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How To Install Strong Plywood Camper Van Walls

From beginning to end, we detail, step-by-step, our process of installing plywood walls in our camper van.

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Installing interior walls in a van is one of the most important parts of the van conversion process. Taking the time to ensure your walls are done well can help to transform your camper van into a beautiful and cozy tiny home!

In our camper van, we installed plywood walls onto our van’s metal frame and did so in a way that they have remained resilient against the constant vibration from driving on bumpy roads. After 70,000 on the road, we haven’t experienced any loose screws or plywood boards.

Camper van interior showing white plywood walls
Finished installing the walls in our camper van

In this article, we’ll show you our step-by-step process how we installed plywood walls in our camper van conversion. Specifically, we will talk about:

  • Ideal plywood thickness
  • How to screw into van walls
  • How to paint your walls
  • And all required materials

But First! Before installing the walls, ensure you’ve already put in insulation and laid your electrical wires. You don’t want to have to take off your plywood walls because you forgot a step.

Once you’re ready, let’s get to it.

Table of Contents
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    Step 1:

    Select Plywood Material For Walls

    1/3" plywood board

    The first decision to make when installing walls in a van is to decide which plywood boards to get for the van conversion. There are lots of varieties of plywood (wood variety and thickness), but below are our recommendations:

    • Best Plywood Material: Birch
      • Tip: Look for Baltic Birch if you’re in a wood specialty store. If there is no birch, get a wood that at least medium hardness. Avoid soft woods.
    • Ideal Plywood Thickness: 1/4″-1/3″
      • Tip: We used 1/3″ thick plywood. 1/4″ plywood felt too thin/flimsy and 1/2″ was too thick/heavy.

    Step 2:

    Attach Furring Strips To Van Frame

    The easiest way to install the plywood walls is to screw the plywood directly to the van’s metal frame. We DO NOT recommend this method, however, because the screws will rattle out over time due to the constant vibrations when driving. Over time, the screws will come out and the plywood walls will fall down.

    We recommend a better alternative: Install furring strips first using cross nuts.

    What Are Furring Strips?
    Narrow strips of wood that attach to a wall or ceiling and are used to help attach flat surface materials, like plywood.

    By correctly installing furring strips to the van’s frame and then screwing the plywood onto the furring strips, you will drastically increase the overall pull-out resistance of the plywood boards. This increases the plywood’s resilience against vibration when driving. You can see the white furring strips we installed in the photo below.

    Furring strips mounted in a camper van
    Furring strips mounted in the upper section of our camper van

    For more step-by-step information on how to build furring strips and how to securely attach them to a van’s wall, read our furring strips post.

    Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.

    Step 3:

    Separate Van Wall Into Sections

    Before cutting up the plywood boards, you need to know the dimensions of each section of the van walls. In our van, we divided the van’s frame into three sections:

    • Upper Third: Adjacent to the ceiling
    • Middle Third: Entire inset middle panel
    • Lower Third: Adjacent to the floor

    We will be placing plywood panels on top of each third. You can see how we partitioned these three sections in the picture below.

    Separating the van wall into three sections: upper third, middle third, lower third.
    Separating the van frame into three sections. Photo Credit: TruthOfTraveling

    Step 4:

    Cut The Plywood Boards

    Once you’ve selected and purchased your plywood boards, you need to cut them down to an appropriate size so that they fit along your van’s frame. Each plywood piece will need to be custom sized.

    Installation Tip: Large pieces of cardboard make great templates. Size your wall piece with the cardboard, then trace the cardboard template over your plywood board and start cutting.

    Because you will need to cut a lot of curves and uneven lines in your plywood, the best cutting tool for this job is the jigsaw. We used the DeWalt jigsaw to build our walls and for countless other parts of our van conversion, like when installing our windows, floor, and vent fan.

    In the photo below, you can see what we mean when we separated our van walls into top, middle, and bottom thirds. We are in the middle of attaching the top and middle third plywood panels.

    Camper van wall separated into thirds
    Van wall separated into thirds

    Our free eBook can help you set up your electrical system.

    Step 5:

    Make Cutouts In Plywood For Switches

    If you plan to have light switches installed into your walls, now is a good time to cut the appropriate size holes in the plywood to accommodate the switch and gang box. To know the size of the cutout, you will first need to decide WHICH switch/socket you will use.

    Installing a gang box. Photo credit: The Spruce

    For example, if you intend to use a traditional “house” style switch (like what we use), you need to install a gang box (aka ‘work box’) behind the plywood. So you need to know the dimensions of the gang box. In the picture above, you can see how a work box is installed through the wall and that the electrical wires are pulled through the wall and box. Later you can install the light switch on top of this box and attach the wires.

    For more information gang box installation help, check out this article from The Spruce.

    Or, you can use an RV-style light switch and the size of the cutout will need to match the dimensions of the switch.

    In the picture below, you can see how we made a cutout in our plywood wall to make room for the gang box to be installed behind the wall. Later, we will install the light switch on top of the gang box.

    cutout of van plywood wall for light switch and socket
    Showing cutout for placement of light switch and/or socket

    Step 6:

    Attach Plywood Walls To Furring Strips

    Installing camper van walls - adding spackle to our walls
    Completed left side of our camper van walls

    Now that your furring strips are up and plywood boards are cut to the right sizes, you’re ready to put up your new walls. In our camper van, we used bigger #10 wood screws to attach the plywood to the furring strips. The bigger the screw, the more grip it will have in the furring strip and the more pull-out resistance it will have.

