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5 Surprising Tools Needed for a Van Build

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In this episode of the 101, Bryan Rogala talks with Outside content marketing manager Brian Smith, who outlines the five most surprising yet essential tools he discovered he needed while building out his van. Check out the full tour of his 2015 Ram ProMaster.

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Video Transcript

BRYAN ROGALA: What's up, guys? Bryan Rogala here for Outside. This is The 101.


Alongside another Brian, Brian Smith. Not me. Another Brian.

But we've been hanging out in Brian's van. We got a full tour in one of the recent episodes. So you built this out yourself. What are some of the tools necessary if somebody wants to dive in and build out their own van?

BRIAN SMITH: The number one thing, obviously, is you need a drill and a screw gun. Those kind of go without saying. But then the tools that you might not think of are things like a rivnut applicator--


BRIAN SMITH: --which is what it sounds like. It's a mix between a rivet and a nut. It's a threaded insert. And most of these vans come with pre-drilled holes that you can fill with a rivnut and then you can bolt stuff straight into it. So that's how the bed is bolted in.


BRIAN SMITH: And that makes things really easy.


BRIAN SMITH: You can you self-tapping screws, but then you're putting new holes in the frame and opening yourself up to rust risk.


BRIAN SMITH: Then a jigsaw is really important, because if you've ever spent any time in a van, you know nothing's square. Everything's curved and angled in weird ways. So you might have a circular saw on hand, but that's not going to cut it in this instance. No pun intended.

BRYAN ROGALA: I see what you did there.

BRIAN SMITH: God, that was bad. Why the [BLEEP] did I say that? I should have just left it at-- just please promise me you won't use that.

BRYAN ROGALA: Oh, it's going in.




BRIAN SMITH: OK. One thing that at least I didn't have laying around when I started this process was a lug crimping tool and a lot of the other strippers and things like that you need for doing wires and all the electronics.

BRYAN ROGALA: Yeah, I was going to say, I have no idea what a lug crimping tool is.

BRIAN SMITH: Yeah. So when you have a bigger gauge wire and you need to put a terminal on the end of that wire to hook it up to your battery or to something else in the van, you got to crimp that onto the end of the wire.


BRIAN SMITH: If you were tethered to having to buy premade cables, you would never find the right length cables--


BRIAN SMITH: --for what you needed inside the van. So having some specialized electrician tools is useful and fairly affordable.


BRIAN SMITH: Another great one to have is a sewing machine. I was lucky in that my partner Sally has a sewing machine. And she's pretty good behind the machine. So she was able to sew up curtains--


BRIAN SMITH: --and things like that. And then just generally when you're doing all the upholstery, it's nice to have the opportunity to be able to close up seams real nice, that kind of thing. Most of the upholstery is as simple as cutting out a big piece of fabric, spraying some glue on it, and sticking it to a piece of plywood.


BRIAN SMITH: But once you get further along in the build, it's nice to be able to do some custom upholstery.

Yeah, having either a table saw or a rip fence that you can attach to your circular saw to make really nice long straight cuts is great any time you're working with plywood, especially for finish work. So most of these panels in here, I had to cut out of big 4 by 8 sheets of plywood. And having a way to cut a nice long straight line is super important.

BRYAN ROGALA: Sure. Rather than trying to do that with a circular saw or a jigsaw or something like that.


BRYAN ROGALA: Nice. All right. Well, there you go. Five tools that you might not think you need but are really helpful when you're starting to build out a van.

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