The Overlander benches  in this new dinnette are designed so that the back flips forward, the seat flips up, and the armrest rotates onto the seat–all three storage areas are accessible from the top.

The seat is 48″ long and 18-1/2″ wide, with a slope of 4.5 degrees, front to back (that’s 1-1/2″ in 21″). The back is 15-1/2″ high, above the 3″ seat cushion, and slopes back 14 degrees. With these general dimensions in hand, I put together the supporting box with the right slope. The backbone of the box is solid maple and all three moving parts hinge to it, so it has to be stiff. The end panels establish the slope of the seat.

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Two rectangles of 1/2″ birch plywood complete the supporting box. The seat and back panels are edged with maple to protect the plywood and hide the plywood edges. Putting the edges on takes a boatload of clamps. Only three sides are edged with maple–the hinged edge is not edged.

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So far the construction is totally rectalinear, but it eventually has to be fit to the curved shell. I elected to construct the box so that individual small partitions could be used to make the fit, provide the offset from the shell for the storage spaces, and at the same time provide support for the back and armrest. Each one of these buggers required several trips back to the bandsaw to get them right. You can see that there is enough room behind the bench to store two folding chairs. This space would otherwise be wasted, since the back of the seat leans back. This requires about 4″ of offset from the wall (at the forward end) so the forward corner of the seat back has room to lean back. This results in 9″ of space at the door end of the bench.

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With the back panel just sitting in place, it’s beginning to look like a bench seat. You can see where the two drawers are going to go. This is a great location for tools and stuff you might need outside, since it’s handy without stepping into the trailer.

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With both benches temporarily fitted to the shell, I’ve got 27-3/4″ between the edges of the seats. Thirty would have been optimum–that would have allowed the back cushions to fit perfectly in the gap to make a bed.

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Originally Posted by goransons View Post
Why not go with foam 1″ thicker than you planned to use, that would eliminate 1″ from each verticle cushion and then your bed math would work out just fine. (Craftsmanship is awesome BTW Roger)

Scott, That’s actually a really good idea. I’m a little bit concerned about the total height. At 14-1/2″ the Caravel is totally comfortable. This bench is 1/2″ higher. Doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re shorter than 5′-6″ the 15″ seat height (without cushion) might be too much. I’ll have to put a cushion on it to find out. The other solution is to slide the benches a few inches aft of where they are now. That would take the forward corners of the benches out of the corner of the shell, allowing them to move outboard. I hate to throw away those vertical panels (since they are soooo nicely fitted now), but maybe that’s not a huge expense. I have room to move the benches aft about 3″.


Now that the supports, seats, and backs are varnished, I’m fitting the “standoffs” and the shelf behind the backs to the shell. Note that the standoffs are attached the bench bottoms with three screws. There are three standoffs for each bench–two against the side walls of the shell and one against the forward wall. The two against the side walls establish the lean back angle (14 degrees) and the third standoff provides spacing to the front wall and supports the arm rest.

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I’ve decided to install the benches in with their faces parallel–the seat edges are 28″ apart. (This is good because the minimum dining table width is about 27-28″.) The other choice was to angle them so that the open end of the dinette was slightly wider than the end up against the shell. The table would have to be tapered in the opposite manner so that it would fit as part of the bed. This would have provided a small amount of table overhang above the seats at the shell end, and negative overhang at the other end. This would have made entry and exit easier and could have accomodated the larger people at the open end (we’re not talking “large” people here, just guys versus dolls).

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The next step is fitting all the other pieces that provide the final bench-to-shell fit. Here I’m trimming the shelves behind the backs to conform to the shell. These shelves are the landing zones for every piece of junk you happen to have in your hands when you come inside! The front edges of the helves are trimmed with a 14 degree edge, so they provide a very fitted and firm support for the back of the bench.

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The one thing you can’t see in the photos is that the benches are attached to the floor with “screw blocks” along their bottom edge. Likewise, the standoffs and the shelf. More photos later.

I can’t wait to get started on the arm rests. They are going to be a real treat, since they fold, are sloped outwards at 14 degrees, just like the backs, and they slope fore to aft at 4.5 degrees to
match the seat.


Originally Posted by Aerowood View Post
I see that the benches are sloped for optimun seating comfort, …

They are sloped 1.5″ across the seat. I figure that a slope at the foot end won’t matter much and a nice pillow at the other end will pretty much take care of that slope. Hey, I’m not the one sleeping on it. It’ll be better than a tent!


It’s been 12 days since the last progress on the benches themselves, and none of it wasted. Lots of time has been devoted to getting the standoff pieces (the pieces at the corners that match the bench to the walls) trimmed and polyurethaned, as well as fitting the shelf behind each backrest.

One of the bigger [anticipated] challenges was the armrests. These suckers slope back a 4.5 degrees, slope outward at 11 degrees*, and match the curve of the skin. Turns out it wasn’t that big a deal, only about 20 trips from shop to trailer to get them to fit (which is a low number compared to other efforts in the past). One thing I discovered to today is that the seat back cushion will prevent the armrests (at their current width) from swinging open. I’m thinking I’ll cut 3-1/2″ off of the tail end of each armrest and fill that space with a larger corner piece.

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The table will be designed to support a bed, but you can see from the dimensions that it’ll be too short for an adult, only 69″ long. I guess one adult will be able to sleep a big sideways on it, but it’s really only good for kids, or anyone shorter than about 5’4″. Could this have been wider? Not really. In order to provide a comfortable seat width and a reasonable seat back angle, the benches couldn’t be any narrower or closer to the wall. Plus, the ability to store folding chairs behind the seats would have been compromised. The last big challenge is the corner piece that will fill in between the seat back the armrest. It’s got more angles and curves than any other piece in the whole project. Ick.

