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I’m sure you’ve heard that you need the right tool for the job, but have you ever considered that you might need the right tool for you? Nothing affects how easily a job can be done as much as having the correct tools and knowing how to use them properly. When it comes to tools, there are many choices, not just for simple tasks but also for specialized ones such as fiber optic installation.
Many manufacturers derived their fiber optic tools from the tools designed to work with copper wire. Thus, the traditional wire stripper built to higher tolerances becomes a fiber stripper, what most people in the trade call a “Miller stripper” for the most widely used brand. Used properly, this stripper works well on most fibers once you learn the technique.
This type of stripper must be held at just the right angle—about 45 degrees to the length of the fiber—to cut through the buffer coating without nicking or breaking the glass fiber within. Unfortunately, these strippers are generally made for right-handed people. Lefties must either hold the tool upside down or in their right hand.
After watching lefties awkwardly using this type of stripper, I looked for left-handed versions. Failing that, I even asked manufacturers about making some. That request went nowhere, so I started bringing two other types of fiber optic strippers that students could try, the No-Nik and MicroStrip.
These tools work equally well in either hand but have their own idiosyncrasies. The user must hold the No-Nik perpendicular to the fiber, and it has a plastic cover that gets clogged with the fiber buffer and needs cleaning after each use to prevent fiber breakage. With the MicroStrip, the fiber must be inserted directly into the end. It can strip longer lengths of fiber easily, but different units are needed if you strip fibers with 250, 500 or 900 micron diameter buffers.
Most of my students wanted to try all three types of strippers. And, most quickly decided on a favorite, sometimes because they found it easier to use but more often because they found they were more productive—faster while breaking fewer fibers—with that type.
As an instructor, I found experimenting with tools was the easiest way to learn what options were available and what techniques were needed. And, trying the tools myself gave me experience using them. In class, watching students learn a process that was new to them, such as terminating optical fiber, while trying various types of tools, showcased how novices may use them.
The experiences of installers and other instructors also showed me what tools they liked best. Working with experienced installers, I learned their tricks of the trade, including which tools they had adapted to their work. An applications engineer in the cable manufacturing business taught me how to use an inexpensive tubing cutter to cut the jacket and armor on heavy-duty outside plant cables instead of using an expensive, special cable cutter. He also taught me that needle-nose pliers worked effectively to pull cable ripcords, and fishing swivels were perfect for attaching pull ropes to cable. One old-timer surprised me by using bottled lemon juice to remove the gel from loose-tube cables instead of special gel remover!
I also read catalogs from distributors to see the variety of tools they offered. When I saw an interesting tool, I would order a couple of them to try myself and experiment with in classes.
Some users found certain tools to be good in general use but encountered problems in class. For example, we tried some scribes, which are used to scribe the fiber protruding from the ferrule of an adhesive/polish connector to cleave the fiber before polishing. One looked and worked just like a retractable ballpoint pen, but so many of them ended up in students’ pockets and disappeared, we had to stop using them. So we switched to another type that looked like a hobby knife that also happened to work better.
We found we needed several types of certain tools, such as scissors. We had a pair of heavy-duty lineman’s scissors for cutting cables and special super-sharp scissors for cutting aramid strength members in the cables. We also carried several cheap school scissors to cut open packages of epoxy because they got gummed up and often had to be discarded.
Before long, our fiber optic toolbox resembled an electrician’s or plumber’s. However, even with the great variety, every tool had its place and its specific job, and all contributed to getting the job done efficiently.
Want to know what is in my fiber optic toolbox? Visit www.ECmag.com to find out.
HAYES is a VDV writer and educator and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.jimhayes.com.