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There’s nothing worse than having to drill a number of fresh holes into the walls of your van. This is why the majority of camper van conversion wall attachments are done through the use of plusnuts.
Plusnuts are a handy piece of hardware that eliminates the need to drill holes into the walls of a van by allowing existing holes to be used as strong and firm points of attachment. They’re designed so during installation and the use of an additional tool, the body collapses on the back side, which in turn grips the inside of the surface.
Plusnuts are incredibly useful because they can be installed into a thin metal surface and provide easy access from only one side. Moreover, the slotted shank spreads and creates large flaps to evenly balance working loads over a large area.
This guide will take an in-depth look at the installation of plusnuts in a DIY camper van, including everything you need to know about picking the correct size, the benefits of plusnuts, and some useful installation tips to keep in mind. We’ll also look to answer a handful of the frequently asked questions.
Plusnuts provide a much stronger support system through the metal of a van than screws. Many people don’t feel entirely confident driving around with a heavy item such as a large, fully-stocked cabinet held in place with just screws through sheet metal.
In terms of strength, which is obviously essential, plusnuts offer a high “pull out strength” of up to 1,215 pounds, meaning they’re a far more secure attachment than simply screwing into the van walls. This is demonstrated by the fact that the latter provides a pull out strength of less than 100 pounds.
There are a number of other reasons why you shouldn’t simply fasten with screws into your van walls. Firstly, the holes that already come in the van are finished by the manufacturer, meaning that all surfaces are painted with the aim of preventing rust.
If you decide to screw directly into the wall of your van, you’ll expose raw metal, which can lead to the growth of rust. Drilling also produces metal debris which can attract rust.
The most effective installation method is to purchase an installation tool which can be found online from McMaster Carr. You’ll need to operate the tool with an adjustable wrench and an 11/16” socket – so just make sure you check your socket set because this is a large size that not every socket set provides.
Before making any inroads on your van, it’s definitely a good idea to practice the installation of a couple of plusnuts on a piece of scrap metal or plywood first. One of the most common takeaways from this type of practice includes not over-tightening the plusnut. You need to make sure it’s firm and snug, but avoid torquing with full strength.
This is because over-tightening a plusnut – either during installation or when a bolt is being inserted – can cause the expanded bulb to lose its compression. As a result, it’ll typically spin non-stop which isn’t what you want.
Another installation tool that’s popular among users is the Astro Pneumatic 1450. There are, however, some reliability issues with this tool that dont arise when using the McMaster tool. It’s also slightly more expensive, so not the best choice for those working to a tighter budget.
Furthermore, you can also make your own installation tool using wrenches and some nuts, however this usually isn’t as efficient or durable as a professional, store-bought tool.
Choosing The Right Size
In general, there are three main characteristics of a plusnut to define in order to make sure you’re fully informed when selecting the right size. Listed below is a brief description of each.
- Hole diameter – this refers to the diameter of the hole the plusnut is inserted into. Plusnuts have a tolerance of around 1/128” but still have the capacity to function in a slightly oversized hole because of the large feet on the back.
- Thread – this measurement refers to the diameter and threads per inch of the plusnut threading. You’ll need to choose bolts and screws that match this threading.
- Grip – this refers to the thickness of the material the plusnut will be gripping. So, in other words, the thickness of your van’s metal.
|0.317”||0.02 – 0.18”||10-32|
|0.390”||0.02 – 0.28”||1/4-20|
|0.488”||0.02 – 0.28”||5/16-18|
|0.598”||0.02 – 0.28”||3/8-16|
Different Van Types
Ram Promaster – for this vehicle, the 10-32 plusnuts are the ideal fit. There are also hex holes that run along the van which fit hex rivet nuts perfectly.
Ford Transit – the 1/4-20 plusnuts fit excellently in hundreds of existing holes all around the interior of these vans.
Mercedes Sprinter – if you own one of these vehicles, or any other vehicle, things are a little trickier. There are very few pre-existing holes in the van, so you’ll need to drill new holes or expand the ones that are already there. It’s likely that your best bet will be 1/4-20 plusnuts.
It’s now possible to purchase the 1/4-20 plusnuts for vans in packs of either 25, 50, or 100. So, if you’re looking to use a high number of plusnuts for your van, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting the right amount.
After creating a suitably-sized hole for your plusnut, make sure to deburr it. This allows the plusnut to be seated on a flush surface. It’s also worth painting the bare metal to avoid rust.
One other thing to mention here: given the sizable feet of plusnuts, hole diameter isn’t essential (at least within 1/64”). The best tool for this job is a step bit, mainly because, unlike a standard drill bit, a step bit prevents the possibility of accidentally drilling too deep and through the outside metal panel of a van.
Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of plusnuts is trying to locate the holes in the material that you’re going to be fastening to the wall of your van. Needless to say, the holes in the material need to accurately align with the plusnuts in the wall. Explained below is an effective way to achieve this.
- Firstly, screw short 1 inch bolts into the plusnut so the bolt heads are sitting firmly against the plusnut
- Mark the bolt heads with a marker
- Press the backing of the item you’re looking to fasten to the wall (i.e. a cabinet) against the bolt heads firmly
- Using a drill bit the same diameter of the bolt, drill the holes.
If during the installation process your plusnut and hole don’t quite line up, you may be tempted to try and insert a bolt at a slight angle with the hope that the threading still bites. However, this isn’t a good idea and the torque on the plusnut will likely result in the plusnut unseating from the metal and spinning out.
If your holes don’t exactly line up with the plusnuts, the best thing to do – other than re-doing with new material – is to make the holes larger. Just be mindful that this will negatively impact the holding power of the bolt.
Deciding on which fasteners to use with plusnuts is important as bolts don’t tend to have threading along their entire shaft. Therefore, it’s essential to choose the correct length bolt based on the thickness of the material that you’re looking to fasten.
Frequently Asked Questions
How strong are Rivnuts?
Compared to traditional bolt and nut, Rivnuts are a significant upgrade with their ease of use, excellent shear and tension strength, and super quick installation times.
Another major strength of Rivnuts is that, just like with traditional rivets, they’re blind. This means that these fasteners can be installed securely from just one side of the workpiece. So there’s no need to struggle with reaching around the back of the bolt to fasten the material with a nut.
Are camper vans worth the money?
Unlike many cars, camper vans are excellent at holding their value so they’re a solid investment. The majority of people will make their money back or even make a decent profit when the time comes for them to sell.
This applies not only to vintage camper vans, but well-maintained vans can similarly retain their value well – even more so if you’ve modifications.
What can I use instead of Rivnuts?
Flowdrill offers a solid alternative to Rivnuts. A Flowdrill connection doesn’t spin in its hole which results in less rework and efficient performance.
Can you install rivet nuts without a tool?
If you need to install a rivet nut without a tool, you’ll still need more than just your bare hands. Ideally you’ll have access to a bolt that has its own nut and one that can fit into the rivet nut. Moreover, you should also have either a washer or larger bushing that can fit tightly around the bolt.