Published In July 2000
Working with good tools, well made and well matched to tasks at hand, can make a 7-hour day, if not shorter, then at least more productive and easier on the body. The best combination of tools in an electrician's pouch are those specifically developed to efficiently accomplish the work for that day with as little fatigue/ strain as possible. In most categories, hand tools should be designed for longevity and the long-term safety of the worker. Manufacturers in recent years have paid attention to the concept of ergonomics and, where possible, have modified various types of hand tools to reflect concern for workers' comfort and health vis-à-vis tool use. An electrician's tool pouch is likely to include a few screwdrivers (Phillips tip, cabinet tip, keystone tip); a wire stripper/crimper; a few different pliers (lineman's, long nose, diagonal cutting); adjustable wrench (pump pliers); nut drivers; voltage tester; electrician's scissors; and a measuring tape or rule. A worker might also carry a hacksaw, hammer, level, stud finder, and chalk line. Any tool is safest when used for its intended purpose, within the proscribed weight or size parameters. Changing the function of a tool or extending its ability puts stresses on it that it wasn't engineered to withstand. The tool can break, crack, or sustain other damages, or it can mar the work surface. Worst of all, the operator or a bystander can get hurt from the misapplication. Better to stock the tool chest with multiples of various tools, where appropriate, to accommodate daily demand. If a tool's intended application entails either working with or in close proximity to energized wires, tools with insulated grips must be used. The tools used should definitely have insulated grips certified to the official international 1,000-volt rating. (All certified tools carry a symbol.) Any other covering on steel falls into the category of comfort grips, and are not safe for working on, or near, live wiring. Tools noted below under each category are not inclusive of all offerings by any manufacturer and do not include offerings by every manufacturer of that type of tool. They are representative of what is currently on the market. Hammers Buy hammers that offer adequate leverage for the jobs for which they are likely to be used and that sport comfortable grips properly sized to the hands that will hold them day-to-day. Electrician's hammers are designed specifically for electrical work, typically with long necks and narrow striking faces which can reach easily into tight areas such as outlet boxes and other confined spaces. Hammers with flared handle ends offer added protection against slippage. Handles are often made of wood, fiberglass, or metal covered with leather, rubber, or plastic. A good handle provides even friction for a solid grip and absorbs shock, lessening the overall impact on the user's arm and whole body. The Stanley contractor-grade Anti-Vibe hammers, for example, are designed to reduce harmful vibrations. Available in various weights and styles (claw configurations), the hammers absorb a significant percentage of vibrations before they reach the user's forearm and elbow, theoretically reducing fatigue. The pierced steel I-beam construction is Isoplast-wrapped, further aiding in shock absorption. The AntiVibe hammer has a high-carbon, polished-steel head and a soft-ribbed vinyl grip for comfort. The smooth handle-to-grip contour, points out Stanley, won't get caught in a tool belt. A nib at the handle's end prevents slippage. Gardner Bender H-1620 20 ounce Ripping Claw fiberglass hammer is splinter resistant and sports a contoured cushion grip. For durability and overstrike protection, a high-impact, polycarbonate alloy jacket is molded over the fiberglass core. A rim-tempered head, notes the company, reduces chipping. Thomas & Betts electrician's hammer (18-ECH) features a contoured slip-resistant grip vulcanized to the handle, which is Sure-Lock fitted to the head by a steel wedge inserted under 3,000 pounds of hydraulic pressure and sealed with special epoxy. Klein Tools Electrician's Straight-Claw Hammer (807-18), with fiberglass shaft and polished drop-forged tempered steel head, sports an extra-long neck and a plastic alloy jacket that protects the neck from fraying and splintering, and has a perforated neoprene grip bonded to the handle. Distinguished by an octagon-shaped neck, the Plumb fiberglass Premium Ripping Claw hammer features a contoured handle and enlarged handle base for butting material. Screwdrivers With no moving parts, a screwdriver is simply as good as the grip, the tip, and the shank that connects them. Workers using a screwdriver frequently during the day benefit from well-made components that enable good strong turns when they need them. Generally, a cushion-grip handle fitted securely over the plastic core