If you’re planning a DIY van conversion or starting work on converting your own van into a campervan then you’re probably wondering what tools are the must-have tools for a DIY van conversion, as you weigh up the cost and benefit of having the right tools to work on your van efficiently and to a high standard vs spending a fortune on DIY tools that you may only use for this one project.
Many people planning their first DIY van conversion may not have a garage full of tools fit for the job, so unless you have friends or family who can lend you the right equipment, then you may be looking at spending a fair bit of money on getting the essential tools early on in your van build project – but despite the apparent upfront cost, it could be very worthwhile for your van build, and also result in a nice set of DIY tools for any other future projects (van-related or otherwise) you may choose to tackle.
If you do already have most of these tools in your garage then you’re a step ahead of most, and may not have to invest much at all before you have all you need to work through your DIY van build.
The benefits of having the right tools for a DIY van conversion
The challenge with deciding what tools are must-haves for a DIY van conversion really comes down to budget – both in terms of the time and money you can spend in this area.
Another factor that comes into play is safety – some tasks and parts of your DIY van conversion can be dangerous to do without the right, quality tools, and other tasks may seem easy when you do them, but if you don’t do them properly can result in dangerous or expensive situations in the future (hello, electrical safety). So having the right tools for a DIY van conversion can really save you a lot of time and money in the long run, as well as resulting in a better quality and safer van conversion.
To help you decide what tools are really necessary for your DIY van conversion, and which are nice-to-haves that will make your life and build easier, we have put together this list of must-have tools for a DIY van conversion.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the tools and DIY accessories you may need or want to use for your build, but it covers the items we consider to be essential, which includes some that you may not first think about when planning your own DIY van build. The Amazon links will take you to products that we use on our own van builds.
1. Electric drill and driver set with bits plus a manual screwdriver set
Perhaps the most obvious must-have tools for a DIY van conversion are an electric drill and electric impact driver, plus a range of bits for drilling and screwdriving many different sized screws. You won’t get anywhere without these tools so it’s worth investing in a good quality cordless set for ease of use in and around your van, together with a drill bit set and driver bit set. A manual screwdriver set is also useful for those occasions where you need to go carefully or get into smaller spaces.
For the cordless drill and driver, as well as any other cordless power tools, it’s helpful to have at least two, if not three, batteries plus a charger so that you can ensure you have at least one charged battery to use at any one time. For this reason it is also worth picking a brand and sticking with it, so you can interchange the batteries between the different power tools.
We’ve found Dewalt’s range of power tools to be great for our own van builds and so many of the products you will find here are from this brand.
2. Socket wrench set
Often overlooked, a quality socket wrench set is something you will find you use many times during your DIY van build, for everything from taking up the factory floor and tie-downs to tightening cables on your batteries.
Tip: make sure you have a socket set that has socket bits in METRIC as well as imperial. Many parts of a Sprinter van itself are European and measurements are in metric most of the time. While imperial equivalents can work, it’s best to have the right tools for the job.
Additionally, when you get further into your build, you’ll likely find that where you’re investing in products from European brands such as Victron then parts’ dimensions will also be in metric.
3. Portable Power Station
Not only is a portable power station a great thing to have around the home or garage in case of a power cut or for emergencies, it is an excellent companion for you during your van build… and then on the road once your van is done and you’re out on your adventures!
If you don’t have a power supply close to your van and it isn’t practical or safe to run an extension cord from elsewhere, then a portable power station like those made by Jackery is the answer.
A portable power station can power most of the tools you would use on your van build. We find it particularly helpful for:
- building at night as you can attach floodlights to it to continue working when it’s dark (and it has a built-in torch)
- using smaller tools such as a heat gun and
- charging the battery packs for the cordless power tools.
Must-have tools for a DIY van build’s woodwork
4. Cordless or corded jigsaw
If you’re using plywood in your van build, then you’ll need a jigsaw. Vans aren’t simple rectangular boxes, they’re full of odd angles, structures and curves, so you need to be able to cut clean lines in all sorts of shapes in order to build walls, cladding and other parts of your van conversion.
Whether or not you get corded or cordless is a personal preference – we would always err on the side of cordless for ease of use and portability, especially if you don’t have a good power supply right next to your van.
5. Kreg pocket hole jig
If you intend on building anything out of wood in your DIY van conversion, then unless you are a skilled woodworker already, you should seriously consider getting a pocket hole jig and pocket hole screws. The most popular brand of pocket hole jig is Kreg (these jigs are often just called ‘Kreg jigs’).
