Right from the start, we knew we wanted wood paneling finish in our DIY camper van conversion. It is fairly easy to obtain a nice & clean finish with the tongue and groove paneling: each plank will sit flush to the adjacent planks, creating a uniform & continuous surface.

Tongue-and-Groove-Wood-Paneling-(annotated)

Tongue and Groove doing it’s thing

 

The planks are relatively thin at 5/16” thickness, making them flexible enough to conform to the van funky surfaces. We did not sand the planks, but we finished them with varnish to protect them against a spaghetti incident.

Spaghetti Incident

Not in our Van!

 

 

 

TIME SPENT ON THE JOB

40h approximately (including furring strips installation)

 

TOTAL COST

TBD$ USD

 

DISCLOSURE:

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Alternatively, you can visit our Say Thanks! page.

 

 

MATERIAL

  • Knotty Pine Wood Paneling, 5/16″ thick X 4″ wide x 96″ long (We bought them from our local Rona)
  • Baltic Birch Plywood Sheet, various thicknesses (We bought them from our local shop in Montreal, Langevin Forest)
  • #6 Screws, length 1/2″ and 5/8″. We used brass screws for the aesthetics… (Buy from Amazon)
  • Cross Nut (Buy from Amazon)
  • Varnish

 

TOOLS

 

RESSOURCES

  • There’s nothing to see here.

 

PRE-REQUISITE




HERE IS HOW IT GOES!

Furring Strips

The wood paneling is not attached directly to the van; it’s attached to furring strips that we first installed. We installed furring strips every 2 feet or so, depending on what was possible. As usual, we did not use metal screws; we used Cross Nut (http://amzn.to/2qANc8V) to attach the furring strips to the van walls. Not familiar with Cross Nut? That’s fine, we made an article (size guide, how-to, etc) here:

Crossnut-Heading

Read our guide here: faroutride.com/crossnut/

 

The furring strips are made from Baltic Birch Plywood; it is a high-quality plywood. For the same thickness as regular plywood, there are more layers and the material characteristics are more uniform.

It was super important for us to maximize the living area, therefore we did not want to “overdesign” the furring strips: instead of using typical 2″x 3″ straight stud frames, we used 1/4″ or 3/8″ or 1/2″ thick Baltic birch plywood furring strips that conform to the van curved surfaces.  It made the fabrication of the furring strips & the installation of the paneling much more time consuming, but we’re very glad we did it!





The furring strips are generally 4” wide.  We used ½” thickness plywood for the ceiling, 3/8” thickness plywood for almost-flat surfaces of the walls and ¼” thickness* plywood where we wanted the paneling to conform to the van curvatures.

*Disclaimer: ¼” Baltic birch plywood is THIN! Will it withstand the test of time? We think so, but if you choose the do the same, do it at your own risks! ¼” “regular” plywood is probably not strong enough (it will probably crack at screw locations). If you’re using the van as a cargo or if you plan on attaching heavy stuff to the wall, ¼” is probably not strong enough.

Furring Strips Left Forward

Furring Strip Van Conversion

Furring Strips

Furring Strips Right Wall

The two horizontal furring strips are installed because there is a change in curvature along this orientation

Furring Strips Ceiling Van

 

Wood Paneling




The wood paneling is screwed into the plywood furring strips, every two feet or so. We used #6 countersink screws in brass material, because the brass blends well with the wood color. To avoid the paneling to crack, we pre-drilled and countersunk every hole before screwing into it. This is time consuming, but the pine is quite soft and will crack at installation or later with the cold/hot/vibration.

Wood Paneling Final 1

Upper-Left: it’s a small fan mounted on a 3-axis gimbal, we highly recommended it! Buy on Amazon.

Wood Paneling Final 2

 

 

 

At Last

We still have to complete the back of the van & the transition between the right wall / ceiling. Wait for it!

 

 

This article is a work in progress…

To be notified when the final write-up is available, subscribe to our email list:

 

 

 

ON SECOND THOUGHT

Does the wood paneling squeak? It does sometimes, but no enough to bother us. The music / road noise / etc compensate for the squeaks sound 🙂

 

 

YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN:

 

 

 

 

WANT MORE?

Check out our Build Journal, learn everything about The Van, read our VanLife Guides, or if you’re new to this start by reading The Prologue.

 

 

 

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ABOUT US

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017 we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers and moved into our self built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

 

 

CONNECT

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CHEERS!

 

 

 

22 comments

  1. Comment by Don Kane

    Don Kane Reply July 30, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    Hi Antoine,

    Thanks getting back to me and for the comments. Dare I ask where you writing from?

