Monthly Archives: May 2014

Solar Panels

My next step in getting some electricity going in the Magic Bus, was to build some solar panels. I purchased some solar cells from ebay. These were six inch square solar cells. I got them for about $1.70 a piece. There was ten of them. Then I purchased some used ones that were removed from other panels. I got forty of those, but only about thirty were usable. It ended up being close to the same price as the new ones, but these did come with all of the metal tabbing I was going to need, and they do work.

If you have never touched one of these solar cells, well let me tell you, they are brittle. Now I don’t mean you just have to be gentle with them, no I mean you have to treat them like they are a rare find from some ancient archaeological dig or you will break them. If you dissolved a whole bunch of sugar in water until it was nice and thick, and then poured it out about a sixteenth of an inch thick, and then let it dry out and harden. It would be about the same. They are that brittle. They break just by looking at them wrong, and you have to solder a big wire on these things. Matter of fact, you have to solder several big wires on them. Each cell has to have two pieces of tabbing on them and they have to connect to the next one in a series. So technically, each cell gets soldered four times. These thin brittle pieces of sugar glass have to be soldered four times! Not only that!! You will need at least a sixty watt soldering iron to get them hot enough for the solder to stick. In other words, this part sucked even for me, and I can solder like a robot.

Each cell has to be soldered on each side, twice. At times I found it very hard to get the solder to stick to the cells. Rosin helped for the most part, but at times I couldn’t even get it to stick with that. I don’t know what it was. I am sure I was using the wrong type of solder, but I was using the solder that I had. It worked good enough, but I broke several of the cells. Several.

I won’t go into how to solder them all together. There are plenty of instructions online. Basically the bottom side of the solar cell is positive, and the top side is negative. You want to wire them up in a series so that the voltage increases. I ended up with thirty cells. Two sets of fifteen. Each cell puts out four watts at the max. Which is in the form of a  half of a volt, at eight amps. Wired in a series, thirty cells would give me fifteen volts at eight amps. When I put mine out in the hot Texas sun, I got close to that, but not quite that much. At top, I was getting about fourteen volts and the amps were about seven and a half.  Well, close enough, considering the outcome… keep reading.

So these fragile cells, that are all soldered together, have to be put on top of a van and not break. Not an easy task, especially when you are trying to keep the weight to a minimum to save on gas. I could easily get a big thick piece of  plywood or something to put them on, but that’s too much weight. So I decided to build it frame style. I ripped down some white pine, three quarters by three quarters, and built a frame structure where I notched each joint. This worked really well. It did not flex hardly at all. When I have to rebuild these, and I will, I will be doing the same thing. Although, I might go even smaller, but with more sticks.

On the first frame I made, I used a corrugated plastic to skin it. It is basically cardboard, but made out of plastic. It was stiff. It was super lightweight. It looked perfect. So I glued and stapled the plastic onto the frame. At this point it was very light and looked perfect, but it was not to be. Little did I know that it was going to warp in the hot sun, but I am skipping ahead. I then used three quarter inch corner molding to frame the frame. It being corner molding, it gave me more meat to attach it with, because this is what the plexiglass piece sits on.

On top of the plastic sheet, I laid down a layer of foam sheeting that is used under hardwood floors, using spray glue. First, I cut holes where the center of the solar cells would lie, in the foam sheet. I then took thick silicone and filled the holes. Then I laid the soldered cells down. The cells were attached to the panel by a single blob of silicone in the center of each cell. All while sitting on a foam layer that is sitting on a framed out piece of plastic, attached to a wooden frame. It came out decent. After painting with oil based enamel, I then screwed the plexiglass down on the corner molding and it was done. This seemed perfect. Not too heavy at all. So I decided to give her a test.

As I said, I wasn’t getting the maximum from the cells, but it wasn’t too bad. I walked away, and I left it out in the sun. I came back later to test it again, and the electrons were still flowing strong. The only thing, the corrugated plastic had started to bow up in between each grid piece of the wooden frame. The plexiglass started warping too, but I didn’t really care about that. I was more worried about the bowing that was flexing those fragile solar cells. Two of the cells did crack and break, but oddly enough they are still working. So I decided that I will just leave it like it is and when it stops working, I’ll build another one.

The second panel I built the same way except I used masonite instead of the plastic. It doesn’t warp or bow in the sun, but it’s also not as lightweight as the plastic. I really like the idea of the plastic. I am thinking it would be better to build a more elaborate wooden frame system and still use the plastic. If the grid was smaller, I don’t think the plastic could bow as much. I am thinking half inch by half inch wooden sticks, interlocked with notches, should do the trick. Then the plastic. Then the foam. That will be the next way I would do it.

But you know what… That was such a pain in the ass… I might just buy them already made.

Solar Panel Solar Panel Solar Panel
Solar Panel Solar Panel Solar Panel

The Paint Job – Outside

Well, it’s been awhile since I updated this blog. I haven’t given up on the Magic Bus. Nope, not yet. The reasons are several fold. For one, life has not been helpful at all. It has tried everything it could to make it hard on me. Money, health, family, it never ends around me.

The other reason is that I have been working on more than one project on the Magic Bus. I have been painting, but I have also been building solar panels. I will be posting a blog on that soon, and that will be a good one. It hasn’t been easy.

As for this post, it’s about painting a van… So how did I do it? Ha!

The van was not a pretty sight when I bought it. Quite frankly, if  I drank paint and urinated it onto the van, it would look better than it was. In other words, anything would be an improvement. Because of this, I decided to just brush and roll paint onto the thing. Not just any paint though, I wanted it to be durable. So I decided to use Rustoleum oil base enamel. It’s made to be strong and lasting. The problem was that it only came in a few different colors. None of them were ones that I wanted. My only option was to tint some white paint.

My first thought was to buy some tints and tint my own, but I bought it at Home Depot, and like they have tints. I would have to go to a real paint store to get something like that. Not to mention I need oil based tints. I asked the young girl working there, who knew nothing, if they have oil based paint they can tint with their machine, and she said they did. Behr paint makes oil based paints that can be tinted, but Behr is not Rustoleum. So with a little talking, I talked the girl into tinting the Rustoleum with the Behr pigments.

I picked out a color I liked, she did her scanning, and the machine started tinting. Now I don’t know if the paint that is made to tint with the machine has less in it, maybe. The machine had lasers pointing into the can, so I don’t know if the machine turns off automatically based on the readings from the lasers. What I do know, is that the machine did not turn off. The girl had to manually stop the process. She stopped it right when the paint bucket was completely full, and I mean completely. She was going to try to dump some out, but I stopped her. I knew that was going to end up a big mess, so I helped her scoop some out with a cup.

After we got it down so that the lid could be put it on, she popped it into the shaker and shook it. When it came out, it was not completely mixed. So she put it in again. After the second time, the paint was pretty much mixed and I got my color.

I then taped off everything I needed to protect with painters tape. I then used a brush to cut in every tight spot. After that, I used a roller and I rolled the paint on. It took several coats in some spots, but mostly just two coats. A gallon of paint was easily enough to do the whole van. In the hot Texas sun, it didn’t take long for it to dry as well.

I used just plain white on the top shell. The white will bounce off the light and protect it longer and will help keep the heat out. I am totally satisfied with the paint job. Like I said, anything was an improvement. At least now it doesn’t look like a total heap. I could actually use some fine sandpaper and smooth it down. Then I could polish it with standard car wax to look just like a professional job. I probably won’t, but I could.

Magic Bus Paint Job Magic Bus Paint Job Magic Bus Paint Job