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.
We first obtained legal permission from Hasbro [which originally developed the Transformer toy line back in the 1980s] to build it late in 2015. I also had to obtain my commercial driver’s license (CDL), so I spent a few months learning how to drive a truck while simultaneously spending the winter of 2015-16 working with Western Star to piece together on paper a vehicle that mirrored the Optimus Prime truck. Once the factory delivered the truck in April 2016, we got to work on the customization and fabrication right away. It was roadworthy again by October 2016. So the entire process from start to finish was about a year.
Perhaps the most satisfying move I made was to automate the dust collection system. I used the iVACPro system to link all machines to the dust collector. When I turn on any machine in the shop, the dust collector fires up and whisks the dust into the bin. The system also has a programmable delay to allow the dust to make it to the bin before the dust collector shuts down. I set my system for a five-second delay. The system works flawlessly for my band saw, planer, and router table at 115 volts, and also my table saw and jointer at 240 volts. 
We did our best to keep costs down, but there was only so much we could do. We needed the shop to go up quickly, which eliminated the prospect of me doing some of the work myself. Additionally, we live in a neighborhood with a homeowner’s association. This means we have very specific restrictions for what we can and can’t do on our property. So the shop must have all of the same finishing touches as our house.

Well, I hate pegboard, pegboard’s in every shop, people use the heck out of it. And what I wanted to do was start moving the tools in, get a few of them in and then maybe just build some little racks for the screwdrivers and a few of the things like that. But things that are like categories – like a drill, drill bits – just let the drill bits be right here. Certain things maybe that you don’t use all the time, hole saws or maybe brass for something like that, can go down in other drawers.


For example: Imagine walking into a slightly weathered coffee shop on Main Street, middle America. It’s charming in its own unique way. You sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee as you skim through the tabletop jukebox. Then the bill comes. “$10 for a cup of coffee? In this rundown joint!” This might be what comes to mind if the price of the service doesn’t meet the expectations you had when you first walked into the business.
Through my cabinet-shop connections, I managed a snappy deal ($200) on a used cabinet saw with a 54-in. commercial rip fence. That price would be hard to match, but it is possible to find a hybrid or used cabinet saw with a high-quality fence for $600 to $1,200. Some of them will run on 120v household current, meaning you won’t have to rewire your shop for 240v service, but be sure to check for compatibility before you buy.
Remember that you must allow three feet of pathway space between all display units to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. But customer comfort is more than a requirement. Studies have proven, time and time again, that customers do not like to be jostled when shopping. Allow generous pathways between fixtures. Experts recommend three feet, six inches, so customers can move freely, examine products, and carry items to your registers. This will keep customers happily browsing in your store and you in good standing with the ADA.
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.
I have different toolboxes for different jobs around the house. Occasionally I’d grab a tool out of one box and then put it away in another. Eventually all my flat-head screwdrivers would end up in one toolbox. To solve the problem, I now mark the handles of the tools and the corresponding toolbox with a band of colored electrical tape. Now all the tools are in the box where they belong. — Kim Litkenhaus Marino
When starting your small business, the type of business structure you choose will depend on three primary factors: liability, taxation, and record-keeping. Most small business owners begin their commercial life as a sole proprietor because it’s the easiest way to get started. In fact, if you’re in business and you haven’t taken any action to incorporate, you are most likely deemed a sole proprietor by default. You are entitled to all the profits of your business but also responsible for all its debts, losses, and liabilities.

Finally, think about the overall color and feel of your workshop. A fresh coat of bright white paint will help your lighting go farther, but you might also consider adding a splash of color for fun. An accent wall or an epoxy floor coating are good ways to upgrade your workshop from drab to fab without adding fussy decorations that will get in the way of business.


In many ways, skoolies are the ultimate in mobile living. The big advantage here is space - there’s tons of room for couches, beds - even a full bathroom - and you can easily accommodate families and other larger groups. There are also some really impressive skoolie builds out there that are nicer than actual houses, and it’s a whole lot cheaper to convert a bus than to buy a similar-sized RV. Skoolies come in multiple sizes, from “shorties” to full-sized buses.

Starting your own small business can be an incredibly rewarding experience both personally and financially. However, like anything worthwhile, it takes a great deal of time and effort to be successful at it. Your results will depend on how much you are willing to apply yourself. The lessons in How to Start a Small Business 101 are designed to give you a leg up on the competition so you can hit the ground running. Now all you’ve got to do is bookmark this page, free up some time, grab a cup of coffee, and start making your way through each section.
We love natural light as much as anyone, and the big windows in our van were something we were super excited about. But when you're living in a van, you'll want some privacy. Trust me. You'll also need curtains to keep out the lights when you're trying to sleep. Making your own curtains can seem like a daunting task, but it's not all that hard. (I speak as someone who had to look up a tutorial to operate a sewing machine!)

You can buy full solar kits that have all the components you’ll need except for the batteries and inverter. Kits come sized as small as 100 watts (one panel) and as large as 400 watts (four panels). Whatever you go with, we highly suggest getting an MPPT charge controller, which are a little more expensive but much more efficient than PWM charge controllers.

Well I think I’ll have plenty of light once we get all of 24 bulbs in place. I’m really glad I saved those old fixtures. Hey another thing we’re reusing, and I’m really glad I saved, is these old cabinets that we took out of a kitchen renovation a couple of years ago. This will be perfect to serve as our base cabinets so that we can build our sturdy countertop on this side of the shop.
Note: Some of the links to products that we recommend on this page are affiliate links. This means that if you click through one of our links and buy something, we get a small commission at no cost to you. This helps us keep this blog going so we can continue to provide you with van build tips, tricks, and guides. We believe in honest opinions, and we never recommend anything we don't know about. Every recommended product on this page we've either used personally, have personal experience with, or have researched heavily.
I save all my back issues of The Family Handyman magazine and love the projects and repair tips. The trouble is, I’m not always ready to do the project when the issue arrives. To make my favorite articles easy to find at a later date, I put a stick-on label on the cover and then add notes for easy reference when the time comes to do the job. — Willie Schreiber. Plus: Check out this small workshop storage solution. Small woodshop workshop on a budget
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