Professional DIY System You Can Replicate to Organize Your Tools

Ultimate Guide to Organizing Your Tools In A Van

Professional DIY System You Can Replicate to Organize Your Tools

How do you organize the tools in your van? I'm no pro, but I have thought about maximizing storage space in a van a lot, since I plan to live in one (that's right). I wanted to say: 'you'll be amazed how much fits in a van', but as a work van professional, my guess is you already know, right?

I've also checked for tips with some of my construction friends. So, together with my own van planning experience I hopefully have some new insights for you on how to maximize storage. This post will give you some ideas and fundamentals for organizing your tools properly.

Those of you who follow my blog might know I've already written on some general van racking ideas that are actually practical.

Let's Talk Fundamentals

I want to talk fundamentals. First off, I guess you have a lot of tools. My friends tell me they use a couple of tools all the time, and other tools only sometimes (actually, the majority of tools are almost never used). But you do want to bring these tools, just in case (worst is to have to leave site just to get some tools you didn't bring).

You want the tools you use all the time at hand – so easily accessible and in sight.

The tools have some sort of natural hierarchy. If you figure out the hierarchy, you can organize them accordingly.

Figure out the tool hierarchy, and you figure out your van layout.
Then, pick the right type of storage for your type of tools.

Types Of Storage Solutions

Next we need to pick a fitting storage solution. Do you need van racking? If you have a lot of tools, you most ly end up with some sort of van shelving. If so, are you gonna order a kit, or will you build something from scratch? I am building my van lining from plywood, which is just fine, and inexpensive as well.

Do you need a lot of small storage space for tiny bits and pieces? Or do you just need to fit your toolboxes and be done with it? There are primarily four types of storage solutions:

Open shelving to fit all toolboxes and systems

This is your budget option. You can build open shelving that fits all types of boxes and drawer systems. Build the racking plywood to keep it easy and affordable. Then get some generic tool boxes on the cheap.

  • Pros: very flexible and cheap, allows you to build it over time.
  • Cons: less efficient use of space, less pretty.

Custom modular shelving to fit brand-specific toolboxes

If you think looks are important as well, you might consider using a brand-specific racking kit, which will perfectly fit storage and tool boxes of that particular brand.

  • Pros: looks great, all pre-fitted, pretty flexible.
  • Cons: expensive.

DeWaltt makes some great modular van racking systems. Simply install the racking in your van & workplace. Now you're able to take your tools and rack them anywhere you want! It's a great system. Check out DeWaltt ToughSystems (click to check current price at

Example of DeWalt modular racking system:

Pre-fitted shelving systems for a specific van model

If you drive a common type of van, there's probably a pre-fitted racking system available. These systems sure are easy to install. Everything is pre-fitted and all fixing points align.

  • Pros: easy to install, light weight, efficient use of space.
  • Cons: pretty expensive.

Fixed shelving and toolboxes

If you things nice and tidy, you're probably thinking of doing fixed shelving. With this type of storage you make sure every tool and supply has a dedicated place. It's kinda creating a giant toolbox on wheels.

  • Pros: very efficient use of space.
  • Cons: lot's of planning required, not very flexible.

Adjusted garage tool racks

If you're on a budget, you can adjust an existing garage tool rack to fit your van. It does require some fitting, but it's easy and very affordable. If done right, it can compete with the custom modular shelving systems at a fraction of the cost.

  • Pros: fairly cheap, light weight, pretty easily customizables.
  • Cons: needs some work and skill.

DIY or ready made racking kit?

So how do you decide which type is for you? As always, budget and needs are king.

  • If your toolkit changes over time, you have limited funds, or don't care all that much about it, go with a flexible layout.
  • If your toolkit is set and you have some time at hand, go with fixed shelving.
  • If you want to impress your clients, and have some money at hand, go with custom, modular shelving, or a pre-fitted system.

