Our step-by-step guide from start to end of how we built the cladding in our van, including all of the trials and errors in between. We’ve included the cost of all materials used to give an idea of what to expect when considering converting your own van.
The very first step was to remove the cheap, nasty plastic panels that come with a standard LDV minibus, using a flat-bladed screwdriver to pop out the plastic rivets holding it all in place. We couldn’t give these away let alone sell them on, so they ended up where many great LDVs do: the junk yard.
We wanted to use as much reclaimed wood as possible so we took a trip to a local reclamation yard and came away with the pieces of somebody’s fruity purple garden shed in exchange for some hedge trimmings, which we then dismantled and sanded down to use as cladding for some of the walls.
The rest of the cladding we bought from B&Q, often in discounted bundle packs; a little tip off the record for getting cheap cladding: if you want a discount, just ask! We were always popping into B&Q for something and always kept an eye on the cladding section. When their stocks start to get low, they will usually bundle together odd bits of cladding, either from returns or pieces that are splintered or split. If you ask an employee nicely they may obligingly give you a discount on some of these bundles, and while one or two bits may have defects, the bulk of it is usually fine.
Click to enlarge
Building the frame:
The best way to clad a van is to first build a flexible wooden frame around the shape of the van to attach the cladding to. We did this using 19mm x 38mm rough sawn timber which was sturdy but flexible enough to be bent around the van’s unique curves. We attached each piece to the metal struts of the van walls using 75mm self-drilling bolt head screws, spacing them close enough together that the planks of cladding would reach between them. We then had to wait until all the electrics and plumbing were installed to fix the cladding on.
Click to enlarge
Before installing the cladding we created a plan of all the wall areas to be clad, measuring each one horizontally for the length of each plank and also measuring how many pieces would be needed to cover it vertically (i.e. the height of the wall divided by the width of the cladding). We then cut it into different lengths and gave it all two coats of Ronseal Quick Dry Varnish in Antique Pine. In hindsight, we wish we’d chosen a different colour, but the varnish had been a donation from work and we were on a tight budget.
Click to enlarge
The first area we clad was the side door. If we had built a frame for it like we did with the walls it would’ve stuck out too much and prevented the door from opening. So instead we pre-drilled small holes through the cladding and into the door and used ordinary wood screws to secure it in place - gold ones to blend better with the colour of the wood - and stuffed some insulation behind it. The first type of cladding we used was too chunky and ended up scraping the paint off the outside of the van as we opened the door, so we later changed it for some thinner stuff which fixed the problem.
Once all of the pipes and wires were installed and out of sight we could then begin cladding the rest of the van, starting with the kitchen and bed using long lengths. We screwed each length into the frame with ordinary wood screws, allowing enough space on the narrow piece of frame wood for two lengths of cladding to join at the ends, and finally using a rubber mallet to slot the cladding together firmly (the coat of varnish we pre-applied made this part harder than varnishing after installation but also made less mess, avoiding varnish drips on the inside of the van).
The next area was the shower, but unfortunately the block of wood the thermostatic mixer was attached to stuck out significantly more than the frame we’d built. To get around this we had to attach two lengths of 2x2 to the frame and the bed to make it level with the bar, and then attach the cladding to this. With one of the pieces we wanted to create a small secret cupboard in the space behind, so we attached it to the frame using a hinge (in hindsight we should’ve used two), and a roller catch; we had to refit it several times and cut the tongues off the cladding to ensure a snug fit and a seamless finish.
We then had to shape more of the cladding at this level around the wheel arch; to do this we held a length of cladding up as close as possible to the arch and measured the gap between the top of the wood and the metal. We then used this measurement to draw a diagonal line from the bottom of the wood to the top corner (it took us a while to get our heads around this) before cutting it with a jigsaw. We also discovered what might be our new favourite tool- the chisel, ideal for where a jigsaw is overkill and splinters the wood on the tongue of the cladding.
Due to the addition of the 2x2 we now had two different levels of cladding on the shower wall; we made use of this by building what could possibly be the world’s smallest shelf, made out of odds and ends of cladding to make a box large enough to hold our toothbrushes and toiletries. Every bit of extra storage counts in a van!
