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How To Install A Ceiling In A DIY Camper Van

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A stunning ceiling is one of the showpieces of a camper van interior. And that’s no surprise. Because the ceiling takes up such a large amount of real estate, it is oftentimes one of the first things people see when they enter a van for the first time.

So it’s worthwhile to spend the time and the research to learn how to put in the best possible van ceiling.

This post offers a step-by-step guide to install a ceiling in your camper van. You can expect to learn how to:

  • Install furring strips
  • Plan the ceiling layout
  • Select the best cedar boards
  • Staining the wood
  • Prepare the wood boards for LED lights
  • Install the wood boards on the furring strips
Camper van ceiling showing LED lights
This post teaches how we built this exact van ceiling

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!

Table of Contents
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    Not what you need? Check out our “Camper Van Foundation” category page for more similar content.

    Install Furring Strips On Van's Ceiling Rips

    Using furring strips is the ideal way to install a ceiling in a van. This will ensure the ceiling is attached firmly to the van’s frame and won’t come loose over time.

    If you have an empty shell of a van, you should be able to see 4 or 5 metal ribs that run horizontally across the inside of your van’s roof. You can see three cross-ribs in the picture here.

    Ceiling support ribs in a van
    Ceiling cross-ribs

    Each of these ribs should have factory holes punched into them. To create the strongest hold for your ceiling, you should install cross nuts into these holes

    Then you can attach 2″ wide wood boards to these cross nuts for an extra strong hold. These will be the furring strips.

    In this image, you can see where we attached three rows of 2″-wide wood boards on top of each rib.

    The idea is to screw the eventual wood boards to these wood furring strips.

    Where to install ceiling furring strips in a camper van
    Three rows of furring strips attached to ribs of van roof.

    For more detailed info, check out our furring strip installation post (which is also useful to know when installing your van’s walls).

    Plan Your Van Ceiling Layout

    Making a layout for your van ceiling before putting up any wood boards really helps to make the installation process easier with less headaches. By planning ahead, you can know where each wood board will be placed and where your eventual vent fan and ceiling lights will be located.

    Check out the van ceiling diagram we made during our own van conversion. You can see where we planned to install our lights and vent fan.

    Van ceiling layout diagram showing furring strip location
    Camper van ceiling layout illustration

    Another thing you can see from the diagram above is where our furring strips are located. We planned to screw each of our wood boards at each furring strip. We also staggered the boards so that there was a nice “interlaced” look.

    To help with your camper van ceiling installation, you can easily create a digital ceiling outline. In the below diagram, you can see how we 1) planned to stagger our cedar planks, 2) factored in the location of our future LED puck lights (black circles), and 3) worked our cedar planks around our vent fan (grey square).

    To learn more how you can create your own ceiling layout, like the one below, check out our post: How To Create A Camper Van Layout For FREE


    Select The Wood Boards For Your Van Ceiling

    While there are different types of wood to use for a van conversion ceiling, cedar wood is a great choice as a ceiling material for a number of reasons. Cedar plank wood is:

    Additionally, many cedar planks come in a ‘tongue-and-groove’ format, which makes installation easy and clean.

    Cedar Blank Tongue And Groove Boards
    Tongue-and-Groove Cedar Planks

    3.1 - Where To Buy Cedar Planks

    ‘Tongue-and-Groove cedar planks are common building materials. If you’re in the USA, you can purchase cedar planks at most major big box hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s.

    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.

    Preparing Wood Boards To Fit LED Lights

    12-volt LED puck lights are the most popular ceiling lighting solution for camper vans.

    We use 12 of these puck lights in our van and are very happy with them.

    These lights are easy to install and wire. But best of all, each light only consumes 2-watts of power, ensuring that your batteries (no matter their size) can easily support these lights for hours.

    12V LED Puck Lights (Warm White)
    • Super Slim - Ultra thin, thickness 0.52", lightweight and compact body fits narrow places. Shock and...
    • Full Aluminum - Made out of full aluminum, keeps radiating heat away from LED chip board so as to...
    • Energy Saving - LED contributes to energy efficiency. It consumes lower power of your vehicle...

    For more on lighting, check out our camper interior lighting guide.

    To install these particular LED lights, you will need a 2-3/8″ hole saw. This saw attaches to your power drill and allows you to make precise, clean cuts in your ceiling wood boards to install your lights.

