Having the right tools for a job when and where they are needed always has been a challenge for workers in the various trades, including electricians. With projects getting more complex and the availability of more types of tools, the task isn’t getting any easier.

Hardware stores and home-improvement centers sell a variety of tool-carrying products, often at bargain prices. However, many of these all-purpose cases and bags may not fit the needs of special trades, and they may lack durability for everyday use.

Many tool makers and specialist manufacturers that target the electrical and datacom markets understand the importance of keeping tools organized and accessible and offer a variety of belts, pouches, boxes, cases and portable storage containers.

For example, at the 2007 NECA Show in San Francisco, several tool-carrying products were on display, including a soft-sided backpack to hold arc-flash protection gear and equipment from Certified Insulated Products (a 2007 Showstopper), a holster for marking pens and tape measures by Blevins & Associates, Klein Tools’ zipper bags, Duckbill tool-carrying systems (a 2006 Showstopper) and Vest-Tech’s electrician vest with integrated back support.

Bags, belts, pouches and tool carriers

Just as it has with tool designers, ergonomics is having an impact on the products designed to carry tools.

Ideal Industries offers an extensive line of tool bags, carriers and totes, pouches and holsters, shoulder straps, leather belts, and custom items for electricians.

“In designing our newest generation of totes, tool bags and pouches, we spoke extensively with electricians across the country,” said Bruce Hartranft, Ideal’s business unit manager. “They told us they wanted carriers with well-organized pockets inside and out, tapered tunnels for easier access to tools, pockets for small parts, and larger openings.

“The tool carriers we offer today have greater capacity, are more spacious and are better organized than ever before,” he said.

“Advances in polyesters, canvas, leathers and other materials have made our totes, bags and pouches more resistant to wear and tear on the job yet lighter in overall weight,” he said. “These newer materials are also impervious to water, mildew and mold.”

Convenience features can make the electrician’s job easier to perform and more productive.

Examples cited by Hartranft include things as simple as “affixing Velcro to a pocket so that wire connectors do not fall out, adding a cell phone holder or extra loops to accommodate more screwdrivers, or designing a versatile tote that can be carried either by hand, over a shoulder, or on a toolbelt—[design] goes a long way towards customer satisfaction.”

Ideal has added dividers and loops within its utility compartments. It also made the openings larger: Large-mouth bags open 18 inches and have reinforcing throughout the framework to remain open.

“The size and location of every pocket has been carefully thought out,” Hartranft said, “from giving extra room to store a handheld tester to reducing the depth of another pocket to stow more narrow tools.”

To reduce the risk of straining backs and shoulders, Hartranft said Ideal has added features including comfort grips, nonslip, extra-wide padded shoulder straps, and greater overall balance to Ideal’s line of carriers.

Greenlee Textron also offers tool storage and carriers. Its newest line of hand tools includes multipocket bags; Cordura open tool carriers; 8-, 5- and 4-pocket leather pouches; a heavy-duty leather tool belt; and a padded tool belt, said Martha Kness, vice president and general manager for hand tools and holemaking.

“Customer research led us to use Cordura fabric material, a durable but flexible canvas fabric,” Kness said. “Customers told us bags with a reinforced bottom are important for two reasons: protecting and supporting tools, and retaining the shape of the bag. A bag with a steel-frame mouth and a hinge is a popular choice in our research. Today’s bags include durable nylon handles and adjustable shoulder straps for added comfort and versatility. Padding on straps help protect the shoulder.”

She added that tool carrier buyers want plenty of pockets, both inside and outside a bag. For leather pouches, Kness said top-grain leather will not fade or stain. Features include divided pockets for easy tool storage and access with smaller compartments for additional tool storage. Greenlee offers a heavy-duty leather tool belt and a padded tool belt to meet the ergonomic needs of its customers.

