Most electricians are always in the market for new tools. While some electricians are tool hounds and like to keep up with the latest innovation, for the rest, there are still compelling reasons to upgrade or replace. First of all, tools are expendable. No matter how careful a worker is, old tools (or even relatively new tools) drop and break, develop flaws that compromise safety or walk from the job site. Some just wear out. And then, for those that are durable, time may change their status. What looked like a state-of-the-art tool a few years ago might seem heavy and clumsy today when compared to newer versions or might not offer the ergonomic design or safety features that today’s tools carry as a matter of course. Given the recent surge of improvements in the design or built-in performance characteristics of various hand and power tools, it pays to take a closer look at what’s available in the current crop of offerings. The enhancements could make a big difference in comfort, productivity and prevention of repetitive motion injuries, and in safety.

It is cost efficient to not skimp when buying new tools. If a new tool boosts productivity or decreases risk of injury, that advantage effectively amortizes the cost quickly, in terms of the bottom dollar or peace of mind. (For many companies, buying new tools is an expected expense. Some electrical contractors routinely include in their bid a percent factor of job cost to cover tool replacement; others include a flat tool rate based on the job size.)

There are many benefits to ergonomic and other comfort features. Compressible handles allow a worker to press less hard to maintain control of the tool during operation. A non-slip or slip-resistant handle can help prevent injury resulting from an electrician losing a grip. (Work gloves may also provide some protection.) Some power tools also feature vibration-absorbing rubber boots around the torso of the tool, to help reduce hand fatigue.

One across-the-board rule of thumb: only use a tool for its intended purpose. Any misapplication or extension of function beyond the intended one risks tool damage, marring of the work piece or, most importantly, injury to the worker or a bystander. Better to travel heavy than to use a tool beyond its bounds. Only use tools that are in good working order. For safety, don’t jerry-rig an extension handle for leverage or any other reason. The tool could snap and the operator could get hurt by loss of balance or by a suddenly released tool fragment or work piece. Keep the moving parts of any tool clean, tight and properly lubricated. And, if working on or near live wires with hand tools, always use rated insulated hand tools. When selecting new portable power tools, look for double insulation for protection from electric shock when using the tool.

Overall, the best buys are those that satisfy a combination of factors: productivity benefits, budget, comfort—how the tool feels in the hand (its grip, weight and balance), ease of operation and safety. Safety should always be the first consideration. In power tools, also evaluate the trigger location, design and action, the handle locations and size (and whether there is room for gloves) and switch location. EC

Tools

The Lenox 4012 High Tension Professional hacksaw frame is designed with a cast-aluminum handle for lighter weight and a steel crossbar for added strength. The rugged frame can tension the blade to 30,000 psi, which is about twice that of ordinary frames, providing the user with straight, fast cutting and longer blade life. A second set of pins allows the blade to be mounted on a 45-degree angle for flush cutting. With the blade extended from the crossbar, the blade is usable as a jab saw.

Klein Tools New Journeyman line of premium pliers for trade professionals features dual-material contoured, cushioned handles. The soft outer material provides a sure, comfortable grip while the tough inner material and handle ends provide ruggedness and durability. For improved feel and grip, the pliers sport a contoured thumb area and a flared thumb rest. Available in 13 different styles, including regular, crimping and tape-pulling; side-cutting pliers, straight and angled-head; diagonal-cutting pliers, heavy-duty long-nose pliers and high-leverage cable cutters, the tools feature hot-riveted joints, induction-hardened cutting knives and color-coded grips that allow easy identification in either the pouch or the tool bag.

For cutting and stripping wire, Greenlee Textron’s new 1956 Pro Plus Stripper strips 8-16 AWG solid and 10-18 AWG stranded wire. Each machined stripping station has a positive stop to provide precise stripping diameter. The longer, curved cutter blades reduce the force required to make a cut by 25 percent. The unit, sporting ergonomically designed and cushioned nonslip handles, has screw-cutting stations for 6-32 and 8-32 screws, and comes with pliers nose for working with small nuts and pulling wire and a jaw hole for looping wires. For added durability, the product has an opening stop that prevents the spring from disengaging and a locking tab that protects the cutting edge during storage.

Gardner Bender GSD-55 Wire Strippers, which are machined individually for consistency, strip 10-20 AWG solid or stranded wire. For easy visibility, wire gauges are permanently laser-etched on both sides of the tool. Textured-cushion curved handles provide a comfortable nonslip grip. The curved cutting blade and precision-ground pliers nose aid in gripping wire and nuts tightly. Looping-holes at the base of the blades help form the wire to fit on a screw terminal. Air-pocket cushion grips are available.

Weidmuller Stripax is a stripping and cutting tool for flexible-stranded and solid conductors with a variety of insulations, for wire sizes AWG 28 to AWG 10. The stripping length is adjustable by setting the wire stop and the tool is adjustable to accommodate different thicknesses of insulation. The jaws open automatically after stripping. The unit has 32 self-adjusting stripping blades that precisely cut the insulator without damage to the conductor. The stripper is capable of stripping multiple conductors, including several flat ribbon conductors, simultaneously.

