Introduction: Cedar Paneling for Van Interior

Picture of Cedar Paneling for Van Interior

We love skiing. We love mountain life. We love the feel of rustic cabins. We love the smell of cedar. We wanted a real cabin on wheels. This means there was only one material we wanted to use for the walls and ceiling of the van: CEDAR PANELS!

The process of applying cedar panels to the walls of the van took about 4 days with 2 people working in the van. Cedar paneling is not a cheap choice (about 25$ for 14 sq feet), however this is a choice driven by aesthetics and sensual perception. Cedar is also a great wood for a mobile ski cabin since it has a great reaction to humidity (and smells amazing when we boil water in the morning for tea and coffee). For the whole van, it was about 300$ to cover the walls.

This is our third step in the conversion of our Sprinter van. See the two previous steps here: Insulation and Storage platform.

UPDATE: Since then, we have made some progress on the van. Here is the next step: Bed-Table-Benches unit and its cushions!

DISCLAIMER: This is the first van conversion we are doing, so this is certainly a process of trial and error! We tried to describe at every step the reasons why we made the choice materials we made, so hopefully you can see that we used common sense to design this process. I am an industrial designer and design researcher and my boyfriend is a landscape architect with some knowledge in wood working. We see this project as an experiment and as a wonderful place to try out some ideas about design, materials and fabrication.

For an overview of the work we did, take a look at our timelapse videos!

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

You will need:

  • Cedar panels (8 feet long, 4 x 5/16)
  • Pine studs (8 feet long, 1 x 2)
  • Screws (8 1 1/4)
  • Nails (5/8 (gauge 18))
  • Wood glue

Step 2: Tools

Picture of Tools

You will need:

  • A mitter saw
  • A drill with a metal bit of 1/8
  • A screw driver
  • A nail gun with 5/8 nails (gauge 18)
  • A small table saw
  • A measuring tape
  • A set square

Again, thanks to the Vancouver Tool Library for most of the tools!

Step 3: Start on the Small Wall - Install Studs

Picture of Start on the Small Wall - Install Studs

We did not want to attach all the panels directly to the metal walls in the van because it would have been quite difficult and fragile, so we installed vertical studs (1x2 inches) on which we would then be able to nail the cedar panels.

The van has a natural curve and taper towards the ceiling. This meant that we could not use one stud to go directly from floor to ceiling. While looking at the structure of the van, we decided that the easiest would be to separate it into three sections, based on where the metal studs are. We measured the three sections and cut studs accordingly (12 inches for the bottom, 34 for the middle, and 14 for the top). Our goal was to place them as much as possible at equal distances (about 16 inches). However, some details in the van required us to shift some studs around a bit.

  1. With the mitter saw, cut the studs to dimension.
  2. With the drill (and a friend holding the studs), make a hole (pre-drill) that goes through the stud and the metal sheet of the van wall. Make sure you are drilling only the metal stud and that nothing is coming out through the exterior wall of the van. We used a metal bit of 1/8 for screws of gauge 8.
  3. Once the holes are done, change your bit on the drill to screw the screws in the pre-holes.

Step 4: Install Panels

Picture of Install Panels

We started at the bottom, placing the first panel just on top of the carpet on the platform. Again, since the van is not straight, we measured the specific length for each panel. We used the nail gun to attach each panel, by placing a nail on each stud. After the first one, we placed the subsequent ones with the help of the tongue and groove form. We used a nail only at the top of the panel, close to the tongue so that the nail would be hidden by the groove of the next one (see photos). We continued until we could not add another one at the top.

Step 5: Leave Some Space for Existing Lights

Picture of Leave Some Space for Existing Lights

Once we reached the top of the small wall, we had to cut out some space to let the light shine through. We used a hand saw to cut the details.

Step 6: Now for the Long Wall

Picture of Now for the Long Wall

On the other side, we used the same strategy. We needed to make sure, however, that when we are starting at the bottom on the floor of the van, that when we would reach the platform, the next panel would also fit. We took our time to place panels without nailing them to measure precisely how much we needed to shave off of the bottom panel to arrive flush at the top. We used a table saw to cut the panel on the length.

Once again, we measured the length needed for each new panel, to make sure it was the proper size. Since the wall was longer than 10 feet, we had to use a full panel, plus a section of an additional one. We made sure the junction point was on a stud, to be able to nail the ends of both panels there. We alternated the long and the short ones, like bricks.

