Building a Sliding, Pull-Out Bed in a Van

Tis is my friends sliding, pull-out bed. It's a tremendous space saver in a van and easier than you think to build.

This is my friend Andrews’s sliding, pull-out bed. It’s a tremendous space saver in a van and easier than you might think to build.

For a single person who’s decided to live in a van, deciding where to put the bed isn’t that hard, it either goes along one of the sides or across the back of the back door. However, there are times when the width of the bed can become a problem:

  • If you are a couple in a van,
  • or a single person with pets who insist on sharing the bed with you,
  • or even just a single person who likes a big bed.
Andrew's bed pulled-out for sleeping...

Andrew’s bed pulled-out for sleeping. It takes up a lot of his space in the van.

Most vans only have 60 square feet behind the front seat (6 x 10 feet) but if  your bed is 28  square feet (4 x 7), it takes up almost half the room in your van which doesn’t leave you with much room for everything else! To solve that problem, many people consider using a folding bed that either goes up against the wall during the day or a sliding bed that pulls in or out morning and evening.

I don’t recommend folding beds for these reasons:

  1. Dealing with the mattress and bedding is cumbersome and still takes up a lot of room
  2. It’s too complicated and time consuming. Everything about vandwelling takes longer throughout the day so at the end of a long day you probably just want to get in bed and go to sleep, you don’t want to face another engineering problem just to go to bed.  Sleeping is so important it needs to be really simple, both before and after.
  3. You need some storage space under the bed. If it folds away to give  you more room, then you lose that space for storage and in the tiny space of a van, you need all you can get.

The best solution I’ve found that solves all the problems is a pull out bed like my friend Andrew has in his van. He uses a futon mattress to fold up during the day to become a couch and pulls out very easily at night to become a large bed. It solves all the problems, 1) it’s simple enough it doesn’t take long to set-up or take-down,  2) the futon mattress is made to fold so it’s easy, 3) you still get storage space under the bed, and yet more room inside the van. Get a highly rated Futon Mattress from Amazon here: DHP–8-Inch Premium Futon Mattress, Full Size

When the bed is slid in, it tremendously opens up the van and makes it much more comfortable.

I consider it the ideal solution for those vandwellers who want or need a big bed in their van. In this post I’m going to look at two specific examples and give you lots of pictures so you can visualize how it works. But if you don’t have the money, time or skill required for a sliding bed, I have a video out of how to make a much simpler bed that only cost $40 to build, see it here:

If you don’t see the video above, cut and paste this into your browser: www.youtube.com/watch?v=busz98_QGvA

Because every make, year and model of van has different dimensions, I can’t give you exact numbers or detailed instructions about how you should build the bed. The best I can give you here is the concept and once you have that you’ll need to adapt it to work in your van. If you have some carpentry experience, once you have the concept it’ll be easy to actually build it.

I’m aware that some of you don’t have the carpentry skills, tools or time to build this bed on your own.   If you are in that situation, I’d give serious thought to hiring a handyman to build it for you. Print out this post, including it’s photos and show them to him. This is fairly basic carpentry so any decent handyman should be able to instantly visualize what you want and be able to build it into your van.

Instead of using plywood as a surface, you use overlapping slats with a gap left between them so they can slide in and out.

Instead of using plywood as a surface, you use overlapping slats with a gap left between them so they can slide in and out.

This is one of those times when a picture is worth a thousand words, so it’s mainly going to be pictures, but let me give some instructions to help you visualize and build the bed:

To help visualize it look down at your two hands near each other with your palms up and  your fingers spread apart, then slide the fingers of the two hands together–that’s basically exactly what the bed is going to look like. Your going to build the bed in two parts and they are going to slide into each other. The two parts are NOT connected to each other at all–the second merely rests on the first and slides in and out.

Basically you’re going to build two beds, but one part of the bed will have 6 legs and it will not move and the other part will only have three legs and it will move. The side of the bed with only three legs will rest on the other half of the bed that has six legs and will share the center support legs with the first half.

Sliding-bed

It’s like almost any other bed except you build it with slats instead of plywood and leave a wide gap between the slats. Lets say you use 1 x 3’s for slats. On the immovable part of the bed you would put the first slat at one end (being very sure it’s square) and screw it down. Then you would put another slat down and put something very thin in with it, like a yard stick standing on end. You don’t screw this slat down, it’s just leaving room for the “finger” from the other half of the bed to slide in and out. The reason you’re leaving the gap from the side of the yard-stick is so it’s not too tight and slides in and out easier.

Looking up at the bottom of the bed. The two sides of the bed share the center set of legs as support.