    Want to hide your screw heads so that they aren’t visible? To do this, you’ll need to drill a conical hole with a countersink drill bit so that the flat head screw heads sit just below the plywood surface. Then you can use spackling to cover the screw heads and hide them from sight.

    Materials Needed

    Remember! If you have any dangling wire ends (for the future light switches), make sure to pull the wires through the holes you cut out for the gang boxes (from step 5). You will attach these wire ends to the light switches later on.

    Step 7:

    Block Future Mold Growth On Walls

    With the plywood boards up, now is a good time to go ahead and spray the walls with Concrobium Mold Control. Doing this kills any mold spores that exist in the plywood and, more importantly, blocks any future mold growth in the wood.

    Mold is one of the worst enemies for van life, especially when traveling in warm and humid environments. Mold tends to grow in the wood walls and, before you know it, you end up breathing in harmful the spores. Using this mold control spray helps us stay ahead of any potential mold issues in our camper van.

    Concrobium Spray - Kills Mold & Prevents Regrowth
    Preventing mold growth in a camper van is critical. We use this anti-mold spray on all our wood fixtures, including our walls and floor boards.

    Step 8:

    Beautify The Wall Edges & Corners

    Once all the plywood boards were mounted, you’ll likely still have lots of rough edges and imperfect corners all throughout the van.

    To smooth out these imperfections, we used a combination of Drywall Corner Tape and Spackling.

    The corner tape easily wraps around the corners and edges and gives each edge a clean, continuous look.

    After applying the corner tape, use the spackling to further adhere the tape to the plywood walls and to smooth out the transition of the wall and tape.

    Van Conversion Guide - Finished Installing Walls In A Camper Van
    Finished mountain the camper van walls

    Materials Needed

    Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.

    Step 9:

    Sanding The Walls

    The next step is to sand the plywood walls to smooth out all the rough areas and remove any excess spackling. To properly sand the plywood, get an orbital sander and sandpaper (80 & 120 grit).

    Safety Tip: Whether you're sanding inside or outside, it's a good idea to wear a proper filtered mask to remove small particles before they enter your lungs.

    Materials Needed

    For a perfect job, we like to go over our walls twice with 80-grit sandpaper and twice again with 120-grit sandpaper.

    Step 10:

    Painting The Walls

    Once you’ve finished sanding, you are ready to paint the plywood walls. This step is broken down into two parts: color selection & painting instructions

    Part 1: Selecting Wall Paint Color

    Color is a personal choice and everyone has their own unique style and flavor. Therefore, before painting your camper’s walls, it’s a good idea to create a color scheme for your van.

    What’s a color scheme? Check out our post “How To Create A Color Scheme” to learn more.

    In our camper van, we knew we wanted to paint our camper van walls white. This would give our camper van a more clean and open feel. A lighter and brighter color would be less claustrophobic. But did you know that there are literally hundreds of different shades of white?

    4 Samples of White Paint - Installing Camper Van Walls
    Our four white paint samples
    Paint Color - Beautiful Camper Van Interior Wall Build
    "Twinkling Lights" paint swatch from Home Depot

    To help us decide, we purchased four different white paint samples and painted them onto a scrap piece of plywood. We then selected the best shade of white for our van.

    Paint Selection Tip: Avoid cheap paints. Premium quality paint is thicker and is easier to apply an even coat. We also recommend getting 'egg shell' paint to give your walls a slight sheen. This also makes it easier to clean your walls when they get dirty.

    Part 2: Painting Instructions

    Once you are ready to paint your van walls, apply two coats of Anti-Mold Primer. The walls should have already received a layer of Mold Control Spray, but this primer helps give an additional layer of mold protection.

    Preview Product Rating Price
    Rust-Oleum Zinsser 276087 Mold Killing Primer, Quart, White Rust-Oleum Zinsser 276087 Mold Killing Primer, Quart, White No ratings yet $19.97Amazon Prime

    Once the primer has dried, paint two coats of your selected paint color onto the van walls.

    Finished Result After Installing Camper Van Walls
    Finished result after painting our camper van walls

    Step 11:

    Install Light Switches Onto Wall

    To finish off the van walls, attach your light switches to the plywood. You should be able to insert the gang box and switch through the cutout you made in step 5.

    Camper van wall with a light switch and window
    Paddle-style light switch on the wall

    For more information on how to wire a LED lights and switch to the battery, check our light installation post.

    Was This Post Helpful? We have lots of other useful articles to help you build the foundation of your camper van. Check out our Camper Foundation page to read more great van build content!

    Finished! Take A Step Back & Enjoy

    Finished Painting Camper Van Walls
    Finished painting our camper van walls

    As we mentioned in the beginning, we love the way our walls turned out. Most importantly, with over 70,000 miles (and counting…) that we’ve put on our vehicle, our walls continue to hold firm to the frame of our van.

    With our camper van walls up and finished, we can now focus on installing our floor and ceiling.

    If you enjoyed reading this post, we’re sure you’ll love learning how we built our beautiful cedar plank ceiling.

    Happy building!

    Thank You For Reading!

    We’re Yuko and Eric! We both grew up in Asia ( Japan & Hong Kong ), we left our jobs and homes in 2018 and started traveling full time from Canada to Argentina in our self-converted camper van since end of May 2019. “Asobo” means “Let’s play” in Japanese. We named our site “Asobolife” because the life is always uncertain and we live only once so it’s important to always keep positive, playful mind and enjoy the moment you are in the present. We also want to use this website to share our road trip and van building experiences to inspire our readers. We hope you enjoy!

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