Eyebrow Cabinet

I’ve never liked the tambours on the bookshelf and the whole contraption just seems badly executed. I will give it one kuddo–the original sheet metal version is light weight. Before you start your own bookshelf, be aware that the dimensions here are for a ’72 Overlander with a thermoplastic front dome. The dimensions of the bookshelf cutout are different than I found in the fiberglass dome in my ’70 Caravel (both are 9″ high, but the width and slope of the front face are different)–you can see that new bookshelf installation here. Also be aware that the fiberglass dome is very stiff compared to the flexible thermoplastic version.

The bookshelves are similar in both models, with the Caravel being 52″ wide and the Overlander being 51’1/2″ wide.

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After removing the old bookshelf cabinet, you find an irregular cavity. It’s difficult to get accurate measurements and even after very careful attention to detail, it’s hard to estimate how a rectangular box will fit. Any slope in the final fit will affect the angle of the front of the new box. One other thing that is sort of nervous-making is that the old cabinet was held in place with only four screws, two at each end. In the case of my Overlander it was really only 2-1/2 screws, as one missed the plastic completely and one other was through the plastic right at the edge.

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At the back of the cavity you can see the edge of the top of the window frame. This extrusion forms a ledge about 1-1/2″ wide, which the bookshelf could sit on, except for the curve of the shell above it. A properly placed block on the back of the cabinet could take advantage of this ledge to support much of the cabinet weight.

You can also see that the underside face (that flat piece under the original bookshelf) of the plastic dome is slightly curved–I found this plastic to be very flexible in the up/down direction, but extremely stiff in the fore/aft direction. You can take advantage of that stiffness to help prevent the
new cabinet from rotating downward by screwing through the plastic and into the bottom of the cabinet, which is what that screw block in the drawing is for.

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The slope of the front of the cabinet was 1″ in the Caravel and appeared to be 3/4″ in the Overlander. In practice this was not quite right, due to the cavity not being exactly plumb and horizontal, which was discovered when inserting the cabinet for the first time. This was corrected by belt sanding about 1/4″ off the back 1/3 of the underside of the cabinet. I recommend making a representatiave cross section short box out of scrap and trial fitting it at various places left and right in the cavity. Having a short box would also allow you to measure where to put the support block if you wanted to set it on the window frame.

The optional trim piece (in green) is designed to capture and conceal the forward edge of the plastic below the bookself. This was not neeed in the Caravel, since the fiberglass was stiff and remained snug up against the bottom of the cabinet. The slight 1/4″ underhang of the front trim was all that was needed to conceal the edge. That might also work for the plastic if it is attached to the cabinet with screws from below.

The end-on view of the cabinet isn’t all that attractive. The actual cabinet box is 1″ narrower than the cavity. The front trim overhangs each side by 1/2″ to make the full width. This provides an easy way to trim the ends to fit tightly.

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I want the bookshelf to be adjustable to allow for different radios or book sizes, etc. To that end, I built the partitions and the shelves to go together something like an egg crate. The partitions have a 1/4″ deep kerf in them that the shelves slide into. The front edges of the partitions are full width (3/4″) solid maple, which conceals the kerfs. Likewise, the shelves have a small notch at the front to allow the full width partition.

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The partitions are installed with two screws, one on top and one on the bottom. The shelves keep the partitions normal to the front. If the partitions need to be adjusted in the future, there will only be a #6 screw hole to fill in the top and bottom of the box. You can see the radio panel on the left. The rectangular cutout accepts the standard American radio mounting sleeve. The edge of these sleeves has a 1/16″ retaining lip, which on first look says “you can’t cut an accurate enough cutout in wood to make this work.” Wrong. With some careful trimming and a few minutes with a file you can have a reliable, snug fit. More on that in the next post.

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The speakers are in! Yippee. You can see in the photo that I need to do some work on the control panel. You can also see the white fiberglass insulation in the speaker box, which provides some deadening. As it turns out, at a normal volume level I can hardly hear the radio outside. This is a big change from the original sepaker installation.

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The bookshelf is finished, except for the door, which is waiting on varnish. There are only four #6 sheet metal screws, shown in red, holding it in place. There are no screws in the back into the window frame or shell. This has worked fine for 20,000 miles in the Caravel bookshelf. I don’t particularly care for the slight protrusion of the bottom edge down past the lower edge of the plastic dome. This was necessary in order to trim out the existing lower skin of the dome.

This particular dome has an aluminum “L” extrusion in the fold just above the bookcase, which makes for a secure screw connection. My ’75 Sovereign is completely different–still has a plastic dome, but the underside has a stip of plywood on it and the front lip is 1″ high. I guess Airstream had to change something every year.

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Each of the shelves are 12-1/2″ wide, which is wide enough for 8-1/2X11″ paper tablets and magazines. The radio compartment is 10″ wide and has enough room on the face for an XM radio head or HD radio. The larger box on the end is slightly narrower, but is useful for [obsolete] CD cases and other non-flat items.

Mounting the radio using the supplied sleeve is easy. Just cut the rectangular opening very precisely, since you ony have a 1/16″ lip on the front of the sleeve. All the sleeves (Sony, Panasonic, Kenwood pictured here) are similar, but are not interchangeable. However, the cutout is identical for all of them.

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I use bullet connectors (sometimes hard to find) as my quick disconnects for the speaker wires and fully insulated spade connectors for power. I reverse the male and female connectors to ensure that power and ground can’t be connected backwards and so that the +/- speaker phasing is correct.

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Done! The door swings down. You can see the latch, top center. It’s a plastic latch that I’ve seen only in RV parts places. I like it because it provides an active catch and the release paddle slides parallel with the back side of the panel.

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The wood is finished with an oil-based polyurethane, which will get a little darker and more yellow over time.