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Old 06-27-2011, 12:48 PM   #1
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Lightweight cabinet construction ideas?

I'm brainstorming about how to build a lightweight yet stout "lift out" kitchen unit, much like what is found in VW Westfalia vans. My build is on a Chevy 1500 chassis so weight savings is important. Please keep in mind that I am a novice woodworker/van converter when reviewing my ideas. I have a crude Google sketchup file that I can share later (saved on another PC).

The overall dimensions of the unit will be 32"L x 24"D x 28"H. There will be no sink or cook surface to keep it simple and light. I would like to try to mount a removable 5 gal. water bottle (example) in the unit (this is debatable but would like to make it work) since I already have the manual pump pictured. My refrigerated food storage would be a Yeti Tundra 50 on some type of full-extension drawer slides. The top and the side with a drop-leaf extension will be a countertop material or possibly a sheet of thin stainless steel glued to 1/4" plywood. I'm open to opinions on what would be best. Stainless would be nice since it can be cleaned easily, can prepare food on it and anything hot can be set on it. The issue will be cutting it cleanly and dressing the edge. There would be hand-holds cut out on the either end to make it easier to lift.

My first idea is to build an internal framework then face it with 1/4" plywood with fairly standard construction.

My second idea was to use thicker plywood (1/2 or 3/4") and use rabbet style joints where all the faces meet to construct a sturdy frameless box. Internal structure and bracing would be used as needed to create shelves, drawers, partitions, etc.

Any thoughts or recommendations?
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Old 06-27-2011, 01:29 PM   #2
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Re: Lightweight cabinet construction ideas?

Another option for water delivery is to use a foot pump like one of these http://www.nauticexpo.com/boat-manufact ... -1190.html (we use the babyfoot model) to get water from a container on the floor up to a faucet in your galley cabinet. That way you wouldn't have to mount the water bottle on or in the cabinet that you build but could have it anywhere that your supply tubing will allow.
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Old 06-27-2011, 04:02 PM   #3
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Re: Lightweight cabinet construction ideas?

I built a kitchen box 35 years ago. I know it is strong because the very first camp trip I FORGOT I had unloaded it from our utility trailer and proceeded to back into it. It survived with only a very minor dent. The steering wheel of my van though was charred by my language at the time.

It is made mainly out of 1/4 exterior grade plywood and 3/4" x 3/4" popular (any clear white wood would do) strips at the joints. When first build the bottom compartment held our Coleman stove and the left side compartment the cook kit (and it still has the same one in it).

The dimensions of mine I think are very close to what you desire to build. I would NOT put 40 lbs of water (5 gal.) in it. Ours is heavy enough with kitchen stuff and canned goods stowed in it.

It is used by my daughter now. These are the only real digital pics I have. They were taken two years ago when camping with daughters family.

New owner with many memories.... This kitchen box was used on all of our family camping trips for 20+ years.


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Old 06-27-2011, 05:32 PM   #4
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Re: Lightweight cabinet construction ideas?

I built one using a combination of 1/2" that worked well. I used corner braces instead of wood framing to save weight.

Stainless steel is very difficult to work with home/hand tools. Formica should work fine for countertops although you do need a router to finish the edges.
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Old 06-27-2011, 10:41 PM   #5
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Re: Lightweight cabinet construction ideas?

A quality 1/2 ply will be your best option, and there will be no need for bracing with a decent glue and screw design as long as you clamp it while drying, and use the screws correctly. By use screw correctly, I mean drill the hole in the piece you are putting the screw through larger than the screw, and put a pilot hole in the piece you are screwing into. That way you are using the screw to actually pull the pieces together, squeezing the glue into / out of the joint. Common mistake is to just drill a pilot through both (or one) pieces of wood and screw, when you do that the strength is in the screw itself, not the joint.
A quality modern glue's is exceptionally strong.

But, you will need at least 8 ply in 1/2 inch and you probably won't get that from your local Homedepot / Lows etc, you'll need to go to a lumber yard to get that.
Then once you have the lower cabinet part, I would pick the top you like, and use a glued rabbit joint to make the up rights fit into the top. That way you are using the top to stiffen everything up. 1/2" ply would also work for top, but might be nice to use 3/4.

This was a quick garage cleanup project, and the picture doesn't do the size justice, but these cabinets are all 1/2" ply, and cover the width of a 2car garage, (the toolbox is huge, 6ft wide). They have 100's of lbs of spare parts and tools in them. No bracing except the 2x2 they sits on that's bolted to the wall.