Klein Tools offers a selection of canvas and nylon-zipper tool bags to store pliers, wrenches, screwdrivers, nut drivers, other tools and parts. The 20-inch canvas bags are constructed of No. 8 natural canvas, which is resistant to abrasions, tears and scuffs, and they have heavy-duty nylon zippers. The bottom is made of vinyl. Bags have stitched and riveted harness leather handles and retaining straps. The wide-opening mouth provides easy access. The bags are available in four colors, allowing users to group types of tools in different color bags to assist in identifying contents.

Custom LeatherCraft Manufacturing (CLC) offers a selection of leather and polyester tool pouches for professionals that feature heavy-duty nylon stitching, hard-molded pockets that retain their shapes, and industrial-grade steel hammer loops, wrench clips and tape chains. The company also offers a variety of tote bags, including styles with a sliding tray at the bottom.

CLC’s line of bucket organizers—made of tough, 600-denier fabric—provide up to 65 inside and outside pockets in and around the bucket, depending on the model. Organizers fit most 3- and 5-gallon buckets.

An approach to systems

Duckbill has taken the basic tool belt beyond conventional long-established products.

“Duckbill designs and manufactures tool-belt-style personal tool-carrying systems and interchangeable hand-tool-, instrument- and device-carrying modules,” said Tom Wiersma, managing director. “The heavy-duty gear is set up, once or as many times as required by the user, to comfortably and ergonomically carry tool weight and allocate it for easiest access. If the task and tool mix changes—the weight and position of the tools can also change. It’s all up to the user. Constructed for a long service life, the rigs look cool and are easy to adjust to changing work patterns, updated training and certification practices, or new tools and instruments.”

There are four basic systems:

• SPMM (single platform, many modules)—a belt-and-suspender platform for electricians and linemen who carry most of their hand tools and instruments to perform basic tasks

• Agility platform—a waist-only vest system for carrying 10 to 20 pounds of tool weight

• Mobility platform—integrates SPMM and Agility platform functions along with certified fall-protection harness

• Auxiliary shoulder pouches—More than 100 modules are available for attachment to shoulder straps to carry additional tools.

Ergonomics played an important role in the design of Duckbill systems.

“The tools that electricians use have changed a lot, becoming more ergonomic or more powerful or delivering more runtime,” Wiersma said. “But the gear that electricians use to carry those tools on the job site and between projects hasn’t kept pace.

“Personal tool-carrying platform systems that are properly engineered, manufactured and worn are the easiest and most fundamental way to (A) keep electricians and their vital tools together, (B) improve personal and corporate productivity, and (C) preserve an experienced electrician’s body, state of mind, situational awareness and muscular skeletal health.”

Wiersma said that recent innovations associated with interchangeable tool position, flexible weight allocation, weight suspension and access ergonomics significantly reduce, and in some cases eliminate, the impact of tool weight on back, neck, hip and knee pain and also reduce the erosion of situational awareness and safety that comes from the effects of chronic fatigue.

Portable tool storage

Movable storage boxes and cabinets provide a convenient, secure place to store tools not being used.

Greenlee offers a variety of tool-storage products and has a licensing agreement with DeWalt to market its newest line of heavy-duty storage boxes, which includes four models with shackleless padlocks; reinforced 3-inch-thick lid; and large, sturdy hinges for safety and durability.

Ergonomics considerations also have influenced storage box design, said Todd Ellerton, Greenlee senior product manager.

“Today’s job-site tool-storage boxes are easier to use and are providing more benefits and value on the job site than ever before,” Ellerton said. “Newer storage boxes have lock mechanisms that utilize a single grip to actuate two to three lock points on the lid or door, and also use a single, shackleless padlock to secure the lock mechanism. These features make it quicker and easier to lock up valuable tools. Many boxes also feature full-width or full-length finger grooves for grasping while opening a box lid or door. These grooves allow the lid or door to easily be grasped at any point along their width or length.”

Newer boxes also feature electrical access ports, which allow users to pass power cords into the box to charge batteries while the box is securely locked. Most of the newer boxes also have skyhooks on them, making it much easier, quicker and safer to rig and crane a box around a job site.

“Popular boxes have patented handle designs that are more ergonomic and easier to grasp than traditional handles, reducing finger pinch points,” Ellerton said.

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net.