Today I’m going to explain how to make plywood walls | Van conversion. It was a huge learning curve for us, here’s everything we learnt along the way.
If you would like to check out our informational video demonstrating how to make plywood walls you can view it here:
Ply Thickness for van walls
After lots of research we decided to use 3.6mm ply for our walls. The reason why we chose this is because we wanted to keep the weight down and have the flexibility in the ply.
Our van is a Vauxhall Movano and the walls are very curved. I’ve seen a lot of people using slightly thicker ply for their walls, but too thick and you won’t be able to bend it to fit.
We chose to go with ply over tongue and groove cladding because we just really liked how simple it looks and we thought it would be quicker and easier. Who knows if it was quicker or easier in the end but we are pleased with how it looks. The ply next to the cladding creates nice contrasting textures.
Screw on Battens to Attach the Ply
Before I begin talking about the walls we’ll need to backtrack slightly to when we were putting in our insulation. This is when we attached battens horizontally to the van walls and along the floor.
The reason we did this so so we could have a strong base to attach our walls and units. Another reason this is a good idea is because it helps you to avoid breaking your carefully applied vapour barrier.
We measured the length where we wanted to place a batten, leaving a space where the vertical metal running through the van bulges out. This way when a sheet of ply is secured down, it won’t be bulging out, it should lay flat.
For each batten we drilled and countersunk three holes. Then we took the batten and marked where the holes came to on the van so that we could drill holes into the metal. After this we put the screws in the holes, put a little blob of sikaflex, and screwed it in.
It’s important to place these battens in areas where you are going to secure cabinets to, this keeps them sturdy and strong. You’ll also need to make sure the battens are where two sheets of ply meet.
Then we vapour barriered all the walls and for this we used “reflectix” rolls and aluminium tape. My mum managed to find this on freecycle just before we bought our van. It’s a good idea to check freecycle and similar community pages whilst converting a van, you never know what you’ll find.
The reason we used a vapour barrier is so that any warm moist air from inside the van from breath or cooking doesn’t get through to the insulation. This will condensate on the cold skin of the van. Not good.
Celotex is already covered in a foil vapour barrier so you could just use aluminium tape to seal the gaps. This is what we did for the floor and ceiling.
We may have been a bit OTT with our vapour barrier but at least we’ll know that everything behind our plywood is completely dry.
Some people say just make sure your van is well ventilated.Well… ventilation may help to dry out your wet van but if you aren’t lucky enough to have warm weather, the moisture will just stay there and build up over time. A good vapour barrier will prevent moisture from getting in the first place. Its s case of choosing prevention or cure, we chose prevention.
Installing the Plywood Walls
We chose to put a full 2.4mx1.2m sheet horizontally across the van, rather than placing them vertically thought the van.
Before we installed the ply, we thought about where each piece would go to minimise visible seams and make sure we were ending on the battens. We decided to work top down, this way most of the seams are under the bed and in behind cabinets.
For the first sheet we just had to follow the contour of the back of the van. It’s a bit difficult to hold so you will need some extra help while you screw it into place using the battens that you placed in earlier.
There was a large area between the two gaps that bellowed a little and didn’t quite touch, so we added a small piece of wood between them to pull the two pieces of ply together.
If we were to do it all again, we would probably add another batten in the middle to give it extra support and more strength if leaning into the wall.
Once the first piece is installed it’s a bit easier to measure the remaining gaps and worked from there. The second part we did was fill in the strip behind the driver’s seat. With one sheet down to the floor.
Going Around The Wheel Arch
Luckily our van had some wall panels already so we could use the piece with the wheel arch to make a template. But as we have discovered since we started the conversion, nothing is a simple as it seems…
Of course the wheel arch template didn’t fit. We had to repeatedly take it off to trim extra bits down and then trim down the top so that it lined up with the sheet of ply above it.
For the opposite wall we used the same method. A sheet of ply horizontal from the top. Except here we had a huge bulging rib which we had our vent and LED lighting wires in.
We didn’t want to screw the wood in as there was a risk of hitting the cables. We also didn’t want to break our vapour barrier so we used sikaflex and clamps to force the ply into shape.
For the lower portion of this wall around the wheel arches we used two separate pieces of ply that we had leftover. This was a lot easier making it in two separate parts.
We had a little gap between the wall and the ply so my dad made a triangle to fit perfectly in this gap. Then we added a little hole for our cables to come through and we protected than with a rubber grommet. We’re pleased with how it turned out.
I hope this has been helpful and you’ve got some tips and information about how to make plywood walls | Van conversion.
If you want to check out our complete van build series videos you can check them out here: www.youtube.com/ourwildhorizons
Or you can view the written versions here if you prefer: www.sheisthelostgirl.com/category/van-life/
Thank you very much for reading, enjoy the build.