Introduction: Storage Platform for the Back of Your Camper Van

This is the next step we did in our sprinter van, after doing the insulation for the walls.

Since we have a Sprinter with the high roof, we have quite some space in the vertical dimension to organize some storage. Our goal is to have an elevated platform in the back area of the van where we can have a ton of storage under, and have our sofa/bed/table on top of that.

In this instructable, we show you how to make that back platform. When considering a comfortable height to build that storage platform, we settled on 17 inches, since it gives enough room in the sofa area, as well as storage space under. Most of the things we will store there are skis and snowboards, clothing, and camping gear. It is up to you to see what you want to store and what dimensions you might need.

To build the platform, we mainly used pine 2x3 studs, 1/2 inch plywood and carpet tiles. These are easy to find materials and not too expensive either. We are aware that this is adding some weight to the van, however, since it is a rear-wheel drive, we think this might actually be a good thing, especially for driving in snow! There are probably lighter ways to build this back platform, but considering our skills, budget, timeframe and accessibility to materials and tools, this was the best compromise for us.

It took us about 2 days to build the platform with 2-3 people. It cost about 100$ of materials (excluding the carpet tiles that we got for free).

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.

UPDATE: Since then, we have been doing some good progress on the van. Here are the next steps: Cedar panel walls, Bed-Table-Benches unit, and the cushions for the bed/benches !


If you are curious about the process, take a look at our timelapse videos!!


Step 1: Materials

You will need:
  • 16 x 2x3 pine studs
  • 3 boxes of 150 wood screws (8 3 1/2)
  • 2 4x8 feet plywood sheets (1/2 inch thick)
  • 16 auto adhesive carpet tiles (18 inches wide)
  • 4 brackets to secure the platform down and screws
  • L shape oak bracket

Step 2: Tools

You will need:

  • a small screwdriver
  • a drill with a 1/8 bit
  • a mitter saw
  • a few C clamps
  • a measuring tape
  • a set square
  • an exacto knife
  • a ruler
  • a friend to help you

We were able to find most of the tools we needed at the Vancouver Tool Library! Big thanks to their team who have made our project possible!

Step 3: Frame the Wheels

The first step is to create two long boxes that will go over the wheels and will support the full length of the platform. We use 2x3 for this because it is strong enough, but at the same time is not as big or heavy as 2x4. We are also using 3 1/2 inches screws so that we can screw on the long side of the studs.

The large rectangle:
  1. Start with a rectangle with 2 long studs (72 inches) and 2 short ones (11 inches). Use the mitter saw to cut the pieces to dimension. Use the drill to pre-drill holes before you put the screw in. Screw the pieces together. We used 2 screws on each attachment point to make sure the pieces did not rotate.
  2. Cut three more pieces that are 11 inches long to place with equal distance to make little separations in the long rectangle. Screw them in place from both ends.
The small rectangle bases:
  1. Measure the space you have before the wheel and after the wheel. From those dimensions, you can create two c-shape structures that you will add to the bottom around the wheels.
  2. To do so, cut a piece on the length you just measured. Then cut 2 pieces that are the length between the large rectangle and the wall (7 1/2 inches).
  3. Screw those pieces together in a c-shape.
  4. Screw this piece to the large rectangle at a 90 degree angle.
The additional vertical studs:
  1. At every corner, add a vertical stud of 11 inches.
The third long stud:
  1. Cut another piece of 72 inches. Place it on top of the new vertical studs.
  2. Screw it in.
Finally, the small top studs:
  1. Cut 3 more horizontal studs of 7 1/2 inches. Place them between the two top long studs at equal distances.
  2. Screw them in.
Do the same thing for the other side, except you have to mirror the pieces to fit the wheel. We also had to change a bit the pieces to accommodate for the step near the side door as well as the middle metal stud on the long wall of the van. These are small details that will change depending on your van.

Step 4: Bridge the Two Sides

Once the two boxes are made for each side, we bridged the two sides together with 48 inches long 2x3. We started with the two top extreme ones (at each end of the platform) to make sure that they were well positioned.

Again, we pre-drilled our holes.