Rabbit joints are strong if you don't want to see / use screws, but to get them as strong as screw joint's / load bearing takes a lot of time. You're best off making a jig for your router to make them. I wouldn't use a dado blade in a circular saw for rabbit joints in ply. Works well on solid wood, but you really need a router for ply rabbit joints.
This is the top of an entertainment center I made that is just wood and glue with rabbit joints, not a single screw. Takes a lot of pressure (as you can see from the tiedowns) and absolutely perfect joint for it to be strong.
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Old 06-28-2011, 09:47 AM   #6
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Re: Lightweight cabinet construction ideas?

Hello,
A little off topic, but I am wondering if you plan on putting either a fixed or penthouse top on your van? I also have a Chevy Express 1500 and Sportsmobile told me that the chassis was not suitable for a top, so I'm still trying to figure out what to do to accomodate 4 people for sleeping in the van.
Any suggestions from others will be most welcome.
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Old 06-28-2011, 09:55 AM   #7
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Re: Lightweight cabinet construction ideas?

Quote:
Originally Posted by rayandjanice
Hello,
A little off topic, but I am wondering if you plan on putting either a fixed or penthouse top on your van? I also have a Chevy Express 1500 and Sportsmobile told me that the chassis was not suitable for a top, so I'm still trying to figure out what to do to accomodate 4 people for sleeping in the van.
Any suggestions from others will be most welcome.
For now it will keep the factory roof. If anything, I may look into putting a pop-top from a VW Vanagon Westfalia on top. If you search around a couple guys have done that here. I'm only concerned with sleeping 2 people.

I'm not certain why Sportsmobile would tell you that. I thought the difference between the 1/2, 3/4 and 1 ton vans was the chassis, suspension and drivetrain, not the bodies.
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Old 06-28-2011, 11:08 AM   #8
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Re: Lightweight cabinet construction ideas?

Back on topic......

You said you wanted the cabinet portable.."lift out kitchen unit??

I do not have the actual weight of my old kitchen box but: A sheet of 1/4" plywood weighs ABOUT 22.5lbs. So I figure:

Kitchen box as shown (empty) would weigh in the area of 25#'s.
Similar box w 1/2" exterior and 1/4" interior would weigh about 42.5#'s empty.
And again the above are all estimated EMPTY weights.

If you study my photo's closely you will note that the panel next to the cook kit has lots of holes in it for weight reduction. Most of all of the interior structure was made using that weight reduction method. Also note that all panels are morticed into adjoining panels where possible.


I personally would NOT use lifting holes. Another way for critters and bugs to get in. I choice to use heavy steel lifting handles as shown in photo's.

I believe I used white glue at the time...yellow moisture resistant would today be a better choice. It should be noted though that set up time for yellow glue is short compared to white glue and you will have less "fussing" time if required.
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Old 06-28-2011, 12:27 PM   #9
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Re: Lightweight cabinet construction ideas?

Quote:
Originally Posted by LenS
Back on topic......

You said you wanted the cabinet portable.."lift out kitchen unit??

I do not have the actual weight of my old kitchen box but: A sheet of 1/4" plywood weighs ABOUT 22.5lbs. So I figure:

Kitchen box as shown (empty) would weigh in the area of 25#'s.
Similar box w 1/2" exterior and 1/4" interior would weigh about 42.5#'s empty.
And again the above are all estimated EMPTY weights.

If you study my photo's closely you will note that the panel next to the cook kit has lots of holes in it for weight reduction. Most of all of the interior structure was made using that weight reduction method. Also note that all panels are morticed into adjoining panels where possible.


I personally would NOT use lifting holes. Another way for critters and bugs to get in. I choice to use heavy steel lifting handles as shown in photo's.

I believe I used white glue at the time...yellow moisture resistant would today be a better choice. It should be noted though that set up time for yellow glue is short compared to white glue and you will have less "fussing" time if required.
Almost everything I'm putting in the van I want to be removable so I can use the cargo space when needed. My family owned a conversion van for many years and it was great until you want to use it for cargo. The couch was fixed and the chairs had fixed pedestals that were a pain, so I ordered my couch with quick release mounts. This kitchen unit will be pseudo-quick release. Even if this kitchen unit is 75 lbs. (hopefully less), that is definitely managable.

Perhaps recessed pocket handles then? You see them on subwoofer enclosures for cars sometimes. I will want something relatively flush with the face that can't rattle and gives a good hand-hold.

Thanks!
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Old 06-28-2011, 12:38 PM   #10
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Re: Lightweight cabinet construction ideas?

Good thread. Keep us posted. I am thinking of something similar. Weight empty is really the limiting factor unless you plan lots of in and out with it.
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