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Self Build Guide - 6. Cupboards, Table & Benchs, Beds, Shower Cubicle

Article by Peter Smith - Caravans Plus
Read Time: 19 mins

This is part of a series of articles on building or rebuilding a caravan. You can find the whole series here: Ever Wanted To Build or Rebuild a Caravan?


Introduction

Every piece of furniture is different, so the aim of this article is to teach you the fundamentals of building modular furniture, and combining as many of the procedures and different situations that I have encountered.

First, let me say that many videos and photos on the internet may describe specific products, or more automated procedures, or heavier materials, or even inappropriate materials. Since Caravan Plus does not sell many of the products shown in this article, you should trust that it is unbiased. My aim is to show you the strongest and lightest, RV furniture construction that a home builder can achieve and still look 100% professional. There will be home builders who have access to, or experience with using other materials who decide not to follow this guide. Just keep in mind that every extra 10kg of weight in your caravan or campervan will travel with that RV for the next 20 or 30 years.

All larger manufacturers build the furniture in a separate area, then add it to the caravan production line either before the walls, or definitely before the roof. This is for efficiency and so you don't have 20 people working at the same place at the same time.

As a home builder, you will probably make one piece at a time, partly on your work bench and partly while installing it. This is why your caravan will be stronger than most mass produced caravans. And you'll enjoy creating it exactly how you want it.


Floor Mounted Furniture Module

Step by Step Guide

This first photo identifies the first part I will make in this step by step guide. It is the left hand bed side table.

Design idea: Notice the vertical space above the bench top before the wardrobe door starts, this prevents knocking over your glass of wine, or coffee, when opening the wardrobe. Also notice the sloped wardrobe wall. It feels less claustrophobic while sleeping, allows more bedside bench space, and actually allows more wardrobe space at the top where hangers take up space. Another idea some manufacturers use is a cutout in the side of wardrobe at this height. Charge your phone, store a book etc.
It's individual features like these that the home builder gets to add.

Identify the completed furniture
The final photo of cupboard
The photo below will be the basis of the first step by step guide.

Overview of a small furniture module
Details to be covered in furniture building

The above photo shows what you would end up with, by following the steps and photos below.

This bedside table straddles over a tunnel boot. It will later have a laminate top. The wardrobe will be built above it.

  • (1) The front face including its frame is made first
  • (2) There is an opening for a long, deep draw to fully use the space above the tunnel boot, it is as wide possible
  • (3) Because a door will open from this hinged side, a wider timber section is provided so the door will fully open
  • (4) I will cover the corner moulds needed and the important order they are added
  • (5) A side frame is separately made, added, then covered with ply .
  • (6) A frame to support the top, plus provide access for fixing to wall and top
  • The following diagram shows the most common PVC profiles in BLACK. The YELLOW staples show how these are held in place. The OLIVE is a cross-section of ply, or floor covering. The T-Mould presses into a grove.

    PVC profiles used when building caravans
    Flexible and Rigid PVC profiles used when building caravans

    Step 1, Making the frame

    For the benefit of those who haven't read 'Building a Caravan wall with timber'. The preferred timber for frames is Meranti (sometimes called Pacific Maple). It is light weight, strong and straight grained. It is also readily available in most hardware stores. The preferred sizes are 41mm x 18mm and 18mm x 18mm. If you have a saw bench you can save money by ripping the 41mm into two 18mm lengths.

    I did recommend some glue in the joints for wall frames but for furniture it causes a lot of extra unnecessary work. I recommend staples 10-12mm wide, by approx 16mm long for all joints. Two staples for 18mm joins, four for 41mm joins and every 150mm if joining lengths of timber side by side. You should repeat the same on the opposite side.

    I don't particularly like using staples, but they are an essential and very effective tool used in caravan construction. The aim is always to hide them by the end. I would challenge any new home builder, to construct a small timber frame with just staples, glue the ply to one face, and attempt to break it. It may flex a little, but that is exactly we want.

