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What sets van dreams in motion? A majority of van enthusiasts would affirm it’s the image of you and your Siamese show cat lounging in a perfectly crafted interior. An environment tailored and engineered to your exact specifications. Our individuality makes us unique, and each one of us requires floor plans with particulars that match different needs and wants. We’ll be covering one of the most popular builds all over Instagram, we’ve dubbed it “The Classic”

The Classic Floor Plan

Consists of a fixed bed platform at the rear of the cabin with storage possibilities underneath and to each side, (above wheel wells). The middle of the cabin or “social zone” will contain a couch with storage capabilities, a small kitchenette, leaving the fridge located between the two front seats. No bathroom for this build. Out there in the open or Wal-Mart, there are many places to go number one or two, making the facility unnecessary. There’s no question why this simple blueprint has stood the test of time. It offers the adventurer plenty of space to store, bikes, boards, a parrot cage, or even larger items in general. 

One would be pleased to know that Zero Carpentry Experience is required.

Dedication to you the beginner. Making it thus far has required guile, determination and lots of band-aids, (hopefully not). It’s time to take a deep dive into a world of sawdust, measurements, and weight distribution. Just as important as the eventually finished exterior of the cabin, “what’s behind the walls” or hidden structural architecture of your van will require you be in the right frame of mind. Working with wood is one of the oldest trades known to humanity and is to be treated with reverence. 

It’s your future home after all. 

Measurement Basics

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Know the signs and symbols. Carpentry requires exact calculations that are made possible by mathematics and tools like the Tape Measure. You will be working in feet and inches. There are 12 inches in every 1 foot. 

The Abbreviations and Signs!

• Inch = In  

• Foot = ft 

• Inch = “

• Foot = ‘

Lumber Basics

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A Woodpecker and beavers paradise. An entire research paper can be written on the different types of Hardwood and Softwood species and their characteristics there are so many different types of wood and they all have different properties you’ll want to explore. Containing a large variance in price range, it’s important to know the landscape. Certain woods are used for interior finishing and others are used behind the walls (structural or hidden architecture). 

  • Softwood examples: Cedar, Fir, Pine, Redwood.
  • Hardwood examples: Ash, Birch, Cherry, Mahogany, Maple, and Oak.

Lumberyards at all major hardware stores carry a vast array of wood for building projects. “Pressure-treated” is used for outdoor builds, (fences and decks) chemically treated it is weatherproof and termite resistant! 

Then there’s Non- Pressure-treated wood, used for interior carpentry. Luckily the van build will only require the basics of carpentry skills and wood knowledge. Size guides are readily available online or in-store. Understanding lumber dimensions is of the utmost importance. 

  • Simply put if the label says: 1” x 2”, you will read that as 1 inch in height x 2 inches in Width. This is referred to as Nominal size. 
  • Due to the fact of wood shrinks. The actual size of the lumber is ¾ inch x 1 ½ inch. IMPORTANT to keep in mind. 

Our Van Build

Lightweight and sleek, below we’ve put together a sample build that offers the most bang for your buck long-term and we believe would be an excellent starting point for any vandweller.

  • Pinewood (1”x2”) for the inner studs, which attach to the ribs of the van and hold your wall and roof paneling in place. The reason being it’s cost-effective and has a proven track record. 
  • The subfloor will be a basic Pine Plywood ¼” (no need to go any thicker) the choice is yours. 
  • The wall and roof paneling offer up a chance to get fancy. Knotty Cedar interior plank paneling (standard 8 ft 4”x5/16”), a touch more expensive but its the interior of your van cabin, and should look and smell amazing. Cedar is the heavyweight champ of fragrance and style. 

Important note: Before purchasing your lumber, triple check all van measurements and lengths. Over purchasing is easy because you can return any unused lumber. Under purchasing can be a pain, multiple trips to the hardware store are costly and time-consuming. 