Looking up at the bottom of the bed. The two sides of the bed share the center set of legs as support. You can see Andrew put his 2x4s on end, while I have mine laid down. Either works, his is structurally stronger, but it takes up more storage space under the bed. I prefer the storage space.

So far you have one slat that IS screwed down, then a yard stick on end and a second slat that is NOT screwed down. Now you place a third slat and screw it down. Next, you pull up both the yardstick and loose second slat and place them both beside the third slat as the fourth slat. You do NOT screw it down, instead, you place the fifth slat down and screw it in. Only the ODD numbered slats get screwed down, the even numbered slats are empty space. The even numbered slats will be screwed down to the independent third leg and slide in and out of the empty space. Hopefully you’re getting the idea, every other slat is screwed down and becomes permanent.  The empty spaces will be filled with slats from the “fingers” from the other “hand”and they will slide in and out.

To build the second part of the bed, take the third set of legs you built and place them flush beside the finished first part. Now start taking the remaining slats and laying them into place in-between the slats on the finished part and screw them ONLY into the third set of legs. At no time will the two beds be attached to each other. These slats should be 3 1/2 inches longer than the first because they need to be wider to go over the third 2 x 4.

Slider-andrw-bed-closed

Andrew built his third set of legs out of 2x2s so they would be lighter to push in and out–that works well. He also didn’t place it flush by the first half of the bed to adjust to the size of his mattress, giving him a wider seat on the couch.

You could just use a tape measure and pre-mark the spots where the slats go but that introduces a lot more possibility of poor workmanship–a small problem in the beginning becomes magnified into a big problem by the end. Because most of us aren’t experienced carpenters, that is a distinct possibility. Doing it the way I described, as long as the first slat is screwed on square, and the slats themselves are straight, this should be fairly fool-proof.

Hopefully this allows you to get the concept, once you have that you can adapt it to your van, the size of your mattress and your needs. The bed I’ve described here is the simplest, least elegant method of construction but it will make you a wonderful sliding bed. You can use it as a beginning place and use different sizes of lumber or even different materials altogether, depending on your skill level.

At the bottom of the post I’m also going to show you photos from my friend Nicole from the https://www.cheaprvliving.com/forums/ of a slider bed that she and her husband built. It’s a completely different type of construction using fine carpentry techniques from  cabinet making. Few of us have those levels of carpentry skills so I’m just showing it to you so you can adopt it to framing techniques if you like it. If I wanted to do it, I’d basically build two complete beds out of 2x4s along the sides of the van and then add the slider between the two of them.  Mine will be much heavier than what they built, but much simpler and require very little carpentry knowledge or skill. It won’t be pretty either, while their’s looks like a beautifully crafted piece of fine furniture.

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_W_E5SFCxwpSOaqMjOOBTg

I have a video of making a much simpler and cheaper bed, see it here:

If the video doesn’t show up on your screen, cut and paste this into your browser:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=busz98_QGvA

Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP AMAZON.COM

This is another example of a sliding bed made by Nicole on my forum. It's an example of furniture-grade carpentry. Here the slider is put away to make a coach ...

This is another example of a sliding bed made by Nicole and her husband on my forum. It’s an example of furniture-grade carpentry. Here the slider is put away to make a couch.

... and here the slider is pulled out to make a very large bed for a couple.

… and here the slider is pulled out to make a very large bed for a couple. The slider pulls out in the middle of the bed to make it a solid piece.

This bed is more like building fine cbinets than framing a house and requires much more fine carpentry skills. I don't have thse skills, but I could adapt these ideas and build this bed out of 2 x 4s which I'm more comfortable with.

This bed is more like building fine cabinets than framing a house and requires much more fine carpentry skills. I don’t have those skills, but I could adapt the ideas and build this bed out of 2 x 4s which I’m much more comfortable with. The doors are a brilliant touch to let you get great access to the storage below the bed

Bob
About

I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

52 comments on “Building a Sliding, Pull-Out Bed in a Van
  1. Personally, the mattress is the most important item in a van, so any mattress that can be folded 90° seems way too flimsy to me. And a bed made up of two or more mattress pieces is just uncomfortable. But those solutions work for some people, and that’s what counts.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Afternoon jam at Club LouMy Profile

  2. Avatar Cae says:

    Very nice. Really like the wood work in the first van!!

  3. Avatar steve says:

    Very clever workmanship but it seems that a futon frame would accomplish the same thing and they can be purchased for next to nothing at a goodwill store. Maybe it would be too big?

