Finish carpenters carry a lot of tools. In fact, we carry more tools than any other trade I know, maybe more than any two combined. Sure, plumbers carry a lot of weight, but that’s mostly pipe. We carry tools: table saws, table saw stands, outfeed tables, miter saws, miter saw stands, work tables, nail guns (at least four), drills (at least four), routers (at least four), planers, grinders, sanders, circular saws, track saws, compressors, air hoses, extension cords—and that’s just the big stuff. Then there’s the nails, screws, glue, sand paper…the list goes on and on.
You’d think that after 15 years in this business I’d hate tools, but I love them. The problem is, how to get them to the job, and how to store them so I can find them!
Although I have owned pickups, which are great for framing work, my choice for work vehicles has always been a van. And for finish/trim/cabinet installers, it’s hard to beat an Express Access Van. I first saw this vehicle advertised in The Journal of Light Construction and decided that, if possible, I would own one some day.
Fortunately, that day came.
This is my 2004 1/2 ton Chevy Express/Access van. It came factory equipped with AWD (a must when you live above the snow line) and the access panels. GMC was running a promotion when I bought my van, whereby the interior shelving and cab door were installed at no cost to me by Carter Industries. I also went for the roof rack and tow package.
This is the only van I use for my business, which is interior finish and pick-up work on mostly new construction.
Some benefits of a work van:
- No trailer to drag around, but if I do need to pull something, the tow package has a button for electronically shifting to a tow gear.
- Even more than a truck with a cap (for you west-coast carpenters, that’s a shell), a van keeps tools organized, dry, and out of sight at the local parking lot.
- The shelving is adjustable.
- Cords and hoses can be hung on the front wall and rear shelf side, to get them off the floor.
The side flip-up panels (see above) allow easy access to small items, which are organized in bins on the shelves. There are three panels total, two on the driver’s side and one on the passenger side (see below). Each access panel can be opened remotely by pressing a marked button on the key fob.
This is the passenger side panel which opens to a cabinet with three drawers for small parts. There’s also space for three nail gun boxes, one nail gun bag, a tool bag, and there’s a shelf on top which holds levels and my 3rd-hand telescoping poles.
Note the fluorescent light on the underside of the panel (above). Each panel has its own switched fluorescent light, which is great for when it gets dark; the cargo area has two additional fluorescent lights besides the cargo light.
The van’s double side doors allow easy access to the floor and shelving in the front of the cargo area, eliminating crawling over stuff from the back doors.
The shelving package came with a cab/storage divider that has a door to access the back from the cab (to the right of the bins in the photo, above). The door can be propped open to allow inside transport of material up to 12 feet long. It also provides a safety barrier between the load and the cab, but still allows me to see through it (see below).
Here’s a view of the rear. Doors and small cabinets can fit inside for transport. There are two shelves on each side which are easily accessible from the interior (there is a lockable door on the lower left). I can get eight-foot pre-hung doors, full plywood sheets, or small cabinets inside this van. Cords and tool bags are stored here for easy access. Also, a portable table saw, chop saw, other larger tools, and full 4×8 sheet goods can all be loaded at the same time without worrying that the sheet goods will crush the tools, like they would in my old pickup.
My chop saw and table saw are mounted on portable stands which I can easily load, one end at a time into the rear of the van, which is much lower than most pickups.
This is what I carry most of the time when starting a job. The Trojan Miter stand has seen about 15 years of duty. The Ridgid table saw is heavy, but has performed well. The small Senco compressor is totally adequate for my needs and doesn’t require a lot of amperage or a large cord. The Rubbermaid cart is my buddy for door hanging, as it carries my gun, nails, shims, etc. Notice the swivel fitting on my nail gun, which makes the hose last much longer.
Sure, a pickup with a cap can work great for certain types of work, but I think it’s hard to deny that when it comes to flexibility, security, and ample storage space, nothing beats a good van.
Please feel free to share pics of your work vehicle, and especially any customized accessories you’ve added that make your job easier!
Doug got started doing small projects as a teenager, having always been interested in tools. His grandparents owned an old hardware store near Muncie, Indiana—the kind with 16-foot ceilings that had rolling ladders on each side, a wood floor, a hand-operated freight elevator, and a penny peanut machine! When Doug got out of the Air Force in 1978, he took a job as a laborer for a framer, then did handyman work, then a stint with a sauna company (which is where he first learned to hang doors). His next major move was to a larger builder who put him on the finish crew, where he had the opportunity to supervise some commercial projects.
Next, Doug and his wife started a retail portable spa store. That lasted for about eight years, during which time he got his contractor license in order to be able to do installations (decks, gazebos, etc.) for their customers. Doug continues doing various finish work, both for himself and other contractors.