    I have had three vans (all green, BTW, all Econolines.) The first 2 were cargo vans, and I insulated them with fiberglass, and it seemed fine. When I pulled the second one apart to send it to the junkyard (22 years old/275K miles/the engine and chassis were going) the fiberglass looked like the day I put it in, and so did everything else I uncovered. The exception was near the floor, where water/Michigan salt was leaking up from under the van (remember, the chassis thing) and mice were apparently in there, living in the fibreglass!!! (Hmmm, I bet they would have liked the Thinsulite better, you think?)

    Also, I paneled both vans with normal 1/4 plywood, using aluminum pop rivets, drilling holes as needed. Compared to the destruction via Michigan salt under the van, all inside was pristine when I took it apart. But, I do like you use of the higher quality Baltic Birch Plywood, that is a really great idea.

    Longitude vs transverse? I am about 170.5 cm, and my first van (’69 E-100), it was wide enuf to sleep transverse, no problem. The ’78 E-150 was not, we had to do longitudal. So, in the day, we used to do lots of constant driving trips (skiing in the UP), and trying to sleep in the back longitudal you roll every time the driver steers, all the time. Transverse, only when accelerated and stopping, once every 2 hours. You are correct, that we would haf to contour the side to sleep transverse.

    As for your floor, I was very impressed, I really didnt get the feeling that much heat was lost thru the floor, what with so much furniture over the floor, so I never thought to insulate. I think I had 5/8 or 3/4″ pressboard (particleboard?) (Also, hydrophilic, bad), with rugs over it. But I do like your vinyl covering, that looks cool.

    I am not talking about present van, a 2000 E150 club van, it is only good for transport, not camping. Good for the kids though. But it is near its rust death. One more trip out to RMNP (backpacking) in two weeks, and then a Kalamazoo winter, I hope it survives.

    No, and both my sons are Engineers. Maybe I should show them your web site.

    Anyway, I’ll say it again, love your site and I am very impressed at your van.

    Cheers, thebiggreenvan.

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply July 31, 2018 at 1:05 pm

      Hi!
      We’re currently in Squamish, BC.
      Thanks for all you inputs, it’s nice to have everyone’s opinion and experience 🙂

      Have a good one!
      antoine

  2. Comment by Don Kane

    Don Kane Reply July 29, 2018 at 10:09 pm

    Hi. Really interesting blog.

    I was just wondering why you didnt sleep transversely rather than longitudinally. You could have saved the extra length that you used getting the long long van. Your tougne and groove could have dipped out over 35 inches (height from floor) or so to give you the extra width. Your side storage could have been forward in the room saved. And that extra side space seems not to be extra insulated.

    Also, why not simple fiberglass insulation? Thinsulite seems too organic for the temps (summer) involved.

    Cheers, and I have found your blog so interesting. We are thinking going Ford Transit next summer.

    Thebiggreenvan

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply July 30, 2018 at 4:14 pm

      Everyone that tried sleeping transversely end up switching for longitudinally in the long run… the Transit is not wide enough (the ProMaster might be), unless you add flares. Moreover I don’t want to sacrifice insulation for that…
      As opposed to Thinsulate, fiberglass is not hydrophobic; it means it will absorb moisture. It will also loose fibers with vibration. It’s not appropriate for a vehicle… Highly recommend thinsulate!

      Cheers!

  3. Comment by Mahealani Velazquez

    Mahealani Velazquez Reply July 2, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    I am trying to figure out how you “found” the plus nut holes to screw the furring strips in to. Becuase to me, it looks like you put the plus nuts in and then covered them with e-z cool. Did you just stab in the dark before you found it? Did you mark where the hole was? I am trying to figure out how to complete that in my build without accidentally drilling 40+ holes in my van, in an attempt to find the plus nuts.

    Thank you!

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply July 2, 2018 at 4:13 pm

      1- Install all the Plusnut for the furring strip installation;
      2- Insert a Hanger Bolt (amzn.to/2KDXDiE) in each Plusnut;
      3- “Press” the furring strip onto the hanger bolt to mark the location of the plusnut.

      This is described with pictures here: https://faroutride.com/plusnut/

      Voilà! Have fun!

      • Comment by Vanda

        Vanda Reply July 5, 2018 at 6:06 pm

        Hi Antoine – I think the question was asking more about when and how you installed the EZ Cool around the Plusnuts (this was actually my question as well).

        I assume:
        1-Install Plusnuts
        2-Install EZ Cool around the plusnuts so you can locate them for future use and they aren’t ‘hidden’?
        3-Insert hanger bolt
        4-continue with steps given above

        Your site is invaluable. Thank you so much for all the time and effort you put into it and for continuing to come back and answer our questions!

        • Comment by Antoine

          Antoine Reply July 6, 2018 at 10:01 am

          Gotcha!
          1- Install Plusnut
          2- Install EZ-Cool OVER the plusnut; just install the hanger bolts first and poke through the EZ-Cool with the hanger bolts, enlarge the hole in the ez-cool and mark the location of the plusnut with a bold red marker (so you can locate them later), remove the hanger bolts.
          3- Re-insert the hanger bolts when ready to install the furring strip.

