In a camper van conversion, just like in any other home, the walls and ceiling make up the largest surface area. They play a huge role in the outcome of any build.
Have you ever walked into a home improvement store to pick a new color for the walls of your bedroom? Do you remember trying to pick one out of these hundreds hues of red and blue?
Well, making the walls and ceiling of a camper van look nice takes a lot more sweat and tears than that!
Today, we explain how we installed paneling and ply to the walls and ceiling of our van!
After insulating the van with cork, it was time to decide which material to use to clad the walls and ceiling of our camper van.
Because we wanted our van to look like a home on wheels, rather than a regular camper, we knew straight away that we did not want to go with felt or carpet-like fabric.
Two years ago we took a few days off from studying and spent a week in a wooden cabin in the Belgian Ardens. We loved the look of the wooden interior. In our camper van conversion we decided to go for a similar vibe.
We went with tongue and groove spruce paneling, because it is very easy to install but at the same time quite lightweight.
The material we chose was very cheap. This meant that some panels were a tad wonky, but they are very thin and don’t weigh much – precisely what we wanted in this van!
This is probably the most important, but often overlooked, step during the whole process of cladding the walls; planning ahead.
The 8 mm pine paneling that we went with in our van is very lightweight, which is great for a camper van. It is however important to remember that it does not lend itself to be used as a weight bearing construction.
This meant that we had to know beforehand which areas we wanted to clad with this paneling, and which to keep free or clad with something else. We covered one wall next to our bed with large sheets of plywood, as we knew that this would become our wardrobe.
Support structure for the ceiling
When paneling the walls in your camper van, and installing a ceiling, it is important to start off with a strong support structure.
For our ceiling, this was relatively simple to design. From left to right, our van has a few beams that support the metal roof. We decided to simply screw a wooden beam on either side of these metal support beams, and to eventually use those to hold the ceiling in place.
When we fitted the wooden beams however, we found out that even the roof of our van is slightly curved (which we could have expected, to be honest). Hence, we cut each of these wooden beams into three equal parts. The middle beam was screwed horizontally and the beams left and right were installed at a slight angle.
This is possible in most vans, and should not be too difficult to do. Depending on the height of your van, you might even be able to fix a single beam from left to right.
We however chose to create a ceiling that is slightly bent, and higher in the middle. This way, both of us can still stand upright without hitting our heads 😉
Support structure for the walls
The support structure for our walls was slightly more difficult.
In a Mercedes Benz (or Dodge) Sprinter, you could execute the same technique that we used for our ceiling. These vans have similar metal support beams running vertically over the walls of the van.
Our Ford Transit is different, and has squares and circles and all kinds of oddities along the walls. We hence had to figure out a different way to install the paneling and ply.
Since the walls are quite curved, we somehow had to create beams that would bend along the sides of the van.
As wood generally does not bend easily, we chose to make small incisions on a 12mm thick wooden lath (about ½ inch thick). Using a handheld saw we made incisions halfway through the wooden lath, each roughly 5 cm (2 inches) apart.
Using some self drilling screws, we secured these laths vertically to the walls of our van. This created a curved surface meaning that once the paneling and ply was installed we could make use of the wider area in the middle of the van.
In a tiny home on wheels, you obviously have to make use of every square inch that you can find!
Curves and corners
Cutting the paneling to the correct size was probably the most difficult part in the construction of the walls in our camper van.
There is honestly no straight line to follow when working on anything, really. The areas around the side door were particularly challenging.
Due to the positioning of the door, we couldn’t simply follow the doorframe with a pencil to draw a curved line, and making a template was near impossible as well.
We ended up drawing curved lines by eye and surprisingly, it turned out quite alright!
If you know of any good methods to professionally go about this, please tell us about them!
Protecting the wood
When using wood for any purpose, it is important to treat it with some form of oil, paint, or varnish. This will not only protect your precious wood, but also makes it easier to clean.
We used eco-friendly white paint to protect the plywood that would make up the back of our wardrobe.
Although we have dogs and their hairs are visible very easily on white surfaces, we also wanted to keep the van as light and airy as possible. Since they won’t touch this surface, we thought it would be safe to go with white for this part of the van.
We used the same paint to protect and decorate the plywood that we used for our ceiling. Before we did so however, we used a drill to saw holes to fit our LEDs!
The tongue and groove spruce was treated with boiled linseed oil. Of all (relatively) sustainable types of varnish and oil that we could get our hands on, this was the type that was most suitable for us.
Raw linseed oil is fully natural. However, it needs approximately one week time to dry inbetween coats, and we did not have anywhere near that amount of time.
Boiled linseed oil has a small amount of added metals that speed up the drying process. It is hence less sustainable, but more convenient to use.
It was difficult for us to get our hands on other natural oils that dried relatively quickly, whilst also keeping things affordable, so that’s why we went with boiled linseed oil.
Installing the walls
It was quite easy to fit the ply on the walls and install it in place once the curved laths were installed.
One of us simply held a piece of ply in place and the other pre-drilled the holes and used a countersink bit for the screws to be able to sink in. After that we just screwed the sheets of plywood in place.
We did the same thing for the pine paneling.
We put one panel in place, and attached it using the same process. We then stacked the following three panels on top, ensured that they aligned, and repeated the same thing until all panels were in place.
Installing the ceiling
It cost quite a bit of physical strength to install the white plywood to the ceiling. One of us had to hold a panel up and press it into place, whilst the other decided exactly where we could drill holes. We could only drill holes in the slats were previously attached to the roof of our camper van.
After carefully drawing dots in the correct spots, we placed the wood back against a wall and pre-drilled the holes and made sure the area around the holes were countersunk. The holes were all an equal distance apart, to create a neat finished look.
Before putting the panels in place though, we also inserted the LEDs in the holes that we cut before we painted our ceiling. All cables were collected in one area so that we could work with them without having to remove the ceiling at a later stage.
We placed the ply sheet back against the wooden support structure and screwed them in place.
All we have to do now is to add some finishing touches in order for the ceiling and walls to blend in together, and our cabin on wheels has a perfect shell!
Doing it yourself?
If you’re in the process of building your own tiny home on wheels, or hope to do so in the future, we recommend heading over to our camper van conversion page. Here, we list all blog posts related to our camper van conversion in order from start to finish.