Blog post #4

Camper top panels and roof cut

Kelvin Smith

11/25/20205 min read

  I decided that aluminum would be the best material for the top since it wouldn't rust and was lightweight.  I measured all the areas, and consulted with a local screen printing company that I used for other work about the project.  I wanted to use as few of the sheets as possible so the seams wouldn't be all over the top, but I had to also consider the size of sheets that were available since my panels couldn't be larger than those. The largest aluminum sheets available are 4x8 and some 4x10 feet.   I drew all the panel sizes and quantities with the measurements,  and gave the drawings to the screen printing company who then ordered and laser cut them for me.  The side aluminum is .040 , and although I could have bought the sheets and cut them myself, it would have been a huge pain,  and they surely would have been bent and rippled on the edges in places and not have aligned nearly as well.  When I made the drawings, I added 1" where the overlaps were in order to seal the top well.  The new roof is .100 mill finish aluminum so I can walk on it, and is in tow pieces.  Originally I thought I would use a roll on bed liner to match a color of the van, and got some samples in the mail from a company called Monstaliner, but the colors didn't seem right for me. I finally decided to use anodized aluminum sheeting to avoid having to paint.  I think this was a good idea in theory, but matching a color is difficult without seeing it full size.  There were limited colors available for the sheets and I picked one that seemed to match.  That of course didn't look right once I got the sheets after cutting.  It was super gold and the sun reflected off the top too much.  I really didn't want a super golden top camper.  If I had picked a darker color I think the contrast would have been ok. 

  I spent a lot of time considering what type and brand of adhesive/sealant I would use, and I can tell you there are MANY options.  I feel strongly that my choice of 3M 5200 marine adhesive sealant was the right choice for the structural points. Since the bond would need to be watertight, flexible, and strong, this product checked all the boxes.  It is expensive though, and I probably used 10 tubes of it. I found the best price on AMAZON for about $19 per tube.  The only issue I see to this product is that on very smooth surfaces there is a lower amount of adhesion.  On the areas of the van roof where the actual frame attached, I used a wire brush and liberal amounts of the 3M product.  In the areas that I wire brushed, you literally cannot remove this product, it is VERY strong.  On other areas like the very smooth aluminum, you can peel it off easier. I used the 3M marine adhesive on the frame where the panels attached and used anodized aluminum rivets on corners of the sheets, every 1 foot or so. When I was assembling the top I made sure to work from back to front so that the seams would not be inclined to drive water into them driving down the road. It's a minor point but I could so I did.  The marine adhesive is very sticky and doesn't wash off with water, so of course my clothes were covered. I strongly suggest gloves if you use this product.

  I debated about when I would cut the actual van top off, and decided that I would leave it on until the top was completely assembled and watertight.  I didn't want rain getting into the van.  The pictures you see are of some rough cuts of the inside, they will be closer to the edges later.    After the top was together I put some "crash wrap" on the window holes to keep the water out before the windows get put in.  At this point I wanted to really make sure that the seams were watertight and this is when I noticed the 3m product could be peeled (albeit difficultly) from the very smooth aluminum which got me to thinking about the long term.  I decided to cut and peel the marine adhesive from the exterior seams (where it pushed out and where I had been too reckless with the application)  so that it was smooth, and proceeded to adhere butyl tape.  Butyl is really the best product for sealing RV tops because it will never harden and is VERY sticky, especially on aluminum.  Since I knew at this point I didn't like the camper top color and decided to wrap it (I'll get to that later), I used a double sided butyl tape on the exterior seams of the panels since I knew the wrap would also stick to that.  They sell another type of butyl tape that has an aluminum backing, which I also purchased and would use later on the top edges as a final final seal (I really didn't want to have leaks ever). Here's some pics of the process.