DIY Van Conversion: Installing Plywood Walls in Our Van

After fully insulating our van and installing laminate flooring, the next step was to put up the walls.

As with every part of the van build process, there are many different options to choose from for walling material. For our van, we decided to go with 1/4” birch plywood because it’s flexible, easy to work with, and has a nice grain pattern. We decided to hang the plywood by screwing it directly to the van’s metal frame.

Putting up plywood walls in our van was a little intimidating at first. We weren’t sure how the install would work out, if just screwing the plywood to the metal frame would hold it well enough, or how it would look.

But once we got on a roll, the walls went up pretty easily and the finished product looks great. Here’s how we did it.

How To Install Plywood Walls in a Van

What We Used

Measure and cut cardboard templates

tracing template_800x500

We started by making a cardboard template for the first wall panel, which extended from the metal rib between the two windows on the driver’s side to just behind the driver’s seat. We planned to screw the plywood directly into the metal rib, and wedge it behind the framing by the driver’s seat.

Test Fit and Trim Templates

fitting template_800x500

Once we cut out our template we tested it to make sure it fit. We had to trim a few spots here and there to get the sizing as close as possible.

As you can see, the panel is blocking out the lower portion of the window. In our furniture design, the kitchen cabinets and the bed platform are higher than the bottom of the windows, so we decided to cover the part blocked by the furniture with plywood and additional insulation.

Trace Onto Plywood and Cut with Jigsaw

cutting plywood_800x500

This is the fun part. We traced the template onto a sheet of plywood, then used our jigsaw to cut the outline.

Cut Holes for Windows

jigsawing window_800x500

To cut out the holes for the windows, we drilled holes in all four corners using a 1/4" drill bit, then used the jigsaw to connect the dots.

Test Fit and Trim Plywood

gap between wall and framing_800x500

Even though we had tried to get our template as close as possible, we still had to trim down the plywood panel in a few spots to make it fit perfectly.

Add More Insulation (If Necessary)

reflectix shot_800x500

To add insulation to the part of the window that we were covering up, we attached Reflectix to the back of the plywood using 3M High Strength 90 adhesive and Gorilla tape.

Screw Plywood to Metal Van Body

selfdrilling screws_800x500

To attach the plywood to our van’s metal framing, we picked up some 3/4” self-tapping sheet metal screws. These screws went right through the plywood and into the frame without drilling pilot holes.

screws on the frame_800x500

The great thing about 1/4" plywood is that it’s somewhat flexible, so it will follow the curved contours of a van body. The first panel worked out perfectly.

first wall up_800x500

Follow the Same Procedure With the Other Panels

After hanging the first panel, we followed the same steps to cut and hang plywood for the rest of the van. The windows in our van are all the same size, so we were able to modify our first template to make the other two panels.

long wall 80 percent completed_800x500

All we needed were a few cuts here and there and an additional piece at the bottom to make the template for the rear windows. Then we traced the template onto the plywood and grabbed our trusty jigsaw. Once we cut and fit the plywood, we screwed it into the metal van frame.

two screwed seams side by side_800x500

We cannot emphasize enough how much time reusing your templates will save you. We were able to use many of the same templates in several different steps of our van build.

back right wall_800x500

Trace and Cut Door Panels

cutting door pieces_800x500

Last but not least was adding plywood panels to the rear doors. If you’ve been following along this far, you can guess how we did this.

back door panel finished_800x500

We made cardboard templates, traced them onto plywood, cut them out with a jigsaw, and screwed them into place.

dry fitting door piece_800x500

We cut holes to accommodate the door handles, and screwed the original plastic handle coverings back over the plywood.

Admire Your Handiwork!

john looking at completed walls_800x500

And there you have it! We officially have walls! It’s important to take a step back and applaud your progress after big milestones like this. It wasn’t too long ago that our van was just an empty shell. Now it’s starting to feel more like a home every day.

There’s something about the natural beauty of wood covering your living space that makes you feel peaceful and content. That’s why we decided to go with some beautiful cedar paneling for our van’s ceiling. In our next post, we’ll detail how we installed it.

