Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Fitting my birch ply headlining

Continuing on from my March entry on insulating the roof, I'm now ready to start installing the birch ply headlining. I searched the Internet looking for company's that supplied the 'J' channel and the 3mm birch ply that I required and I was getting quotes of over £300. OK this was close to original as possible looking 'J' channel and the ply was pre cut and shaped, even so, at those prices I decided to look for an alternative solution.

After I had found a supplier of the birch ply
and a suitable 'J' runner substitute, the first
job was to remove the westy interior. This was
a pain, but because the wardrobe would have
been in the way, I figured it would make life
easier with nothing in the back at all. I might
even get around to laying some ply on the
floor, and cover in it vinyl while I have the
interior out.

My bus was originally a microbus, so over each
cab door and across the top of the sliding door
were these metal tabs, that held the fabric
headlining in place. These had to be removed
because by my calculations the new 'J' runners
would run right over these tabs.

They are only spot welded in every few inches
or so, so out came the small chisel and
a hammer.

A nice sharp chisel and a swift blow from
the hammer and the welds broke quite
easily. You can see in the above photo after
the tabs have been removed, it leaves a small
spot weld that will need to be ground off.

Once all the tabs were removed, out came the
trusty grinder to smooth off the remaining spot
welds until the whole surface was smooth.

Not sure why Volkswagen thought it was
necessary to put the spot welds closer together
over the sliding door. It just meant I had more
tabs to chisel off and more spot welds to grind


After a lot of research and talking to people,
in-the-know it seemed the original 'J' channel
did come up for sale now and again, but if it
did it would cost a small fortune. I had to find
an alternative product and after trawling the
pages of '' I read that someone
had used B&Q 10mm plasterboard trim, and
that the guy was very pleased with the result.
He even said that it looked almost original once
the ply was fitted. Not being a purist, I decided
to give this product a go. And to make it even
better it only cost about £4.50 for a 2.4m

It comes pre-drilled with 3mm holes every 2
inches, but the rivets I purchased required
5mm holes, so after clamping the trim to a
piece of baton on the workbench out came
the drill. You can see the 5mm hole on the
left. This trim came in 2.4metre lengths, so
there was a lot of holes to drill. (although I
only needed just over 2 lengths)

As I said, I'm not a purist and if something on
my bus isn't as Volkswagen had intended, then
too bad. As long as whatever it is works, then
I'm happy, even if it's not original spec. This

goes for the positioning of the 'J' channel.
I am somewhere close to the position of the
factory fitted channel, (at 6cm from the top of

the window rubbers), but as I will be cutting
the ply to fit my roof, it didn't really matter
that much. The only original measurement
I did have was that the channel ended 5cm
from the windscreen rubber. Handy clamps
made the positioning easy.

After I was happy with the positioning of the
'J' channel I used a 3mm drill to drill a pilot
hole then followed with a 5mm bit. The rivets
I bought were 4.8 x 12mm flange head
rivets from ScrewFix direct. They have a
lovely big head which I hope will provide plenty
of support for the channel. I put a rivet every
4 inches.

Cutting the 3mm Russian Birch Ply in my
spacious garage / workshop (!). I purchased
the ply from James Latham at about £8.50 per
5' x 5' sheet. You will need 3 sheets if you
have a tin top. Remember to measure, and
re-measure before cutting the ply, and make
sure the grain is going the correct way, (front
to back) or else you won't be able to bend it.

Once the ply was cut to size, the next job was
to put it in place into the 'J' channel. This really
is a two person job but as I didn't have anyone
to help I had to improvise, so I cut some baton
to the length required and placed some rags
around the top to protect the inner surface.
This held the ply in position so I could ensure
both sides sat in the 'J' channel correctly.
Once one side is in the channel, the other side
will need pushing up and into the channel, this
is quite difficult. I cut my ply to follow the
contour of the 2 centre braces in the roof.
The ply should sit half on the roof brace,
you can see from this photo, the ply needs
to be cut cut back as it goes past the roof
brace. This will need to come out again to
enable me to varnish both sides for protection
and provide a decorative finish. I will do this
once I am happy with the way it fits.

After I had re-cut the ply so it sat on the roof
brace I took it out and varnished it, I decided I
quite liked the natural look of the birch ply,
and as I wanted a light airy interior I used
some clear satin varnish from Wilkinson,
750ml. Top tip, if you have some scuff
marks from handling the ply use a pencil
eraser to remove them before varnishing.

