How to Prepare for Your DIY Van Cabinetry Install (Free Blueprints)

By: Scott Adamson
/ April 27, 2020
Building custom cabinets for my van was the lengthiest part of my entire van conversion.

When I built my first van, I was familiar with woodworking but had no experience in building actual cabinets.

But with a little a lot of patience along with the right tools and materials, I was able to get the exact look and feel I was after.

In this article, I’m going to break down all the necessary steps to prepare yourself for a DIY Van Cabinets and Storage installation.

Step 1: Design your Van Layout

Before you even think of cutting into your first piece of wood, the first step is to map out what your vans layout is going to be.

I won’t get into everything it takes to come up with a layout design in this article, but just know that before you do anything, you need to have a full design mapped out to ensure you’re measurements are correct.

Personally, I used a tool called SketchUp to map out various layout ideas for my van. What you see in my van today is extremely close (if not exact) to the final 3D design I made in SketchUp.

Another software option I’ve seen, which is specifically designed for van conversions, is Vanspace. I personally haven’t used this tool, but it looks pretty cool.

Once you’re happy with your 3D design, I recommend taking some green painters tape and mapping out the design on the floor of the van. This helps you get a real feel of how everything would fit.

Step 2: Choose your cabinetry materials

The next step is to decide what you want your cabinets to be made of. The main materials to consider here are:

  • Types of wood
  • Latches
  • Drawer sliders
  • Gas Shocks
  • Hinges
  • Paint & Stain

Plywood

For my cabinets, I decided to go with Cabinet Grade Baltic Birch Plywood.

Baltic Birch Ply has several structure benefits that make a good candidate in vehicles that are going to be bouncing down the highway:

  • Superior screw holding ability
  • Improved strength and stability
  • Thicker face veneer (1.5mm-thick solid birch, cross-banded, and laminated with an exterior-grade adhesive.

If you do decide to use Baltic Birch plywood, you will notice that it doesn’t come in the standard 4ft x 8ft sheets. It comes in 5ft x 5ft, making it a bit of a pain to transport in a pickup truck (trust me).

  • ¼ Plywood – This size of plywood is used for the backs of the boxes and bottoms of the drawers.
  • ½ Plywood – Was used to build the frame of all the cabinet boxes and the sides of the drawers.
  • ¾ Plywood – All of the doors and drawer fronts were made using the thick ¾ plywood.

Tip: When you’re at the lumber store purchasing your large sheets, it will save you a ton of time if you can have the lumber yard make some of the cuts for you. Most lumberyards have a large table saw which does much straighter cuts than most people can do at home.

Latches

Since I’ve lived in the van for an extended period of time now, latches have been something that I’ve played around with a lot.

Originally, I installed magnetic latches, which look great as they are hidden. They also worked great for the most part, but I found that if you overload the drawer and find yourself off-roading, they can open up on you.

For that reason, I’ve changed all my latches over to slam latches.

For more information about choosing the best latches for your drawers and cabinets, check out this article. 

Step 3: Gather all necessary tools and set up your work area

Unlike other aspects of the van build where you are working INSIDE the van, cabinetry takes up a lot of space OUTSIDE of the van, so it’s important to have a designated work area while you’re completing this project.

Here’s a list of all the tools I used when building my cabinets:

  1. Kreg
  2. Table Saw
  3. Radial Arm
  4. Chop Saw
  5. Brad Nailer
  6. Air Compressor
  7. Makita Drill
  8. Clamp
  9. Angle Finder
  10. Square
  11. Tape Measure
  12. Paint Brush
  13. Palm Sander
  14. Straight Edge
  15. Skil Saw
  16. Jig Saw
  17. Router
  18. Hole Saw
  19. Drill Press
  20. Wood Glue

Tip:  I was lucky enough to have access to thousands of dollars worth of tools (I just know the right people). I would suggest seeing how many of these tools can be rented from hardware stores, or borrowed from friends/family.

Step 4: Get Started

✅You’ve designed the layout of your van.

✅You’ve selected your materials.

✅You’ve gathered all the tools.

✅You’ve prepared a construction area for yourself.

Now it’s time to get started!

To learn how I installed cabinets in my 2016 Sprinter Van, be sure to check out this article.

 

 

Scott Adamson
Wanderful Idea Guy
Coffee drinker, adventure seeker, below average photographer.
Recommended
Trending
By: Scott Adamson
/ Jun 21, 2020
Get The Wanderful Newsletter
Subscribed! We think you'll enjoy being part of our community!
Be the first to see our tips, stories, news and more.