Well, we’ve managed to put together the workshop I’ve always wanted. One that’s practical, functional and neat, well at least for the moment. We have plenty of light, plenty of power, lots of work surfaces and enough cabinets, shelves and hangers to organize all of the tools we’ll be using here. I’ve even managed to do a little creative workshop decorating along the way to remind me of how I got started in this business in the first place.
2. Create window-like effects. Windows can open up a small space and make it seem larger. At Poppyseeds, a vintage decor and fashion accessory shop in Stanwood, Wash., the owners cut window spaces into the walls separating two small rooms to create a more airy feel. In another room, co-owner Marybeth Sande put white linen panels across an entire wall, creating the illusion of windows. Hanging drapes around tall, skinny mirrors is another way to create a window effect, Langdon says. "That gives an illusion of more light and movement in a small space."
As you can imagine, this collective overflow of dare we say, lack of imagination, has resulted in a surplus of duplicate business names across the country. This wasn’t necessarily an issue until the internet came along. The introduction of the World Wide Web has left small business owners from all over the world competing for the same digital real estate: www.tonyshardware.com, facebook.com/tonyshardware, @tonyshardware and more.
Also, heard of anyone camping in an Accord sedan? I’m wondering if it’d be worth it to buy a new Tacoma to convert into a dirtbaggin’ vehicle or if I should try to make it in a sedan. Lots of variables… I’ve got the cash but it’d eat into the “cushion” I have for living on the road (about 50% of it). OTOH I could buy a used Tacoma, but they hold value so well it’d seem like long term it’d be best to get it new. I’ve seen some with 250 miles sell for $8,000+. Thoughts on getting a new truck using my beat-up sedan?
However, Sprinters are a lot more expensive than other options. It can be tough to find anything reasonably priced with less than 200,000 miles. For the Mercedes Sprinters, parts are more expensive and it may be difficult to find mechanics that have experience working on them (this is less of an issue with Transits and Promasters). And, since these are complex vehicles, they don’t lend quite as well to tinkering as something classic like a VW Vanagon or old Ford Econoline.
Calculating the size of your desired parking lot is easy. The rule of thumb is to have a parking spot for every three customers. Determining traffic is trickier and potentially more lucrative. To help, we wrote an article on how to calculate your desired foot traffic. If you want to calculate your desired vehicle traffic, you can refer to our article on how to choose a location for your restaurant.
If you want that homey cabin feel inside your van, then lining the walls and/or ceiling with tongue-and-groove paneling is a good choice. Paneling looks awesome - the cedar paneling on our ceiling is one of the defining features of our van. And we cut ours to random lengths and stained it several colors to really give it that mismatched, rustic look.
To avoid buyer’s block, define the core characteristics you absolutely need in your business. Write them down in a prioritized list ranked from ‘deal breaker’ to ‘would be nice to have.’ Now cross off the bottom five and focus only on the ones that are left. Compromising is essential in choosing a commercial space, especially in popular neighborhoods. Besides, you’d be surprised how what once seemed like a less than stellar storefront can become your dream location once you get those creative juices flowing.
A commercial real estate lease is a long-term rental agreement between the landlord of a commercial space and a business. There are many types of commercial leases and many types of commercial spaces. Leases include full service leases, net leases, and modified gross leases. These leases help tenants rent out office spaces, retail and restaurant locations, as well as industrial spaces.
If you have the available time, taking your DIY campervan for a test run (or two) is a great way to identify any problems while you still have access to tools, package deliveries, and a place to work. There’s just a lot that you can’t foresee until you live in your van. Taking it out for some short trips throughout your build will help you understand how you’ll actually use your new living space, what’s necessary, and what’s not.
Next up are the chisels, you can start with a couple of sizes and build from there. When looking at saws, for joinery a dovetail saw is a good place to start, with a choice between western style or Japanese. For precise cuts across the grain, cutting tenon shoulders, and defining the edges of a dado a carcass saw also makes a good complement to the dovetail saw.