Thomas & Betts ERG1 Wire and Cable, Cutting and Stripping Tool features a cam design that gives greater mechanical advantage to the operator, reducing fatigue. The tool cuts wire from 10 AWG stranded to 12 AWG solid, and strips wires from 28 AWG to 10 AWG. Adjustment for different wire sizes is automatic. The unit’s critical components are made from high-grade hardened steel while the body is molded from glass-reinforced nylon.

Hoffman HOLSquare Conduit Entry Template provides electricians with the ability to mark equally spaced standardized knockout conduit entry points on panels, troughs and junction boxes, for conduit up through 4 inches in diameter, quickly and easily. Ten different KOs are included on the transparent templates (one for diameters up to 1 inch; the other for diameters between 2 and 4 inches). In addition to minimizing layout by eliminating the need for measuring and calculating, the product reduces tapping and drilling errors, notes the company. Tool users can find a center and determine the outside conduit diameter, then mark the center point, crosshairs and edge of pipe accurately with one stroke.

Quick-Grip Quick-Vise, a portable slide-action vise sporting a quarter ton of clamping pressure, mounts to a workbench or other surface. The 3½-pound, two-piece unit, made primarily from glass-filled nylon resin composites, features a slide-and-lock mounting system. The vise allows users to apply pressure incrementally, which, notes the company, helps avoid damaging fine materials. The unit features removable rubberized nonmarring pads that fit over the jaws for a tight, nondamaging grip on materials. Under the pads are 45-, 90- and 180-degree grooves for holding pipes and other cylindrical objects securely. A large, nonslip tightening knob facilitates securing the jaws.

Desa International Remington 482 ProDriver is a heavy-duty, low-velocity powder-actuated fastening tool that provides up to seven fastenings per minute into wood, concrete, steel or masonry. The tool is suitable for mounting electrical fixtures, 2 x 4s, furring strips, and hanger assemblies. The small muzzle cap allows the operator to work in narrow and confined spaces. The single-shot Underwriters Laboratories-listed tool, which has a shock-resistant rubber contour handle, uses .22-caliber, necked down, crimped low-velocity power loads. The unit, which comes with a lockable carrying case and accessories, uses power fasteners from ½ to 2 inches long and up to 3 inches long with an accessory muzzle. A large breech opening facilitates loading.

Panasonic Home and Commercial Products Company’s cordless Multi Drill/Driver EY6535NQKW features a dual-mode switching gear system that transforms the tool from a drill and driver to an impact driver. The unit comes with a snap-on ½-inch keyless chuck for high-speed drilling (0 to 650 rpm) in wood and metal. It also has a ¼-inch hex quick-change chuck attachment for high-speed (0 to 2,200 rpm) drilling and driving into wood and metal. In the impact mode, the ½-inch square drive with hex sockets can be used to deliver high power (1,100 inch pounds, 3,300 impacts per minute), for heavy-duty fastening jobs. The tool comes with two 15.6V /3.0Ah nickel-metal hydride batteries and a 45-minute universal charger in a molded-plastic case.

Suitable for leveling and laying out positions on a job, the Hilti PM 24 pocket-size multidirectional laser has an operating range up to and above 100 feet, depending upon the brightness of the ambient light. Featuring a settling time of less than three seconds, the tool has a self-leveling range +/- 5 degrees from the horizontal, in both directions. The laser runs on four type-AA alkaline or rechargeable nickel cadmium batteries and has automatic shut-off after approximately 15 minutes. The alkaline batteries have a life of up to 40 hours at 77 degrees, according to the company.

Specially designed for electrical work, the Makita USA ½-inch Sidewinder Angle Drill DA4030 is a right-angle drill suitable for heavy-duty, close-quarter applications. The unit features a rubberized grip and a rear trigger handle that rotates 90 degrees to either side at the push of the switch. The spade handle can be repositioned using a hex wrench stored inside the handle. An auxiliary heavy-duty metal side handle can be screwed into either side of the tool for additional control.

At 9 inches in length and 7/8 inch shorter than its predecessor, DeWalt Industrial Tool Company’s newly upgraded 12-volt Compact Cordless Drill/Driver DW927K-2 provides more power plus the ability to fit into smaller and tighter spaces. The tool comes with a T-style handle for balance and a new 3/8-inch ratcheting chuck with serrated jaws that provide a tight grip on the bit. The drill, which weighs 3.9 pounds with battery, produces 1,400 RPM and 300 inch pounds of maximum torque. The unit comes with a one-hour charger, two batteries, a double-ended screwdriver bit and a carrying case.

Hitachi WR12DM is a cordless impact tool that performs the functions of a screwdriver. By attaching different bits, it is capable of tightening and loosening nuts and bolts and also drilling. The WR12DM, with 1,330 inch pounds of torque, features a back end covered by soft elastomer, fused to the nylon body of the tool for durability. The one-touch, adjustable-angle belt hook mounts easily on either side of the tool.

The compact, lightweight and ergonomically designed 4.8V Metabo Corporation Power Grip cordless screwdriver has a substantial, stubby grip designed for grasping in the palm for secure one-hand control. The tool features aluminum die-cast gear housing, planetary gearing, a reversing facility and a magnetic bit holder that provides a safe stop to the bits and holds the screws firmly until caught. The screwdriver, featuring 20 incremental levels of torque, plus drill, comes with a two-hour charger and two batteries in a carrying case. EC

THE FELDMANS write for various magazines and Web sites. They can be reached at wfeldman@att.net or 914.238.6272.