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DIY Mercedes Vito Van Conversion (HOW TO, TIPS & REGRETS)


If you haven't been following our Instagram stories and are wondering what exactly we've been working on these past four months or so, then allow us to share with you our recently self converted campervan, and perhaps introduce you to a possible new blog series?!

As if the van build itself wasn't enough for us, we decided to make a video series of the whole process, and the idea is that there's hopefully someone out there that can at least take away one or two good ideas. There's basically going to be five more future videos in the series that go into each stage in a bit more depth, so please do subscribe to our channel if that sounds like something you'd be interested in, but we also thought that we'd talk a bit about the process right here on our blog too... From the pallet wood walls, to a pull out bed and a fully functioning kitchen!

What the videos don't make completely clear is that the process is far from linear, meaning that we would find ourselves jumping from job to job and would start something without having finished something else and, if we weren't trying to make a coherent video series, we probably would have done things a little differently. For example, we would've made the insulation and cladding of the walls not such separate stages. So, that's just something to bare in mind as you read on.

Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. Making purchases through these links helps to support By The Compass at no extra cost to you!

Read Our Ultimate Cornwall Road Trip Itinerary HERE!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!


Stage One // Stripping Out The Van

It all became very real when we started to tear down the plastic trim and strip out the interior of the van. On the surface, it doesn't seem like much of a challenge, but it quickly revealed plenty of hidden dirt and even the development of rust. It was really just a lot of cleaning and unscrewing screws.

What you'll need:

Electric drill & a comprehensive set of drill bits - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N

De-ruster - https://amzn.to/2PpFLLA / https://amzn.to/2L0MKvK

Paint brushes

Metal scourer

Cleaning cloths

Stage Two // Insulation

The trickiest part of insulating a van is arguably just deciding on how you're actually going to do it. We did our research, but in the end, we paid a visit to B&Q to see exactly what our options were, and what we came away were a few rolls of reflective bubble insulation (for a vapour barrier), recycled plastic bottle insulation (for actual insulation) and a pack of insulation board (for the floor), and we remain generally very happy with our choices. What we learnt however is that expandable foam isn't really worth the trouble, and a more solid/less polystyrene type of insulation board for the floor might have been a better option. Where the reflective insulation's concerned, we think that it might've been best to do the wall cladding over the top as we went along.

What you'll need:

Actual insulation - https://www.diy.com/

Reflective insulation - https://www.diy.com/

Insulation boards - https://www.diy.com/

Insulation tape - https://amzn.to/2vkDbx8 / https://amzn.to/2PpFQim

Spray adhesive

Stage Three // Flooring

After ripping up the existing rubbery floor in our van, we noticed that there were four troughs in the metal base of our van, so we decided that they were the perfect place to run four lengths of 34x34mm timber, to which we could then screw a few sheets of MDF to. Unfortunately, the only option for us at the DIY shop we went to were 6mm x 610mm x 1220mm sheets of MDF and, whilst we think that 6mm was a good thickness, having larger sheets and needing fewer of them (resulting in less joins/cracks) would've been much better. What was cool was the fact that the insulation boards we had bought were the perfect size to fit in between each piece of timber, but it is argued by some that raising the floor and insulating it isn't entirely necessary or worth the loss in floor to ceiling height, which may actually be true. Another thing worth knowing is how to 'scribe' around the wheel arches, but we won't bother explaining that, as it would be much easier to watch a video.

What you'll need:

34mm x 34mm x 2.4m timber - https://www.diy.com/

6mm x 610mm x 1220mm MDF - https://www.diy.com/

50mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

20-30mm regular timber screws

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

JigSaw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX

Read about our Essential Eco Friendly Items For Travel HERE!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!

Stage Four // Walls

Going into the van build, we knew that we prefered the look of cladded walls compared to just plywood or MDF, and if you're the same then your main options are tung and groove wood or repurposed pallet wood. We went with the latter for the sake of saving money and what would seem like less damage to the environment, but what we didn't consider was the extra weight and the extra money that we would almost certainly spend on fuel in the long run. What we did consider was that we wouldn't need to clad the areas of wall that were soon to be hidden behind units, so we used some more MDF to double as the back of the units.

