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How To Build Strong Upper Cabinets In A Campervan

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How-To-Build-Strong-Upper-Cabinets-In-A-Campervan

Upper Cabinet Construction Overview

In this article we will show you how we built beautiful and strong upper cabinets in our campervan.

We would be lying to you if we said we were true minimalists. In fact, we wanted to bring along quite a bit of clothes (for all different seasons), electronics, and hygiene products.

Therefore, having ample upper cabinet storage space in our van was a must for us. And to maximize our storage capabilities, we wanted to have upper cabinets that run the full length of the van on both the driver and passenger sides.

Want to build a camper van? Check out our
DIY Camper Van Build Guide

Table Of Contents

Upper Cabinet Digital Layout Design

Conversion Van Floor Plan Guide - Side View of Benches, Upper Cabinets, & Kitchen Counter
Upper Cabinets Shaded In Green

When we first designed our campervan floor plan and interior layout, we took exact measurements of our van and built a to-scale digital model.

In the above model, you can see we planned to built six upper cabinet sections on the campervan’s driver side.

And on the passanger side, we planned to build another three upper cabinet sections and a small bookshelf nook above the sliding door.

Learn More: Step-by-Step Campervan Floor Plan and Interior Layout Guide

Upper Cabinet Construction

Constructing Campervan Upper Cabinets - Cabinet Frame

We separate the construction of our campervan’s upper cabinets into three section:

  1. Frame Construction
  2. Mounting The Frame To The Van
  3. Upper Cabinet Hardware

Let’s get to it!

Frame Construction

We built our upper cabinets using 1/2″ Baltic Birch plywood and used a table saw to cut the large plywood boards down to the sizes we needed.

It’s important for the upper cabinets to fit snuggly into the upper corners of the campervan, so the vertical plywood pieces need to be scribed to fit the contours of the van’s frame.

This process is hard to describe on a blog, so we will let Adam describe this process in this incredibly informational video.

We believe Vanessa and Adam are really underrated when it comes to producing campervan build videos. Check them out!

Creating Strong Plywood Joints

How To Construct Upper Cabinets In A Campervan - Frame Construction 2
How To Construct Upper Cabinets In A Campervan - Frame Construction 3

Because our upper cabinets would have to withstand relentless vibration and jolts while we drive, we needed the plywood joints to be strong and resilient to movement.

To achieve this, we used a combination of 6×1 brass wood screws and wood glue for every plywood joint.

When we were ready to join two plywood boards together, we would place a bead of wood glue on one of the boards and affix the two boards together with wood screws spaced 2″ apart.

Essential Tools For A Campervan Conversion - Long Clamps
36" Long Clamps

It’s important to invest in several 36″ clamps to allow the wood glue to cure the plywood boards in the proper position.

Drilling Holes For LED Lights

We planned to installed LED puck lights on the underside of our upper cabinets.

So to do this, we drilled several 2-3/8″ holes into the bottoms of our upper cabinets.

Creating Our Upper Cabinet Fronts

Making our cabinet door fronts was a simple job since we were cutting simple rectangles.

We simply measured each open space on our cabinet frame and used our table saw to cut the appropriate size cabinet fronts.

However, our plywood fronts were 1/2″ thick, same as our upper cabinet frame. But the high-quality Blum concealed hinges that we wanted to use required our door fronts to be 3/4″ thick.

To solve this, we added an additional 3″ wide, 1/4″ thick plywood frame around the perimeter of the fronts so that we could install these hinges without any problems.

We will describe why in our “Cabinet Hardware” section below.

Sanding & Painting Our Upper Cabinets

Strong Upper Cabinets For Campervans - Painting The Cabinets
Painting & Sanding Our Cabinets

Similar to when we constructed our campervan walls, we sanded our cabinet frame and doors with our sander using both 80 & 120-grit sandpaper until the wood was smooth.

We recommend wearing a filtered mask while sanding and painting. Keep those particles and noxious gasses out of your lungs.

After sanding, we applied two coats of Anti-Mold Primer and two coats of the same “Twinkling Lights” white paints that we used on our walls.

Read More: How We Built & Installed Our Campervan Walls

Mounting The Frame To The Van

When the paint dried, it was time to mount the upper cabinet frame to the walls of our campervan.

