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Van conversion tool quality: The real cost of cheap campervan build tools

Understanding van conversion tool quality

I was in the tool department of my local hardware store recently, a small, highly respected chain.

I noticed hanging on the rack, a set of screwdrivers, the logo and packaging jumped out at me because I had seen it before.

I took them off the shelf to examine them more closely, and I realized that I had seen the exact same set of screwdrivers at the dollar store.

The logo wasn’t exactly the same, but very, very similar, similar graphic style and the same plastic and cardboard.

So for screwdrivers at the dollar store for… a dollar, or at the local, highly respected hardware chain, $12.99.

Uh, the fact of the matter is that most tools now are made in China. And of course you can expect anomalies like that now and then.

But this was pretty glaring and it opened my eyes to paying closer attention to what I see in the dollar store and what I see in hardware store chains.

I’ve started to see that some decent tools will turn up in the dollar store from time to time. And some terrible tools will turn up in the chains for a lot more money.

Vansage Van conversion tool quality
Image courtesy of Oxa Roxa

Are hardware chain store tools better than Harbor Freight and Dollar Store tools?

The dollar stores buy in lots so that maybe they’ll purchase 50,000 pieces… a few pallets of some tool that has a very minor flaw in the handle or something like that. So that’s one reason you’ll see that.

Sometimes it’s just blatant that the hardware chains are buying rock bottom terrible tools.

And sometimes it means that the dollar store has gotten lucky and gotten some decent quality on their shelf.

For the most part, dollar source stuff is crap. It’s garbage. It’s use once and throw away or get it home and realize that doesn’t work at all and throw it away, because no one has time to return things that cost a dollar. They’re banking on that.

So it’s helpful to pay attention and be alert to this issue with regard to van conversion tool quality.

How much should you spend on Campervan build tools?

Before I buy any tool, I ask myself, how long will I need this for? How much stress am I going to put it through?

I personally, wouldn’t buy a dollar store screwdriver. I want a screwdriver to last a long time, and I don’t want it to fail when I’m in the middle of applying a lot of torque to the head of a screw, because I want to keep working.

So I I’ve invested in decent quality sets of screwdrivers.

So if I’m going to use a tool a lot, I buy higher quality, and if I’m not using it much, I buy adequate quality.

So the dollar store isn’t really the best example, because most of their tools are garbage.

And isn’t really the topic of this post. I’m thinking more about Harbor freight or the really cheap tools you sometimes see at home Depot or Lowe’s, or your local chain or your local one-off family store.

Does Harbor Freight sell quality tools?

I might buy some tools at Harbor Freight if only need to use them a couple of times.

I recently made the mistake of purchasing a drill press vice at Harbor freight. 20 bucks, drill press vices are notoriously expensive because they need to be precision and do a good job of holding material while being drilled.

The Harbor freight drill press vice I bought is absolute garbage.

Unfortunately it’s too late for me to return it. So I’ll be recycling that or giving it away to someone who only needs it once or twice a year or something like that.

Here’s a post on the Nitto site about which Harbor Freight tools are quality and which are not. We don’t agree with all of these, but it’s a good place to start.

Tool safety close call

Years ago, I was replacing the struts on my Volvo and I needed a spring compressor, a tool that crunches the Springs down so that you can loosen nuts and bolts and get the strut out.

I had the car jacked up and the spring compressed and I had my upper body in the wheel well, and it dawned on me that I was using Harbor freight spring compressors.

That’s not a good idea with that brand of spring compressor. You’re depending on it for your life in that situation, or I was at that time.

When I realized my mistake, I just worked at arms length for the rest of the project.

I finished the project with those tools, but then I put them in the recycle bin, because I didn’t want to trust them again. I don’t want to trust my life to $10 spring compressors, if that makes sense.

Even at arms length, if one of those cheap tools were to break and the spring went off, it would be hundreds or thousands of pounds of force, just loose all of a sudden, like an explosion.

I would apply such cautious logic to any tool that is risky to use such as electrical test equipment or really any plug-in electrical tool that you are going to purchase and put through a lot of stress.

Before you buy any van conversion tool

Do some online, searching for reviews of any tool that involves any complexity, electrical components, physical risk, et cetera.

Probably not necessary for a set of screwdrivers or a Crescent wrench…

Years ago I bought up a rechargeable 18 volt cordless drill at Harbor freight.

It lasted about six months. After it stopped working, I was compelled to take it apart to see what was inside. It had the tiniest, weakest motor.

It was a terrible thing to buy. If I just spent a bit more, I could’ve gotten something that would’ve lasted for years.

For example, now I have a Milwaukee 18 volt cordless, and it’s amazing. High torque, quick charging, light, great chuck… Just a wonderful tool.

Vansage Top Pick

Milwaukee 18-Volt Lithium-Ion Brushless Cordless Drill/Driver Kit with 2 Batteries 2.0 Ah, Charger and Case


Our Rating

  • Best drill in its class, delivers the most power while maintaining compact size.
  • MILWAUKEE® brushless motor built for the tool to ensure optimal performance.
  • Paired with our REDLINK™ power tool technology and REDLITHIUM™ batteries
  • Efficient power delivery resulting in less down time recharging batteries.
  • Compact body: 6-1/2 in. long, t 3.4 lb.
  • Perfect for work in overhead or tight spaces.
  • 500 in. lbs. of torque and 0-500/0-1,800 RPM
  • Durable, all metal chuck
  • Works wiith all our M18™ batteries
  • Kit includes Drill/Driver, (2) M18™ REDLITHIUM™ CP2.0 Compact Batteries, M18™/M12™ Multi-Voltage Charger and Carrying Case.



That drill has lasted years and I have pounded on that thing. I’ve built decks and, and rebuilt vans and a lot more.

The Harbor freight drill cost less in dollars, but more in time. So, in terms of time saved, the extra money the Milwaukee has been much cheaper in the long run.

If you’re a professional working in van conversion, you don’t have time for tools that cost you efficiency and lack warranty, or lack accuracy or durability.

All of those things are important for your living and for the happiness of the people using your finished product. So, so if you’re a pro van builder, buy better tools, that’s my advice.

And if you’re a home van builder like me buy at least adequate tools and be mindful of the expenses and the cost and the safety.

Thanks for reading about van conversion tool quality

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