navlifer van build rear cabinets

Rear Door Cabinets in Transit Van Conversion

Materials needed for this project →

Navlifer Jeremiah Luke Barnett

I’m here for ya.

Seriously! Reach out on Instagram or YouTube with questions.

Hollar at me on Instagram or YouTube.

Watch the video if you’re bored of reading.

Step 1:

Spend time thinking about the project.

I used this picture as my inspiration for the direction I wanted to go with my rear door cabinets on the Transit and then spent a bit of time just measuring and thinking through how these bad boys would work.

I had no idea what I was doing or how they would turn out. All I knew was that I wanted to fill the rear step space with these cabinets (which meant as wide as the door allowed and about 6” deep), try to make the doors into “drawbridge” doors that doubled as lightweight tables when opened (for drinks, small plates of food, laptop or speakers etc.), and that I would bolt them to the van using the plus nuts behind all the Thinsulate and EZ Cool.

Step 2:

Take your measurements and plan design!

NOTE: On the Ford Transit, the two rear doors are different widths, so keep that in mind.

I built the cabinets to be about 30” tall (enough vertical space to overlap with the plus nut locations, which are pre-existing holes inside the metal of the van door into which I installed plus nuts, which are threaded mounting points into which I can screw a bolt) and 24” wide and 29” wide (respectively) and 6” deep.

I went with a basic two-cupboard design with the top one being the smaller of the two.

I left the back of the cabinets mostly open and unobstructed since there are speakers in each of the rear doors that I still wanted to be able to use. I ran slats over the very top back of the shelf through which I would run my bolts into the plus nuts and then smaller slats behind each of the shelf backs in order to keep things from rolling/sliding out the back when sitting on the shelf.

The front slats were for the same purpose (keep things from falling out) while also being large enough to serve as the place I would mount my hinges for each of the drawbridge doors.

The doors were made to cover as much of the front of the cabinet as possible. Each one was the same width as the cabinet and then cut slightly shorter than the total height of the cabinet to make room for the hinges.

Step 3:

Test out the fit on your rear doors.

Once I had the bare bones of the first cabinet put together, I used a 1/2” spacer on the rear step of the van to position my shelf pretty much exactly where I wanted it to be with the door closed. (you need to make sure that the door can shut correctly with the cabinet on it, this is why I am positioning the hanging cabinet with the door closed rather than open)

I used the 1/2” spacer on the bottom and then simple positioned the cabinet about 1/2” away from the side of the van (which put the cabinet roughly in the center of the door).

Before doing this, I inserted 3 hanger bolts into the 3 plus nuts in my rear door. When the cabinet was perfectly positioned, I banged the cabinet up against those 3 hanger bolts while trying not to let the cabinet move very much. When you bang the cabinet against the hanger bolts, small divots form on the back of your cabinet. These are the points at which you will drill a hole just larger than the bolt size you are using. When it is all said and done, those holes should line up perfectly with where the ply nuts are and therefore all that is needed is to fish your bolts through the holes in the rear of your cabinets and catch them inside each corresponding plus nut.

Step 4:

Paint the doors and cabinets!

I purchased a white paint and primer in one jug of paint from a local hardware store and then applied about 4 coats in total.

I also went back after the final coat had dried and applied a clear coat of high gloss polyurethane to seal these cabinets since I expect that at some point they will get spilled on or rained (a little bit) on.

Step 5:

Mount the hinges.

Attaching the hinges was a bit tricky since the drawbridge doors are supposed to sit flush with the edges of the cabinets (ideally).

I mounted the hinges I bought on the inside of the drawbridge door and corresponding place on the front slat of each cabinet opening.

This would be far easier with someone to help…doing it alone meant trying not to let anything budge while also drilling these tiny screws into the wood. I ended up pre-drilling which helped a lot.

For the wider cabinet, I used 3 hinges across the bottom of each drawbridge door. For the less wide cabinet I only used two (since I ordered a package of 10 hinges).

So far that has worked fine.

Step 6:

Attach door hardware.

I used a combination of stainless steel pad eye hooks, chains for hanging plants, and a brass latch to create the drawbridge effect of the cabinet doors when open, make sure they stayed shut when bumping down a road, and that they had a good chance of holding the weight I expect of them (a few drinks, a laptop, some food etc.).

The chains came in various lengths which I altered to fit my needs using some needle nose pliers (opening and closing links along the chain).

Ideally, you can work the chain length, pad eye mounting location, and the position of the top-most location at which you attach the chain so that the drawbridge door opens and sits at a 90 degree angle for a flat surface.

I placed the brass latch at the top of each door mostly for visual purposes. If I went back, I’d consider mounting the latches near the middle of the door to avoid interfering with the chain when extended.

Step 7:

Mount the cabinets on the rear doors.

By this point in the process, I had already mounted both cabinets on the rear doors in the van to make sure they fit. Therefore, I had already gone through the process of using the hanger bolts to mark then pre-drill holes in the cabinet that corresponded more or less exactly with the locations of the plus nuts in the rear doors of the van.

NOTE: this would be a lot easier to do with someone to help hold the cabinet in place while you fish with the bolt for the plus nut.
NOTE (again): I drilled holes slightly larger than the bolts I used but smaller than the washers I had around each bolt head. This ensured it was easier to fish for the plus nut through the enlarged hole while also ensuring there was ample surface area for the bolt and washer to create a secure fit when screwed in tightly.

Final thoughts:

I made my cabinets about 6” deep. This depth itself would have worked fine but I forgot to factor in the added depth of the pad eye hooks. After I installed the cabinets in the van I realized that the pad eye hooks were hitting my furniture in the van. I had to dig out little divots around each point which is not ideal aesthetically.

Additionally, if I were to go back, I think I’d have made at least one of the drawbridge doors capable of being opened from the inside with both rear doors shut. As it is, anything I store in them has to be accessed by opening one or both of the doors (which is not ideal when it’s cold or raining or you’re naked ha!).

Originally published on my site, Storiesfromtheroad.life.

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