Tool List for DIY Van Conversion (Work Smarter and Faster)

Last Updated: March 1, 2022

Tool List for DIY Van Conversion (Work Smarter and Faster)

Tool List for DIY Van Conversion (Heading)

“What would you do differently if you had to start over?” is one of the questions we get asked to most. Well, we ARE starting over (we just got a new van!), so it’s a good opportunity to reflect on what we could do better. First and foremost on our list of lessons learned: Getting the right tools for the job. Don’t get us wrong, it’s possible to convert a van with just basic tools; our first Ford Transit van conversion is the proof you actually can (we basically just had a circular saw, jigsaw, drill, and we did it!). However, there was a lot of frustration and time wasted. This time our goal is to enjoy the build process more (instead of just focusing on the end result), and work smarter and faster. And getting the right tools (and learning how to use them) is a good starting point. So below is a list of the tools we use for our DIY van conversion: the essentials, but also the less-essential that makes our work easier and better.

At the time of writing these lines, we are preparing our workspace and gathering the tools for our 2nd van conversion. This list is a work in progress and we’ll update it along the way!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a product link and buy anything from the merchant (Amazon, eBay, etc.) we will receive a commission fee. The price you pay remains the same, affiliate link or not.

Portrait-FarOutRide-Van

1- About Us


We both have engineering background, so it’s fair to say we’re in our comfort zone planning and designing. But we have limited experience actually building stuff with our hands. We learned a lot during our first van conversion, but it did not turned us into experts. So if you’re looking for pro-tips and for the right techniques, there are excellent YouTube channels dedicated to woodworking (and such) hosted by professionals. But if you have limited experience building stuff and you’re interested in seeing how “normal” people with “normal” tools can do it, then stick with us ๐Ÿ™‚

We-got-a-new-van-2021-heading
Proud owners of a brand new 2021 Ford Transit!

2- Lesson Learned From Our Previous Van Conversion


The most sophisticated tools we had during our first van conversion was a drill, a circular saw and a jigsaw. We didn’t have a dedicated workspace and worked outside (for the most part), rain or shine (thanks to our awning), sometimes below freezing temperatures and in the snow. As a result, hours were wasted trying to make straight cuts, searching for lost tools and hardware, etc. Needless to say, it made it difficult to fully enjoy the build process.

Van-Conversion-Outside
Our glorious workspace.

3- Workspace


For our second build, we paused our full time Vanlife and were very lucky to find an apartment with a small garage space. The van doesn’t fit in the garage unfortunately, but at least we’ll be able to do some work inside and create a neat little workspace.

A clean and organized workspace = happy builders! Less time is wasted searching for tools and hardware, productivity is increased, and ergonomics is better. All of these provide a boost of confidence and is empowering! Our workspace is small and simple, but hey it’s a temporary setup (until we hit the road full time again) and it’s already a huge improvement compared to our previous van conversion ๐Ÿ™‚

Workspace Workbench FarOutRide
Clean and organized workspace = photo session happening

DIY Workbench Plans

We needed low-cost and easy to make workbench, so we came up with this. The frame is 2×3’s lumber (the cheap stuff from hardware store) and the top/shelf is 5/8″ plywood (more or less thick would work too). The two workbenches are identical, and together they fit nicely with the 4′ x 8′ pegboard. Here are the workbench plans:

DIY-Workbench-Plans-for-Workshop

4- Tools


Below is a list of the tools we use for our van conversion. The essentials, but also the less-essential that makes our work easier and better.

At the time of writing these lines, we are preparing our workspace and gathering the tools for our 2nd van conversion. This list is a work in progress and we’ll update it along the way!

Power Drill/Impact Driver


DEWALT Power Drill Impact Driver Combo
DEWALT Power Drill Combo, Cordless (2 batteries and charger included). Buy on Amazon or eBay.
Power Drill:

A power drill is primarily used to drill holes, but it can also drive screws in most applications. It exerts a constant torque (constant rotational force) to rotate the drill bit. Compared to our impact driver, speed is easier to control and there is a torque limiter, so it’s more adequate for “delicate” jobs.

Impact Driver:

Impact drivers are high-torque (and high speed) tools primarily used for driving screws and tightening nuts. When additional torque is needed, it exerts a repeated rotational impact force (50 times per second or such) and forward thrust (impact). This creates more torque and helps drive screws/nuts much faster than a drill. Impact drivers are also more compact than power drill.

Which one do I need?

Impact drivers excels at high-torque applications (e.g. building a deck, screw in concrete, etc.), which is not really the case when building van. So if a power drill is what you got, it’ll do just fine. But if you got a power drill AND an impact driver, you’ll appreciate not having to switch between a drill bit and a screwdriver bit each time you have to pilot & screw (a pilot hole is when you pre-drill a small hole before driving a screw into the material. It prevents cracking the wood). We went with the DEWALT power drill/impact driver combo because it includes 2 batteries (which we can use for several other tools) and it’s a great value.

