How To Get Professional-Looking Cabinets in Your Camper Van

By: Scott Adamson
/ October 30, 2020
If you’re learning how to build cabinets in your van, you’ll quickly learn that most people finish their cabinetry using PAINT.

I also painted the cabinets in my first van conversion. I’m not one to cut corners, so I put in the effort needed to make my painted cabinets look amazing.

That effort was EXTREMELY time-consuming. This time around, I wanted to avoid painting any of my cabinetry, so I went on a quest to find an alternative solution.

I decided to use High-Pressure Laminate (HPL) in this van conversion, and I think it looks way nicer than if I had painted. I love the finished product so much that I wanted to share about my experience with anyone looking to learn how to build and finish their cabinets.

Check out this video or continue reading for a full rundown on what HPL is all about.

 

Painting your Van Cabinets

One of the most common things I see DIY Van Builders rush on is their cabinet paint job. A lot of people assume that this will be the quick and easy part of the van build… Who doesn’t know how to paint?

Well – let me tell you from past experiences that if you want to do a good job, it won’t be quick or easy. Having beautifully painted cabinets is incredibly time-consuming.

On my last van conversion, I painted my cabinets and they have held up amazingly well over the past four years. That’s because I put a lot of effort into, which included:

  • At least 4 coats of paint
  • One coat of stain
  • 3-4 coats of clear polyurethane.

Not to mention a full sanding between each coat.

I’ve seen a lot of van interiors with marked and scuffed paint jobs after only a few short months on the road. Often times, it’s because the builder hadn’t put on enough paint or let it properly dry in between coats.

So, if you do plan on painting your cabinets, make sure that you:

  1. Properly prep your word
  2. You do many coats
  3. Sand in between each coat
  4. And give it the proper amount to dry

High-Pressure Laminate

In my second van conversion, I really wanted to avoid the lengthy paint, dry, sand, paint, dry, sand process.

I discovered this new product that I’m super excited about. That product is called High-Pressure Laminate (HPL). HPL comes in big sheets and you can choose from hundreds of patterns and colors.

I would suggest trying to find a local supplier so you can see samples for yourself before making the purchase.

When it comes to High-Pressure Laminate, it does come in various sizes and thicknesses. I’ve been buying it in  4×8 sheets. I’m not entirely sure if that’s the most common size, but based on the supplier I’m dealing with, that seems to be the recommendation. I’ve been buying the 4×8 sheets in “vertical grade” which I believe is a slightly thinner grade than others, which seems to be working perfectly for this application. Once I get it on, it’s unbelievably strong and durable.

How to install HPL

  1. Set up a workstation where you can comfortably work with the 4×8 sheets.
    What I’ve been doing is using 2 sawhorses and using a 4×8 sheet of OSB as my cutting station.
  2. Take your cabinet pieces and lay them on to the HPL to map out your templates. Try to limit your waste as much as possible. Trace around all the outer edges so you know exactly where your cut lines are.
  3. Use a skill saw to rough cut the pieces out of the sheet.
  4. Use a paint sprayer to spray glue over the laminate AND the wood.
  5. Stick the laminate on to the wood. Check out the video for my recommended technique.
  6. Use a tile roller and move lightly over the entire piece of laminate over the wood.
  7. Take a flush cut bit and cut the HPL perfectly flush to the cabinet face.

Overall, I’m convinced this process was much quicker than if I had painted the cabinets.

 

Tools Used

 

For more DIY Van Build Tips, stories, and guides, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel so you don’t miss any videos.

 

 

Scott Adamson
Wanderful Idea Guy
Coffee drinker, adventure seeker, below average photographer.
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