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How to build shelves for a van

Updated October 31, 2018

If your van is a simple shell with a driver and passenger seat and not much else, you may wish to customise it. Shelves are useful for storage, to keep the contents of a mini camper, rolling workshop or craft sales transport organised and protected while the van is in motion. The best shelves will have a lip in front, to prevent items rolling or sliding off the shelves around turns or in sudden stops. Van shelves should also have a back panel to prevent items falling through the space between the shelf and the van wall.

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  1. Decide how many shelves you need and how much vertical space between shelves is necessary for storage. Decide whether to hang your shelves on the back or along the walls of the van.

  2. Cut wood to desired shelf lengths. The easiest length to use is the entire length of the van. You could also decide to stop and start the shelves between the inside beams of the van.

  3. Mark desired shelf height on the wall beams inside the van. Cut two side supports for your shelf unit, as long as the distance from the floor of your van to the ceiling. Mitre as needed for the best fit between floor and ceiling.

  4. Mark shelf positions on the side supports you cut in Step 3. Drill two 3 mm (1/8 inch) diameter pilot holes in each side support for each shelf, about 12.5 cm (5 inches) apart from the front of the shelf unit to the side that will be against the van wall. Drill matching 3 mm (1/8 inch) diameter pilot holes in the ends of each shelf. Countersink all holes. Assemble the shelf unit using wood screws. Sand screws flush if needed, using a right-angled grinder and metal grinding disk.

  5. Sand and finish the shelf unit using paint or your choice of stains, varnishes or clear acrylic coatings. Mount the shelf unit to the wall using L-shaped wall mounts and machine screws.

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Things You'll Need

  • Power drill, 3 mm (1/8 inch) diameter metal-drilling bit
  • Wood-drilling bits: 3 mm (1/8 inch), 6 mm (1/4 inch) and 1.2 cm (1/2 inch) diameter
  • Countersink bit
  • Board, 1.8 cm x 15 cm x 2.4 m (3/4 inch x 6 inches x 8 feet)
  • L-shaped wall mounts
  • Box of machine screws with matching bumper washer and lock washer
  • 1 box of 2.5 cm (1 inch) wood screws
  • Mitre box and back saw
  • Ratchet driver set with screwdriver bits
  • Medium, fine and extra fine sandpaper or sanding belts
  • Your choice of paint or finish
  • Sanding blocks or belt sander
  • Right-angled grinder, grinding disk

About the Author

Jane Smith has provided educational support, served people with multiple challenges, managed up to nine employees and 86 independent contractors at a time, rescued animals, designed and repaired household items and completed a three-year metalworking apprenticeship. Smith's book, "Giving Him the Blues," was published in 2008. Smith received a Bachelor of Science in education from Kent State University in 1995.

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