Introduction: Custom Van Windows

About: The creation process is almost more rewarding than the finished product.

Not long ago I picked up a used 2016 Ford Transit cargo van. Doing a camper conversion has been a fantasy of mine since high school, dreams do come true. The cargo van is pretty raw, it came with a driver seat and a passenger seat. Past that it is just metal, no flooring, no walls and no windows!

My first project for the van was to install three windows. The goal was to make the van on the left look like the drawing on the right. Two long windows in the rear and a larger one on the passenger side door. There is no need for a window behind the driver because one day there will be a kitchen against that wall.

Lets begin shall we?

Step 1: Materials

This is a pretty accessible project. You need some metal tools to cut a big hole in your van and some painting supplies to paint the raw metal edge so it doesn't rust. Easy!

  • Fire extinguisher or spray bottle
  • Windows - mine were from Motion Windows
  • Weather stripping - if not included with your windows
  • Angle grinder
  • Cut-off wheels
  • Flap wheel
  • Steel wool - Fine
  • Sharpie
  • Masking tape
  • Plastic drop cloth
  • Spray paint

Image attribution:
Grinder, cutoff wheel and flap wheel :
Steel wool :

Step 2: The Glass

There are many places you can purchase windows, stock from Ford or aftermarket via the internet. Following all the rabbit holes I found the image above of the grey Transit. What sold me was the long skinny windows in the back (I hope my van is that badass one day). The image led me to Motion Windows. The people there are very nice and will answer all your questions. They also provide an installation service if you are near Portland.

The windows took about four weeks to show up but then they did I was as happy as a kid on Christmas.

Step 3: Interior Structure

The van interior has places where you could imagine windows being if you didn't buy the cargo model. All these window locations are covered with ribs. Pretend the ribs aren't there and find locations that work for your windows. I went with after market windows so they didn't exactly fit the predefined window spaces.

The windows come is two parts. An interior frame and the external frame with the glass. I used the internal frame to identify the location for the window placement. I traced the outside of the internal frame in order to cut the ribs. Once there was space to hold the frame flush on the wall, I traced the inside of the frame to make my cut line. Alternatively, you could make yourself some cardboard templates and trace those.

Before you start cutting you should cover your seats (and anything else you care about) with cardboard. There are exotic foams and glues in the walls of the van, you should be quick with a spray bottle or fire extinguisher in case something goes wrong.

  1. Find locations for your windows
  2. Determine which ribs need to come out
  3. Cut out the ribs or rib sections
  4. Gently pull the cut sections from the wall
  5. Trace your window onto the wall

Step 4: No Turning Back

Cutting the ribs was one thing, but in this step you are at the point of no return. This van is going to be repainted one day so you will notice my lack of effort in protecting the paint. Sparks and metal debris may pit your finish if you do not properly protect it. That said, my paint was unharmed.

When using an angle grinder it is good to remain calm and go slow. The walls are relatively thin so it is important to cut at a shallow angle to prevent the grinder from snagging and denting the metal. Using a steady hand make your cuts just inside the pattern you drew in the previous step.

I am all for creativity and coloring outside the lines, but this is no time for that. By making your cutouts smaller than needed, you will be able to make the holes bigger with the flap wheel for a perfect fit. If you make your holes too big, you will need to call the body shop.

The large cutouts were done as octagons. First the long sides, then small diagonals in the corners. To clear out the corners I made lots of little vertical slits and cross cut those resulting in saw teeth.

  1. Prepare for fire
  2. Protect your seats
  3. Cut inside the lines
  4. Cut diagonal corners
  5. Clear the material from the corners

Step 5: What a View!

Once you have the rough shape of your cutouts in the walls, switch over to the flap wheel. Using the flap wheel clean up all your messy edges and grind down those saw teeth left in the corners of the last step.

Test fit your window and see how you did. Hopefully it doesn't fit yet. Figure out which parts of the opening need to be extended and slowly increase the size. In my case I needed to extend the opening to include the thickness of my stencil marks.

Metal loves to rust. Immediately after making the cutouts, I masked off the openings with tape and plastic drop cloth. This gave me enough protection to spray paint the raw edge left by cutting the openings. If you have a small brush and touch up paint, that might be a better way to go.

Step 6: It's Time!

Almost there, I am proud of you!

The graphic above shows the layering order for the windows. The windows are held in by a series of screws pulling the window in against an interior frame and a layer of weather stripping.

The windows have an exterior side and an interior frame. Both pieces have a flange around the edge. Add your weather stripping (starting on the bottom middle) to the van side flange of the external piece.

Using masking tape, attach your internal frame to the inside wall.

You might want to phone a friend for this one. Press your window into the cutout and into the internal frame. Have your friend hold the window in place while you loose fit the screws. Once you have all the screws loosely in place you can tighten them down. Be sure not to over tighten them as they will strip the aluminum frame.

  1. Place your interior frame
  2. Add your weather stripping
  3. Insert your window
  4. Loose fit your screws
  5. Tighten it up
  6. Show off your new ride

Step 7: Final Thoughts

This project as with most took longer than expected. After the first window, the others were a breeze. Perhaps there will be a pair of rear windows in my future.

The first window gave me some trouble. I put the weather stripping in wrong twice before I found the graphic in the last step. Multiple installs and removals of the first window stripped the screw holes. I wound up making new holes and using slightly larger screws to ensure a tight fit.

While cutting the panels, I was cautious of where the sparks were landing, they are hot and can cause fire. I get it, I should not have been wearing flip flops.

If this is a project you have been looking into, I say go for it. Go slow and watch lots of instructional videos first.

Tell your mom you love her.

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