When it comes to covering the inside of your van, you have a few options: ply lining, carpet lining, or using timber cladding. Although there is a slight price difference between the three, it is pretty marginal (and remember, in order to carpet line your van you will need to ply line it first to cover the insulation, so in this case the cost is pretty close). We were keen to have a clean, Scandi vibe in our van with white painted cladding on the walls and exposed wooden cladding on the ceiling, so we were happy to spend a bit more.
Before we go into how to attach cladding to your van, we just wanted to share a method we used to save weight whilst cladding. As most of you probably know, we have a big, silly Belfast sink that weighs quite a lot. To justify this, we have had to make sure to use a lot of weight saving techniques in other areas of our van.
Most people will clad their van as soon as they have finished insulating, and they will clad the entire van. Although this perhaps makes cladding easier (and you get lots of nice photos of a big empty van that is fully clad!), it is a lot of extra weight, and money! We made the choice to not clad any areas of our van that wouldn't be visible, so for example behind our kitchen units, our overhead storage, and under our bed. This saves quite a lot of material, which will reduce weight and also cost.
Products, tools & consumables needed:
• Timber tongue & groove cladding
• Automotive carpet
• Spray adhesive
• Thin wooden battens (~12mm thick)
• Thick wooden battens (~25mm thick)
• Mitre saw
• Hole saw set
• Cladding clips (if you dare...!)
• Ideally 2 people!
Building a wooden substructure
Before starting to clad our van, there was some preparation to do. We bought some very thin, flexible wooden battens which we attached in regular intervals to the sides of the van. These were screwed into the metal pillars of the van (so it's important to note where these are before covering your whole van in silver foil bubble insulation!). These are what the cladding will be attached to, so its important to space them at fairly regular intervals down your van.
We also made some wooden window frames out of much thicker battens, as this would allow us to frame the windows, rather than having to carpet the edges of them. We did actually end up carpeting the edges of the window on the sliding door and not building a frame for this one, as we wanted to let more light in, so you can approach this in either way depending on the kind of finish you want around your windows.
If you do want to create a frame for some of your windows, you will just need to make a large rectangle out of battens. These are then actually mounted by screwing into the thin battens which you will need to overlap with the window slightly, rather than screwing into the van itself (this is because 1) the metal around the windows isn't flat which makes it hard to screw into and 2) it's much thinner, so you don't want to end up coming out the outside of the van with a screw!
Carpeting awkward areas
Once you have finished your wooden substructure, you will just need a method of covering any awkward areas you won't be able to clad. We have seen a few people do this using hessian twine, but we decided to use automotive carpet. If using this method, you will need to carpet any awkward areas before you start cladding.
The areas you will need to cover with carpet are mainly doorways, where your cladding will finish before the very edges. You will only need to carpet the area that will be visible, so our method was to tuck the cladding into the door seals ever so slightly, and carry it on until where we knew the cladding would cover it, attaching it with spray glue. You need to be careful not to put too much carpet into the seals, as if you do they will bulge and won't seal properly when you shut the door, causing leaks (speaking from experience!).
We also carpeted the back doors beneath the cladding, as we were worried that we would be able to see some yellow metal from inside the van, however realistically we didn't need to do this as none of the carpet is visible from inside the van!
If you think you might be able to see some metal of your doors from within the van once you've finished cladding, then you can carpet the doors, but there are some quite simple tricks you can do such as using a piece of vertical cladding on the back doors once you've finished that will avoid this and can save quite a lot of faff!
Cladding your van
It's worth noting that cladding is quite hard to do without 2 people, especially once you get to cladding the ceiling! We would recommend that if you're converting a van by yourself, you find a friend who owes you a favour to hold some cladding up for you!
We made our lives harder with the cladding because we didn't want to have any visible joins or screws in our cladding. Because of this, we ordered 4.3m long pieces of cladding, so there would be no visible joins in the van. As we were painting the walls white, we screwed into the battens on the side of the van, as we could then cover these screw holes with filler and paint over them.
Because we were leaving the ceiling as exposed wood, we opted to use cladding clips. These are very hard to use over a long length and meant we probably spent about 4 times longer than we should have attaching cladding to the ceiling. Now we have a lovely ceiling that has absolutely no visible screws, so if this is the aesthetic you want to achieve you can give them a go, but ultimately I'm not sure we would recommend them because of the intense faff involved with using them!
They are also just incredibly fiddly - we got such an intense shoulder work out when attaching the ceiling cladding! They also typically require you to start on one side of the van, which isn't ideal if you want to centre your cladding (i.e. because of vents and skylights which are central in the van). So we started in the middle, despite the fact you should start on one side...and every so often had to deal with a 4.3m strip of cladding falling out of the ceiling. All in all, not a pleasant experience!
We started by cutting our cladding to roughly the right length and attaching it to the walls, starting at the bottom (or the bottom of where you are cladding to, which in our case was just below where our kitchen would start). Once you've loosely attached it, it makes it super easy to draw on the profile of doors so that you can remove it and then jigsaw it to the right shape and size.
Once you reach a light switch or plug socket, we just held the cladding in place and marked on where we would need to cut out a slot to make it fit.
Attaching the cladding to the doors is done in much the same way as the walls - just screw each piece into a thin batten, and make sure you'll still have enough room to shut the door. We were slightly concerned that we wouldn't have enough room to clad the side sliding door, but it shuts just fine once cladded.
Once you have clad the side walls, next comes the ceiling. As we mentioned previously, we used cladding clips to do this which so there wouldn't be any visible screws, however these were a huge faff and I'm not sure we would recommend doing the same!
Whether you decide to use cladding clips or just screw straight into the thin battens, starting from one side, work your way across the van. If you do decide to use cladding clips, these are screwed into the battens once each piece of cladding is in the ceiling. If you will have an overhead storage unit it's best to start from this side. We actually started from the middle of the van, as we wanted to make sure our cladding lined up with the middle of the van, however if you don't have something you need to line up centrally we would definitely recommend starting on one side to make your lives a lot easier!
You will need to cut holes in your cladding for your lights, and any vents and skylights if you have them. As both our spotlights and our vents were circular, we used a hole saw set to cut the holes in the cladding for these. We did this before attaching the cladding, but once you've cut the cladding you need to be extremely delicate with it as the wood on either edge of the hole can get very thin and it would be very easy to snap it.
We attached our final piece of ceiling cladding which met the wall cladding by putting a few tactical screws up into the groove of the cladding, so these wouldn't be visible. The final piece of ceiling cladding will slightly overlap with the final piece of wall cladding.
Once you're finished, you can either leave your cladding exposed for a cosy log cabin vibe, or use some filler to fill the screw holes and paint it. We went for a combination of white walls and wooden ceilings, and we love it.
Thanks for reading, please get in contact if you have any questions!
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