Aluminum Cabinets

1. This is an experiment.
2. It’s harder than it looks. The aluminum sheets are plenty strong vertically–to support the counter–but are flexible in the fore-aft direction and curvable otherwise, so you don’t get an easy to install panel.
3. Don’t think I’d do it again–maybe covering a 1/2″ plywood cabinet would be a better approach, if you want the look.

Enough said. This front view shows the end partition, which will go against the shower wal , and the two partitions on either side of the oven. The half-height horizontal piece stabilizes the back edge of the panels. This is similar to how I do my wooden cabinets–it produces a nice, square cabinet and the partitions don’t have to be cut to fit the inner shell. It also provides mounting space for hold-back
magnets for the drawers.

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This back view illustrates some of the access holes required to screw the countertop
to the shell.

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This top view shows the 2′ of counter space gained by going to a single bowl sink mounted sideways. This worked well in my Overlander, where I used the old two-bowl sink. I think this sink is way more functional. Having the faucet sideways doesn’t seem to be a problem. One issue that popped up in this design, as well as others where I work to get maximum counter top, is that the hold downs for the sink are often hard to get to–some cases require large access holes through the partitions.

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I also like to get maximum under-sink space, so I try to hide the J-trap back out of the way.

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Final view. There’s a lot more work to do to get drawers and shelves installed (installed? how about just figuring out how to do them!), but it’s a start. One thing to note near the door–the magazine rack was removed and the partition was placed closer to the stove. This will allow a catalytic heater to be hung there without protruding too far into the doorway. The heater will be on a hinge aparatus that will allow it to be swung around and point back towards the rear of the trailer.

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I forgot to mention that part of the counter top space came from recovering 3″ from the false wall on the shower end of the kitchen. I turns out there was a gray vent pipe inside. I replaced the vent with a $20 air intake valve designed for this purpose. The under-cabinet partition to the right of the sink is 3-1/2″ deep to allow for the sink drain pipes and that valve, but above the counter all the space is recovered.

There is another gray tank vent in the closet on the other side of the trailer, which is overkill but I’m leaving it functional for now.


Finally got enough of the panels in to allow installation of the drawers.

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The drawer faces will eventually be aluminum panels so when the drawers are closed the entire cabinet will have a total metal finish.

The drawers will be retained by magnets on a narrow board. The board will move vertically behind the drawers. This will allow the drawers to open easily when parked. Mechanism details to follow, when I get time to fabricate it.


Here’s a shot of the magnetic retentionn system. The drawers were made 5/8″ shorter than the cabinet depth and the magnets are flush mounted in a strip of 1/2″ plywood. The plywood can slide up and down, retained by two short lengths of “Z” channel. The Z-channel extends downward to provide additional stiffness to the plywood–otherwise when you pull out the bottom drawer the drawer above it moves out a little. In order to get the plywood in and out, the left Z-channel is riveted, but the right one is mounted with #6 sheet metal screws.

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As shown, the plywood is “down” from its normal position. Once one drawer is installled and the plywood is moved up to align the magnets, it stays in place. With all the drawers in, you can pull out two or three of the five drawers and the magnets keep the plywood in place.

The strip was made moveable in case the pull force was objectionable. When stopped, it was intended that a small cam mechanism could manually push the strip down so the magnets could not engage. It turns out the pull-away forces aren’t that high, so maybe this will remain as it is.

Speaking of pull force, you can see that one column of magnets is 1/2″ and the other is 3/4″ (all are 1/8″ thick). This was to allow for experimenting with the pull force. As it turns out, the drawers have all 1/2″ magnets. The top two, with light contents, have one, and the bottom three drawers, with heavy contents (like canned goods), have two.


Last week was warm and wonderful, so I did a lot of outside work on the Safari. This week is, like, 5 degrees, so back in the shop I go. Today I managed to get five drawer fronts fabricated. When it gets warm enough for double stick tape to function, I’ll get them pasted (and screwed) onto the drawer stack.

The edge trim on the fronts are individual sections of “L” extrusion. As an alternative (and more professional approach), it would be possible to cut wedges out of a single length of channel, then bend it to fit around the face panel, but that would require cutting the wedges at very precise locations and then making very precisely radiused bends in the channel, using a block of wood and a
hammer. Ummm, don’t think so.

