On the job site, it’s always been about having the right tools and equipment. This probably goes back to about 250 B.C. when independent general contractor Archimedes was working on a project in Sicily and said, “Give me a place to stand, and the right lever, and I could lift the earth.”
Like many Greeks at that time, Archimedes thought large. But what are some of the “right” tools and pieces of equipment, the “must-haves,” the “indispensables” that electrical contractors take to the job site today?
Using sales metrics and customer feedback, a group of tool and equipment manufacturers provided their expert opinions on the most essential work products that they supply to electrical contractors. It’s only a small smattering of options throughout the industry.
“The T-Stripper is probably the most ‘indispensable’ tool we provide to contractors,” said Bruce Hartranft, senior product manager, electrical hand tools, Ideal Industries. “From the day an electrician starts out as an apprentice, the first thing he’s doing is cutting and stripping wires, whether he’s putting in light fixtures or a junction box or doing repairs and maintenance, fixing an old piece of equipment, or building a new piece of equipment. Whatever it is, an electrician is going to be cutting and stripping wires.”
The T-Stripper might be referred to as an “oldie but a goodie.” Hartranft said. “It’s the first and probably the last tool the electrician will use in his career.”
Originally introduced in 1957, it was created by a team of Ideal engineers in response to the trend to insulate electrical wire with thermoplastic, which could not be removed with a standard wire knife as could the traditional fabric or rubber insulation.
But let’s remember the adage, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
There is a story that an Ideal employee, who was also an electrician, used a side-cutter on a hot cable by accident. He got quite a shock, but when he recovered, he found a perfect 14-size hole in the cutter. He brought it to work the next day and showed it to the brainy engineers who then quickly sketched blueprints for the dies to stamp the tool. Thus, the T-Stripper was born.
In any event, the T-Stripper was designed specifically for the more durable thermoplastic insulation, hence the “T.”
According to the manufacturer, more than 10,000 T-Strippers were sold the first day the product was introduced to the market. Today, Ideal sells its standard T-Stripper as well as the following versions: the Reflex Premium T-Stripper (with ergonomic handle), an NM cable, a Simplex-Duplex 3-millimeter jacket, an insulated premium, and some other specialized options.
“The Lineman’s side-cutting pliers would be our choice for the most ‘indispensable’ tool we provide to electrical contractors,” said Gary Lalla, senior product manager at Klein Tools.
“The product name derives from the fact that Klein’s core business began back in the late 19th century selling products to the linemen—the telephone and utility pole workers. And this became one of the most popular tools we ever designed. Then, as professional electricians became more prevalent in construction and other work, they saw the value of this tool and gravitated toward it.
“The critical hot-rivet joint was an original Klein patent introduced some 50 years ago. Its position on the tool allows the rivet to be closer to the cutting blades, providing much better leverage and smoother action. In addition, the handle design minimizes wobble and helps absorb the ‘snap’ when cutting wire.”
The side-cutting pliers has a streamlined design with sure-gripping, cross-hatched knurled jaws, and the induction-hardened cutting knives provide longevity. The pliers head is precision-hardened for maximum on-the-job toughness. Plastic-dipped handles add comfort and ease of identification. The product’s custom-made steel is made in the United States.
This particular product is used on job sites daily and is probably one of the most common tools carried in an electrician’s tool pouch, according to Lalla.
“Its usefulness lies in its virtually universal functionality,” he said. “It’s what the contractor reaches for when he needs a tool readily available to grab something, twist something or cut something.
“On the job site, you’ll often hear an electrician say, ‘Hey, I need my Kleins.’ And, by that, he means his side-cut pliers.”
“We believe the most innovative and time- and cost-saving piece of equipment we have put in the hands of the electrical contractor over the past 10 years has been the Maxis 3K cable puller,” said Tim Bardin, general manager of Maxis contractor equipment at Southwire Co. “It’s a high-speed, lightweight, 3,000-pound-capacity puller. It has two speeds—low and high—allowing cable to be pulled at either 25 feet per minute or 100 feet per minute. The unit, weighing approximately 75 pounds with motor, can be set up on-site in two minutes by only one person. It quickly adapts from underground to overhead pulls without bolting to the ground or even anchored into a receiver hitch.”
