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Restoring a retro caravan: boarding the interior


Words and photos: Lee Davey


Repairing the framework, routing new wiring, and adding bracing beams for a folding bunk bed takes a surprising amount of time.

However, with the Bailey Maru’s skeleton fighting fit once more, progress can be measured in ‘square feet per minute’ thanks to the fitment of new wallboard.

In part six of our series, we show you how to measure, mark, cut and fit fresh boards to the interior of your project caravan.

Caravan restoration project – the story so far: 

Part 1

Lee introduced his Bailey Maru project caravan purchased for the sum of £5.99
Read it here

Part 2

Lee showed you how to assess the damage and create a plan of action for the renovation
Read it here

Part 3
Lee showed you how to repair the caravan's rotten framework
Read it here

Part 4
Lee showed you how to tackle the caravan floor
Read it here

Part 5
Lee showed you how to add some modern touches
Read it here


Removing Obstacles

Before attempting to fit new wallboard, the framework and surrounding area needs to be checked for obstacles which could hamper progress.

These could be nails that held the original wallboard in place, glue that has oozed from fresh joints, or splinters. Most of these offending items are likely to be sharp, rusty, or both, so running the back of a hammer along each batten is a user-friendly way of finding problem areas.


Replace or Renew?

To keep costs down, we’re reusing the original insulation that occupies the void between the outer aluminium skin and the inner wallboard. Some sections, however, were beyond reuse and we opted for a sheet of 25mm polystyrene insulation board that was left over from a previous project.

To fit polystyrene board, simply measure the area that needs insulating and transfer these measurements to the board. It can then be cut with sharp knife, hacksaw, handsaw, or jigsaw, and pushed into place. Minor adjustments can easily be made with a sharp knife, just be sure not to inadvertently block any vents.


Wallboard, Hardboard or Plywood?

An online search revealed that coated caravan wallboard is approximately £40 per sheet, so I opted for Plan B.

Standing in the builder’s merchant, I was torn between 8ft by 4ft (244cm by 122cm) sheets of ply or hardboard. Both being 3mm thick, ply, arguably, is a superior material to use thanks to a rigid structure that’s both stronger and easier to use than standard hardboard.

Large sheets of hardboard seem to have the integrity of a Bird's Trifle when handled, and unless the surface on which they’re placed is flat, marking out can be as taxing as tracing the outside of a jelly.

However, plywood was three times the price of hardboard, and not being known for my financial extravagance, I went home with three sheets of hardboard at £6 per sheet.


The Perfect Fit?

Cutting wallboard is easier if you have the original pieces to hand. If the old board is largely intact, it doesn’t get much easier than placing it on top of the new board and marking the edges with a pencil – just be sure to have the correct side facing upwards, or you’ll have a perfectly fitting board with a rough surface.

Should sections of the old board have rotted away, taping the edges will make it easier to trace the correct shape to any new woodwork.


Cutting Boards Without a Template

My two main board cutting methods depend on the complexity of the shape. Should the area consist of straight sides, I’ll cut a piece of board to the approximate size and lay it alongside the area to be covered. I’ll then take a series of measurements and transfer them directly to the new section of board.

The ‘measure twice, cut once’ mantra is popular for a reason, as it’s easier to double-check measurements than to buy a new piece of board. Should the area be of a complex shape – and let’s face it, aren’t they always – I’ll tape sheets of paper or thin card together, push the paper into the edges and mark as if I were wallpapering.

This is a quick and easy method to trace awkward shapes with a minimum of fuss or drama. Once the paper template is cut, it’s easy to transfer this shape to the new ply or hardboard.

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Marking Battens

Finding and marking batten locations is infinitely easier when the wallboard isn’t obscuring the view. This may sound simple, but I have tacked a board loosely in place before realising that I hadn’t marked the all-important central batten locations, which may also be needed when refitting the furniture.

Batten ends can be marked on neighbouring boards or drawn on the new boards themselves. I cannot stress this enough as lining up fixings or furniture with pre-existing marks is easier than tapping boards in an attempt at finding something solid behind… only to have the nail or screw magically disappear into nothingness.



Panel pins, or round wire nails work well, with 25mm being the optimum length for our Bailey Maru.

With batten locations marked, fixing each board is as simple as tapping each nail home. Should the board edges be covered with a decorative strip, I may double up on fixings to make it as secure as possible.

If not, I’ll measure the gap to be spanned, divide by the number of fixings required, and mark each point in a uniform manner. After all, the devil is in the detail.


The costs so far...

Caravan: £5.99
Roofing batten: £10
Evo-Stik Polyurethane Wood Adhesive: £7.99
9mm ply (found in shed) £0
Folding bunk including cushions and ladder: £98
This month: 3x sheets of hardboard: £18

Total: £139.98


In the next part of our restoring a retro caravan series...

I’ll be repairing and refitting the interior, while attempting to fit an item that hasn’t been commonplace in caravanning since the 1930s!


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