Your Guide To A Seamless Wall Installation In Your Van Conversion
We love our camper van walls. They’re clean, streamlined, and have, so far, held the test of time for over 60,000 miles. But installing our plywood walls in our DIY van conversion was a time-intensive, multi-step process to arrive at our finished result. But we are 100% satisfied with the outcome after installing our camper van walls and we want to share our wall installation process with you.
In this article, we will share with you our step-by-step process how we installed our plywood walls in our DIY camper van conversion. First we teach how we created and attached furring strips to our camper van and then how we cut and attached our plywood walls to these furring strips. Finally, we discuss our process of sanding and painting our camper van walls.
Ready to learn more? Keep reading below!
Article Contents - How To Build Camper Van Walls
How To Build Furring Strips For A Van Conversion
Our first step to building walls in our camper van was to build furring strips. But first, we should answer a couple questions about using furring strips in a camper van.
"What Are Furring Strips?"
Furring strips in a van conversion are typically small pieces of wood that are attached to the van’s sheet metal frame. Once these furring strips are fixed to the van frame, you can easily attach your final camper van walls to these furring strips for a strong hold.
In the above picture, you can see an example of one of our furring strips; a white rectangular piece of wood that we bolted to the van’s metal frame. We have over 50 individual furring strips attached all throughout our van.
Later we will screw our plywood calls to these white furring strips.
"Why Use Furring Strips When Building Walls In A Van Conversion?"
When thinking about how to install walls in a camper van, there are realistically only two ways to do it.
Screw Walls Into Van’s Sheet Metal Frame | You could take your wall material, whether it’s plywood or plank wood, and screw these pieces directly into the van’s sheet metal frame. This is the easiest and fastest approach. However, we feel this isn’t the best approach because not only are you screwing into metal and opening your van up to opportunities for rust buildup, but the screw cannot get a firm grip on the sheet metal because of how thing the metal is. A strong grip is especially important in a camper van because there will be lots of vibration when you drive and screws with weak grips will simply get yanked out.
Screw Walls Into Furring Strips | By first installing thick furring strips in your van conversion, you can then screw the walls into these furring strips. This allows the screw to get a much stronger hold than when screwed into the thinner sheet metal. Also, if you attach the furring strips correctly, you will not be creating any new and unnecessary holes in your van.
So, perhaps you’re asking, “how can I make furring strips for my DIY van conversion?”
Step 1: Cut Up Leftover Plywood
We decided to make our own furring strips from all the leftover 1/3″ thick plywood that we had from when we made our camper van’s sub-floor.
Furring Strip Dimensions (L x W)
The size of most of our furring strips are 4″ x 16″. However, we had a few different sizes (4″ x 8″) and (2″ x 20″) to fit some of the smaller areas of our fan.
So we traced the furring strip dimensions we needed onto our leftover plywood. In the picture above, you can see the furring strip tracings we made on the plywood.
Afterwards, we would take our jigsaw and cut along the tracings to create our furring strips.
Furring Strip Thickness
We felt good about using our leftover plywood for something useful. But, we felt that our 1/3″ thick plywood was too thin. We wanted our furring strips to be thicker so that we could use longer screws when attaching our future camper walls. Longer screws would create stronger grip.
To get thicker furring strips, we simply stacked two plywood furring strips on top of each other, with generous amounts of wood glue, to double the thickness. So instead of having 1/3″ thick furring strips, they were now 2/3″ thick. This was perfect for us.
Step 2: Anti-Mold Preparation
Since these furring strips would be installed behind our final camper van walls, likely never to be seen again, we took extra precautions against mold.
We planned to be in hot and humid environments, so mold could be a problem in the future.
So after the wood glue dried on our plywood furring strips, we sprayed each piece of wood with a healthy amount of Concrobium anti-mold solution.
When the anti-mold solution dried, we gave each plywood furring strip two coats of anti-mold primer.
When we were finished, we would end up with over 50 furring strips, ready to be installed in our camper van conversion.
