Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Attaching Things in a Van: Magnets, Velcro, and More

Driving down dirt roads to dispersed campsites, things are always bouncing around in the van. We learned when building the sofa bed just how easily side-facing drawers can slide open. We thought it would be simple to fix, but it took us many tries to get it all to stay closed.

Because, how complicated can magnets and velcro be, right? It turns out… there’s a lot of science(!) involved. I never thought I could have an hour long conversation about the pros and cons of different types of velcro, but now I have. And here’s what I learned.

Magnets

It’s easy to overlook the usefulness of magnets, but I’ve found them to be one of my favorite ways to affix things in the van. Because the entire frame of the van is magnetic (steel), it’s easy to just stick things on to the wall.

I first discovered rare-earth neodymium magnets from a friend when working on the kitchen in the van. In that project, I used fishing magnets to hold the faucet and pipes in place on the wall. Later, I used both round counter-sunk magnets and bar magnets:

Warning: these suckers are strong. If two of them get stuck together, you may need pliers to pull them apart. If the edge of your finger gets caught between them, it’ll leave a nasty welt.

Since then, I’ve used magnets to keep many drawers and shelves closed. The counter-sunk magnets seal nicely against themselves and are easy to attach to any piece of wood.

using magnets and velcro in a van
Magnets keep this kitchen countertop open when needed, attaching to the steel backplate in the kitchen. Velcro lets us use the space inside well.

Velcro

Velcro has, overall, proven to be the most useful thing around the van. I’ve used it for everything from sticking cups and containers to the wall to holding the sofa bed cushions up.

van sofa bed
The back of the couch and the storage boxes above are all held with velcro.

Maybe it should have been no surprise that there is so much science involved with velcro, given its association with NASA. I learned when working on this project that velcro was not actually invented by NASA, though. Regardless, there are two variables that are most important in the van:

  • How strong is the velcro?
  • How many times can it be re-attached?

These two properties tend to be at-odds. Industrial velcro is one of my favorites for its strength, yet it has a tendency to weaken quickly over time. The same strength that holds it together also tends to bend and tear the hooks each time the velcro is detached.

Related: Building a Wood Cabin Steampunk Van

When I bought my van, I had almost no experience in carpentry, construction, or electrical engineering. Yet I was determined to build it all myself. Two years later, here are the plans for my cozy steampunk wood cabin van.

In the end, I ended up buying three different strengths of velcro, and always using the weakest kind that would meet my needs. I also use a staple gun to permanently attach pieces to the wood/walls, when it makes sense.

Hooks

hooks on back door of van for jackets, shoes, hula-hoops, and broom
The back doors of the van use various hooks to hold the shoes, hula-hoops, jackets, broom, and more.

Clasps and Locks

In keeping with the steampunk theme of the van, much of the hardware is brass or copper:

steampunk van hardware clasps

I paired the copper with a dark stained wood (“Red Oak”) to make it pop, as you can see in the post about the kitchen cabinets.

Cargo Mesh and Bungee Cords

Bungee cords are a common favorite for all vehicles. In the above photo of the sofa-bed, you can see bungee cords used to hold the guitar. A similar and often overlooked option is elastic netting or cargo mesh:

van storage elastic netting
Elastic netting (cargo mesh) above the seats for storage.

Before, the overhead area was all but useless. It was too small to store much, and anything heavy would fall out. Now, the netting lets us put the sunshades, pillows, towels, and any other soft things away when not in use.

About the author

(zane) / Technically Wizardry

I've been a game designer, startup founder, and @Airbnb for 6+ years. This blog documents my hobbies of building a vanlife van, "magic" home automation, and interesting software to control it all.

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

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