* they slope outward at the same angle as the seat back leans back. This was a combination esthetic design decision as well as recongnition of the fact that it would provide a comfortable support (with suitable pillow) when sitting side-saddle on the bench to watch a TV that’s on the fridge partition. PS–did I ever say thanks to UWE for the motivation to make the dinette? I love the look of Paula’s remodel that he did.


The plywood is 1/2″ Birch. All the edges are solid Maple–in most cases it’s just soft maple, but in a few spots it’s Hard Rock Maple. The soft Maple isn’t always as white as the stock I was able to get my hands on for this project. I actually prefer my Maple to be a bit darker–still “white”, but sort of off-white. This white stuff is too much like Basswood.

A note about the plywood. Five years ago and earlier, almost all the commonly available 1/2″ Birch was similar–one side was patterned with the darker patches and the other side was essentially clear. Even though there was a “good” side, both sides were good enough to be the visible side. This was often referred to good, not fine, quality plywood, but I preferred it. It was the stuff carried by Home Depot, etc., but they don’t carry 1/2″ Birch these days.

Lately I have found it difficult to find sheets with good patterns. The “fine” sheets are too clear and the “good” sheets have a reverse side that often isn’t good enough to use as the visible side. I have to go up to Consolidated Hardwoods in Broomfield to get what I like.

One other note on the plywood. I picked up some Birch at Austin Hardwoods that was “ok”, but was too white and clear. I was in a hurry. When I got home and had to unload it by myself, I found that it weighed almost twice as much as I was accustomed to! I think it’s Russian and has a Poplar core. Whatever, it’s really too heavy for general use in an Airstream. And the veneer has a “hard,” brittle feel. Replacing the orginal Airstream lightweight partitions with 1/2″ plywood is already adding weight, so this stuff is a bad choice. I think I’ll use it for the table, since it’s slightly stiffer (not as much as the added weight ought to be).


The finished dinette has two tables, one full length and the other a cantilevered table for two. The short table is very attractive because it allows for the use of the ends of the benches as “open” seating, which is very convenient. The full length table will get a real leg as soon as the varnishing is completed. The panels are made from 1/2″ birch plywood with 1″ thick by 1-5/16 wide cherry trim. (the wide angle lens makes the short table look less than half the length of the long table. not so. it’s 31″ wide (including the permanent panel), where the long table is 53-1/2″ wide. the short table provides 24″ of width for dining, plus a few inches to allow for the armrests. the small permanent panel against the wall is 12-1/4″ wide.)

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The two different lengths are made by combining a support structure with two different panels of appropriate length. You can see here how the interchangeable short panel fits to the short permanent piece. The shape of the permanent piece is to allow normal use of the armrests, eg, allow the fingers to drape over the ends without the table being in the way.

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Why not just use two panels of the correct length? Because the storage area behind the seat is only 43″ long internally and the table top needs to be 54″ in order to provide two 24″ table width per diner (48″) and allow for the 6″ for the armrests. So the long panel is 41-1/2″, which can be stored in the bench.

The lower “legs” of the support are the exact length required to support the table top in the bed position. I glued them up from solid oak, trimmed then with a bandsaw and then routed the edges. The two supports are permanently attached via a 1/2″ maple strip, which is rabbetted for the table side of the attachement rail. (I disagree with the VTS diagram–I think the rails should be reversed, which the bigger/wider one on the table and the narrow one on the wall.)

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The panels are retained by 4 machine screws into “knife inserts.” I use these metal inserts whenever I plan to routinely disassemble something. Brass flat top 1/4-20 machine screws will replace these cadmium screws.

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One note: I thought putting the stringers in the front wall could stiffen it sufficiently. Not so. I’m going to have to put a 1/2″ panel across the skin and attach the table to that in order to keep the outer end of the table from wiggling too much.


I’m going to use Helmsman Spar Varnish, wateproof. It’s not quite as fine as MinWax polyurethane, but it looks good enough. It will really bring out increased contrast between the birch and cherry.

The cherry edges are just glued on. I often use biscuits, but I can get a more perfect fit with a closely cut rabbett. The cherry edges are “L” shaped, so there is a flange of cherry underneath the plywood. My fantasy is that this makes the joint stronger. The rabbett in the edge of the cherry has just the right depth to accept the 15/32″ plywood flush on top (with a little bit of sanding).

The final product looks simple, but I don’t seem to be able to design anything that’s simple to put together. Gack. This was a 7-day project, about 4 hours a day.

The final touch (besides getting the cushions covered–soon) is the microwave. It won’t quite fit above the fridge. I decided to remove and cover the 12V outlet, since I’ve never really needed to use it in any of my Airstreams. The outlet was preventing the microwave from sitting against the shell.

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You can see at the right edge of the photo that I installed a plywood backing sheet for mounting the table. The sheet doesn’t go all the way down to the C-channel–I thought that the large area of the sheet would provide enough up-down stiffness. Nope, the outer tip of the table moves about 1/4″ under load–if it went all the way to the floor it would have been significantly more stiff. But the sheet does provide plenty of left-right stiffness. So it’s satisfactory (for now).

Oops, gotta remember to cover the old speaker hole.


The wine rack is done! Simple concept, pain in the butt to install. It’s 1/2″ plywood cut into 6-1/8″ wide strips, then cut with slots to allow the strips to egg-crate together. Each compartment is 3-1/2″ square, except the four on the end are a bit wider (4-1/2″) to accomodate odd-shaped liquor bottles.

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The whole thing is surrounded on the four sides by 1-1/2″ thick foam insulation. I’m counting on the belly pan insulation underneath and the cushion on top to provide a nicely insulated box, suitable for the hot afternoons of Burning Man, etc.