Van Bedframe
Van Build / 2nd Mar 2022

Sliding Camper Bed

Aluminium Extrusion

Price $56

Buy from McMaster-Carr

1.5" Hollow Aluminium Extrusion (8ft)

I used 10 of these on the bed alone, ignoring the seats.

Price $67

Buy from McMaster-Carr

1.5" x 3" Hollow Aluminium Extrusion (6ft)

I used three of these as the cross-beams on my bed

Price $33

Buy from McMaster

1.5" Single Slot Aluminium Extrusion (8ft)

Three of these make up the two side rails bolted to the walls of the van

Price About $800

Buy from McMaster-Carr, 80/20

1.5" T-slot fasteners/fittings

I'm not going to link all the individual ones I used (unless someone bugs me to), but there were a lot of corner brackets and surface brackets, some endcaps, and some sliding parts.

Fasteners

Price $70

Buy from Amazon

Astro 1442 Rivnut Tool

I've found this Astro one to work really well. You can do it without a tool in a pinch but it takes ages.

Price $10

Buy from Amazon

1/4"-20 Rivnuts

These fit perfectly into the holes in the Transit's sheet metal.

Price $10

Buy from Any hardware store!

1.5" Long 1/4"-20 Machine Screws

For attaching the side rails into the rivnuts

Price $12

Buy from Amazon

Plastic 1/4" Washers

Used rather than metal ones on the bolts to try and provide a thermal break.

Prices reflect what I paid, not current pricing. Some links may be affiliate links.

A bed is an essential part of any camper van. But there's a myriad of options to choose for bed positioning and layout - fixed, murphy, convertible, and more. I covered these options back when I talked about planning - my choice of bed is a sliding bed, which I've now framed out.

Extruded Aluminium

I chose to make the bed frame, and all the van's interior framing, out of extruded aluminium (often called 8020 after the leading brand of it in the USA). This is a system of long aluminium bars with "T slots" on either side, that you can slide brackets and other fittings into and then tighten them down in the slot.

They're often used in industrial settings for making machinery stands or structures, and they have quite a few advantages over wood:

The main reason you wouldn't choose them, honestly, is cost - the bed was probably over $2000 of aluminium extrusion bars and brackets alone, not to mention the rest of the van. It's not easy to find cheap - even my local industrial supply store was expensive, so in the end I bought a lot of it from McMaster-Carr, as their prices for it are not terrible shipping for 6 bars together ends up being quite reasonable. Can you find it elsewhere? Probably, but not much cheaper in my experience, and you'll be waiting a lot longer for delivery.

Mechanics

The bed's sliding mechanism is quite simple - there's a fixed part and a moving part, and the moving part has slats that interleave into the fixed section (the video makes this much clearer as you can see it). Rails run the full potential length of the bed for the sliding section to move along, and under the sliding area is room for two chairs and a slide-out dining table.

All the sliding components move against UMHW plastic components - it's a very slippery plastic that is a good fit for this, and avoids the need for bearings, wheels or metal-on-metal connections. The centre parts of the bed slide on small inserts that are part of the rail (I cut up a long strip for this), and the side parts use individual pads from the larger linear bearings, since the full bearing itself was too bulky for my design.

Structure

The bed has to support quite a large load - two people, plus mattress, potentially focused away from any of the edges. To this end, there's a few key design principles:

While it is self-supporting in weight terms, the bed is still fastened to two long single-slot rails that I attached along the van on both sides - this is the anchor point for all of my framing, and while it's not taking any real weight load, it is helping to stop it slide around laterally.

Those side rails are fastened into the van's sheet metal using rivnuts (also called plusnuts) - little inserts that give you a much better purchase on sheet metal than using sheet metal screws, and without the risk of rust you get by exposing the raw metal when you screw into it. These are all along the van at about knee height for the main rails, and then also at head height (with the smaller 10-series, or 1", aluminium) and on the ceiling to support the upper storage cupboards.

I also made things more complicated for myself by avoiding having any supports in the "garage" area under the fixed part of the bed - adding some supports there would really help take weight off the cross beams, though it would of course limit the size of the cargo you can store under there.

Conclusions

I'm happy with the way the bed turned out - it slides pretty well after a few tweaks, seems capable of taking the weight of two people, and the extruded aluminium framing has been a pleasure to work with. I've also already got the seats under the bed framed out, and I've started on the shower and kitchen areas too (pausing only when I run out and have to order more, honestly).

It's also part of my principle of having a "maintainable" van - I want a van I can iterate and improve over time as I discover how I'm using it, what I'm missing, and what I don't actually need. Adjusting or moving parts around is a lot easier than it would be using wood, and I plan to use that to my advantage on the first few test trips.

You can see even more blog posts about the van build on its category page, and get updates via my YouTube channel, Twitter, or blog RSS.