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Nip and tuck

Posted 22/11/2016

The large area of fibreglass filled damage on the side.The large area of fibreglass filled damage on the side.The super moon of the 14th promised a dramatic shift in cosmic energy, supposedly bringing emotional changes and a spot of home stability (if you believe in that sort of thing of course!) and it certainly didn't disappoint, though I think my finger tips are bruised... :/

How on earth do you bruise finger tips, you might wonder? Over five days straight (and the evenings too!) of sanding the acres of corrugated bodywork on Waki is what did it for me, but it was totally worth it! :D

The rough state of her bodywork has annoyed me for years, not so much because of the flaky paint nor the myriad of dents here and there but more in the knowledge that the metal work was quite literally peppered with tiny holes, each threatening to let in the rain and potentially ruin all of the hard work we'd put into fixing up the interior! Long term readers might recall that we gave her a thorough coating of white metal paint before our wedding, to help seal the holes and to smarten up the funky brown and orange stripes she was sporting originally but that was over three years ago and even the tough metal paint was now wearing thin in places exposing some of those dreaded holes. Let's face it, she didn't look good! You may wonder why didn't we just sort out the bodywork when we first got her? ...

Customary before photo...Customary before photo...Well, we would have if we'd have had access to a building large enough but at over 10 ft high (excluding the chimney!), 8 ft wide and 20 ft long she doesn't fit through many doorways and rare is it to enjoy a full week or two without rain in these green and pleasant lands, even in summer!

So when Ryan's bosses decided to re-fit one of the buildings on site that was previously being rented out, we jumped at the chance to 'borrow' the space before they filled it back up with the new workshop. Of course they didn't want to wait forever so we were given a week in which to do what we needed to do, a tight deadline for the size of the vehicle but we weren't likely to get a better offer any time soon so we rolled up opur sleeves and set to it...


We spent the weekend of Ryan's birthday gathering paint and supplies and clearing the junk from the awning, with the exception of Sunday as Ryan wanted to try his hand at Pit Bike racing – well it was his birthday weekend after all! On Monday we got Waki up and running and she got a thorough clean with the jet wash, after so long parked in the one place it was fantastic to see her moving about again – I actually welled up a little! It could have been the cold air outside... ;)

Partway through removing the flaky brown stripesPartway through removing the flaky brown stripes

On Tuesday I was sent out for more supplies, the sandpaper that would become both friend and foe, and on my return I found Ryan getting started inside the building we'd be calling home for the next week. We got to stripping the paint in the areas that were previously painted brown, it appeared to be some kind of regular household gloss paint as it didn't stick as well as our white metal paint did, peeling away with little encouragement from a knife blade. Like peeling wallpaper it was oddly satisfying until we got to the tough bits but the sander could handle that, we just needed the flaky stuff gone. The silicone seal around the trim and windows was still extremely well stuck, irritatingly so as it could only be removed with a knife and a heck of a lot of force – the purpose made silicone removal tool we bought simply bounced off of it! The strength required to scrape it off made it another one of Ryan's jobs (especially as I refused to do anything too rigorous on the ridiculously wobbly step ladder!) and I was left with sanding the remnants away. Even the simple task of sanding the silicone away was still not as easy as we had initially hoped, yet extremely important since car paint doesn't stay on where there is even a hint of silicone so I had no choice but to keep at it.

With Ryan's holidays used up already it was down to me to do what I could during the day by myself, Ryan using the sanding machine on the other sections in the evenings and repairing the dents and holes when he got home from work. The white metal paint was good stuff, too good perhaps (Wickes own brand if you like the sound of it), and it also took a massive amount of sanding with course disks to smooth out – we were certainly pleased to have a machine on our side instead of relying on solely elbow grease alone! The grooves in the body did mean however that we (so probably I...) would still need to run along by hand to get into the creases nicely.

Fuelled by multiple cups of coffee (anything for a break every couple of hours!) and during the tedious hours on Wednesday I calculated that I had sanded the silicone remnants off of approximately 50 feet of trim on the one side alone, and I still had all around the windows and the over-cab section to do, plus the rear, and the other side... by Thursday we realised that it was unlikely we were going to be able to finish the entire body. A quick discussion on a plan of action had us decide on leaving the area protected within the awning space completely, since it could be finished out of the elements wherever we're parked at a later date. It was a shame since I prefer to be able to finish completely what we start, but since the weather forecast wasn't looking good for next week we would concentrate our efforts on the areas 'outside' so as to make sure that she was properly weather-tight when our time run out, anything we completed on top of that would be a bonus. Ryan assures me that the paint he purchased blends particularly well so some time in the coming months we'll turn the awning into a mini spray booth, when I can face sanding again anyway...

By Thursday evening the tendons in my forearms were complaining along with my finger tips, and although still willing I found that I couldn't actually grip the sandpaper any more so was forced to find a job using different muscles in order to stay useful! I decided to clean the patches of white paint from the brown plastic vents with some gentle scrapes of my trusty pocket knife, then retired to do the washing up inside using bottled water since we had no mains water connected.

