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I'm building out a van conversion and want to mount a few dozen wooden slats to the walls and ceilings, similar to the picture below.

I'm trying to figure out if it's possible to do this with invisible mounts.

My first thought was keyhole slots, but that's probably not a great option for a moving vehicle. Any suggestions?

enter image description here

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    If the image you use in your question isn't yours, make sure you edit the question and clearly give credit to the rightsholder of the image.
    – user5572
    Jan 3 at 4:33
  • Do you need the mounting to be truly invisible or would just unobtrusive/very hard to see be sufficient? And do you know yet what species the slats will be? This might be directly relevant to what would be unobtrusive enough to be acceptable, since tiny brad holes would hide better on e.g. red oak compared to, say, maple, or any of the softwoods. "My first thought was keyhole slots" Oddly, they are the first thing I thought of too! But as you say possibly not ideal for a moving vehicle..... although the total friction in the 'system' might actually make this more secure than we are thinking.
    – Graphus
    Jan 3 at 13:29
  • @Graphus - I don't need it to be invisible, but we're planning on spending 5 years or so driving around the world in this van, so it's just a preference thing. And it's all going to be Hinoki (Cypress), so a very light color.
    – None
    Jan 3 at 14:41
  • Ah cypress, then my idea may not work then but I'll mention it anyway as it's one option to consider.
    – Graphus
    Jan 3 at 18:51
  • Since a couple of the recommendations hinge on it, what thickness are you planning the slats to be?
    – Graphus
    Jan 4 at 14:05

4 Answers 4

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Option #1, brads or nails
A brad nailer or pin nailer may be a good solution here, with or without the help of a little adhesive.

The smallest gauges of brads and pins (18-23 gauge) shot from nailers produce very small holes that are considered unobtrusive enough that many don't even bother to fill them. And with 23 gauge the holes are so tiny that they are very hard to locate even when you know they're there on woods that have visible grain lines — this sadly is not the case with the cypress you plan to use, but I think this is still an option worth exploring1. A picture's worth a thousand words here so:

Brad v. pin nailer holes compared

Source: Shop Gadget: 23-Gauge Pin Nailers on Woodsmith.

In addition to being relatively cheap (verrry cheap if you can rent or borrow the nailer) this solution will also make installation really fast.

While the hold from a 23-gauge pin nails is usually considered too weak to hold anything permanently by themselves shooting them in dovetail fashion, like this \ / instead of like this | | will increase the holding power greatly. You'd need to do some experiments — particularly incorporating vibration I think — to confirm they'd work for your application, whether they'd be enough on their own. If you have doubts a tiny dab of adhesive could be added to each pinning location2; between the two of them I can't imagine the hold would not be sufficient, and lasting.

Option #2, don't aim for invisible
If you abandon the idea of invisible mounting entirely you could embrace a number of options where you make a feature of how the slats are attached.

Brass slot-head screws have long been considered attractive enough that they can be seen on fine furniture, and combined with brass cup washers (AKA countersunk washers) they make an even better-looking fastening solution:

Brass cup washers image

But not gonna lie, this would make installation considerably slower.

If you don't need a completely flush installation normal brass cup washers, which raise the screw head very slightly above the surface, are also quite attractive and offer significantly easier installation.


1 The holes could be filled and made practically invisible if you plan to finish the wood, however this would involve a fair amount of extra effort for perhaps minimal gain.

2 Rather than normal wood glues PU construction adhesive or another product that works similarly may be perfect for this since the noticeable film between the slats and the nailing strips or other backing will help dampen vibration.

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    Honestly, this is the right answer. Aim for safe, secure, and pretty enough.
    – user5572
    Jan 4 at 20:59
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    And, yes, I'd choose an adhesive that allows for movement and does not get brittle because there is no van box on the planet that doesn't flex under normal driving loads. Rubber cement to reduce squeaks might be an idea, though I might just use small squares of indestructible butyl tape for that. The strength is in the fasteners. For noise reduction the most important thing to do is to treat the metal box with acoustic sealant before laying down the subframe that slats live on. Wood is great, but for automotive stuff butyl compounds are always the right choice when starting from bare metal.
    – user5572
    Jan 4 at 21:10
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I can think of a few options:

  • Screws installed from the back. If you can build the slat panels outside the van and then install them, you can screw through the supports into the back of the slats. This would give you the secure, invisible connection you're looking for.

  • Nails or staples from the sides. If you're lining the walls of an entire van with slats, you'll want fasteners that go in fast and work well. I can't think of a better tool for that than a nail gun or a staple gun. If you fire the fasteners at an angle through the sides of the slats and into the supports, they should be pretty well hidden. A dab of glue at each joint could also help.

