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How To Build & Install Furring Strips in a Camper Van

Installing furring strips in a camper van is one of the best ways to ensure that your future camper walls, ceiling, and furniture stay strongly attached to your van’s frame. That’s because when a screw is drilled into a furring strip, there’s a much stronger pull-out resistance due to the greater contact area, as opposed to being screwed directly into thin sheet metal.

Furring strips mounted in a camper van
Furring strips mounted in the upper section of our camper van

Pull-out resistance is important because a van in motion experiences considerable vibration, twists, and turns. All this movement exerts a pull-out force on every screw in your van. Screws with low pull-out resistance can, and do, easily pop out.

In this post, we show you the best way to install furring strips in your camper van so that you can later install walls and a ceiling.

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Step 1: Select Wood Material

There’s an inherent conflict when deciding how thick your van furring strips should be. The thicker the wood, the greater the pull-out resistance there will be (good). But the thicker the furring strip, the more horizontal space you’ll sacrifice in your camper (not good).

So, what’s the most ideal thickness?

We suggest finding wood planks that are between 1/2″ & 2/3″ in thickness. And you can easily find these pieces of wood at your local lumber yard or any major hardware store chain.

Ideal Furring Strip Dimensions?

Most of our furring strips are L16″ x W4″ x 2/3″ thick. But it’s best to take a look at your own van’s interior and decide what the best furring strip dimensions are for you.

Can You DIY Your Own Furring Strips?

Yes! We had many leftover 1/3″ plywood boards. So we cut them down to 16″x4″ pieces and doubled them up with wood glue to double the thickness.

We then prepped our DIY furring strips with anti-mold spray and anti-mold primer.

Below are the furring strips we created from leftover plywood boards. But you can easily go and buy similar-sized boards at a local lumber yard or hardware store.

Strips of plywood laid out on the floor
Creating DIY furring strips for our camper van walls

Step 2: Purchase Cross Nuts (or Rivet Nuts)

Some van conversions rely on screwing furring strips directly into the van’s sheet metal frame. But that defeats the purpose of using furring strips in the first place.

So we will do something better and attach the furring strips to the van’s frame using cross nuts.

Bulbed cross nut
Cross nut

Benefits of using cross nuts vs. traditional screws

  • Huge pull-out strength
  • Creates no new holes
  • Easy to install (with the right tool)
  • Popular van life choice

You can also use rivet nuts as an acceptable substitute, but cross nuts will give you stronger pull-out resistance.

If correctly installed, a cross nut has over 10x greater pull-out resistance than a standard screw through sheet metal.

And NO unnecessary drill holes are created in the van.

Purchase the Correct Cross Nut Size For Your Van

Different vans will require different-sized cross nuts. If you own one of the three vehicles below, you can find the cross nuts you need by referencing the table.

Pre-Bulbed Cross Nuts

Our top recommendation for fixing plywood walls, ceiling boards, and furniture to your van's sheet metal frame. Different vans use different size cross nuts, refer to the links below to locate the specific size you need.

Amazon (Sprinter & Promaster) Amazon (Transit)
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Step 3: Install Cross Nuts to Van Frame

Cross nuts do not create new holes in the van because they conveniently fit into the hundreds of pre-fabricated holes all throughout the camper van’s sheet metal frame.

You simply slot a cross nut into one of these holes and compress the cross nut until it sandwiches (and tightly pinches) the sheet metal wall, creating a firm hold.

Finished cross nut installation on the interior side of the sheet metal frame of a camper van
Installed cross nut (right) vs. empty hole (left)

Example: Below, you can see how a compressed cross nut forces together the head and body. When installed in a van, the cross nut pinches the metal frame to create a strong, permanent grip.

Compressed cross nut example
A compressed cross nut for visualization.

Get an Installation Tool

Though there is a cheaper DIY installation method, we highly recommend getting the official installation tool. It will save you lots of time, mental frustration, and unnecessary hand cramps. Trust us. We did the DIY method, and it just wasn’t worth it.

Most importantly, this tool ensures that all your cross nuts are VERY TIGHTLY compressed onto your van’s frame. Some of our hand-cranked cross nuts don’t adhere very well to the metal wall and freely rotate.

Top Installation Tool
Astro Pneumatic CrossNut & Rivet Nut Tool
$78.99

If planning to install cross nuts (and/or rivet nuts) you will need this tool to do it. Don't be like us and use the 'cheap' manual way. It's not worth the effort. This tool saves you countless hours and frustration.

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We earn a commission if you purchase, at no additional cost to you.
04/08/2024 03:20 pm GMT

The video below shows just how easy it is to install a cross nut with the proper tool.

Install Plus Nuts with a Riv Nut Tool (and PlusNuts vs RivNuts)

Still want to know the DIY way? We give detailed instructions on the ‘free’ way to install a cross nut in our appendix at the end of this post.

