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Sprinter Van Cabinets


This is a basic outline of how we built the cabinets 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!

If you find 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!

There are a million and one ways to build storage space into a van, and this is just one way to do it. We would recommend checking out @vanlifeideas on Instagram for creative storage solutions and conversion ideas for vans of all shapes and sizes. We found tons of examples online of different designs that we loved while we were planning our build. Our priorities were maximizing storage with efficient use of space while maintaining a relatively open feel to our van. After years of driving around with a jam-packed Astro Van and playing Tetris daily with all of our worldly possessions, we really wanted to incorporate a place for everything and to have the van interior look and feel really clean when it’s closed up for travel.

For our layout, we planned to construct five sets of cabinets: the kitchen cabinets, the overhead cabinet (the front half for kitchen storage, the back half for clothes above the bed), our bedside box (mostly for clothes and random personal items), the fridge drawer, and the sliding door cabinet (aka the most complicated van cabinet in the world) to house our oven/stove and other big stuff. We’ll cover the last one in a separate post because it’s just that ridiculously complicated.

We constructed the cabinets with the help of our friend and master carpenter Dave Thulin, mostly out of ½” Baltic birch plywood. We also used some barnwood (scraps from our flooring) and redwood (reclaimed by Dave from the deck of a house we all used to live in) for trim/accents. We chose Baltic birch because it is resistant to warping, holds screws well, is structurally strong, and looks good. From what we could find on the internet, it seems like it's also relatively sustainable. An even more eco-friendly option would be to reclaim plywood from a local source if you can. With a stronger high-quality wood we felt more comfortable using the thinner and lighter ½” plywood wherever we could to save weight. For structural support and to tie the cabinets to the van we used some random reclaimed boards Dave had in the garage and 1x3 pine select studs from Home Depot when we ran out of the extra stuff.

Kitchen Counter

For the counter top, we searched around for some sort of scrap or remnant, trying to find a relatively durable, lightweight, eco-friendly option. We only needed a reasonably sized piece, but all the options we could find were too small for our purposes and/or too expensive. After a lot of searching, we found a local woodworker on Craigslist that had reclaimed some glued laminated timber beams (glulams) from a demolition project of an old school gym. He had then passed the beams through his sawmill, exposing a butcher-block style pattern on the surface. This was by far the most economical ($40) and sustainable option we could find, and we ended up loving the look (after putting in some serious elbow grease with an orbital sander). The pieces are 1½” thick and we used the extra length of the piece we bought to create a flip-up table on our door cabinet. We also used a long thin scrap of the same material to make a back splash along the back side of the kitchen counter to keep things from falling behind the cabinets. Becca spent the better part of a few days shaping, sanding, filling in knots, and finishing the pieces with a beeswax/oil mixture to make them so fresh and so clean. The beeswax finish is easy to make, all natural, food safe, water resistant, and makes the van smell like honey for days after application. To make the finish, we used local beeswax (from a family friend’s apiary down the road from Cade’s parents’ house) melted together in a double boiler with walnut oil. The recipe (I used this one) can also be used to restore the finish on cutting boards, wooden spoons, etc.

Kitchen Cabinets, Sink, Water Pump, Water Tank

We built each cabinet in stages simultaneously as needed, as you can see in our photos, but we'll cover each of them individually to try to make our process as clear as possible. First, we'll discuss the kitchen cabinet, which was loosely based on one from the Sprinter Van Diaries. We decided to set our counter top on 35” cabinet walls making the overall counter top height 36.5”. This is a little higher than normal because we are both relatively tall and don’t like to hunch over while cooking. We divided the main cabinet into three sections. The right section, which is under the sink, houses the water tank and water pump and has a cabinet door. The middle section has three large drawers. And the left section is divided inside with a shelf to accommodate larger items (including our Yeti solar generator), and one large cabinet door.

We chose to design faceless cabinets with inset doors and drawers. This shows some of the end-grain of the the Baltic birch and maximizes interior space. To construct the frame we started with three vertical panels made of ½” Baltic birch and tied them together with three 1x3 pine studs running the length of the cabinet: one at the bottom back corner, one on the back and one at the top front corner. We set the back strip at the best height to attach to the wall of the van and used self tapping sheet metal screws to attach the cabinets to the metal interior.

We chose this undermount sink, so we could wipe off the counter straight into the sink and so we could cover it with this thin cutting board to expand counter space. We used this RV faucet to complete the setup.

