So my plan was to live in the van for a minimum of two years (possibly more) as I travel and learn different ways of living sustainably. This meant that I would be spending an awful lot of time inside a small metal box and I wasn’t too keen on that idea. Unless, of course, you make that box as homely and natural as you possibly can without adding too much weight. There are so many self-build camper vans out there that are incredibly beautiful, well crafted and functional, but the ones that I was drawn to all had wooden interior – cladding, wooden benches and tables etc.
Again, the weight was a major concern as cladding the walls and using so much wood in general would add a great deal of weight than a single thin sheet of ply. More weight equals more fuel needed to move the van, and more fuel means higher costs and more carbon you release. There are a lot of people who use free pallet wood to clad the interior but I chose not to use them for several reasons.
- It’s a time consuming and energy sapping job taking them apart.
- Some of them are treated and toxic.
- Heavy and requires planing and sanding.
The solution that fitted me perfectly at the time was the thinnest (and lightest) cladding from Wickes which also happened to be the cheapest. I knew that my van was pretty small compared to other examples seen above, so I couldn’t waste any space either on the thickness of the wood or the battons to fix the cladding on. To cut the long story short, I fiddled and kerfaffled and wasted a lot of valuable time for a barely noticeable couple of centimetres.
For example, I spent hours shaping and cutting blocks of wood to match the curve of the van as it bent. This baton is where I would nail the clips that secures the cladding in place. In hind sight, I should have just used a piece of straight wood cut to the length and secured it in minutes… The loss of 2 centimetres would be barely noticeable, but cutting the workload down by 2 weeks would have made a big difference.
The biggest mistake however, was the very idea of using clips to secure the cladding. They seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. They are hidden away and no screws are needed. Just nail it in and slot the clad. If it was hard to secure a wood block to nail the clips into, I’ll just glue it straight to the frame with some strong flexible glue.
The reality, however, was that for every clad layer I’ve added, I had to wait for a day for the glue to dry. Wooden battons were hard to shape and sometimes impossible to place, so about 70% of all cladding were done with strong flexible glue.
Some peeled while trying to adjust it, some broke when force was applied, glue spilled, clips fell into small unreachable crevices – a nightmare basically. The seasonal shrinkage was also something I didn’t consider while putting it up. Places where I screwed the cladding stayed solid and reasonably in shape all year round but places where I glued the clips became loose during dry times of the year.
It was at this point that I started to spend a lot of time processing thousands of van layouts and ingenious ideas devised by fellow van dwellers. Here are a few examples that sparked my imagination. From space saving bike rack to hot shower system, wood fire stove installation to drying rack that doubles as a plate shelf. There are plenty more out there if you look.
I spent a good number of hours/days/weeks sitting in front of a white paper, growling and turning. Imagining, measuring, setting up mock layout in my room then growl once more. It’s worth spending some time at this stage to get it all thought through, as redesigning and re-configuring AFTER you’ve done all your work is seriously disheartening. I’ve been living in my van for nearly 2 years now and I’m still pretty happy with how it is. Maybe a few things here and there but nothing that requires me to rip up everything and start again.
So here’re some of the plans I’ve drawn. If kids from my class are reading this, this is why we learn maths.