Sleep. It’s what we do for roughly a third of our lives. Therefore, building a solid bed in your camper van should be a top priority. Whether you’re looking for camper bed design inspiration or need detailed information on how to build a camper van bed frame, this post has got you covered.
Specifically, this post will talk about how to construct a convertible in a campervan and will cover the layout planning process, the construction, and adding a mattress.
If you are still deciding whether to build a convertible or fixed bed, read our other post to learn why we think convertible beds are the right choice.
- Step 1: Plan the Bed Frame Dimensions
- Step 2: Building the Bed Frame
- Step 3: Add Paneling to the Bed Frame
- Step 4: Mold Treat Bed Frame
- Step 5: Sanding the Bed Frame
- Step 6: Painting the Bed Frame
- Step 7: Adding Hinges (for Storage Access)
- Step 8: Build the Bed Center With a Swivel Table
- Step 9: Making the Bed Mattress
- Camper Van Bed Conversion Video
- Recommend Sites
Step 1: Plan the Bed Frame Dimensions
Before building the camper van bed frame, plan ahead so that you know exactly where you want to install your bed and its exact dimensions. Making a layout ahead of time will ensure the following:
- Your bed is the correct size for your body.
- All the products you want (i.e., water tanks, electrical) fit under your bed.
- Mistakes and errors will be kept to a minimum.
In the graphic below, you can see how we created a birds-eye view of our camper layout.
Our Bed Frame Floor Plan Diagram
Our bed frame, shaped like a “U,” is shaded in light blue. You can see how we detailed every dimension of our bed frame and even included space for:
- Inverter (tan)
- Three batteries (yellow)
- Fresh water tank (dark blue)
Good To Know! You can often get accurate product dimensions by visiting the product’s Amazon page.
Want to know how we made our digital layout? Read our post “How To Design A Conversion Van Layout” to learn how to create your floorplan graphic using any old free software.
Where Is The Middle Of The Bed? Looking at the above bed frame layout graphic, you might be wondering where the center of the bed is. The swivel table will fill out the bed’s center. We will talk more about this in Step 6.
Step 2: Building the Bed Frame
Once you’ve finalized the shape and dimensions of your van bed, it’s time to start building the bed frame. We detail the bed frame construction process in the four steps below.
What Type Of Wood To Use? If you can, avoid the softest types of wood, like cedar and redwood. Softwoods have a difficult time holding on to the screw threads when experiencing lots of vibration (aka driving). We’ve already had multiple screws pop out of our redwood beams.
Lay the Foundation Layer
Outline the bed frame using 2×2 wood beams. When laying the wood beams on the floor, ensure that the dimensions the beams create match the dimensions in your layout plan. Once you’ve laid the beams on the floor in the correct location, screw the beams to the floor (and subfloor) with wood screws.
You can see how we did this in the graphic above.
Note: The ideal screw length should be the sum of the thickness of the 2×2 wood beam, the floorboards, and the plywood subfloor.
Install Vertical Posts to the Bed Frame
Next, with the foundation set, you can begin to build upwards. Construct your vertical segments using a combination of the following:
- 2×4 wood beams
- Wood glue
- Sturdy L-brackets
When calculating the proper length of your 2×4 beams, refer to your layout guide AND consider the height of the 2×2 beams for the foundation and the top layer (which we discuss below).
When attaching the 2×4 beams to the 2×2 foundation beams, we use the L-brackets and wood glue to create a study hold. We don’t want to risk the campervan bed frame from collapsing over time.
Tip: To create 90-degree solid joints, we recommend purchasing sturdy L-brackets. This reinforces the wood joints to withstand bumpy drives better and when jumping around on the bed. Screws are included.
Add the Top Layer to the Bed Frame
Once the vertical 2×4 vertical beams are installed, add a final layer of 2×2 beams on top. Fasten the beams in place using L-brackets and wood glue.
Completed Camper Bed Frame
With the above steps completed, your bed frame should resemble the one in the image below.
Avoid Our Mistake: We purchased Redwood to build our van bed frame because it was lightweight. However, Redwood is also a very soft wood, and consequently, the screws cannot grip the wood well. We recommend purchasing a firmer wood, like pine, to create your bed frame.
Step 3: Add Paneling to the Bed Frame
Once the skeleton of the van bed is completed, add plywood paneling to complete the bed frame. After completing the steps below, your bed should look like the image below.
Cut Plywood Panels
To do this, we first measured the dimensions of every side of our van bed frame and cut out the corresponding sizes on ½” birch plywood.
Tip 1: While birch plywood quality at hardware stores is sufficient, look for higher quality “Baltic Birch” plywood at your local lumber yard. It’ll be stronger and less prone to warping.
Tip 2: Making straight cuts is essential here. While a jigsaw can do the job, we recommend a circular or table saw to cut your plywood boards.
Attach Plywood Panels to the Bed Frame
Use wood screws to fix the plywood panels to the 2×2 and 2×4 wood beams. For a clean finish, we recommend the following:
- #8 Trim Screws – Small head screw that easily countersinks into the plywood.
