Fifteen months ago, after more than 10 years of driving trucks, I became a van man. I started doing construction projects while still in high school, picking up lumber in the family Suburban. Eventually I acquired a Ranger and an old F-250 flatbed, which together formed a pretty good setup for a variety of jobs. After contracting in California for a number of years, I decided to get serious about finish work, and in the summer of 2012 moved to Tennessee and went to work for a high-end trim carpentry outfit. Before leaving, I sold my trucks and started to think about what I would drive now that my requirements had changed. On small jobs it might be necessary to haul material but on large jobs it’s delivered—so for the most part I need only transport the tools for one trade (tool-intensive though it is). I thought I would buy another truck, but with some encouragement from my new boss, I began to look at vans. The Chevy Uplander was too small, and full-size Ford and Chevy vans were too large. Sprinters were similarly gigantic, and expensive. Ultimately I settled on the Ford Transit, a small European-style van that in a few short years has gone from being an oddity to something you see all the time. 

I bought a used 2010 Transit Connect XLT. It cost about $20k and there were 24,000 miles on the odometer. There are two seats in front and a large cargo area in back. The cargo area can be accessed through a pair of outswing doors on the rear of the vehicle or sliding doors on either side. Working out of this vehicle forced me to change the way I hauled and organized tools but it has been worth it. For photos and a description of how I organized my tools to fit in a smaller vehicle see the slideshow on this page.

The Transit averages around 21 MPG (city/highway) loaded and keeps my gear dry in Tennessee's abrupt summer downpours. The payload capacity is 1,500 pounds inside and 150 pounds on the roof. I installed the rack; it cost about $350.

The Transit averages around 21 MPG (city/highway) loaded and keeps my gear dry in Tennessee's abrupt summer downpours. The payload capacity is 1,500 pounds inside and 150 pounds on the roof. I installed the rack; it cost about $350.

Credit: Aaron Telian

 

With outswing doors on back, sliding doors on the sides, and cargo space that is low to the ground the Transit offers exceptional access for loading and unloading.

With outswing doors on back, sliding doors on the sides, and cargo space that is low to the ground the Transit offers exceptional access for loading and unloading.

Credit: Aaron Telian

 

The gray material on the floor is some kind of embossed 1/2-inch plywood. It was there when I bought the van and I’m not sure whether it is stock for the cargo model or some kind of aftermarket accessory.

The gray material on the floor is some kind of embossed 1/2-inch plywood. It was there when I bought the van and I’m not sure whether it is stock for the cargo model or some kind of aftermarket accessory.

Credit: Aaron Telian

I've become spoiled by how much easier it is to park and maneuver around crowded jobsites in a smaller vehicle.  I can squeeze in and out of spaces that would be a nightmare (or simply impossible) in a truck. Here it is in a very short driveway.

I've become spoiled by how much easier it is to park and maneuver around crowded jobsites in a smaller vehicle. I can squeeze in and out of spaces that would be a nightmare (or simply impossible) in a truck. Here it is in a very short driveway.

Credit: Aaron Telian

 

The transit came with a Sortimo shelving unit already installed and if set up right it had the potential to be a "lean mean carpentry machine”.

The transit came with a Sortimo shelving unit already installed and if set up right it had the potential to be a "lean mean carpentry machine”.

Credit: Aaron Telian

The shelving unit offers several compact storage options. At the bottom is a compartment with a lift-up door.

The shelving unit offers several compact storage options. At the bottom is a compartment with a lift-up door.

Credit: Aaron Telian

 

Above the lift-up door is a shallow drawer.

Above the lift-up door is a shallow drawer.

Credit: Aaron Telian

There is open divided storage at a convenient height (in the middle). Above that there are bins that lock onto tracks in the shelving unit.

There is open divided storage at a convenient height (in the middle). Above that there are bins that lock onto tracks in the shelving unit.

Credit: Aaron Telian

The cargo space measures 59"x75" (minus the wheel wells), and is 51" high. The shelving unit takes up some of this space, but provides a ton of organization. A hose hanger cable-tied to the shelf carries air hoses, and an inverter clamped in place allows me to charge batteries on the road (there is a factory-installed 12-volt socket on the center console that is always live). I can fit an entire finish toolkit inside the van by employing the strategies described in the following photos.

The cargo space measures 59"x75" (minus the wheel wells), and is 51" high. The shelving unit takes up some of this space, but provides a ton of organization. A hose hanger cable-tied to the shelf carries air hoses, and an inverter clamped in place allows me to charge batteries on the road (there is a factory-installed 12-volt socket on the center console that is always live). I can fit an entire finish toolkit inside the van by employing the strategies described in the following photos.

