Sunday, November 11, 2018

Tools and Equipment Used by Residential Electricians

     10 Tools For a Beginner's First Day as a Residential Electrician.            
If you are beginning your first day as a Residential Electrician 
you will need to show up with a minimum of 10 tools;

  1. An apron or tool belt with 2 separate bags.
  2. Lineman pliers
  3. Straight tip screw driver.
  4. Phillips screw driver with a #2 size tip.
  5. Wire stripper.
  6. Knife.
  7. 16 foot tape measure.
  8. Hammer.
  9. Small, no contact electrical tester.
  10. Level.
Different tools are used for the electrical "Rough In" and the Finish. These tools should get you through the basics of both . Your hammer is pretty important when working on a "Rough in", you will need it to nail up boxes and staple wire. But when you work on the Finish, you shouldn't need your hammer at all.

Residential electricians move from location to location around the city. All this traveling makes it easy for rookies to loose their tools. Choose the cheaper version of each tool. Lowes, Home Depot and Sears sell low priced screwdrivers for less than half the price of a Klein. If you want the more expensive Klein, wait a year until you learn how to keep from loosing tools. 

The 2 best habits to prevent loosing tools are;
        ➳  Good Habit #1  Always return your tool to your tool belt or at least set it down on or next to your company's property like a drill box or a radio. Often rookies will set their tools down somewhere else like a on a joist in the attic or on a window ledge or on top of a kitchen cabinet. The day ends and they leave the job site without their tool.
        ➳  Good Habit #2  At the end of the day check to see if any of your tools are missing and ask others to return the tools they borrowed from you. If you loan your tools to someone else who has not learned Good Habit #1 they will loose your tools for you. Checking your tools at the end of the day will remind you to ask others to return your tools.

The 10 TOOLS in more detail.

  1) Tool belt with 2 separate bags or an Apron.   

Electrician's Tool bag by AWP
This bag looks shorter than the
 supplies pouch. It will not hang too low.
Photos courtesy
This supplies pouch looks tall
which means it might hang a
little low, you will want one
that is short or sits up higher.

On one side a tool bag; 
1 medium sized tool bag or pouch with several small pockets that can hold about 7 - 10 tools. If the bag is too large it will be too heavy and you will end up taking it off.

Also if it is too bulky it will be difficult for you to enter the attic thru the ceiling joists.

On your other hip a supplies bag; Another medium sized tool bag with at least 3 pockets; one pocket for wire nuts, one for staples and the 3rd for other items like cable connecters and such. Leather bags last longer than other styles.

Both bags are attached to a belt. Belts come in 2 different buckle connection styles;
       Adjust the belt length every time you put it on; Many belts are this style, you pull the belt tight and insert
                                                                           the buckle pin in the lengh hole.
       Adjust the belt length once and buckle together at a preset length. Some military belts are this style,
                                                the length of the belt is set once and then the buckle just clips together.
Belts have 2 different buckle materials;
       Plastic. They are cheaper but they break or wear out quickly.
       Metal. They last a long time but they can put a deep scratch in a kitchen cabinet.

If your budget is small, buy an apron. Aprons have only 2 or 3 pockets and a long string that you tie around your waist. You can tie it with a large loop to hold your hammer. Keep your larger tools in your pants pockets and your smaller tools, staples and wire nuts in the apron pockets.

Pros use an apron for the Rough In 
and a tool belt for the Finish.

Weather you buy an apron or a tool belt, the trick is to travel light. If you buy a monster pouch that can hold a kitchen sink and you fill it up with more tools than necessary, you will find yourself wearing it less. You will set it down on the floor like a tool box because it is too heavy. This will slow down your productivity. You will find yourself wasting time when you have to get down from a ladder to go find your heavy tool pouch to fetch another tool that you didn't have in your pockets.

  2) Lineman pliers.                             

Lineman pliers are used mostly to cut, grab and twist together a set of wires to create a nice tight connection.They have a gripping area at the tip and a scissor like cutting edge that can cut through screws. (although the screw threads will be damaged.) Some lineman designs, like the one shown, have a crimper on the handle. The 9 inch size is recommended. 8 and 10 inch are OK but 7 is too small and 11 will add too much weight to your tool pouch.

The lineman pliers is also used to hammer a staple, turn a screw or the bolt on a ground rod clamp. Some experienced electricians use a lineman pliers to strip the insulation off a conductor. If this is not done properly, you can damage the wire's metal with a nick and reduce the ampacity of the conductor. It is best if beginners use a knife or stripper to remove insulation. 

It is also used with a hammer as an offset striking surface to sink nails in tight stud spaces where your hammer cannot swing.

  3) Straight tip screw driver.                       

The head of many screws are designed in such a way that it can be turned by either a straight tip or a Phillips screwdriver. Some screws have a slotted design that can only be turned by a straight tip screwdriver. This slotted only design is still found on circuit breaker screws, switch plate screws, light mounting screws and telephone plate terminal screws.

