The most important consideration for our van build was, of course, the layout of the floor plan. We chose a Sprinter with a 144” wheelbase and high roof because its length allows you to park in regular parking spots, while its height allows both of us to stand up, even though Jakob is 6’2”.
The 144” wheelbase allows for 130” of cargo space behind the driver’s seat, and about 70” of width.
We looked for inspiration on commercial build websites (for example Sportsmobile, OutsideVan), but none of the professional builds really met our requirements very well, not to mention the price tag on these puppies! For our van, we knew we wanted the following:
- An 80” long bed (queen size length) so Jakob’s feet wouldn’t hang over. This meant that we would have to put the bed in length-wise. We did consider installing flares but even then a sideways bed would be too short.
- The bed needed to be installed permanently rather than as a fold-out couch. We didn’t want to have to shuffle things around before going to bed every day.
- We wanted to store our bikes inside the van. That meant the cargo area has to provide 35”+ of height for the bikes to slide underneath. Further the bikes need about 65″ of length, so that left 15″ for drawers in the front of the bed frame.
- Having flexibility to have a seat area for more than just 2 people was another requirement, so we’d need to get a little creative with this. Our solution was a pull out storage box that doubles as a seating bench underneath the bed.
- We didn’t want to obstruct the doorway with furniture.
- Saw(s) (We happened to have a circular saw, jig saw and miter)
- Power drill
- Measuring tape (duh)
- Pocket screw jig (Amazon) – best thing we bought for the whole van build! Worth every penny.
- Pocket screws
- 2 ½ inch / 3 inch wood screws
- 2×3 inch pine studs
- 1×2 inch pine studs
- 1×3 inch pine studs
- Four 1” L brackets
- ½” Birch veneer
- ⅜” Plywood
- Handles (Amazon)
- Door Knobs (Pop–Out Knob Latches)
- Locks for the box (Amazon)
- Rollers for the box (Low-Profile Casters)
Once we had an idea of how we’d lay everything out, we needed to figure out how to exactly build it all, starting with the bed frame. We got inspired by another DIY van build and their awesome Instructables guide (thank you!) and time lapse video for the bed frame construction. We used essentially the same materials/structure but changed the measurements to fit our layout and with a few tweaks.
The bed frame construction is built from 2×3 inch pine studs, attached with 2-½ inch / 3 inch wood screws. We followed these instructions in terms of technique, but changed the frame height to be a total of 39” (in order to fit our mountain bikes underneath). We also changed the design slightly by making the driver’s side “frame box” wider than the passenger side “frame box”.
The first step was making 2 frame boxes that are 80” long and 39” high, with 5 vertical support beams. These are then made into boxes that are about 20” (driver side) and 10” (passenger side) wide. We worked around the wheel wells the same way as in the Instructables description. All the pieces were screwed together using wood screws, we did not use glue in addition. In the front, the outside of the boxes don’t extend all the way along the wall – the driver side box ends at the window frame, the passenger box ends at the sliding door.
Once the two box frames were entirely complete, we used 1” L-brackets to attach them to the floor, 1 near each corner for a total of 4 attachments. We didn’t attach the bed frame to the sides of the van for several reasons: the screws hold a significant amount of weight and we didn’t want to attach the frame in to too many spots to reduce the stress on it while the van warps during driving. We made the frames incredibly snug so when putting the L-brakes in, it wasn’t easy. The frame is further held in place by the frame of the car that bulges in a bit on the passenger side right behind the sliding door, so it won’t slide forward.
Once the bed frame was locked down, we put 8 cross sectional supports in between the two frames, 3 of them are 2x3s, the remaining 5 are vertical 1x3s. We put them in so that the longer side is vertical. These cross sectional supports used two 2” screws at each attachment point with the 2 Frame Boxes.
Finally, we covered the bed frame with ⅜” plywood, which is on the lighter side but sufficiently sturdy. It’s a good idea to cover this with polyurethane, although we only did this for part of the plywood. We added 2 hidden compartments underneath the plywood cover where we either store electronics or bike tools and other odds and ends. We cut an opening out of the ⅜” plywood and using the pocket jig, added a floor to the compartment between the cross beams of the bed frame using ½” birch veneer. (One in the front of the bed and one at the back).
In hindsight we probably would have preferred to connect all the pieces of the bedframe structure using pocket screws, as it would have made assembly much easier. The way it’s set up with the screws, it’s difficult to change things once the frame is in place.