Tools: table saw, drill press, rivet squeezer, sandpaper.
Material: 3003 sheet aluminum, 0.032, and 1/2″x1/2″x1/16″ “L” extrusion (soft)

It is a total thrill to cut narrow strips of aluminum in a table saw—NOT. I’d rather bungee jump. sheesh… Remember, the gold color comes off the rivets as soon as you start to polish

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What I learned in school today: I can build a haliburton box for my cameras!!!


Well, I just had to see how things fit. Not too bad, but obviously one drawer is installed about 1/4″ off. I’ll make a new panel to allow for that and then a kick plate the bottom and this stack will be finished. Yay!

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The panels will be attached to the drawers using double stick tape and the two screws that attach the handles.

The error on the drawer is the price you pay for having to park the Airstream 4 miles away and then not doing a good redline job on the drawings. Drat.


I have to admit that I am totally amazed how this is working out, given that there wasn’t any plan… no drawings, etc.

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You can see that the drawer fronts are attached and the cutting board cubby has it’s door on.

BTW, this is FOTOCHOP’s fault–doesn’t he have that aluminum cabinet in his bath area?


Working on the other side of the kitchen, around the fridge. The big ticket here is the pull-out (I know it looks like a roll-out, but be patient) pantry. The existing cabinets are deep, dark, and shelves are closely spaced. Once this pantry is in, I’ll convert the cabinet to a single door model with taller shelves.

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The issue is how tall should the edges of the shelves be? What you see is 3″, about 2/3 height of a Campbell’s soup can. I’m wondering if I should cut the edge of the shorter shelves down to 2-1/4″? That would allow the total height of the cabinet to be reduced a little (it’s 65″ tall, now). Somehow, this looks too cramped or something. The balance is off.

Now, about “rolling” vesus “pullout.” I’m going to use full extension drawer slides, horizontally, to attach this cabinet to the side of the fridge partion. Those slides will guide the rolling cabinet, but the wheels will carry most of the load, reducing the bending moment on the partion. This does, however, raise the question of how level the floor is…

BTW, I always try to design one “mouse-proof” storage area in every remodel. This pantry should ork out that way if I can figure out how to make the toe kick area tight, when the pantry is in place. There shouldn’t be any access to this pantry (oops, almost left out the ‘r’) bigger than 1/8″.


Jus a quick look at the beginnings of the fridge and pantry installation. More shelves will be appearing on the aft side of the fridge.

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The dark firdge with the light orange frame just wasn’t going to look good, so a quick trip to HD for some gray-silver spray paint and primer, plus some new door inserts, made a big difference.

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The deflector was added to make sure that any hot gas did not impinge directly on the insulation inside the vent (see following post).

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The face frame on the fridge can be removed, but it was just as easy to spray it in place, using some painter’s tape and a 2′x2′ piece of cardboard as a shield. The Rustoleum primer dries in just a few minutes, so the total time to paint, with two coats of prime and three of color was under an hour.

Before the final installation of the vent, I threaded 110V and 12V into the fridge enclosure. The 110V move was necessary to eliminate the cord going through a partition and to allow for the fridge to be unplugged by access through the outside fridge access door. The 12V is a provision for the future, in case this fridge fails and needs to be replaced with a modern fridge that requires 12V for the controller.

You can see I reduced the wood bracing substantially. The previous bracing provided both a flatness to the partition and a path to transfer fridge loads to the shell. The new brace only provides the load path (via screws through the aluminum partition). The aluminum partition maintains its own flatness. This also allowed for a better method of sealing the fridge chimney and insulating the entire fridge enclosure.

I added three small strips of aluminum to the shell face to hide the multiple holes from the previous vent hood. These strips are sealed with Vulkem to the shell, and the new vent hood is then sealed to them with Vulkem. This makes the vent airtight to the shell. This is not just for CO management, but also to allow camping in 5 degree weather, since the fridge chimney is exposed to the outside.


Fitting the partitions to the shell was only a small part of the effort. The partitions themselves turned out to be quite time consuming.