handle helps deter slippage and enables the worker to apply greater torque in the turning efforts. Shanks can be round or angular, short or long, depending on preference or purpose. Many screwdrivers have internal flanges in the shank that holds it securely in the handle. When it comes to the tip, little things mean a lot. An ideal tip is strong, does not chip, and fits into the screw slot precisely without bottoming out or touching the sides too soon. Therefore, when the worker turns the screwdriver, he should get the maximum amount of surface area contact. Popular screwdriver tip configurations include: slotted (Cabinet, Keystone); Phillips; clutch head; square head; torx (star-shaped); and hex. Screwdrivers often have a visual and/or embossed tip identifier on the handle for correct grabbing from the pouch. Key considerations when selecting screwdrivers for a day's work include matching the correct blade tip for the size of the screw head (to prevent slippage) and matching the proper length for the work being done. Most every screwdriver would benefit from having a good grip. Grips of 5 inches or more in length are comfortable for most workers. Many manufacturers offer variations on cushion grips-with or without finger grips or other molded indentations-intended to make the tool more comfortable in the hand. Another featured option, bolstered grips, generally provide extra cushioning while the tool user exerts maximum turning power. Klein Tools Grip-It screwdrivers, available individually or in a five-piece set (round shank, various tips), feature an ergonomically designed triangular-shaped handle that provides greater contact area for maximum turning power and a carefully positioned hollow for the thumb that also contributes to greater potential turning power. A spherical end, notes the manufacturer, virtually eliminates pressure points in the palm of the hand. The black-tip blade is made of high-alloy steel, chrome plated for long life. The screwdrivers are permanently marked with the Klein catalog number for easy identification. Thomas & Betts offers a six-piece screwdriver set, product No. 18-SCP6, which includes two cabinet tips, two Phillips, a round shank, and a square shank. All have large cushion grip handles designed for better ergonomic fit. Stanley has a six-piece contractor grade screwdriver set, product # 66-565 (two standard, two cabinet, and two Phillips), each tool sporting a full-size handle for extra gripping power and full-sleeve vinyl grip for comfort and turning force. For electricians who want to travel light, a two-in-one, four-in-one, five-in-one, or a six-in-one set could keep down the bulk in the tool pouch. The Lutz six-in-one screwdriver, for example, contains four different bits (two slotted and two Phillips), along with a 5/16-inch nut driver and a .25-inch hex nut driver. The bits reverse in the tube and the tube reverses in the handle. Stanley recently introduced two multibit screwdrivers, ratcheting (68-010) and nonratcheting (68-011), each featuring a spring-loaded, bit store selector system, for easy bit selection and replacement. Incorporating an ergonomically designed handle, the tool holds six standard .25-in. bits in the magazine, while an integrated storage unit holds four additional bits. The ratcheting screwdriver, which could be handy in work situations where it could be difficult to keep finding the screw head or to turn a conventional screwdriver repeatedly, features a three-position audible ratcheting mechanism (forward, reverse, and fixed). Klein Tools 10-in-1 Screwdriver/Nut Driver (32477), with a cushion grip for greater torque and comfort, features bit tips specific to electrical applications, including No. 2 Square drive used on conduit fitting screws. Crescent offers both six-in-one and seven-in-one Dura-Driver interchangeable bit screwdrivers. The six-in-one (SDMB6) tool features two double-ended bits, each with a slotted blade and a Phillips blade, stored in a removable steel holding sleeve. Both ends of the holding sleeve are nutdrivers. The seven-in-one (SDMB7) tool adds an additional nutdriver integrated into the handle. Combo-function screwdrivers are also available. For example, Klein Tools offers a conduit fitting and reaming screwdriver model 85191, with a hooded blade design that keeps the tip from slipping out of screws, especially when working overhead. Sporting a Cushion-Grip handle that helps resist slippage during turning, the tool both reams and smoothes .5-, .75-, and 1-inch thin-wall conduit. Pliers The hand tools most frequently associated with electricians are lineman's pliers. Most manufacturers offer a wide variety of pliers commonly referred to as electrician's pliers. These include, in addition to lineman's pliers, diagonal cutters, New England-style (round-nose) pliers, New England-style lineman's pliers with fish tape puller, New