Purchasing Efficient, Safe, and Ergonomic Hand and Power Tools

The best tools to pull out of an electrician’s tool bucket or chest offer efficient, safe operation. Many types of hand and power tools are, in fact, now designed with ergonomics in mind, with features aimed at improving comfort during use and decreasing muscle fatigue and muscle strain from long-term or even short-term use. Tools are safest when their used for their intended purposes, within weight and size guidelines. (Misapplying a tool can damage the tool, the work surface, or—worst of all—injure the worker.) A well-designed tool, used properly, could help prevent or alleviate stresses on the body that could lead to direct injury, chronic repetitive stress disorders (or cumulative trauma disorders), or just plain weariness too early in the day. And when the tool is closely attuned to the task at hand, it can boost production, as well, because a greater percentage of the effort goes toward the task. The electrician will work less hard and get more done. All things being equal, using a power-operated version of a tool is less likely to result in cumulative trauma disorders than manually powered tools. When shopping for new tools, look for those with slightly compressible, slip-resistant handles or grips, because you won’t have to squeeze as hard to maintain control during operation. A flange, or finger stop, will help with that, as well, and protect fingers from scratches or abrasions from accidental contact with exposed metal tool parts, to boot. If the tool will be used outdoors, a nonconductive heat-resistant (slip-resistant) grip will protect hands from extremes in temperature. Where possible, before buying, test-drive the handle, grip, and control settings. One manufacturer’s grip might be more to your liking than another or just be a “better” match to your hand. As with shoes, after a full day of wearing them, a bad fit takes its toll. For tools on which you will have to adjust settings as you work, larger controls are easier to navigate than smaller ones, particularly when wearing gloves. Make sure any power tool is double insulated, for protection against electric shock. For added safety, it is a good idea to use a portable ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) between the tool and the electrical source. And when using a power tool outdoors, use outdoor-rated extension cords only. Keeping electric tools dry when not in use will protect the operator from inadvertent shock (however remote the risk) and also extend the life of the tool. Avoiding moisture on hand tools prevents rust. Unplug electric tools when not in use or when changing bits and blades. And for safety and tool preservation, never yank the cord of an electric tool to disconnect it or dangle the tool by its cord. Some common considerations when purchasing a cordless power tool should include battery run time, amp hours and volts, and the weight and balance of the tool with the battery attached. Better balancing translates to minimized fatigue during prolonged operation. While power saws can do a lot of electricians’ tasks faster and, in some cases better than hand saws, there are still applications for which hand saws are the tool of choice. Hand saws probably date all the way back to the stone age, when the first saws were, historians surmise, curved pieces of flint with rough edging, useful for shearing roots. Eons later, the early Egyptians applied some technological technique and flattened sheets of bronze into a tapered blade at one end and a handle at the other. They likely didn’t work too well. Serrated edges, iron, and other improvements were introduced over time. Manufacturers of saws are constantly aiming to improve the method of cutting, how quickly the tools cut, and the amount of use gained from the cutting surface before it is necessary to sharpen or replace it. The Stanley Works’ new FatMax Panel Saw features induction-hardened teeth that, said the company, hold up against abrasive materials and stay sharp three to five times longer in comparison to traditional saws. The handle is 65 percent thicker than traditional panel saw handles and sports an ergonomically designed no-slip comfort grip. The company’s FatMax Jab Saw, featuring a chiseled end point for easy piercing of drywall, is capable of cutting cement board. Both saws are designed to cut 50 percent faster than traditional saws and feature a 20 percent thicker blade that, according to Stanley Tools, significantly reduces binding. When working with portable electric saws, a jig to hold the work can simplify a task and make cutting a safer proposition because the worker does not have to hold the work directly. For right-angle cutting with a Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation or DeWALT Industrial Tool Co. recip saw, here’s a