How to Screw into Van Walls | Types of Screws + Things to Watch For

Heather Arbour

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Wondering how to screw into van walls? You’re not the only one!! Screwing into van walls is one of the scariest bits of a van conversion, maybe only aside from cutting a hole in the ceiling. What type of screw are you supposed to use in the walls. How do you prevent rust from forming? Will you accidentally screw all the way through the van wall or worse, hit an electrical wire you didn’t know was there?!

After scouring the internet for blog posts on screwing into van walls, watching countless van build videos, and researching different purposes and uses for different types of screws, we realized it’s not a one-size-fits-all. There are multiple ways to screw into van walls, and honestly, we used a number of different ways in our van build.

With that said, there are things to consider, ways to treat the walls, and certain techniques and screws that should be used when screwing into a camper van wall. And of course, we documented it all. Our hope is that this write-up will be easy to follow and the images and video will give that extra bit of explanation for you! 🙂

How to Screw Into Van Walls

There are three main types of screws to use when screwing into your camper van walls. With that said, the type of screw is different than the actual size of the screw. We found the size really does matter as well, and even more so, bigger is sometimes better!

It sounds a bit counterintuitive to use bigger screws than necessary because that just means more weight and also more potential for screwing through the wall. However, when we used the smallest screw we thought possible, we found it really actually didn’t work well. It didn’t really grip and hold the metal as it should have, and the wall panels just popped right off.

Obviously, there’s the downsize to too big as well. If they’re too big going through the wall, they’ll just move around on the backside, making the attachment not as secure. This also occurs when the thread of the screws starts further down the screw… which happens more often with the longer screws.

In the end, no matter what type of screw you choose, actually measure the size that you need, and check where the thread starts on the screws! You want the thread to actually be at the part where the screw is in the thin metal lining of your van wall. That way, the threads actually hold the screw in place and keep them from sliding around.

different screws in hand with wood behind, van build, arboursabroad
These are the three types of screws we used for our van build. Black screws (which we predrilled for), Kreg Jig screws, and self-drilling metal screws.

Self-Drilling Screws | check prices here

Honestly, we had the most frustration with the self-drilling regular screws when attaching the van panels to the walls. We found that most self-drilling screws have thick thread sizes and/or start the thread too far down the screw for them to really hold the thin van panels against the thin van walls.

With that said, after finding the right size, these worked great for attaching the van panels to the van walls. However, this was the only time we used self-drilling screws for the walls.

Kreg Jig Screws | current prices here

If you don’t have a Kreg Jig, you seriously need one for your van build. You truly can’t beat the price of the tool for the ease of use, and the stability it offers when building out cabinets, shelves, and a bed! There’s no way we could have made our van build as durable as it is without our Kreg Jig.

Kreg Jig screws are great for screwing directly into your camper van walls. They’re self-drilling and the finish on the head of the screws is really nice. We used these screws when attaching the framing of our cabinets for a more durable and sturdy connection. We also used them when screwing our trim underneath our windows and around our van panels, but this was more for the aesthetics than anything else.

This Kreg Jig starter kit is perfect for purchasing a Kreg Jig system with a staple of Kreg Jig screws and then you can buy more of the size you need as you decide what thickness of the wood and such you’ll be using!

Pre-Drill the Metal with Metal Drill Bits | check prices here

After too many times screwing into the van walls only to slip and create a scratch, we started pre-drilling the holes for the screws. We found that pre-drilling holes in the metal made for a much easier attachment of the wood, and it also gave us more control when drilling next to windows or where we weren’t sure the thickness of the metal.

Predrilling holes was also super helpful when installing the camper van fan and ceiling, so purchasing these drill bits is a good investment for your van build!

How to Treat Newly Exposed Van Wall Metal

Spray Paint to Prevent Rust

If you’re concerned with the newly exposed metal, grab some Rustoleum Spray Paint. This spray paint treats rust and prevents rust in the future. Honestly, we didn’t bother spray painting all the holes we put into our van walls. However, we did make sure to treat areas that looked like rust was already forming (like on the door) and a few areas of the ceiling. We also sprayed any places that we slipped and scratched the metal when screwing into the van walls

Ryobi drill screwing van panels into metal frame, arboursabroad

A word of advice for this though. Be aware of what you’re spray painting and what may actually show. We used black spray paint, and it shows in a few areas we weren’t expecting.. making it honestly look bad. We now wished we just sprayed more of the holes, or even entire sections of the van metal instead of just bit by bit.

Things to Watch for When Screwing into Van Walls


When screwing into van walls, you need to make sure you’re truly only screwing into the walls and not into any hidden wires! Most of the wiring in our minivan conversion is lined on the top edges of the ceiling. However, there were wires through the back van panel to the sliding door, and a wire going from the gas tank release lever to the tank itself.

We were super surprised to see how many wires there were surrounding the doors and windows. I think they are there to connect to the dash light saying if a door is open or not, but who really knows! Obviously, all vans will be different… just be sure to check the wiring to lights and door connections!

Thickness of Metal

This one is twofold. When screwing into van walls, you often screw into areas that have multiple layers of metal. However, around the framing of the van where we attached van panels, the metal was super thin. Thin metal paired with thin wall panels led to our screws not actually gripping on anything when screwed through both. So be sure to check the thickness of the metal and make sure your threads will actually hit the metal and stay in the metal with the thickness of wood you’re using.

It’s super easy to see if the screws are actually securing the wood or not, as it will be super flimsy and the screw will move side to side and all around if it’s not actually properly attached.