According to the manufacturer, there were no similar portable units in the industry prior to 2003. Equipment was heavy and geared for long runs of large feeder cable, not suited for pulling relatively small lengths of cable.
Electrical contractors have told the manufacturer that they use this equipment on 80–90 percent of their small feeder runs where they may be pulling into a distribution panel or pulling cable at underground pull boxes and vaults. Many have used it in parking lot lighting applications where there may be runs of 50 to 100 feet. It can also be used to quickly pull in rope.
“Modifications over the years have included adding a tripod accessory, and incorporating another product called the Maxis Triggers,” Bardin said. “These triggers are a dual remote footswitch configuration that allows the person on the feeding end to use a foot pedal to operate the cable puller and be able to communicate with the person at the puller end. There is a master foot switch that the cable puller is plugged into and the remote foot switch. This allows for voiceless communications between the two ends of a cable pull, which greatly increases safety on the job site.”
“We believe the most useful tool we offer electrical contractors is the 855GX electric pipe bender,” said Doug Eichner, vice president and general manager of Greenlee’s Electrical division. “It bends pipe that the electrician is about to install, whether in a commercial or industrial structure such as a hotel, a hospital or a manufacturing facility, after which the cable can be pulled through the pipe. The equipment bends pipe with both accuracy and repeatability, thereby saving time, and it sets up and operates quickly and is easy to use. It can also be utilized in prefab environments.
“One of the most important performance features of this equipment is its accuracy, which for the contractor means less scrap, that is, less waste of pipe that is bent a few degrees off. It also reduces rework or bending the conduit twice if it’s not right the first time. We don’t want electricians scrapping out pipe, and we don’t want them bending it more than once. The objective is no rework, because labor is too expensive on a job site,” Eichner said.
According to Eichner, the 855GX is also “intelligent.” Its sensors read what diameter and what type of pipe is being handled. With this data, it will bend to the right degree for that pipe material and size, and it automatically factors in spring-back for any angle.
Another “smart” capability is its built-in memory for repeatability. An LCD interface allows the operator to easily program, save and transfer multiple bends using a USB drive, making it ideal on jobs that demand many types and high quantities of bends.
If a contractor on a job site is performing a number of bends today and expects to do the same tomorrow with the same degree bends, he can save that data on the equipment. This can result in significant savings in time on larger projects, such as hotels, involving a high volume of similar layouts.
Drill, cut, drive
“If the electrical contractor works mostly in residential construction, the ‘indispensable’ tool we offer for his arsenal is the Hole Hawg, or right-angle drill,” said Corey Dickert, group product manager, plumbing and electrical, Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. “Before any wiring can be done, the electrician must first make a 7/8-inch hole in every stud along a wall. This is a very repetitive task, and the user must have a reliable tool for large-hole drilling in tight spaces. The Hole Hawg offers power and torque in a compact design for drilling between studs and joists.”
On the other hand, if the contractor specializes in commercial work, the manufacturer offers a productivity-geared solution for cutting large diameter cable. With a compact design and powerful cutting mechanism, the M12 cable cutter eliminates two of the most difficult aspects of installations: fitting the cutting tool in panels/boxes and generating enough force to get the job done.
With an open jaw and a powered ratcheting mechanism, the M12 delivers more than 5,000 pounds of force, fits into tight spaces, and simplifies working inside a switch gear or panel.
Or, if the contractor does a lot of service work, the company provides the new M12 FUEL impact driver, which offers a dual-mode drive control feature. Mode one is for precision work such as screwing in a cover plate or other soft goods that may be damaged with more aggressive tools. Mode two delivers maximum speed and torque for traditional applications such as drilling holes for masonry anchors and fastening self-tapping screws.
At 6 inches long and 2.3 pounds, the M12 FUEL driver fits into virtually any space encountered on the job and can be carried on a tool belt. According to the manufacturer, its power and run-time rival many 18V tools on the market today.
The whole tool bag
Whether the product is a tool the contractor can hold in one hand, or a larger, more sophisticated piece of equipment, the basic qualities are the same—reliability, ease of use, and the capacity to increase productivity and save time and money on the job site.
Archimedes would have loved this stuff.