At $300, the saw is expensive, but it is one of the more affordable saws that offer a 12 inch blade and a double bevel.  The double bevel allows you to adjust both the angle at which the blade cuts into the wood and the tilt of the blade relative to the workpiece.  Having control over both angles allows much easier cuts of trims and moldings.  It's one of those features that you won't use with every project - but when you do need it, you'll be glad you have it
If you dream of devoting your life to a cause you believe in, it might be time to start a nonprofit. You’ll need to incorporate your business and file for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status -- and then you’ll be required to meet ongoing standards of compliance, but the payoff is making a meaningful impact on a cause you believe in. Want to do good while still making a profit? Consider social entrepreneurship.

I live in Northern Va and have the same concerns. I save those little silica gel packets every time they come in a new product and put them in my tool drawers. I also salvaged a dehumidifier from a neighbor that I need to repair and set up in there. I use the wall mounted AC in the summer to keep it cool enough to work in there. Although I haven't gone back yet to insulate the ceiling, it stays really cool in there if i want it to be.


Couldn’t disagree more. Still got the same setup a few years in. As mentioned the sag is minimal (not non-existent), I place a small removable 2×2 near the tailgate so I can hop up top. You’re not building a home up to code, you’re building a practical truck camping solution, and in my extensive experience it is more than fine. You can do thicker plywood, but realize that it will be much heavier and more cumbersome to move.
I want the shop to be big! Not only do I have a lot of tools, but I tend to frequently bring tools in for testing. As you probably know by now, I also do a lot of filming. So I need a space big enough to allow for full movement around most of the tools. My tripod has a pretty good-sized footprint and having more room allows me to get the best vantage point possible. More space will also allow me to stage larger pieces of furniture, whether for the show or for jobs I take on locally.
SBA provides support and tools to aspiring small business owners and in particular to minority-owned, women-owned, disadvantaged, and veteran-owned businesses, including a government-backed financing scheme to qualified participants. Local and state authorities also have a range of programs designed to encourage the growth of your small business. Make sure to research your local authority’s website.
Again, it is the inspiration I have (hopefully) given my son. To never be afraid to try, even at the risk of failure. If you don’t have all the answers, go with the knowledge you do have and trust everything else will fall into place. I am no millionaire; I have entered into a lifetime of debt because of what I’ve done with this build. And I’m going to try and keep it on the road as long as I can. I am not getting any help from Hasbro and Paramount Pictures, so I am looking for help with sponsorships.
Find out what tools you need and how to budget for shop setup. Whether you are going to be doing furniture, cabinetry or woodturning, this workshop tools list and budgeting guide can help. Learn how to prioritize purchases of shop tools based on space, interests and cost. Check out a comparison of the workshop tools you can get for $4000 vs. $10,000 and determine how much you need to spend for the shop you want.

As always, great article! While my dirtbag adventure will likely only be about 6-7 months, I am starting to wonder about logistics. You mention that most people use the automobile they have. I drive a Prius. Not ideal for sleeping in, but I’m a pretty content ground dweller. I know that long-term I may start to question this. Here’s the proposition I’m considering: by saving on gas (45-50 mpg), I can occasionally cough up the money for lodging when I feel the need for added comfort. I can definitely do the number crunching, but I’m wondering if you’ve encountered people doing this or did similar analyses of your own at any point. I’d love to hear any insights you may have on this.


You can see I broke the ultimate goal down into smaller tasks. Now you just need to do this for all the big goals that you have mapped out for the year. You may have more ideas or goals throughout the year and that’s okay. With this type of document, you are able to add another category and tasks anytime you want. This is just the best way to keep track of all the little things you need to do to accomplish your goals so you never are stuck wondering what you have to do next.
However, there are some downsides. If you want to customize the interior you’ll have to completely gut the entire thing, which can be a lot of extra work. The weird shape and fiberglass construction of most high tops also make it more difficult to install solar panels, a ceiling, or anything else on the roof. And we’ve also found that some auto repair shops aren’t tall enough to put our van up on a lift - though that’s only really an issue for major work, not routine maintenance.
For now we’re just getting it out of the room so that our electrician can get started. In any kind of workshop you want plenty of access to power and lots of use of the light. So Mike our electrician is hooking us up. If a service call from an electrician isn’t in your budget you can plan your space so that you can best take advantage of the outlets that are already there. Now Mike has checked all of these surfaces to be sure they can handle these extra outlets he’s adding.
The standard option for a shop floor is a concrete slab. You’re probably not going to go to the trouble of creating a basement beneath your shop, although it is possible. The weight of most woodworking machines suggests that a con­crete floor is the most solid and durable substrate available. It has the potential to be used as thermal mass to store heat from your heating system or from the sun, but it can be tiring and hard on your body to be standing on concrete all the time. You can add a vapour barrier, 2x4 sleepers and a wooden floor above the concrete to ease the tendency of the floor to strain your feet and back, or you can add anti-fatigue mats in key areas where you’ll be standing for longer periods.

