How to build a storage platform at the back of your camper van
This is the next step we did in our sprinter van, after doing the insulation for the walls.
Since we have a Sprinter with the high roof, we have quite some space in the vertical dimension to organize some storage. Our goal is to have an elevated platform in the back area of the van where we can have a ton of storage under, and have our sofa/bed/table on top of that.
When considering a comfortable height to build that storage platform, we settled on 17 inches, since it gives enough room in the sofa area, as well as storage space under. Most of the things we will store there are skis and snowboards, clothing, and camping gear. It is up to you to see what you want to store and what dimensions you might need.
To build the platform, we mainly used pine 2x3 studs, 1/2 inch plywood and carpet tiles. These are easy to find materials and not too expensive either. We are aware that this is adding some weight to the van, however, since it is a rear-wheel drive, we think this might actually be a good thing, especially for driving in snow! There are probably lighter ways to build this back platform, but considering our skills, budget, timeframe and accessibility to materials and tools, this was the best compromise for us.
It took us about 2 days to build the platform with 2-3 people. It cost about 100$ of materials (excluding the carpet tiles that we got for free).
DISCLAIMER: This is the first van conversion we are doing, so this is certainly a process of trial and error! We tried to describe at every step the reasons why we made the choice materials we made, so hopefully you can see that we used common sense to design this process. I am an industrial designer and design researcher and my boyfriend is a landscape architect with some knowledge in wood working. We see this project as an experiment and as a wonderful place to try out some ideas about design, materials and fabrication.
See more How Tos from Audrey here
What you need
You will need:
16 x 2x3 pine studs
3 boxes of 150 wood screws (8 3 1/2)
2 4x8 feet plywood sheets (1/2 inch thick)
16 auto adhesive carpet tiles (18 inches wide)
4 brackets to secure the platform down and screws
L shape oak bracket
You will need:
a small screwdriver
a drill with a 1/8 bit
a mitter saw
a few C clamps
a measuring tape
a set square
an exacto knife
a friend to help you
Step 1: Frame the wheels
The first step is to create two long boxes that will go over the wheels and will support the full length of the platform. We use 2x3 for this because it is strong enough, but at the same time is not as big or heavy as 2x4. We are also using 3 1/2 inches screws so that we can screw on the long side of the studs. The large rectangle: Start with a rectangle with 2 long studs (72 inches) and 2 short ones (11 inches). Use the mitter saw to cut the pieces to dimension. Use the drill to pre-drill holes before you put the screw in. Screw the pieces together. We used 2 screws on each attachment point to make sure the pieces did not rotate. Cut three more pieces that are 11 inches long to place with equal distance to make little separations in the long rectangle. Screw them in place from both ends. The small rectangle bases: Measure the space you have before the wheel and after the wheel. From those dimensions, you can create two c-shape structures that you will add to the bottom around the wheels. To do so, cut a piece on the length you just measured. Then cut 2 pieces that are the length between the large rectangle and the wall (7 1/2 inches). Screw those pieces together in a c-shape. Screw this piece to the large rectangle at a 90 degree angle. The additional vertical studs: At every corner, add a vertical stud of 11 inches. The third long stud: Cut another piece of 72 inches. Place it on top of the new vertical studs. Screw it in. Finally, the small top studs: Cut 3 more horizontal studs of 7 1/2 inches. Place them between the two top long studs at equal distances. Screw them in. Do the same thing for the other side, except you have to mirror the pieces to fit the wheel. We also had to change a bit the pieces to accommodate for the step near the side door as well as the middle metal stud on the long wall of the van. These are small details that will change depending on your van.