What you'll need:

Pallet wood

Two sheets of 6mm x 610mm x 1220mm MDF - https://www.diy.com/

25-30mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

White paint - https://amzn.to/2PtAYIX / https://amzn.to/2vi28t5

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

Hand saw / jigsaw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX

Stage Five // Roof & Lights

The process for the roof was very similar to the walls, apart from the fact that you can only really screw into certain spots so you don't go straight through the roof. On the roof of our van, we had two ridges that we could screw into. The trouble with this though is knowing where the ridges are when you've covered them with the reflective insulation. Something that we might have done differently is first screwing in a 20 or so mm thick piece of timber into the ridges and then screwed into that, which would have most likely made things a lot easier! Before you do anything though, you'll need to think about your lights - ours screwed straight to the wood with a cable coming from each feeding through a hole, running behind the wood and leading to the connection box that came with the lights.

What you'll need:

Pallet wood

25-30mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

White paint - https://amzn.to/2PtAYIX / https://amzn.to/2vi28t5

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

Hand saw / jig saw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX

Lights - https://ebay.to/2GYCRfk

Stage Six // Trim

At this point, you're probably going to wonder what to do where the walls meet the roof, as well as some of the van's metal frame that still might be on show. We cut some leftover pallet wood to continue the walls round to the back doors of the van, which took a surprisingly long amount of time to do. Where the walls meet the roof, we cut some 3mm thin hardboard, which looked much neater compared to when we tried using the much thicker pallet wood. Another challenge of ours was figuring out what to do above both of the sliding doors, as well as where the roof meets the cab area, and the best idea we could think of was to use more of the pallet wood to box out any exposed metal. We should also say at this point that instructions for all of this are very hard to give, as we basically just figured it all out as we went along, hence why it isn't in the video!

What you'll need:

Pallet wood

3mm hardboard - https://www.diy.com/

A selection of regular timber screws

25-30mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

White paint - https://amzn.to/2PtAYIX / https://amzn.to/2vi28t5

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

Hand saw / jigsaw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX

Read about Our Favourite Eco Friendly Health & Beauty Products For Travel HERE!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!

Stage Seven // Chalkboard Back Doors

The original idea for the backdoors was to simply cover each with a sheet of plywood, but because of the curves in the doors, it wouldn't have been worth the trouble. The second option was to just cover the top half with the plywood and that's exactly what we did, but still with great difficulty. It involved making a rough cardboard copy to then be traced, cutting out the plywood, spray painting it black and then screwing it to the doors. Following that, we measured and cut more pallet wood for the bottom halves of the doors, leaving a cut out for the door handle of course. The backdoors really aren't our best work, but they do make for a nice feature in the van. Plus, because they are such a large surface area, we absolutely had to insulate them, otherwise we could've considered leaving them the way that they were with the original plastic trim, just like we did with the sliding doors.

What you'll need:

Pallet wood

5mm plywood - https://www.diy.com/

25-30mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

Black chalkboard spray paint - https://amzn.to/2Ds0Ik8

White paint - https://amzn.to/2PtAYIX / https://amzn.to/2vi28t5

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

Hand saw / jigsaw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX

Stage Eight // Cab Wall

The main purpose of the cab wall was to double as the back of the wardrobe unit that was going to go up against it. However, if we had a bit more in our budget, we ideally would've insulate it with some more of the reflective bubble insulation, but then again, we can always do that at some point in the future. For the wall, we basically just used a few sheets of MDF, but figuring out how to screw it to the van wasn't easy... Firstly, some of the plastic trim needed cutting to expose the metal frame of the van, which we then screwed some 18x44mm pieces of timber to. Then, we bolted a 34x34mm piece of timber to some of the metal that ran the width of the van under the front seats using the existing threaded holes. These pieces of timber then aligned well enough to create the cab wall and screw the MDF to.

What you'll need:

6mm x 610mm x 1220mm MDF - https://www.diy.com/

34mm x 34mm x 2.4m timber - https://www.diy.com/

18mm x 44mm x 2.4m timber - https://www.diy.com/

6mm x 40mm bolts

A selection of regular timber screws

25-30mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N

Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

Hand saw / jigsaw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX

Read our Guide For More Mindful & Sustainable Travel HERE!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!