Picking the right material

Materials dictate layout (after tools, that is). The four factors to consider are weight, cost, durability, and flexibility. Plywood is more flexible than fixed steel racking, but less so than a modular aluminum system. Aluminum in turn is lighter but more expensive than plywood. I'm afraid we can't have it all (but we can come close).

  • Aluminum shelves are very light weight and durable. They are the lightest option available, but also the most expensive. You can get some good commercial systems, if you have some money at hand.
  • Steel racking is 10-15% heavier than aluminum, but it is more flexible, which is great, since a van interior moves all over the place. It's just as durable, but it weight can be a problem.
  • Plywood is so cheap and easy to work with, it's ridiculous. But it is heavy (a full wooden system is about 500-600kg). If you're doing some simple shelving, DIY plywood is the way to go in my opinion.

If you have some money at hand, and want to impress your customers, you can get some good quality systems for a fair price. Some well-known brands to consider are:

  • DeWalt ToughSystem (link to check the price on Amazon) – very convenient modular system for storing lots of tiny bits. Best thing about ToughSystem is you can take out storage boxes and place them on a cart, making it very mobile. If you use the same system in the workshop, you can take the boxes from your van and hang them there. Most flexible system around & easy to customize and install.
  • Masterrack (link to check the price on Amazon) – has some great durable racks. They have specialized designs, for example a wire spool cabinet for electricians. Very durable and easy to install systems. Less flexible than DeWalt but definitely tough, and worth considering.
  • True Racks (link to check the price on Amazon) – Although expensive, if you want to be done with it, this 3 piece steel shelving package is a great option for any full size U.S. style van. Easy to install. Thick, good quality steel with tight anchoring to the van, making it a very convenient and safe option.

Layout The Van Rack

So this is the most important – and also most fun – step. Thinking up all kinds of ideas for tool storage, checking ideas on Pinterest (make sure to check out our Pinterest board with lots of great ideas). Here are some things to consider:

  • Weight distribution – Store heavy and large items at floor level, if possible directly above-, or between the front and rear axle. You don't want to be top heavy.
  • What will your main point of access be? – You can create an access point from the sliding door if you work on site a lot. If you work inside the van, you probably want your most-used tools accessible around your work bench.
  • Do you need to create extra storage space? – There are some clever and easy hacks for creating hidden compartments (I'll explain them in the next bit).
  • Do you need a work bench or not? – Or is the van just a huge mobile storage unit?
  • Will you need electricity? – Are you going to need a charging station for your hand tools? You could use solar to power your van for as little as $500. If you do, plan ahead and fix the wiring before fitting the van.

If you need some specific ideas for your particular profession, I've previously written a post on racking ideas for carpenters, 27 ideas for plumbers, and van setup for painters.

Hacks To Create Extra Storage Space

How much storage do you need? If the van doesn't provide enough storage by itself, there are a couple of easy hacks to massively increase the available space. Some are (I'll explain them later on):

  1. Hidden floor compartments
  2. False bed or false roof
  3. Think vertically
  4. Roof rack
  5. Use anchor points for flexibility

Hidden floor compartments

So this is a cool trick I've learned from the RV community. They use it to store stuff they don't want inside their RV, battery packs or tools.

If you need more storage space, you might consider cutting a hole in your floor and fitting boxes under it.

To be fair, this hack requires some skill, but if you know your metal, it shouldn't be a problem. Most vans are body-on-frame, which means there's potentially loads of storage under the floorboard. In theory, you could fit almost the entire floor area with 10″ deep boxes and drawers.

Simply attach the boxes with heavy duty brackets to your frame.

I say in theory because you don't want to cut holes in your entire floor – for risk of collapsing. creating an extra trunk under the body at the back is no problem at all. Many happy campers have already done so.

A false bed or false roof

A false bed is a floor on top of your floor, which creates a ton of storage for large 8x4s, pipings, long tools, etc. It's a great way to create extra storage without any complicated operations. Cons: you lose some standing height, and it's difficult to clean.

Think vertically

If I've learned anything from a planning a camper van conversion, it's that all space above waist level is dead space. That is unless you use it wisely. Think vertically to optimize storage. Build shelving that go up to the roof for example.