We placed 5 studs on the top, because these will support the weight of the future benches, table, and friends coming to visit the van! On the bottom side, we placed 2, on at each end, just to make sure to keep the structure square.

NOTE: we realized that to screw most of the studs, we had to screw from the inside of the small side boxes. This did not allow a drill to fit, so we used a small snowboarding screwdriver. This is probably because we did not think our whole process through first... so be warned! However, it worked out pretty well, just not as fast or effectively as with power tools. Can you imagine how people built stuff all by hand in the old days!

NOTE 2: we also made sure that all our studs were really square and at the same distance on both rectangular boxes.

Step 5: Add Cushions Under the Platform

In order to prevent water or dust to be trapped under the platform, between the studs, we added a few strips of carpet under the studs touching the floor to elevate the platform. This is an optional step, but since we had extra pieces of carpet, we decided to add them. We thought this might also help with reducing the sound when hitting bumps on the road.

With the exacto knife, cut 1 1/2 inch thick strips of carpet. Peel the plastic off and place the carpet strip (with the glue facing up) on the floor under the bottom studs of the platform. Press to make sure everything is well glued.

We added the strips on all the corners of the platform as well as the middle studs.

Step 6: Add Plywood on the Top of the Platform

Once the frame is built, take exact measures of the dimensions of the platform top. Ours was 69 inches by 72. We bought our plywood sheets at Home Depot and they offer to cut the sheets to size if needed. Since we don't have a table saw, we asked them to cut our 2 sheets to fit our dimensions (one sheet to 69 x 48 and the other to 69 x 24).

Make sure that the split line between the two sheets will be supported by a stud, so that you can screw both pieces in.

Place the first piece on the platform. Use C clamps to make sure it does not move while you screw it in place. We placed screws all around the perimeter of the platform, at about each 16-20 inches. We also added a few to the middle studs.

Once the first sheet is done, do the second one!

Adding the plywood sheets provides a surface to build on, but it also helps brace the structure underneath to make sure nothing moves.

Step 7: Add Carpet Tiles to the Platform

Once the plywood is securely installed, the next step is to finish the surface on the platform. We decided to use carpet to make this space nice and cosy since our goal is to have benches on top of that surface and our feet will be touching this surface. We also chose these industrial tiles since they are easy to clean and we can also remove them one by one if we ever need to replace one or two.

These are great since they are auto-adhesive. You just need to peel off the plastic sheet from under, place the tile where it should go and put pressure on it to make sure it sticks nicely.

For the tiles that arrive at the edges, take the measure and cut the tiles with an exacto at the right size. Use a ruler or a piece of wood as a ruler; basically, you just need something straight.




Step 8: Secure the Platform to the Van

To make sure the platform does not move forward and backward as we drive the van, we secured it with the attachment points on the floor of the van. To do this, we made sure that our floor studs would fit between the walls and the attachment.

NOTE: The brackets alone might not be enough to make sure the platform does not move while we drive, however, based on how we built the platform, the boxes around the wheels also help keep the platform in place.

We had brackets for stairs (they are at a 90 degrees angle). So we used pliers to straighten them so they would become flat.

We used screws to attach the van attachment to the stud. We put one at each corner of the platform.


Step 9: Final Touch: Oak Edge

To finish nicely the platform, we added an oak L bracket on the edges where we know we will walk or place and remove many things.

First, measure the length you need. Cut the appropriate length.

Place the L bracket on the edge you want to protect. Pre drill holes so that the oak bracket does not split. Screw everything in place.

This is it! The platform is finished and securely attached to the van! Enjoy!

Next step is to finish the walls (CEDAR PANELING coming soon!) and build the benches (with plaid cushions!) that will go on top of the platform.

As I said in the intro, this is the first van conversion we are working on. We do not claim that this is the best way to build storage and a platform, however we believe that we have done a thorough research of online resources and what we present here is a nice summary of the best options we have seen out there, considering our budget, our skills, our schedule, and our future use for the van (winter adventures!). We welcome all comments or questions, since we are curious to see how others have done it.

Questions? Comments?

