Introduction: Camper Van Collapsible Bed

This instructable documents the design and construction of a camper van bed frame. The frame is easy to disassemble allowing the van to be used for other purposes other than camping. 

Step 1: Design /Layout

The design has undergone many mental iterations before arriving at the final product. Origially, I had mentalised a side pivoting murphy bed and a complex joinery installation with drawers built in. Both of these designs had a lot more permanency than the end design. I decided on something temporary and modular as I wanted to use the van for other purposes than just camping.

The design requirements/constraints/aims were as follows:
A double or queen mattress can fit in the van but there is little space for anything else. Also, as I am also quite tall a longer mattress is good for me (king singles are longer than double mattresses). Special caravan size mattresses are also available but they are shorter than doubles. Experience also shows that my girlfriend and I can sleep on a king single comfortably.

We bought a King single mattress quite a while ago with a view to building a frame for it later on. We have been camping a few times sleeping with the mattress directly on the floor of the Van. The problem here is that the mattress had to sit between the wheel arches which leaves little room for anything else.

It was important to make the bed disassemble into small pieces so that it wouldnt take up much space when not in use. I wanted to use a semi-traditional design that used slats as these are good for the hygiene of the bed (allowing airflow underneath) They can also be rolled up into a bundle that does not take up much room.
I wanted to use a no bolt/screw fixing method so the bed could be assembled/disassembled without any tools.

The bed was also designed around the need to provide as much clear space underneath as possible to provide good spaces for storing of camping gear/food. I am a big fan of using milk crates for storing things so milk crates were used as the standard storage unit in the design. 

Using Sketchup, I drafted the outline of the floor plan of the van. The plan included the wheel arches to ensure the bed frame cleared this portion.
The mattress was imported over the top of the wheel arches and aligned to the right of the van. This leaves a passage down the left of the van. This seems like the logical side to align things as we park left side to the gutter in Australia. Storage units (milk crates) were then placed underneath. And finally, the bedframe itself was drawn around that.  

The sketches below show the drawings used for procurement of the materials and the final one (rendered) shows the as built version. Model is available here or at

Step 2: Purchase Materials

Budget Camper Van  

1.- Hardware (electrodes discs)  $40.09
2.- Pine Slats 42*18  $34.00
3.- Steel  $96.40

Total                                        $183.44

Slats were bought from a local timber wholesaler. 40*20mm finger jointed pine. A 5.4m length could be cut imto 5* 1080 slats with no wastage.

Using another homemade bed as a model, this section makes a nice base with 1 slat:1.5 gap ratio (60mm gap).
2000mm longe bed therefore required 20 slats or 4 lengths of 5.4m stock.

25 x 50 x 2mm RHS section was used for the main beams and cross pieces.
25 x 2mm SHS was used for the columns.
NB: originally i was going to use t=1.6mm Steel sections but decided on t=2mm because it is easier to prep and weld.

It was difficult to find a supplier for the Webbing in Australia. One supplier had 25*5000mm rolls for $13 which seemed very expensive. On Ebay, 50mm seatbelt grade webbing in 50 meter rolls was available, but the wait time was too long for me.

As an alternative, I found a set of 4 ratchet straps 25mm wide and 5000mm long for $26 from a local hardware chain. By using this option, I could cut off the excess tails of the straps to web the Bed frame and have a set of ratchet straps to lock the frame down. Win!


Step 3: Construct the Slatted Base

First of all, the timber slats were cut to final length  (the wood supplier would only do so many cuts free of charge). I used a compound saw for this. Nice and clean cuts! 

After the stock was cut to the right length the edges were given a light sanding to round them out a little. 

We used a workbench to layout the slatted base so that we could build it accurately. We used surplus sections of 25x25 to chock up the slats to allow us to thread the webbing (refer photo)

The slats were layed out in there positions matks scribed on the 25 square runners to keep the position. We used the 50x25mm sections for the frame to clamp the slats down and hold them in their position whilst we lacing and stapling (very important).

Once the slats were laid out and clamped, we worked from the head end down weaving the straps and stapling on the top side. A second web was added inside the first as seen in the photo. After the top surface was complete, the whole thing was clamped together and inverted to complete stapling on the underside. 

Step 4: Build the Steel Frame - Cutting

All the steel components were cut to their correct length using a cutt-off saw. I clamped like components together to get all components cut to the same length.

A 100mm handheld grinder grinder was used to deburr the edges of the sections.

The photo below shows the pipe hinge sitting on the section. The edge of the pipe was scribed around to get the edge to be mouthed for the joint. I then ground the wall of the section to this line so that the pipe sat flush with the end of the profile. 

Step 5: Build the Steel Base - Joint Prep and Tackweld

A 45 degree was ground onto all weld faces to improve weld penetration.  

All components were then tack welded into position. I used 2mm electrodes to do this. I had a bit of difficulty getting a decent tack because I was unfamiliar with the welding plant I was using. 

Two tacks either side are enough to keep things together.

Please refer to another instructable/reference for steel fabrication prior to attempting any welding.

Step 6: Build the Steel Base - Test Fit

There is nothing worse then trying to install a finished project only to find that there was an error in an earlier step. With that in mind, We test fit the bed into the van to make sure all was going to plan. 

This is especially important PRIOR to final weld when problems are much easier to fix rather than after. I also took advantage of this stage to see how the bed performed with regard to rigidity. Photo 3 shows how the ratchet straps are used to hold the frame down in position. these provide downward force on the legs holding them in position and it also provides lateral stability (stopping the bed from wobbling forwards or backwards). 

Step 7: Build the Steel Base - Final Weld and Cold Galvanise

After a successful fit I welded all surfaces together. Welds were then ground flush to make them neat. Cold galvanising paint was applied to all exposed areas to prevent rusting.

The bed frame was then assembled on the ground and each of the pins inserted and welded in their position.

Finally, We hammered in the 25 square plastic tube stoppers the base of the columns to prevent damaging the carpet.

Step 8: Road Testing

The bed did a great job of keeping us comfortable and organised. However, there were a few problems:

After some spirited driving, the slats on the bed fell off the edge of bed frame. This will be corrected by revising how the slats are tied down to the frame and adding an intermediate tie along the frame to keep everything in check.

Because the frame had such a narrow base for the frame the frame could rock when too much weight was placed onto one side. In hindsight, I think it would have been better to have the columns as wide as possible, particularly at the front of the bed (there is little benefit to be gained here by having a narrow base). The tie down point used is an old bolt hole from one of the old seats, by moving the tie down position over a little the rocking problem can be eliminated.

Updates to come!

Thanks for reading.