Portahut – Kitchen

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | November 30, 2011      

Build your dream. Attend a tiny house workshop!

Cooking areas for camp trailers and huts can be everything from a funky old table to something straight out of a high-end RV coach. We opted for something in between.

Our kitchen area, downsized from residential versions.

Our kitchen area, downsized from residential versions. Base unit is 8 feet long and 18 inches deep. It sits on the wheel well enclosure, which raises it up for kick space. This photo taken before completing interior trim. Shelving and other things were added later.

Since we’ve only got about 9 feet of width across the interior of the trailer, I downsized the counter depth to 18 inches from the usual residential depth of about 24 inches. Cabinet uppers were likewise downsized, and a smaller vent hood was purchased and installed (will run from PV system once that’s done). I built the cabinets in my shop, using plywood scrap from the trailer wall and floor build (3/4 and 5/8 CDX plywood). Click all images to enlarge.

Cabinet upper wall hangers in shop.

Cabinet upper wall hangers in shop. Built mostly from scrap plywood, whitewood face frames, simple slab doors, rustic paint grade.

Cabinet sink base, drawer pulls in backcountry skiing RV.

Check out the Dynafit approved drawer pulls on the sink base.

Kitchen area nearly completed.

Kitchen area nearly completed. Counter and back wall are galvy steel, underside of wall cabinets is also covered with sheet metal. Idea is for the area to be highly fire resistant in case of a food fire. Easy cleaning is a bonus. Cooktop is secured to steel counter with magnets for easy removal.

Propane hard pipe for camp trailer.

I spent hours and no small amount of money on hard-piping the propane so it would look good as well as be 100 percent safe and reliable. Line includes an automatic shutoff as well as a manual interior shutoff (red lever). External supply tank also has shutoff, of course. Cooktop is a basic camp model that's reliably built. With any system like this, it's best to turn the gas supply off when not in use. At some huts, such as 10th mountain, propane supply lines are equipped with a timer-valve. Such requires reliable electricity, so we're not installing that until we've completed our solar and know it has enough reserve power. The wire visible hanging off the wall is the 12v feed for the trailer tail light.

Backcountry skiing propane tank.

Per recommended propane install parameters, the tank is located externally in a ventilated enclosure that's sealed from the camp trailer interior. A 4-foot length of flex line connects tank to hardline, thus allowing easy swap. As I've learned from car camping, a 10 pound tank this size lasts us an average 25 days of use for basic cooking, so it'll only need swapping a few times a year for the type of use this hut will get. A spare is stored on location.

Ever since early days as a carpenter, I’ve enjoyed hacking together paint-grade cabinetry. It’s amazing what you can come up with for minimal money and time once you have a basic system figured out. My method involves keeping everything as simple cubes, constructed with 3/4 inch plywood or particle board.

For the base unit kick space I’ll sometimes offset the floor upward a few inches and cut a corner off the sides, but adding a kick space later by tacking material to the base can be quicker and easier. An air stapler speeds up things such as slapping on the face frames, but I usually screw the carcases together. Cutting everything perfectly square and dimensioned is key, which usually requires the use of a good quality table saw but can be done with a skillsaw if you’ve got the patience. Trick with drawers is to use good quality steel guides, and again dimension carefully. My drawers use a visible “trim face” which is applied after the drawer is installed and functional. The trim face can be adjusted during install to give the appearance of the drawers lining up perfectly, as variations in rough paint-grade materials can make fine adjustments difficult.

I had the steel counter top made at a sheet metal place. It’s glued with silicone to a 3/4 ply substrate, fastened from underneath for later removal if necessary. Perhaps the toughest part of making the base unit was cutting down a stainless steel sink so it would fit the downsized cabinet depth. An electric jigsaw and patience were key to get a finished looking product out of that.

Perhaps the biggest issue with this small kitchen (as it is with most small RVs) is kitchen counter space. I cut a couple of cutting boards to fit over the sink. A fold-away sideboard to the left of the sink might be an easy and effective solution. The counter length was limited to 8 feet due to concerns with seating space and firewood storage on that side of the living space. If I had it to do again, I’d stick with the 8-foot length as it works for the amount of floor space we have, and was easy to build using 8-0 plywood.