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Fitting the shelf supports and getting them to fit exactly to the vent edges (in order to get that air-tight seal), fitting the insulation and then securing it, not only with glue but mechanically, and getting just the right thickness of compressible foam for the air seal to the fridge,…, sheesh. The insulation is important in the area from the compressible foam out to the shell, since this area is exposed to outside air–really important for cold weather camping. The other insulation is primarily to give the aluminum panel some deadening, but also provides some additional insulation for the fridge when camping in hot weather.

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Not to mention gussets for the drawer slides for the roll-out pantry, which might not be necessary, but when the pantry is loaded it will probably weigh as much as 100 pounds. I’m hoping to mount the drawer rail in such a way as to provide some slight motion, up and down, as the pantry rolls, to relieve any stress created by an uneven floor.

I’m also doing a small experiment with the attachment of the partition to the shell. In my Overlander, I had significant damage to a plywood partition that slipped out of the top end of the channel which attached it to the wall. As the trailer flexed, the shell deformed, then came back to the original dimension. But the channel didn’t slide right back onto the panel, so it chopped the crap out of the top. In these panels, I’m letting to the top float, about 3/8″ in compression and 1-2 inches for expansion. This is really overkill in the expansion direction, but it was easy to make the flange wide.

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The installed edge rail floats from the cleco up to the end.


As the experiment wears on, I am forced to contemplate the actual details that make the cabinets work, like how to keep the doors to the shelf areas latched.

I’ve used exposed piano hinges, hidden piano hinges, some self-made pin hinges, and just plain  hang the door on the shelf.” Here’s a pretty normal exposed piano hinge:

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And a hidden piano hinge, which allows for a nice clean door that swings down. The hinge is attached under the shelf and between the door flange and the shelf. You need room to swing down, so having a toe kick area under the cabinets is essential to this type of hinge placement. Note: this method is a true pain to install and get aligned correctly.

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The space above the fridge didn’t seem to “fill” quite right with just the mircowave, so I added a small storage shelf with an opening for dispensing kleenex. This door has a reversed flange that allows the door to hook onto the shelf, which provides the necessary alignment (the magnets are great for pulling the door in, but not so good at precise up-down positioning). The two reversed flanges on the cabinet side provide a solid fore-aft alignment of the door face.

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The sponge drawer in front of the sink was a challenge, since I don’t typically use cross ribs in my cabinets–I think they use up too much volume. So in order to get the sponge drawer to flip out the way I wanted, I had to fabricate a pin hinge. The pin is a long 1/8″ rivet through a 14″ diameter plastic standoff (available at Lowe’s). The plate that holds it is 0.060 and can be shaped in any way that allows one to get a drill and pop rivet tool at it, while the drawer is in place to ensure proper alignment.

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I wanted the catches for the doors to be as unobtrusive as possible, including not taking up much of the cross section of the opening. By riveting brackets into the corners of the doors I was able to conceal the magnets on the doors on the inner side of the brackets. The doors are framed in 1/2″ “L” extrusions, so riveted side of the brackets had to be cut down a little in order to fit flush with the rear side of the door frame. A corresponding bracket was flush riveted to the cabinet. Note that the bracket on the cabinet was cut to allow the pop rivet tool to get a flush purchase on the rivet stem. After some consternation on how to accurately drill these brackets on the cabinets, I used double stick tape to help hold them in place while drilling–worked like a charm, almost as good as clamps and clecos. The magnet is behind the bracket in the right photo.

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Note that most of the magnets do no directly touch. First, the epoxy doesn’t seem to work real well on alumium, so the magnets can pop off their brackets if they collide sharply. By putting the magnets on opposite sides of the brackets, the forces of a snappy door shutting tend to keep them in place. Second, thes magnets are very strong, so directly contact would create very large forces when the magnets are very close. the 1/8″ or so of separation provided by the reverse mounting keeps the forces somewhat under control and reduces a very hard snap right at the last moment as the door closes. I haven’t taken this on the road yet, but the pull forces seem adequate when tested by hand.

A very serendipidous outcome of mounting the magnets on the reverse side is that if you want more pull force, you just throw another magnet at the bracket. The magnets are so powerful they will jump onto the back of the existing magnet and stay in place with no epoxy–self aligning and self attaching!