Larger screwdrivers have the advantage of giving you more leverage or torque power to loosen or tighten screws.
Most electricians use a 4 inch #2 tip slotted screwdriver. The 4 inch length does not include the handle. The #2 represents the size of the tip. You'll need a screwdriver that has a tip small enough to fit in a switch plate screw and big enough to tighten a breaker terminal screw.

Electricians also use their straight tip screwdriver to;
       >Pry a box off a stud.
       >Open a door missing its handles by inserting the screwdriver into the square slot and turning the latch.
       >Chisel tile brick or stucco that is interfering with a mounting screw.

Some electricians like to use an offset screwdriver nicknamed a twirly or a whirlybird.

They can turn a screw fast but not tight. The standard straight shaft screwdriver is a primary tool that you must have with both straight tip and phillips. The offset style is an optional secondary tool.

Offset screwdrivers work like a single bike pedal. Spinning the handle like a bike pedal turns the tip and the screw. Sometimes
you have to hold the metal tip in the screw
head to get it started which could cause problems if the screw is hot. If you lose control while spinning the handle, the tip can fly off the screw and stab into the finished wall or cabinet causing damage. 

  4) Phillips screw driver #2 size tip.                     

The Phillips has the x tip and just like the straight tip screwdriver the recommended size is a 4 inch #2 tip. These also come in the offset, whirlybird style but you should consider these a secondary tool, meaning that you can work without a whirlybird (Phillips or straight) but you can't work without a standard screwdriver (Phillips or straight).

When your screwdrivers are in your tool pouch it can be hard to tell which is a Phillips and which is straight. All you can see is the end of the handle. Some brands solved this problem by stamping a - or x symbol on the end of the handle. Another solution is to buy different looking screwdrivers. Maybe a clear handled Phillips and a black and red handled straight. A professional can quickly find the correct screwdriver.

Battery powered drivers are very common and you may want to invest
in one soon but as a beginner wait to see what your fellow electricians
are using and ask them what they think of the brand they are using.

An important feature is to have the handle located in the center.
A center mounted handle is more balanced in your hands than a drill
with the handle mounted at the very end like a pistol.

  5) Wire stripper.                                                     

Photo from

Not all electricians use a wire stripper but it is highly recommended. They will use a knife to score the cable sheathing, a lineman pliers to cut and strip the wires and a needle nose pliers to twist a wire around a terminal screw. All 3 of these tasks can be done with a wire stripper. It has a needle nose tip, a set of different sized stripping holes that can strip an individual wire or score the sheathing and a scissor like cutting edge. Buy the style where the stripping holes are near the tip like this one shown here, not on the handle. The best strippers have a thick padded handle. 

Some strippers have a special threaded 6/32 and 8/32 screw cutting holes. Occasionally a 6/32 plate screw has to be cut short so the GFI plate will sit tight against a tile back splash. The threaded cutting hole will cut the screw without damaging the screw threads but unfortunately this added feature tends to cause the 2 handles to warp which then creates a gap between the cutting blades making it harder to cut wire. Try not to use it for cutting screws unless it is an older spare stripper.
The wire stripper can be used to;
         Strip insulation off an individual wire.
         Cut cable or wire.
         Twist a wire around a terminal screw and pinch it tight.
         Score both sides of cable sheathing at the same time by using the teeth of the stripping holes.
         Use the wire stripper like a needle nose pliers.
         Cut threaded screws

  6) Knife.                                                                 

Some electricians prefer the curved blade of an eagle's claw or some type of pocket knife. Other electricians prefer the retractable utility knife shown here. The advantage of the utility knife is how easily it can be opened with one hand and how it can store extra razor blades inside the handle.
      Stripping the sheathing off of cables.
      Stripping the insulation off of large service wires.
      Cutting open boxes, banding and other shipping material.

  7) 16 foot tape measure with 11 foot standout.     

You can get a larger 25 foot tape measure but a 16 footer is recommended. It is lighter and fits in your pouch better. If you need to make a longer measurement you can always measure 16 feet at a time and add the totals together.

Get a tape with a wide blade. The wider the blade is, the farther it will extend out. The "FatMax" by Stanley, is one of the best. It can be extended out 11 feet before collapsing. This is very useful if you are on top of a tall ladder trying to find the center of a high ceiling.

Residential electricians 
also use a tape measure as;
       A plumb bob for approximate locations
       A pointing device. " Nail the ceiling light between these 2 joists."
       A calculator. To find the center of 30 inches, fold the tape measure tip back until it is in line with the 30 inch mark. The answer 15 inches will be in the center of the fold. Also the 29 inch mark will be in line with the 1 inch mark telling you that 30 - 1 = 29 not to mention that the 1½ mark is in line with the mark telling you that 30inches - 1½ = 28½ inches. To solve this problem 40¾ - 2½, slide the tip to 40¾ inches the answer is lined up with the 2½ mark reading 38¼.

