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.
While strolling through the recent entries to our online shop gallery, I spotted some pretty novel designs as well as a couple of fun videos worth taking a look at. From brilliant solutions for tight spaces, to novel repurposing of department store display racks, there were plenty of interesting elements to the eight shops listed in my February round-up. By the way, if you’ve already seen our art director’s video tour of his redesigned garage shop (Mike’s Garage Shop), you can go ahead and skip it. If not however, it’s really worth a look!
We don't have a Dometic CFX-50 in our van, but we wish we had gotten one for our build. This is a great little fridge that many vanlifers happily own. It’s rugged and durable, and it keeps your food cold for less money than many of the other fridges out there. It also has a nifty side-open lid, which makes it a lot easier to open with a lower clearance.
“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
In an indoor or basement shop with industrial carpeting, lay down inexpensive laminate flooring to make your life a bit easier at the end of the day. Be sure to anchor the panels or place a large rubber mat beneath to keep them from sliding over the carpet. (Covering up your carpet is even more critical if you want to go beyond wood and work with a material such as aluminum in your indoor shop; metal shavings dig into any kind of carpeting and are incredibly frustrating to clean up.)
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
I would definitely stick with the vapor barrier under the floor to avoid moisture from breaking up the OSB. try to build the base high enough to keep it dry and allow airflow to dry it out under there. FYI I recently repaired a neighbor's shed roof that must have been partially repaired before with plywood. The OSB was fine under the shingles, but the plywood was wrecked due to moisture. I would stick with OSB. Since you live here in NOVA, details will be a little more helpful to you. I really can't use the shed in the summer without the AC on. It gets direct sun and gets up to the 90's in there with out any air movement. I am planning on eventually lining the inside of the ceiling with that thin reflective insulation to bounce back some of the heat.
Compensation is a critical key to retaining and motivating the right employees. However, since small businesses often start out with tight budgets, compensation is an area they often struggle with, commonly leading to bad hiring decisions that affect overall business performance. The good news is that employers willing to step outside the hourly-wage box have a variety of options.
By setting up a separate legal entity, you limit the financial fallout from a failed business, you shield yourself from legal risks (such as someone injuring themselves in your store), and you potentially put yourself in a more advantageous tax situation. Equally, if you are working with partners, ensuring you are set up with the appropriate partnership will give all parties reassurance about their legal standing, obligations to, and expectations from the business in question.
Great article, Ryan! I love the detailed explanations of the various options for sleeping. I consider myself a veteran “light-duty traveler” who stumbled across some of these things by accident over the years. My needs are different than yours (I’m usually traveling long distances for days and weeks at a time for work or vacation, so I usually don’t hunker down in a base camp very often), but I have a few questions and points to share:
Hand tools offer the finesse and precision you just can’t get with anything else. There’s a sense of satisfaction you get from working the wood rather than machining it. After all isn’t that why you got into woodworking? Again there are a vast array of tools but narrow it down to a core range and you’ll have the confidence to complete a number of jobs.
I am a firm believer in having your business goals align with your personal goals. In order to do that, you need to know what your personal goals are. This may be different for everyone, but I want you to be 100% honest here. I am writing this as an update in 2018 to this original blog post and I want to be honest and share with you my personal goals for 2018:
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.

While strolling through the recent entries to our online shop gallery, I spotted some pretty novel designs as well as a couple of fun videos worth taking a look at. From brilliant solutions for tight spaces, to novel repurposing of department store display racks, there were plenty of interesting elements to the eight shops listed in my February round-up. By the way, if you’ve already seen our art director’s video tour of his redesigned garage shop (Mike’s Garage Shop), you can go ahead and skip it. If not however, it’s really worth a look!


While we think a battery isolator and a 200-watt solar kit provide more than enough power for most vanlifers, some people may want additional ways to generate electricity and charge up their batteries. Especially if you’re planning on running power-hungry electronics like TVs and air conditioners, adding a generator and/or shore power hookups will help you deal with the extra load.


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.
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.
The final size I decided on was 1800 sq. ft. Yeah, that’s big! I actually balked and second guessed myself after we received the estimate from the contractor. Sure, more space is nice, but at what cost? I then asked for a second estimate, bringing the shop down to 1500 sq feet, which is still huge. As you might expect, the savings just weren’t that substantial. By the time you get over 1000 sq. ft., the price per sq. ft. is really low, making it very difficult to justify down-sizing. So I bit the bullet and stayed with my original choice of 1800 sq. ft.
Let's talk about a few strategies for building out your shop below retail price.  There are the obvious ones like yard sales, craigslist, estate sales, and thrift stores, however, these can be hit or miss.  First of all, not everyone lives in an area where these avenues exist.  Second, when your brand new to woodworking, it can be hard to evaluate a tool that your buying second hand.  Because of this, I'm not going to focus on these channels in this post, but I will say, if your willing to do some hunting for second hand tools, you can easily save 50% to 75% on some perfectly fine equipment.
Another flexible option is the portable work tables the guys are building back in our shop. This gives us a work surface that we can move wherever we may need it. Now the main workbench we’ve left a little gap between two of the cabinets for a trashcan or a stool to slip in but we did need to support the countertop where it crosses so Tim and Chris are adding some 1x4s to bridge the space. They’re also putting in a 2×4 inside one of the cabinets where the two pieces of plywood will have to be seamed. Then it’s just a matter of laying in the pieces in place and nailing them down to the cabinet. That trim strip around the edge is mostly for looks but the cedar backsplash along the back will keep us from banging up the wall or getting small items stuck between it and the counter. All in all it started to look pretty good.
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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