Building a custom campervan kitchen cabinet and finishing with a stunning butcherblock countertop is no easy task. In our case, constructing a van cabinet from scratch was one of the most difficult parts of our camper van build.
But after 10 days of hard work, we completed our camper’s kitchen cabinets and love how they came out. And best of all, the walnut butcher block countertop is one of the most beautiful aspects of our van build.
Check out our kitchen cabinet and we hope you agree, too!
Though building the cabinets was one of the most technically challenging parts of our van build, we’re confident that you can create your own camper cabinets if you create a detailed plan in advance and take your build slow and steady.
Keep reading our post below and we’ll help get you there!
In this post, we want to teach you how to DIY your own campervan cabinets and countertop.
Specifically, we’ll go over how to:
- Plan the cabinet dimensions
- Build the cabinet base & frame
- Construct drawer slides
- Sand and paint the cabinets
- Install a stunning butcher block countertop
So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!
Plan Camper Cabinet Dimensions
Before constructing your campervan cabinets, it’s a smart idea to do some planning so that you know where they’ll be installed and what their overall dimensions will be.
That’s why we highly recommend creating a digital floor plan of your camper interior. If you read our post, you’ll learn how to make the exact same layout images that you see below. Best of all, all the software we recommend is completely free use.
Diagram 1.1 - Bird's Eye View
Below, you can get a birds-eye-view of our van’s layout, including our cabinets, which are shaded in ORANGE.
In our van, we built two cabinets. Our primary counter is 72″ long and sits just behind the driver’s seat. The secondary cabinet is only 20.5″ long and sits right next to the sliding door.
Diagram 1.2 - Side View
Below, you can see a side view of our campervan cabinets. Included in the diagram is a more detailed plan of how we plan to fit our larger items (fridge, propane tank, sink, and water tanks) inside the cabinets.
You can even see how we planned to partition the cabinet with drawers.
Campervan Cabinet Dimensions
Planning your cabinet’s overall dimensions is the first step. How tall will your cabinets be? How long? How deep?
Below, we include some considerations to think about when planning the size of your cabinets:
- Your height: The height of your cabinets should depend on how tall you (and your partner) are. Hold your arms up near your hips and imagine you’re cutting some vegetables on a countertop. Measure this distance from the floor to your hands and this should be an ideal height for your cabinet.
- Total storage space: Make a list of all the products you want to store inside your camper’s cabinets. In our case, we store our fridge, propane tank, sink, fresh water tanks, and Instant Pot. You should get specific dimensions for each of these products and build your cabinets around these large items.
- Countertop area: You need to decide how much countertop space you want to have in your campervan. One of our biggest van build tips is to prioritize lots and lots of countertop real estate. You’ll thank us later when you have a spacious kitchen for meal prepping and dish washing!
The exact dimensions of our camper van’s cabinets are:
- Driver side: L72” x H37” x D22.5”
- Passenger side: L20” x H37” x D22.5”
Once you have finalized the dimensions of your campervan cabinets, you’re ready to start the construction process.
To learn how to make your own digital layout, check out our camper van interior layout creator post.
Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.
Build The Cabinet Base (With Toe Kick)
Although we could have simply built our van cabinets and installed them right onto the floor of our camper, we decided to first build a base for our cabinets to sit on.
By building a base for the cabinets, we would be lifting the cabinets two inches off the floor and creating a toe kick area for our feet.
You might initially think that building a toe kick under the cabinets isn’t worth the effort, but after 3+ years of van life, we’re glad we put them in. Toe kicks do a lot to help make our tiny van feel more open, less cramped, and prevent us from constantly jamming our toes against our cabinets.
1. Construction Steps
Since you’ve already completed your floor plan sketch in Step 1, building the cabinet base should be straightforward.
- Dimensions: In our van, the cabinet base is 2″ tall and 3″ smaller than the final cabinet all around (to create the toe kick area). So, since the dimensions of our primary campervan cabinet is L72″ x D22.5″, the cabinet base will be L66″ x 16.5″.
- Material: We used 1/2″ baltic birch plywood and a table saw to cut the plywood strips that we needed for the base.
2. DIY Cabinet Base Instructional Video
For an excellent tutorial, watch Frank Howarth’s instructional YouTube video. His video below is a helpful resource and is the same video we used when building our own cabinet bases.
3. Materials & Tools List
1/2″ plywood boards are perfect when building out the base for your van’s kitchen cabinets. Below are four other materials and tools you will need to construct the cabinet base.
Build Camper Cabinet Frame (Carcass)
With the cabinet base completed, the next step is to build the cabinet frame.
In the picture here, you can see the completed cabinet frame for our secondary counter, which will be installed next to our sliding door. You can see how we accounted for three drawers to be installed in the future.
1. Assemble The Base And Backsides Of The Frame
First, you’ll want to attach the cabinet’s back, left, right, and bottom sides.
We recommend using ½” baltic birch plywood to construct the back three sides of the cabinet frame since this thickness provides the best compromise between being study yet lightweight.
To attach the plywood boards together, we used a combination of 6×1 wood screws and lots of wood glue. There will be a lot of vibration when driving your camper van and you want the cabinet frame to hold firm.
When screwing and gluing the plywood boards together, you want to make sure that the joints are kept at 90 degrees. Its too easy for the glue to dry and find out your plywood joints have settled at either an obtuse or acute angle. That’s why a framing square was one of our most important tools when constructing our cabinet frame.
Lastly, having long clamps is a must. These clamps help to keep the plywood joints tightly together until the wood glue dries.
