While hand tools are not intrinsically high tech, often the materials they are made from or the precise way in which they are manufactured reflect the benefits of modern technology. When using hand tools well designed for specific tasks, you can expect to benefit from increased productivity, ease of operation, and, in some cases, an extra measure of safety.
Generally, the more specific a tool, the more finely attuned to the intended task. While many tasks can be handled well by toolbox workhorses, there are often times when getting the job done fast, and safely, could be well worth the price of the tool, many times over.
Among electricians, BX cutters can be expedient alternatives to hack saws: they cut flexible metal conduit in seconds with a few turns of the crank without nicking the insulation (which would require the electrician to cut the BX again). They also achieve a cleaner cut that, typically, would leave less of a burr than a hacksaw cut.
Greenlee Textron’s compact, lightweight Flex Splitter BX and Flexible Conduit Cutter offers a number of embellishments, including storage of up to five blades in the handle and a pawl that locates the cable in the handle slot. Squeezing the handle holds the cable securely in place during cutting. Featuring easy adjustment via a knurled thumb wheel, the cutter accommodates varied sizes of BX cable. The blade, which is adjustable with a screwdriver, is replaceable without disassembling the handle.
The Greenlee Textron PVC Cutter, small enough to fit into a tool pouch, cuts pipes (Schedule 40 PVC and other non-metallic pipes) up to 11/4 inch in diameter, up to eight times faster than sawing and deburring, notes the company. The tool, sporting a heat-treated replaceable blade housed in a metal frame, features ratchet action that, according to Greenlee, allows easy cutting of the larger diameter pipes.
For larger cable cutting, Condux International, Inc.’s Cable Jacket and Interduct Slitter can make short shrift of slitting innerduct (1 to 2 inches) or removing sheath and turnplate from communication cables (minimum 1 inch). The tool, which looks like a short-handled bladed screwdriver sporting a toothed wheel and with a (detachable) corkscrew handle affixed perpendicular to it, can conserve effort and speed results. As the operator turns the handle, which attaches on either side to accommodate left-handed as well as right-handed users, the wheel pulls the tool forward and the angled blade makes a clean cut. A blade guard protects conductors from damage.
Mobility and convenience sometimes come in small packaging. When intermittent soldering of wires is needed, particularly when the task site is far from a power source, a cordless solution could be very handy. The Weller Portasol self-igniting cordless soldering tool looks like a fat fountain pen that generates heat rather than spurts ink. Sporting a slider piezo ignition switch and a dial for accurately adjusting the level of heat or flame, the tool can melt solder in under a minute. Refueled with standard butane refills, the unit lasts for up to an hour of continuous use. (A view window lets you keep an eye on how much fuel is left.) The unit comes equipped with an automatic safety fuel cut-off when the cap is replaced. Thirteen different optional tips are available, including a knife tip that, when hot, will cut and seal the ends of nylon rope.
One (remediable!) cause of increasingly diminished return yet increased risk of injury while cutting is dulled blades on scissors or utility knives. You can save on muscle power and eliminate risk of dangerous blade slippage from extra effort by perking up past-peak blades, on the spot, with a pocket sharpener. The Klein Tools Knife and Scissors Sharpener uses tungsten carbide inserts in a V-slot to restore the original edge on a utility, pocket, or razor blade, or on a scissor blade, says the company. The compact 4-inch long tool effectively sharpens both sides of the blade as you draw the blade through the slot. A built-in finger guard helps protect your hand while sharpening.
Fiskars International has new, sharp stainless steel Data Comm Scissors well suited to cutting copper or fiber optic cable. The scissors have a serrated blade that grips wire and tapered tips for snipping in tight spaces. The ergonomically designed scissors feature a strong palm grip handle that offers leverage and comfort during use, notes the company, and a molded finger rest that provides added control. A solid steel rivet keeps the scissors tight without adjustment, Fiskars points out.