England-style lineman's pliers with crimp die, and crimping pliers for insulated and non-insulated connectors. Pliers are widely available with three different types of knife edges, which affect the amount of "pinch" left on a wire after it is cut. The three edges include: standard, which leaves a relatively large inverted "v"; semi-flush, which leaves a less-obtrusive inverted "v"; and full-flush, suitable for close cutting of soft wire and leaving a relatively flat surface. Lineman's pliers Jensen Tools recently introduced a line of electrician's pliers featuring precision aligned jaws and cutting edges. The six styles, including an 8-inch lineman's pliers, and three different New England-style lineman's pliers, all feature dual-layer, anti-slip cushion grip handles. Though not yet in the company's catalog, the line is available at Jensen Tool's Web site, www.jensentools.com. Thomas & Betts 9-inch New England-Style Lineman pliers (18-LP9), constructed to prevent slipping when pulling, gripping, and twisting, are designed to cut ACSR and most hardened wire without damaging the tool. The pliers sport textured contoured grips, notes the company, for comfort and control. Klein Tools offers the D213-9NE High-Leverage NE-Type Side Cutters, with knurled jaws and the D213-9NETP High-Leverage NE-Type Side Cutters with Fish-Tape Pulling Grip that sports a special groove at the hinge for gripping and pulling flat fish tapes. The high leverage design of both provides 46 percent greater cutting and gripping power than regular 8.5 and 9.5 side cutters, notes the company. CHANNELLOCK manufactures several linemen's pliers, including 6-, 7-, and 8-inch models (models 346, 347 and 348), made of high-carbon drop-forged steel and featuring comfort grips. Each pair of pliers is hand-filed and tested for precision cutting. Pump pliers CHANNELLOCK tongue-and-groove pliers (model 420) feature an undercut tongue-and-groove design that ensures "can't slip" jaw action and a PermaLock fastener that, notes the company, can withstand 3,000 pounds of tensile force and eliminates nut and bolt failure. The adjustable pliers are available in various sizes and configurations and feature right-angle teeth grip in all directions. Crescent offers laminated box joint Dura-Plyers in three jaw capacities. The bias tooth design provides improved grip on round, hex, and square fasteners, as well as more turning ability with less force, notes the company, and the seven-position jaw decreases the chance of slippage compared to conventional tongue and grove pliers. The tools sport large air-cushioned grips with textured surfaces. Reaming pliers Klein Tools Conduit Locknut and Reaming Pliers (D333-8), with long-nose jaw that will fit into electrical outlet boxes, tightens conduit locknuts, fittings, and caps, but can also ream the inside and outside of conduit. The knurled jaws at the nose are used for pulling wire or fish tape. Self-adjusting pliers The new Stanley MaxGrip Needle Nose Pliers (88-888), featuring a dual position pivot to create parallel jaw movement, adjusts the angle of the jaws against the work for greater, continuous, surface contact with the work. This attribute also makes it easy to work with larger fasteners. The tool's ergonomically designed shape and dual material handle provides comfort during gripping. Multi-tool stripper/cutter Ideal Super Reflex T-Stripper features slim, curved handles ergonomically designed to conform to an electrician's natural hand position. Textured grips extend to the cutting head. The knife-type blades are suitable for stripping 10- to 18-gauge solid, stranded, and NM wire. The tool features 6/32 and 8/32 self-chasing, bolt-cutting holes and a locking pawl for safe storage. Gardner Bender has a new multi-tool stripper and cutter (GS-65) that strips copper and aluminum wire, solid or stranded, and cuts and re-threads various bolt sizes from 4-40 to 10-32, and crimps sleeves, solder-less terminals, and coaxial connections. It features a snub nose for reaming .5- to 1-inch conduit. Greenlee offers The Terminators Combination Tool (Model 1921), featuring pivot joints with hardened steel bushings and cushion grips, crimps, strips, and cuts wires, and cuts and re-threads screws. CHANNELLOCK's 908 Wiring Tool strips wires without any damage to conductors and cuts bolts without damaging threads. It is capable of crimping both insulated and non-insulated wires, and has a low-bolt profile for easy access into tight work areas. Wrenches and socket sets While some workers vouch for the virtues of adjustable wrenches and are able to put just one in the pouch for the day, others prefer individually sized open end and box wrenches. To conserve a wrench in good working order, it is important to match the size of the wrench jaws to that of the bolt. A correct fit helps ensure a secure pull each time. Crescent AC3C Chrome