A Plumber-Craftman's Custom Plywood Van Buildout

Space for miles


USED FOR Plumbing Heating
TYPICAL JOBS commercial, residential
MODEL Mercedes Benz Sprinter
BODY Full-Size Cargo Van, High Roof


Floor storage
Ceiling storage
Roof storage
Interior lights
Stand inside?

See more of Ranshaw Plumbing


Add a lip to the front of shelves to keep toolboxes on your shelves. more »
Block your cargo doors with storage. more »
Use MC tanks instead of B tanks. more »
Nest pipe nipples and sort by length. more »
Drain water heaters faster. more »


Ranshaw Plumbing

Ranshaw Plumbing

Whitestone, NY USA

Hing Lai, a plumber at Ranshaw Plumbing in Whitestone, NY, custom built this Mercedes Sprinter. It's an excellent example of keeping a significant amount of cargo space while also carrying all the tools and inventory you need.

Full Custom Plywood Plumber Van

While it's common to see plywood van buildouts by carpenters and general contractors, it's much less common to see it in a plumbing truck!

While the build is very functional in its organization, it's also an excellent advertisement for Ranshaw itself - a customer that sees such a well organized truck will know that Ranshaw takes pride in the things that a customer might not see. A clean truck is a signal to customers, just like showing up at the door in booties or with your own vacuum.

Space for Miles

Besides the plywood, the most striking thing you'll notice when the rear doors open on this truck is the amount of space in the cargo area. The cargo area is long and wide. The 42" width means that it is easy to haul large units like water heaters and still have some space to work around it.

A Plumber-Craftman's Custom Plywood Van Buildout
A Plumber-Craftman's Custom Plywood Van Buildout Image from Ranshaw Plumbing

Extreme Labeling

There are labels on this truck on every bin and compartment for every single tool. The labels are large, capitalized, and use high contrast colors (black on yellow) to make them easily readable from a distance.

While many techs and contractors don't label bins and boxes, labels make it easy for apprentices and helpers to find things (saving time) and it makes it easy to know, at a glance, when stock is running out on some item.

Even things like pry bars and C Clamps have a specific compartment above the wheel well. For most plumbers these are items that go in a "miscellaneous" bin or drawer. By having a specific place for everything, it's awfully hard to just throw tools on the floor of this truck!

Hing Lai has been a plumber for decades, so he has the experience to know exactly what tools he'll need. For a beginning plumber, it would be difficult to figure out the details of setting up a plumbing van like this.

Beautiful Pipe Nipple Storage

The pipe nipple storage box is a thing of beauty!

Typically, pipe nipples are thrown in a bin sorted by diameter. Instead, these nipples are sorted by length. Nipples of the same length are stored together, so that all the 7" long nipples from 1/2" to 2" are nested together, one inside the other.

This saves an incredible amount of space since each length only requires the diameter of the 2" nipples to store entire set. This style of storage also makes it easy to see when a size needs to be restocked.

Using Smaller Acetylene Tanks

Instead of using a larger "B" acetylene tank, the van carries two shorter "MC" tanks that are tucked away in a cubby. The MC tanks share a shelf with 5 gallon buckets, which wouldn't have been possible with a taller tank.

Although MC tanks hold quite a bit less acetylene than B tanks (10 cf vs 40 cf), they are also a lot lighter and much less bulky. At an empty weight of 8 lbs, an MC tank is a more pleasant to lug around than a 25 lb B tank!

Conspicuously Absent Cords and Hoses

Where are the hanging cords and hoses?

Normally, these are hung on a door or tossed on a shelf. In some cases, techs hang these from their shelves, which impedes their view of inventory or tools on shelves.

Not so on this truck:

The cab has bench seating and each seat has a spacious cubby underneath. There is plenty of space here for:

  • 75' of 3/4" hose
  • a 50' extension cord
  • a transfer pump
  • a cord for the Ridgid 300 that's in the back

How to Quickly Drain a Water Heater

What's the big transfer pump for?

It can take 10-15 minutes to drain down a 75 gallon water heater with a Pony Pump. Instead, Hing Lai uses a heavy-duty Liberty 311 transfer pump to drain a water heater in less than 4 minutes! The pump generates a lot of suction, so he uses a short length of 3/4" non-collapsing stainless hose to connect to the water heater.

These are the kind of optimizations that enable you to do one more job in a day.

Small Tricks

There are lots of small tricks that made it easier to store things compactly along the walls of the van.

Instead of using plastic bins for parts storage, this plumbing van uses .50 caliber ammo cans with the lids removed. They are not too much longer than the van's wheelwell, so they help in keeping the van's cargo area wide.

The truck also normally needs to stock a couple of expansion tanks on it. They are wide and bulky, which means they stick out. Instead of keeping them in the cargo area, the #15 and #30 tanks were removed from their boxes and strapped into custom cradles in the overhead area of the cab.

Now they are out of the way, won't be damaged pre-installation, and are always stocked.

Pipe storage is super clean and simple. A cubby running the length of the passenger side of the ceiling holds PVC, copper, and unistrut. Nothing needs to be tied down or unlocked to pull a length of material from the cubby.

This van has a tall ceiling and some of the storage is slightly out of reach. The solution was easy and inexpensive: Hing Lai uses a small step stool that flips out in an instant and folds up to a flat form just as quickly for stowage. Standing on the stool, he has a straight visual path into the ceiling cubbies so that he can see inside.

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