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Woodworking Safety

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Battery-powered work tools and saws possess a certain danger. This threat is easily dealt with by maintaining the principles mentioned throughout our build guide and using common sense. Principles like situational awareness and cleanliness. You will need a work station, ideally an area clear of all human activity. You will be working with screws and nails, flying wood chips. All of these elements may seem irrelevant but keeping a clean, clear workspace will tip the scales in your favor. Let’s not forget about our four-legged friends. They’ll be super excited to help the build. So…

  • Take the time to look around before all cuts
  • Pick up all discarded lumber, screws and nails.
  • When walking with wood don’t carry too much at once. 
  • Patience, your ark will be completed. Mistakes, miscues happen.

Each section of your carpentry work will demand a slightly different subset of safety requirements and working tools. By now you should already have your protective eyewear, mask on and a hockey stick in hand. * Note – No hockey stick required for the build. Go through your pre-work protocol to assure for maximum job astuteness. A simple checklist guarantees we all look out for each other and ourselves. 

The Essentials for every job involving Carpentry

  • Work Gloves -We don’t have to give you the run down again and splinters hurt! Ouch!
  • Protective Eyewear- No questions asked, glue them to your head. No don’t do that but you get it. 
  • Carpentry Respirator Mask – Airborne microparticles can damage lungs long term; you simply must wear it for all cuts and trims. 
  • Steel toe work boots (optional) but recommend – Working with nails and screws can be tricky. For those living in colder climates, hands get cold, you drop things. Both will easily penetrate a running shoe. 

The three-fold attack plan!

Your insulation is done, the electrical is in place. Are we having fun yet? Time to build your home. Let’s break this up into manageable sections. Once you’ve completely measured the interior and purchased the wood and subsequent materials, you’re ready to work. Each stage will require different tools and techniques and presents its own set of unique challenges. First up the floor, then we move to the roof after we do the walls due to the fact that the same tools and materials will be in use. We are here to guide you through. 

The Subfloor Floor

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You should be looking at a tightly compacted insulated floor with only the grooves of the floor exposed, this is perfect because that’s where we fasten the plywood subfloor via countersinking anti-rust screws. The safest way to have an exact measurement is to make molds. This can be done with inexpensive cardboard and sheet paper. Take your mold, lay it on your material and trace the outline. A common method perfect for your introduction into carpentry.  

The Chosen Lumber

Pine Plywood ¼” standard 4ft x 8 ft sheets offer up a touch more height. Inside the cabin every inch matters.

The Tools

  • Assorted anti-rust screws – You will be drilling into the vans steel grooves through plywood and insulation, be sure to measure the depth needed before purchase. 
  • Wood Filler – For filling holes once you’ve countersunk screws through plywood
  • Caulking Gun and Caulk 
  • Drill bits should be in your mechanic's toolset, be sure. 
  • Tape measure and chalk line or pencil
  • Jig Saw – You will probably end up wanting to purchase one after using it for the first time. Lightweight and manageable. Jig Saws can cut straight lines and more impressively, easily cut curves any shape in the known universe. It’s possible to only use this saw for the whole job. Be sure to purchase high-quality wood and steel blades. 
  • Miter Saw – Exceptional for making straight cuts and angled cuts. Renting options is likely here. 
  • Cordless Power Drill – Will be used to start some curved Jig Saw cuts and as well as securing your floor to the frame of the van. All bits should be in Mechanics toolset.  
  • Orbit Hand Sander + Sand Paper disks. Once that floors secured you are going to want to smooth that surface out. We recommend the rental option here. Or borrow one from your neighbor! 
  • Large framing Square – Your Subfloor must be straight and square as possible. Any gaps or deviants will come back to haunt you later on. Square that floor. 
  • Putty Knife – To fill screw holes and administer caulking for those hard to reach places. 
  • Hand Level – Usually you can spot the abnormality however a proper level will keep things perfect from the start
  • Straight edge guide - For the longer cuts with the Jig Saw. 

Build Details – Floor

Somebody’s doing their homework. By now you’ve trained yourself to think 3 steps ahead. Most factory cut plywood comes in standard 4ft x 8ft sheets. This means you’ll likely be creating a puzzle pattern that will allow for a clean ridgeline. A great method would be to line up the ridgeline over a groove exposed and free from installation. This will certainly be your best bet. The result will be a clean ridgeline and even subfloor. Many use cardboard or paper templates to guarantee the cuts around wheel wells are exact with no gaps. Saves on wasted material, which means more money in your pocket. For gas and road trip treats of course. 