Step 7: Secure the Wires

Picture of Secure the Wires

We wanted to keep the wires running at the top of the walls. They were already bundled together, so we just added c-clamps on the studs to hold them in place.

Step 8: The Ceiling

Picture of The Ceiling

For the ceiling, we added 1 x 2 pine studs to the existing ribs in the ceiling in the van. This is the same idea as for the walls, we install those ribs so that we can nail the cedar panels right in there. Again, since the ceiling is not perfectly flat, we used 3 sections of 1 x 2 to follow the arc. We used one of 18 inches for the center, then 2 of 17 inches for the sides. This was easy to install by drilling in the ceiling rib and screwing the pine studs in.

The two extremities (just behind the driver's seat and just above the back door) required a bit more attention. It was not possible to add the studs flat to the ends, so we placed them on the vertical profile on the side of the walls. When doing this, we made sure that the bottom of the stud was aligned with the bottom of the other studs so that the cedar panels would follow a nice straight line.

Once the studs are installed, it is time to start adding the panels. We started in the middle, with one panel. There was not really a straight forward way to check if it was straight, so we eye balled it (with a few extra measures taken from each side). We followed the same strategy as for the walls, by adding, panel by panel on each side of the central panel. We did a bit of découpage around the ceiling vent, but nothing fancy. We also did some découpage for the last panel by the door.

Step 9: Top Corners

Picture of Top Corners

The final step was to create the junction between the walls and the ceiling, to cover the crack left there. We also wanted this last piece to be removable, if we ever needed to change, add or remove wires. We measured the length of the pieces first and cut them with the miter saw.

We used a small finition table saw to cut 45 degrees angles on each side. The small saw worked really well since it is quite delicate and did not split the cedar panels.

We predrilled the panels and used small screws to attach to the wall.

Step 10: All Done, Ready to Go!

Picture of All Done, Ready to Go!

This is it!

We have been using the van for a year with the wall panels now. We were afraid that the nails would become loose after a while, because of the vibration when driving. We are pretty impressed with how sturdy it is and how this is working quite well in the end. We were also curious about how it might crack or squeak when driving (because we are super aware of all the noises in the van, and easily irritated!). The walls themselves are good and do not make any noises. We did notice, however, some squeaking where the panels meet the side of the bottom platform (end to end). It would be best to always leave at least 1/8 between the end of the panels and any grounded furniture piece.

We were also concerned with how the wood would expand and shrink with temperature change (skiing at -15 deg celsius, and visiting interior BC at + 35 deg celsius), but the wood seems to be taking it great! And, a great plus, when you boil water in a cold morning for tea and coffee, the van actually smells like cedar saunas!

Any questions? Comments?


NickS18 (author)2015-05-15

This is great info for my ongoing van conversion. Did the wood come sealed or did you add any? Have you had any issues with it expanding and contracting as you change elevation? I love the as-is look, but I live in Colorado and I'm concerned about elevation change warping the wood.

AudreyDesjardins (author)NickS182015-05-15

Hi NickS18. Thanks for your comment! The wood is cedar and did not come sealed (I think). We did not apply any sealant, die, varnish or oil to it. We have installed the wood over a year and a half ago now and it seems to hold up pretty well. We live in Vancouver, so not very much elevation for us here. However, we traveled to Utah (Salt Lake) twice now and we have not seen changes to the wood. We were more concerned about the change in temperature than elevation in fact. We can see a difference in how the van's walls move (very slight and subtle change) depending on the exposure to the sun or in the shade, and definitely when we go from snowy areas to more temperate areas. We were nervous this would have an effect on the wood, but everything is still all good! Hope this helps!

Good luck on your project!!!

JeffE63 (author)AudreyDesjardins2017-06-09

How has the unsealed wood held up over time? I'm in the same boat as it sounds like you are, going from temperate to sunny to snowy and back again. I'd love to keep the look and smell of the un-sealed cedar if it holds up.

crhays21 (author)2015-10-04

Have you noticed any extensive swelling (or shrinking) when you are in dryer vs wetter climates?

I am extremely interested in doing this for my van but I am worried about swelling and contracting between different places. For example I have lots of family in the Pacific North West and will be visiting them often but I currently live in Phoenix. But I am worried about doing this job and having cracks from swelling and shrinking just based off of the difference in the climates.