    For larger frames than shown here, it is best to staple the outside frame, then turn it over to do the other side, before adding all internal timbers. A light sanding with a belt sander before adding the ply is recommended. Your frame still has some 'give' in it at this stage.

    Meranti timber cut to size
    Meranti timber cut for cupboard

    Step 2, Adding the front face ply

    I have shown a more complex front face being completed below, as this is the next step for any cupboard. Start on a bench or the floor where your frame is. Apply a line of PVA glue to each piece of timber. Place an oversize piece of ply on top of the timber frame. Place a couple of 4.5mm wide x 16mm long staples along one 'factory cut' side of the ply. If you have a 'factory cut' 90degree corner on the ply - use that to align the frame with the ply. Otherwise ensure your frame is set to 90 degrees with a large set square.

    You don't want any staples visible in the front face, so if there won't be plastic trim to cover edge staples, just clamp the sheet until it drys. Please ensure the frame is at 90 degrees.

    If your front face requires a sheet join, use a butt join without any moulding, but try and hide it behind doors or draws.

    Tip: As your furniture will mostly join to the floor and to a wall, an incorrect angle will effect how vertical your external wall ends up. This is particularly important for tall furniture or internal walls.
    Warning: If your floor has ended up not level or not flat across the caravan, you may need to take remedial action by shaping the base of the frame to prevent a bowed in or bowed out external side wall.

    After the glue is dry, use a router with an edge following bearing to remove all excess ply. A slim tungsten bit will do the entire caravan.

    More complex face being routered
    Complex cupboard face on the floor with the style of router bit to follow edges
    Tip: The ply that is removed from doors can be reused for shelves etc.

    Step 3, Joining additional frames

    The next photo shows how three sections are joined together. As we don't want any screws or staples on the front face, they are attached with screws into the rear of the front face. You would normally have ply on the front face at this time. My excuse is that I was waiting for a ply off-cut. My penalty will be shown later with a cumbersome cupboard to router.

    Three frames joined
    Three frames joined

    Step 3a, The hard way.

    Tip: While in most cases during these articles I show cutting the face ply with a router, this is only done when following a frame edge, You can make your rough cut with a circular saw or even the humble Stanley knife is invaluable and it is easy to cut 3 ply.

    See what happens when you don't follow the procedure. I needed to router the outer edges, and cut-outs in a number of cumbersome positions.

    Showing the reason why its best to router without sides
    Complications if the front face is not finished before joining sides

    After your ply has been glued to the front face, sand off any burrs. An oscillating multi tool, like the Renovator, is ideal for this.

    The oscillation tool with sanding pad
    The oscillation tool gets in tight areas and is not too aggressive

    Step 4, Corner moulds and side ply

    Next we get to add the corner mould (or corner trim) to the front face. In the photo below the cupboard is sitting on its side to also show the bottom edge.

    Tip: In the photo below, the bottom edge trim has been temporarily added to indicate why the corner mould stops short of the bottom. The bottom trim is really only added when the cupboard is complete, and ready to be installed.

    The corner mould is added to any corner that will have a side sheet added. It has one lip that sits over the front face and the mould gets a couple of staples to hold it to the side of the frame. No glue used here yet. The other lip of the corner mould will Later allow the side sheet to slip into position.

    This corner mould stops at the lower edge mould but will go all the way to the top of the frame, in this case. It can be slightly oversized and sanded at the end for a neat appearance.

    Tip: The approximate cut of the moulding can be done with tin snips or even a drop saw, but you get a really neat finish with a bench sanding disc, either at 90 or 45 degrees.

    Adding PVC trim at the corners
    Adding 'Edge Mould' at the corners

    Now is the time to add the side sheet. Cut the ply slightly oversize with a perfect 90 degree corner between the front face and the floor edge. Place glue on the frame including near the corner mould. Staple into position ensuring the frame lines up with your 90 degree corner. Staples will also go thru the hidden leg of corner mould. Router off the excess ply.