Finish Tool kit includes three sizes of adjustable wrenches, each with a wide handle (for comfort and less stress on the hand, according to the company) and a non-slip cushion grip. The wide-capacity jaw allows each wrench to work with more fastener sizes. Both Stanley and Klein offer 14-piece combination open and box wrench sets. Klein Tools Quick-Release Socket Adapter, available in two sizes, keeps sockets from falling off drives and extensions and, notes the company, makes changing sockets faster and easier. Operation consists of tightening one end of the adapter to the socket handle with a hex wrench and then securely snap-locking the socket onto the other end. Hex key sets Hex-key sets small enough to fit into a pocket offer the advantage of standing in for lots of separate hex-key wrenches. Various manufacturers make several different folding sets for both inches and metric measures with anywhere from five to nine keys. They fold up to about the size of a pocketknife. Taps A tap is handy for enabling an electrician to make new threads in an existing stripped hole by cutting in threads for the next-size screw. For example, the Klein 627-20 Six-in-One Tapping tool, consisting of two steel taps in a reversible holder that fits into a large plastic handle, can form six common-sized (next-larger-size) taps if threads are stripped. The tool also re-forms burred threads and cleans out plastic obstructions. Nut drivers Often nut drivers are just the tool to use to hold a nut while unscrewing a hard to remove screw. Gardner Bender offers a color-coded six-piece set. The color-coded handles provide easy identification while the shafts are hollow thereby accepting longer bolts and studs. BX Armor Cable Cutter Gardner Bender BX Armor Cable cutter features a quick clamp that automatically adjusts to cable size and secures it for splitting without screw knob adjustment. The depth of the cutter is adjustable for various sizes of BX, MC, Ac, Greenfield, Liquid Tight, and Flexible Conduit. Levels Stanley has come out with a new line of electronic products, IntelliTools, which uses high technology to get accurate measurements. The Intellipoint-Plus Level (product # 77-009), a 9-inch, three-bubble torpedo level, operates through 180 degrees and projects an eye-safe laser light dot or cross-hair pattern on almost any surface. Accurate to .25-inch over 100 feet, the level is useful for projecting accurate horizontal and vertical lines when hanging pendant fixtures off the ceiling or other fixtures off the walls or installing horizontal runs of conduit. The base is fitted with threaded inset for tripod mounting. Rules (folding and pull-out) Key factors to look for in steel rules include reinforcing rivets on the hook attachments, abrasive-resistant coatings on the blades, blades thick enough for long standouts, comfort grips, impact-resistant cases, numbers, and hash marks that are easy to read in various light conditions, 16-inch stud markings, smooth recoil with perhaps a burr on the inside edge for bolstered hook retention and stability during single-worker measurement. Stanley's 25-foot FAT MAX tape rule (#33-725) features 11 feet of continuous extension standout without breaking or creasing. The tool sports a rigid 1.25-inch-thick Mylar-wrapped steel blade with a horseshoe-shaped multifunction blade hook that enables users to catch the edges of objects from the top, bottom, or side during measuring. Stud finder Stanley IntelliSensor DigiScan (#77-250) stud sensor detects and differentiates between wood, metal, and live wire through various wall thicknesses and materials, including .75- and 1.5-inch thickness of drywall or 3 inches of concrete. The tool features one-step calibration and an LED display with easy-to-read icons that alert the user to the type of material detected within 1 to 2 seconds. Tool pouch Like a good truck stop, a tool pouch should offer easy-in/easy-out access. Nylon pouches are often reinforced for added stiffness. Look for reinforced stitching at the seams for durability, and reinforced webbing along the bottoms of larger pockets that are likely to hold heavier or pointy tools. Companies mentioned in this article include: Crescent, www.coopertools.com, (800) 423-6175 Gardner Bender, www.gardnerbender.com, (414) 352-4160 Greenlee Textron, www.greenlee.textron.com, (800) 435-0786 Ideal www.idealindustries.com (877) 201-7832 Jensen Tools Inc., www.jensentools.com, (800) 426-1194 Klein Tools, www.kleintools.com, (847) 677-9500 Lufkin, www.coopertools.com, (800) 423-6175 Lutz File & Tool Co., www.gorillaglue.com, (513) 271-3300 Plumb, www.coopertools.com (800) 423-6175 The Stanley Works, www.stanleyworks.com, (800) STANLEY The FELDMANS are writers and authors who provide Web content and write for magazines, trade associations, manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (914) 238-6272.