Sleep. It’s what we do for roughly a third of our lives. Therefore, building a solid bed in your camper van should be a top priority. Whether you’re looking for camper bed design inspiration or need detailed information for how to build a camper van bed frame, this post has got you covered.
Specifically, this post will talk about how to construct a convertible in a campervan and will cover the following steps:
If you are still deciding whether to build a convertible or fixed bed, read this post first to learn why we think convertible beds are the right choice.
“If you’re ready, let’s get to it!
Plan Your Bed Frame Dimensions
Before building your camper van bed frame, it’s a good idea to plan ahead so that you know exactly where you want to install your bed and its exact dimensions. Making a layout ahead of time will ensure:
- Your bed is the correct size for your body.
- All the products you want (i.e. water tanks, electrical) fit under your bed.
- Mistakes and errors will be held to a minimum.
In the graphic below, you can see how we created a birds-eye view of our own camper layout. Our bed frame, which is in the shape of a “U”, is shaded in blue. You can see how we detailed every dimension of our bed frame (shaded in Light Blue).
Our Camper Van Bed Frame Floor Plan Diagram
In the above graphic, you can also see how we planned to fit our:
- Inverter (TAN)
- Three batteries (YELLOW)
- Fresh water tank (DARK BLUE)
Avoid the mistake of building your van’s bed frame only to realize after that you can’t fit some of your essential items.
Note: For accurate product dimensions, you can often get this information by visiting the product’s Amazon page.
Want to know how we made our digital layout? Read our post “How To Design A Conversion Van Layout” to learn how to create your own floorplan graphic using any old free software.
"Where's The Bed Of The Bed?"
Looking at the above bed frame layout graphic, you might be wondering where the center of the bed is.
The bed’s center will be filled out by the swivel table. We will talk more about this in Step 5
Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.
Building The Bed Frame
Once you’ve finalized the shape and dimensions of your van bed, it’s time to start building the bed frame. We detail the bed frame construction process in the 4 steps below.
1. Lay The Foundation Layer
Outline the bed frame using 2”x2” wood beams. When laying out the wood beams on the floor, ensure that the dimensions that the beams create match the dimensions in your layout plan. Once you’ve laid the beams on the floor in the correct location, screw the beams to the floor (and subfloor) with wood screws.
You can see how we did this in the graphic above.
Note: The ideal screw length should be the sum of the thickness of the 2×2 wood beam, the floor boards, and the plywood subfloor.
2. Install Vertical Posts To Bed Frame
Next, with the foundation set, you can begin to build upwards. Construct your vertical segments using a combination of:
When calculating the proper length of your 2×4 beams, remember to refer to your layout guide AND consider the height of the 2×2 beams for the foundation and the top layer (which we talk about below).
When attaching the 2×4 beams to the 2×2 foundation beams, we like to use both the L-brackets and wood glue to create a study hold. We don’t want to risk the campervan bed frame from collapsing over time.
L-Brackets For Bed Frame
3. Add The Top Layer To The Bed Frame
Once the vertical 2×4 vertical beams are installed, lay a final layer of 2×2 beams on top. Fasten the beams in place using L-brackets and wood glue.
4. Completed Camper Bed Frame
When you’re finished with the above 3 steps, your bed frame should look something like in the image below.
Avoid Our Mistake: Not all wood is the same. We purchased Redwood to build our van bed frame because it was lightweight. However, Redwood is also a very soft wood and consequently they do not hold screws very well. We recommend purchasing a more firm wood, like Pine, to create your bed frame.
5. Add Paneling To The Bed Frame
Once the skeleton of the van bed is completed, add plywood paneling to complete the bed frame. After completing the steps below, your bed should look something like in the image below.
Cut Plywood Panels
To do this, we first measured the dimensions of every side of our van bed frame and cut out the corresponding sizes on ½” birch plywood.
DIY Tip #1: While birch plywood quality at hardware stores is sufficient, look for higher quality “Baltic Birch” plywood at your local lumber yard. It’ll be stronger and less prone to warping.
DIY Tip #2: Making straight cuts is important here. While a jigsaw can do the job, we recommend either a circular saw or a table saw to cut your plywood boards.
Attach Plywood Panels To Bed Frame
Use wood screws to fix the plywood panels to the 2×2 and 2×4 wood beams. To hide your screws from sight, you can countersink flat-head wood screws into the plywood and use spackling to cover the screw heads.
Follow this useful video to learn how to countersink a screw.
Sanding & Painting Bed Frame
With the van bed frame construction completed, you can sand and paint your camper bed frame.
1. Anti-Mold Preparation
To prevent against mold growth on the plywood boards, spray the bed frame with anti-mold solution. This is a quick and easy step that we also used in other parts of our van build, including our van’s:
Simply apply a solid coat of anti-mold solution to the plywood boards and let them sit to dry.
2. Sanding The Bed Frame
After the anti-mold solution has dried, sand the bed frame to create a smooth surface before painting.