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26 Responses to “Portahut – Kitchen”

  1. Steve November 30th, 2011 9:05 am

    Wow, that’s smarter than the kitchen in my house!

  2. Lou November 30th, 2011 9:11 am

    But probably smaller (grin).

  3. Tree Dodger November 30th, 2011 9:40 am

    But much bigger, smarter and more luxurious than the kitchen in my NYC apartment (frown). Wonderful project you have there. Eagerly following your construction posts. Hope it brings great times/comfort in the backcountry this season.

  4. Lou November 30th, 2011 9:47 am

    And no roaches.

  5. Johnny November 30th, 2011 10:19 am

    Interior latches on the cabinet doors?
    A la’ a sailboat, for when you are moving the
    hut? I like the drawer pulls, good to use
    “recycled” materials.
    Lots of interior wood, what’s the fire safety
    plan, stay off the elevators?

  6. Lou November 30th, 2011 10:24 am

    Johnny, we are using some “boat” type designs in the place, and I did get some interior latches, but this place is designed for infrequent moves so no need to go to that extent. Fire safety is accomplished by having metallic surfaces in many locations, along with some fire retardant paint and upholstery. As long as no one is smoking in the place, or using open flame other than cooktop, should be plenty safe, way safer than a lot of apartments and RVs I’ve been in.

  7. Tom Gos November 30th, 2011 10:41 am

    Lou, nice steel counter tops. Another option to keep in mind for the future is aluminum sheet – check with your local public works department or road & bridge, they often have old road signs lying around and the larger ones make for nice re-usable sheets of aluminum. And as you know, aluminum is way lighter than steel! But the magnets holding the stove down is ingenious – 10th Mtn should do that in their huts, the counter underneath the burners is always pretty gross from lack of cleaning.

    I’m curious about the sink, do you have it plumbed into a holding tank or to your privy vault?

  8. Bryce M. November 30th, 2011 11:34 am

    I’d be tempted to move the untensil rack closer to the sink to make doing dishes easy and keep the sharp dangling stuff that someone could fumble and drop further from the propane hose. Lovely craftsmanship on this project!

  9. JIm November 30th, 2011 12:07 pm

    I think the ultimate ski hut would be on a snowcat in the bus part rigged as a mobile snow home. I saw a really cool 2 person mini cat at Mammoth which could have a camper top on the back like a PU truck.

  10. Billy November 30th, 2011 12:16 pm

    This is almost as fun to watch transpire as your denali excursion, but maybe not as dangerous. Good thing about building it yourself is you know how to fix it when it breaks.

  11. bryan November 30th, 2011 2:13 pm

    Lou – did you ever consider using a metal sided ocean container for this? you can pretty easily, but perhaps not affordably, purchase the container plus trailer with hitch online…

    Not that it would be easy to transport, but would eliminate some work over the summer!

  12. Aaron Trowbridge November 30th, 2011 2:55 pm

    I considered a metal container for a similar use, but ended up rejecting as they must be insulated to avoid severe condensation. Spray foaming is very expensive and needs furring to frame interior siding, and framing a wall, ceiling and floor is basically as much work as framing a building. Plus, customizing doors and windows takes slightly more specialized skills and equipment (cutting and welding, making sure they don’t leak).

    For a use where no interior mods are needed I think they are good but for this purpose don’t think it sames time or money.

  13. Aaron Trowbridge November 30th, 2011 2:56 pm

    excuse me, should read “where interior mods are NOT needed”

  14. Marcin November 30th, 2011 2:59 pm

    Boating (and the more decent household types) gas burners have a safety feature in their valves that’s an interesting mod you might consider.

    To keep the burner running you must keep the valve pressed in the “start” position, until the burner heats up sufficiently (say about 2-3 seconds) to maintain the flame. If you don’t (or if an boiled over pot puts the burner out), the burner cools down, and the safety device thermally constricts gas flow to the nozzle.