jig-like accessory that fits over the blade to help secure the subject material in place for a straight-down cut. The Mighty-Miter, from Seatek Co. Inc, is a “v”-shaped vise adjustable to accept various sizes of material, including tubing, angle bar, EMT, Unistrut, and threaded rods, from 3/16 inch to two inches. The easily toteable device allows for operation on a worktable or floor. While it is possible to install sheathed cable with traditional wire anchoring methods such as hammer-in stapling, when there is a lot of cable to set into place, a specialized staple gun can offer welcome advantages. DESA International’s Powerfast StrapGun is a steel staple gun for installing both 12/2 and 14/2 nonmetallic sheathed cable (NM-B and NMC types) with one hand at a faster rate than with hammer-in staples, said the company. A guide system properly positions a UL-listed PowerFast strap over the cable, eliminating risk of pinching or cutting the cable. The plastic insulator provides a built-in depth stop for the staple, ensuring that the insulator is all that touches the cable. The lightweight, all-steel tool sports a special drive spring mechanism that reduces the amount of effort the operator has to apply when using the strapgun, minimizing hand fatigue. Though hammer drills are more popular than rotary hammers among electricians, at least partially because they are less expensive and can drill into just about any material, from wood to metal, rotary hammers—which require more expensive specialized chucks and bits—are worthwhile when higher impact on hard material is desired or when drilling holes larger than 3/8 inch. Rotary hammers, which use motor-driven pistons for intense hammering action, operate at a lower rpm than hammer drills, but feature a much faster drilling rate because of the way the tool works. (The resulting noise is less high-pitched and somewhat less loud than that coming from a hammer drill, and there is no numbing hand buzz, to boot.) Typically, they use slotted drive shank (SDS) chucks and bits, or even larger SDS Plus, SDS Max, or SDS spline chucks and bits. Larger rotary hammers use a crank-type piston, while smaller rotary hammers, including those an electrician is likely to use for setting anchors, use a hollow piston design with the ram and the beat piece both traveling within the barrel of the tool. Here are some representative rotary hammers from the class of 2001. BOSCH Power Tools 11239VS Rotary Hammer features a compact design in terms of power-to-weight ratio that makes it well suited for series drilling applications. Weighing a relatively light 7.8 pounds, it delivers more than 2.4 foot/pounds of impact force. The 7.2-Amp SDS rotary hammer delivers 4,000 beats per minute (BPM) and 1,050 revolutions per minute (RPM), which will effectively support drilling into the hardest concrete, noted the company. The rotary hammer works in two operational modes: the rotation-only mode, for drilling wood, steel, and other building materials with optional chuck; and the hammer and rotation mode, for drilling concrete, brick, stone, and masonry. With up to a 1-inch drilling capacity, the tool, which features a quick-adjust depth gauge that allows touch-button reset, has an optimal range of 3/16 to 7/8 inch. The unit also features padded, shock-absorbing handles, a 360-degree auxiliary handle for added control, and a variable-speed switch. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation Model 5361-24 18-Volt, 3/4-inch Rotary Hammer, features a 13/4-inch core bit capacity and 3/4-inch solid-bit capacity and two-mode (rotation with hammer or rotation only) operation. Using a 2.4-Amp hour NiCAD battery that, said the company, yields up to 20 percent more run time than other (2.0 Ah) NiCAD batteries, the tool drills up to 54 holes 1/4 x 11/2 inch in concrete on a single charge. Compatible with both SDS-Plus and TE-C steel bits, the rotary hammer has a 360-degree adjustable handle with depth gauge, trigger speed control (facilitating easy hole piloting), and a trigger lock. Makita USA HR2431 1-inch SDS Rotary Hammer, weighing 6.2 pounds and powered by a 6.5-Amp motor supplying up to 1,050 RPM and 4,900 BPM, features a built-in dust collection system driven by a built-in fan. The unit delivers the collected dust and debris to a dust bag supported by an internal frame strategically placed so as not to get in the way of operation of the tool. Featuring a dual-purpose mode selector for hammering with rotation or rotation only, the tool sports a one-touch sliding chuck and a large, variable-speed trigger on the rear D-handle. The extra-large trigger allows the operator to use a large portion of the hand to activate the trigger, reducing operator fatigue, pointed out the company. The tool design also includes a straight-side handle for added leverage and operator