Once the structural frame was complete, we added shelves in the two side frames using ½” birch veneer, covered in polyurethane. We used vertical 1×2” pine studs between the posts as supports which the plywood shelves rest on. It’s definitely a little tricky getting into this space with a power drill once the frame was in, so we’d recommend doing this before you put the two side frames into the van. (I hit my forehead at one point on a corner and it started bleeding).
Next was putting the safe in. We actually put this in way later and were lucky to be able to fit it in… Very lucky. It’s on the left side of the van where it’s difficult to find! To secure it, we carefully measured and marked and checked and triple checked where we’d drill a hole into the floor of the van… and did just that. Using a stainless steel bolt and split washer, we bolted the safe into the frame and used sealant to make sure it’s watertight.
Final steps were the drawers and storage box, facing towards the ‘living area’ underneath the bed.
While drawers sound somewhat easy, don’t be fooled!! Leveling them was a pain, and Jakob spent hours (literally) working on just that. Make sure your 2×3” pine studs are as straight as possible, although inevitably the wood will warp a bit.
First we decided to make the box about 18” high because that’s what the height of the chairs we were sitting on in Nikki’s parents house and it was a comfortable height. This dictated the height of the drawers. But back to the box. This is one of our favorite features in the van. First, it proves a ton of convenient storage. Second, it functions as a bench when eating in the van. We can swivel the two front seats around and with the box, we have enough seating for 4 people. It was constructed using ½” birch veneer covered in poly and attached using pocket screws. There’s a middle divide to provide more support when someone sits on it – especially Jakob! We used two simple 2” hinges from Lowes for the lid. The hinges are offset by 3” from the back edge of the box so that the box does not need to be pulled out all the way when opening. We put the entire box on 6 casters from Lee Valley Tools. To lock the box down while driving, we attached a chest latch (Amazon) with the male piece on the front of the box and the female part on the 2×3 inch frame. So far, these locks have been solid and convenient.
Again, the height dimensions of the drawer were dictated by the height of the bed minus the box height. Leaving the front face of the drawers to be ~ 19 ½”x 9”. The total depth of the drawers we wanted to be 15″, so that we would have 65″ of space for the bikes underneath the bed. So based on these requirements, the drawers themselves were 18 ½”x 14 ½” x 8” (WxDxH).
We needed something to attached the drawer rails to so we enclosed the area where the drawers would be and put another board down the middle that would separate the 2 columns of drawers, providing attachment points for the drawer rails. (Sorry, it’s just easier for me to show via pictures.)
For the slides, we used 14″ Soft Close Ball Bearing Full Extension Drawer Slides from Home Depot. These were then attached to the ½” birch side panels that were put in to surround the drawers and the one placed in the middle. Again, Jakob spent hours leveling these – I don’t have the patience.
Given these are forward facing drawers, the locking mechanism you use is especially important. Originally we only used roller locks, and severely underestimated the force with which these drawers can fly open (Leika will attest to this!) Needless to say, we revised it and used these Pop–Out Knob Latches, from McMaster Carr (THESE ARE AWESOME). The box below the drawers would function as a bench when pulled out so we didn’t want the drawers to have handles that stuck out and these have a great locking mechanism and don’t stick out, so they were perfect! The locking mechanism has an L shaped latch that the handle hooks onto. In order for these to work with our drawers, we needed to put 1×2” pine studs as cross beams above all the drawers to which to attach the latches.
Last but not least, our mattress! It’s literally the most comfortable mattress we’ve ever had, and have turned down offers to crash in spare bedroom or couches in favor of this. It’s also the cheapest! The space we had for the mattress was somewhere between a Queen and Full size (80″x50″) so using a traditional mattress was out of the question. Also, given the bed frame was already 39″ high, we wanted as thin a mattress as possible to allow us to sit on the bed without hitting our heads, but clearly not sacrifice comfort. We opted to go with a 5.3 Cloud9 King 4 Inch Memory Foam Mattress (Amazon) and cut it down to size. We ended up getting the king size since it was cheaper than the queen. The foam is easy to cut with a knife.
Well, and that’s about it. Again, writing isn’t exactly my strong suit but we’re happy to provide more details or answer any questions!
What we learned / important things to consider / things we should have done differently:
- Once the bed frame is in, you’re stuck with the floor you choose (the bed frame is not removable). Make sure it’s durable and the way you want it, you won’t be able to change much about it later on. Unless you buy a new van. Similar to getting married.
- Make sure to pick the straightest wood you can possibly find, it will help a lot in the build process. Pick the straightest out of your selection of straight studs for the parts where you’re adding drawers.
- There are no straight lines in a Sprinter frame. Mercedes didn’t want this conversion to be too easy.