Another obstacle was to figure out how to clad around the one side window we’d be keeping at the end of the bed, as we were unable to build a frame for it. We decided on using a tube of No More Nails (its equivalent brand, Sticks Like Sh*t, is also equally as good) to stick several pieces of 1” timber to the metal around the window, which were solid enough to screw the lightweight cladding into. To this day, despite all the bumpy roads, the cladding is still holding up.
We left one of the trickiest areas til last: what we referred to as the speaker bar, the long strip of metal which used to hold the van’s rear speakers and interior lights. As it stuck out above the rest of the van we hadn’t been able to clad it using the frame we’d built, so we needed to come up with a different idea. We used short self-drilling screws to attach some small pieces of timber as long as the width of two pieces of cladding to the bar, countersinking them so they were flush with the surface of the wood, and then using ordinary wood screws to attach the cladding to these.
Click to enlarge
Cladding the roof:
As part of our van rebuild once we returned from our first trip, we decided the roof needed cladding and insulation. Once fully insulated, we needed to build a base to screw the cladding onto and also provide a surface to install any electrical cables and lighting on. We chose 3mm hardboard for its flexibility rather than building a frame, as it gave us more freedom to install awkward bits of cladding in corners and on slants.
One 1.2m x 2.4m sheet was a perfect fit for the area above the bed, but we had to cut the second sheet out to fit around the suspended kitchen unit (just one of many reasons why we should’ve done this at the start of the conversion but hey, live and learn). To do this we had to create a 2D plan of the roof taking into account the curve (which was as simple as measuring from one side of the roof to the other with a tape measure, bending it around the curve of the roof to get the total distance) but even then some extra trimming was required to make it fit.
Possibly one of the biggest challenges was cutting out a circular hole for our newly acquired skylight, a problem we had not encountered before. We measured the diameter of the skylight, traced it onto the sheet of hardboard using our measurements to pinpoint it in the correct place, then cut it out with a jigsaw. It was at this point we decided it would be far easier to install by simply cutting the hardboard into two pieces, so instead of cutting out a full circle we only had to cut two semicircles. Then there was a lot of bending, shoving, grunting and more shoving to get the board into place on the roof and attach it to the struts with some 22mm self-drilling low profile screws. 22mm was pretty much the maximum length we could use as the last thing we wanted was a load of screws poking through the roof, and we used low-profile ones so that they wouldn’t obstruct the cladding too much when we came to add that later.
Once all the cladding was nicely varnished we needed to assemble a central piece from which the rest of the cladding could be built outwards. On this central piece, made up of three strips of cladding glued together for extra strength, we installed our LED lights by tracing around them and cutting out these holes with a jigsaw. With a bit of extra sanding and pushing we were able to install the lights flush with the cladding and tape all the wires neatly to the back of it. We also used the off-cuts of hardboard we had from cutting around the skylight to trace a circle for the skylight onto the cladding and cut it out, then used tape to hold the pieces together in the right place while we screwed it all to the roof. From this we were able to clad outwards until the cladding from the roof and the walls joined, which we neatened up with a piece of flat trim. The curved corners were particularly tricky, especially getting the tongues and grooves to meet up seamlessly with the aid of a rubber mallet. Perhaps a better method would have been to clad from the walls up to the central panel to make the cladding meet evenly on all sides, but we never take the simple route.
Click to enlarge
Total cost and materials used:
10 packs x 2.4m pine cladding from B&Q - £64.96 (some discounted)
4 x 2.4m 19mm x 38mm rough sawn timber from B&Q - £7.60*
2 x 1.2m x 2.4m sheets of 3mm hardboard from B&Q - £14.30*
22mm low profile self-drilling screws from Screwfix - £5.19
75mm self-drilling bolt head screws from Screwfix - £7.99
Antique Pine varnish from B&Q - £9.60*
Antique Pine varnish from work - £0
1 x reclaimed purple shed - £0
2x2 (reclaimed) - £0
* Trade price
Total cost = £109.64
Where would you like to go next?