Covering the Walls
Most van builds you see use plywood sheets to cover the walls, but I chose to use paneling once again for the Promaster. I re-purposed some old barn wood I picked up for free on my last van build, but this time around I was going for a more polished look. I shopped around a bit for some paneling at Home Depot and online, but everything either looked really cheap or was WAY too expensive. Luckily I had access to an industrial wood shop and had some options to create my own paneling from scratch. I love this stuff; it turned out really great.
Here's what I did:
Choose the Materials
I went to a couple local lumber yards to have a look at a couple different types of wood I had in mind for the paneling. I was looking for something durable and easy to work with. Price was also something to keep in mind. Initially I was thinking either Poplar, Doug Fir, or Soft Maple. But at the last minute I caught a glimpse of some Beech that I instantly knew was the winner. Clean lines, very few knots, and I love the subtle speckle when examined a bit closer. It was also reasonably priced. I bought about $300 of rough cut 6/4" x 10' boards; (I think about 100 board feet?).
I had never milled wood like this before, which was probably a good thing (I had no idea how much work it would actually be). We ripped the boards in half using a table saw, slowly increasing the height of the blade with each pass. To finish off the middle, we ran the wider boards through the band saw.
We then sent the boards through the jointer & planer ending with a thickness of 3/8". This was probably a little thicker than the boards needed to be; making them thinner would have reduced some weight. I probably could have saved a little money too by purchasing wood that I didn't have to plane down so much. When paneling the doors I ended up putting the boards back through the planer and brought them down to about a 1/4".
Lastly, using a router, I put a small beveled edge on each side of the boards to help break up the paneling when up on the wall.
Waxes, oils, varnishes, shellacs, lacquers, water based, paint!?!? Which one to go with? I had invested a lot of time into prepping the paneling and it all came down to the finish. I once again enlisted some help from a professional friend. He recommended a combination of shellac and a water based urethane finish using a spray gun to apply a smooth, polished layer of each. The boards got one coat of amber shellac and two coats of the water based urethane. In between coats I sanded each board lightly using 220 grit sandpaper
I planned to use the paneling to cover as much of the van walls as possible. Using the framing I had installed, I secured each board with 18 gauge 3/4"-1 1/4" brad nails. Taking the extra bit of time during the initial framing stages really paid off when putting up the walls. Anytime things get uneven the paneling becomes difficult to work with. The whole process was a pain, but the paneling looks just as I had envisioned; clean, polished, & modern.
Some places were easy (such as the long stretches of the walls), but others were a real pain with too much time spent, and materials wasted trying to get it perfect. The back corners for example I am still trying to figure out.