Step 4: Attach Furring Strips To Cross Nuts

We put a bolt through the furring strip and into the cross nut to attach the furring strip to our van’s frame. In the below picture, you can see how we bolted the furring strip to one of our cross nuts (hidden behind the furring strip).

Furring strip with cross nuts in a van conversion
Attaching a furring strip, with cross nut, in our van conversion

We drilled a hole through the furring strip large enough to fit our bolt. Then, we bolted each furring strip to the cross nut with a washer. The resulting hold is very tight and strong.

Get the Correct Bolt Size For Your Cross Nut

With all the cross nuts installed, you can attach the furring strips. The best way to do this is to use a bolt and washer to affix the furring strips to the cross nuts. Note: You’ll need to use bolts with the correct threads, which depends on the specific cross nuts you are using.

Installing Furring Strips in the Middle Panel (Without Cross Nuts)

When you look at our camper van walls, you’ll notice that our middle wall is recessed and is (almost) flush against the van’s sheet metal panel. Having a recessed middle wall has increased our van’s internal living space and might help you sleep sideways instead of length-wise if you’re not super tall.

Installing a recessed middle wall was tricky because we couldn’t install any cross nuts in this region. No cross nuts meant we couldn’t install our normal furring strips to attach our camper van walls.

So how did we do this?

Attaching 2×2 Wood Beams Across the Panels

Camper van wall middle furring strip example
Using 2×2 Wood Beams As Furring Strips

Because there is only the thin sheet metal panel in this middle section of the van, there is no place to install a cross nut. We also could not simply drill furring strips through the metal because doing so would create a hole to the outside of the van.

Therefore, we laid 2×2 wood beams across the panel and screwed the beams along the perimeter of the van’s panel, where there was sheet metal that wasn’t facing the outside.

In the diagram above, you can see how we attached our furring strips to the panel. At the end of each 2×2 beam, we put in two screws (tiny black circles) to fix the furring strips to the van’s frame.

The trickiest part of the whole process was that the perimeter edges of our van’s metal panel weren’t 90-degree angles. They’re more like 135-degree angles. So, we had to cut the edge of our wood beams at an angle so that the wood could sit flush on the metal panel.

In our second illustrated diagram below, you can see how we cut the horizontal wood piece on both sides to fit flush with the metal wall.

Middle panel wall furring strip illustrated diagram
Middle panel furring strip installation diagram

The process of cutting the edges of the wood beams to match the angle of the panel’s perimeter took a lot of time. We had to make lots of small cuts on the edges of each wood beam to make sure it was exactly the right length and that it fit flush against the sloping metal edge.

After installing the horizontal furring strip, we did a similar process with our four vertical furring strips.

Completed!

Furring Strip Installation Finished!

Camper van interior showing unfinished conversion with insulation, elecrical wire, and furring strips
Furring strip installation complete in our camper van.

When we were done attaching all our white furring strips to our van, we were finally ready to start working on our plywood camper walls.

How many furring strips can you spot in the picture above?

Hint: We also put thin furring strips on our roof to install our cedar plank camper van ceiling.

Appendix: DIY Cross Nut Installation Method

In an effort to save money, we skipped out on the official cross-nut installation tool and opted for the DIY method. This involved hand-cracking each cross nut to compress them onto our van’s frame.

If you’re looking to save a few dollars and want to build up your hand strength, this is the method for you. But looking back, we would never do it this way again. It was tough and wasted too much of our time.

Below, we list all the products you need to install cross nuts into your camper van’s frame.

Tools & Materials List

Installation Diagram

The diagram below illustrates how each item we listed above works together to install a single cross nut.

Cross nut installation diagram using DIY tools
Diagram for installing a cross nut in a camper van

Looks confusing? We totally understand. We describe the DIY cross-nut installation process below, step-by-step.

Installation Steps

  1. Fit the K-Lock Nut around the carriage bolt
  2. Insert the 5/16″ washer into the carriage bolt
  3. Insert the box end of the 5/16″ wrench around the carriage bolt
  4. Lastly, fit the cross nut onto the carriage bolt
  5. Fit the carriage bolt and cross nut together into one of the van’s pre-fabricated holes
  6. With your left hand, hold BOTH the 5/16″ wrench and the locking pliers, which grip near the head of the carriage bolt.
  7. With your right hand, fit the open end of the 7/16″ wrench around the K-Lock nut and rotate the nut clockwise.
  8. Keep turning the K-Lock nut. This compresses the backside of the cross onto the sheet metal.
  9. Keep turning the K-Lock nut until it refuses to rotate anymore.

When you are done, the cross nut should adhere tightly to the van’s sheet metal frame. Below is an example of a successful cross-nut installation.

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