Travel, climbing, and Van-life



Van Build: Walls and Ceiling

This was the meat of the van-build; where it is transformed from a metal box to home. Lucky for me, I happen to know a guy who has a degree in construction engineering: My dad. He has been building things probably forever, so his brain and his tool shed were a huge support.

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.

Walls and Ceiling

From the way the Promaster van is built, each side-wall of the van is basically divided in half by a metal support piece, and, of course, the right side has the door. So, the van can be divided into five secions that get paneling: two for each side-wall, and the ceiling.

When my dad and I did this, he got started doing the framing and paneling in the rear two sections while I got started on the electical work around the front area. This worked out really well for us, but if you are doing this by yourself, then probably start with the electical work first, unless you don't plan on hiding any wiring behind the walls.



  1. Furring

    First step is getting the framing up. We just used the 1"x2" furring strips for this. On the door and in the kitchen-area, we spaced them about 16" apart, but in the back two wall sections, where the bed is, we spaced them about a foot apart for some extra rigidity. This has turned out to be a wise move, since I lean up against this area all the time, and have yet to feel the wall flex.

    Where exactly you attach the strips will depend on your van's design. For us, we were able to do strips that run from floor to ceiling (except on the door), screwing and glueing each one at the bottom, top, and somewhere in the middle; basically a screw wherever the strip touched the metal frame of the van.

    The most important thing when putting up the furring strips is to make sure they are all flush with each other. The paneling strips will flex a little, but they won't stay attached if there is too much. Take this into consideration when cutting each strip to size. For us, just about every piece was a unique length.

    When attaching each piece, we also put a dab of Liquid Nail adhesive at each point that touched metal. My grandpa is a finish carpenter, and told me a long time ago that a screw or nail will hold a joint pretty tight, but a little glue will make it stay tight. So just use some glue where you can; your van will vibrate a lot.

    Start of the framing
    Getting started on the furring strips.
    Framing on the rear two sections fo the van
    Rear two sections of the van with the furring strips attached.
  2. Paneling

    This was the most tedious part of the whole van build. We used 3" wide cedar paneling strips, mainly because that was the only size that Home Depot had, and I didn't feel like going to another lumber store. In hindsight, I wish I had picked something wider, since it took forever to put these up. Using 6" or 8" pieces still would have looked great, but saved a few hours of work. This is especially true on the ceiling. Still, I am really happy with how it turned out.

    We put up the paneling in this order: Sides, ceiling, door. The door was last because of the the pieces we cut to cover the metal frame had to go over the ceiling, and the ceiling was second because on the edges we had it come down over the sides.

    So starting with the sides, we then worked from top to bottom. Remember to make sure the first piece is level, then we attached each piece with a touch of glue on the back, then three nails at each furring strip. Also, we chose to just use a single piece for each row, rather than try to incorporate seams. This just made the boards go up faster, and we were able to do this because each section is only five feet wide.

    Around some corners and the wheel-wells, we had to use the jigsaw for some angled and awkward cuts. In the end, these were the pieces that really gave it a refined feel.

    First section covered with paneling
    The first rear section covered.
    First section covered with paneling
    Both rear sections with the paneling.
    Third section covered with paneling
    Sneak peak at the bed frame (next section), but more progress on the paneling.
    First section covered with paneling
    Progress on another section.
  3. Ceiling

    This part was work. Again, make sure you have the lighting and electical situation planned out first. Once you do, start in the middle of the van and work outward to the sides. It probably goes without saying, but the first piece up is the most important. For us, this piece also had two lights attached to it. I'll go over the holes we cut for the lights in the post on the electrical system.

    Going back to the furring strips, again we were at the mercy of the van's design for the ceiling. In the Promaster, there are pieces of the metal frame that run side-to-side, which I decided to use to attache the furring strips, plus along the front and rear of the van. The downside of this is that these metal frame pieces already stick down about an inch, so that creates an inch of lost space in height. Some of this was taken up by the insulation, but I was hoping to find a way to keep that inch, but I wasn't about to screw the ceiling directly to the metal.

    With the furring strips up (and the solar panels and roof vent already installed too), the paneling went up just as it did on the sides, working from the center of the van outwards. Once we hit the edges, I just attached an panel piece at a 45-degree angle to try and cover the gap. To do this we also made some tiny furring pieces with 45-degree cuts in the them for some support. This worked OK, but there is still a small gap below the 45-degree pices, so maybe you could do something a little cleaner here.

    Insulation and furring on ceiling
    Not a great angle, but there are insulation on the ceiling.
    Ceiling finished
    Unfortunately I didn't take any photos during the ceiling construction, but here's you can see it finished.
    Tools on the floor cover
  4. Finish Trim

    Now that most of the sides and ceiling were covered, all that was left was to cover the metal frame that was still exposed. This was different for each area, but mostly involved constructing something like a soffet with a couple furring strips and paneling pieces, and boxing up each area that was exposed. This was where your finish carpentry skills will shine.

    The van door finished
    The finished van door. So that the door would open more than three feet, we had to leave off a strip in the middle, where the track was touching. I just worked a piece in behind the strips and created a little pocket.
    Van door finished, again
    The trim work around the door turned out pretty well. In the right column, we also put one of the lightswitches in.
    Trim work over back door
    Some detail work over the back doors.
    View from laying on the bed inside the van
    I'm most happy with how the trim around the side door turned out.