Attaching Our Furring Strips To Our Camper Van
The next step in installing camper van walls is attaching those furring strips to the camper van’s frame.
But HOW to attach those furring strips to the van’s frame is an important decision. Many choose to simply drill the furring strips straight into the sheet metal. But like we mentioned earlier, screwing into the van’s metal frame isn’t ideal because of rust and lack of a strong grip. Plus, additional holes in the sheet metal increases risk of rust in the future.
“So what’s a better alternative solution?”
Our answer is to use Cross Nuts.
If correctly installed, a cross nut has over 1,215lbs of pull-out strength. Over 12x more strength than a standard screw through sheet metal.
And NO unnecessary drill holes are created in the van.
Convinced? We were. Let’s get stared!
Step 1: Purchase Your Correct Cross Nut Size
Cross nuts do not create new holes in the van because they conveniently fit into the hundreds of pre-fabricated holes all throughout the camper van’s sheet metal frame.
But different vehicles have different sized prefabricated holes punched into the vehicle frame. See below for your vehicle.
Which Cross Nut Do You Need?
For those with a Ford Transit, we recommend the 1/4″ – 20 Cross Nut to fit the prefabricated holes.
Sprinters & Promasters
For a Mercedes Spriner or Dodge Promaster, we recommend the 5/16″ – 18 Cross Nut
Step 2: Installing The Cross Nuts
When installing these cross nuts into your camper van, there are two ways to do this; OUR way and the BETTER way.
Our Way: Cheap...and Very Hard
We began by purchasing 100 Cross Nuts and laboriously hand cranked each of them into the prefabricated holes all throughout the frame of our Ford Transit.
If you’re looking to save a few dollars and want to build up your hand strength, this is the method for you. Below, we list all the products you need to install cross nuts into your camper van’s frame.
What you need
DIY Cross Nut Installation Diagram
In the diagram below, we illustrate how each of the items we listed above work together to install a single cross nut.
Looks confusing? We totally understand. We describe the DIY cross nut installation process below, step-by-step.
DIY Installation Steps
This gets confusing. It’s best to follow the steps below in conjunction with viewing the diagram up above.
- Fit the K-Lock Nut around the carriage bolt
- Insert the 5/16″ washer into the carriage bolt
- Insert the box end of the 5/16″ wrench around the carriage bolt
- Lastly, fit the cross nut on to the carriage bolt
- Fit the carriage bolt and cross nut, together, into one of the van’s pre-fabricated holes
- With your left hand, hold BOTH the 5/16″ wrench and the locking pliers, which grip near the head of the carriage bolt.
- With your right hand, fit the open end of the 7/16″ wrench around the K-Lock nut and rotate the nut clockwise.
- Keep turning the K-Lock nut. This compresses the backside of the cross onto the sheet metal.
- Keep turning the K-Lock nut until it refuses to rotate any more.
When you are done, the cross nut should adhere tightly to the van’s sheet metal frame. Below is an example of a successful cross nut installation.
The Better Way: Faster & Less Effort
It took us 3 days of hard work to install 100 Cross Nuts with our budget-conscious, DIY method. And with the cost of the wrenches, locking plier, and additional hardware, we actually didn’t save that much money in the end.
In hindsight, we sould have purchased this Cross Nut Installation Tool, to save us time and lots of hand cramps.
Step 3: Installing The Furring Strips To The Van Wall
To attach the furring strip to our van’s frame, we put a bolt through the furring strip and into the cross nut. In the above picture, you can see how we bolted the furring strip to one of our cross nuts (hidden behind the furring strip).
To do this, we drilled a hole through the furring strip with a drill bit that was just large enough to fit our bolt. Then, with a washer, we bolted each furring strip to the cross nut.
The resulting hold is very tight and strong.
Getting A Flush Fit
Because we want to mount our plywood walls to these furring strips, we want the bolt heads (used to attach the furring strips to the cross nuts) to be as flush as possible to the plywood surface. This will create stronger adhesion and eliminate air space.