We hope you've enjoyed keeping up with our progress thus far, and we appreciate all the love and support! You guys rock! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @gnomad_home and on Facebook at Gnomad Home. We can’t wait to finish our van build in the next few weeks and finally hit the road.

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jessica
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jessica

Hey guys! really enjoying all that you have done/ are doing!! m planning to be DIYing my first van build this upcoming spring and I’m just doing a lot of research so I can prepare myself. I’m getting super confused when it comes to laying down wiring for the solar system. I’ve checked out your guys’ section on that but I’m curious where/how it would be laid to get connected so it works ex: how the ceiling fan/vent would get connected to the solar panels…that kind of stuff lol.. ya feel? I don’t know if that makes any sense at… Read more »

John
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Hi Jessica, electrical can definitely be confusing! We knew almost nothing about electrical before we built our van, so it’s definitely possible to learn what you need to know. We have a full wiring diagram for a van electrical system in our epic electrical post that shows how everything is laid out. Basically, everything runs through the solar charge controller. The charge controller takes the current from the solar panels and uses it to charge you batteries. It also takes current from your batteries and sends it to your fusebox (which is where your lights, fan, etc., are plugged in).… Read more »

Gee
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I like the plywood walls and intend to do the same. How did you finish or seal the plywood edges that are around the existing windows? I’ll have the same question/situation around my fan, shore power outlet, and floor drain.

Regards G-

John
Admin

Hi G, we just sealed ours with polyurethane, which we also used to finish the walls/ceiling. We thought about adding trim around the windows to make it look nicer, but at that point we just had to get on the road so we held off. If you’re thinking mold prevention, you can pre-treat wood with Concrobium (available at big box hardware stores), then seal it with polyurethane or a mold preventative paint like Zinsser Bullseye. Wood end grain and plywood edges draw liquid deep into the fibers, so you’ll want to use several coats to fully seal it. Hope that… Read more »

Zach Madsen
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Zach Madsen

Hi, I’m currently working on my van which is the same type as yours. I was wondering how you went about walling the back of the van? Like yours, mine has the heater motor along with tubes running up the back. I saw your van has walls covering those and was wondering how you went about it?

John
Admin

Hi Zach, we actually didn’t wall off the heater unit, we paneled around it and left it exposed. We have since removed it completely, and since this was under the bed anyway we covered the exposed area with Reflectix and called it good. Now it’s where we keep our oil pan and spare oil. A note on removing the air handler: it’s doable, but it requires a professional to evacuate the freon from your system, cut and cap off the pipes running under the van, and repressurize everything. We only did it because we had a leak and had to… Read more »

Rich
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Rich

Those clamps are for pipes and with vibration will saw right through the insulation. Using p clamps or cushion clamps is way safer and easier to install.
https://www.amazon.com/Cushion-Insulated-Clamp-Stainless-Nuts-Assortment-Assortment/dp/B076V8W4TS/ref=mp_s_a_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1541980563&sr=8-6&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=cushion+clamp&dpPl=1&dpID=51nCr23I6iL&ref=plSrch

Electrical in a van is like electrical in a boat. It’s not terminated or dressed like house wiring. Look up abyc electrical standards.

Love your goals,thoughts and efforts. Keep up the good work

John
Admin

Hi Rich,

Great point. When we use the metal clamps like this we actually wrap them in electrical tape to avoid this problem. We will definitely update this to mention that and talk about the downside of using metal clamps for wiring. The insulated clamps are of course purpose-built and better for the application, but they’re not cheap in comparison. Thanks for the thoughts, tips, and kind words!

~John

Nicole Krief
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Nicole Krief

Thank you so much for creating this amazing guide for us who our beginning our van life journey. I am working on a van very similar to yours (97 dodge ram 2500 passenger van) and it’s time for the wall paneling. I’m also going to be doing plywood walls but was wondering how many inches were lost due to attaching the ply to the metal ribs of the van? My vans ribs are located in the same places as yours but they stick out about 3 inches on either side. so I’d lose a considerable amount and the bed I’m… Read more »

John
Admin

Hi Nicole, thanks for reading! The ribs in our van are only about 3/4” so we didn’t have that issue. You could certainly put up paneling more flush to the walls, but you would probably need to install some sort of studs or nailers to attach it to. Hope that helps!

~John

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