What are pocket hole jigs for, you may ask? A pocket hole jig is typically used for making quick, simple and strong connections between pieces of wood, especially for making strong corners on your kitchen cabinets and other furniture and wooden structures in your van.
There are several different sizes and types of Kreg jig available. We’ve found this version to be perfect for our van build joinery, and definitely worth the investment.
6. Orbital sander
If you’re using plywood panels, wood framing or other wood parts in your van build, then save yourself a ton of time on manually sanding the wood, and get an orbital sander.
The cordless options are easy to use, although for any prolonged sanding periods you may prefer the corded option so the battery doesn’t die on you halfway through the task – in our experience the cordless sanders go through batteries much quicker than our other cordless power tools!
7 & 8. For professional-looking wood cutting: Miter saw and table saw
A miter saw is a must for cross-cutting straight edges on wood.
If you’re doing a wood-panelled on your van’s walls or ceiling (for example with tongue-and groove wood) then having straight cut lines will make all the difference vs. a free-hand cut with a jigsaw when it comes to having a neat van conversion with the wood fitting well together.
Having neat, straight cuts on your tongue and groove / panels can also reduce your van’s groans and squeaks resulting from wood moving against other pieces as the van moves down the road. A miter saw can also be useful for cutting wood laminate flooring. Most planks, beams or long, narrow pieces of wood that need to be cross-cut can be cut on a miter saw, and it’s a great way to get a consistent straight line and length of cut on multiple pieces of wood.
A table saw becomes an essential if you want to cut longer straight lines for larger pieces of wood, such as your kitchen countertop, cabinet doors, wall panels, and battery/water box enclosures. If you’re a bit of a perfectionist or just appreciate straight lines that you can’t get with a jigsaw, then a table saw is what you need.
With a table saw you’re pushing the wood through the saw to get a longer cut of a consistent length (by adjusting the metal fence shown in the picture opposite), compared to a miter saw which does single cuts at a fixed angle from the blade, and you keep the wood stationary and pull the blade down onto the wood.
Must-have tools for a DIY van build’s electrics
If you’re doing your van’s electrical build-out then you’ll need some key tools to do a good quality (and importantly, safe) job of cutting, stripping, crimping and connecting your vans electrics.
In addition to the screwdrivers and socket sets mentioned above, the following are essentials. It’s important to make sure you can effective cut, strip and crimp the right size wires – which, for many DIY van conversions, is the full range of wire sizes.
In most cases, you will need a different cutting, crimping and stripping tool for the larger wires than the small wires. We’ve listed the tools needed to do both large and small wires:
9 & 10. Wire cutters and strippers
You will need wire cutters to be able to cut everything from the large 4/0 cable down to smaller wires such as 18 AWG that may be used for internal 12v connections such as LED ceiling lights. The large gauge wire cutters generally cut wires from 4/0 down to 10 AWG.
While technically you could probably use large wire cutters for some smaller wires, it would be very impractical and unwieldy and you may not get a good or clean cut on the little wires, so you will also need a smaller handheld cutter that can cut 10 AWG down to 20/22 AWG.
The smaller wire stripper we’ve linked to here will also cut those smaller wires, so it’s a two-in-one tool. For stripping the larger wires, you’re looking at either a rather costly tool, or being very, very careful in using a retractable sharp knife to strip the casing back.
11. Wire crimping tools
For crimping larger wires, you need a tool strong enough to do so effectively. This large hydraulic wire crimper is superior to the hammer crimping tools you may have seen, and will crimp wires of 10 AWG and larger.
Smaller wires below 10 AWG can be crimped using smaller handheld ratcheting crimpers, which should follow the size-related color-coding of red, blue and yellow to match the connectors you use for those wires.
12. Heat gun
Larger wires, once crimped onto a ring terminal, need to be covered in heat shrink to insulate the wire where it joins the ring terminal, and protect it from damage and environmental elements such as water and dirt.
To use heat shrink you need a heat gun. It’s one of those tools most people won’t use that often unless you plan on doing lots of heat-shrink or stripping paint with it (not in your van, most likely). However, for around $20, it’s probably worth it, unless you want to try using a hairdryer or lighter (neither of which we would recommend!).
What are your must-have tools for a DIY van conversion?
Now you’ve read our list of the must-have tools for a DIY van conversion, hopefully you have a better idea of the tools you may need to invest in to help make your DIY van build a safe and successful one.
We’d love to hear from you if you’ve already converted a van – are there any other tools you have used for your DIY van conversion that you’d also recommend to people looking to do the same? Drop us a comment below and share all!