Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Lost Art of Tick-Sticking, or How to Install an Airstream Sub-Floor

Our Airstream is far from square. In fact she is one curvaceous lady! So how to make sure we cut our expensive marine-grade plywood sub-floor into the exact shape we need it? This is how we discovered the Lost Art of Tick-Sticking. If you haven't noticed, J is a very resourceful guy, and he read about this process and quickly employed it for our curvy floor-cutting needs. A simple explanation of tick-sticking is something like this: Clamp a scrap piece of wood with cardboard securely taped to it in the center of the section of floor we needed to cut. The straight edge of the plywood needed to line up right where we wanted our sub-floor to be. Then, using a designated "tick-stick" that was uniquely angled at both ends, we went around the c-channel of the trailer, pointing one end of the stick where the floor would meet the wall, and tracing the other end of the stick with a pencil on the cardboard. 

When we were sure we had made a lot of contact points (think connect-the-dots), we unclamped our tick-stick board and took it out to our 4'x8' new plywood. Then we went about re-aligning the same designated tick-stick in those tracings on the cardboard and making dots on the plywood at the end where the tick-stick pointed.

This made a long series of dots in the shape of our curvy trailer and all that was left to do was connect them and cut out the shape!

Fortunately, J found this jigsaw for $4 at our local consignment store. It's what I call "trailer-sized" and it might just be the same vintage as our Airstream!

Slow and steady cutting!

Of course, nothing related to working on Blue Moon has come easily so far, so it should have come as no surprise that installing our sub-floor would be no different. Our freshly-cut floor just did not want to go under those c-channels. And here's why: when Airstreams were (and still are) manufactured, they are built frame first, then floor, then the whole shell is placed on top of the frame, effectively sandwiching the floor with bolts between the shell and the frame. When we ripped out our old floor, the shell basically sank back onto the frame. Amazingly, J had the idea of using his car jack to literally lift the shell back up again (not sketchy at all...haha) to help us get the plywood under those channels. 

It took some serious wiggling and hammering to get that first piece in. We would soon learn that all six floor sections would each take their own amount of hammering and frustration.

Needless to say, we were more than a little excited to be able to lie down on our first piece of floor :) You may be wondering about our lack of insulation in the floor. Our initial plan was to put in rigid-foam insulation beneath the sub-floor. After a lot of research and planning for the install, we weighed our options and decided it wasn't worth it for us. There's going to be a lot of stuff on top of our floor that will help naturally insulate anyway, and we live in a relatively mild climate. Anyway, it saved us a lot of work (and $$)!

So, while this may be a long post, here's how the rest of the floor install went... 
There was a lot of freaking out about constantly jacking up the trailer shell and trying to not pop any rivets or make the sky come tumbling down on us.

There were amazing celebratory moments like these when we said "oh! we are half way there!"

I did my fair share of "holding down the fort."

Maggie went in the trailer for the first time EVER and is now super-protective of it :) Up until now she has completely avoided coming inside, which is probably for the best because they don't make doggy respirators.

Wohoo, you can walk around in Blue Moon! Here's Jacob using special screws and bolts to bolt the sub-floor to the steel frame.
A lot of tools, curse words, and about a thousand hammer-whacks later, there is a floor.

We were all pretty beat, so I took the boys out for foodsy and much-needed white russians when it was all over. It took nearly six days to install our floor (we had planned on three), and then we took off for Austin, TX for my girlfriend's wedding. We left Michael with the dogs (and wine).


  1. This is such an awesome post! You guys are expert airstreamers now. What a lot of work, you two are amazing. And J I love your hat in one of those last pictures. You are one crafty dude. Hopefully we will get to see it soon!

    1. Ha! We are far from experts, but thank you :) It is so exciting to finally be able to walk around in there and dream about what will go where.

  2. Hey? I am am currenlty installing a new floor in a 77 tradewind and am also having trouble getting the wood back under the c channel....
    just started today though, but i was wondering what type of screws/bolts you used to attach to the frame? thanks, and nice job!

    1. Hi Will! Thanks for the message. On the leading edge of each sheet of plywood we put down we used thru-bolts and nuts. We had to pre drill for each one. Then everywhere else we used self-tapping metal screws. You still have to pre drill through the wood, but 75% of the time the screws make their own hole in the steel frame and go right in. In some places the steel was too thick and we had to drill a pilot whole through the frame, then tap it with a thread tapper, then screw a matching machine screw in place. This takes the place of the nut since you can't reach under there. It's a tough job, good luck!!