  8) Hammer.                                                            

The hammers is a must have tool for residential electricians who use them for; mounting nail on boxes, stapling cable, mounting recessed can lights and carpentry work such as adding a piece of 2x4 for a switch box to be mounted more distant from a door, making a cross brace to mount a fan box more center, securing a stud (holding your switch box) that the carpenters forgot to nail and knocking out holes on prefabricated I beams.

If you are beginning as a commercial electrician, leave your hammer at home.
Rarely do commercial electricians use a hammer.

  9) Small, no contact electrical tester.

Some electrical testers have to make metal to metal contact to indicate that the wire is hot.
This can be a slow process since the wires have to be stripped. A metal to metal type tester is necessary if you are trying to determine exactly how much voltage is present. If you are about to cut a wire in a nearly finished house, you don't need to know the exact voltage you only need to know if it is hot or not. A no contact, pen shaped tester only has to get close to a wire to indicate that the wire is hot. By pressing a button and moving the tip close to the wire these testers will indicate if the wire is hot with a buzzing noise, a light or both.

There are 2 problems with this tester. 
  1) Sometimes it will indicate that your wire is hot when it's not.
When a dead wire is laid along side a hot wire invisible waves of magnetism from the hot wire will penetrate the dead wire and cause the tester to indicate that the dead wire is hot when it is not
  2) It cannot tell you if your neutral is connected. 
If you turn on a room light and then disconnect the circuit's neutral at the panel, the light will go off even though the black wire to the light is still hot. The pen tester will correctly indicate that the light is hot but it will not inform you that the neutral is not connected. 

These 2 problems do not reduce the safety benifit of pen testers, they only make troubleshooting more difficult.

  10) Level.                                                                                                

A magnetized torpedo level is used for horizontal and vertical leveling. It is needed to level bathroom vanity lights, 4 gang switch boxes, the electrical meter box and to level and plumb conduit that is run on concrete walls which is common in unfinished basements.

Make sure your Torpedo level has a magnetized side like the one my helper is holding here.

Actually this monkey was mounted to the down rod of a decorative ceiling fan

This very handy small pocket level is only 5 inches
 long and 1/2 inch wide

One problem with torpedo levels is their size.
Unless you are using them on a day long task,
they are too big to keep it in your tool bag

Many electricians will find that they need their level for one brief moment during the day to level something like a bathroom vanity light, an electrical meter box or an exit light. Unfortunately their level will not be in their tool bag when they need it and they will have to stop what they are doing to go fetch their torpedo level.
  One way to solve this problem is to buy a pocket level like this one. It is small enough to keep in your tool bag so you will have it when you need it. You can't use it to check the vertical plumb (straight up and down) but most electrical items like the vanity light, meter box and exit light need only a level set on top of them for proper mounting.In addition, a tape measure can be used to keep a vertical conduit plumb by making equal marks off a nearby vertical wall, door or other object.

  Equipment Used by Residential Electricians                                  

  Walk Behind Trencher                                                                                                   

Residential electricians often use these trenchers to dig a ditch for underground electrical conduit or wire that is rated for direct burial. Wires might have to be run from the house to some post lights out in the front yard or a tool shed out in the back. They call this a "walk behind trencher" which mistakenly gives you the impression that the man in the picture is pushing the trencher but in reality the trencher is moving towards him as he walks backwards ocassionally pulling on the handles to keep the trencher moving in the right direction.  

The digging is done by a large chainsaw type blade with teeth that spin down into the ground and pull the dirt up and out by the tires. You can use the controls to move the blade up or down, turn the spinning chain on or off and adjust the speed of the wheels. Trenchers can require some strength when digging in rocky soil. 
Vermeer's RXT100 trencher photo courtesy

   Scissor Lift                                                                     

Photo courtesy of

Used more in commercial than residential construction these scissor lifts are usually controlled with a joystick that has 2 functions; flip a switch one way and the joystick controls lift, up and down. Flip the switch the other way and the joystick controls the drive, forward, backward, left, right, fast and slow. The drive will only go fast when the lift is below a safe height. All the controls are dead when the stop switch is set and your foot is off the floor safety switch.
The platform can be extended manually by removing some pins, pulling the extension out and resetting the pins. The person in the photo is standing on the extended portion of the platform.
Most scissor lifts are battery powered and might have to be plugged in at the end of the work day. Usually this requires a standard extension cord plugged into a wall receptacle. If you don't recharge the lift at days end you may be without power in the morning.

   Telescopic Boom Lifts                                                

When you really need a lift these booms can get you up there. They normally can be controlled from the bucket or from the base unit. The buckets are small and have a weight limit around 300 to 500 pounds. If you have a fear of heights, you are not going to like the T-boom. It is rare for residential electricians to use one of these but if you do it will most likely be outside for some lights high in the soffits near the roof line. The back of a 2 story house with a walk out basement is 3 stories high. 
If each level (story) has a 12 foot ceiling that would place the soffit over 36 feet high not including the height of the floor joists.

There is a tool for every purpose, "we got more than we have before"....