S+LSS Cool Tools: Tools for Copper
Published: August 2011
There is a continuing trend to combine what traditionally have been separate structured wiring networks into a single, integrated system. Now, voice, data communications, video, security and alarm, and other building controls have all been bundled together.
Such a system likely includes copper, fiber optic and coaxial cable. Despite the increasing use of fiber, copper cabling remains the primary wire for structured systems, including security, alarm and building controls.
“That describes most of the structured wiring we do,” said Nick Cole, manager of construction services for Commonwealth Electric Co. of the Midwest. “Intrusion, fire, card access, video, data ... everything is integrated to operate as one system.”
No matter what type of cable, proper termination is essential. Without properly made connections throughout the system, certifying the network would not be possible. When the cable is copper, the basic tools are cutters, strippers, crimpers and punchdown tools designed specifically for low-voltage work.
“Wiring copper for security generally is pretty much like wiring for datacom cabling, and the same tools are used,” Cole said.
In the security space, which includes the fire alarm system, the most common way to terminate copper wire is at a screw terminal, said Gene Pecora, general manager, Honeywell Power Products.
“The use of screw caps is really low, and then only for power,” Pecora said. “In the security space, there are special B-connectors that are used, squeezed in place by pliers. These have various nicknames—‘chicklets,’ ‘bees,’ ‘beans’ and the like.”
Frank Bisbee, editor of the online magazine Heard on the Street (www.wireville.com), said that there have been major steps forward in the tools for low-voltage copper installations over the past few years.
“Manufacturers have recognized the value of precision tools that repeatedly deliver quality work. Scissors that stay sharp and hold up for thousands of uses is an example. Quality tools produce a higher level of performance. Tools are a favorite subject of discussion among the best technicians, who recognize the value of precision and durability in tools, and they take pride in the tools they carry in their kit,” Bisbee said.
Bisbee said power-crimping tools, punchdown tools, and wire cutters have been available for several years.
“These tools have gained improved portability with the introduction of powerful lithium-ion batteries. The rapidly expanding number of cordless models have been enhanced by the batteries’ ability to deliver the power and run-time required by installers,” he said.
Marco Costa, product marketing manager for ICC (www.icc.com), said that the convergence of technologies, tools and installations used for security, alarm, controls, and voice and data has been rapid and fascinating to follow.
“Tools have evolved to become multipurpose to meet a wide selection of termination needs,” he said. “Older style tools have one function, but our tools are designed to be compatible with a wide selection of our products. This makes the job a lot easier for the installer. Modular plug crimpers have become more frequent with the increased installation of digital IP video systems.”
Copper VDV tools developed in the past few years include simultaneous multiple wire-pair termination capabilities along with some single-handed tools, Costa said.
“To cut cable, we offer a standard wire cutter and a deluxe wire cutter and stripper. Wire cutters and strippers are designed with knife-like blades to easily cut and strip wire from 10–22 AWG single and 12–24 AWG stranded wire.
“Punchdown tools come in a variety of styles,” Costa said, “including single-blade, four-pair and five-pair, along with different styles of cable-stripper tools, economy and deluxe. Economy models are for basic unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cable preparation.”
Advanced models can cut, strip and prepare round networking cable; coaxial cable RG-59, RG-6, RG-7, RG-11; and flat telephone cable.
Improved punchdown tool designs save time during installation. The head on the 4-pair punchdown tool can be changed to terminate EZ type and high-density jacks, which allows installers to terminate four pairs of jacks with one punchdown and simultaneously cut off excess wire.
“Modular plug crimping tools are used to terminate patchcords,” Costa said. “A variety of tools is available, with the top of the line being a professional-grade modular crimping tool with a comfortable and ergonomic handle to crimp eight-position modular plugs and integrated with a stripper and cutter.”
John Phillips, Platinum Tools product and marketing manager, said the evolution of voice/data/video connection tools has been driven by the need to connect two points easier, faster, and more efficiently and to make connections that perform better.
Many tools are specific to cable type, Phillips continued. Different tools are needed to prep each type of cable, and different types of cable require crimping tools to match the type of connector.
“I would estimate, about 90 percent of the time, problems with a network are caused by a bad connection,” Phillips said. “Every type of connector has a specific prep required for it to be properly terminated, and if it is not done correctly, it probably will fail. Along with knowing what the correct prep is, it is necessary to have the right tool for meeting those prep requirements and understand how to use the tool.”
ICC’s Costa said common mistakes to avoid when making terminations are nicking the insulation on wires and minimizing the untwist of the wires prior to the termination point.
“Installers must be able to recognize proper termination configurations and sort out the wires for proper pin-out on jacks and patch panels,” he said. “It is recommended when bending cables, the minimum bend radius is four times the cable’s diameter.
“Overrun cable should not be stuffed back into outlets. Labeling cables prior to termination is a good practice.”
Patch cables, panels, face laces, blocks, racks, shelving and bays must be correctly labeled.
Tools for on-site labeling will be the topic of the December 2011 edition of S+LSS Cool Tools.
GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at email@example.com.