comfort. For diligent dust collection for larger quantities of dust from a variety of Makita power tools, including rotary hammers, recip saws, and jig saws, Makita USA has a portable Dust Collector, Model 420S, that can be worn like a backpack. The power tool plugs directly into the receptacle on the dust collector and turns on and off automatically as the power tool switches on or off. The double-insulated unit, which uses reusable washable filters, stays on briefly after the tool stops to collect remaining dust in the hose. Designed for contractors who expect to drill more and more holes (3/16 to 3/4 inch in diameter) into concrete and masonry in their future, the new Hilti TE 2-M multifunctional rotary hammer drill drills up to 1/2 inch diameter into steel and up to 3 and 1/2 inch diameter into wood. In addition to the primary full-speed, full-power function for wood, concrete and masonry, a second, selectable Precision Specialty Drilling (PSD) function supports drilling at full speed but with two-thirds hammer reduction, making the tool well suited for drilling into tile, brick, marble, and stone. The tool, which has an electronic variable speed trigger, also features a quick-release chuck. The hammer drill could be considered a cousin to the rotary hammer, but uses standard drill chucks and round shank bits rather than SDS chucks and bits. While they generate lower-impact energy compared to rotary hammers and are therefore less effective for drilling larger diameters in hardened materials, they are effective in making smaller-diameter holes up to 3/8 of an inch in diameter. Look for two-speed modes, a variable-speed trigger, and a side-handle for better control in a variety of applications. Typically, an electrician would use the lower speed for drilling into concrete and the higher speed for drilling into steel and wood. Metabo Corporation SBE750 1/2-inch hammer drill, featuring a no-load speed of zero to 1,000/ zero to 3,000 RPM, is rated at 6.2 amps, with 750 rated input watts and a maximum tightening torque of 159 inch-pounds. The motor features a winding protection grid that deflects harmful debris away from armature windings, including motor life up to five times, said the company. An automatic safety clutch protects the operator against tool kick-back from tool jams. The tool, which is double insulated, sports a “goose neck” depth gauge that allows the tip of the gauge to be positioned very near the drill bit for maximum accuracy of drilling depth. When space is tight and maneuverability is an issue, sometimes a right-angle drill, where the shaft and bit are perpendicular to the body, is a practical solution. As the angle drills come in various sizes, it is easy—as well as expedient—to match, rather than exceed, needs. The new Hitachi Power Tools D10YB 3/8 inch Angle Drill, with a 31/4-inch clearance, features a small-grip circumference housing and heavy-duty industrial recessed chuck for control in confined spaces. The slide-switch trigger lock is located on the lower portion of the housing so that it can be operated while gripping the tool, noted the manufacturer. The lightweight (3.3-pound) compact tool, which has a steel capacity of 3/8 inch and a wood capacity of 7/8 inch, has a 4.6-Amp high-output motor that features dial-in electronic variable speed and reversible capabilities. With a no-load speed ranging from 500 to 2,300 RPM, the tool is well suited to a variety of applications, including loosening screws and drilling in metal, wood, and plastics. The tool, which has a chuck key, has a side handle for additional support. Compared to a hacksaw, it is safe to say that for certain application—a BX cutter—which cuts flexible metal conduit quickly without nicking the insulation (which would require a re-do)—does it better. It also does it more cleanly, leaving less burr behind than a hacksaw would. The Rotomatic 202A flexible conduit and MC-BX cable cutter, from Seatek Co., Inc., is a portable bench-top machine for stripping off the armor from any size MC-BX cable from Awg No. 14-2 to Awg No. 10-4. The tool will also cut up to 1/2-inch Greenfield, with a special clamping pin. A large air cylinder provides smooth, fast cutting action, preventing operator fatigue, noted the company. An adjustable-limit stop permits varying the depth of cut for different cables. On projects where the buildings are wired with BX, a machine of this type is well suited to cutting “Whips” and stripping MC-BX cable in precut lengths. Not only does the tool help relieve repetitive strain of cutting with a hacksaw but, because it does not carry the risk of cutting through the wire insulation, which is a frequent happenstance with a hacksaw, there are likely to be fewer cuts required, overall, for the task. If you want to keep your fish tape from unruly flying or bouncing around