The Steps

  • To cut simply line up plywood wood on cutting table or surface, follow pencil tracing of your temple. For the curved wheel well cuts - Here you can use the Jig Saw. If the cut is longer along the ridgeline. Use your straight edge guide. 
  • Before fastening your cut plywood to the surface be sure to clean it. 
  • Use the appropriate anti-rust screws with countersink bit attached to cordless drill, double-check it’s in the right place and begin fastening. 
  • You will have to fill every screw hole with caulking. No need for overkill but evenly distribute screws around plywood perimeter. 
  • Once caulking dries, lightly sand areas making sure there are no bumps as this will show later on. 

Every solid structure has a solid foundation. Now you have yours. Pro Tip – Use cardboard to cover the plywood before we start the next step. The limits are now sky-high, another small victory. Let’s raise the roof and build the walls. 

The Roof and Walls

Image result for cargo van cedar paneling

Your ceiling and walls will likely resemble the guts of a robot. Light fixtures in place, wires neatly arranged and bundled. We’ll have to make an intricate cut around those pot lights but you are rookie of the year, made for this carpentry, this artistry. We begin by securing the pine studs 1”x2” to the exposed steel ribs of the van, this is a fail-safe to make sure we never puncture the actual roof or exterior sidewall and gives us a level guide to attach our gorgeous Knotty Cedar interior plank paneling.

The Chosen Lumber

Pine Studs 1”x2” 

Knotty Cedar interior plank paneling (standard 8 ft 4”x5/16”). No matter if you chose to stain this or not. A classic smell that will offer you that cabin ambiance and eye candy vanners so desperately desire. 

The Tools

  • Nail Gun and nails 5/8 (gauge 18) – The finishing touches require a clean flush look. You will be securing the cedar planks to the pine studs via a nail gun. It’s quick easy and rented at all Major outlets.  
  • Miter Saw – For chopping those pine studs and cedar planks as straight as possible. 
  • Assorted Screws -For securing Pine Studs to metal van ribs.
  • Additional - Cordless Drill, Measuring tape, wood glue.

Build Details Roof and Walls

You’ve noticed the ceiling and walls are not flat. Rest easy. Follow the natural arc. You may need to use 2-3 sections of different lengths of Pine Studs to achieve an even frame for the Cedar planking to be nailed to. Edges may be tricky and require forethought. First up create your Pine Stud frame, once complete, start measuring your Cedar planks. Tongue and groove click together but that doesn’t mean you need to force anything. Cedar is expensive and extra care should be taken. It’s your roof and walls. Highly visible.   

The Steps – First up the Roof, then repeat the procedure for walls. 

  • Cut Studs using Miter saw. This will allow for an exact cut. 
  • Form-fit Pine Studs to steel ribs located on the roof of the van. Screw Studs to frame with an anti-rust screw. Always keep track of your level. This finishing work is to be approached with caution. Be mindful of extra support needed around light fixtures. 
  • Measure Cedar planks and use Miter saw to chop. 
  • Start from the middle of your roof and work your way out. Have your level handy. The first plank nailed in is your guide. 
  • Using nail gun adhere Cedar plank to Pine Stud. For every subsequent Plank remeasure, relevel.
  • When you get to a light fixture don’t worry. Use our template model and trace the exact shape you need. Then transferring it to a pencil line on your plank, take the jigsaw and cut.
  • Any minor uneven seams can be wood glued but planks around fixtures or a fan should click together perfectly.  
  • Repeat procedure for walls. *Same rules apply for any electrical outlets, lights or extra needs

We purposely left staining the wood out simply due to the natural essence of the cedar.

Once that final Cedar plank goes up, take a moment. Sit back, have some cold water. Your van is now starting to develop character. A stage complete. Your vision getting closer. Almost there. The interior looks and smells great.

We'll be covering different furniture pieces in separate posts so be sure to check back here or in the posts archive for more guides & tutorials, we hope you've enjoyed this piece on Carpentry and that you were able to understand and perhaps even follow along in the creation of your own van!

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