Ultimately, I did this to inspire my son. I want him to look at what I have done as a father and be proud. But I also want him to grow up into a strong man who faces fear in the eyes and doesn’t back down because of a challenge. I want him to say to himself one day, “if my dad built Optimus Prime, then I can do anything I want to do in life.”  I want him to succeed in every possible way imaginable, even when I am no longer around to help him through those challenges.
The issue with the old shop was manufacturing capacity and layout. We get runs of 4 to 6 of the frames on the left in the last pic and sometimes frames twice that size. We were masters of having everything on wheels, which works for a while but it takes twice as long to build anything that way. Then the office ladies walk through the shop to the kitchen while you are grinding and complain about all the dust etc.
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Now, another thing we’ve recycled that’s kind of unusual, all the wood walls you see here were actually and old backdrop that we used on a show a couple of years ago, perfect for our wood walls we need. Now, to store some of the tools, we have we created this simple little shelf unit out of cedar. And you know it kind of adds some of that warm wood feel to a shop, which I wanted it to look more like this than just plain painted walls.
One of the challenges in building a cabinet for hand tools, is that as soon as you define a place for each tool in your custom cabinet, you find that you need more room to store the must have tools you just bought. I decided to make a couple of open cabinets, and employ the use of inserts that can be replaced or modified as my tool collection grows. Part of the goal was to make a clean, efficient shop, while keeping to a budget. I bought paint grade maple plywood and made the cabinets. Applying a solid maple face frame to the cabinet makes a clean looking cabinet from sheet goods purchased at $50/sheet.
The Best Prices for Tools – Ralph shows you where to get the beast deals for the tools and equipment you need. You could buy them yourself from popular outlets like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Amazon, but the Ultimate Small Shop guide shows you where to get these tools and equipment at cheaper prices. Of course, cheaper isn’t always better. These aren’t just cheap tools that are ineffective. Just good value for money on good tools.
If you don’t have the time (or interest!) in building your own conversion but you still want to give van life a test drive, we’ve got an idea for you! We’d recommend getting a rental vehicle from Escape Campervans. They have 10 different locations across North America and come fully loaded with all the gear you need for an epic road trip. Plus, their rates are fair and affordable.
When starting a small business, many store owners underestimate the value of a persuasive shop design. What they don’t realize is that people are visual creatures. In fact, 90% of the information transmitted in the human brain is visual. Clear, consistent store design will ensure that you attract your ideal customers into your business by delivering a subconscious uniform message.

We have a 5-gallon clear plastic Hedpak container that our sink drains straight down into. We really like this container because it’s clear, which means we can easily see how full it is. With 5 gallons of gray water capacity, we only need to empty it every 3-4 days. Dumping is easy - just remove the tank from under the sink and pour it out into an RV dump facility or other approved area.
In addition to keeping your workshop comfortable with climate control add-ons, don’t forget to keep your body in optimal condition as you work. A water cooler tucked away in the corner of your workshop will provide a big quality of life boost and allow you to keep at your projects without having to run to the kitchen for a glass of water every time you feel thirsty.
You can see in this step how I notched each rafter to fit more securely to the walls.  I also used a metal hurricane strap to secure each rafter to the wall.  Even though this was not required by code, I felt my tools were far to valuable to be left to chance over such an inexpensive solution.  The walls are a simple board and batten system.  The 1x3 trim covers the joints of the 4x8 OSB.  They make much more high quality sheets goods to use as siding.  However, the cheapest I found was $35 a sheet and the OSB was about $5 a sheet.  I sealed the OSB and painted it with exterior paint.  If I run into problems in the future, I can just add a second layer of more durable material or simply have siding installed.  It has held up very well over the past couple years and I see no need to spend more money on it now.
Different approach in that they hung one end of the sleeping platform with hooks and U bolts. One of the best write ups with full details about rigging up an electrical system with second batteries and an isolator, as well as using power inverters. They were then able to incorporate cool things like a mini fridge, lights, and mini PC fans for air circulation.
Just a quick note about light spectrum. I went with 6500k because that’s what I like to film in. The daylight spectrum makes it easier for me if I decide to open the blinds, letting in some natural light. For the average woodworking shop, I think 5000k is probably a good choice, although some folks really enjoy the crispness of a 6500k light. But you should test them out for yourself to see what you prefer.
Of all the LED lighting options, puck lights are the most difficult to install. You’ll have to run wiring behind the ceiling/walls for each light. And you’ll need to cut a hole with a hole saw to recess the lights into the ceiling. But with some preparation and care it's not too difficult. We have full instructions for installing LED puck lights in our epic electrical post.
I wouldn’t give up on Craigslist or garage sales.. For around $1K or less, you can pretty easily find the four big ticket items (TS, BS, Jointer and Planer) and have the extra $2K to spend on accessories, material, DC, other goodies, etc. The key is patience and persistence, and if applied correctly, you can have a fantastic setup for very little compared to purchasing new. If you are setting up a business, you don’t usually have the time to scour for good deals, but for a personal shop, there is no pressing need other than that itch to get something done.
Whether you end up looking at self-checkout counters, fancy lighting systems, special refrigerated cases, or any of a countless number of options, never forget that these are only tools to help accomplish your main goal. Your store needs to create an environment where customers want to be, where they feel comfortable and appreciated, and where that experience will prompt them to purchase (and hopefully encourage their friends to do the same). Equipment and technology decisions should always be made with your customers in mind.
There are some variances in the features and reliability of different model years, and differences between the Mercedes Sprinter, Dodge Sprinter, Ford Transit, and Dodge Promaster - so make sure to do your research. The Sprinter RV Conversion Sourcebook is an incredible resource on all things Sprinter (and van conversions in general), and it goes over all the options in detail.
Hey Ted! If you mean to ask whether you could sit up from one of the vertical sidebins and have enough headroom under the Leer 122, I think that would be a no. You’d have to build the sidebins to be a little shorter. At least with my truck, that would be the case. Perhaps with a full-size pickup you would have enough room thanks to the overall size increase of the canopy as well.
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?
I don’t have recs because I’ve always just gone the traditional cold weather camping route with warm clothes, winter sleeping bag, boiled water in a nalgene, shot of olive oil before bed, etc, etc. Perhaps someone else might chime in… I’ve heard of folks (with the appropriate dual battery setup) using electric blankets, or yeah, the Mr. Propane heater (but not while they are asleep).

