Airstream Shell On Floor Replacement: Part One

In this post and the next, I’ll show you how to complete an Airstream shell on floor replacement. While a shell off floor replacement makes the labor of removing and replacing the floorboards easier, it can be difficult for DIY-ers with limited space or experience. So, here’s a step-by-step explanation of how we removed the floor before replacing it.

Step One: find an airstream with a rotten floor

This step isn’t too hard. I promise you. I tried to avoid buying an Airstream without rot, but somehow managed to do it anyway.

Your rot might be obvious, like this hole in our floor. (For the record, the previous owners screwed plywood over it when we purchased Nellie. Plus, I made the hole bigger. You know, for fun. So, it wasn’t as obvious when we bought her as it is now.)

But, you also might have sneaky rot. This is the stuff I found when I removed the interior furniture.

This is the rot that hides in the c-channel.

This is the rot that warps boards, eating them from the inside.

Beware the rot.

Step two: cut around the screw

To do this, I obtained a corded drill with a hole saw attachment. My father removed the pilot bit so that I would not drill out the head of the screw. However, without the pilot bit, the drill had difficulty staying centered. Therefore, I recommend taking a wide stance, squatting, and bracing your elbows on your knees. This will help control the drill, especially if you’re small like me.

If the wood is rotten, the drill goes straight through the wood like butter, but, if it’s not, the drill might want to migrate elsewhere.

In this second case, it is even more important to brace yourself to get a cut and prevent the drill from harming you or anything around you.

Finally, I found bracing myself was also important in case the saw struck the frame. The drill would twist out of my hands. Alternatively, you can mark the plywood depth on the side of the hole saw to prevent striking the frame.

Step three: Break the wood around the screw

Technically, you could do this after drilling around all the screws, cutting the bolts, and removing the wood; but, I found it useful to lever the flathead screwdriver against the side of the hole.

Your goal here is to break away most or all of the wood. Essentially, you need to clear the head enough to grip it.

Step Four: use vise grips to remove the screw

If you don’t have a pair of vise grips, get them. They’re great. They are a combination between pliers and a vise, which means they increase the force of your grip. Great for rusty screws.

I accidentally broke the head off one or two screws instead of completely removing them.

Step Five: Take a break to pet the dog

You won’t be able to continue if you don’t.

Step six: do the rest of the trailer

All 120 screws…

Step seven: Cut the elevator bolts

Ah…the elevator bolts. These are the most difficult part of this project and the aspect which waylaid our progress for months.

The elevator bolts are situated inside the c-channel and they bolt the frame to the shell through the wood. They are difficult to remove for several reasons. First, they were bent over in the factory to prevent them from coming loose during travel. Spencer actually managed to break off the top of a few bolts and unscrew the nut using vice grips. Ultimately though, that method was difficult, slow, and eventually abandoned.

Secondly, the lip of the c-channel prevents the bolts from being cut directly underneath the nut, as is the normal strategy for cutting bolts. Instead, we ended up making plunge cuts into the wood using a grinder or a cut-off wheel attachment.

This is where you might have to get creative, root through your tools, and find something that will work for you. Don’t forget to cut the screws/bolts in the door threshold.

Step Eight: Cut the wood in half

This step isn’t too bad compared to that last one. Grab a circular saw and set the blade depth to the depth of the wood, maybe a little bit less so you don’t hit the frame. Some Airstreams have a 5/8” floor. Ours had a ½” floor. Make sure you measure on a visible opening before cutting.

Then, make a plunge cut down the center of your first board. I started with a smaller, 2’ one.

Step nine: attempt to remove the wood, realize you missed some screws

After you’ve made your cut, you can lift out one half. Because I set the circular saw slightly shy of the wood’s depth, I needed a crow bar to lever one side and break it loose. The screw holes came in handy here.

At this point, my dad tried to manhandle the wood and yank it from the c-channel. Turned out there were still several small wood screws holding the wood in, so he accidentally bent the c-channel upward. So, you know, maybe don’t do that.

Instead, revisit the entire c-channel and use the same tools to cut those tiny screws as well. They might be more difficult to find than the bolts. In our trailer, the heads were practically melted by rust.

Repeat these steps for all the panels throughout the Airstream. You may be able to slide out the rounded end pieces intact with some fancy maneuvering, allowing you to use them as templates.

And that’s pretty much how you remove the floor from an Airstream with the shell on. But, before I go, one last piece of advice. I recommend inserting small pieces of wood throughout the c-channel as shims. They’re best placed at locations where the frame meets the c-channel. This will help the c-channel remain uncrushed by the weight of the shell and prevent it from slipping off the frame as it becomes untethered.

So, there you go, that’s how to remove the floor for an Airstream shell on floor replacement. Next week, I’ll show you how to replace it.

6 thoughts on “Airstream Shell On Floor Replacement: Part One

  1. Gene deRuelle says:

    Congratulations on your graduation. I was in Georgia attending mygrandson’s graduation from Georgia Tech. I was sorry to miss yours.
    I guess a lot has happened since I last saw you. Your father has filled me in on a lot of things. He calls me a lot. I guess he just wants someone to talk to. It’s all a shame. Now that I know she is single if I were 50 years younger I’d chase Dina. Oh Well.
    Loads of love,


  2. Sadie says:

    A. Monterey Blair,
    Bravo! Love your site!
    I just purchased an Airstream and will definitely be following your easy to follow steps. Curious if you have a Supplies List for the AIRSTREAM SHELL ON FLOOR REPLACEMENT project? I currently don’t have any tools so will need to start collecting, borrowing and purchasing from scratch.
    Thank you,

    • A. Monterey Blair says:

      Thank you! I do have my purchase records from the project so here is what we bought:

      2 5″x2″ Rectangular Tubes 20 ft. long (for frame repairs)
      POR-15 Black 1 Gallon (for rust proofing frame)
      5 bags Floor Repair Screws from Vintage Trailer Supply (for reattaching wood)
      7 sheets 1/2″ ACX Plywood
      Thompson’s Water Seal (waterproofing the wood)
      50 Stainless Bolts (1/4″-20 x 1 1/2 in) (for bolting through the c-channel)
      100 Stainless Washers (1/4 in)
      50 Stainless Lock Nuts (1/4 in)
      Angle 1 3/4″ x 3 1/4″ x 40 1/2″ (to replace the rear angle which had been rusted through)
      WoodEpox Wood Replacement (for filling any gaps between the sheets or holes we accidentally made)
      Butyl Tape (for sealing around the wheel wells)

      We also had to buy specific bolts and screws for the front and rear bolts because those were thicker, but there are so many bolts in my purchase list, I don’t know which those were. The wheel well covers needed screws as well.

      I think most of the specialized tools we used for this project were mentioned in the posts, but we also used a jigsaw and a circular saw, a drill, wire brushes for removing rust from the frame, and paint brushes.

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