a room, or from snapping inadvertently into a co-worker or other bystander when you are using it, consider fish tape on a reel. A fish tape reel gives control to an inherently unwieldy tool. It also provides a manageable route to easy storage. Ideal steel Tuff-Grip Fish Tape is well suited to meet demands of damp locations. The stainless steel tape features a grooved, non-slip handle for safe grasping even when wet. The handle is oversized to comfortably fit the largest gloved hand. Available in 50-, 100-, and 200-foot lengths, it stores in a high-impact plastic case that will not corrode or dent, noted the company. Klein Tools Silver Speedway stainless steel fish tapes offer 20 percent longer length to go the extra distance when needed. Available in 60-, 120- and 240-foot lengths, the stainless steel fish tapes feature a rust-resistant, tempered 1/8-inch stainless steel tape and an extra-large, break-resistant Grip-It handle that can be comfortably gripped from different angles, with or without gloves. Reinforcing ribs, molded into the handle, help provide a secure grip. The winder reel, constructed of high-impact plastic, turns easily in either direction, facilitating one-handed operation. An enlarged guide slot allows fast, smooth tape dispensing. The tape, finished in high-visibility orange, accepts an optional 131/2-inch wound steel flexible leader or a swivel ball for smooth operation. Versatility is always welcome in a tool. DeWALT Industrial Tool Co. DW920K-2 7.2-volt heavy-duty cordless screwdriver, featuring a maximum torque output of 80 inch/pounds, operates in two different positions, straight or angled, at about 45 degrees to the handle. The tool, which can function as a drill or as a screwdriver that offers multiple positions of torque, features a quick-release metal chuck that allows for quick bit change and for preventing run-out. When set at drill mode, there is no slippage while drilling. The variable-speed trigger switch, that has overload protection, provides zero to 500 RPM for fastening and pre-drilling into wood, plastic, and light-gauge metal. The 16-position adjustable clutch provides a wide range of torque settings. An electric brake provides enhanced operator control, noted the company. The tool comes in a kit box that includes two batteries, a compact battery charger, and two screwdriver bits. Personal job site storage systems: Belts and pouches, buckets, and more Pockets and traditional tool belts can only hold so much. Here are three solutions that can keep a complement of small hand tools at the ready. Klein Tools Powerline four-piece electrician’s combo set, constructed of sturdy double-layered Cordura Plus, includes eight- and 19-pocket electrician’s tool pouches, a hammer holder and a padded tool belt. The eight-pocket pouch has a large utility pocket divider, two inside pockets for pliers, two medium pockets for tools or connectors, and two small tool pockets. The 19-pocket pouch features a large utility pocket with divider, eight screwdriver loops, five pliers pockets, two stripper pockets, two accessory pockets, and a chain tape thong. Both size pouches, which can be positioned virtually anywhere along the belt and are removable, sport squared pouch bottoms. The belt and pouch tunnel-loops are foam padded for stability and comfort and, points out the company, require no break-in period. Seams and pockets are double nylon-stitched and rivet reinforced. A bucket is often a catchall container. Ideal Industries’ new Bag Bucket tool carrier performs according to its name, serving as a large open tote bag that can hold a healthy complement of electrician’s tools during transport and having the ability to stand up on its own after arriving at the current job site. The freestanding carrier, constructed of double-layer nylon polyester, features an adjustable handle for hand-held, over-the-shoulder, or on the-back portage. Eight outside pockets, including some with Velcro and zipper closures, add options for carrying tools. The Stanley Works new Metal Rolling Workshop, incorporating metal and plastic components, is a mobile toolbox with closed storage for large power tools, hand tools, and longer tools, such as saws and levels. Two wide 6-inch rubber coated wheels and a heavy-duty aluminum telescopic pull-handle facilitate rolling transport among locations at a job site. The modular yellow-and-black unit features a large flip-out bin to hold large tools, two drawers with removable dividers, and a large tool box with an angled groove for sawing. Four bungee cords are included to help hold the longer tools in place and facilitate storage of building plans along the side of the toolbox. The FELDMANS provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at wfeldman@att.net or (914) 238-6272.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.