  4. Avatar Calvin R says:

    I finally understand the sliding bed! I think even I could make this one, and not spend much on it. Fine cabinetry is far beyond me, but simple frame pieces and slats are easy. (Measure twice, cut once, make sure of the slats being square to each other.) This would work with only a saw and simple, cheap hand tools. For those on extreme budgets or with high re-using ideals, pallet wood could likely be used for this, at least for the frames. The only thing I don’t understand is what you said about the difference in the orientation of your 2x4s versus Andrew’s.

    I have studied all the futons I can look at in stores or online. I have yet to see a frame that allows for enough storage underneath. The same goes for built-in folding beds that come in conversion vans.

    • “I have studied all the futons I can look at in stores or online. I have yet to see a frame that allows for enough storage underneath.”

      Perhaps you could create taller legs for an existing frame. It could be less work.
      Al Christensen recently posted…Afternoon jam at Club LouMy Profile

      • Bob Bob says:

        Al, that may be possible, but never having seen one I can’t really comment.
        Bob

      • Avatar Calvin R says:

        I’ve thought of raising the legs, but I haven’t come up with anything stable and functional enough that’s not as much work as the one and only 2×4 bed I’ve built. Also, when I slept on a futon for a few months, it had to have clearance behind it in order to fold down properly. I can’t come up with a good way to handle that space.

        However, the first mobile mattress I used was a futon mattress my wife borrowed somewhere. I’m not demanding about mattresses, but it was comfortable enough for me. The issue I had with it at the time was that we had a different frame (plywood over milk crates), and access to our storage was a continual pain. The slide-out bed would resolve most of that if I pulled the futon mattress up out of the way whenever I slid the third frame in. I note that because the futon mattress was heavier than I expected and might create a problem if I’m having a bad day.

        My current plan (if all this works out) is to use re-use couch cushions I have on hand. I’ve done that before with good results, and it would work until I could get my hands on the thermal foam that worked better for me than anything else.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Calvin, I should have made that clearer. Mine are flat so the 3 1/2 inch side is up and his is on it’s side so the 1 1/2 inch side is up. Mine hang down 1 1/2 inch thick so thats all the space it takes. His hang down 3 1/2 inches.

      Bob

    • Avatar RITA says:

      do you know where to purchase conversion van seats period.

  5. Avatar Marshall says:

    My wife and I sleep on our full size Serta Sleeper mattress.

    I built a platform 14″ high and exactly the size of a full size bed. Underneath the mattress the platform is divided into three cells for clothes, camp gear and batteries and tools.

    It is nice because when I run the fantastic vent fan the air comes right over the bed from the side sliding windows. Like having AC over you at night.

    We tried using foam and a futon mattress, but nothing beats a real mattress.

    The mattress made the real difference when travelling.

  6. Avatar raz says:

    you can go to a mattress shop(factory) and have whatever your little ol heart desires made to order.

    ice cream. raz

    • Bob Bob says:

      That’s a very good point Raz. You can also go to an upholstery shop and get a piece of furniture grade foam cut to size. I’ve done that twice and was happy with it.
      Bob

  7. Avatar Ming says:

    nice idea for a sliding bed! I have something like the second bed design built in the truck canopy, where the bed is in a “U” shape and there is a middle piece that can slide out. I was looking for a way to make it smoother, so this helps a lot. My bed tops lift up to access storage underneath too. It’s roughly thrown together as a tester and as I have time, I will refine the basic design to make it work more smoothly.

    I have slept on futons, foam mattresses, and spring mattresses. The futons start out very comfortable, then pack down over time. In Japan they are made very thin, just a few inches thick, and are meant to be fluffed and aired frequently. Over here, people want plushness so they make them 8 inches thick, so they are impossible to fluff up once they pack down and a pain to wrestle into couch shape as a regular practice so people leave them as mattresses. They tend to mold if not on a frame that allows air flow. As a couch, they tend to slither off the frames unless the frames are built with a retaining wall at the front. You can certainly put a futon frame up on stilts for more storage underneath. I have done that. It required that I make it permanently non-folding, which was fine with me at the time.

    I have had more success using good quality covered foam slabs on a futon style frame, much easier to convert, and to rotate the slabs for even wear.

    Oh and converting the bed was a pain, so I would only convert it when I had visitors, and would have to put the bedding away somewhere else. That’s why I did not design in any folding beds in the canopy. We just sit on the bedding or fold it out of the way on top of the pillow. I guess that is why I am now designing a folding outdoor room where I can put the chairs and kitchen. 🙂

  8. Avatar Ming says:

    BTW, the cool coroplast builder guy sells plans for his creations, like that cool bicycle trailer, in case anyone wanted to build themselves one:

    http://www.elkinsdiy.com/plans/

  9. Avatar BobBski says:

    This is the type bed I plan on building for my Transit Connect….room to move around during the day and still have a nice sized bed at night. Thanks for posting this up Bob.