          Hope that helps!
          cheers!

          • Comment by Vanda

            Vanda August 10, 2018 at 7:44 pm

            It does, thank you!

  4. Comment by Taco Otten

    Taco Otten Reply June 28, 2018 at 9:13 am

    Did you need a router to cut the hole for the fan?

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply June 28, 2018 at 10:15 am

      I don’t know what’s a router, so I guess I didn’t use one 🙂
      Most people I’ve seen install a fan just used a jigsaw. The fan installation is detailed here: faroutride.com/fan-installation

      Cheers!

  5. Comment by Tom

    Tom Reply April 20, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    Hey! How did you manage to run/hide the wiring harness on the back left by the rear doors? It goes from the ceiling to the left wall(Passenger Side), but it does not look like it made your wood side paneling bulge out at all.

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply April 21, 2018 at 10:04 am

      I don’t have any picture, it’s hard to tell. But it’s just hidden under the wood. The paneling is not immediately against the van wall because we used furring strips; the wiring is in that gap. yeah, it was tight but we manage to fit it there!

      antoine

  6. Comment by Nick

    Nick Reply April 18, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    Hey guys – Very curious as I am beginning planning the forward most section of ceiling by the blobs. How did you end up managing the downward curve of the roof and attaching the wood ceiling planks by the headliner? Thanks!

  7. Comment by Gene

    Gene Reply April 15, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    I tried searching all over, but could not find anything on your website about it: what did you do with the OEM cabin lights? The build order looks like it went from thinsulate straight to the ceiling paneling.

    The 12v light or wood paneling posts also do not mention the cabin lights and how they were removed. Maybe im just dense, but how did you get rid of them? They are pretty tightly wedged into the top ribs, and the wiring bundle runs straight along the side of the van and past the side airbags inside the foam blobs. It’s all bundled with airbag wiring as well as misc wiring so i am weary about removing them. Any tips?

    By the way, this might be useful for other people that are learning through your blog, the tool you used for the Plusnuts is actually rated for Rivnuts, which is why people keep saying that it breaks. This tool below would be the actual tool used for Plusnuts! http://www.cardinalcomponents.com/assets/c1000_plusnut_hand_tool_manual.pdf

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply April 16, 2018 at 12:29 am

      We removed them, just by prying them off (they’re snapped into place if I recall correctly). Then the wire can be removed from the main electrical harness (there is a quick-disconnect on the main electrical harness).

      The picture on Amazon is erroneous: it’s the tool for 5/16-18 3/8-16 size that is pictured, but what you actually get is the same tool as you mentioned. Nevertheless, the reviews are pretty bad 🙁

  8. Comment by STUART

    STUART Reply March 11, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    With using thinner plywood furring strips instead of 1×2″s, how did the wood paneling tongue and groove look installed in areas with more curvature? We have a sprinter van and the walls have more curve to them, so thinking the tongue and groove might not match up in areas where the furring strip bends too much.

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply March 11, 2018 at 7:46 pm

      It turned out well and it’s following the curvature nicely. But I don’t know exactly how are the Sprinter walls…

      Cheers!

  9. Comment by Brendan

    Brendan Reply November 4, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Has your 1/4″ birch firring strips along the beside worked out OK?? I am thinking about doing the same in order to maximize every lateral inch there is in that gaping wall recess. Is it a problem to lean up against that wall while in bed?

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply November 4, 2017 at 2:02 pm

      The bedside wall feel really stiff (compared to the wall behind the driver seat); because the furring strips are much shorter, there is almost no deformation when I push on it.
      The wall behind the driver seat feels the same as when we installed it: there is maybe 1/2 inch deformation when we push on it with our hand. We lean on it when we’re sitting on our “couch”. It’s still holding strong!!

  10. Comment by Terri

    Terri Reply August 29, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Is there much problem with the tongue and groove paneling expanding and contracting with changes in climate? Any thoughts or advice about how to reduce the squeaking (for someone who hasn’t started to install paneling yet)? I know it’s usually pretty hard to track down the exact source of squeaks. As always, thanks for the inspiration and advice!

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply August 29, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      It’s still a bit too soon to tell, as we only went through 1 winter and 1 summer. There is no cracks yet, but there is some squeaks! I’ve heard of people gluing the tongue-and-groove to 1/8″ plywood to eliminate the squeaks; I’ve also heard that you can put silicone between the planks.

      What we’ve learn for sure is, any wood-on-wood will squeaks! When a gap is not possible, some neoprene tape or rubber (http://amzn.to/2vGMMMv) of some sort will work!

      Let us know if you find better solutions!

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