The sponge drawer is just a flip-out based on the same kind of structure as the regular drawer faces. But it needed to support a tray on its reversed side to hold small odds and ends from the sink. I had to form this tray by hand, using the edge of my table saw, some wood blocks and clamps, and a plastic hammer. One big concern is that the top edges of the tray had to be rounded or they would have been a real dangerous edge. I rounded them over by using a small piece of 0.090 scrap. I actually rounded them over way too far, like 3/8″, when 1/8″ would have done fine.

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AEROWOOD will tell you that there are cheap rubber edge guards that are easy, but I wanted to do it NOW!

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The sponge drawer came together better than expected, since hand forming the tray didn’t result in perfect dimensions and shape, but it was close enough. In the photo of the rear, you can see the trapezoidal gusset that provides additional strength to the handle. Hopefully this will prevent bending the panel if a large amount of force is applied to the handle accidentally.


The fridge partitions are finally finished, like really. It only took a month. Getting the perfect air seal for the chimney seemed to elude me at every turn, but I’m finally satisfied with it. The only major addition, mentioned previously, is the “kleenex shelf.” The edge of the opening is softened by a piece of 0.090 riveted to the panel, then the whole circumferrance is filed and sanded. I used flush rivets on 1″ centers to give it a bit of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea feel. You can see from the left photo that the polished finish and the brushed finish don’t work well together. I’ll probably go with the brushed finish–it look appropriately industrial and is really easy to achieve. Just some Scotch Brite pads and water with Murphy’s Oil Soap. The Scotch Brite shines up the gold-anodized rivets just great.

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The pantry is in, minus the door. Since I used the wheels on the bottom to support the weight and the drawer slides only for keeping it aligned and forcing it toroll out straight, I had to allow the slides to move slightly in the up and down direction to handle the slight imperfections in the floor. I did this by riveting the sliders to the pantry using rivet washers.

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The bottom two shelves of the pantry are sealed so that any leakage from the 1-gallon water bottles will be contained. For some reason I’ve had a number of these bottles spring small leaks from being jostled down the highway–like they fatigue or something. Each of the lower two shelves will hold 4 of these bottles, so in combination with the sink-side drawers, there’s plenty of pantry space in the kitchen.

The production Airstreams have slide-out pantries that are a bit more elegant and are open on both sides, a real plus. I’ll to wait and see if being able to access the pantry only from one side is hateful or not.

I was damn lucky putting the pantry in. Watching the woes of INSIDEOUT doing the partitions in Birdie reminds that I only remembered in the nick of time that the pantry would be rolling out on the Pergo flooring, which would have made a big difference in height and the stress on the drawer slides. No doubt I would have had to redo the attachment points.


Let me just say up front, if I haven’t said so previously, that if you want to do the aluminum cabinet thing, call me. I’ll alert the local loco squad to put you in a restraint until the feeling passes.

I asked Kip how many parallelograms a box cabinet could make, he said six. I think it’s more like a bazillion. But the monster is finally tamed (who’d a thunk it would take three days to get a cabinet installed?).

First step was to align the cabinet 1/2″ away from and as parallel as possible with the roll-out pantry. I used a long piece of 1/2″ plywood to position the “L” extrusion on the shell.

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Getting that side stabilized helped quite a bit. Once the other side was also secured to the shell, the cabinet suddenly became very stiff. It even supports the 30 lb door without drooping.

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Making the door was a challenge. I wanted it to have two sides and be appropriately stiff. I finally hit on using strips of plywood as shims/braces along the edges. The front face was solid riveted to three of the “U” channel edges and then the back skin was bowed and slipped under the channels, then pop riveted in place. The plywood had been thickness planed down to allow a space inside the “U” channel for the back skin to slide in with some tightness. Last, the bottom channel was pop riveted to the front and back skins. The door turned out to be about twice as heavy as I wanted, due to using that exceptionally heavy birch plywood that has the two thin layers of fiberboard in its five layers. Avoid that stuff if you can.