Going through to Outside

Some of the van walls seem like they shouldn’t lead to the outside when they actually do. We found this to be true more often than not when trying to screw into the van walls around the sliding door! An easy way to check where the wall pokes through is to tap on both sides of the metal at the same time in the same spot and see if you can feel your tapping.

We felt it better to be safe than sorry when screwing into our van walls and often just found a way to screw into the ribs of the van walls and in the extra framing around the windows.

Window Trim

The trim around the windows was perfect to screw into, as this was extra trimming/framing in the van metal.. meaning we didn’t screw all the way to the outside. However, with that said, there are extra bolts and even wiring around some of the window trim that you want to be sure to look for before just thinking you’re in the clear.

Likewise, when screwing near windows, be sure you don’t poke through to the window on the other side. And be super careful when screwing near windows, as you don’t want to slip and punch or break the window!

man screwing wood into camper van walls under window, arboursabroad
Screwing in shelving support under the windows. You can see in this image the holes under the window letting us know we wouldn’t screw to the outside here.
how to screw into van walls, camper van build, arboursabroad
Lots going on here.. but you can see the shell of the top edge of the van walls here.. after tapping on it with a hand on the outside, we knew this would be a solid contact point for screwing into the wall.

Tools Needed for Screwing into Camper Van Walls

Drill and Driver Set | check pricing here

This drill and impact driver set got us through our van build. Heather bought this as a gift for Jay back when he was building a bunch of stuff for our house, and it lasted through lots of hard use, until one day it stopped working. But, the tool comes with a warranty, and without having to pay anything, we brought it to a store that sells Ryobi products and had it fixed within a week!

This set specifically comes with a drill, driver, charger, and two batteries that actually last for a lot of use! It’s a great set to get you through your entire van build!

Metal Drill Bits | check prices here

You do not need these drill bits if you do not plan on pre-drilling your holes. However, we used drill bits multiple times in our van build in other areas, so it may be nice to get them for your van walls for when you need them later when installing your cabinets and van fan!

How to Screw Into Van Walls and Still Look Good

When screwing into your van walls, you want the overall look to be aesthetically pleasing. It’s hard to get that when using different kinds of screws that all have different sizes and head shapes. What we found though, is to make it look better than just random screws everywhere, we easily matched the color of the screws by spray painting them.

While spray painting screw heads sounds difficult and messy, it really isn’t bad! Simple poke all the screws into a piece of cardboard, then spray paint them all at once. It’s really easy, and honestly so satisfying having all the screws be the same color!

spray painting screws poked in cardboard for easy spray painting, arboursabroad
See how the screws just stand up perfectly! Super easy hack for getting them all the same color!

Step by Step How to Screw Into Van Walls in the Simplest Form

Don’t worry, it’s not as crazy as it may seem. You just need a few things to make it go smoothly.

First, get yourself some self-drilling screws–not all screws are created equal. Get an impact driver. If you don’t have one or can’t get your hands on one, a regular drill will be fine–there just might be a little more work/effort from you. That’s all.

Step 1.

Determine where you are going to drill the screws. Maybe consider measuring each spot out so it’s evenly spread out and looks good and to avoid holes, divets, open spaces, penetrating electrical, or screwing through to the outside.

Some various locations and situations require you to drill into van walls. I’ll leave that part up to you to decide where you’ll screw. All in all, each scenario should follow these simple steps.

Step 2.

Put the screw at the end of your drill and line up the screw to your pre-determined screw spot.

Step 3.

Make sure to go slow at first by depressing the trigger a quarter of the way or so.

Step 4.

Drill the self-drilling screws through wood into the metal. This is actually easier than it may seem.

Let the wood receive the screw. Then as you don’t need to hold the screw anymore for support–because it is held in place by the wood–just go to town on the screw by fully pulling the trigger back.

Make sure to apply a solid and consistent amount of pressure on the driver/drill for the entirety of the task. You don’t want to accidentally strip the screw head or put a hole in the wood from the tip of the drill.

The self-drilling part of the screw will be doing its job by making the pilot hole. The threads of the screw will then grip the sheet metal, thus securing the wood to the metal.

If you fancy pre-drilling the hole with a pilot hole to give yourself an added bit of security in the whole process, you can do that, but it’s not necessary. The self-drilling screw was designed to eliminate that step.

If you have the right tools and hardware, screwing into van walls is actually very easy and should be stress-free. 

Now here are a few additional steps to note.

Additional Step 1.

Once everything is screwed in, you can consider removing your screws and wood so you can treat the metal and/or paint the wood.

We pre-fit most everything before painting just in case we messed up anywhere. In addition, we could have the option to treat the metal before it was installed for good.

Additional Step 2.

Apply your stain or paint to the paneling. Let dry… Or do nothing to the removed item. Just remove it so that you can do the next step.

Additional Step 3.

Treat the metal. Now that you have access to the newly drilled metal, paint it with a rust treatment like Rustoleum.

Additional Step 4.

Once everything is dry, put it all back together.

If you need any of the supplies right now, you can find most of these items at places like Home Depot, Ace, or Harbor Freight.

If This Post Was Helpful, Check Out These Too

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Campervan Floor Mistakes to Avoid

A Complete Step by Step Guide to Installing Your Campervan Floor

Getting Campervan Insurance for Van Life

The Best Campervan Toilets + Other Bathroom Options

Campervan Stove Ideas

Ryobi drill screwing van panels into metal frame, arboursabroad
how to screw into van walls, a camper van build guide, arboursabroad

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