Q: What is the textured paint surface found in early Airstream walls?
A: The material is Zolatone (http://zolatoneaim.com), and is a two-step durable auto body type paint. It first appeared in Airstreams in 1952 when it was first developed, and pretty much stopped in the mid ’60’s with the introduction of the vinyl wall coverings. It is still made today. It has the advantage of being extremely durable, easy to clean, moisture resistant, flexible, and comes in color coordinated combinations. The texture helps hide wall defects and breaks up the large open surfaces.
Q: Someone has repainted the Zolatone with regular wall paint. How do I restore the Zolatone finish?
A: Zolatone is very tough, and if the paint is latex, you may be able to strip it off with something as simple as Lacquer Thinner – in many cases you can pull the latex paint off in sheets. If the paint is oil based, or the Zolatone is damaged, paint strippers are required. You don’t have to get every bit of old finish off, you are just looking to get a smooth clean finish here.
Instructions for Zolatone application are on their website (http://zolatoneaim.com). As for the modern colors available, the Silver Gray (20-72), Apollo Gray (20-11), Medusa Gray (20-45) and Desert Camo (20-80) look close to older colors.
These are just the beginning, as you can intermix these, or add another color to these and get your own mix. For example, take Desert Camo with a little Bright Blue thrown in – and it’ll look just like the color used in the 1950’s/1960’s on the Coral and Turquoise interiors. The website and printable PDF file have many of the combinations possible.
Q: How do repair just part of my Zolatone finish?
A: The procedure that works best is to feather the background color using a matching good quality spray enamel (from the hardware store), then apply the texture step of the Zolatone using a color with the appropriate color flecks. For example, one popular 1960’s color was a tan background with white & brown flecks. That color isn’t made anymore. To match, use a Taupe color enamel spray paint, followed by the current Zolatone “Camille White” under low pressure/high volume setting on a paint spray gun per the manufactures instructions. Exact match!
Q: What will clean the accumulation of grime and tobacco smoke stains off the interior walls?
A: Any of the heavy-duty citrus based cleaners now available will work. “Nature’s Orange” by Trewax has proven effective. “Power Paste” is another.
Q: Any other recommended cleaners?
A: Muriatic Acid cleaners such as “ZAP!” and “CLR” are effective in removing rust and hard water stains. Be sure to rinse areas well with water when done. Small parts can be soaked in Oxalic Acid (wood bleach) to remove rust. Gel-Gloss in a spray can works great on Fiberglass bathroom surfaces.
Q: What is the covering on the walls of my 1968 Airstream? Why do they look so terrible?
A: From about 1965 on, the Zolatone finish gave way to a glued on vinyl based wall covering with a rough grass-cloth type finish. Only problem is that over time, the adhesive used and the vinyl reacted and the covering reverted and started to get gooey and stained looking and curled up. The most successful repairs have been based upon painting it with sprayed automotive fiberglass paint. You might also try gluing down the peeled sections with polyurethane glue, masking the interior well, and then rolling on or spraying an oil based primer/sealer, then top coating with an oil based or acrylic paint finish.
Since Airstream put the cabinets in over the covering, to remove and replace the covering requires gutting the interior. If you can go this route, removing the covering and adhesive can be a nightmare, involving some nasty stripper and cleaners. Even then, you can’t just paint the exposed surface with house paint as it won’t be smooth, so you have to go back with a more stable and modern automotive or marine vinyl wall covering and adhesive – or spray the interior with a textured finish such as a Rhino finish, an epoxy texture paint, or even Zolatone.
Q: The roll-up overhead and cabinet doors on our 1970’s trailer have fell apart. Where do we get replacement material?
A: The doors are made from tambour half-round wood or plastic strips glued to fabric backing to form a curveable retractable door. Replacement material is available in bulk sheets in many colors and wood finishes. Woodworking supply stores and catalogs carry the sheets made primarily by Winona Mfg and Tape-Ease.
Q: The cloth backing on our roll-up cabinet doors has deteriorated. Can they be repaired?