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The door panel is 23-7/16″ wide, which provides about 1″ clearance from hitting the shower wall when fully open. The one thing I didn’t estimate correctly was getting the door width so that there was less than 1/8″ clearance at the latching side. I think I allowed too much for the piano hinge, among other things. So I wound up with almost a quarter inch gap–corrective action in work.


I won’t go through all the exasperations of getting the shower installed, eee-gads and yikes! It looks great, but I’m concerned that the flexing of the shell will damage the strongly riveted joints. The floor still needs to be redone from the old pattern that fit the old closet, some fabric on the chair foam, and the upper shelf and new closet needs aluminum doors. All in due time, as they say.

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cabinet upgrades: during the shakedown cruise I noticed that stuff moving around on the shelves allowed the bare aluminum to blacken everything it touched. I think this is the biggest downside to metal cabinets, so I’m coating all the interiors with enamel paint. I’m liking the way the pantry is turning out–maybe I’ll make the other two shelves red… The shelves are being painted only where bottles and cans rub. the lower two shelves are sealed watertight so that fluids from any leaking jugs are contained within the pantry. I think you can get 4 gallons of water in the bottom shelf–I will check and report

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Roll-out pantry face, closet door, and overhead shelf doors installed. I was slowed down considerably by the closet door–I hated the fit, so I drilled out all the rivets and made a couple of trims to the skins and put it back together. There are some jobs where you just have to pick up the drill and start taking the rivets out or you’ll sit it in the corner for the next year…but happiness is getting it installed and being satisfied with the fit. This “10-day” project has taken considerably more time–another reason not to tackle aluminum cabinets. The fridge is first, then the pantry, then the large shelves, then the closet. Running across the top of the cabinets is a shelf with two doors that swing up. I need to get some of those spring-loaded hooks to hold them open against the ceiling…

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The little slot at the bottom of the pantry face (in the sunlight) is an access to the traveling lock for the pantry.


A little more progress. All the doors have latches, etc., all the small stuff that I always put off and then hope I can figure out how to do them. The bathroom door took five days just to polish it a little, abricate the sliding hangar, and then get it mounted so the vertical edge of the door fit precisely into the receiving groove in the opposite wall.

Not to mention the closet door didn’t fit quite right–it was off 1/8″ in the vertical and about a 1/16″ in the horizontal (the frame made by the partitions wasn’t quite square), so it had to come apart be rebuilt. You can just see the bath door–looks like a dark line near the corner of the shower–that’s just the shadow between the door and the partition. The door hangs totally exposed–not in a pocket. It has guide rail at the bottom to ensure it doesn’t swing.

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Did I mention somewhere in this thread about 6 weeks ago that I thought I’d be done
in a couple weeks? …

There’s still some work to do. The toe kicks under the kitchen drawers, the over the sink eye-level cabinet, a few other things. But the hard stuff is finally done.


The last major piece of aluminum cabinetry is about half finished. It’s the over-sink kitchen cabinet. All the other cabinets are 100% metal, but I got real tired of trying to maintain angular rigidity in them, so this last one has a wood interior and frame. It’s sooo much easier to fabricate the metal cladding. In addition, the wood interior will allow items to vibrate around a little without making black oxide.

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This cabinet is identical to the wooden one in the Overlander and is the model for that one. This one allowed me to experiment with getting the corner joint correct, since it would be concealed–I’m glad I had this one to experiment on because the joint is a mess, but it allowed the Overlander’s cabinet to turn out perfect. Not that the exposed metal corner was any picnic, mind you. Most of the edges are 1/2″ “L” channel, but the two edges shown here are odd angles, 34° and 58°. I bent these on a Harbor Freight 18″ hand brake, but the stiffness of the brake is not sufficient to obtain a consistent angle along the whole length. I needed to manually adjust the angles along part of their length using a plastic mallet and block, very carefully so as not to put noticeable bends along the edges (hey, I only threw a few parts away).

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The finished panels are all buck riveted together, except for one seam at the bottom. This allows me to take the metal cladding off to buck the rivets. The final installation will have one row of pop rivets along the bottom edge at the end. The opening in the end face is for the tank monitor and volt/amp meters. I still need one long angle to form the edge along the bottom of the front.

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I polished each of the edges (channels) before riveting them on with a kludge polishing setup.

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step is to make the aluminum doors.