We cut the hole in the counter top for the sink with a jig saw, because we didn’t have a plunge router big enough to go all the way through the 1½” thick counter top. The jigsaw wasn’t the ideal tool for the job, and bowed out at the corners, but Becca was able to sand down the hole enough to make it look and feel nice. If we were to do it again we may put more time into finding or renting a router for this job. It was pretty easy to cut the holes for the faucet with a drill and hole saw bit. We mounted the sink to the underside of the counter top with the clamps that were included with the kit and filled in the gap around the sink edge with silicone. In order to mount the counter top to the cabinet frame, we had to carve out the top of the rear pine stud, and one of the Baltic birch side panels to make room for the sink. It took some patience to get the counter top to sit flush, but once we got it level, we attached the counter top with wood screws through the pine stud and pocket screws in the side panels using a Kreg jig (this is an essential tool for cabinet construction).

The right section of our lower cabinet houses the water pump, tank, and drain from the sink. We chose our Shurflo water pump because it had good reviews--you can run it dry without damaging it and because it is relatively quiet when operating. You will also need to order a filter to install before the intake. We mounted the pump under the sink on the side panel of the cabinet. We added a ½” birch square to mount it on, so we could sink the mounting screws into a bit more wood for stability. Our friend D-Rob helped us out with all the plumbing on our conversion--although our system is simple, we were glad to have a knowledgeable plumber to consult on our choices and help us with the basic plumbing construction.

For our drinking water, we wanted to avoid plastic if possible. Becca found a 5 Gallon Glass Jug (actually a carboy, normally used for brewing beer) that was perfect. We needed flexible high pressure hose to run from the jug to the water pump (the pump's specifications said so), but didn’t want the plastic to be sitting in the water (that would have defeated the whole point of the glass jug). So we ran a copper pipe pick-up through a large cork attached to a quick disconnect, which we connected to the flexi hose. That way we can detach it for easy refilling. We also carry a Zodi Pressure Shower, which works great not only for showering, but dishes, cleaning, and other non-drinking water. You can also easily carry an additional plastic water jug and have another plastic hose to use that for dishes. It's easy to just disconnect from the glass tank and connect to the plastic tank to do dishes with the kitchen faucet when needed. To hold our glass jug in place we cut a round hole the size of the jug in a scrap piece of Baltic birch and mounted it 3 ½” up in the cabinet, making a little place holder.

For the sink drain we cut a hole through the floor of the cabinet and van with a hole saw to run a pvc pipe out the bottom of the van. We did it in a place where we could add an outside grey water tank when we can. But for the moment it drains out under the van just behind the driver side front wheel well. We use a bucket underneath the hole to catch waste water for proper disposal.

For the middle section of the cabinet, we wanted three drawers: one shallow drawer on top and two deeper drawers underneath. We built the drawer boxes out of ½” birch for the sides and ¼” ply for the bottoms. We face-screwed the sides together and put a ¼” dado in for the bottoms. For the drawer faces we used the strips of reclaimed redwood. The redwood pieces were heavily weathered 2x6 planks. Our friend Dave had already used some of the redwood on some really cool looking handmade furniture, and he suggested using it in a few places in the van for accents. For the face we milled it down to ½” thick pieces and separated the strips by ¼” gaps. For handles, we used a router and grinder to carve notches into one strip on each drawer. We used

Blum full extension drawer slides and installed heavy duty adjustable catches to keep them closed while driving. As long as we are careful to shut the drawers all the way before taking off, they have stayed closed without any issues, even on rough roads. We also eventually built a similarly-constructed wide, shallow drawer below our bed (and above our refrigerator) for wider/longer items.

The left section of our cabinet has one shelf dividing the space in half. We scribed the shelf to go around the framing and screwed a few small blocks made from scraps of ½” Baltic birch into the framing to hold the shelf up.

For the doors on the outside sections we used ½” Baltic birch. We originally mounted the doors with cheap 90 degree hinges. We recently upgraded to nicer Blum soft close hinges after some of our surface mount hinges failed, but had to add some material to the doors to make room for the recessed hinges. The ½” plywood of the vertical cabinet walls by itself is a bit too thin to recess a hinge into. This could be avoided by using standard 3/4" ply for the cabinets instead. We used standard catches to keep the doors closed. We found some handles in the bargain bin at a local hardware store. They were a copper-colored finish that we didn’t love the look of, but Becca used a simple patina recipe and some steel wool to rough the surfaces up a bit. They turned out to be just what we wanted, and we ended up using them on the overhead cabinets as well.

