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To use furring strips or not to use furring strips. That seems to be a question that many people ask when building a custom conversion van.
The answer, of course, is to do whatever you feel is right for you. There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to customizing a van so that it can serve as a camper.
My choice was to use furring strips in my build. There are a few reasons that I chose to do this.
- Furring strips create a consistent place to screw in the finished wall and ceiling products. Once you install them, you will have consistent strips of wood that make it easier to attach the finishing product to.
- They create a more secure hold. As long as you bolt the furring strips in tightly, the wall can be screwed in nicely to the furring strips creating a very strong and secure bond.
- It allows a little more space for insulation & wiring. You wouldn’t want to put the ceiling and walls directly on the metal because you need a buffer from the metal of the van. This buffer allows you to insulate and also gives you more room to run any wiring you may need.
- It allows you to use fewer screws. It’s good to minimize the number of screw holes you put in your van. Anytime you drill holes, you are opening that area up for possible rust issues in the future.
A lot of van builders use self-tapping screws that go directly into the metal of the van. I am not a big fan of this approach and I tried to avoid this.
The approach that I used allowed me to bolt the furring strips to my metal van using the holes that were already there. Then, other products screwed into the furring strips.
This is similar to using wall studs in a house. They provide wall space and also a place in which to screw in the finished wall or ceiling. I wanted to try to emulate this as much as possible although using much smaller studs.
Promaster Furring Strips
If you own a RAM Promaster, installing furring strips is pretty simple. The layout of the van has the walls and ceiling fairly straight and flat so it’s easy to install the furring strips onto the van supports.
Some of the other vans on the market are more rounded so it makes it more difficult to install straight pieces of wood.
Parts & Tools I Used
There isn’t a lot to putting furring strips up in a van. The main things you need are the furring strips themselves.
I used a few different types of wood for these. My ceiling was outfitted with 1×3 inch Poplar wood. On the sidewalls, I mainly used 1×2 inch furring strips that you can pick up at any Home Depot or other home improvement centers.
Beyond that, only a few tools are needed, depending on the approach you’ll use to mount them.
I used rivet nuts to secure the furring strips in various places around the van.
If you are working with a Ram Promaster, you will need a few different sizes throughout the van. The main size you’ll use is 10-24. You’ll also use 1/4″-20 and 5/16″-18. I used 5/16″-18 in the hex holes that are in the side ribs of the van and they worked perfectly.
If you have these three sizes, you’ll have everything you need to make it work.
To install these rivet nuts, you will need a tool. The tool is the most expensive part but it’s so worth it. There are other ways that you can mount rivet nuts without the tool but I highly suggest you use the proper tool for the job if you want to make sure the nuts are secure and won’t come out in the future.
The Tacklife Rivet Nut tool worked great for me and it allowed me to install the furring strips without any problem.
I used a combination of bolts in various sizes that would fit each rivet nut size. Mainly I used 1 1/4″ long bolts in #10-24, 1/4″-20 and 5/16″-18 sizes.
I installed all of my furring using bolts as well as pocket holes. I did end up using a handful of self-tapping sheet metal screws for added support in some areas.
Van Conversion Ceiling
I started on my ceiling since I wanted to first install the ceiling and then work my way down. The ceiling was difficult for me to figure out in the beginning because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to do it.
My main concern was keeping enough headroom in the van so that you could easily stand and walk around. Adding too much stuff to the ceiling, along with the floor would take away some of the headroom.
In the end, I used 1 x 3 inch Poplar wood for the furring that attached directly to the roof supports. I used three separate pieces on each support so that I could more easily mirror the curvature of the roof.
This allowed me to create a nice set of furring strips on the ceiling while keeping the ceiling as high as possible.
You could use one solid piece of wood for each roof support but this would shave a few inches off the ceiling in the middle since there wouldn’t be as much curvature.
The tricky part was the front support and the rear support. These required a bit different of an approach to accomplish.
The first support beam located in the front of the van is used to attach the headliner in the front of the van. To expose and make use of this support beam, you have to cut some of this headliner off.
My solution was to cut some of the material off on the side and then attach my wood to the angled side of the support beam.
Once that wood was attached, using rivet nuts, I was able to attach my normal furring strips to those wood locations along the beam.
It’s tricky to do but if you take your time and think it through, it’s doable and mine ended up working out great.
Similar to the front, the rear support beam required some ingenuity to make it work. The main issue here was figuring out how to align this furring strip with the rest of them throughout the van.
There wasn’t a beam to work with in the back so I had to create multiple pieces of wood and bolt them to the rear ceiling wall. I bolted them using Rivet Nuts in the holes that were already there.
The furring strips were screwed into these pieces of wood from the side, creating a strip of furring across the rear similar to what I had done on the other beams throughout the van.
The pieces of wood that I used to bolt to the rear wall also will serve another purpose. They will become the supports on which I install the finished trim piece after all is done.
After all the furring strips were in place, I could then run wires, clean up the insulation, add Reflectix and then begin working on my finished ceiling.
Van Conversion Walls
Furring strips on my van conversion walls were a little different. In my case, I did parts of the van as needed and didn’t do the areas that didn’t need it.
Many people install furring strips over the entire walls when it is empty. This is fine if it works for you but I opted to do it differently so that I could save a little space, work effort, money, and weight.
I installed the furring strips where I would need them and this included areas like the upper cabinets, wall areas and other furniture areas that needed something to attach to.
Most areas received at least some furring except for the garage area.
The trickiest part of this was the rear sidewalls of the van above the bed area. It would’ve been easy to create furring strips that went straight down but instead, I wanted more headroom when laying in bed so I had to do something a little different.
My furring strips in this location start at the top and then go straight down just below the upper cabinet area. After that, I transitioned to a wider layout allowing for more bed space.
This made a big difference in creating more headroom and making it a more comfortable place to sleep.
I consider furring strips to be a necessary part of properly converting a camper van. If you skip this step, you will need to install different parts of your van build directly to the metal framing of the van.
This may work for you but you may also come to a point during your build when you will have wish you had done it differently.
You will also be opening yourself up the possibility of walls being crooked and other non-professional looking areas. The furring strips allow you to create a straight base that you can work with so as long as your furring is straight, your other items will mount to it and look professional.
My advice would be to think it through and only use it as needed. Also, try and make use of the holes that are already in your van by using Rivet Nuts or Plus Nuts. These can help keep your items tight and secure and built to last.