It looks great. Your little guy looks like he's having fun. I just had over 50 kids come through my shop last weekend to do some woodworking for cub scouts. I am saving left over insulation to put in there soon. I restocked my plywood recently too. The pieces of pipe made it much easier to pack in a lot of heavy pieces. I also took the time to measure lengths and mark the ends of all my lumber in the hatch under my bench to find what I need a little easier. My $100 8x8 needs a little TLC soon. But the shop is still rock solid. If you plan on making a lot of dust, I would also suggest a diy air filter with a box fan and a cheap air filter. It helps a little.
Setting up and running a small business is awesome, especially if it’s your first business. Is it tough at times? Yes. But if you don’t build your dreams, who will? In 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 27.9 million small businesses nationwide. This number has trended upwards over the last decade, accounting for 64% of net new jobs created between 1993 and 2011. In a world that appears to be dominated by today’s retail giants, it’s easy to overlook the huge impact that starting a small businesses can have on our U.S. economy. However, these numbers illustrate something that we strongly believe at ShopKeep – that the brave folks who open new businesses are the backbone of the nation’s economy and the lifeblood of our local communities.

Many retailers are also opting for digital signage. While digital signage and display solutions are more of an investment upfront, they allow you to quickly and easily show customers sales, new products, upcoming events, customer reviews, and more. Mira Digital Signage is a popular digital signage option for small businesses that is easy to use and offers affordable monthly payments. Click here for a free demo.
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If you’re starting a small business for the first time, your new best friends in life should be your bookkeeper and your accountant. The former should be engaged for a few hours every week (especially at the start of your business) to compile your books and ensure your records are maintained to the required standard, while the latter will help review your tax situation and prepare financial statements. Both can also be used as invaluable sources of actionable intelligence about ways to reduce costs, increase margins, and generally streamline your finances.You’ll be able to spend all that time you save doing what you love and thinking strategically about your business.
Do you carry items that bring your customers back time and time again? Consider placing these primary and similar secondary product lines toward the back of your store. Or, if your stock is constantly changing and you don’t carry replenishing goods, place your sale items toward the back. That way, customers must pass your new items and promotional displays on their way to check out the deals in back.
One of the things that draws me to the online woodworking community is amount of passion people show are willing to share. Your shop build is a fine example of your willingness to let us in on your passion. You could have said “I’ll be back in a few months when its done” and most of us would have waited but instead you turned it in to a summer of updates and dream shop discussion. Thanks!
Plus, taking the time to put pen to paper should benefit you as the small business owner as much as any potential new employee. Creating this kind of central resource about best operating practices will force yourself to formulate your thoughts and be clear about exactly what you want. Whether that means codifying sales procedures or deciding who can take cash from the cash drawer, you’ll have a clear and consistent company policy, something to which most employees will respond favorably.

When I built my shop I opted to buy a much higher quality miter saw and table saw than I truly needed at the time.  It ate up a ton of my budget and forced me to put off adding the tools that would allow me to buy cheaper stock for 2-3 years.  During that time my savings buying rough cut lumber would have probably paid for the upgraded equipment I started out with.  

Make sure to utilize the tax-specific resources provided by the SBA and the IRS to fully research your federal and state tax obligations. These include, but are not always limited to: corporate income tax, employer tax and excise taxes. For most small businesses, the right first step is applying for an Employee Identification Number, which you can do using this IRS EIN online application. Depending on your state, you might also need to register for a sales tax license.
Up until about ten years ago, if you were in the process of starting a small business and wanted to use all of the technologies listed at the start of this section, you would have needed to take out a second mortgage to cover the bill. Investing in retail technology has historically involved expensive hardware (including an in-house server), large upfront software costs, and hefty ongoing bills for customer support or repairs when things went wrong. Innovators were targeting large-scale enterprises like Coca-Cola, not local mom and pops, so the packages and price points were designed to match.
If you are going to apply for a trademark, make sure to conduct a comprehensive search, like the one mentioned in ‘Securing Your Business Name’ to ensure no one is already using your proposed name in a similar capacity. The United States Patent and Trademark Office also provide a simple search tool that will quickly let you know if you’re potentially infringing on someone else’s turf from a legal point of view.
The idea of not having your own bathroom nearby can be incredibly intimidating, but we’ve found that this is actually one of the easiest parts of vanlife. Public restrooms are plentiful throughout North America, and we’ve never not had a bathroom when we needed one. Gas stations, truck stops, Walmarts, McDonald’s - you name it, we’ve done some business there.
You need an out-feed table to support work exiting the table saw and band saw. By placing the tools close together, I was able to make one out-feed table that works for both tools. I put four pivoting wheels on the table, allowing me to shift the table in any direction. By placing a shelf below the table, I gained some much needed storage space for portable power tools. Finally, since this is a large work surface, the table also serves as a true, flat assembly table. 
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