Interior panels Part 7 – Installation – Front and rear ceiling panels

The installation of the ceiling panels proved to be the most challenging part of this project as both need to be significantly bent while simultaneously maintaining their correct position against the bus roof.  Accomplishing these two tasks solo was extremely difficult, and after spending about an hour trying repeatedly to get them in by myself, I gave up and sought Martha’s extra hands.  Together, we had the panels wrapped up in less time than my fruitless solo trials.

Our attention first focused on the rear ceiling panel, and with Martha controlling the back end and I the front, we lifted the left (driver side) edge of the panel up and into the channel bracket.  Getting the panel in position is important at this stage because moving the panel once installed is very difficult.  The panel’s front side (closest to the steering wheel) needs to be even with the rear edge (engine side) of the pop top opening.

With the left edge firmly seated in the bracket, we then bent the center of the panel down and the passenger side edge up, towards the roof, while concurrently applying a constant sideways force to keep the driver side edge seated.  If the panel slips, the channel holds the potential to crack or split the plywood.  The passenger side was then placed against the channel bracket which forced the panel into an “M” shape (the left and right legs of the “M” seated in the channels and the center warped down creating the center of the “M”).  The baltic birch needs to be bent dramatically to form this shape and we both worried about breaking the wood as it began to creak and groan.  Thankfully, wood is a very forgiving material.  At this point, the panel held on its own, sandwiched between the two brackets with the downward warp in the middle providing the supporting force (should have taken a picture!!). Martha kept an eye on the brackets to make sure the panel did not pop out while I pushed the center warp up and alternately towards each side, massaging the shrinking warp back and forth as the panel slowly seated itself fully in the channels.  The final pop that accompanied the panel snapping into place to form its upward bow against the ceiling is a very surprising, yet satisfying sound.

In checking the alignment, I discovered the panel had moved forward a bit.  To remedy this, I used a spare 2×4 (about a foot long) and heavy hammer to force the panel towards the rear of the bus.  The 2×4 needs to be placed so the long side is parallel to the ground and the wider face (4-inch side) is perpendicular to the panel’s front edge (see picture below).  It takes quite a bit of force to move the panel a fraction of an inch which makes the orientation of the 2×4 critical so as to not crush the panel.  Working back and forth along the front edge of the panel, I struck the 2×4 with heavy hammer blows to slowly nudge the panel until it was even with the rear edge of the pop top opening.

After using a spray adhesive to re-glue the front insulation back to the roof, we installed the front ceiling panel using the same method .  Alignment became more important as we had to be concerned with not only aligning the rear panel edge (engine side) with the front of the pop top opening, but the two front retaining screw holes as well.  When positioning this panel, it is better to slightly favor the rear than set it too far forward due to the lack of working space up front near the windshield.  With the panel fully installed, I used the 2×4 method with less forceful hammer blows to align the panel and front edge of the pop top opening being very carefully not to tap the panel too far forward.  If the panel went too far, hammering it backwards is almost impossible.  As the panel got close to its final spot, I kept inserting the front two retaining screws to check alignment of the screw holes.  Once the screws threaded through the panel and into the bus roof, this stage of installation came to an end.

Entire panel thread.

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A wimpy version of the “M” shaped required to install the ceiling panels. The center section needs to be significantly pulled down in order to get both edges set in the side channels (driver side channel visible on right edge of the panel).  As an aside, this picture was taken after the interior was put back – the ceiling panel cannot be installed with the headbanger shelf and closet in place.

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Using a 2×4 scrap helps protect the panel from damage when hammering it into final position. The side which contacts the panel must be perpendicular to the edge so as to avoid crushing the baltic birch. Working back and forth from left to right sides of the bus, I hit the 2×4 with enough force to slightly nudge the panel backwards, taking extreme care not to move the panel too far to fast. The room behind the birch in which to force the panel towards the front is limited.  The same method was used to drive the front ceiling panel forward into its final position.  Note that the panel edge is even with the metal rim of the pop top opening in the above photo.

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Rear ceiling panel installed.

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Finished front panel (left).

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Installing the dome light bracket mounted on the back of the front panel.  The tiny little hole (top center of bracket) faces the rear (engine side) of the panel.

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The 1/8-inch holes in the panel were drilled earlier. I used two 1/8″ pop rivets to mount the bracket.  You can see the faint, sub-horizontal tools marks I failed to sand out behind the pop riveter (grrrrrr).

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Visible side after installation.

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Using the 2×4 method, I maneuvered the panel into position working more slowly than I did with the rear panel. The rear edge must be even with the front of the pop top opening AND the holes for the two front retaining screws must align with their respective screw holes in the bus.

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With the panel nearing its final position, I kept trying the front screws until they went in easily.

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Front panel installed.

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In order to hide the edges, I made the dome light hole smaller than in the original panel. I think it makes for a cleaner look.
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