Vanlife | DIY Ladder Protection
Cruising around in a Sprinter van built for adventure means taking some tasks into your own hands. With solar mounted to the roof it is crucial to be able to scurry on up in the case of inclement weather or just a simple service. Being 5'2" and having a horrible vertical won't get me up there when I might need it the most - let's face the facts.
So, I had my buddy Matt custom weld a steel ladder. Once he installed it to the Driver's side of Vanimal - and having experienced rain on raw steel the following day - it became clear that it was now in my hands to treat the ladder and get it protected for years of awesomeness.
While taking on life - graduating from UCCS, selling and buying a house, packing, tying up loose ends, moving and attempting to find time to ride - the rust got away from me a bit. As you can see, surface rust happens quickly.
4 weeks of surface rust accumulation.
TREATING THE LADDER
Initially, I made a few phone calls to price out the cost of getting the ladder sandblasted (necessary at that point) and powder coated. My average quotes: $300!! Forget that nonsense...
Through a little bit of research, I realized I can do this on my own with some elbow grease... and a few other products. I have outlined the steps I took per product instructions - and a touch of improv.
NOTE: I recently completed this project and therefore do not have reports just yet about the success of applying Rust-Oleum per my process; only time (and rain) will tell...
What I Used:
- Latex Gloves
Rhodes American Steel Wool: Grade 3
- Mineral Spirits
- Wiping Cloths
Rust-Oleum Matte Clear Enamel
STEP #1 - REMOVE SURFACE RUST
I used the steel wool against the ladder, brushing it to remove as much surface rust as I could. It was obvious that rust was coming off once the wool felt smooth against the steel. About half way through I realized that it would be difficult to remove all of the rust with steel wool alone.
Rust removal by steel wool only.
Because the wool deemed impermeable to the corners and weld spots that weren't so smooth, I decided to interject some DW40. To make the process easier, I removed the ladder from the van.
After coating the ladder with the DW40, I let it set for a few minutes to break up the rust particles before taking the steel wool back to the ladder. The DW40 definitely aided in removing the rest of the rust.
STEP #2 - CLEAN LADDER OF ALL DEBRIS
Once I felt good about getting as much rust removed from the ladder as possible, I needed to "clean" it prior to applying the Rust-Oleum. This step is based on the instructions of the enamel spray itself.
Originally, I thought Dawn dish soap and some water would be my best approach; I didn't want to deal with more combustible products. Then I got to thinking... raw steel + water = proven rust. Even if I could dry it off fast enough, it wasn't worth the risk considering the efforts of removing the rust. So I went with the recommended Mineral Spirits:
This stuff was amazing. I chose to go over the ladder - with the help of Mom, of course - a couple of times. This way I felt confident in getting all debris removed, providing me with a clean slate. Watch the rag - it will tell you when the dirt is off.
STEP #3 - APPLY PROTECTIVE PRODUCT
Alright, so at this point the ladder was free from rust and generally cleaned up nice and fancy. It was now time to apply my chosen protective product: Rust-Oleum. Based on recommendations from friends and the handy inter-web, I opted for this product considering its history of "stopping rust" and protecting from future attacks.
Moreover, I chose to go with the Clear Matte Enamel coating rather than a color. I like the look of the raw steel against the Plasti-Dip Anthracite Grey. The only downfall I found to this particular color was that it was near impossible to tell if you have covered the surface of the ladder. That being the case, I applied three well-rounded coats to all areas of the ladder; Rust-Oleum recommends at least one to two.
Spraying from approximately 10 inches away, I started from one end and strategic moved my way to the opposite:
Because the underside of the ladder was difficult to get to from the top, I decided to go ahead and apply all my coats to the top and all sides of the ladder and its steps first. I gave it 30 minutes or so between coat based on the recommendations and my own instinct. Once I felt good about these areas, I flipped the ladder in order to start my 3 rounds of coats on the underside that faces the van.
REINSTALLING THE LADDER
Once I gave the ladder adequate time to dry, it was time to put her back on Vanimal! Before attempting to do this, I checked out the rails on the roof. When taking the ladder off, I had noticed some slight contact rust on the rails themselves. I decided not to cut any corners and treated the rails with DW40 as well to prevent any issues down the line:
It's a surprise I didn't bust my ass on this 1950's ladder... see the duct tape?
I had a bit of trouble with one of the bolts. For your viewing pleasure witness my conversations with myself:
Overall, the time on this project was about four hours. The immediate results look great - professional and clean. Technically this process was pretty simple, though I did make things harder than they needed to be in the beginning (read my tips below). According to Rust-Oleum, coats can be applied at any time here on out, so I have an extra can handy.
- Do NOT sit down, lay down or roll around on the ground in an area in which you have used steel wool; especially with leggings on.
- Save yourself some headache and just take the ladder off the van. I was worried about getting it off and on, but quickly found it was easier than I anticipated - though it did take some effort and patience.
- Skip the dry steel wool rust removal and go straight to the use of DW40. This will cut your time on the project.
- Consider using something stronger than latex gloves, though they are an incredibly cheap investment to have around the house anyways (just ask my mother).
- Use an up-to-date, 21st century ladder to get the van ladder on and off. Death-defying feats are not necessary in a project like this.
NOTE: I have not climbed up on the ladder since applying the protective layers. I am now considering adhering grippy strips to each step of the ladder. This way, I will not have to worry about chipping off any of the Rust-Oleum and it might offer security from foot slippage. Another project, for another (upcoming) time.
Thanks for reading along on my DIY ladder rejuvenation! Feel free to leave some comments, ask me some questions or suggest other things you would like me to share.
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