If you're interested in learning how to do it, or you're just interested in seeing what we're up to... Whatever has brought you to this page; Welcome!
We decided to do this post after a lot of our online searches turned up not a lot of specific information on kitting out your own van. We found plenty of videos overviewing the process, but none that really delved into the juicy details. We couldn't find information on what to buy, what tools and materials we'd need or when to get help with from an expert. So we decided to do it ourself, and track the process, hopefully helping you folk out along the way!
In this blog post we'll try to demystify fitting out your own van. The "How To", the "What To Use" and the "What to Buy." We'll also be breaking down what we spent on the entire fit out... always handy to know what you're up for!
Full Disclosure: Sean is a carpenter, so we had the tools handy, and a lot of the knowledge about products. Although, we'll be honest, because the shape of the van isn't straight or flat anywhere, and it is unlike anything Sean has ever built, it was still a total new learning curve for him (and obviously me)!
Our original layout compromised a little on 'livability' as the van had to function for Sean to use working as a carpenter, as well as suffice for the odd weekend road trip. Whereas our new layout focuses on long term living as we're heading around Australia (as soon as COVID-19 allows). We re-used the frame for the bed and drawer base from our first fit out with some minor adjustments, and were also able to recycle parts we didn't like and re-use the materials in other ways.
Our OLD layout:
*This includes info on how we did the bed originally, as in this new kit out we've used this original frame and just adapted the bed slightly.
- Measuring Tape
- Stanley Knife
- Notebook & Pen (SO many measurements!)
- Circular Saw - Could also use a handsaw for many things but this will be messier, and take A LOT longer.
- Jigsaw - Great for rounded cuts and minor adjustments
- Impact driver (not 100% necessary but very handy)
- Brad Nail Gun - (Again, not 100% necessary. You could of course use a hammer and nails, but again will take A LOT longer)
- Cardboard - Old boxes will do just fine (For tracing outlines and trialling shapes before cutting ply sheets)
- Straight edge / spirit level (can also use a string line with a little ingenuity, or any long length of straight manufactured timber)
- Caulking gun
- 12mm Ply
- 7mm Ply
- 70 x 35mm untreated pine
- Liquid Nails
- Nails for gun (25 mm)
- Nails for gun (50 mm)
- EVA Floor Mats (Insulation - you could use a wide variety of different materials for this)
- Screws (A mix is handy, anywhere from 15-65 mm)
- Heavy duty drawer rollers (rated to hold 80kg when outstretched)
- Hinges (a variety of types, including long piano hinges for your bed, and small cabinet hinges)
To begin we removed all of the prior additions to the van, as well as the rubber floor mat. This gave us an empty shell to work with.. and a hell of a lot of work to do!
We then got the crew at Battery Business to put in a second battery for us. (They did a great job so hit them up if you live in the Northern Beaches of Sydney!)
This extra battery will be what our lights, USB ports, fan and fridge run off. This means that we don't have to worry about out main car battery dying overnight!
All of these electrical outlets will be fixed off to our ply walls.
This gave us access to the internal wall cavities for us to insulate, as well as helped us assess where we'd be able to fix the walls off to. This is important as we didn't want to fix into any of the metal panels that were external, for obvious reasons (rust, water etc) as well as not wanting to hit any of the electrical components with a stray screw or nail!
We used EVA foam floor mats. They're light, connectable and cheap. We attached them to the walls and ceiling with instant nails. Easy!
We looked at a variety of insulation options. We begun this project at the beginning of COVID-19's spread and hence we were unable to buy any protective face masks anywhere, which limited what types of insulation we could use, namely fibreglass "wool" batts, as you can't install that stuff without the proper PPE. We ended up choosing to go with the EVA mats as they were small, thin (we don't have a huge van for two people so don't want to lose a heap of space in wall cavities), lightweight, and readily available. I'm sure there are much better options out there, so if you have a better idea or know of a better product, please feel free to let us know for next time. We luckily live in Australia and hence have very mild winters compared to the rest of the world, so "R-values" weren't the be all and end all.
We also painted the ceiling panels of the van white. We decided to keep the original panels for now rather than use ply as we didn't want to lose any head space that we didn't need to.