    Now that the complete module is constructed, you cover each edge that will contact a wall, floor or ceiling with the rigid style 'Edge Mould', or with the flexible 'Fenderwelt'

    With either style of trim, you should continue it around the corners by removing wedges of the unseen 'legs'.

    Fenderwelt trimmed for corner
    Adding 'Fenderwelt' at the corners

    Step 5, Installing the furniture

    In some cases you may complete the entire module on the work bench, but in this instance I will be adding a long draw, with the roller guide attached to the caravan wall to save on framing, and valuable space.

    Installing Cupboards
    Installing Cupboards

    Warning: This is an area that gives SOME manufacturers a bad name. You would have heard stories of cupboards separating from the ceiling or from the wall. This even happens on 'Outback style' caravans that do not have sufficient fastenings. It is 100% preventable by using enough screws of the correct length. This is one reason I don't like composite wall construction that does not include internal framing.

    Where possible, the furniture is screwed from inside the cabin, through to a wall frame member. Pre-drilling is recommended to prevent splitting in narrow timber. Use cup head screws in most discrete cases, or if essential, counter sunk screws through the side of the front face frame. Don't be miserable with screws if you can foresee stress in an area. Insufficient screws will allow movement and eventually you'll find screws rolling around on the floor. Screws must avoid wires in walls and any plumbing under the floor.

    Sometimes it will be necessary to screw from the outside wall frame or from under the floor into the furniture.

    Warning: It is important to note again, that screwing the furniture in, sets the angle between the wall and the floor. A side sloping floor in this location will translate to a sloping wall unless an adjustment is made.

    Ceiling Mounted Cupboard

    This is easy, just make an upside down, floor mounted cupboard.

    About the only difference, is the bottom face. You will need to decide if you want a lip on your bottom shelf. I prefer not to and I'll just show the diagram of a cross section. Depending on your styling you can finish the ends of the cupboards with a side ply, or use the 'wing wall' method shown later.

    Cross section of suspended cupboard'
    Cross section of suspended cupboard

    During construction of top cupboards, a corner mould is also placed along the edge between front face and base. A bottom face ply is added next, and at this stage if any wiring is required for lights on the base of the cupboard, do that now. The top face of the cupboard base is added before the cupboard is installed. Also if you want any shelves, they could be added now.

    Tip: Like adjustable shelves in your kitchen, I have found it very useful to have the shelfs just resting on a support that can be moved up or down later.

    Once the complete ceiling cupboard module is constructed, with embedded wires, add the 'Fenderwelt' to all edges that contact the walls and ceiling. Any fixed or adjustable shelves should be included here. This is then screwed to the walls and ceiling.

    Warning: If insufficient solid screw positions are available, now is the time to add a few extra wall or ceiling braces.

    Building a Wing Wall

    A 'Wing Wall' has 'Face Ply' on both sides. It is usually a vertical wall and the flexible 'T-Mould' provides a smooth edge that is ideal for trimming a curved edge.

    Samples of 'Wing Walls'
    Samples of 'Wing Walls'

    The exact thickness of the wall will depend on the 'T-Mould' width. Typical sizes are 12mm, 16mm, 18mm or 25mm. The samples above use an 18mm 'T-Mould'. The full height wall (see (1) above ) continues to the ceiling and has a solid core of 12mm ply, covered on both sides with 2.6mm face ply. This was considered a structural 'Bulk head'.

    The 'Strip' construction shown below, reduces weight and material, and was used for seat back rests. Internal frame members were positioned where other items will attach later.

    After belt sanding the edges, they have a groove that accepts the 'T'mould' centred by the router. Avoid the staples here. The 'T-mould' should firmly press into place, and is on exposed edges only. I suggest this 'T-Mould' goes all the way to floor. Other edges of 'Wing Walls' that attach to the walls, floor or ceilings are treated as modular furniture.

    Samples of 'Wing Walls' being built
    'Wing Walls' can have a full ply core, or a frame

    Attaching these walls can be done in a variety of ways. They can be screwed from under the floor, from the outside of the wall frame or through the ceiling frame (this method can limit future modifications). The second method is from inside a cupboard, using the abutting frames. Sometimes it is necessary to add an 18mm x 18mm length to a hidden corner, (see diagram '1' below). It gets screwed to both abutting faces.