With an electric sander, sand the plywood initially with 80-grit sandpaper. The 80-grit paper is quite course, but will do a good job in sanding down the rougher areas of the plywood.
When completed, go over the plywood again with 120-grit sandpaper to really smooth out the plywood surface.
3. Paint The Camper Bed Frame
After sanding the bed, paint the bed frame with two coats of anti-mold primer. You can never be too careful when it comes to mold.
And finally, apply to coats of paint with the color of your choice.
In our van, to keep our van interior color scheme consistent, we painted our camper van bed an off-white color, the same color as our van walls.
Adding Hinges (For Storage Access)
To access the storage area under the bed frame, you can add hinges to the top plywood panel.
Adding hinges can be tricky because you will need to add several strips of plywood for the hinges to be anchored to. You can see what we mean by looking at the graphic below. The DARK BLUE segments are the plywood strips, the LIGHT BLUE segments are the liftable plywood boards, and the ORANGE segments are the hinges.
To help keep your plywood boards open while you access your storage area, you can install gas struts. Although gas struts are optional, they really work well and give you an extra hand to collect your belongings under the bed.
Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.
Build The Camper Bed Center (Swivel Table)
If you followed our bed frame guide, you will have noticed that there is still a large empty space in the middle of the bed area that needs to be filled.
At this point, we only have a U-shaped bed/bench system installed. We need to fill the middle gap to properly sleep on our camper van bed at night.
That’s where the center table comes in.
During the day, we use this table to eat and work on. But at night, we lower the table top so that it becomes flush with the van bed frame.
Keep reading below to learn how we do this.
1. Recommended Table Top Material
You can use either plywood or solid wood for your tabletop. Plywood will be cheaper and lighter, but both material options work great.
In our van, we used a ¾” Walnut plywood board as our tabletop.
We measured the dimensions of the empty middle space and cut the corresponding dimensions on the walnut plywood board.
However, plywood from the lumber yard isn’t the most aesthetic. We chose to ‘beautify’ our walnut tabletop in the following 3 ways:
- Add walnut edge banding on the plywood edges.
- Sand plywood board with 120-grit sandpaper.
- Add several layers of tung oil (with applicator) for waterproof resistance.
2. Recommended Swivel Table Hardware
If you are following our campervan bed frame guide and building a convertible bed, then purchasing swivel table hardware is a must. The swivel hardware allows you to separate the tabletop from the stand (and the base), which allows you to assemble the bed in the evening.
This table hardware also makes it super easy to swivel and rotate the tabletop around so that it’s never in the way. This makes it a great option for RVs and vans with limited interior space to move around.
- Swivels for space efficiency
- Easily disconnects from base
- High quality build materials
Lagun Swivel Table
3. Adding Rails To Bed Frame
When assembling the bed at night, the tabletop will need to sit on rails to support the table. Without the rails, the tabletop would simply fall through to the floor.
In our van, we used ½” x ½” wood sticks for our rails. And with a combination of wood glue and countersunk flat head screws, we affixed these sticks ¾” below the top of our bed frame. This was so that when we placed our ¾” plywood board on the rails, the tabletop would sit flush with the top of our bed frame.
Making The Bed Mattress
Now that the campervan bed frame is finished, it’s time to make the mattress for the bed.
The easiest and most effective way to make a mattress for a convertible bed is to purchase a foam mattress topper and cut it down to the different sizes you’ll need to cover bench and bed. We cover exactly how to do this in our separate post below.
To learn more, read “How to DIY cushion covers for camper vans”
If you’re wondering which foam mattress to purchase, we wrote a LINENSPA foam mattress review. We love our mattress and think you will, too.
Additional Van Bed Resources
Essential Products & Tools
- Saw: Though we prefer a table saw for perfect straight cuts, a simple jig saw and large framing square would do just fine.
- Drill: Self-explanatory. Lots of screws to drill in to build a van bed.
- Sander: Useful just before the painting stage to smooth out the plywood panels.
- L-Brackets: Used to fortify the van bed frame and decrease wobbling.
- Hinges: Great to use if you plan to have storage space under your camper bed.
- Gas Struts: A good idea to have to help prop open the bed storage lid doors.
- Swivel Table Hardware: A must have. We’ve firm believers that a swivel table is the best type of table to have in an RV and/or camper.
- Electric Carving Knife: For cutting the foam mattress.
Camper Van Bed Conversion Video
Watch our video below to see, in action, how we convert our back benches into a bed.
The video is in Japanese, so be sure to turn on English captions.
Van Flares: Want a slightly wider van so you can sleep sideways? This company installs flares on the rear sides of van conversions so you can build a bed lengthwise. Very useful and great for space efficiency.
Useful 3D Model: This blog post contains useful information on constructing a camper bed frame. But even more useful is the 3D bed model that they created, making it easy to construct a similar bed frame for your van.
We hope you learned a thing (or two!) about our campervan bed construction and that it inspires you to do the same.
To read other informative campervan build articles, head back to our DIY Campervan Build Guide.
If you’re interested to learn how we build other interior furniture, you can read some of our other posts below.