The rear section in and varnished. I do like the
look of that plasterboard trim, and I like the nice
bright colour of the varnish. You could, of
course varnish or stain the ply any colour you
Top tip, if you need to remove a roof panel
from the 'J' runners, to make any adjustments
simply grab the centre of the board at highest
point against the roof and pull downwards. The
board with bow inwards and 'pop' out of the
channels. Some say, you can put it in this way
but it has to be the correct size to do this.

Looking through the sliding door, I'm quite
pleased with how the rear section came out.
You will notice that I only took the ply up to
the rear hinges, this is because I have a top
locker that will hide almost half the rear roof
section. If you don't have a top locker then
you will need to take the ply to the rear door
and cut around the hinges. Only the other 2
roof sections to go, which I shall do in the
same way.

The front panel over the cab is tricky as it has
to be shaped around the visor mounts and it
is narrower at the front than the back. This is
a pain to create, luckily for me Zoe and Spike, 
my good friends at The House of Dub
kindly lent me a template from an original
Westfalia. Even with the template it still took
me 5 hours to shape and sand my panel until
I was happy with the fit. This was mainly due
to my 'J' runners not being in the same
position as an original Westfalia.

Once the cab panel is cut along with the hole
for the interior light you will need to add some
metal tabs to the rear side of the panel to hold
the interior light. This is because the interior light
sits in a metal housing on the centre roof brace
and once the ply goes in, the light cannot sit in
the original housing. I slightly bent my metal
tabs inwards to ensure the light fitted snug
and secured them using self tapping screws
although you could use rivets or even bolts
Once the cab section had been fitted, and the
interior light had been wired up and fitted into
it's new location I used these plastic screw
caps just to hide the screw heads and make
things look nice and neat.

Looking at the cab panel. I am very pleased
with the end result.
Once the cab panel was in, the ply seemed
a little loose across the top of the windscreen
due to there being no support, so I put a
self tapper screw on each side, behind the
sun visors and again finished them off with
the same screw caps.

After looking in various DIY stores and
Builders merchants I couldn't find anything I
liked to join the roof panels. I couldn't drive
around with gaps in the ply headlining so I cut
2 x 3" strips of the ply, sanded and varnished
them to match the roof and laid these into the
'J' runners to cover the joints. They hold
themselves in and It actually looks nice and

So that was how I fitted my new ply headlining
for around £100. I have no carpentry experience,
nor do I have any fancy tools, but I did plenty of
research, talked to a lot of people and took my
time. I am very pleased with the result, although
I am having second thoughts on the clear varnish,
maybe it needs to be a bit darker.
If your thinking about fitting ply headlining
into your bay, then I hope this may have
inspired you.


  1. Thanks for this. Exactly what was needed. Looks great too

  2. Hi Matthew, Thanks for leaving a comment. I hope my blog helps you fit your headlining, it is actually easier than you think it is. I think I've covered most aspects of fitting the birch, but if your unsure of anything, feel free to ask questions. Cheers Dave C.

  3. Dave, nice job. I will be doing the same as I want to install 4 torpedo running lights on top of my '71 Bay cab. the headliner is dirty with no tears. But I like the wood ply look , so i will betaking the vinyl out. as with you, I am not a bus, I'll do what I want. Best, Craig

  4. Dave, nice job. I will be doing the same as I want to install 4 torpedo running lights on top of my '71 Bay cab. the headliner is dirty with no tears. But I like the wood ply look , so i will betaking the vinyl out. as with you, I am not a bus, I'll do what I want. Best, Craig

  5. Dave, nice job. I will be doing the same as I want to install 4 torpedo running lights on top of my '71 Bay cab. the headliner is dirty with no tears. But I like the wood ply look , so i will betaking the vinyl out. as with you, I am not a bus, I'll do what I want. Best, Craig

  6. Hi Craig, Thanks for the comments. My fabric headlining was all torn but like you I prefer the wood look. Good luck with your's, I hope my blog helps in some way. Cheers Dave.

  7. Good job! Just lining my split and this was useful. Cheers

  8. This looks great, I am about to line my 71 Bay, is it possible to borrow a template for the front section? Thank you Roger

  9. Really useful Dave, especially the plasterboard trim tip.

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  11. Hi Dave. Really helpful for the rest of us! Nice job! :)
    Could you post the itemnumber for the J channels?

  12. Hey Dave. Thanks for all the tips. Just finished mine today. Very happy with the results. Just a note for the guys looking to purchase the J Channel from B&Q: it has been discontinued and cannot be purchased/reserved online, but only if your local store still has it. I have found a 12mm one @ Travis and Perkins for less than a fiver each. It is a great replacement.

  13. Looks good, and very handy as I'm about to give it a go! As mentioned above, has anyone got the template for the over windscreen section?? Either physical or pdf / dwg etc

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