A: The canvas backing can be replaced by removing the tambour door from the inside of the cabinet. Cut new backing material from sail cloth, heavy artists’ canvas, duck or truck tarp 1 inch narrower than the opening to allow the ends of the tambour strips to glide in the side slots unhindered. Glue the tambour strips to the cloth using polyurethane glue and weight the whole surface using a flat board until the glue dries. Re-insert the door from the backside and install the stops. The 1970 to 1974 tambour doors were made with a paper backing. They failed quickly, and while Airstream offered a free upgrade to cloth-backed doors, some owners did not take advantage of it.
Q: What are cabinets in our Airstream finished with?
A: From 1947 to 1971, the finish was a natural finish semi-gloss catalyzed lacquer except on the exotic woods (mahogany, cherry, walnut), where the finish was a Natural Oil Finish. From 1972 to the present-day it was wood-grain vinyl. One option that existed was an opaque paint/varnish over Oak and veneers, also known as a “pickled finish”. Woodworking suppliers sell finishes that are close.
Q: What do we use to restore finish then?
A: On the older lacquer cabinets, the easiest way to restore the finish is to use Formby’s Furniture Restorer and reflow the existing finish, removing the damage, flaking and fading. Then apply a few coats of satin lacquer (http://www.mohawk-finishing) either by spray can or paint gun. This sure beats stripping the cabinets and starting from scratch. If the lacquer is not damaged, but faded, you can re-flow the finish with Premier Gloss Flow-out Lacquer and JET Lacquer Blush remover.
If you must strip the cabinets due to damage or if they’ve been painted, the most recommended method is to strip the old finish using a chemical stripper, repair and replace all the damaged sections, and then spray a heavy-bodied sanding sealer to fill the now open pores, followed by 2-3 coats of satin or semi-gloss lacquer (your choice – try a spray can test first on some scrap – the spray cans are only $3.59 ea). It is a rather easy and fun process. You can apply the lacquer with a standard paint sprayer – even the inexpensive ones from Harbor Freight. A good source of lacquer is Mohawk and Leberon. A successful combination is the satin Pre-Catalyzed Lacquer reduced with the Lacquer Reducer 2255. For those of you in high humidity areas, use a blush retardant too.
On the oiled finishes, Airstream recommended then and now to use Watco Danish Oil Finish (http://www.watco.net) rubbed directly onto the cabinets every two years or so to retain the water-repellent warm luster. It doesn’t hurt to use the Watco Rejuvenating Oil on water damaged or grimy surfaces. Watco is available at most hardware stores and home centers. Mohawk and Leberon also have a Danish Oil, too.
The vinyl covered cabinets are so damned durable, not much is required other than a good cleaning with mild detergent, or a citrus based cleaner if grimy/oily. Should the vinyl become damaged or delaminated, many of the woodworking supply websites and stores have Pressure Sensitive Adhesive (PSA) backed vinyl in black walnut finish.
Q: What is the vinyl round cord in between the cabinets and walls in my trailer. Where can I get it?
A: That is called welt, and is used to close out the small uneven gap that exists in between cabinetry and panels. It has a flat flange that is stapled to the back of one of the surfaces. The best place I found to get it is upholstery supply places, Atrim is one online place – it comes in dozens of colors (you want to stick with tans, browns and of whites, depending on the era).
Q: Some of the rivet heads have popped off on the interior skin. How do I replace them?
A: Use 1/8″ pop-rivets and simple pullers available from hardware stores, home centers and online at such places as Vintage Trailer Supply and Crest Fasteners. The length will vary depending on the thickness of the material being riveted. Measured in 3/16th inch increments. Two skin layers use a -3, one skin layer and a rib (frame) use a -5, and so on. Pre-painting the rivet heads with spray paint before installing can make them near invisible.
Q: My fiberglass shower & tub have some chips and hairline cracks. What can I do to repair them?
A: The Almond and White Porcelain repair liquid can be worked into the cracks and wiped flush with toluene or lacquer thinner. For large area damage, or for all over repairs, the area can be repaired using fiberglass resin and mat, and then sprayed with colored gelcoats. One source of these materials is Fiberglass Coatings, Inc. (http://www.fgci.com/), or have it done commercially (Yellow Pages) by a a fiberglass shower stall shop.
Another alternative is the use of colored epoxy paints designed for this purpose. West System has a nice set of instructions on fiberglass tub and bathroom repair: Fiberglass_tub_repair You can also use tw0-part epoxy or Acrylic Urethane paints and plastic primer (DPX801) designed for automotive use (PPG), available at automotive paint stores.