Credit: Aaron Telian

Get rid of blow-molded cases. You should probably do this even if you don't have a van. They are frustrating to use and take up way too much space. I use an assortment of milk crates, old school metal toolboxes, and soft bags to carry my power tools (for easier access some are stored loose in the Sortimo shelving unit). The exception to that rule would be my laser and Festool products; those I store in the supplied cases.

Get rid of blow-molded cases. You should probably do this even if you don't have a van. They are frustrating to use and take up way too much space. I use an assortment of milk crates, old school metal toolboxes, and soft bags to carry my power tools (for easier access some are stored loose in the Sortimo shelving unit). The exception to that rule would be my laser and Festool products; those I store in the supplied cases.

Credit: Aaron Telian


Keep your setup simple. There are lots of fancy tables and things out there that promise to make everything easy. Some of them probably do, but since few of us drive moving trucks, we have to get creative.  I have a sturdy set of plastic sawhorses and 4' melamine shelf that is my all-purpose table (on larger jobs we'll set up a 2x8 workbench or a 4x8 assembly table). I have a folding stand for the table saw and a Sawhelper miter saw stand (the wings ride on top). The sawhorses and folding stands ride against the driver's side wall and are secured to the clip track with a bungee cord.

Keep your setup simple. There are lots of fancy tables and things out there that promise to make everything easy. Some of them probably do, but since few of us drive moving trucks, we have to get creative. I have a sturdy set of plastic sawhorses and 4' melamine shelf that is my all-purpose table (on larger jobs we'll set up a 2x8 workbench or a 4x8 assembly table). I have a folding stand for the table saw and a Sawhelper miter saw stand (the wings ride on top). The sawhorses and folding stands ride against the driver's side wall and are secured to the clip track with a bungee cord.

Credit: Aaron Telian

Use small tools. Like many young carpenters, I decided I liked building stuff and promptly went out and bought a 28oz hammer. I've since learned that bigger is not always better. A small compressor, small table saw, and small dust extractor help me stay compact (okay, so the one on the bottom is kind of large—but you get the idea).

Use small tools. Like many young carpenters, I decided I liked building stuff and promptly went out and bought a 28oz hammer. I've since learned that bigger is not always better. A small compressor, small table saw, and small dust extractor help me stay compact (okay, so the one on the bottom is kind of large—but you get the idea).

Credit: Aaron Telian

Try to be modular. Milk crates slide in next to each other nicely. Festool Systainers stack. Having some dimensional standards for your storage makes it more space-efficient and also more adaptive. You can't be a one-stop construction shop in a Transit. Everything needs to earn its place. Every month or two, I find an opportunity to completely unload my van, assess what I'm using and not using, and reorganize. The demands of the job are always changing so it's worth spending the time to keep your setup in top form and get rid of dead weight.

Try to be modular. Milk crates slide in next to each other nicely. Festool Systainers stack. Having some dimensional standards for your storage makes it more space-efficient and also more adaptive. You can't be a one-stop construction shop in a Transit. Everything needs to earn its place. Every month or two, I find an opportunity to completely unload my van, assess what I'm using and not using, and reorganize. The demands of the job are always changing so it's worth spending the time to keep your setup in top form and get rid of dead weight.

Credit: Aaron Telian

We've heard some of the good, but what about the limitations to this sort of setup? While I've successfully carried sheets of plywood or long bundles of trim on the roof rack, you're not going to be hauling a lot of material, and you're certainly not going to be towing. With its 2L 4-cylinder engine the Transit is doing well to get itself down the road. The interior is Spartan, and the handling and ride are not what you’d call plush. There is a fair amount of road noise in the cab, and it tends to vibrate annoyingly at stop lights. If you get one of these vehicles you’ll need to steer clear of drive-throughs and parking garages. Trust me on this one.

We've heard some of the good, but what about the limitations to this sort of setup? While I've successfully carried sheets of plywood or long bundles of trim on the roof rack, you're not going to be hauling a lot of material, and you're certainly not going to be towing. With its 2L 4-cylinder engine the Transit is doing well to get itself down the road. The interior is Spartan, and the handling and ride are not what you’d call plush. There is a fair amount of road noise in the cab, and it tends to vibrate annoyingly at stop lights. If you get one of these vehicles you’ll need to steer clear of drive-throughs and parking garages. Trust me on this one.

Credit: Aaron Telian

The bottom line: The Transit is not going to win any pull-offs or beauty contests, but it's an extremely practical vehicle for construction professionals in the lighter trades. Many service companies are starting to use them, and I expect we will see similar models from other manufacturers hit the market in the next couple of years.

The bottom line: The Transit is not going to win any pull-offs or beauty contests, but it's an extremely practical vehicle for construction professionals in the lighter trades. Many service companies are starting to use them, and I expect we will see similar models from other manufacturers hit the market in the next couple of years.

Credit: Aaron Telian