  15. Lou November 30th, 2011 4:38 pm

    Marcin, thanks for bringing that up! I’ve of course used many many gas appliances with that feature. I think I’ll try it, as it would eliminate worries about stove being accidentally left on without being lit.

  16. Lou November 30th, 2011 4:43 pm

    The shipping container would be no less work, unless it was left with no windows, and no insulation. All it really provides is the exterior shell, that doesn’t breath so moisture mildew can also be a problem. I don’t know why people get so excited about things like yurts and shipping containers. Some plywood and 2x4s make a pretty nice enclosure that has a comfortable feel and is very easy to work on (instead of using a cutting torch and welder for mods.)

    On the other hand, if the shipping container was basically used as-is, I suppose it would be an option for a “beater hut.” The condensation would be horrendous…

  17. Lou November 30th, 2011 4:46 pm

    10th Mountain has a thing or two to learn from us about huts, most of those guys weren’t even born when we started “hutting.” (grin) But then, some of their ideas do resonate, like timers on propane stoves and vault toilets… (double grin)

  18. Tom Gos November 30th, 2011 4:50 pm

    Lou, I didn’t think you were that old – I thought the 10th Mtn hut folks were mostly granola eating nords who are terrified of the mystery of avalanches and rarely leave the warmth of the hut.

  19. Lou November 30th, 2011 5:51 pm

    he he

  20. Scott Nelson November 30th, 2011 6:43 pm

    “Ever since early days as a carpenter, I’ve enjoyed hacking together paint-grade cabinetry…”

    One thing about your hut Lou, it is most definitely not hacked together. It is pretty amazing how tight, strong, solid, aesthetic and probably bombproof Lou’s place is. You’d never know it has a car trailer as its foundation, well at least not in the winter, when there’s 8 feet of snow on the ground and you see nothing but the upper half of the thing (grin).

  21. Louie November 30th, 2011 9:17 pm

    I’ve spent a bit of time in a shipping container “hut”. Not the most pleasant.

  22. Lou December 1st, 2011 6:19 am

    Thanks Scott! Yeah, I don’t think we have to worry about snow load! Lou

  23. Todd Goertzen December 2nd, 2011 10:34 am

    I’m curious as Tom was above about the sink. Simple 5 gal bucket to drain into? Carry bucket somewhere appropriate – Strain waste water and dump on ground? Proper disposal of any strained solids. Or something more elaborate?

  24. Gord December 5th, 2011 3:19 pm

    I like the tea rack the most ~ it’s the little things that add up 🙂
    Great articles ~ thanks for your website!

  25. Lou December 5th, 2011 3:43 pm

    Todd and Tom, yeah, 5-gallon bucket under sink, minimalist dish washing techniques including some paper plates and bowls, biodegradable soap, strain if necessary (sink has strainer but can be run through dish rag also), dump water just like we’re backpacking. Works great if you don’t have a ton of people for lengthy stays, which we do not.

    In summer, we can just drive everything back home if we want so as not to attract animals. In winter, we just dump the water a few yards away from the trailer. By spring it’s 100% gone due to massive snowpack and melt cycle. It’s really just water with a tiny bit of soap (sometimes we don’t even use soap) and some fine grained food solids. No big deal unless we were living up there, which would be illegal (14 day limit, and we stay well under that).

    I’d add that in these mostly rural Colorado counties, things like meth labs and fracking are a much greater concern than what campers do with their dishwater. But I suppose someone could niggle it if they were so inclined. What we’re doing is 100% sustainable and of no detriment whatsoever to the watershed. Main thing is to remove 100% of solid human waste, and not “over use” the system (in other words, again, don’t live there).

  26. Lou December 5th, 2011 4:17 pm

    Lisa came up with the tea rack. It was free if you bought a few boxes of tea. Had a sign on top that I cut off. I liked the idea, but it exceeded my expectations! No more digging around for tea bags. You might notice that in the first photo, some other stuff is hanging where the tea rack was eventually located. That was a tentative location for some electrical boxes for the solar system, they’ve since be redesigned and relocated. PV is going in over the next few weeks. I’ll blog it.

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