- Spackling – Covers screw head for a clean finish.
Step 4: Mold Treat Bed Frame
To prevent mold growth on the plywood boards, spray the bed frame with an anti-mold solution. This quick and easy step is used in other parts of our van build, including our walls, floor, and kitchen counter.
Step 5: Sanding the Bed Frame
After the anti-mold solution has dried, sand the bed frame to create a smooth surface before painting.
With an electric sander, sand the plywood initially with 80-grit sandpaper. The 80-grit paper is relatively coarse but will do an excellent job of sanding down the rougher areas of the plywood. When completed, go over the plywood again with 120-grit sandpaper to smooth out the plywood surface.
Tip: Sanding is a dirty business. Wear a high-quality filtered mask. This mask is also helpful when painting to filter harmful chemicals and odors.
Step 6: Painting the Bed Frame
After sanding the bed, paint the bed frame with two coats of anti-mold primer. You can never be too careful when it comes to mold.
And finally, apply two coats of paint with the color of your choice.
Step 7: Adding Hinges (for Storage Access)
You can add hinges to the top plywood panel to access the storage area under the bed frame.
Adding hinges can be tricky because several strips of plywood are needed to anchor the hinges. To see what we mean, refer to the graphic below. The dark blue segment is the plywood strips, the light blue segments are the liftable plywood boards, and the orange rectangles are the hinges.
Install gas struts to help keep your plywood boards open while you access your storage area. Although gas struts are optional, they work well and give you an extra hand to collect your belongings under the bed.
Step 8: Build the Bed Center With a Swivel Table
If you followed our bed frame guide, you will have noticed that there is still a large empty space in the middle of the bed area that needs to be filled.
Currently, we only have a U-shaped bed/bench system installed. We must fill the middle gap to sleep on our camper van bed at night.
That’s where the center table comes in.
During the day, we use this table to eat and work. But at night, we lower the tabletop so that it becomes flush with the van bed frame.
Recommended Table Top Material
You can use either plywood or solid wood for your tabletop. Plywood will be cheaper and lighter, but both material options work great. We used a ¾” Walnut plywood board as our tabletop. We measured the dimensions of the empty middle space and cut the corresponding dimensions on the walnut plywood board.
However, plywood from the lumber yard isn’t the most aesthetic. We chose to ‘beautify’ our walnut tabletop in the following two ways:
- Add walnut edge banding – Edge banding is an affordable solution to make plywood resemble solid wood boards. You will need an iron to add the edge banding, but the final result is worth the effort.
- Apply mineral oil – Mineral oil does a fantastic job bringing out the wood’s vibrant colors. We also use oil for our ceiling boards and butcherblock countertop. Using an official applicator makes the project less messy and more consistent.
Recommended Swivel Table Hardware
If you are following our campervan bed frame guide and building a convertible bed, purchasing swivel table hardware is necessary. The swivel hardware lets you separate the tabletop from the stand (and the base), enabling you to assemble the bed in the evening.
This table hardware makes it easy to swivel and rotate the tabletop so it’s never in the way. This makes it an excellent option for RVs and vans with limited interior space to move around.
- Swivels for space efficiency
- Easily disconnects from the base
Adding Rails to the Bed Frame
When assembling the bed at night, the tabletop must sit on rails to support the table. Without the rails, the tabletop would fall through to the floor.
We used ½” x ½” wood sticks for our rails. And with a combination of wood glue and countersunk flat head screws, we affixed these sticks ¾” below the top of our bed frame. This was so that when we placed our ¾” plywood board on the rails, the tabletop would sit flush with the top of our bed frame.
Step 9: Making the Bed Mattress
Now that the campervan bed frame is finished, it’s time to make the mattress for the bed.
The easiest and most effective way to make a mattress for a convertible bed is to purchase a foam mattress topper and cut it down to the sizes you’ll need to cover the bench and bed. We cover exactly how to do this in our separate post below.
To learn more, read: “How to DIY cushion covers for camper vans.”
If you’re wondering which foam mattress to purchase, we wrote a LINENSPA foam mattress review. We love our mattress and think you will, too.
Camper Van Bed Conversion Video
Watch our video below to see, in action, how we convert our back benches into a bed.
The video is in Japanese, so turn on English captions.
Van Flares: Want a slightly wider van so you can sleep sideways? This company installs flares on the rear sides of van conversions so you can build a bed lengthwise. Very useful and great for space efficiency.
Useful 3D Model: This blog post contains valuable information on constructing a camper bed frame. But even more helpful is the 3D bed model they created, making it easy to build a similar bed frame for your van.
We hope you learned a thing (or two!) about our campervan bed construction and that it inspires you to do the same.
To read other informative campervan build articles, return to our DIY Campervan Conversion Guide.
If you have any other questions about how to construct a bed in a camper van, please let us know in the comments section below.
Van Conversion Essential Bundles
Every resource on our website is 100% free to download and use. We don’t charge you, and we don’t require your email address. Happy building!