How I get plenty of power in my van / truck to run power tools and electronics
Sleeping in a van is fun – popping up a little workshop in the middle of nowhere even more so.
I am a programmer by trade, tinkerer and builder by heart and both those things need a proper power supply – something that can be quite troublesome to figure out.
That is why I, personally ended up using a pretty simple, detachable setup that has proven to work very reliable and that is both my power supply for power tools as well as doubling with enabling me to weld steel.
Let me show you how I achieved that:
The tools I wanted to run
I do a lot of scrap metal art thanks to my hobby of magnetfishing that routinely produces a full truckload of scrap metal and many cool little finds.
For that I need to run several power tools from angle grinders over reciprocating saws to drills.
In addition to that I needed a way to stick-weld metal, not the easiest task and I am not a hundred percent happy with the battery-welding solution I came up with. It works, but it’s hacky and I don’t like screwing around with electricity.
With usage like that I go a little further than most people likely have to, a fair bet is that most simply want a way to charge their electronics and run a hair-dryer (which is surprisingly demanding in consumption). That you can do with my setup as well, by the way.
Cordless tools to the rescue (where possible)
Cordless tools these days are a joy to use, nothing like they used to be when I was still a kid.
These days there is hardly any difference – and if there is the corded tools are a little worse because you have to deal with the cord.
With a set of three batteries you can create a continuous cycle of charging and working even with demanding tools like the angle grinders and saws. Personally I have four large batteries for my Makita line of tools that last me through most of my projects without even having to recharge them.
And if I do have to recharge in between I can use the next option to run my charger just like I would at a regular wall socket.
Batteries plus voltage converter / inverter
This part is the usual option for anyone looking to get power in their van or truck: Hook an inverter to a (secondary) car battery that converts the 12v power to the 120/230v that you need for your tools and gadgets.
An inverter simply hooks up to the battery ports, which is dead simple if you have a detached second battery like I have and a bit more involved if you want the battery hooked up to your car’s engine / alternator to charge it while you drive.
While that second option is a tiny bit more convenient I did not want to mess with this setup myself, it does come with some complications, drilling holes and running wires through your car and I figured it wasn’t worth going the extra mile.
Instead I simply take the batteries and charge them using a regular car battery charger for like thirty bucks, there’s always some way to find an outlet for a day to charge your battery.
For my own consumption this method works more than well, the two batteries I have never run flat with my usage even when I’m welding, charging my power tools and my gadgets all at the same time.
Make sure to get deep cycle (or „marine“) batteries, they are a little more expensive but you can use more of their capacity and unlike regular starter batteries they are meant for continuous charging and discharging. This way you will get a lot more time out of your batteries.
There are two things to know before buying an inverter:
- How much wattage you need (mine does 1,500W continuous), aka how much draw your hungriest machine or gadget needs.
- Whether or not you need a pure sine wave inverter (cleaner power, some electronic devices need this). They are more expensive than converted sine wave inverters but you won’t run into any issues with sensitive electronics.
Chances are that you are best served with exactly my setup: a 1,500W pure sine inverter. This setup can run corded saws, my cordless tool chargers and all my electronic devices without any issues and it wasn’t terribly expensive. I got mine used for 150€ which was about half price, not exactly cheap but bigger inverters can run into the thousands of bucks.
I only want to touch on this briefly because most people won’t need this, it’s a hacky setup and I have written a full post on how to weld with car batteries on this site.
It does however work quite well for my purposes – and it’s the reason I have two batteries because you need 24v of power instead of just the 12 a single battery can provide.
I have actually not managed to run these batteries dry so far – but I must admit that most of my usage is very intermittent and when I weld something it’s usually just a couple tack-welds to hold steel together.
In my experience this setup is the one that creates the least hassle and ends up cheaper than hiring a mechanic to set up full alternator charging with relays and cables (or doing it yourself for that matter).
What I really like about this layout is that you gain „location independence“ from your already location independent truck or van – which is to say you can take the batteries with you in case you work on a farm or something where the truck can’t get to.