Building a Bed Frame for your Sprinter Van
In this post, we will cover the basics of building a wooden bed frame with simple lumber construction in our Sprinter Campervan.
Note: this post is about our first Sprinter Van, which we bought in May 2016, converted, lived/traveled in, and sold May 2018. If you are looking for info about our second Sprinter/current project, please check the dates of the post and make sure you're reading posts from 2018/2019. Cheers!
Did you know that human beings spend an average of 227,468 hours (26 years) of their lives sleeping? That’s one third of your life! Accordingly, one of our number one requirements that we had of our new van home was a darn comfy bed. In our previous setup (a ‘98 Chevy Astro), we had conserved space and made do with a custom tri-fold memory foam futon mattress. These sorts of setups are adequate for weekend warriors, but after years of vagabonding around the world and sleeping on all sorts of less-than-ideal beds, we were ready for a monumental step into adulthood: buying our very first real grown-up mattress. We were ready to invest in a permanent solution as this was going to be our full time home.
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Our primary concern for our new mattress was comfort. We spend a lot of time doing outdoor activities that can trigger all sorts of back pain (which can, in turn cause restless nights), so we wanted to find the most comfortable bed we’d ever slept on. Our second priority was concern for the environmental--both in the production of the mattress and the effect it has on our home. Most traditional mattresses sold in the states are laden with all sorts of toxic chemicals, some of them added as flame retardants to comply with US laws. The very thing you are spending 1/3 of your time laying on could be emitting nasty chemicals into your airspace as you sleep. Mattress makers are not required to divulge information about these chemicals, so it can be difficult to know what’s what. So we narrowed our focus to a number of natural and organic mattress companies and set out to find the most comfortable, least toxic mattress around. Fortunately we were still in California when we began our search, so we had the opportunity to try many of our top picks. We wouldn’t have had that luxury if we were back home in Wyoming.
From some internet research, we narrowed our choices down as much as possible (start googling ‘non-toxic mattress’.... you’ll be surprised at how many companies have jumped on board this train). As we cruised north through California, we were able to try out mattresses from SavvyRest, Saatva, Keetsa, European Sleepworks, and a few others at their showrooms. As soon as we discovered natural latex, we were pretty much sold. We had never heard of latex mattresses, but they are simple, relatively sustainable, very durable, and incredibly comfortable. Our favorite mattress we tried out in our travels was actually a SavvyRest, but it was also one of the more expensive. We decided it was out of our price range, and started searching for more affordable alternatives. We eventually discovered Spindle and settled on one of their mattresses, which consist of 3 customizable layers of all natural latex with an organic cotton and wool cover. They are very similar to SavvyRest, but are sold directly from the company to the consumer without any showroom middlemen, which is part of the reason they can keep their prices down. Your bed is obviously a very personal choice, and we are not affiliated with any of these mattress companies in any way. The best bet for finding the perfect mattress for you is probably to try as many as you can and do some hardcore research. That being said, we absolutely love our bed. It feels like we’re sleeping on fluffy little clouds in the back of our Sprinter Van every night. Seriously. They did not pay us to say that.
One quirk of latex mattresses is that they need to sit on slats--not a box spring (which actually makes them ideal for a van conversion where space is at a premium), but this meant that we had to brainstorm about how to accommodate our new mattress in our buildout. We briefly considered modifying a pre-fab slat bed and incorporating it into our design. The mattress manufacturers are often quite specific about the requirements of the bed frame for their particular mattress--you can find this information on their websites--and some of them even sell proprietary frames that are ideal for their product. Eventually we decided to custom build our bed frame with pine slats to Spindle's specifications.
We had seen some pretty cool designs for bed frames that were modular or space-saving in one way or another: foldable, collapsible, slide-out, or expandable. Take a scroll through @vanlifeideas on Instagram if you need some inspiration. We are always amazed at how creative the vanlife community is! We loved the idea of having some sort of creative modular design, but since we had decided on a “real” mattress, our options for the bed frame were narrowed to something fixed.
Outside Vans has a really cool bed system that attaches to the walls and has 3 metal frame panels that are easily removable if you want to take everything out and use the van for carrying larger items. This system also maximizes storage space by eliminating all the framing under the bed. We decided the kit was over our budget. We priced out options to try to make one ourselves out of steel (a bit cheaper), aluminum (still pretty expensive), and even some cool alloy construction pieces called 80/20 (like an Erector set for adults, but you may as well just pay for the Outside Vans version) but they all seemed overly complicated, not ideal for our application, and still out of our price range.
One other cool option we loved is from @Homesweetvan. Their bed is on an electric lift that raises the mattress up to the ceiling. They have bench seating underneath the bed for expanded living space. We loved this system, but wanted to keep it simple and needed the storage under the bed for gear and decided against this option.
We had also found a very economical and simple wood frame in another one of our favorite builds, Sprinter Van Diaries. Their design was based on this one from instructables of another DIY van build, only they made theirs taller. We really liked the way it looked. It looked pretty straightforward to construct; we had the necessary tools available; and it seemed to be affordable and fairly lightweight. We based ours on the same design and made the frame height 35 inches. This maximized the under-bed storage while still giving us room to sit up in bed.
If you’d like to use this design, we recommend you go to Sprinter Van Diaries and/or the Instructables sites. They have very detailed instructions and much better photos of the specifics than us. We had to alter the design slightly to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for our new latex mattress, so instead of putting a solid platform on top of the frame we built a slat system. To do this we notched the 2x3s that composed the sides of the bed with a table saw (before assembling). We took a ¾” notch out to make the slats sit flush within the frame. We also needed a center support for the frame. We placed another 2x3 longways down the middle of the bed ¾” lower than the outer framing. This allowed the slats to rest on the center support and be flush with the top of the bed frame. We then supported the center piece of the frame with 2 additional legs tied into the floor with corner braces. We screwed each slat into the frame for stability.
We used the existing D-rings in the factory floor to tie the corners of the frame down and added a few corner braces around what would become our fridge drawer opening to make it solid.
If you found this blog post helpful, please feel free to visit our Thank You page to leave us a note or send us a Paypal contribution that will allow us to continue producing useful content. You can also use the Amazon affiliate links throughout our posts to help us earn commissions on your purchases. You pay the same price, we earn a small fee. Thanks for helping us help you!
Materials: (all from Home Depot)
*Remember to ask if your local hardware store carries FSC certified wood
2x3 pine stud for the framing
1x4 common pine boards for the bed slats
L, T, and corner braces to tie it together