Use anchor points for flexibility

This is just a great idea I got from a friend of mine. If you transport a lot of large tools or items in your van, you might consider keeping one side clear, and fitting it with as much anchor points as you can.

The great thing about anchor points is that they don't dictate layout – they're not fixed and they don't take up any space. But they're great at keeping stuff firmly in place. All you need is a good clamping strap and you're set to transport about anything.

Building The Foundation

Building a foundation – by this I mean you pick the right system for your needs, and then make sure you create a solid base with it. The right layout will protect your tools, save you time, and impress your clients.
If you're for example keeping a large compressor in your van, make sure to build a casing for it. If your tools are long, build drawers or a false floor bed.

Compressors can get quite large – Kokerei Hansa in Dortmund, Germany

Going to fit boxes beneath your floor? Build them in advance to make sure the fit. Cut the holes to fit the boxes.

Use solid materials, while keeping the weight in mind. Using heavy materials wood might be cheap now, but can add up to 30% to your fuel cost. So if you plan on driving around the country, perhaps go with a more expensive light weight aluminum system? Though, if your radius isn't very large, I shouldn't worry too much about it.

Preparing the van

Whether you order a pre-fitted kit or make something yourself, you need to prepare the van before fitting the racking. You need to create some main fixing points to attach the frame to the ribs of the van. Make sure these points are solid and strong.

What I to do is screw some wooden beams across the entire length of the ribs, and use these as my fixing point. I simply use self-tapping screws and never touch it again.

If you use a pre-fitted system, this step is easy. Most systems have fixing points that align to holes already in the ribs of the van. Just bolt them down and you're set.

Building out the floor

If you plan on doing a false floor or extra hidden storage under the floor, start out by building out the floor. After installing the racking, it gets much harder to access.

Building up the rack

Attach the main rack to your fitting points and make sure everything is level. Then build up the shelving on your main rack, from the floor up.

With modular systems, this is the easy part. Mostly you can simply hang in your shelves and drawers using a hook system, just as with a regular garage tool rack.

Finishing the shelves

Now for the finishing touch. Place all your toolboxes and storage boxes on your shelves and install the fittings.

Vans bounce around a lot while driving. You can use edges and for example bungee cords to keep everything fixed in place – they work fine. Also, if you make any drawers, please make sure to use a hook or marine or RV locking system. Or your drawers fall out when taking a sharp turn. Which sucks. So definitely consider locking everything firmly in place.

Are you looking for the dimensions of your van?


The Art of Filing: Managing Your Documents… and Your Time

Professional DIY System You Can Replicate to Organize Your Tools

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Filing is an important skill!

Have you ever kept a client or your boss waiting on the phone while you've searched the piles of papers on your desk for an important document? If you have, then your boss or your client may not have a good opinion of you, because in a key encounter, you've let them down.

And if it's your job to help people, how much of other people's time are you wasting if you can't find the documents and papers you need, when you need them?

You owe it to yourself to file effectively, however boring this may seem. Imagine how much more impressive it would have been if – when asked – you'd smiled, accessed a well-organized filing system, immediately found the document, and quickly given the answer!

Managing Time

Even in the age of email and the internet, we still deal with many paper documents and files.

There's a flurry of data pouring in from all directions that we need to process and, usually, store to retrieve later.

We want to be able to lay our hands on the information we need – at the right moment, when we need it – so it can be used for further analysis or report writing, or perhaps for creating a presentation.

All too often, though, we waste our own time (and often the time of other people) searching for data that's actually sitting somewhere on our desk or in an office filing cabinet.

This adds to our stress, and makes the task of putting the data to use more difficult than it ought to be.

So we need to get more organized and efficient with our file management if we're going to get our work done in a timely manner.

Managing Information Efficiently

When you receive a document from a co-worker, vendor, or customer, it's tempting to “just put it away” in a pile on your desk or drawer for the time being. “Hmm. looks interesting, but I'll take a closer look at this later, when I've got more time.

