Tiny House - Sandblasting08When thinking about resurrecting this post from October 31, 2010 I find myself first asking the question, “What were we thinking?” What made us want to purchase a used travel trailer, finish stripping it, sandblasting all 30-feet of it, and then priming and painting it?

Just yesterday I was Skyping with my buddy Ethan of (quite simply put) The Tiny House. In the course of our conversation he asked me specifically about our decision to rehab an old Shasta Travel Trailer and use it as the foundation of our tiny house. He then went on to ask me about the trade off and whether or not I thought it was worth it then and how I felt now. Before I get into my answers I want to highlight a few things from our original post.

Because we bought our trailer used and it was formerly a 1981 (camping) travel trailer it had some signs of wear and tear; namely rust. Structurally it is as sound as the day it rolled off the assembly line. But because it spent some time on the east coast the salinity of the air made it prematurely age and the paint/primer at some point gave way to rust spots and “age spots.” Luckily we own both an air compressor and a sandblaster – the very tools needed to prepare the trailer for primer.

Sandblasting is a general term used to describe the act of propelling very fine bits of material (play sand in this case) at high-velocity to clean a surface. A sandblasting setup usually consists of three different parts: the abrasive itself, an air compressor (seen below), and a blaster nozzle. By launching small bits of abrasive at the surface at a high speed, all imperfections are knocked loose and can then be easily washed off, creating an incredibly smooth surface upon which to lay the new layer of paint. Before we can do that though (which will come much later, I imagine) we need to prime. Why? Primer spray (in this case we used Krylon grey primer) stops rust and prevents corrosion.

So last week Crystal started sandblasting the tongue of the trailer. We were a bit naive and I say this only to prepare others for sandblasting. It is a long, tedious process and if you don’t have the right tools (which I am not entirely convinced we are not in this category) it can be somewhat painstaking. The key ingredient to sandblasting is, of course, the sand. But running a very, very, close second is the compressed air. Now, our air compressor which is decades old and is only a 30 Gallon, 120/240 Volt, 5.3 CFM model, could only hold enough compression for about 5-6 minutes of intense sandblasting. Then we had to wait 2-3 minutes for the air to build back up. At that point we could then go back to blasting. Now, as one might hope, the blasting is not a large scale process. In fact, because the nozzle is only 1/8 inch in diameter you can only blast about 1/4 of an inch at a time. So in 5 minutes you could cover about a 8 square inch area, if lucky. Considering our trailer is roughly 34,560 sq. inches it is not easy to understand why after about 17 collective hours of sandblasting we only managed to do about 1/3 of the trailer, including the tongue area.

I think back to that time. I remember it pretty well. I did about 3 minutes of sandblasting while Crystal did the rest. I was working my day job and couldn’t take off that much time at that point. The time I did set aside to work on the trailer was soon afflicted by my self-realization that sandblasting hurts! Granted I was wearing a sleeveless shirt and shorts at the time without a dust mask or anything of the sort, it still hurt! Sandblasting wasn’t for me. Luckily Crystal is much tougher than I and she was committed to restoring the life in that trailer.

So back to Ethan and I’s conversation. Four years later I don’t think you could convince me to restore a used travel trailer. The exchange was not that great come to think of it. 17 hours of work. Nearly $1800 in financial investment (as we ultimately had to replace the leaf springs, change two tires, add electric brakes, prime it, and paint it). At the time though we only really had that option and one other; a brand new utility trailer which would have set us back about $3000 or better. As Ethan and I laughed about my experience sandblasting we quickly got around to the now awesome availability of actual tiny house trailers. What’s that? You aren’t sure what I’m talking about? Take Dan Louche for example.

Through his company Tiny Home Builders he produces and sells utility style trailers designed specifically for the rigors of tiny houses. In lengths of either 12′, 16′, 20′, or 24′ the trailers have a welded steel flange for perfect tiny house attachment, they have electric brakes, they have a GVVW of of 10,000 lbs, etc. All for just at $3000 +/- depending on the length. Where were these in 2009 when we bought our trailer?

The point I am trying to make now – some four years later – is that the tiny house community continues to grow. New resources become available each day. What worked for us in 2010 is not necessarily the best option for 2014. Do your homework. Study the advances. Ask questions of those who have already built and are living in tiny houses. And for goodness sake. Wear some sleeves and long pants!

IN ADDITION:  You can view the photos our our trailer the day we purchased it, the sandblasting process, and the priming/painting process.