Stage Nine // Pull Out Bed & Wardrobe Unit

There really isn't anything special about the structure of our units - in fact, they are as basic as could possibly be, but still surprisingly stable. What we really like about the bed though, other than the hardboard panelling, is what you could call the alternating slat system. The idea was that every other slat is screwed into a separate piece of wood, so that it can be pulled out, and the bed effectively doubles in width. Further to that, we wanted to design the bed so that the slats hinged up, so instead of screwing the slats into the actual structure of the bed, we first laid down a layer of 18x44mm timber and screwed every other slat into that, which is actually what hinges up. Part 4 of the video series will show you how exactly that works. The wardrobe unit that we wanted up against the cab wall was actually built into the bed unit too, so that they share the same structure and no unnecessary wood was used. You don't really see much of the wardrobe in the video series because, when we originally made it, we'd used a horrible varnish for the timber on top and had to re-do it. Plus, we were cracking on with the kitchen unit at the same time, so the video came out incredibly incoherent. Basically, what we used for the counter top was just a few 18x70mm pieces of timber, which were actually just leftover from the kitchen top, and the shelf is just a 6mm sheet of MDF, which is mostly supported by the structure of the unit, with a couple of L brackets supporting it on the left hand side. Considering we just wanted it all done by this point, it all turned out quite well.

What you'll need:

Unit Sides - 3mm hardboard - https://www.diy.com/

Structure - 34mm x 34mm x 2.4m timber - https://www.diy.com/

Bed Slats - 18mm x 44mm x 2.4m timber - https://www.diy.com/

Wardrobe Top - 18mm x 70mm x 2.4m timber - https://www.diy.com/

A selection of regular timber screws

Grey paint - https://www.homebase.co.uk/

White paint - https://amzn.to/2PtAYIX / https://amzn.to/2vi28t5

Varnish - https://amzn.to/2PscEqX / https://amzn.to/2PsvFcC

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

Hand saw / jigsaw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX

Stage Ten // Kitchen

We wanted to keep things consistent when it came to the style of our units, so we did the kitchen just like we did the wardrobe and bed. Specifically, we painted the structure white, painted the side panels grey and used a dark walnut varnish on the kitchen top, which again, you don't really get to see in any the videos annoyingly. The key to our kitchen, we think, was the fact that we bought some really great stuff (which is all linked below). First of all for the sink, we cut a hole in the kitchen top with a jigsaw, and obviously had to do that with a diameter about 2cm short on each side so that the sink didn't just fall through though. Then, we thought to apply some silicon around the sink, but that wasn't really necessary. For the tap, all we had to do was drill a hole no bigger than 20mm, and then it was time to wire it up to the battery and a water pump - but we'll save you the boring explanation of wiring electrics until Part 5 of the video series. The final thing to complete the kitchen was a good cooker, and we didn't want to go down the route of needing a big gas bottle, because that would need a drop vent being cut through the base of the van. So, we found a two burner cooker that only requires small butane cans, and we really could be more impressed with it!

What you'll need:

Unit Sides - 3mm hardboard - https://www.diy.com/

Structure - 34mm x 34mm x 2.4m timber - https://www.diy.com/

Kitchen Top - 18mm x 70mm x 2.4m timber - https://www.diy.com/

Shelf - 6mm x 610mm x 1220mm MDF - https://www.diy.com/

A selection of regular timber screws

Grey paint - https://www.homebase.co.uk/

White paint - https://amzn.to/2PtAYIX / https://amzn.to/2vi28t5

Varnish - https://amzn.to/2XJOY4W / https://amzn.to/2XJ2ohG

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

Hand saw / jigsaw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX

Sink - https://ebay.to/2kl50n0 Tap - https://ebay.to/2VuLSQr Pump - https://ebay.to/2EIp3Dw Hose - https://ebay.to/2Xw4tNS Containers - https://ebay.to/2NElssE Cooker - https://ebay.to/2moxcGn

Battery - https://amzn.to/2XwN470


Read all of our Road Trip Itineraries & Tips HERE!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!

Converting a van and found this blog post helpful? Leave a comment below to let us know and subscribe to our Youtube channel too!

Disclaimer: This website contains affiliate links. Making purchases through these links helps to support By The Compass at no extra cost to you! We only ever recommend products that we've tried and tested and actually use! Although some of the products we love were #gifted, we only ever partner with brands and businesses that we truly believe in!

Read our affiliate policy here.

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