Fish tapes on reels are generally easier to work with (as well as potentially safer) than fish tape, which is free to fly all over during use. Ditto for storage. The new Gardner Bender Cable Snake multipurpose fish tape sports several design attributes that make it well suited for fishing short runs of wire in existing structures. Leading with an aerodynamic tip, the low-profile 20-foot rigid steel tape is designed to fish easily under carpet (for speaker and telephone wire), down walls, and over suspended ceilings. The ergonomic handle (with molded finger indents) facilitates positioning and doubles as a pulling grip while the reel handle allows quick retrieval of the tape and locks down the reel, allowing the tape to be pulled from the handle without using pliers.
Klein Tools Speedway steel fish tapes, in rust-resistant stainless steel, flat steel, wound-steel, and nonmetallic material, in high-visibility orange cases, are 20 percent longer than traditional fish tapes. Color-coded extra-large handles indicate the tape material for instant identification. Available in 60-, 120-, and 240-foot lengths, the longer fish tapes offer the opportunity to span that extra distance to possibly finish a job without going to a larger and heavier fish tape. The reel, which turns in either direction, accepts an optional 131/2 wound steel flexible leader that facilitates easier pushing and pulling of flat steel tapes when going through bends. It also accepts an optional swivel ball end to help prevent kinks in the tape and allow smoother fishing through tight runs.
Ideal Industries Tape-Pak Fish Tape has a footage counter affixed to the handle that shows running length with magnified numbers, which could come in handy when working with long, concealed, or other complex conduit runs. It could also be convenient when you need to take a measurement of the conduit before ordering wire or cable for the runs. The units are available in 100- or 200-foot lengths of 1/8-inch steel tape.
The Thomas & Betts Ultralite Castmaster Fishing Dispenser/Storage System, available in 50-, 100-, or 200-foot x 1/8-inch rod, features flexible nonconductive tape suitable for fiber optic/datacom pulls as well as upgrades (such as adding another conductor in conduit). The nylon and fiberglass tape, the company notes, can easily negotiate multiple bends in flexible conduit. Featuring a removable eyelet, the system accepts an optional Kellum grip (akin to a mesh “Chinese finger”) for pulling back light loads or as a flexible fish leader with rounded end that facilitates unimpeded passage around bends.
If you need to supply a large crew for a short time or a few workers with tools of many sizes, for, perhaps, cutting wire or the insulation off wire, buying a value line of cutting pliers would keep costs down. Channellock recently came out with Solar, a line of American-made tools positioned as alternatives to imports, that includes several kinds of pliers. The Solar diagonal cutting pliers, made of high-carbon drop-forged steel, sport precision ground cutting edges and high-visibility comfort grips. Available in six sizes from four to nine inches, the pliers feature a creep feed ground, flush rivet joint design that, notes the company, provides smooth operation with no side play or wobble.
Nothing beats the back pocket for easy storage of and access to a clutch of hand tools. But the constant weight, pressure, and sharp edges of those tools generally, fairly quickly, wears the pocket too thin or frayed to hold the goods. To preclude that, Ideal has a Pocket Pal Tool Carrier, made of washable stain-resistant military grade synthetic fabric, that is essentially a reinforced nylon two-compartment pouch, the base of which fits into a back pocket of jeans or other work pants. The stiffened base pouch and flexible outer flap pouch together can carry up to seven tools, without stretching or ripping the pocket or the material around the seams. (A wide belt loop on the base pouch accommodates users who prefer the tool carrier on a belt.)
When electricians have to work on energized circuits, insulated hand tools provide an added measure of safety from incidents of shock through contact and electric arc that can come from dropped tools and accidental grounding. Several manufacturers sell single insulated tools or sets of insulated tools in carrying cases. Cementex Products, for example, offers a set of insulated tools, in a molded polyvinyl briefcase with individual foam tool pockets. The assortment includes a linesmen’s pliers, a diagonal cutting pliers, and a needle nose pliers, as well as a clutch of screwdrivers, 12-point deep sockets and box end wrenches, and a reversible ratchet. The tools, individually tested at 10kV for use up to 1,000V, feature the international orange layer of insulation over a yellow layer of insulation. While each layer is certified to provide insulation, if the lower yellow layer starts to show through, it should, notes the manufacturer, be interpreted as an indication that any abrasion (even from normal wear and tear) has gotten too deep and the tool should be replaced.
The Feldmans provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (914) 238-6272.