The driver’s side kitchen cabinet of our Ford Transit DIY camper van conversion is the home of our 12V Novakook R5810 fridge and home of our electrical system. When we initially brainstormed about the van interior layout, we knew we wanted
- plenty of countertop surface
- a large refrigerator (more. beer.)
- multiple drawers for kitchen items
- rustic look. wood.
- blue. blue color, somewhere.
TIME SPENT ON THE JOB: 40 hours (this is very approximate, as we lost track of time…)
TOTAL COST : Approximatly $250 USD. (we did not measure the amount of glue, stain, and various hardware…)
- Novakool R5810 12V Fridge (Buy from Campervan-HQ.com)
- Baltic Birch plywood sheet, 5’x5′, 3/8″ thick.
- Pocket Hole Screws kit. (Buy from Amazon)
- 2″x3″x8′ Spruce Pine Fir Stud
- 1″x6″x5′ Red Cedar Fence
- Karlby Ikea countertop
- Titebond III Wood Glue (Buy from Amazon)
- Soft-Close Drawer Slide 18″, Knape & Vogt (Buy from Amazon)
- Hinges, Self-Closing, Partial Wrap Hinge with 1/2in Overlay (Buy from Amazon)
- ~6x 1/4 fender washer (Buy from Amazon)
- ~6x 1/4-20, .280 Steel Cross Nut Prebulbed (Buy from Amazon)
- ~6x 1/4-20 bolts, various lengths (Buy from Amazon)
- #8 X 1-1/4-Inch Square Drive Flooring Screw, black (Buy from Amazon)
- Frame’s Blue color: Saman water-based wood stain
- Baltic Birch’s Walnut color: Watco Danish Oil light walnut (Buy from Amazon)
- Kreg Pocket Hole Jig Mini (Buy on Amazon)
- Skills saw (Buy on Amazon)
- Freud Finish Blade 60 tooth (Buy on Amazon)
- Jigsaw & Blades (Buy on Amazon)
- Power drill (Buy on Amazon)
- Drill bits (Buy on Amazon)
- 220 grit Sanding paper (Buy on Amazon)
- Electrical System Installation
- Off-Grid Fridge Guide: Understanding Technologies and Making the Right Choice
We really enjoyed working with the Kreg Pocket Hole Jig Mini because it makes the job easy and provides strong joints without fancy tools!
We’re not woodworkers. We’re not well equipped in tools, so this is not a “How-To”. This is just how we did it with our limited knowledge & limited access to appropriate tools. There are probably standards, but we’re probably not following them. That being said, we’re very satisfied with the final result, and we are proud of what we accomplished!
First of all, we optimized the dimensions of the kitchen cabinet for the fridge, the electrical system components, the bedroom & the living room. The 3D model layout was very handy for this task.
We used 2″x 3″ studs that we joined together using Titebond III Wood Glue & the Kreg Pocket Hole Jig Mini. The glue provides extra strength and ensures that there will be no squeaks (squeaks are EVIL). As long as the cuts are straight, the resulting joint will be strong & square.
The image below is from the future. It shows the 3/8″ thick baltic birch panels attached with corner braces (Buy on Amazon) to the frame. The panels are finished with Watco Danish Oil light walnut (Buy on Amazon).
The structure of the cabinet is attached to the van mainly by Cross Nuts (see our specific post here to learn everything about them). Using Cross Nuts, you can avoid drilling holes into the van!
The three drawers are made from 3/8″ thick baltic birch. We used 1″ long #4 screws & Titebond III Wood Glue to hold everything together.
We initially installed self-closing drawer slides (amzn.to/3jLrRlr) that worked fine, but the mechanism of one of them finally failed 4 years later. This time, we went with these soft-close drawer slides: amzn.to/2F3gC8L. Soft-close slides pull the drawer in to the closed position, just like the self-close, but they do it nicely and slowly. As a result, the drawers don’t slam into the cabinet. Nice! And as a bonus, they hold the drawers in closed position better. We went with a reputable brand, Knape & Vogt; they cost more than generic Amazon products, but we know we get a quality product that will last.
Nothing fancy here. Just a few wood planks screwed together and hinges (Buy from Amazon)!
The Finish (Artificially aged wood)
We wanted a rustic look finish; here is what we did to artificially age the 1″x6″x5′ Red Cedar Fence we bought from Home-Depot:
- Add steel wool in a jar, and fill it with white vinegar.
- Let the magic happen for about a week.
- Stain the wood with the solution. Different types of wood will react very differently. We also diluted the solution with water to get different tint. We applied 2 coats. This step really is the result of trial-and-error!
- Protect the wood with Saman water based flat varnish.
Prior to artificially aging the wood, we made some cutouts, using a jigsaw, to act as drawer handles:
The wood planks were fixed using black #8 X 1-1/4-Inch Square Drive Flooring Screw (Buy from Amazon).
The Blue Color
Here is what we did to stain the frames. The idea is to get a nice color but let the wood grain shine through:
- Sand the wood using 220 grit (or so) sandpaper (Buy from Amazon).
- Prepare the stain per manufacturer directions, except diluting the stain with a bit of water will help to make the wood grain more visible. Apply with a foam brush (Buy from Amazon).
- Let dry and sand; more sanding = more wood grain. You can play around with this.
- Apply a second layer of stain using a foam brush. Keep a cloth handy during the application of that layer: use it to remove excessive stain.
- Let dry and sand.
- Apply 2 layers of varnish per manufacturer directions (let dry between layers).
- Sand a little to get a nice & smooth finish.
Color and Varnish:
- Olive (Buy from Amazon)
- Azur (Buy from Amazon)
- Whitewash (Buy from Amazon)
- Finish: Water based flat varnish (Buy from Amazon)
We bought a Karlby Ikea countertop, but we are waiting to install it later when we’re almost finished with the conversion. The plywood countertop we have now is perfect to work on during the conversion… we will update this post when it is installed!
ON SECOND THOUGHT…
1- We denied the fact that the fridge requires proper ventilation in order to be efficient. We can definitely feel the heat behind the fridge with our hand. Alright then, let’s make things right and add ventilation! We added a hole in the floor for that purpose; it is fully detailed in the following article:
2- The self-closing drawers worked fine… until we loaded them with stuff. Then, if taking a sharp turn, drawers would sometimes open. We therefore added door catchers (Buy from Amazon) to help them stay closed. It works 98% of the time!
3- We initially installed self-closing drawer slides (amzn.to/3jLrRlr) worked fine, but the mechanism of one of them finally failed 4 years later. This time, we went with these soft-close drawer slides: amzn.to/2F3gC8L. Soft-close slides pull the drawer in to the closed position just like the self-close, but they do it nicely and slowly. As a result, the drawers don’t slam into the cabinet. Nice! And as a bonus, they hold the drawers in closed position better. We went with a reputable brand, Knape & Vogt; they cost more than generic Amazon products, but we know we get a quality product that will last.