in. thick, however, as it’s always installed on a subfloor. So, we installed it on 3/4-in. plywood and used a Liquid Nails adhesive called Fuze-It to bond it to the plywood. To finish the edges, we glued and nailed on pre-painted 1/4-in. hardwood edge banding.