Comments

author
rruiz5 made it! (author)2016-04-22

Was really debating whether or not to raise up the back part on a storage platform, but seeing your setup decided it. Now I just have to decide how high... Yours can actually fit a bike sideways, but not a small grill you say. What height would you have made it if you re-did it?

author
AudreyDesjardins made it! (author)AudreyDesjardins2016-04-23

Hi rruiz5,

We have decided that it was more important for us to keep some space inside for 'living space' so that we could hang out in the evenings when it is too cold or rainy outside (usually in winter). This decision influenced how high we put the platform. At this moment, with the benches and table added on top of the platform, I feel like we did a pretty good estimate for how much head space is needed to feel comfortable. That being said, if we had just measured the bbq (we have a small weber bbq), we would have seen that it is just 15 inches tall, so we are off just by a few inches.... I suggest you measure whatever thing you think you want to store under the platform and decide based on that. As for bikes, we have a rack in the back of the van where we can fit them no problem.

Hope this helps! and have fun with your conversion :)

author
Valerie9399 made it! (author)2015-04-03

My fiancé and I just purchased a 2011 sprinter 170wb and are in the process of converting it to a liveable space so we can travel.. Your instructables are amazing to follow. We already put up the reflectix, denim insulation, and the vapor barrier. Our next step is to follow your steps to make the bed frame. I am just wondering if you would have done anything different with that and any advice going forward? Thank you for your time :)
-- Valerie from wi

author
AudreyDesjardins made it! (author)AudreyDesjardins2015-04-08

Hi Valerie9399,

Thanks for your positive feedback, we are super happy people find these instructables useful! We are pretty satisfied with the way we have built the frame and bed-table. All in all, it is very easy to use and offers a lot of space of hanging out as well as storage space.

There is one thing we should have thought out better: we have a small BBQ (Weber) that we love to bring when we camp. However, it is just to tall to fit under the platform or to fit under the bench in the back. So we end up just placing it on the floor behind the passenger seat when we travel. We wish we had thought about a place to store it. So I guess the lesson here is: figure out what you want to bring in your van when you are traveling and make sure you have a spot to store it!

Also, this is something we can still add and we might: in the back, under the platform, we could also add really long heavy duty drawers that slide in and out. This would make it pretty easy to search for things and store things away. Just an idea. Right now, we are using milk crates (which fit perfect, out of sheer luck!) to store things and classify them.

Last thing: when building different sections of the furniture, if 2 parts are really close together, but not attached together, they will likely make some cracking and rubbing noises when driving. Make sure either to leave enough space in between, or to add little foam or felt pads. I describe this in more details in the instructables on the bed-table-bench construction.

Hope this helps! and enjoy the project!

author
veeguy made it! (author)2013-11-29

I am dating myself here, but having constructed "camper vans" in the 1970's I have some important suggestions. The guy who commented on proper anchoring of your structure is correct. In an emergency stop, the mass of a wooden structure is immense, enough to rip out inferior fasteners. A length of 2" X 2" angle iron bolted through the van's floor into 4" X 4" backing plates then bolted to the platform's structure is a minimum.

The more important thing is to angle saw any longitudinal boards so they do not become "spears" in an accident. You don't want to end up like an olive on a cocktail straw in an accident. Design your long boards and platform plywood as a series of short boards loosely joined. The use you are making of these boards needs strength mainly in the downward direction. The longitudinal force only needs to be enough to anchor the plywood. Your plywood platform could be several 18" width boards with angled edges to allow them to slip under/over each other in an accident. The long boards on the edges at the very least should have cuts made 3/4 to 7/8 through on alternating edges so the boards tend to break rather than pierce human anatomy if a rear end collision sends them forward. An X pattern of supports is even better so you have no long boards(spears) pointed at the driver and passenger seats.