Power Drill Accessories:
DEWALT-Titanium-Drill-Bit-Set-(21-Piece)
Drill Bits

Titanium drill bits have excellent wear resistance and can drill through metal, wood, plastic, etc. Buy on Amazon.

DEWALT-Screwdriver-Bit-Set-Impact-Ready-(40-Piece)
Screwdriver Bits

“Impact ready” screwdriver bits are designed withstand the torque of an impact driver. Buy on Amazon.

Step-Drill-Bit-Titanium
Step Drill Bit

A step drill bit is used to drill holes of various size in sheet metal. Buy on Amazon.

Flexible-Bit-Holer-Extension-12-inch
12″ Flexible Extension

Allows to drive a screw in hard-to-reach places (which is very common in a van!). Buy on Amazon.

Stop-Collars-Drill-Bit-Holder
Stop Collars

Control the depth of the drill and prevent damaging material underneath. Buy on Amazon.

JigSaw


Jigsaw-DeWalt-Cordless-20V
DEWALT Jigaw, Cordless. Buy on Amazon or eBay.
Description:

A jigsaw is a must for converting a van! As opposed to a track saw (or circular saw) which can make straight cuts fast (and precise), a jigsaw is great for more detailed cuts (i.e. not straight). It’s one of the first tool you’ll use (to cut the roof for the fan installation), and you’ll keep using it for almost every projects involving cutting wood or metal.

Projects:

Metal cutting (roof fan, windows, etc.), or any project involving non-straight cuts through wood (bed platform, cabinets, etc.).

Alternative Tool:
  • Nibblers, shear or multitool can also be used to cut sheet metal, but the versatility of a jigsaw is hard to beat.
Jigaw Accessories:
Jigsaw-Blades-Set,-DeWalt-(wood-and-metal)
Jigsaw Blades Set

Includes wood & metal blades. Buy on Amazon.

Miter Saw


DEWALT Miter Saw 7-1_4 Cordless Tool
DEWALT 7-1/4-Inch Miter Saw, Cordless. Buy on Amazon or eBay.
Description:

A miter saw is great at making cuts (cross cut, miter cut, bevel cut, compound cut), precisely and quickly through boards (e.g. 2×3, 2×4, etc.). Compared to a circular saw, it is much faster, accurate, and repeatable. It excels at making perfectly accurate 90-degree cut (the most common cut). However, as opposed to a circular saw, it cannot make long cuts (for example, our DEWALT 7-1/4″ miter saw can make 8″ cut max).

Projects:

Bed platform, slide-out-bike-rack, cabinets, walls & ceiling, etc. Any project where making a crosscut through a board is required (which is quite often)!

Alternative Tool:
  • Circular saw. That’s what we used in our first build to make crosscuts. We had to use a guide each time and clamp the guide, and even with these precautions cuts were not always square. It was also super time consuming (turns out there are a LOT of cuts to make when building a van!).
  • Jigsaw (not recommended for crosscuts). A jigsaw is not very good at making perfectly square cuts through lumber, even with a guide (because the blade often bends slightly during the cut).
Mini-Review:

DEWALT needs no introduction; they make high-quality, professional grade tools. You get what you pay for. We went with a cordless miter saw, because we might have to move to different locations during our van conversion, so we wanted the flexibility. One thing that surprised us is how quiet the saw operates; our garage is annexed to the neighbor’s room, so that’s a welcomed feature!

Miter Saw Accessories:
DEWALT Wood Cutting Blade 40T
Wood Blade

That’s the blade that was included with our miter saw. Buy on Amazon.

DEWALT Aluminum Cutting Blade 60T
Aluminum Blade

To cut 80/20 profiles or aluminum in general. Buy on Amazon.

Track Saw


WEN-Track-Saw-with-Powertech-Track-Rail-Guide
WEN CT1065 10-Amp 6.5-inch track saw (Buy on Amazon or eBay) and PowerTec tracks (Amazon or eBay).
Description:

A track saw is great at making long, accurate cuts, faster and better than a circular or table saw. The saw is paired to a track; the saw glides smoothly into the track and makes for easy and precise cuts. The circular blade is well contained, the saw is “locked” into the track, and there is an anti-kickback mechanism; as a result a track saw is safer to use. It’s also better at collecting dust than a circular saw (thanks to the dust port that can be hooked to a dust collector or a vacuum). Bottom word: It is safe, light weight, portable, accurate, and super fast to set up!

Projects:

Floor, bed platform, slide-out-bike-rack, cabinets, walls & ceiling, etc. Really anytime when cutting plywood is required (which is quite often)!