Hi crhays21,

We have experienced temperatures from -15 Celsius to +40 Celsius and from super dry in the Okanagan Valley to very wet and damp around Vancouver and the coast in the Pacific North West. After almost 2 years of traveling with the finished walls, we have not had any issues with swelling or shrinking. I guess it is much more subtle than what we expected. Also, the tongue-and-groove design of the panels probably helps with the small changes in dimension and accommodates for it.

Hope this helps and have fun with your van conversion!

Such a cool project, would you say everything is still the same even now two years after your last comment?

Thank you so much for the speedy reply, I am really excited about this project.

Lazebed (author)2017-01-23

Hey guys, this is an awesome tutorial!! Couple quick questions for ya:
-how many packages of the cedar panels did you get? How many came in one package?
-how many pine studs did you buy?
-did you find the wood screws to bolt the studs to the van walls were a good choice or would you have preferred to use wood to metal screws?
-lastly, did you center the first cedar panel at the bottom or start flush left/right?

Thanks for your help!!

alexveenbaas (author)2016-10-04

Hey guys, ripper job here! Looks amazing. This has inspired me to do it with my 83 Hiace. I've got a few questions (also related to your insulation "how to"):

1. Do you think that 5.2" width (rather than your 4") panels would suffice?
2. Would the process be much or any different if I was having to block out some windows?

3. Did you only use the foil insulation for the floor? And would fibreglass insulation work for the roof? Rather than Durofoam (not sure what it's called here in Australia?)

4. Also, did you guys leave a gap between panels? Or did you make them flush against one another?

Hi alexveenbaas,

Thanks! I think that 5 inches wide panels would be fine, you just have to figure out where it will really bend (if it does) on the wall. For windows, I think maybe you just need to consider what people would see from the outside, so think about the first material you put in the window before the insulation. For the floor, we just put one layer of the foil bubble wrap. There wasn't a lot of room for anything else, so if you want to add more, you would need to elevate the floor a bit. And last: the panels are tongue and groove, so they are right next (into) each other.

Hope your project is going well!

unbottled19208306 (author)2016-07-09

This is an idea Ive been tossing around in the brain. Has this added much weight compared to using a big sheet of ugly board? This looks much nicer than stapling a big board up!

Hi! I guess it depends on the big board you would choose for this! It for sure added some weight, but cedar is a pretty light wood and the panels were only 0.25 inches thick, so it wasn't that bad. Hope your project is going well!

DanN75 (author)2016-07-01

Have you all attached anything to the walls since you installed the panels? How do you think it would hold up to shelving or hooks etc?

AudreyDesjardins (author)DanN752016-07-08

Hi! Sorry for the slow reply!

We have attached a few hooks, but no serious shelves yet. For the hooks, we screwed into the studs (1 x 2 inches pine studs) that hold the cedar. These are pretty solid since they were screwed straight into the metal frames. We know where these are based on where we can still see the nails holding the cedars. Hope this helps!

emmatn (author)2016-05-14

Audrey, great job documenting and sharing this project. It has been an unbelievable help for me (and I'm sure countless others) in doing van conversions. Did you find the nail gun absolutely necessary, or do you think a hammer would have sufficed? I don't currently have access to one and was wondering if I could just hammer this out the old fashion way, but I think the cedar may be too delicate. Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

AudreyDesjardins (author)emmatn2016-05-14

Hey emmatn, thanks for the great comment! A hammer could work fine, but will take a lot more time! Also, you have to be careful when hammering because you might mark the cedar when you put the last hit on the nail's head. Also, I would suggest really small nails, to make sure you don't split the wood when you hammer the nails in. Have fun with your project!

dlangley2 (author)2015-10-16

Very nicely done! I'm hoping to get a Sprinter van in the spring and do something similar to this. Will definately be using this to help when the time comes.

Awesome! Hope your project is coming along :)

WatsonL1 (author)2015-10-08

Hi Audrey, I am starting my conversion on a 170 wb...I am pretty sure I am going with this style of walls and ceilings, but my one drawback I am worried about is loosing all of the interior space with the 3/4 inch this studs all around. Did you feel you lost a good bit of interior space with this choice of walls and ceilings?

