Our ‘tounge and groove’ cedar plank camper van ceiling is the part of our DIY van conversion build that we are most proud of. We love the color & texture, the fit, and the fact that our ceiling has held together for over 60,000+ (and counting…) miles on the road.
But installing our van conversion ceiling was just a quick and simple “slap on” job. It took quite a bit of pre-planning, careful cutting, and color testing to arrive at the beautiful look our camper van ceiling has today.
In this particle we will explain exactly how we built our cedar plank camper van ceiling. This step-by-step guide includes how we selected, stained, & installed our cedar boards in our camper van.
So if you’re interested, keep reading below!
Camper Van Foundation Series
Install Your Own Camper Van Ceiling
Selecting The Cedar Planks For Our Camper Van Ceiling
When we were ready to create and install our camper van ceiling, we were inundated with so many different types of wood to use. There was pine, birch, poplar, walnut, and so much more.
But we were instantly drawn towards ‘tongue-and-groove’ cedar planks for a number of great benefits. Cedar plank wood is:
Other Great Properties of Cedar Planks
Cedar wood is also known for it’s aromatic earthy & woodsy smell and for beautifully brown shades. But in our case, because we will be staining our cedar planks, we won’t be able to enjoy these other great cedar properties.
Buying Our Cedar Planks For Our Van Conversion Ceiling
‘Tongue-and-Groove cedar planks are common building materials. We picked ours up at Lowe’s, a major hardware chain store in the USA. But you can also find them in Home Depot or other lumber stores.
Top Tip: Not all cedar planks at the store are in great shape. Some have cracks and holes. We spent an hour rummaging through the entire inventory to select the best quality cedar plank boards.
Also, cedar wood is a soft wood. This means it’s easy to scratch and dent these planks if you’re careless. Take care when transporting your cedar planks back home.
Staining Our Cedar Plank Boards For Our Van Ceiling
We loved the natural color of our cedar boards, but their natural color was not consistent with our chosen color scheme for our van interior. So we decided to stain our cedar boards a richer and deeper brown.
Selecting Our Stain For Our Cedar Planks
We wanted to stain our cedar boards a dark brown color, similar to a lightly roasted coffee bean.
We wanted our camper van conversion ceiling to match our future kitchen counter top and our dining table.
To achieve this dark brown color, we actually bought two different stains from Minwax: ‘Special Walnut’ and ‘Espresso’. Our plan was to blend these two stains together to get our perfect cedar panel color.
Create A Color Scheme For Your Van
Always Test Your Stains First On A Spare Cedar Plank Piece
It’s a great idea to test your stains on some scrap cedar wood first to see how you like the color. This is especially true if you are mixing stains, like us.
Different proportions of stains give different color outcomes. We discovered that the darker espresso stain is very strong and hard to dilute into a softer brown. We would need to add much more “Special Walnut” stain to even out the harsh brown of the “Espresso” stain.
To get our final color, we used a 3:1 ratio of Minwax’s Special Walnut to Espresso stain.
Staining Our Cedar Plank Boards
Now that we knew the ideal stain mixture we wanted, it was time to start staining all our cedar planks.
We simply lined up all our cedar boards side-by-side stained each board one by one. We let the stain sit on the cedar planks for ~5 minutes before wiping off the excess stain liquid.
Application Tip: Use a stain pad to make your job faster and to maintaining a consistent stain color. Also, use latex gloves to keep your hands clean.
When we were done, we allowed the newly stained cedar planks to dry in our van (since we didn’t have a large enough indoor workshop).
Cedar Plank Placement Planning For Our Van Ceiling
Before we were ready to begin installing our cedar planks for our camper van ceiling, we had to do a bit of planning each of the boards would be.
By planning ahead, we wanted to achieve three things:
1. Staggered Placement | We wanted to stagger our cedar planks so that the ends of each plank wouldn’t all line up on the same line.
2. LED Light Placement | We also wanted to plan where, and which boards, to drill our holes to install our LED light pucks.
3. Factor In Vent Fan Location | We also had to install our cedar planks around our existing vent fan. Planning ahead would show us how to cut our cedar boards to work around the fan.
To help with our van ceiling installation, we created a digital outline for our camper van ceiling. In the picture below, you can see how we 1) planned to stagger our cedar planks, 2) factored in the location of our future LED puck lights (in black), and 3) worked our cedar planks around our vent fan (grey square).
Drilling Holes For Our LED Lights
Installing The Cedar Plank Ceiling
Installing our cedar plank ceiling boards is a multi-step process that includes:
Steps 1 & 2: Creating & Attaching Furring Strips To Our Camper Van Ceiling
In order to attach our cedar planks to our van’s ceiling, we needed to create and attach furring strips to the ceiling first.
Looking for a complete guide to help you piece together your own camper water system?
We explain and document the entire furring strip process in our other article: How To Build Camper Van Walls
Just to recap from our van walls post: We installed over 100 cross nuts in our van frame and attached plywood furring strips to these cross nuts. With the furring strips in, we were able to mount our plywood walls to these furring strips.
In our Ford Transit, there are 5 sheet metal ribs that run across our van’s ceiling. We simply inserted cross nuts into the many pre-fabricated holes in these metal ribs and then attached our thin furring strips along the ribs by fastening a bolt, through the furring strips, and into the cross nut.
Read Our Wall Installation To Learn More About Furring Strips: Camper Van Wall Installation
Step 3: Installing The Cedar Plank Ceiling Boards Onto The Furring Strips
With our furring strips in, we could now install our cedar plank ceiling boards.
After cutting our cedar boards to size with a miter saw, we drilled each plank into the furring strips. We started with the center-most plank and moved outwards to the left and right sides.
Because these cedar boards are “tongue-and-groove”, the long sides of each board fit perfectly and snug into each other.
By the end of the day, we had a perfect looking cedar plank ceiling installed.
The Final Result - Beautiful Cedar Plank Ceiling
Once all our cedar boards were installed, the final result looks just like the photo below. This photo also includes our LED lights and all the interior furniture that we would build in the near future.
For more information on every part of our van conversion build, head over to our DIY Camper Van Conversion Build Guide.
Final Thoughts: Install Your Own Cedar Plank Camper Van Ceiling
If you go slow and steady, we’re convinced that you, too, can easily install a stunning camper van conversion ceiling.
We love our tongue-and-groove cedar planks and wouldn’t change anything about our van ceiling build. And these ceiling boards have held up nicely during all the thousands of miles that we’ve driven.
If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment below!
Camper Van Foundation Series