My own design had a rolling platform under the bed platform that could be rolled out the rear doors to provide a table and cooking area for my Coleman stove, or rolled out the front of the platform to allow easy access to out clothes and personal items.

author
Lion of Love made it! (author)2013-11-28

So, basically you have eight wood screws securing the entire structure in a crash. The wheel wells would just serve to launch the platform (and anything attached to it) up in the air, and the next stop would be your bodies. Please consider a more powerful anchoring method? Maybe 1/2 inch (grade five or better) bolts, six of them, with fender washers, down through strengthened sections of the floor frame into the van floor/subfloor? A crash at 35mph is the same as jumping off a three story building and landing face first on concrete. Think it over...

author
AudreyDesjardins made it! (author)AudreyDesjardins2013-11-28

Thanks for all your comments and advice on this instructable! We will definitely think about the safety aspect more, this is really important.

author
Lion of Love made it! (author)2013-11-28

Consider using aluminum edging. It's not a pretty, for sure, but way more durable. Oak turns black when it gets wet, too.

author
Lion of Love made it! (author)2013-11-28

Adding two coats of wood sealer, clear or colored, to the platform surfaces would make the adhesive work much better, reduce dust and waterproof the wood against future spills, wet shoes, rain intrusion etc.

author
Lion of Love made it! (author)2013-11-28

Adding felt or any fabric strips to the tops of all studs and braces would have eliminated many squeaks that you will have later. Also, adding power wiring now would be nice. Also, consider adding water tanks to the pockets around the wheel wells.

author
Lion of Love made it! (author)Lion of Love2013-11-28

And, adding a thin (1/8" is enough) sheet of plywood to the BOTTOM surface of the floor joists would GREATLY increase the stiffness of the floor, and further reduce movement resulting in squeaks and rattles. It makes the floor a sandwiched stressed skin structure, easy and quick.

author
Lion of Love made it! (author)2013-11-28

Next time pick up a right angle drive for your drill motor, and then drive those screws! A pneumatic staple gun would have made a better faster stronger frame, BTW. (when used with glue and done well)

author
Lion of Love made it! (author)2013-11-28

A more important function of these strips of carpet will be to reduce squeaks and rattles. Gluing all joints in addition to screwing them makes the structure far stronger, and far less prone to squeaking. Vehicles flex and twist. That motion will make sound.

author
ModMischief made it! (author)2013-11-28

Nicely done! I'm more than a little jealous of the extra head room you have in your Sprinter.

We put a bed in the back of our passenger van when we go on road trips, but it's built to be quick to put together and take apart and is no where near as attractive as your version.

August 2010 271.jpgbed5.jpg
author
ledshed made it! (author)2013-11-28

Nicely done.

author
bwh13 made it! (author)2013-11-26

Been watching your Instructables for a while: keep it up! D'you ever think about using channel aluminum instead of wood?

author
AudreyDesjardins made it! (author)AudreyDesjardins2013-11-27

Thanks for watching my instructables! We thought about aluminum, but in the end, we chose to go with the material we were the most comfortable working with (which was wood).

author
rolltidehank made it! (author)2013-11-26

I am really enjoying your van instructables! Hope y'all get to enjoy it soon!

author
ajalec made it! (author)2013-11-26

This is a good looking job u guys have done I love ur other van project too. Keep them coming cant wait to see the next project.

author
AudreyDesjardins made it! (author)AudreyDesjardins2013-11-26

Thanks! We have started to work on the cedar paneling for the walls and ceiling. We should be finished in a few weeks!

author
jrytlews made it! (author)2013-11-26

Awesome Van! It looks like u should be ready to parking lot camp and be ready for first chair right in time for ski season!

How does that beast drive on snowy roads?

author
AudreyDesjardins made it! (author)AudreyDesjardins2013-11-26

Thanks! We are really looking forward to the first day on the slopes this year! Since we have been working hard on getting the van ready, we have not actually tried it in snow yet. We can't wait to do so. I know however that Mercedes Benz decided to do a real road test with some sprinters last year and they drove from Edmonton, Canada to Anchorage, Alaska and the sprinters performed pretty well... http://www.wheelstalk.com/2013/road-tests/sprinter-vans-were-game-for-alaskan-adventure/ Looking forward to trying it ourselves!

author
dkrall made it! (author)2013-11-26

I did something similar in the back of my suv to haul my tools.

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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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