AIRSTREAM RENOVATION: Lifting the Shell off of the Frame

Now we have come to the truly scary part of this whole airstream renovation. The thing I was dreading we'd have to do this whole time. My nightmare has become real.

It's funny actually, because I am writing this post months after the fact and looking back on it, it really wasn't that bad! Until it was. But I'll leave that for another post. For now let's get to the thing; lifting the shell off of the Airstream frame.

So as I said in the last post, we came to the conclusion that we'd have to lift the shell because we need to replace almost half of the outriggers (those are the things that jet out from the sides of the frame and that the shell sits on), and some of the c-channel is badly damaged from shoddy repair work by a previous owner. (who we affectionately call Bill. and that may or may not be his real name) but I digress...

Anybody who has done any kind of research into renovating an airstream probably has seen a variety of ways to lift the shell off of the frame. One of the most popular ways is to build what is called a gantry, and is essentially two U-shaped frames that you put over the shell, and with a pully system you can lift the shell. (I feel like that was a really poor way of describing it but its the best I got.)

A gantry requires a lot of material and I can be pretty pricey so the way I decided to do it was a way I've only seen one other person do it, Ian Miller from Miller Garage. I built a frame on the inside of the shell, a "truss system" if you will, this accomplished two things, 1. it gave us something to lift up on the shell, and 2. it gave the shell more rigidity and support so that it didn't warp in the time it is suspended.

So I bought a bundle of "scrap" 2x4s from my local lumber yard. These are just warped and bent and imperfect 2x4s that didn't make the cut. But worked perfect for this project.

Second, I ordered pole jacks off of Amazon. Luckily, Lacie's dad already had two at his shop that he let us use, so I only needed to buy two for a total of four. These were used to actually raise the shell.

Lastly, I bought the cheapest piece of 4x8 OSB, cut it in half and use those two pieces to lay down on top of the frame for the pole jacks to sit on.

For the frame, I established where I was going to place the pole jacks, two in the front and two in the back. I then built the main truss, but measuring and cutting the 2x4s to the appropriate size. I wasn't particularly precise on the my placement. For height I just made sure it was a couple inches high than the pole jacks are their shortest.

I clamped one side of the 2x4s onto the rib of the shell, and then drilled holes in the rib for the screws, and then put screws in through the rib and 2x4. Repeat steps for each piece of wood.

I ended up with 3 "upbeams" to support the roof. And then did the exact same thing in the rear.

I then connected these two trusses together with 2x4s and gave those a couple of upbeams as well. (I have no idea if this is all the correct verbiage but I am just going with it!)

I also added extra support to the front and rear endcaps by placing 2x4s in between the endcaps and the trusses. These were a little more tricky because of the angle, but again, this is not a permanent structure so I wasn't worried about being precise. I also added a two 2x4s across the bottom of the shell just to help it keeps it width and make it easier when lowering it back down into place.

Now that the frame is all built, I place the pieces of OSB on the frame, or I may have already done that to give me some more floor space to walk on, and then I place the four pole jacks in their respective space.

Now it's time to lift the shell, except that it isn't because it is still bolted onto the frame. So we need to cut those rusty-ass bolts off first. For some of them I was able to use a sawzall (reciprocating saw) but on some the bolts were so tight that their was no space between the shell and the frame, and the saw was cutting into the c-channel. So to avoid damaging the c-channel, I took the cutting wheel and cut the bolts off from the top.

Once all the bolts were cut and the shell was now freed from the frame, we had two people(me and Lacie) rotate the pole jacks all at the same time, thus lifting the shell slowly and evenly. And once we got it to the height we wanted it at (about 8 inches off the frame to give us enough room to work on the frame) we stopped lifting. Because that's the sensible thing to do.

The shell was now just sitting on four pole jack legs and was rather wobbly. From Ian Miller's experience of lifting his shell in the windy state of Texas, I knew that we were going to need to add support so that it didn't fall over. I did this by add a cross support in the middle with two long 2x4s that went out the sides of the shell under the wheel wells. This added support that was wider than the shell.

After a nice wind storm that almost blew it over at 10pm, I ended up adding two more cross frames in the front and back. This made it super sturdy.

Last thing I did was to use some ratchet straps to secure the wooden truss to the metal chassis for extra security to make sure the shell didn't go anywhere.

And that's it! This worked really well and lasted a couple months with no problems, until their was a problem. But that was after I removed the 3 cross-frames....

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Ben Figueiredo

I make a living as a filmmaker & Website Designer, Telling Stories, creating content for businesses, entrepreneurs and even couples getting married. As a Five on the Enneagram, I love learning. Absorbing as much knowledge I can. I am into Biohacking, holistic wellness, and Rewilding so that I can be the best version of me to enjoy life with my family connecting with nature, our community, and God.

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