” Sound familiar? After a while, many such documents build up, leading to a lot of clutter.

It's highly unly that you'll ever find time to go back and get all of that information organized, especially considering that you're usually under pressure with other things.

You can spend hours of precious time searching for documents that you've filed away somewhere, because it's easy to forget where you put it – or even to forget that you have the document in the first place. So how can you go about simplifying your work? Get better at managing files.

Effective File Management

Effective filing boils down to this: store the information in folders – by category, and in a sequence that makes sense to you.

Here are some tips to help manage your files:

  • Avoid saving unnecessary documents – Don't make a habit of saving everything that finds its way to you. Take a few seconds to glance through the content, and save a file only if it's relevant to your work activity. Having too many unnecessary documents adds to clutter and makes it harder to find things in the future. Be selective about what you keep!
  • Follow a consistent method for naming your files and folders – For instance, divide a main folder into subfolders for customers, vendors, and co-workers. Give shortened names to identify what or who the folders relate to. What's more, you can even give a different appearance or look to different categories of folders – this can make it easy to tell them apart at first glance.
  • Store related documents together, whatever their type – For example, store reports, letters, presentation notes, spreadsheets, and graphics related to a particular project in a single folder – rather than having one folder for presentations for all projects, another folder for spreadsheets for all projects, and so forth. This way, it's much quicker to find documents for a particular project.
  • Separate ongoing work from completed work – Some people prefer to keep current or ongoing work on their desk until a job is completed. Then, once it's done, they move it to the appropriate location, where files of the same category are stored. At periodic intervals (for example, weekly or every two weeks), move files you're no longer working on to the folders where your completed work is stored.
  • Avoid overfilling folders – If you have a large number of files in one folder, or a large number of subfolders in a main folder, break them into smaller groups (subfolders or sub-subfolders).

    For instance, you can divide a folder called “Business Plan” into subfolders called “BP2008,” “BP2009,” and “BP2010.” wise, you can divide a folder for a client named Delta Traders into subfolders named “Delta Traders sales presentations” and “Delta Traders contracts.

    ” The idea is to place every file into a logical folder or subfolder, rather than have one huge list of files.

    Having said this, there is usually little point in creating a folder for fewer than about five documents.

  • Make digital copies of paper documents with a scanner – This is useful if you don't have much space to store paper documents, or if you want to archive documents without destroying them completely. (This won't be appropriate for all types of documents, for example, with legal contracts or documents with original signatures. So use your best judgment here.)

Prioritizing Your Files for Action

Take these approaches further by customizing your file management. This can help you prioritize your work, which can lead to better efficiency.

  • Organize documents by dates – Write a date on the document. This will help you organize your documents into date-order, without having to open the folder and read through all documents.
  • Use “Tickler” files – Tickler files, also known as the “43 folders” method, are a unique system that's used by many people for organizing files. Create 12 folders (one for each month of the year) and an additional 31 subfolders (for each day of the month). Fill each folder with the documents that you need to work with on that day. At the beginning of each day, open the folder for that day. Take all the items the folder and move them into a “today” folder or onto your desktop. Then move the empty folder into the corresponding slot for the next month. If you can't complete some work items by the end of the day, transfer them to the folder for the next convenient day. This system of file management helps you keep track of everything you need to do, and it also doubles as a diary.

For any system to be useful and effective, it must also be convenient for you. To some extent, this depends on the nature of your business or the work that you do. So, although there's no “one size fits all” solution to file management, you will ly profit by using some of these file management tips, and by customizing them in a way that best serves your own needs.

Are you losing too much time searching through the clutter on your desk for files that you need? And when you're under pressure, can you retrieve information quickly and easily?

Spending precious time looking for documents can take the pleasure any kind of creative work you might be doing – and it adds to your stress levels as well. Simple good file management habits can hugely simplify your working life!

Apply This to Your Life

We know this is boring, but you know you need to do it!

Clear an hour in your schedule somewhere in the next week, and set your filing system up!