If we could install our camper van walls again, we would likely have used these Sidewalk Bolts. The unusually flat and low-profile heads of these bolts are better than what we had actually used.
Post-Furring Strip Installation Result
When we were done attaching all our white furring strips in our van, we were finally ready to start working on our plywood camper van walls.
How many furring strips can you spot in the picture above?
Hint: We also put thin furring strips on our roof to install our cedar plank camper van ceiling.
Cutting Our Plywood Camper Van Walls
After all that prior work to create and attach furring strips to our van, it was finally time start making and installing our camper van walls.
Follow the steps below to learn our process.
Step 1: Plywood Wall Thickness Choice
Same as when we build our camper van floor, we started with 1/3″ plywood boards.
We chose 1/3″ for our wall thickness because we felt 1/4″ thick plywood was too thin and 1/2″ thick plywood was too thick and heavy.
1/3″ was a happy compromise.
Step 2: Sizing & Cutting Our Plywood Walls
When sizing our plywood pieces, we separated our van’s side walls into three tiers:
- Top Third
- Middle Third (containing our van windows)
- Bottom Third
In the picture below, you can roughly see the three tiers.
The top third is the piece adjacent to our van’s ceiling. The middle third section encompasses our windows, and the bottom third section is adjacent to our van’s floor.
We then went to work measuring each segment of our van’s walls and cutting plywood to fit those segments.
Once we had traced our cardboard templates over our plywood sheets, we were ready to start cutting the plywood with our jigsaw.
You may have to go back and forth a few times to get the perfect fit of your plywood piece on your camper van wall, but you’ll get there eventually.
Step 3: Attaching The Plywood Walls To The Furring Strips
With all our cuts measured out, it was time to mount our plywood walls onto our furring strips with screws.
For our screws, we used larger, size 10, Flat Head Wood Screw to get a stronger grip on our furring strips.
Lastly, we wanted to hide our screw heads so that they weren’t visible and sitting above the plywood surface. To achieve this, we purchased a countersink drill bit and would drill a tiny conical hole into our plywood before drilling in our flat head wood screws in.
After the screws were in, we would use spackling to hide the screw heads from sight.
Step 4: Beautifying The Edges & Corners
Once all the plywood boards were mounted, we had lots of rough edges and imperfect corners all throughout the van.
The corner tape was easy to apply and gave us perfect edges and corners.
After applying the corner tape, we used the spackling to further adhere the tape to the plywood walls and to smooth out the transition of the wall and tape.
Sanding & Painting Our Camper Van Conversion Walls
With the plywood walls installed in our van, we were ready to finish off these camper van walls with a round of sanding and painting.
Step 1: Sanding Our Van Conversion Walls
What you need
Step 2: Painting Our Camper Van Walls
Now we were finally ready to begin painting our camper van walls.
But which color do you select?
The "Right" White
We knew we wanted to paint our camper van walls white, but which shade of white was best?
To help us decide, we purchased four different white paint samples and painted them onto a scrap piece of plywood.
In the end, we settled on a white color paint called “Twinkling Lights” from Home Depot.
BTW, Did You Create A Color Scheme For Your Campervan Interior?
Paint, Baby, Paint!
What you need
After sanding, we began by painting our camper plywood walls with two coats of Anti-Mold Primer. As with our furring strips, we wanted to do the best job we could to prevent mold now rather than have to deal with it later.
After the primer dried, we went ahead and painted two coats of Off-White, Eggshell Paint.
Of the different qualities of paint at Home Depot, we purchased the most expensive paint. Premium paint solutions are thicker and we wanted to apply a nice, thick coat to the plywood to help smooth out some of the inconsistencies.
We also went with the ‘Eggshell’ finish to give our walls a slight sheen. This type of finish has also made it easier to wipe off our scuff marks and food stains from the walls.
And after two coats of primer and two coats of paint, we were finally done installing our camper van walls and could finally take a much deserved tripod selfie.
Finished Installing Our Camper Van Walls
As we mentioned in the beginning, we love the way our walls turned out. Most importantly, with over 60,000 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 camper van ceiling.