Bedside Box

Our next project for the cabinets was the bedside box to sit next to our mattress. This is a simple two- section box made mostly of ½” Baltic birch, with a hinged lid. There are two vertical side panels and one vertical divider in the middle. We used some cardboard to make a template for the vertical panels to follow the shape the van wall where it starts to angle in at the top (remember, there are no straight lines in a Sprinter Van). We then made solid rectangular bottom and front pieces. We divided the lid into two separate sections so you can access either side independently. Each top section has a solid back strip and the lid itself. We attached the lids to the back strip with piano hinges. Once open, the lids are held up with lid props like these. We used two 1x3 pine stud to reinforce the top of the box at both the front and back. This box also holds some of the small components of our electrical system, so we cut holes for the outlets and switches we needed and built internal compartments for the wires and a fuse box. If you’re curious about our electrical system, you can find out more here.

Overhead cabinets

Our overhead cabinets run almost the entire length of the van from over the kitchen counter in the front all the way to the rear door. To make it easier to install we made it in two sections. Our friend Dave had some interesting scrap corner pieces made out of the reclaimed redwood he had used on another furniture project. We decided to use them on the corners of the upper cabinets and simple redwood strips to separate the doors. We used more ½” Baltic birch for the sides, bottom, and doors. We used some scrap wood similar to 1x3 pine studs on the back and top to have something to tie the cabinet to the van wall and ceiling. On the front of the cabinets we used some barnwood scraps--both to give the doors something to close against and make a raised lip to keep items inside. We used a table saw to dado a notch all the way around for the bottom piece of the cabinet to slide into for strength. The doors are attached with lift up flap hinges.

Fridge 'Drawer' + Wide under-bed Drawer

We got the idea for our fridge drawer from SprinterVanDiaries, but we wanted to put ours under the bed. The drawer isn't a box like the rest. It is just a bottom piece attached to a drawer face both made from 1/2" Baltic birch. This is reinforced by 2x3 pine studs running down the sides at a 45 degree angle. Originally we had it set on casters and it just rolled out, but it was hard to keep perfectly aligned and moved around too much, so we ended up installing heavy duty drawer slides later. We used angle aluminum to mount the slides to the drawer bottom and mounted them into the framing around the bed. We installed eye bolts on all four corners of the 'drawer' bottom to be able to tie the fridge down with webbing so it doesn't slide around on rough or steep roads.

Above the fridge drawer we made one wide drawer for storing larger kitchen items. We used the same construction techniques for this one as for the 3 in the kitchen cabinet and used the same redwood face. We used a piece of 3/4" barn wood to separate the fridge drawer from the top drawer and used this to mount 2 simple twist latches made out of some scrap ironwood Dave had laying around. These latches hold both drawers closed when we are driving, as the extra weight of our fully loaded Dometic Refrigerator would probably be a bit much for the catches we used on the smaller drawers.

Paint and Oil (finishing)

We finished all the cabinets with Real Milk Paint in a couple different colors, then sealed the milk paint with their Half & Half (half tung oil, half citrus solvent mixture). These are all-natural, zero-VOC finishes with unique and adaptable applicability. Becca played around with the Milk Paint, which you mix with water to your own preference, and found a 'stained' look that we liked with a thinner mixture to let the wood grain of the Baltic birch show through. She developed a system of applying two coats of the thinned milk paint (sanding in between coats), then applying the Half & Half to seal the Milk Paint and make the finish look even more translucent. We also used the Half & Half to finish all of the trim and our flooring.

If you find 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

1/2" Baltic birch

1x3 Pine select studs

Reclaimed barnwood and redwood trim

Reclaimed milled glulam counter material

Self tapping sheet metal screws

Beeswax/ Walnut Oil finish (for countertop)

walnut oil

local beeswax

Patina: Salt and Vinegar, Baking Soda, Steel Wool (for handle finish)

Real Milk Paint

Half & Half

Copper pipe

Cork

Flexible high pressure plastic hose

Quick Disconnect

Tools

Table Saw

Jigsaw

Router

Kreg jig

Belt Sander

Palm Sander

Grinder

Sand Paper

Paintbrushes

Components

Yeti solar generator

Dometic Fridge

undermount sink

RV faucet

Shurflo water pump & filter

5 gallon Glass jug

Zodi Pressure Shower

Hardware

Lid Props

Piano Hinges

Lift Up Flap Hinges

Handles

Blum Soft Close Hinges

Full Extension Drawer Slides

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About Us

Hi! we're Becca and Cade. We can generally be found playing outside with our dog Tala: hiking, biking, paddleboarding or paragliding.... or making burritos in our Sprinter Van. We enjoy getting outside, having fun, making sustainable choices easy and accessible, and reducing our impact on the planet.

 

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sustainablevanlife@gmail.com
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