Designing and building a complete set of interior cabinets for my camper van conversion
Before I go into detail on building the interior cabinets for my camper conversion, I have to confess to having the distinct advantage of being a Cabinetmaker by trade! That said, nothing I have done here is beyond the capability of anyone with reasonable woodworking skills and access to even the most basic power tools so my skillset in this regard just made this part of the conversion quicker for me.
I opted for 15mm MDF for building the cabinets and finished everything off with a carbon fibre effect vehicle wrap and knock on t-trim edging for practicality and to achieve a factory finish look. The T-trim edging also makes it really easy to finish off the edges of panels and doors, and allows for a lot of leeway with measurements and final fitting; I love this stuff! It’s easy to see why it features in almost every professional campervan and boat interior I’ve looked at. The T-trim is really easy to use, although the same can’t be said of the Carbon Fibre vinyl, which I will cover in another article. The worktop surface is laminated chipboard finished with a matching laminate edging, although T-trim could also be used for this edge if you prefer (and would be more durable in the long run). The laminate is readily available from any kitchen cabinet supplier.
The first step is to measure the interior of the van and decide where everything would be positioned. You will see from the photos that I didn’t try to re-invent the wheel when it came to my layout and my interior looks a lot like most of the other camper conversions you will find online. The simple reason for this is that it’s a layout that works well and has been tried and tested many times over by other people so I didn’t feel the need to be different for the sake of being different.
A surprising aspect of building the cabinets and fittings was the relatively regular shape of the interior of the van. In the Primastar at least, it’s mostly right angles and square edges, the need to cut curves and profiles was very minimal which made the whole process much easier than you would imagine.
I also opted to build my own Rock and Roll style bed (full details of this in a separate article), so the base for this formed an integral part of the cabinet work.
I chose 15mm MDF for several reasons;
- It’s easy to work with and readily available.
- It’s (marginally) lighter than 18mm MDF and Plywood.
- Campervan fittings such as locks, catches and trim are more readily available for 15mm than for 18mm materials.
- The surface finish is better suited to the Carbon Fibre vinyl I intended to use as a finish.
- It’s cheap!
I allowed for a wardrobe/hanging space over the wheel arch and a single, bottom hinged door under the sink and hob. Behind the drivers seat, an opening was left for the fridge which was also stepped forward slightly to allow for the depth of the fridge unit, to allow for a larger work surface and also to add a bit of visual appeal to the units overall.
The panels were cut with a plunge saw on a guide rail (a rail saw is a bit of a luxury, if you don’t have access to one, any circular saw will do). The door openings were carefully marked and cut with a fine blade in a jigsaw. The door panels are cut from separate material to approximately 40mm bigger than the opening (allowing a margin of 20mm margin all round) and fitted onto the cabinet with flush fitting hinges. There are other options for specialist hinges available online but in my case I just used standard flush hinges from a hardware supplier.
Once all of the panels were cut, everything was assembled in the van to check for fit and finish. At this stage, the MDF still had to be finished with the vinyl, so this was just a ‘dry run’ to make sure all was as intended before being removed again for final finishing. With the plywood floor already in place, fitting the cabinets was as simple as screwing the into place with metal angle brackets in the floor and a few into the sides to hold everything securely in place.
The only tricky part to my cabinet arrangement was the rounded corners at each side of the fridge unit. I used a piece 25mm wooden quarter-round trim to achieve this, and fixed it into place from behind with wooden blocks. A simpler approach to this would be to use a purpose made aluminium corner trim such as those available from Kiravans.co.uk. This corner arrangement also allows for the front panel to be removed or replaced at any stage if a fridge of a different size is ever fitted.
Cutting the worktop is a bit trickier than working with the MDF and the best way to approach this is to mark the shape and cut from the underside with a very sharp saw blade to minimise chipping of the laminate. I cut all of the straight lines with the rail saw and then cut the profile and corners.
The worktop is one of the few areas where cutting a profile is necessary because of he way it fits into the window opening. Do make sure I had a really good fit, I first made a template from 6mm plywood and transferred the final shape to the worktop before cutting. It’s worth taking the time to do this as it allows for a lot of trial and error in the fitting and results in a really tight fit and professional finish. The worktop is fitted to the cabinets with a few metal angle brackets from underneath.