2. Build The Cabinet Front Frame
This is an optional step, but if you care about cabinet aesthetics, you can add a front cabinet frame. To do this, we glued 2×1 pine wood beams to the frame to create our cabinet fronts.
Caveat: If you add a front frame, like we did, it will make installing your drawer slides more complicated and you will have less overall storage space inside your drawers.
If you decide not to install a front frame, skip to part 3 below.
Once you’ve framed the boundary of the cabinet frame with the pine beams, you can install your horizontal pine wood strips to partition the area for your drawers. In the below photo, you can see how we use our long clamps to keep the horizontal wood pieces in place until he wood glue dries.
3. Adding A Cabinet Top Frame
If you plan to add a heavy butcher block countertop, installing a top frame to the cabinet frame is a good idea. This top frame will add surface area and help to support the weight of the eventual countertop.
We used leftover plywood from owner we built our campervan walls, but a single layer of ½” plywood should also work well.
We will install the butcher block countertop on top of this frame later on in this post.
4. Materials & Tools List
Below are the materials and tools we used to build our van kitchen counter frame. It is similar to what we used to build the toe kick base.
Building Cabinet Drawers
The last part of the cabinet construction was creating the drawers and installing the drawer slides.
1. Determine Shelf Dimensions
Before constructing the shelf frame, it’s important to know what the final dimensions of each shelf will be.
The depth of the shelf can be whatever you’d like it to be, but is typically just an inch shorter than the depth of your camper cabinet frame.
But the width of the shelf must be much more precise. Do determine the width of your shelf, you will need to measure the width of each shelf partition and subtract exactly 1”. This is because the two drawer slides will take up ½” of space each.
2. Construct Drawer Box Frame
Once you know the dimensions (length, width, and height), you’re ready to build the cabinet drawer frame.
Though you can use 4×1 pine beams like in the picture here, you can just as easily build a drawer frame using ½” birch plywood.
When fixing two pieces of wood together (whether using the pine beams or plywood), use plenty of 6×1 wood screws and wood glue to create strong joints.
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3. Add The Drawer Bottom
The easiest way to add a bottom to the drawer frame is to screw & glue a piece of ¼” plywood to the underside of the frame.
However, if you intend for your drawer to hold heavy objects, you can opt to cut dados into your drawer frame and slide your ¼” plywood bottom into the frame.
Adding dados, which is what we did, adds much more structural support.
How do you create these dados?
Check out Brad’s video below on DIY cabinet drawers. At 5:52, he talks about how to create dados to add greater support for your drawer bottoms.
4. Adding Drawer Slides
With the previous steps completed, you can now add drawer slides to both the drawer and cabinet frames. This is the moment of truth, where you will find out whether or not the drawer will fit the ha.
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Adding drawer slides is tricky because the slides that you install on either side of the cabinet frame will need to be perfectly level and of equal height. In Philip’s YouTube video, he explains how you can easily and quickly align drawer slides.
5. Building Drawer Fronts
The last step to the campervan drawer construction is to make the drawer faces, or “fronts”.
We made our drawer faces by cutting 1/2″ birch plywood down to the appropriate size using a table saw. John’s video below goes into good detail how to create these drawer fronts and how to use a DIY jig to install your future drawer handles.
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Sanding & Painting Van Cabinets
With the counter frame and drawers completed, you’re ready to sand and paint them.
1. Anti-Mold Preparation
The first step is to ensure mold does not grow on the camper’s cabinets. To do this, we sprayed the cabinet and drawers with anti-mold solution. This spray is quick, convenient and was also used in other parts of our van build, including our:
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Once the anti-mold solution has dried on the cabinets and drawers, use an electric sander, smooth out the plywood boards with 80-grit sandpaper and once again with 120-grit paper.
By the end of this, your plywood should be smooth and ready to paint.
Now you’re ready to paint your campervan cabinets.
If you haven’t yet selected the final color for your cabinets, we recommend checking out two of our posts below:
To prevent even further against mold growth, we first painted two layers of anti-mold primer on our van cabinets.
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And lastly, we painted two coats of off-white paint to our cabinets.
Installing The Cabinets In The Campervan
If you’ve gotten this far, the cabinet bases (from part 2) should already be installed in your camper and the cabinet frame is ready to be installed on top of those bases.
1. Position Cabinet Frame On Base
With our toe-kick, we planned a 3″ inset. So when we brought the cabinets into the van and set them on the base, we made sure there was 3″ of space all around the underside of the cabinets.
2. Attach Cabinet Frame To Base & Walls
Fix the cabinet frame with screws to both the base and the walls. You will want to use plenty of screws because you don’t want your cabinets to come lose while driving, especially when you’re on rougher roads.
For an extra strong grip, ensure that you are screwing the cabinets into your van’s furring strips. This provides a much stronger hold than simply screwing into your plywood walls.
For more information: Read our post to learn how to DIY furring strips for your camper.
Adding A Butcher Block Countertop
The last step to completing your van’s kitchen cabinets is to add a beautiful countertop. If you’re ready for this step, read out campervan countertop post to learn more.
- Best materials
- How to plan the dimensions
- How to cut a solid countertop board
- Oiling & sealing
- Ongoing maintenance
Video Of Our Campervan Kitchen Counters
In the above video you can see our campervan kitchen counters live. (Turn on subtitles for English).
In the video, you can right away get a feel for our walnut butcher block counter top. And a few minutes later, we open up all our drawers or cabinet doors to show you what we store inside them.
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