Ceiling: Bead Board Paneling


Ceiling: Bead Board Paneling


I don’t usually pick favorites when it comes to our vanbuild, but I can say without hesitation that the ceiling is one of my favorite parts.

We started the conversion with one solid principle: maintain headroom. Nick is 6 foot tall, so keeping as much headspace as possible so that he could stand and walk straight in our home was imperative. A bonus for us was to drill as little into the van metal as possible to reduce the potential of rust.

When we first started researching ceiling ideas we quickly noticed that lots of previous builds dropped the ceiling by an inch or so because of studs. The van naturally has metal beams running across the width of the van and they’re great attachment points. The simple (and elegant) solution is to screw wooden studs into those beams, and attach the ceiling pieces or panels on the studs.


It’s a straightforward idea but reduces precious ceiling height, so we wracked our brains and came up with a (if I may say so myself) creative and new solution.


Here’s what we used, what we did and how it came out.


The Wall Anchor Solution

Although many people use cedar or other paneling for the ceiling, we decided early on to go with white bead board. They come in giant sheets at Home Depot and as super thin (3/16"), which is great for preserving headspace.

We also liked the white color. Because the van already has quite a few shades of wood color, white brightened up the entire interior without clashing with our other wood.

The biggest problem was how to affix it to the ceiling. We didn’t want to drill into the van’s metal studs -- in the 1% chance that we may need to remove the ceiling board to check for rust or condensation or replace lights, screws would be a pain to deal with (and potentially disruptive.)

Instead we utilized the existing wholes in the metal studs. We got wall anchors with legs that, when twisted clockwise, expanded like spider legs. With the bead board positioned between the metal beam and wall anchor, the anchor can easily hold the bead board up once the legs expand inside the metal beam holes.

Instead of screwing the wall anchors directly into the bead board, we used wood seams that are also available from Home Depot. We really like these because the top edges naturally taper off into a smooth curve, making it look more refined than rectangular pieces.

(As usual, I stained it and polyurethaned it first with my favorite stain: Early American.) In this way, we made a “sandwich” at each metal beam: from roof to floor, it’s the metal beam (with holes), the bead board and the seam, with the wall anchor penetrating both.


The seam helps with two things: first, it helps distribute the weight of the bead board so that it’s not just resting on the wall anchors. Second, we cut the bead bored into chunks and aligned the edge of two chunks right at the metal beam, so that each edge took up roughly half of the width of the beam. By adding the seam on top of the two meeting edges, we can hide the conjoining area, making it pretty, all the while giving each bead board chunk plenty of support on the metal beam.

Plans to how to best make use of the beadboard material. Each piece is just slightly narrower than the full width of the van, so we had to cut and piece together several sections to cover the whole thing.

Plans to how to best make use of the beadboard material. Each piece is just slightly narrower than the full width of the van, so we had to cut and piece together several sections to cover the whole thing.


Installing the wall anchors and bead board took some trials and error.

1. We first marked the appropriate holes that we were going to drill into onto each seam (7 in total) and drilled some pilot holes. These were then bore out using a unibit to 5/8".


2. Measure, mark and label each bead board section. Cut. Make sure you have a vacuum running because the beadboard dust takes a while to clean off the bright white surface. For the front and rear sections, keep in mind that the van tapers on both ends so we used a dremel to smooth out the sharp rectangular edges into smooth curves.

3.  Secure in LED lights (see next blog post)

4. Lube each wall anchor with WD-40. 


5. The holes in the van generally match up pretty well with the hollow wall anchor size, but one was a tad too small. So we drilled out the holes, filed it smooth, treated it with rust inhibitor and coated each new (larger!) hole with two layers of bed liner to prevent rust.

6. We then positioned the bead board chunks where they’re supposed to be and propped them up in place with Nick’s trusty tripods. The next step took some guesswork and praying: we drilled holes into the bead board where the wall anchors are going to go. It’s relatively easy to do when the bead board edge is aligned with the middle of a metal beam (because you can still see the holes where the wall anchors are supposed to go in), but some pieces completely obscured the holes so we had to make educated guesses.


7. Once the bead board had holes, we then placed the seam so that it covered the edges. Theoretically, at this point the three holes—in the seam, the bead board and the metal beam—should align, but we checked each hole by sticking a large flathead screwdriver up just in case.

8. We then used a hammer to bonk the wall anchor straight into the wooden seam. Once the “teeth” of the wall anchor dug into the seam, and thus kept the anchor steady, we turned the middle screw to open up the anchor legs.

9. Line the front and rear edge with neoprene rubber edging (3/16" Groove Width). We also lined the sunroof hole with the same stuff, giving it a more polished look.


Voila: the wall anchors pushed the bead board solidly in place, hugging the van’s natural ceiling curves. Seeing the curved edge was such a thrill, and (if I may say so myself) gorgeous!


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