We decided to remove the original rubber mat we had in the van and use ply flooring instead. To attach the ply to the floor we stuck down battens using liquid nails. Sean ripped down a few lengths of 70 x 35mm pine into thirds and we used these as battens to attach linings to for the floor and walls.
As you can (hopefully) see in the photos, the floor had channels and grooves running along it. We used these grooves to run battens the entire length of the flooring where we could, and shorter ones in other sections.
The liquid nails needs 12 - 24 hours to sufficiently harden and strengthen. So we chucked a sheet of ply on top of it, along with a few heavy items and left it overnight.
Note - in our van the metal floor panel is only one skin, hence we only glued these battens down and didn't use fixings to avoid penetrating the external skin of the van.
After we'd traced the outline we used a jigsaw to cut the ply to shape. We then popped it into the van, and made a few more adjustments with the jigsaw depending on where wasn't fitting.
Due to the width of the van, one piece of ply wasn't wide enough, so we used the same technique of tracing for the other side of the van and cut the second sheet to size.
The battens were attached with liquid nails and metal screws. As our ply walls are going to have shelving on them we wanted them to be strong enough to bear some weight. Luckily we were able to slide some small pieces of timber up inside some of the wall cavities. We could then fix to them through pre existing openings in the metal, hence avoiding putting many fixings directly into the body of the car. This is somewhat hard to explain or capture in a photo, and maybe you don't care if your van is an old beater, but we wanted to avoid any excessive damage to the shell where possible.
Again this was a process of trialling the ply in the car and then making any necessary adjustments to areas that didn't quite fit right. Due to the three dimensional curves of the van and trying to flex 7mm ply to fit them, this was one of the most tedious and frustrating parts of the job. Think lots and lots of trial and error.
We also cut in the holes for where our electrical components were going to come out. This included a hole close to the front for our main switchboard, a small hole at the back for a couple of USB ports and a tiny hole for the fan wiring.
Once we were happy with the fit we used the nail gun to fasten the ply to the battens, taking extra care to avoid any electrical wiring that could have been hidden underneath.
This one has to be hard wired in, which was easy for us as we got the guys at Battery Business to put the wires in place so Sean just needed to connect them. There are plenty of other options for fans that charge through other means (USB or cigarette sockets for example)
The Bed Frame
The frame was built using 70 x 35mm pine. We attempted to cut this frame in tightly around the wheel arch such to minimise space lost. Again with having complex three dimensional curves and no real straight reference point to work off, this is a bit of a fiddly job, with probably more trial and error lifting the frame in and out a few times just to check what fits. Once we were happy with it sitting over the wheel arch and the side of the drawer opening underneath the bed, we covered the frame in 7mm ply. We cut in a few lift out panel on top for storage spaces underneath the bed. One of these is used to house our 2nd battery, the other for storage of items we don't have to use regularly, as this box is a little harder to access under the mattress.
*The final part of the bed construction will be the hinged top. This will come up a little further down the post as it will fold out and be supported on our rear cabinet, and fridge storage space.
Fridge and Surrounding Cabinetry
The walls were made out of 7mm ply, and the top with 12mm ply so that it was strong enough to be sat on. It was framed with 70 x 35 mm pine ripped into mostly half sections - i.e. 35 x 35mm.
We made a shallow drawer to pop the fridge in. We cut out a space in the back of the drawer for the fridge's power cables to go through when sliding it in and out of the van. The sliders are the same as the ones we used in our rear 'kitchen' drawer, and they're rated to hold 80kg.
Firstly we boxed out the other rear wheel arch and built the structure for our table and shelving out of 35mm x 35mm treated pine. We measured up the space and then built the structure outside of the van. This made it easier to fix the structure together before attaching it to the floor.
Drop Down Table
Fold Out Double Bed
Bonus - It makes it way less obvious when the floor is a little grubby.
Our mattress was originally from IKEA, it was called the NYHAMN.. We bought it a few years ago however it looks like they still stock it here.
We attached the curtains to the car via screw in eye holes and sash cord. The screws were through the inner layer of metal on the car only.
For now, find us on Instagram or Facebook to see what we're up to!