  • Glue or construction adhesive. (Credit to aebabis for suggesting this first.) Adhesives can be very strong, and again you'll get that invisible connection. Installation will be much slower than with a nail gun since you'll need to clamp each joint until the glue cures.

  • Magnets. Probably not ideal for the whole project, but if there are areas where you might need to remove a slat for access, magnets might be a solution. If you inset steel magnet cups with rare earth magnets on one side of the joint and inset steel washers on the other side, you can get a connection that won't come apart until you want it to.

  • Keyholes. You suggested it, and I think they could be a good idea. To make it work, you'll need the following: 1) A way to locate all the keyholes and the mating screws precisely, so that they'll all line up; 2) a gauge to set the height of all the screws the same way; 3) some sort of thin, compressible material (weatherstripping?) to go between slats and supports and stop rattling, because you'll never get all those connections tight; 4) a way to lock the slats in place once installed. On that last point, I imagine sliding the slats into place, and then installing a piece across the ends that stops them from sliding backward.

Hope that helps.

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    The thickness required for a good amount of threads biting but not emerging from the top is probably more than that required for a keyhole. Given that we see that we want to hang stuff from the slats (as that is the design obvious from the photo) I'd be inclined to distrust keyholes as well.
    – user5572
    Jan 4 at 20:39
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    @jdv The thing about magnets that you can make them as strong as you want. Steel cups significantly increase force needed to pull them apart. If steel washers on one side isn’t strong enough, put magnets on both sides. Or stack them up. I wouldn’t use them for all the slats (too expensive), and I’d be thoughtful about safety in a collision, but they’re definitely a viable option where slats need to be removable.
    – Caleb
    Jan 4 at 22:40
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    @jdv That’s exactly what I suggested. Magnetism obeys the inverse square law, so it does drop off, but no other option mentioned here provides any attraction at any distance, so I’m not sure why that’s a complaint. If you don’t want to use magnets in your van, that’s fine, but they’re a fine option in the right situation.
    – Caleb
    Jan 4 at 23:28
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    Hold of point of screw is weak, same as short screw. And also this is very soft wood! But still +1 :)
    – Volfram K
    Jan 5 at 5:50
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    @jdvm, yes keyhole slots also not possible here I think. Wood is too thin and too soft
    – Volfram K
    Jan 5 at 5:52
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I don't know of any DIY truly hidden fastener solutions for this application but there are many proprietary systems for doing so. Just search for "invisible mounting wood slats".

For decks and other larger dimensioned projects you can use a jig to come in at an angle on the inside edge, but I don't see that working out well for this application. You might be able to adapt one of the decking systems out there, but few of those are truly "hidden" as they often require special fasteners that are tucked in between the decking, or even special decking. This is clearly not what you are looking for with this kind of cleat style project.

So, I think you are going to have to go with one of the fancy proprietary hidden fastener systems sold for these sorts of commercial applications.

Though, the photo in your question is using staples or brads of some kind, which is a pretty clean install.

I should mention that I have owned a converted van in my life, and relying on friction (such as a keyhole) or glue is a Bad Idea. Vans flex. A lot. The stuff in vans gets thrown around, even on ordinary roads you can expect to want to take vans. A lot. Those joints will have to allow for this. And you cannot expect gravity to always work in your favour. A keyhole, when done right, is sort of a good friction fit. But it can easily be overcome.

And you should consider how to make it field repairable. Some fancy expensive method that requires special fasteners or tools is a bad idea. You will be repairing this on the road, eventually. Being able to do that with only a handful of screws and a driver of some sort is worth much more than the interior being Instagram ready.

Since the application here is clearly a storage solution, you have to treat it like one. If you make something that looks like French cleats, then you have to build it like French cleats. Assume that this van will be subject to forces twice what you feel on an emergency stop. Will it release several kilos of wood and tackle to the back of your head if that happens?

You 100% need a positive mechanical fastener than can handle at least a few Gs fully loaded. This is a place where form must follow function. Your constraint must be safety and durability, not cosmetics. And then see what you can design.

A rule of thumb is to treat this build like you are building a boat. Things need to be lashed down, and the things you are lashing to have to be connected to something else with a lot of fasteners.

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If you don't need it to come apart, wood glue should be enough.

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    But how to hold slats in place while glue sets?
    – Volfram K
    Jan 4 at 4:32
  • In an environment subject to large variations in temperature and humidity, and lots of knocks, vibration, and torsion where you are also expecting to hang mass from the slats (these are basically allowing for "French" cleats) even if you could get the perfect glue joint (and that is debatable) I'm not sure I'd want to trust any glue only joint in this application. In fact, this is the sort of joinery where you want to use no glue at all, because vans flex. A lot.
    – user5572
    Jan 4 at 20:36

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