Next up are the chisels, you can start with a couple of sizes and build from there. When looking at saws, for joinery a dovetail saw is a good place to start, with a choice between western style or Japanese. For precise cuts across the grain, cutting tenon shoulders, and defining the edges of a dado a carcass saw also makes a good complement to the dovetail saw.
Sadly, that’s most of my power tools and shop accessories, but it’s a growing collection. Compared to all the money I’ve wasted on small electronics and computer junk in the past, I’d say this has been, and will continue to be, a much better investment. I just wish I had come to that realization back in college, when I was probably spending $500-$1000+ a year upgrading my computer.
Assume that there aren’t any decent tools on craigslist or at garage sales, and keep in mind that I have absolutely no tools, dust collection, shop-vac, clamps, sanding & painting accessories, tables, materials to build my own tables/stands/jigs, or anything else—not even safety gear (you’re such a good buddy that you even let me borrow your extra set of goggles and your earmuffs when I used to come over).
Many small businesses in New York and New Jersey were forced to close following Superstorm Sandy because they lacked the insurance that would have gotten them back on their feet. That part is well known. What’s less well known is that this lack of proper insurance, coupled with the lack proper legal incorporation, resulted in many entrepreneurs seeing their personal assets come under threat.
Secondly, your size allows you to laser-focus your attention on the right audience. Walmart wants to sell everything to everyone. So maybe instead, you just focus on selling colorful earmuffs to children in the Mission District in San Francisco. This kind of clarity allows you to compete for search rankings on Google, key positions on Yelp and other business recommendation engines, and for space on social media.

But if you want to do a lot of stealth camping in cities, a cargo van is your best option. There are so many of them on the road that people just don’t notice them, and they have a lot of floor space to play around with your perfect layout. But if you don’t plan on stealth camping and you value storage space and headroom, there may be better choices.
There seems to be two things I like looking at and they are work benches & work shops. I too use my work shop for several other activities. I currently have a basement shop with a walk out entry, which is roughly 340 square feet and shaped like a flat s and has less than 8' ceiling height. In that shop I have an old Unisaw w/50"fence, 8" jointer, 15" planer, 10" sliding compound saw, 14" bandsaw and various & assorted power & hand tools. Also in the same space I have a small closet, dog grooming tub, & a space where a bathroom was roughed out. It is far from finished space and I have plans to put up a ship lapped paneled walls and fix up the closet for tool storage. I also plan on putting a cyclone in the bathroom space along with a tolet. I can work in the space as it is pretty well but the studded walls, insulation, & dust make the space somewhat uninviting.
Aside from mechanical repairs, a mechanic’s toolset will help you loosen and tighten bolts - which you’ll need to do during the gutting process, installing your electrical system, and at many other points during your van build. This Crescent 170-piece tool set has all the essentials, including 6-point and 12-point sockets in ¼”, ⅜” and ½” - not to mention pliers, crescent wrenches and screwdrivers.
When you design your workshop setup, climate control often gets ignored — and that’s a huge mistake! If your workshop or hobby room is in an unconditioned space like a garage or basement, you could find that it’s brutally uncomfortable to work in there during warm weather. You’ll be much happier with a solid fan — or several — to keep air moving for your comfort.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, your size should make you lean. Every single aspect of your store or restaurant can be tweaked and optimized to ensure more and more customers are coming through the door. As you experiment with strategies on Facebook or Twitter, introduce a new email marketing techniques, or simply erect new signage outside of your store, you have the chance to measure your success and react quickly to failure. 

It is also essential to take a lean, data-led approach to choosing a business space. The average length of a commercial lease has dropped over the last few years but is still often well over five years, so the absolute last thing you want to do is rush into a signing and get locked into a bad situation. There are so many ways to test the viability of your business idea before you over-invest and sign a full-blown lease agreement.