    Curves in T-Mould
    'T-Mould' used on tight curves

    Tip: Larger T-Mould is easier to work with if it is placed in hot water first. A hair dryer will also assist for tight curves. If the T-Mould ends up slightly PROUD of the face ply it can be easily trimmed by running a Stanley blade resting along the face ply.

    Table and Bench Tops

    There are a number of ways table tops and bench tops are made for caravans. But all have a common feature, they are thinner than they look.

    Again I recommend using ply for strength verses weight. If you must use a compressed material, insure it is water resistant. Commercially available kitchen bench tops look great and maybe OK if you are fitting out a 30foot bus, but they are extraordinarily heavy.

    Adding the appearance of thickness
    Adding strength and the appearance of thickness

    Steps in creating a laminated table top
    Steps in creating a laminated table top

    Tip: Contact glue can be painted on, or rolled on. Glue the laminate first as it is less absorbent than the ply. When joining glued surfaces, ensure they are lined up before any contact is made. Even newspaper between will work. Then roll or firmly press with soft timber away from the contact toward the edges to prevent air bubbles getting trapped.

    Table Legs

    There are a number of options, decide first:

  • Does the table attach to a wall?
  • Will it be free standing?
  • Does the table needs to fold down to make a bed?
  • Does the table need to move a bit or completely?
  • With such a variety of options it is best to view our complete range of table legs.

    A popular wall mounted table is shown below. It can be used in two configurations.

    X-Section of a Tri-fold table
    The Tri-fold table is a very popular space saver, turning table seating into a lounge

    Bench tops are made identical to table tops. They may or may not have the extra edge thickness. Place 'Fenderwelt' on edges that join walls or cupboards.

    Bench tops should be attached by screwing up through the cupboard frame.

    In the first photo in the next section, you will see that the wardrobe actually sits on the bedside cupboard module. The laminated top does not go between the units, it is shaped to go on at the end. A ply template sits on the left cupboard to ensure the shape is perfect.


    Beds and Seats

    Bed bases and in-built seating are made in the same way as floor mounted cupboards. They have an outer frame, with face ply. Designs can vary with opening from the top only or draws and cupboard doors underneath.

    It can be very inconvenient to only have top access for seating around tables, while it very useful to lift the entire mattress support under double beds.

    Extendable Double bed base
    Extendable Double bed base

    A common bed used in Jayco caravans is extendable in length. This is used where space is at a premium and it allows the bed to be shorter during the day (or all the time if suitable) and it extends at night with a bolster cushion folding down at the head of the bed. This base is held up by gas struts. The aluminium base, with slats as shown is available via Jayco spare parts dealers. The wooden base is not included.

    The ply covered frame under the bed should be set in about 100mm from the mattress width and length. This allows space for your feet while moving around the bed. The height of the frame is a personal decision but should allow space for your wine bottle(s) to stand up in. (That's my criteria anyway. There are a lot of wineries in Australia)

    If a ply mattress support is made by the home builder, it should be made with plenty of ventilation, so the mattress does not sweat. The most common Gas Struts used to hold up a double bed base, with mattress are linked below.

    Gas Strut (one only) - 825mm to 475mm - 330N - 10mm Shaft / 10mm Ball Joints Ends. Suit BedFree Shipping

    Gas Strut (one only) - 825mm to 475mm - 330N - 10mm Shaft / 10mm Ball Joints Ends. Suit Bed

    39 In Stock Now. Free Shipping.
    $67.95
    $49.95
    View

    The photos below show the seating adjacent to a table.