Step 2: Bridge the two sides
Once the two boxes are made for each side, we bridged the two sides together with 48 inches long 2x3. We started with the two top extreme ones (at each end of the platform) to make sure that they were well positioned. Again, we pre-drilled our holes. We placed 5 studs on the top, because these will support the weight of the future benches, table, and friends coming to visit the van! On the bottom side, we placed 2, on at each end, just to make sure to keep the structure square. NOTE: we realized that to screw most of the studs, we had to screw from the inside of the small side boxes. This did not allow a drill to fit, so we used a small snowboarding screwdriver. This is probably because we did not think our whole process through first... so be warned! However, it worked out pretty well, just not as fast or effectively as with power tools. Can you imagine how people built stuff all by hand in the old days! NOTE 2: we also made sure that all our studs were really square and at the same distance on both rectangular boxes.
Step 3: Add cushions under the platform
In order to prevent water or dust to be trapped under the platform, between the studs, we added a few strips of carpet under the studs touching the floor to elevate the platform. This is an optional step, but since we had extra pieces of carpet, we decided to add them. We thought this might also help with reducing the sound when hitting bumps on the road. With the exacto knife, cut 1 1/2 inch thick strips of carpet. Peel the plastic off and place the carpet strip (with the glue facing up) on the floor under the bottom studs of the platform. Press to make sure everything is well glued. We added the strips on all the corners of the platform as well as the middle studs.
Step 4 : Add plywood on the top of the platform
Once the frame is built, take exact measures of the dimensions of the platform top. Ours was 69 inches by 72. We bought our plywood sheets at Home Depot and they offer to cut the sheets to size if needed. Since we don't have a table saw, we asked them to cut our 2 sheets to fit our dimensions (one sheet to 69 x 48 and the other to 69 x 24). Make sure that the split line between the two sheets will be supported by a stud, so that you can screw both pieces in. Place the first piece on the platform. Use C clamps to make sure it does not move while you screw it in place. We placed screws all around the perimeter of the platform, at about each 16-20 inches. We also added a few to the middle studs. Once the first sheet is done, do the second one! Adding the plywood sheets provides a surface to build on, but it also helps brace the structure underneath to make sure nothing moves.
Step 5 : Add carpet tiles to the platform
Once the plywood is securely installed, the next step is to finish the surface on the platform. We decided to use carpet to make this space nice and cosy since our goal is to have benches on top of that surface and our feet will be touching this surface. We also chose these industrial tiles since they are easy to clean and we can also remove them one by one if we ever need to replace one or two. These are great since they are auto-adhesive. You just need to peel off the plastic sheet from under, place the tile where it should go and put pressure on it to make sure it sticks nicely. For the tiles that arrive at the edges, take the measure and cut the tiles with an exacto at the right size. Use a ruler or a piece of wood as a ruler; basically, you just need something straight.
Step 6 : Secure the platform to the van
To make sure the platform does not move forward and backward as we drive the van, we secured it with the attachment points on the floor of the van. To do this, we made sure that our floor studs would fit between the walls and the attachment. NOTE: The brackets alone might not be enough to make sure the platform does not move while we drive, however, based on how we built the platform, the boxes around the wheels also help keep the platform in place. We had brackets for stairs (they are at a 90 degrees angle). So we used pliers to straighten them so they would become flat. We used screws to attach the van attachment to the stud. We put one at each corner of the platform.
Step 7 : Final touch: oak edge
To finish nicely the platform, we added an oak L bracket on the edges where we know we will walk or place and remove many things. First, measure the length you need. Cut the appropriate length. Place the L bracket on the edge you want to protect. Pre drill holes so that the oak bracket does not split. Screw everything in place. This is it! The platform is finished and securely attached to the van! Enjoy! Next step is to finish the walls (CEDAR PANELING coming soon!) and build the benches (with plaid cushions!) that will go on top of the platform. As I said in the intro, this is the first van conversion we are working on. We do not claim that this is the best way to build storage and a platform, however we believe that we have done a thorough research of online resources and what we present here is a nice summary of the best options we have seen out there, considering our budget, our skills, our schedule, and our future use for the van (winter adventures!). We welcome all comments or questions, since we are curious to see how others have done it.