Alternative Tool:
  • Circular saw. To make long and straight cuts with a circular saw, a guide is needed. Locating the guide requires to take into account and calculate the distance from the blade to the edge of the saw shoe for every cut, which can introduce errors. Also, clamps are needed to keep the guide in place.
  • Table saw. Similar results can be achieved to cut plywood, but a table saw cost more and is not as portative as a track saw.
Brand/model and accessories We Use:
Mini-Review:

We couldn’t justify spending over $500 for a major brand track saw… so it was either the WEN track saw or nothing. We normally avoid buying the cheapest stuff, but after reading several positive reviews we decided to go for it. And we’re glad we did! This setup gets the job done for an occasional use (e.g. to build a van), it’s a major upgrade over a circular saw. That being said, professionals or serious woodworkers should probably restrain from getting the WEN track saw, because the switches and levers are all plastic and feel quite flimsy; it probably wouldn’t last in a harsh environment or for the everyday use.

Tip: Get the Powertec tracks instead of the WEN tracks, as they glide better and are a bit longer which helps starting the cut over a full size 4×8 sheet. Be aware that for ANY TRACK, the rubber splinter guard must first be trimmed as follows: Track Saw Splinter Guard Trim (YouTube).

How To Make a Cut:
How-to-cut-Track-Saw-Step-1
1- Mark the cut location with two points. No need to draw the entire line (see next step).
How-to-cut-Track-Saw-Step-2
2- Position the track flush with the cut marks (two points). The cut will be flush with the rubber splinter guide.
How-to-cut-Track-Saw-Step-3
3- Select the cut depth, engage the anti-return and locking switches, start the dust collector (or vacuum), and cut!

Drill Press


Wen Drill Press 4208T
WEN 4208T 8-inch drill press. Buy on Amazon or eBay.
Description:

Don’t worry a drill press isn’t an essential tool by any mean; in fact, you probably won’t need one. But if you plan on building your van out of 80/20 t-slot aluminum extrusions, we think you should consider it. A drill press allows to machine t-slot aluminum extrusions to accept anchor fasteners, which are much stronger and reliable than corner brackets. We know: the cool thing to do is to make your own brackets out of an aluminum angle and use carriage bolts, but this method requires to use 15 series extrusion. Because anchor fasteners are stronger, using 10 series is totally acceptable and the final cost will be in the same ball park, but the end result will look cleaner and be stronger.

80/20 T-Slot ALuminum Extrusion Guide:

If we lost you at “80/20”, “T-Slot”, or “anchor fasteners”, then check out our dedicated guide about 80/20 t-slot aluminum extrusion:

T-slot (80/20) aluminum extrusion | Complete Guide (Coming soon!)

Alternative Tool:
  • Portable Drill Guide for Power Drill (Amazon). It’s a cheaper and portable adapter to use with your current power drill, however it won’t be enough to install anchor fastener in t-slot aluminum.
Mini-Review:

Again when we can’t justify buying a specialized tool for a single job (converting one van), we have a look at Wen tools… At just a little over $100 US, we think it’s worth the investment if you plan on building your van out of t-slot aluminum extrusions (80/20). It allows to install anchor fasteners in lieu of corner bracket, which are much stronger and reliable.

Drill Press Accessories:
End-Mill-(9-16)
9/16″ End mill

To install anchor fasteners on 10 series t-slot extrusions. Buy on Amazon.

End-Mill-(13-16)
13/16″ End mill

To install anchor fasteners on 15 series t-slot extrusions. Buy on Amazon.

Wet/Dry Vacuum


Vacuum Ridgid Wet-Dry Portable 4gal 5hp Shop
Ridgid 4 gallon 5 HP Wet/Dry Vacuum (WD4070). Buy on Amazon.
Description:

Alright, not the most exciting thing… but nonetheless, it’s a very essential tool not to be forgotten! There is ALWAYS something to clean. And it’s especially essential knowing it can act as a dust collector for some tools (for the track saw, miter saw, etc.).

Mini-Review:

Our space is rather limited, so we chose a model that’s a bit more compact yet powerful. Hose diameter is 1-7/8 inch (a bit smaller than the standard 2.5-inch for “full-size” vacuums). We used it to vacuum saw dust, broken glass, snow (don’t ask), just about anything really. It’s also the vacuum we use in the apartment we’re renting at the moment. 100% happy with it!

BONUS: dust collection!

A dust collection system is out-of-our-scope, but with a little creativity (and a neat 3D Printer) we turned our vacuum into a dust collector! We designed and printed some adaptors that allow us to connect our vacuum to the dust port of several power tools, dramatically reducing the amount of saw dust in the workshop (and in our lungs):

DEWALT Miter Saw
Vacuum-to-dust-port-adapter-annotated(DeWalt-Miter-Saw)
DEWALT Orbital Sander
Vacuum-to-dust-port-adapter-annotated(DeWalt-Orbital-Sander)

Our vacuum adapter is a custom solution to our own little problem, but we made it available in case you face the same problem than us ๐Ÿ™‚

Vacuum Adapters for Power Tools Dust Collection
Vacuum Adapter for Power Tools Dust Collection
These 3D printed adapters turns your vacuum into a dust collection system. It allows to connect the hose of a wet/dry shop vac to the dust port of various power tools!