  • (1) Does have a draw that slides out from the rear (see 2) into the walkway. In this design there is a foot rest that pivots up, so the draw needed to come from the back. I'll admit I'm not comfortable using my foot rest as a seat extension. Other designs allow the draw to come out where the foot rest is, and some even combine that with a foot rest and for extended seating.
  • (2) This is a deep solid draw that holds our shoes near the door way. The sides are made from 9mm marine ply, and have been reduced in weight by the cut-out. The whole draw has been lined with light weight marine carpet. Marine carpet is very useful for lining lots or places. It is usually held in place by a couple of staples that become invisible. There are many ways to build draws, so I won't go any further other than to say, build your complete box to fit behind the front face. Attach your draw front afterwards, by screwing from within the draw to the rear of the draw face. A positive catch is essential for draws.
  • (3) Has top access only to under the seat. This is because my batteries and inverter are located in this central position and rarely need access. The cushions rest on 12mm ply that slightly overlaps the base. The removable lid with curved corners sits on frame members. A coat of clear paint makes these easier to keep clean. In all cases the main ply tops are screwed into place incase full access is required in future.
  • I had my cushions professionally covered and they were secured on the backrest with automotive push-in retainers. The base cushions now have velcro (see black strips) to prevent slipping. The cushions need to be made from a firm or high density foam, but again the upholster could assist here if you go that way. Definitely don't use standard foam, it deteriorates in a short time.

    Seating around table
    Seating around table


    Shower Cubicle

    Pre-made shower cubicles are very popular and come in a variety of sizes. The trouble I found was that many moulds are owned by companies that fit out motorhomes and campervans and were not available to purchase. Certainly some sizes are available and if a suitable size can be purchased, ensure the drain hole with avoid major chassis members. A couple of names to Google are 'Flair Showers' & 'DIY RV Solutions'

    Various style shower cubicles or a shower base
    Various style shower cubicles or a shower base

    Many shower cubicles come without a door. These can be made to measure by a shower screen installer, and most often use perspex rather than safety glass. A positive catch is required while travelling.

    You can make your own shower cubicle if you choose too, as I did, using a purchased shower base. Briefly, I covered all shower walls with laminate during the construction of the walls. The final wall which contained the door, had a translucent perspex on the shower side.

    I then placed a VT90 shower base onto an edge of silicone. This particular base allows for two drain positions, and I have hooked up both, in case my caravan is not 100% level. (Usually my wife can pick a 1mm slope)

    Sections showing how to seal a DIY shower cubicle
    Sections showing how to seal a DIY shower cubicle

    It is important to place the 'Bathroom Silicone' or 'Sikaflex' inside the join with sufficient thickness to provide a membrane. Any excess outside the join should be removed.

    670mm Wide, VT90 WHITE Shower Tray, 830mm x 670mm

    670mm Wide, VT90 WHITE Shower Tray, 830mm x 670mm

    17 In Stock Now.
    $219.95
    View

    That completes the main building structures within a caravan. There are of course other methods and materials that can be used. This guide has shown, to my knowledge, the lightest and strongest methods that I have used with materials that are readily available to the home handyman. Many manufactures have developed or sourced materials that allow for quicker construction.

    Many use laminated MDF and this can provide a quicker and neat result. The two disadvantages to be considered are the extra weight and weaker joins. These two items are not as significant in a smaller camper-van fit-out which do frequently use MDF construction.


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    4 Comments

    • comment-avatar

      Pat

      Thank you for these guides, they are very timely as I am about to gut and renovate a 2001 Windsor. Would it be possible to get some more detail on correctly installing the T-Mould edging in one of the future guides. Thanks again, this will be very helpful as I do the build.

    • comment-avatar

      Peter - CaravansPlus

      Pat I have added some additional info and diagrams for the T-Mould. It is in the 'Wing Wall' section, but is equally relevant to table or bench-top edging.

    • comment-avatar

      Robyn

      Thank you so much for introducing me to this site....great stuff. Is there such a thing as a shower cubicle suitable for a pop-up camper? We want to remove the fridge and small cupboard and fit a shower/toilet to this space.....can that be done? Cheers Robyn

    • comment-avatar

      Peter - CaravansPlus

      Robyn, I have seen low versions of shower cubicles in pop tops. A google search revealed diyrvsolutions

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