In the last installment we covered insulating your van with 1″ Styrofoam sheets. To finish up the wall prep before installing the paneling, I also added pieces of ½” Styrofoam sheets to fill in the space between the 1×3 furring strips so the prepared wall would be flat and flush.
I also added additional 8′ long 1×3 furring strips some extending all the way to the front of the van and every other one extending all the way to the rear of the van. The purpose for this is to provide a solid mounting base for attaching the paneling. On a standard van the long wall will be about 9′ long and will require piecing in a narrow panel beyond the standard 4×8 sheet.
Now to move onto the paneling. I chose ¼” luan plywood for a number of reasons.
1.1/4″ plywood is stiffer and more durable then 1/8″ paneling though it is still flexible enough to bow and follow the curve of the wall.
2. Plywood has no pattern other then grain direction. If you use paneling with a design or even a linier pattern you will have a harder time getting everything lined up. Nothing about the walls of a van is either flat or straight. It will take time to adjust and trim panels to have them come out straight. Making seams as invisible as possible will help greatly in giving the whole project a professional appearance.
3. With no pattern you have a number of option when it comes to final finish. Luan looks very nice when coated with a couple coats of polyurethane. It also accepts paint very well and at this point my plan is to paint it further along in the project.
There are a few tricks to keep in mind when you install your paneling. You want to avoid waste but yet you want the finished product to look as neat as possible. Trying to deal with a whole 4×8 sheet especially by yourself will be plenty awkward. I chose to do the side walls with the grain going vertical. To avoid waste I cut each 4×8 sheet in half so that I had 4×4 pieces of plywood to work with. The smaller sized panels were much easier to handle and the lack of pattern made match up quite easy.
Van side walls are a bit taller then your 4×4 panels. I mounted my panels so that the top edge was up against the roof beam of the van. This left about a 4″ area at the floor that isn’t covered. My plan is to install a second strip of paneling as a trim piece to close in this area. With the bed and various cabinets installed this seam will be visible in very few spots so I recommend the panels be installed with the top being the priority or nicer looking joint. The open area at the bottom as well the ceiling beam are both good locations to install any wiring you may want for lights and such. Removing trim to add or repair wiring is a whole lot easier then taking out a whole wall panel to get at the wiring.
The roof beam will be hidden after I install a bump out strip of wood and another narrow strip of paneling that will match up with the ceiling paneling. The ceiling panel also doesn’t quite reach both sides, center the panel as best you can and again when you make the trim panel strip for the top of the wall adjust it to match the edge of the ceiling panel.
To attach the paneling to the 1×3 furring strips I used an air nail gun. With 1-1/8″ staples the job went quick and easy. Another good option would be sheet rock screws, though be aware they can rust when exposed to moisture. Be sure to paint over them to avoid this problem. Nailing by itself isn’t recommended as with flexing while driving the nails may work out. By using a glue coated staple I’m hoping that issue can be avoided.
Though I was careful to get my seams as tight as possible, within days I have a small visible gap between my panels. If I don’t like the appearance once I’ve painted I plan on installing a narrow wood trim strip to hide the joint. In a van without a source of heat materials will shrink and expand in relation to the ambient humidity.
There is still plenty of trim work and small panel fitting to finish this part of the project. Much of what is left to do in the paneling portion of this build requires installation of other parts of the project before I can finish the panelng. I will be insulating and paneling the interior of both the side slider door and the rear doors further into the project as well. I also plan on paneling the interior bulkhead that provides access to the cab. When it’s all done I expect the van to be a nice cozy and quiet portable residence that will be both comfortable and functional.