Hi WatsonL1,

Great to hear you are starting a similar project!! We were worried about that as well when we realized it would take almost an inch on each side and the ceiling. But in the end, it is really worth it and doesn't feel small at all. I guess one part is that we got accustomed to the space, but also, because if feels much more cosy now, we just want to hang out in the van, no matter the size we have. What was more important for space was in figuring out the proper height of the benches and table, to make sure our heads were not too close to the ceiling and that the proportion between the bench and table was ok when sitting. Finally, the extra space with the studs also helps with the insulation of the walls, to keep us warm in winter.

Good luck with your project!

melmike60 (author)2015-09-18


I was wondering about a few things.By the way you did a beautiful job on this

1.Is the cedar smell overwhelming? I have memories of an old cedar closet at my parents’ house…

2.Does the cedar help repel insects?

3.Are you a cabinet maker by trade?

4.What are your plans to repair or replace the
cedar if it gets damaged?

5.Did you consider using an air staple gun to attach the cedar to the pine?

6.Did you install a vapor barrior (plastic sheeting) between the cedar and the insulation?

Thanks in advance,


Hi melmike60,

Here are my answers, in short:

1- The smell is not overwhelming at all. Since there is quite a bit of air circulation when we drive and when we camp (opening and closing the doors), the smell is not constrained in the van. We notice the smell mostly if we boil water for coffee or tea in the morning, as it brings out the odor more.

2- Not sure about the impact of cedar on insects.

3- We are not cabinet makers. I am an industrial designer and my partner took a 1 semester woodworking class a few years ago. We just try to design things really simply so they are easy to build.

4- It is possible to remove and replace panels (starting from the top of the wall, going down, to accommodate for the tongue and groove pattern). Up until today, we have not had any repairs to do, so it is holding on pretty good :)

5- We used a cordless nail gun ( ).

6- Yes, we installed a vapor barrier, as we present here: .

Hope this helps!

kbss (author)2015-08-03

Thanks Audrey, looks fantastic! I'm working on something similar but am worried about the noise/sound in the van due to the hard surfaced wood paneling (vs soundproofing with Dynamat or similar). Your thoughts?


AudreyDesjardins (author)kbss2015-08-04

Thanks for the kind comment :) So exciting to know that you are doing something similar!

The paneling doesn't make the sprinter loud at all we find. It is much less intense than when the van is new without any insulation or anything (where you get a lot of echo). I think the insulation we put behind the cedar paneling helped as well.

StandsWithABeer (author)2015-07-02

Stunningly beautiful!! Well done, and thank you for all your photography. too.


JeremyH8 (author)2015-04-30

HI, I was wondering if you have had any issues with the wood expanding/contracting when it is cold /hot? Did you glue the panels to the wall or just nail them?

jordan.sherman1 (author)2015-02-27

Awesome design! Btw, How did you mount the pine studs into the van's metal frame?

Thanks jodran.sherman1 ! You can look at step 3 where I explain how to install the studs. We basically predrilled holes in the metal frame and then screwed the pince studs right in!

shahinr (author)2015-01-23 doing a great job in USA & is the biggest on line store for van interiors equipment.

markus.huovinen.73 (author)2014-12-09

Hello everybody at this site. I would be interested to know what does the law say about this kind of conversions in different countrys. Here in Finland the new vans for cargo carrying purposes are sold without any taxes. If you register a new van with back full of seats, the tax is 31,5% of the new selling price. Grazy part of the law is that if you convert an old tax free (cargo) van to any kind of accommodation related purpose, you will be charged in my case about 13000€ extra tax. Somebody just converted and did conversion registration and saved 50€ for annual tax, but got 9000€ extra tax for van type change.

Can you travel in the nice panelled cabin while driving?

In my case I have to make a special conversion registration from cargo to tax free camper van with some rules for example the free standing hight inside. From 1999 year models there should be type approved seats and seat belts at every seat. Year models 1998 and before the law only applies to the front facing seats. Thats why my choice was 1998 Transit and the seats will be facing not forward. Nobody knows yet wheather it is legal to have the fire in the fire place while driving, so far no problems :)

Hi! Here, in British Columbia, Canada, we do not qualify as a motorhome because we do not have a fridge, a toilet, and an oven. In addition, we do not qualified as a modified vehicle because we did not touch the suspension, drivetrain, engine brakes, body panels, and/or fuel type. So the only difference we have with a normal van is in the Body Style, because we had windows installed in the side door and back doors. We did this with people who are experts and were able to provide a certificate that their work was complying to the BC regulations. So, there are no changes to the insurance we pay, nor to the type of vehicle we register the van under. This would change if we add seats in the van for more passengers.

markus.huovinen.73 (author)2014-12-09

Nice to know that there are someone else too out there

This is so great markus.huovinen.73! I would love to see photos of the inside!! Do you have any?

