My first work vehicle was a 1974 GMC Vandura, a no-frills workhorse with no radio, no A/C, and no windows in the back. As my business grew, I switched to a four-wheel-drive GMC pickup truck with a radio and A/C but without the versatility of the van. Looking for a better way to keep my tools dry and organized and transport stock, I purchased my first box truck back in 2002, a Chevy Express 3500 cutaway loaded with options and upfitted with a Supreme cargo box. It turned out to be a perfect fit for the way I like to work, with my tools close at hand on the job and a place to put them at the end of the work day. Kept clean and tidy and with my company logo and contact info in big block letters on the sides, the box truck was a rolling advertisement for my business, whether I was driving down the road or parked at a jobsite. I haven’t felt the need for a pickup ever since, though I do occasionally miss the four-wheel drive on snowy New England days.

My next box truck was a 2007 Isuzu cab-over with a Utilimaster Trademaster box, a hold-over that I purchased in 2008. With a gross vehicle weight of more than 10,000 pounds, that truck was subject to DOT regulations as a commercial vehicle. But the truck was a beast, lasting well over 133,000 miles on a single set of tires (I drive conservatively and always try to keep weight balanced in the middle of the truck). Made with coated wood-core panels and an aluminum frame, the Utilimaster box was bulletproof.

The author’s first box truck, a 2002 Chevy Express 3500 cutaway loaded with all the options.
In 2008, he bought an Isuzu cab-over box truck and, over the next 13 years, put over 133,000 miles on it.

I replaced my aging Isuzu recently with a 2021 Chevy Express 3500 cutaway fitted with a Reading 10-foot aluminum box. As anyone who has recently tried to buy a vehicle can tell you, the process involved long wait times—over six months for the vehicle alone—and limited selection. It also required a bit of a leap of faith, as I had to configure the box online rather than view my options in person at a dealership. The cost for Reading’s standard 10-foot aluminum box was about half of what I paid for the vehicle itself. This included remotely controlled locks on all doors as well as a basic LED lighting package, while the roof rack and ladder were options that added about $3,000 to the cost of the box.

The author replaced his Isuzu cab-over with a 2021 Chevy Express 3500 cutaway fitted with a Reading 10-foot aluminum box, shown here before his company graphics were applied.

Customization. I was very happy with the Utilimaster box, and would have opted for another if it had still been available. The Reading aluminum box is about half the weight, though, and as a result, my new truck is not subject to DOT regulations (though it would be if I pulled a trailer). Another advantage is that the box won’t rust. On the other hand, the box is more likely to get dinged and dented from tools and hardware shifting around inside, so while I was waiting for the motor vehicle department to process my registration, I took a few steps to customize the compartments and make the box a little more rugged.

The first thing I did was cut face frames and doors out of 3/4-inch MDO plywood to enclose the long shelving units that are built into either side of the aluminum box. Aluminum expands and contracts a lot with changes in temperature, so before fastening the frames to the shelving with short stainless steel carriage bolts, I ran beads of OSI Quad sealant over the aluminum where the frames would be attached to keep the assembly from rattling.

While the aluminum box had interior shelving, the author wanted to divide the shelving into compartments. He started by cutting simple face frames from sheets of MDO plywood.
The author used stainless steel carriage bolts to fasten the face frames to the shelving, first applying beads of sealant to keep the frames from rattling.

I mounted the doors with stainless steel piano hinges. The doors are hinged at the bottom so that they stay open with the help of gravity, while a pair of thumb latches for each door holds them closed.

The doors were mounted to the frames with stainless steel piano hinges.

To turn the continuous shelving into individual compartments, I cut dividers out of MDO, which I fastened to the face frames with pocket screws and L-brackets. To prevent tools and equipment inside the cabinets from banging up against the sides of the aluminum box, I cut backers out of leftover cabinet-grade 1/2‑inch maple plywood. I fastened the backers to the dividers with micro-pocket screws, spacing them 1/2 inch or so away from the aluminum shell to allow for differential movement of the wood and metal and for ventilation.

To keep tools organized and prevent them from from shifting around, the author added dividers between compartments.
Each compartment has a plywood backer to prevent dents and dings in the box's aluminum body.

To keep the contents from sliding around, I lined the bottom of each compartment with short-nap carpet, held in place with 3M Super 77 spray adhesive.

Next, I removed the steel pass-through door between the cab and the box. Sliding loosely in tracks, the door was unneeded and rattled around. I figured that space would be better used for tool storage, so I permanently filled the opening with a 3/4-inch MDO plywood panel fastened with bolts, first running a thick bead of OSI Quad sealant to keep the panel from rattling.

As originally configured, the box truck had a pass-through door into the cab.
The author removed the door and replaced it with an MDO panel to make way for a front shelving unit.

Then I built the raised shelving unit that fits over the space once occupied by the pass-through door. I screwed another, larger MDO panel sized to fit the front wall to the first one, again using plenty of OSI Quad sealant during assembly. Next, I fastened MDO cleats to the sides of the box, enlisting my son Corey to hold the nuts from the outside while I fastened the stainless steel carriage bolts holding the cleats in place from the inside. Finally, I fastened the top and bottom shelves to the cleats and to the back panel with pocket screws and added a few more cleats to keep equipment from sliding off the shelves.

Next, he fastened a wider panel to the first with screws and adhesive sealant to act as the back for the front cabinet.
Cleats bolted to the aluminum box act as the sides of the front cabinet.
The top and bottom shelves are pocket-screwed to the cleats.
Additional cleats added to the shelving keep equipment from sliding around.

Quibbles. As I mentioned, I configured this box online without having the chance to inspect an actual unit, and it turned out that it isn’t perfect. For one thing, the ladder has only three rungs, even though the rails extend all the way to the roofline, making the roof rack virtually inaccessible. This is a real head-scratcher.

Another problem is that the back doors swing open only 90 degrees instead of all the way. Because of the thickness of the doors and because the interior walls measure just slightly less than 49 inches apart, I have to tilt 4x8 sheet stock when loading it into the back, instead of just sliding it in. And—again, because of the door thickness—nominal 10-foot framing lumber that measures even a fraction of an inch over 10 feet long won’t fit inside.

There is also a bit of leakage when I’m driving around in the rain, both around one of the ladder-rack mounting brackets and inside a couple of the boxes that open to the exterior. The manufacturer apparently anticipated the leakage; the boxes are fitted with removable plugs.

The painted interior is bright and well-organized.
On the exterior, the new professionally applied graphics will help the author advertise his company to potential clients.

After I finished painting the new cabinetry in the box, I replaced the stock wheels with a set of custom wheels and scheduled an appointment with a sign shop to add the exterior lettering to complete the makeover. I consider the six or seven days that it took me to build out the interior a good investment that will pay me back many times over in increased productivity.

Photos by Corey Silva.