Illustrated Van Setup for Painters - How to find your tools fast?

If you're looking for some solid battle-tested ideas for your van setup, you're in the right place. As a painter, you need to move quickly. Finding your tools fast is crucial to get the job done. So how to organize your van in a way that you find everything you need in a heartbeat?

Use Tupperware containers as the base of your van setup. They are more flexible and mobile than shelves, which is great for painters. Don't overdo shelving. Use a lot of quick release levers to hang everything with a handle. Use door handles and coat hangers for all other things that need hanging. Paint goes at the floor, near the back door.

Figure out the tool hierarchy, and you figure out your van layout. Stuff you use regularly goes near the door, stuff you use sometimes goes in the back.

Use Tupperware Containers as Base Layout

This is the smart move. By using Tupperware containers instead of fixed shelves you can easily take it into a job site. If you need a large amount of tape, you just take out the entire container. Also, it's way more flexible than any type of shelving system, and it's cheaper and lighter as well.

Label your containers to keep it organized. For example, create a box for used naps, coverups, your touch up kit, and different widths of masking tape. Put items you use together in the same container. And fill them up real good. Don't let your precious space go to waste.

You can also get Tupperware with drawers for easy access to miscellaneous items, or items you won't need to take out of the van in bulk. Think of fittings and nozzles, pencils, or a first aid kit.

Use Some Open Shelving

Don't overdo shelving. Shelving is heavy, which is bad for fuel economy. Some people want a lot of shelving, I get it. If you like things nice and tidy, shelving is great. Also, if you want to spend your money quickly, shelving is great for that too.

It does look great

Shelving is also great for heavy tools or supplies. But in this case, for painters, Tupperware just is the better option.

However, having some shelving is a major help. Go for open shelving. By 'open' I mean just a regular shelf, without any layout. This way you can use your shelf space whichever way you want, keeping it flexible. All shelves should have an edge, to keep stuff from falling off (no shit Sherlock, you say - just wanted to at least have said it).

Generally, I would say it's good to have the following shelves:

  • Spray can shelf
  • Cardboard shield shelf
  • Shelf for paint and lacquer thinners

Use Quick Release Levers

For all tools you need quick access to, I recommend using quick release levers (QRL). You can get these at Home Depot on the cheap, they're very easy to install, and they're just great for all things with some sort of handle.

You install the levers directly to your roof frame. For installation to the sides of the van, use regular screw on metal strips. Mount the levers to the metal and screw the strips to the side panelling.

You can use these levers to store anything from brushes, extension poles, etc.

Use Door Handles and Coat Hangers

Use ordinary door hangers to hang your masks from, and coat hooks to hang your buckets from. Great at the back of the van, on the bulkhead or main shelf.

General Van Layout

Good practical work layout for a painters van

Top of the Van

The top of the van is the perfect place for all long tools. Store everything from your extension poles, power washing wands, to brooms here. The quickest way to mount these is by using your quick release push levers on the top frame of your van. This allows you to just click in your tools without much effort.

Sides of the van

  • Use the same clips on the side panels to quickly get to your brushes.
  • Color code your brushes by painting your brush handles in a color.
  • Use magnetic strips for your scissors, screwdrivers, wrenches, etc.

Bulkhead shelf

Great place to store cloths, hang your masks from, and store miscellaneous tools you don't use that often.

Floor layout

Anything else that by this time isn't stored inside a Tupperware container, on a shelf, and isn't hanging from a lever or hook, belongs on the floor.

My guess is these are your paints, your heavy sprayer, power washer, and ladders.

Paints
Simply store paints you use on every job on the floor. Most people want to create fancy shelving for their paint cans, but honestly, all this weight is better off at floor level. Also, you'll be taking these cans in and out of the van at every job site. So in my opinion they should be as easy to access as possible. Also, storing them on the floor saves you on lifting them in and out of a cabinet.

Heavy tools
Place your heavy sprayer near the rear doors to make it easy to get it out.

Place machines on wheels sideways. By placing the wheels sideways, the power washer or sprayer can only roll side to side. This way, they won't fall out if you accidentally left the back of the van open.

Doors of the van

Don't forget you still have plenty of space on your door panels. You don't want to overload them, because that will kill the joints. But you can perfectly store more brushes on there by mounting your QRLs. Also a great place for your sealants.

There's a neat little tricks used by some of my plumbing friends. They take some old conduit pipe (10-14mm), cut it to length and mount an L-bracket at the bottom, or put a cap on to create the bottom. Use it as a storage for your sealants and glues. If you want, you can outfit your entire rear door with these babies.

DIY or professional racking?

You could just as well use professional van racking systems to cover the door panels, and for the shelving as well. There are some pretty good quality systems out there, and though they're pretty expensive, they could be worth it. If you want to know more about types of storage systems, I encourage you to read my post on ways to organize your tools in a van.


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