    Key Tip: Before drilling any holes in your ceiling boards, refer to your ceiling layout design and ensure your drill holes won’t be blocked by any future overhead cabinets.

    To connect the ceiling lights to your batteries, check out our 12v LED lights wiring guide.

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

    Staining Van Ceiling Wood Boards

    Cedar planks look great naturally, but if you stain them you’re able to really turn up the vibrance of the wood boards.

    Plan Ahead! Before staining, it’s good to know what shade of brown you want your cedar boards to become. If you have a color plan, check out our post How To Create A Color Scheme for your van build. We show you how to device your own interior color plan.

    5.1 - Which Stains Did We Use?

    For our van’s ceiling, we wanted to stain our cedar boards a dark brown color, similar to a medium roasted coffee bean.

    We could not find a  stain that could produce the exact color we wanted. So we mixed two different stains from Minwax to get our final result.

    MINWAX Dark Walnut Wood Stain
    • This item is a Minwax Wood Stain Oil Base Interior Dark Walnut Transparent 1/2 Pt
    • Purpose of use for Painting Supplies, household-wood-stains
    • This product is manufactured in United States

    5.2 - Test Your Stain Color First

    It’s smart to test your stains first on some scrap cedar wood to see how you like the color. The color you see on the product label is likely to be different than what you achieve in real life.

    In this picture, you can see how we tested our stains on a sample piece of cedar wood to see how the colors would turn out. Because we were mixing two different stains together, we blended the stains in different proportions to get the exact shade we wanted. 

    To get our final color, we used a 3:1 ratio of Minwax’s Special Walnut to Espresso stain.

    Testing stain colors on ceiling wood boards
    Testing our stain and LED light installation on a spare cedar plank

    5.3 - Staining Process

    Once you’ve selected the correct color, you’re ready to start staining all your cedar ceiling boards. Place each of your boards side-by-side and apply the stain.

    For a consistent color across all boards, it’s critical to apply the stain with the same even coat to every inch of every board. If you apply too much stain to one area and too little stain to another area, you’ll end up with color inconsistencies.

    Application Tip: Use a stain pad to make your job faster and to help you maintain a consistent stain color.

    Allow the stain to sit on the wood for about 5 minutes. After, wipe off the excess stain with some paper towels. Allow the newly stained cedar planks to dry overnight.

    Drying Stained Cedar Plank Boards
    Letting Our Newly Stained Cedar Planks Dry

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

    Install Ceiling Wood Boards To Furring Strips

    When installing ceiling boards in a camper van, it helps to start with the center board and move outwards towards the left and right edges of the ceiling. This way you can ensure that the first board is perfectly in the center of the van.

    Simply follow your ceiling layout design and make sure each board runs parallel with the van’s body. Once in place, screw the wood boards to each of the furring strips.

    To ensure the screws weren’t obvious, we used a small head screw and countersunk them a few centimeters into the wood.

    Van Build Guide - Walls Ceiling and Floor
    Ceiling wood boards going up!

    If your boards are ‘tongue-and-groove’ there is where you’ll really appreciate it because installation is incredibly easy.

    Simply insert the tongue side of the board that you’re currently installing into the groove-side of the already installed board to create a snug fit.

    By the end of the day, you should have a perfect looking cedar plank camper van ceiling!

    Can you see in this picture how we made room for the vent fan and our LED lights?

    Installing ceiling boards in a camper van
    Almost done installing the cedar boards

    Wiring LED Lights Into Ceiling

    With the ceiling boards installed in the van, you can now wire the LED lights through the boards and to your battery.

    (Just make sure there is a single RED and BLACK wire coming out of each 2-3/8″ hole that you drilled earlier (STEP 4).

    To learn how to wire the lights in, check out our LED ceiling lights installation post.

    Wiring LED lights to light switches
    Wiring diagram for LED lights

    Lastly, be sure to download our electrical wiring diagram eBook. It’s completely free.

    The Final Result - A Beautiful Cedar Plank Ceiling

    Once all the cedar boards are installed, the final result should look similar to our photo below. If you found this step-by-step guide helpful, we have other posts detailing how we installed our camper van walls and flooring.

    Camper Van Interior Design - 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!

    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!

    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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