  10. Avatar Nicole says:

    Hi everyone,

    I’d like to add a couple of comments about our bed. First, it was a big mistake to paint the wood. It made the whole thing very sticky, even after letting the paint cure for a few days. We had to sand papered the paint off at the points of contact for the sliding boards and the doors.

    Second, the fabric that cover the cushions are also our sheets. There are some zippers on the side of each cushions, making it easy to remove on laundry day. I went that route because I didn’t want to fuss with the bed every night and morning. All we have to do is take the blankets from one of the compartment under the bed and put them back there in the morning. Easy, breezy.

  11. Avatar Gary says:

    Really like the sliding bed Bob,seems to just take care of all space issues, thanks 🙂

  12. Avatar ILDan says:

    Several woodworking sites (Rockler…) sell anti-friction tape. Just like any tape, it rolls and sticks…easy to use/customize.

    I’ve used this type of product on homemade cabinet and under-bed drawers.

    Sandpaper going up in grit to the 1000-1500 range glides, too, and is available at auto stores. All you need is time and patience to make up for ‘rough’ carpentry skills.

  13. Avatar Ming says:

    a note on unpainted wood that you are trying to make slide – wax from a candle or paraffin block rubbed on the contact surfaces really helps them slide, and it silences squeaks too.

  14. Avatar Ming says:

    sorry for duplicate posts, my first one did not show up for a while so I thought it had not gone through.

  15. Avatar Judy says:

    I have just bought my Transit Connect & am exploring my options. A big part of my design needs to include fitting my bike in the vehicle. So still deciding between side fold out bed or across the back bed. Is there some formula for slide out part- to stationary part ratio for support. Like if I have a stationary part that is 40″ wide & 3’deep, the slide out part can be that big too? A support the weight of 2 people sleeping on it?

  16. Avatar Laurie says:

    I love this, what a great use of space. Thanks for sharing!

  17. I only recently started thinking about getting a cargo van to convert for van dwelling and been researching on different sleeping situation. I am the kind of guy that hates taking up space.

    You made it easy for me to visualize how to maximize space with a “pull out” sleeping system. I was thinking something along that line if I don’t go with a hammock option.

    I’m curious to see what you think of the idea of having a “folding” bed, the kind that can be detached from the wall onto the top of the storage area. Kind of a murphy bed if you will. Is it too far fetched of a concept?

    BTW, I am new to the scene so allow me to say hello and thank you for setting up this site so I can learn more. I look forward to your other posts.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Gokhan, oddly, that depends on your personality, I hate wasting my time setting up a bed and tearing it down so any kind of fold out bed would be unacceptable to me. I’m sure the mechanics could be worked out, but I’m too lazy to fuss with it every day.
      Bob

  18. Avatar Will Francis says:

    Excellent ideas all the way round. I have a 1978 Dodge 22′ RV and this solves my problem exactly. My mattress goes from side to side at rear of camper. Would you please be so kind as to send me a more detailed diagram. I know that you have posted pictures but I am slow and a paper layout would suit me better. Thank you, and I truly appreciate your hardwork on our behalf. sincerely, Will.

  19. Avatar Will Francis says:

    Hi Bob, I’m using 2×4’s to build the bed and 1×3″ slats. My question is what size wood should I use across as a stopper at the end of the pullout to prevent the slats from coming all the way out of the unit when I pull it out?

  20. Avatar Melissa says:

    Hi Bob,

    Is there a new link available to view the video of the bed you made? The link in the article says it’s private.

    ~ Melissa

  21. Avatar Jacky Hissem says:

    Hi, I purchased a 23 ft camper trailer with twin beds. The previous owner used a piece of plywood to connect the two beds. I’m too old and weak to handle that — so your idea is perfect. I will have it built in two pieces, so it will be easier for me to handle. Pull out the slats and slide the mattress over to touch the other mattress. It’s just me, but the twin is a pain because my feet are under a cabinet and I just feel squished in. Thanks so very much for your idea and directions!

  22. Avatar dan says:

    Just curious if anyone has used a mattress designed for a sofa hide-a-bed. They might withstand a 90 degree fold better, since they are designed to fold up inside a couch. They are usually thin, and not very comfortable on the typical sofa metal frame, but maybe a thin pad of some type might make them better?

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