Electricians who do both conventional electric and voice/data/video (VDV) work and those who are new to VDV projects may use the cutters and strippers designed for electrical work to terminate low-voltage copper wiring. However, with the selection of specialized cable preparation and termination tools available for VDV, can conventional electrical work tools also be used for VDV work?
“They can be, but shouldn’t,” said Jeff Meader, business unit manager for network tools and consumables, Ideal Industries. “There isn’t much talented electricians cannot do with a pair of side-cutting linesman pliers, and most are proud to demonstrate their skills. [However], specialized VDV tools speed up work and allow installers to get optimum performance from their installations.”
Meader and representatives of three other toolmakers discuss the pros and cons of using electrical tools for VDV wiring.
“If electrical tools really worked well enough for VDV, most VDV tools probably wouldn’t exist,” Meader said, adding that, “Electricians’ scissors are about the only tool that crosses over really well into the VDV world. Data cabling is more sensitive to nicks, bends and handling requirements that ultimately impact the performance of the cabling and the installation. VDV tools also allow for faster installations.
“Of electrical tools, nontwisted-pair strippers significantly increase the chances of ‘shiners’ resulting in failed installations. Screwdrivers are not a replacement for a punchdown tool. We have yet to see an electrical tool be used efficiently to terminate the eight pins of a modular plug. For copper coaxial connectors, electrical pliers were commonly used for hex crimping as an alternate to a dedicated coaxial crimper, but limitations of the RF and mechanical performance of using the wrong tool became evident as broadcast technology advanced into the digital and high-definition systems of today.
“VDV tools are different from electrical tools as VDV tools generally have only one main purpose. A flathead screwdriver or pair of pliers can be used for numerous electrical jobs on any given day. A modular plug tool does one thing—it puts mod plugs on the end of a cable. A punchdown tool seats wire into an IDC jack. Compression tools terminate compression connectors. Although some have multiple functions in one tool—cut/strip/terminate—they generally work on a specific application or device and are considered specialty tools.
“Dedicated tools make the job easier, faster and more consistent, especially for installers not familiar with all of the nuisances of each type of prep/strip required for each type of connector.
“Unlike dedicated datacom tools, using generic electrical cutting tools requires more skill and experience by the user. Using the wrong tool can allow the installer to cut too deep into a cable, scoring the conductor excessively, which, in coaxial, can lead to a tip that is susceptible to breaking, or in twisted-pair, may lead to shorts, crosstalk or opens if the cut is deep enough. RG-6 coaxial generally is copper-clad steel (18 AWG), so each cut can damage pliers that are not rated for cutting steel. Steel-rated cutters should be used for coaxial, something often overlooked.
“Coaxial and twisted-pair cutters are designed for the diameters and depths of cuts. They have blades that cut through the outer jacket but not into the conductors below.
“Coaxial strippers have two or three blades that have preset widths and depths to expose both levels in one stripping motion. Some have fixed blades that work with a specific range of cables. Others have adjustable depths to work with a wider variety of cables. This is great as long as they are adjusted properly. There are many coax strippers available that are preset for RG-6/6 Quad/59 compatibility that can be used right out of the box,” Meader said.
John Phillips, Platinum Tools’ product manager, said: “VDV work can be broken down into four steps: cut, strip, terminate and test. We recognize that there are technicians who use basic electrical tools for these tasks, but when making twisted-pair copper and coaxial terminations, using the right dedicated tool is the best way to achieve successful terminations and network performance.
“When cutting coaxial, the concentricity of both the dielectric and the center conductor must be maintained. The proper cutters will meet this demand. Choose a cutter that is designed to cut copper wire with steel content and has a blade geometry that does not distort the concentricity of the dielectric. With twisted-pair copper, the installer must make sure there are zero nicks on the insulation of the conductors. Without the right tool, the termination will be impossible.
“When stripping coaxial, proper braid and dielectric dimensions are critical to the fitting and connectivity of the connector, and the right type of stripper is required.
“The type of connector dictates how the cable must be prepared. Compression-type connectors are usually a two-level strip with ¼-inch braid. With two- and three-piece connectors, installers must pay close attention to the prep call-out.
“Stripping the cable jacket on twisted-pair copper is simple using a tool that accommodates the cable OD and ensures no nicking or cutting of the conductor’s insulation.
“Compression and RJ-45 crimp tools, for the most part, are universal and will cover a wide range of various brands and type of connectors. If a tool has an adjustable design, it must be set right for the connector being terminated.
“Testing ensures every termination passes or identifies failures, which can be fixed and retested ensuring all wiring and connectivity is 100 percent ready,” Phillips said.
Luis Garcia, ICC’s marketing communications manager, said: “Specialized tools are best for VDV installations. Tools that reduce the time it takes to make terminations increase productivity, which relates directly to higher profits.
“For preparing UTP [unshielded twisted-pair) copper and coaxial cables, ICC suggests using stripper and wire-cutter tools. All-in-one wire cutter/strippers can strip 12 to 24 AWG standard wire and 10 to 22 AWG solid wire. Knife-like blades cut wire easily.
“Punchdown tools provide fast, easy, reliable terminations. All-in-one or multipurpose tools can terminate all four pairs of wires at the same time. Installers can use one tool for all their terminations. The tool is designed with a floor base to use the floor or any flat surface for support when terminating. Four-pair punchdown tools save labor time for terminating large amounts of cable onto patch panels,” Garcia said.
Dave Mueller, Klein Tools’ senior product manager, said: “When conventional electric tools are in good working order and correctly used, VDV terminations can be made with them without problems. VDV tools are made especially for low-voltage work, such as installation of satellite, digital or telephone connections via coaxial, utility or twisted-pair cable.
“These tools include cutters, strippers, crimpers, punchdown tools, connectors, testers, etc. Cutters and strippers ‘prep’ the cable. A standard or specialized cable cutter is used to cut coaxial cable. Special coaxial stripping tools use an arrangement of two blades and can strip the outer jacket and inner dielectric insulator in one motion. Crimping tools, connectors and terminate/punchdown tools connect the cable. Crimping is usually done with compression connectors with crimping tools.
“By using the correct tools, connections are made more accurately. Productivity increases and installations are safer. In the long run, the ‘right’ tool, saves an installer both time and money,” Mueller said.