Nothing publishable yet:) My project is at the stage of "mobile slum". Altough the atmosphere is nice inside at 60-80 degrees celcius while the outside temperature drops down to -15, or when heavy rain falls to snowy environment and you get all your gear wet.

For legal reasons I am not yet allowed to install any furnitures, because the van must be theoretically in cargo transport service.

I have plans to make the sauna side like your van and have a steamproof movable divider wall between the "steam room" and the bed area. The wall will be movable and the head sides of beads will be tiltable according the space needed in sauna or the beds used in full length. The steam room will be dried from the back door and then the door in the divider wall will be opened to provide dry heat to the side where the beds are located.

awoodcarver (author)2014-12-05

when my mom and step dad got married they bought a house and got ceder to do closets 39 years later they have both passed and the ceder was sitting in the closets still ..I took it all and made my sisters chests wife calls them hopeless chests or something like that ...price of ceder and all wood was a lot cheaper then ..I may have enough to do the camper shell on my F150 if not then some chairs tables and benches for the wife's teddy bears ....I did have to touch the wood with a planer ....very lightly do very nice work

So good to see how our project can spur memories and inspire others to share their stories. Materials do hold the stories they live and can be such strong reminders of past memories. Thanks for sharing!

lo'brien1 (author)2014-12-06

Now that's a panel van!

Jobar007 (author)2014-12-04

That looks really good! I agree with you, the smell of cedar is really amazing. The kind of stuff that revives the soul.

It surely does! Thanks for the comment!

psauvignac (author)2014-12-02

Superbe !!!!!!!
Je dois faire l'électricité de mon t5 ensuite j'attaque exactement la même chose ! Surtout que je veux aussi l'utiliser poir le ski de rando etc donc je dois bien etudier l'isolation.
Bravo pour ce magnifique boulot

Merci beaucoup psauvignac! Et amusez-vous bien dans la conversion de votre t5!!! De notre côté, nous n'avons pas encore fait l'électricité. Que pensez-vous installer? Panneaux solaires? Allez-vous documenter le processus?

Je ne pense pas documenter car je prends toutes les infos sur t5 zone...(et mon anglais technique n'est pas bon du tout...).

Qu'avez vous fait pour la porte latérale ? vous avez aussi isolé + bois ? cela n'est pas trop épais pour la faire coulisser?

Ah cool, je ne connaissais pas le t5 Zone. Pour la porte latérale, nous n'avons rien fait encore. Nous avons fait installer une fenêtre, et la partie du bas avait déjà un panneau d'environ 1/8 de pouce qui la couvrait. Nous voulons l'ouvrir et mettre de l'isolation, mais ce n'était pas une priorité! Je ne suis pas certaine si l'épaisseur nous permettrait d'ajouter les panneaux de cèdre. À voir.

amaclean4 (author)2014-12-02

gonna try this in the back of my landrover defender 110 should look awsome just like yours

Awesome! Let us know if you have questions along the process!

sjurrens03 (author)2014-12-02

why did you choose to use the 1x2 studs instead of some plywood strips?

Hi sjurrens03. Thanks for your question. We used 1x2 studs for 2 reasons. First because the strength studs have in the length dimension (they are pretty strong even if bended a bit), compared to the same dimension in a plywood. The second reason is more practical: we don't have a band saw, so cutting strips of plywood would have been a lot of work and more of a hassle. The 1x2 studs were already the right dimension, we just needed to cut them in length.

Megazord (author)2014-12-02

Wow, this really is an awesome conversion ! If I can get my hand onto some not too expensive cedar panels I'll probably do the same with mine.

Now you just have to show us some pictures of your travels :)

Thank you!! We will for sure have tons of pictures of our travels, but also some more pictures about the rest of the conversion... stay tuned!!

About This Instructable




Bio: I am an industrial designer, an interaction design researcher, a painter, a jeweller, a skier, a camping enthusiast, and I just love to make stuff!
More by AudreyDesjardins:How to sew cushions for a camper vanBed, Table, and Benches for Camper Van - All in One!Cedar paneling for van interior
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