Travel, climbing, and Van-life



Van Build: Carpentry

Here is the bed and cabinet construction. Again, lucky-for-me, my dad is a construction engineer and contractor, so he was a huge help.

But, even if you do not have every power tool available in your backyard, just some weekend rentals of a few key tools are all you should need to accomplish what we did. Just do your fingers a favor and read the operating instructions.



So my dad built this part, entirely by himself. We debated the plans a little, but I basically told him my criteria, and then he disappeared and built it.

All that I was looking for were 1) to fit a full-size bed in the back, and 2) to create some organized storage underneath. Dad basically ended up building bomber platform that is three feet off the floor, which still leaves space to sit up in bed.

Initally, I also wanted a platform that was hinged in the middle, so it could be lifted along the edges to get access to the storage below, but my dad vetoed that idea, and I haven't missed it since. I had seen this in other vans, and it still seems like a cool idea, but I ended up getting a pretty hefty foam mattress that I wouldn't be able to fold in half to get to storage below anyway.

We also decided to not have the frame attached to anything, even the walls or floor, in case I want to change the layout later on. Somehow my dad pulled this off, with the frame is wedge perfectly between the walls. It hasn't budged yet.

So there really is nothing clever going on here, just a rock-solid bed frame that sits high off the floor.



  1. Platform Frame

    This was the first section put together, and is eventually going to hold a 1/2" piece of plywood on top. We just made it as wide as the width of the van, and 54" long. Each joint was nailed together with 2.5" nails and some glue.

    bed platform hand-drawn plan
    Plan for the platform frame, from a top-view.
  2. Platform Supports

    These are essentially the "legs" that will hold up the platform. We used three, just to be solid, but in hindsight, I think two would work.

    Plans for side view of bed supports
    Plan for the platform supports, from a side view.
    Bed frame finished
    Better shot of the bed frame.
  3. Platform

    Last, just cut a 1/2" piece of plywood to cover the top of the frame. We did this much later than building the frame, since we still had to work on the area around the frame for a few days.

    Bed frame finished
    With my building the frame, he sort of just disappeared for 20 minutes, and came back with it finished, so I didn't get a chance to take many photos.


I did consider buying some pre-fabricated shelving and cabinets, but it was just a little cheaper and a little more fun to build them my own. And, for some reason, I did not feel like using plywood, so I used different widths of one-inch-thick pine boards to build everything. As my step-mom said, it gave it a sort-of "country" look.

The construction went in this order: The side panels were built, sides were attached by the top pieces, the shelves were constructed individually, and finally the shelves were inserted between the side panels, and the back pieces were attached. For the wood I just used cheap pine, except for the back which is leftover cedar panels. I then used a "Golden Oak" stain on it, which I think turned out nice.

I will give you a list of materials I used, and some finished-product images, but I am doubting that anyone wants to build this the exact same as I did, so just email me for the plans.



Getting started on the standing cabinet
These were what the plans looked like. I'm not going into the details, since it was mainly just constructing a cabinet, and I am sure there are better resources out there than me.
Getting started on the standing cabinet
Getting started on the standing cabinet.
Finished cabinet
Finished the cabinet.


The counter was built in a similar way as the shelves, except with the "panels" used on just the two sides, leaving the front and back open, and then creating a frame on top to attach the countertop to. The countertop was one of the last pieces to go into the van, partly because I could not decide on a sink, but also because I could not decide on a material. You can buy a butcher-block counter at IKEA for around $100, or get a piece of hardwood from a lumber yard, or even just use a traditional manufactured composite countertop. For me, I wanted to stick with wood, but I also did not want to pay very much.

I scavaged a couple "upcycle" places to see what they had, but to no avail, so I finally decided to get a two-inch-thick piece of pine and just rip and cut it to my size. So far using pine for the counter has worked out, but using such a soft wood is a little risky.

After cutting the piece to size, I then stained the counter a red-mohagany color, and now everyone immediately asks what kind of wood it is. I still concede that it's just pine, but the point is that it still turned out looking great, at a quarter of the price of using a butcher block or hardwood. Time will tell if it was a good choice.

The actual frame and size of the "cabinet" evolved a little through construction. At first I built it to only house the sink and water containers, but then, after building it and placing it in the van, the fridge did not fit as nicely next to it (behind the driver's seat) as I thought it would. So we just cut the cabinet's frame in half, made it longer, and put the fridge inside of it, but on the floor. So far this has worked out great, but I know that I am wasting a little bit of space in this area.

Progress on shelves and counter
First shot at the kitchen counter. We ended up adjusting the plans after the fridge didn't fit as nicely as we hoped next to it.
Progress on shelves and counter
Second shot at the kitchen counter. Instead of putting the fridge next to it, we just fit it in below. Also notice the lights on.
Raw piece for the countertop
Raw piece of pine used for the countertop. This was ripped and cut to get the correct size.
Cut piece for the countertop
After cutting the countertop piece.
Cut piece for the countertop
And after staining the countertop piece.