When you are looking for small business funding options, be it from the local bank, an angel investor, or even a family member, the first thing you will be asked to present after your business plan will be any existing financial records. Make sure you are putting your best foot forward by keeping meticulous records, with your business finances completely separate from your personal finances.

“Beware suppliers bearing gifts. That ‘free’ refrigerator from the drinks supplier is never really free. You can quickly find yourself tied into sub-optimal deals because of a reliance on this hardware. If you have access to the capital, do yourself a favor: Buy your own fridge and negotiate from a position of strength.” — ShopKeep Founder and Experienced Small Business Owner
Since there’s less wiring involved, installing LED strip lights is much simpler than puck lights. You also won’t need to cut any holes because strip lighting should come with its own adhesive. We’ve seen most vanlifers stick strip lighting down the side edges of their ceilings. However, it’s not as easy to create separate lighting zones as it is with puck lights.
I do not rip on the table saw as a rule, to prevent kick back that periodically occurs when natural wood pinches the blade, turning the wood into a missile. I bought a fairly powerful saw, so this is one place where a lighter saw would be adequate. Essentially, I use the table saw for ripping sheet goods, cutting dados, tenons, and cutting small parts to length – all of which can be done with a 1.5 HP saw. I ended up with a King 3 HP, three-belt drive, 10" table saw. The castings are true, and the King Tru-rip fence reminds me of the Biesmeyer fence used on the Canadian General saws. The model is KC-11FX, and it can be purchased for less than half of the price of other, simi­lar saws. On this purchase, I went with the suggestion of Jeff at Brettwood Machinery – he was right; a very good value saw that runs smooth, and has a decent fence.
If you have a broker that’s too successful you may be a low priority. If you choose a broker that’s inexperienced but attentive, you may end up paying for their novice mistakes. My advice is to not choose a broker but instead choose a team. Pick a junior/senior combo so that when you’re hunting for space you work more with the junior, and when it comes to negotiating the deal you have the experienced veteran leading the negotiation.”
If you want that homey cabin feel inside your van, then lining the walls and/or ceiling with tongue-and-groove paneling is a good choice. Paneling looks awesome - the cedar paneling on our ceiling is one of the defining features of our van. And we cut ours to random lengths and stained it several colors to really give it that mismatched, rustic look.
In short – yes. The small business community is a diverse and eclectic collection of mom-and-pops, multi-generational businesses, one-stop shops, trendy boutiques, food trucks, lemonade stands, wine stores, bicycle stores masquerading as bars, and more. These entrepreneurs come from every walk of life and their motivations for starting small businesses are as unique as the businesses themselves. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re looking to join their ranks, and we say: “Go for it!”

One of the most heavily used tools in your shop will be your table saw.  It is absolutely essential for ripping stock to size, working with composite material (like plywood and MDF), and venturing into the world of wood working jigs.  Budget is a limiting factor in a $500 build, but at $150 it is hard to pass up adding this Craftsman saw to your shop - even with limited funds.  
In the summer months, your windows will be one of the primary ways that heat gets into your van. Because of its reflectivity, Reflectix works great as a window covering to reflect radiant heat away from your windows. And, if you’re concerned about height in your van, layering Reflectix under your subfloor is a good way to add a little insulation (R-1.1) without sacrificing headroom.

In the summer months, your windows will be one of the primary ways that heat gets into your van. Because of its reflectivity, Reflectix works great as a window covering to reflect radiant heat away from your windows. And, if you’re concerned about height in your van, layering Reflectix under your subfloor is a good way to add a little insulation (R-1.1) without sacrificing headroom.
Hey Melody, thanks for the email. I’ve traveled through some extremely humid areas (Central America)… I’m taking it that your canopy does not have a headliner? That in and of itself helps a great deal. Personally I would be hesitant to put holes or van roof vents in my cap, but that may be what you want to do. I would try sleeping with a portable personal fan first and see how that helps with the condensation issue. For me it worked wonders while sleeping in those hot and humid environments. I ran mine off the inverter connected to my secondary battery.
The refrigeration setup in your van is an area where you really do get what you pay for, whether you’re paying in money or in time. The best options are the most expensive. The cheapest options are a pain and/or don’t work very well. And if you try to save money with a DIY refrigerator setup, you could end up spending a lot of time on installation.

Ultimate Small Shop

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