On Friday I awoke with throbbing tendons, so began by cutting the protruding and discoloured putty away from the edges of the upright corner trims and from around the vents with my pocket knife leaving us with a nice neat edge to the panels, another tedious task, in between more light sanding... I hate abusing a knife blade like that but it worked the best and I'll soon be able to get an edge back on it again with the whet stone. I took the advice of Marie Kondo when feeling bored and frustrated to think of how much I appreciated the item I was 'cleaning' to help the job feel more enjoyable, and it cemented the importance of the monotonous task in my minds eye. Waki's name means 'shelter' and we were ensuring that she could continue to provide just that, and look good doing it!

This Dreamliner has seen better days but will soon earn back her Vogue sign...This Dreamliner has seen better days but will soon earn back her Vogue sign...

On Saturday, we had a visit from Ryan's brother and our Niece and Nephew, come to inspect the work. A couple of rounds of hide and seek was a welcome distraction, alas I couldn't play all day and was soon back to sanding as they were ushered away. Later, whilst Ryan finished sanding the areas above and outside of the awning on the other side, I climbed up and painted the roof in a nice thick layer of the rubbery roof seal, again worth doing whilst we were out of the elements. As I cooked dinner he applied the last few patches of filler, the quantity of dents and scrapes on poor old Waki was truly mind boggling, but then you don't get to age 31 without a few dings! We knew she had a lot of dents and rough spots but it's not until you get sanding that you realise just how many that is. 

I was worried about how Kaa would handle the vibrations from the sander when doing his side, he's used to the engine running and seemed happy enough whilst we were sanding the other side but I just didn't like how much worse it got so in the interest of animal welfare I 'bagged' him and popped him on the sofa. Unfortunately he had began preparing to shed before the weekend so was completely 'blue', with his vision so poor and a tight fitting skin he gets a bit grumpy and really doesn't want to be messed with but bless him put up with my manhandling like the gent he is, at least it meant he was content to stay put and coiled up to sleep instead of trying to escape the bag as he normally would. More than likely I annoyed him through my fussing more than the vibrations would have but I try to do right by him!

Who says Ryan can't wrap a present, if he uses masking tape anyway...?Who says Ryan can't wrap a present, if he uses masking tape anyway...?After dinner we gave the building a good clean and swept up the thick layer of dust we'd created, our minds running through check lists of jobs not quite believing that we were almost done. By Sunday morning we were so exhausted we overslept the alarm by an hour! Making up for lost time we furiously finished up the few last patches of stubborn silicone and filler and had a final sweep up, before spending several hours masking the trim and windows etc. We were clearly having so much fun wrapping things that Ryan got a little carried away and accidentally papered the gas locker door on the rear, only to realise when unmasking that he did in fact want to paint it as well! Never mind it's small enough to be easily done separately some other time, I did laugh!

I grabbed some supplies and apologetically bundled grumpy Kaa into his old clip-container travel box with a hot water bottle and climbed into the car to avoid the fumes and wait, as Ryan donned the mask for painting.

A sneaky pic of the primer going on, whilst holding my breath against the fumes!A sneaky pic of the primer going on, whilst holding my breath against the fumes!

With only the briefest takeaway-dinner break, and a few orders from me to drink some water, he worked his way round, and around, and around... for the next few hours carefully layering on the paint. When finally the door opened shortly before 10pm, I sprung from the car excitedly to inspect only to be faced with a dejected and very tired Ryan offering an apology since he'd unfortunately had some paint run on the finishing coat. I think knowing how excited I was about Waki getting painted he thought he'd let me down, but it takes more than a few paint runs (that can be polished out anyway...) to get me down!

We gave it another hour for the paint to harden and the fumes to dissipate as Ryan took a moment of repair in the shower block, we then got to work carefully peeling away the masking tape and paper. I said it was like opening Christmas presents, to which Ryan replied that it wasn't Christmas yet though it was for me!

Since a storm was rolling through on Monday we stayed under shelter for one more day, and Ryan finished sealing the windows and trim with silicone allowing it to dry overnight. As I write it's now Tuesday morning and we've ambled back over to our regular parking space amongst my plants and close by the shed, I've topped up the bird feeder and am enjoying the view of nature once more through a rain spattered window with a calm, and somewhat unusual, absence of worry that it's somehow leaking in.

 The glowing after shot! I just needed to pop some tape over the vents no longer in use but not yet covered (Ryan was a bit annoyed that I removed them without his permission but they had to go sometime!)The glowing after shot! I just needed to pop some tape over the vents no longer in use but not yet covered (Ryan was a bit annoyed that I removed them without his permission but they had to go sometime!)Some clean lines on the rear at long last...Some clean lines on the rear at long last...

Yes I'd have loved to have brought all of the edging trim back to it's original paint-free shine before painting, and of course to have been able to paint the awning side but time just wouldn't allow it. As is always the case the now glowing paintwork makes the rough trim stand out more, though we know that we both gave it everything we had in us! We'll wait until the paint is strong enough to handle being masked and smarten the trim at a later date along with the luggage rack and the ladder as well as replacing the ancient top lights and the stained number plates - too bad she's got to wait another 9 years to be legally allowed to sport a fancy set of vintage plates. There are still a few dents and ripples here and there but we never expected to be rid of all of them, especially since the body was so beaten up to begin with! Again it is something that we can improve upon some other time and for now the improvement is already huge so I'm a very happy camper indeed, after a week of late nights and early mornings we'll both be spending the next few days recuperating and not sanding.


Thanks for reading as always, be sure to like us on Facebook for more posts and updates if you haven't already. Sarah x

Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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