Attaching Upper Cabinets To Our Furring Strips

Furring strips mounted in a camper van
Furring strips attached to our campervan's frame

When we built our campervan walls, we created and attached furring strips to our campervan’s frame. Not only did we attach our plywood walls to these strips, but we also planned to mount all our furniture – including our upper cabinets – to these  furring strips for a strong hold.

Get Some Friends...

How To Build Strong Upper Cabinets In A Campervan - Frame Finished
Mounted upper cabinets with cabinet screws

Attaching upper cabinets is a 3-person job; one person to hold each end of the cabinet in the proper place and the third person to put in the fasteners.

For this job, we used GRK Cabinet Screws. These screws work perfectly for the job because of the larger screw head area and they are self-tapping screws, meaning no pre-driling is required.

I’m not sure what carrying weight these cabinet screws are rated for, but I went ahead and over-estimated the amount of cabinet screws I would need.

Go Back: DIY Campervan Build Guide

Camper Van Construction Guide

Installing Cabinet Hardware

Even though our upper cabinet frames were now installed in our campervan, more work needs to be done on our cabinet fronts before we can attach them to the frames.

This includes:

  • Hinges
  • Door Magnets
  • Door Handles
  • Gas Struts

Hinges

After browsing our options, we wanted to install high quality Blum Soft-Close Concealed Hinges. But to do this greatly added to the construction difficulty of these fronts.

Campervan Upper Cabinets - Kreg Jig Hinge Tool
Kreg Tools - Concealed Hinge Jig
First, we would need to bore out a hole on the backside of the cabinet fronts to fit our concealed hinge. To do this, we purchased the Kreg Tool Concealed Hinge Jig. We would not have been able to install these particular hinges without this tool.
 
However, the depth of the hole that is required to bore out from the cabinet fronts would be just barely deeper than our 1/2″ plywood.
 

In fact, most standard cabinet fronts are 3/4″ deep, so the holes meant to house a concealed hinge are built to fit in a 3/4″ plywood board. Not a 1/2″ plywood board, like ours.

To work around this, we added an additional 1/4″ plywood frame around each of our cabinet fronts so that the door edges had a 3/4″ thick board for our hinge holes.

Boring out our concealed hinge hole
How To Install Beautiful Upper Cabinets In A Campervan - Drilling Hinge Holes
How To Install Beautiful Upper Cabinets In A Campervan - Drilling Hinge Holes 2

With a good set of clamps and a drill, boring out the concealed hinge holes was easy.

All that was left to do was to insert the concealed hinges into the holes and affix them with screws.

Cabinet Door Magnets

With the cabinet doors attached to the frame, we could install our Magnetic Catches. This would help to prevent our upper cabinet doors from swinging open while we were driving.

Installing the Magnetic Catches was simple enough. Simply screw down the main piece in the center of the cabinet frame and screw in the metal piece onto the door.

Simple and straight forward. And for our upper cabinets, these magnetic catches work great!

Cabinet Door Handles

How To Install Beautiful Upper Cabinets In A Campervan - Handles

We purchased these beautiful brushed copper door handles and it was time to install them.

Instead of trying to estimate where to drill the holes for our handles, we purchased the Kreg Tool Cabinet Hardware Jig to take the guesswork out of the process. Using the jig ensured that our drill holes would be perfectly level and perfectly spaced apart for our handles.

Gas Struts

With the hinges installed and the handles installed, the last piece of hardware to go in are our Gas Struts. These struts would help to hold our fronts open while we take things out and put things into our upper cabinets.

Once the gas struts were in, our upper cabinets were finished.

We were really excited to get to this point and could finally begin to see the light at the end of the conversion tunnel!

Campervan Upper Cabinets Video

See our upper cabinets in action.

Watch our campervan tour video below. The video automatically skips right to when we start talking about our cabinets.

In this video you can see all the small intricacies of our upper cabinets; like our hinges, magnetic catches, handles, and gas struts.

We hope you enjoy!

Campervan Upper Cabinets - Conclusion

Thanks for reading our overview on how we installed strong and beautiful upper cabinets in our campervan.

If you have any questions regarding the construction process, please leave a comment below.

To read more specific campervan build articles like this, head over to our DIY Campervan Build Guide Homepage.

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