Center PUnch


Automatic Center Punch Spring Loaded General Tool 70079
Spring loaded automatic center punch (Buy on Amazon).
Description:

Punching metal before drilling prevents the drill bit to “roam” and “wander” around and therefore greatly increases precision. You can use a punch with a hammer, or use a Spring Loaded Automatic Center Punch for one-hand operation. The sharp edge can also be used to mark (e.g. make a line) on wood or metal.

Projects:

Roof fan, window, air heater, etc.

Contour Gauge


Contour Gage
Contour gauge / shape duplicator (Buy on Amazon).
Description:

You probably heard it before: nothing is straight in a van! A contour gauge helps transposing funky shapes onto wood for marking.

Projects:

Floor, cabinets, walls, ceiling, etc.

Tape Measure


Tape-Measure-Stanley-Fat-Max-25ft
Tape measure 25 ft (Buy on Amazon).
Description:

One of our the most essential tool, it needs no introduction…

Projects:

All!

Speed Square


Speed Square
Speed square (Buy on Amazon).
Description:

We use a speed square to quickly and precisely mark cuts (straight or angled). It’s just fast and convenient to use. There are dozens of advanced use for a speed square, but this person knows better than us: anikasdiylife.com/speed-square-beginners-guide

Projects:

Cabinets, walls, ceiling, bed, etc.

Straight Edge


Straight Edge 48 inch
Straight edge (Buy on Amazon).
Description:

A straight edge is useful to mark long straight lines, or to make measurements.

Projects:

Cabinets, walls, ceiling, bed, etc.

Magnetic Pick Up Tool


Magnetic Pick Up Tool
Magnetic pick up tool (Buy on Amazon).
Description:

Life has several creative ways of blocking the advancement of your projects, and dropping a screw somewhere sneaky under the floor of your van is one of them! Save yourself the hassle and time and get one of these telescoping magnetic pick up tool ๐Ÿ˜‰

Projects:

All!

Mechanical Pencil


Pentel P-207 Mechanical Pencil and lead refill-
Pentel P-207 drafting mechanical pencil (Buy on Amazon).
Description:

Yep, a pencil is an essential tool! There are a few things we like about the Pentel P-207 drafting mechanical pencil. First of all, it has a fine profile (near the tip) which makes marking easier. Second of all, each click dispense a small amount of lead compared to a cheaper pen. Because of that, we can use a fine lead (0.7mm) and still be able to mark without breaking it. We also like to use darker 2B lead refill.

Projects:

All projects!

Sharpie (Ultra FIne Point)


Sharpie-Permanent-Marker,-Ultra-Fine-Point-Black
Sharpie permanent marker, ultra fine point (Buy on Amazon).
Description:

You’ll need a Sharpie to mark on metal. The ultra fine point helps with precision.

Projects:

Roof fan, window, air heater, etc.

Want More?


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About us


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About-Us-Narrow

Hello! Weโ€™re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017, we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers, and moved into our self-built campervan. Weโ€™ve been on the road since then, and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; weโ€™re chasing our dreams, and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

6 thoughts on “Tool List for DIY Van Conversion (Work Smarter and Faster)”

  1. Great list!

    The speedsquare with a circular saw will replace the mitersaw in speed and convenience for all straight cuts, unless you need to make many identical lenghts, and even then. I have both and rarely use my mitersaw unless it is for angled cuts, almost regret buying one. I would very much recommend a good tracksaw. Maybe even consider renting a proper one if buying is too expensive.

    Reply
  2. One thing I did in my garage work area was to suspend an 8-foot 2×6 above my bench but under the garage door (when it’s open). Attached to that are 3 4-outlet plugs in metal boxes, pointing down, and two screw in light outlets, all attached to an extension cord that runs into a nearby outlet. It is low enuf that I can reach up and plug things in. Now I have pretty of plugs for chargers and electric things, and the cords are not on the floor.
    And lots of light where before there was little.

    Reply
  3. Can’t tell you how much I have loved following you guys for the last couple of years. My Transit is on order! One thing you might add to your repertoire is Amazon shopping lists. Break them up into each task… Tools, Vent, Floor, Seats, etc. Then all of us wanna bees can easily keep track and visit the lists as we approach each stage. Easier to buy stuff when it’s all on the same Amazon page too. Cheers and thanks so much for your fun and informative work.

    Reply

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