Correctly preparing and connecting copper wiring in a building’s structured wiring system requires special skills and the right tools. A single faulty connection can bring down an entire network.
Quality cutting, stripping and crimping tools are essential for accurate connectivity, said Karen Alpan, voice/data/video product manager for Klein Tools, Lincolnshire, Ill.
“For twisted-pair termination, [use] high carbon steel blades to remove the outer jacket,” Alpan said. “For security operations, it should contain a midspan stripping capability. A quality crimping tool drives the contacts into the conductors. The punchdown tool is used to install the conductors into the jack. Ergonomic considerations make many options available.
“The tool lineup for coaxial installation begins with a quality coaxial cutting tool. Preferred is a heat-treated, hardened-steel cutter, designed to minimize damage to the cutting surface as well as retaining the shape and outer surface of the coaxial conductor and leaving it undamaged. Next, an accurately measured length of cable is stripped to two levels and then is compressed with a lateral-compression crimp tool,” she said.
All terminations need to be tested for accuracy and correct pinout. Improvements to tools include coaxial cutters with heat-treated, hardened-steel cutting surfaces to reduce the force required to make cuts. Improved punchdown grip handles reduce pressure on the hand while installing jacks, panels and several of the twisted-pair.
“The majority of coaxial terminations today are compression fittings,” Alpan said. “These cause an interference fit between the connector and the cable jacket. They replace the old style of crimping the connector onto the cable by crushing it. The new process has much better accuracy.”
Klein Tools offers starter kits that contain the basics needed for LAN and coaxial installations, and professional-level kits.
Jeff Meader, business unit manager, Ideal Industries, Sycamore, Ill., said that when cutting coaxial cable, it is beneficial to use snips that have an oval-shaped cutting aperture in order to apply cutting pressure around the whole cable and to avoid pressing the coaxial down into a flat cut.
“For stripping, installers should use a stripping tool specifically designed for coaxial and that can handle a variety of different cable diameters,” he said. “All F-connectors and BNC compression connectors require a two-step strip RG-59 (75-ohm video applications) and RG-6 (75-ohm high-grade digital video/satellite applications). A properly stripped cable should have ¼ inch of braiding and ¼ inch of center conductor exposed. Once stripped, fold the braiding over the outer jacket of cable without folding back the layer of foil that surrounds the dielectric.
“Most compression tools handle multiple types of connectors, either through adapters or adjustments,” Meader said. “Some tools are able to handle multiple types of connectors without any adapters or adjustments to the stroke length of the tool. BNC and F connectors use the same cable preparation, but due to the different length of the connectors—BNCs are longer—they fit into the tool and compress against different surfaces based on the tool design.”
Cable installation often requires a variety of hole-making products such as flex bits, hole saws, step drill bits and fish poles or fish tape to place the cable in the desired location. Staples, cable straps, cable ties, J-hooks and other items secure these cables in their installed location.
Ideal Industries offers several tool kits that focus on the cable-to-connector preparation for coaxial and data cabling, Meader said. These kits generally include cutters, strippers, connectors and a crimp-type tool. Many have basic testers or tone-and-probe testers for troubleshooting.
Meanwhile, Fluke offers tool sets for terminating wires and a digital probe to locate wires behind walls, said Harvey Trager, product manager, Fluke Networks, Everett, Wash.
“Wire preparation prior to making connections depends on the brand and type of jacks being installed,” he said. “It is best to follow manufacturers’ guidelines. One common mistake is to assume that all the wires are properly mapped and well-seated in the end of the jack. The connections may look great upon visual inspection but actually perform poorly with live data or may fail later. This results in call-backs and possible loss of trust. An easy solution is to test every link.
“For preparing coaxial cables, an installer needs sharp electricians’ scissors—D-snips—and wire strippers for removing the layers of outer jacket and inner insulation without nicking the center conductor. Crimpers are needed to complete the task,” Trager said.
Fluke Networks has a kit with these items, plus a punchdown tool in a pouch, a tool set to terminate wires, and a digital probe to locate wires behind walls.
Mike Buechin, meter product specialist, Southwire Tools, Carrollton, Ga., said improper wiring connections are a common mistake when installing network cable.
“A cable will not work if there are shorted or open pairs,” he said. “If there are split pairs, interference between transmit and receive signals will create instability. It is important to test each cable after termination.”
Basic tools needed to install low-voltage copper cabling include cutting, stripping and crimping tools.
“Cutting tools must be designed to cleanly cut cable without deforming the cable or causing wear to the tool,” Buechin said. “Stripping tools for coaxial cable requires a dual-blade tool for removing the outer jacket and exposing the inner connector. Network cable requires removing the outer jacket. A tool with an adjustable blade can be used to score the outer jacket without nicking the wires. Crimping tools are purpose-built to install crimp or compression-style connectors onto coaxial or twisted-pair cables.”
Improvements in copper tools include a ratchet crimping tool designed to crimp F-type connectors onto RG-6 or RG-6Q coaxial cable, a compound leverage design that lowers the hand force required and near-parallel jaw action for precise hex crimps and professional datacom snips with unique spring-loaded blades and a double-dipped textured grip. Serrated blades make for precision cuts.
Multiconnector compression coaxial crimp tools are universal and can be used in cable TV, security, satellite and home-theater applications. The three-way chuck can be positioned to accommodate RCA, BNC and F-type connectors. The rotating connector seat accepts RG-5, RG-6, RG-6Q and the larger RG-7 and RG-11 connectors. Adjustable crimping length allows use on a wide range of connector types.
A rotary-style, trigger stripper performs a ¼-inch strip of both connector and insulation in one easy step. The trigger hole enables the user to quickly open and close the tool.
“Coaxial always is terminated with a connector,” Buechin said. “Depending on the connector, either a ratcheting or compressive crimping tool is used to secure the connector. A multiconnector crimping tool can be used to accommodate RCA, BNC or T-type connectors.”
Southwire Tools offers an electrician’s splicing kit of datacom tools, a network tool kit and a coaxial cable tool kit, he said.
According to John Phillips, product manager, Platinum Tools, Newbury Park, Calif, “Cable and connector determine the preparation necessary. The key to a good prep is making sure cuts are clean, insulations are not being nicked and dimensional call-outs from the connector manufacturer are adhered to.”
For cutters, Phillips said fit and function should be considered. A cutter should feel like the extension of the hand, not awkward. In today’s world, much of the RG-6 and RG-6QD coaxial cables have a steel wire center conductor coated in copper, referred to as copper-clad steel. A standard coaxial cable cutter is designed to cut copper only and can be damaged if used on CCS type coaxial cable.
For strippers, Phillips said the type of connector and coaxial cable being used will dictate which to choose. Choose a stripper that is easy to use and controllable and one that consistently strips the coaxial cable without scoring the center conductor or removing braid. An adjustable stripper always is a plus, since you can fine-tune it to compensate for coaxial cables that vary in size. On the other hand, a dedicated stripper is nice because it is ready to go right out of the box.
For crimpers, Phillips said compression-type connectors require a compression tool. If using strictly F-type compression connectors, a fixed/nonadjustable compression tool is a good choice. When doing BNC- and RCA-type compression or F-type, choose an adjustable version to cover the various sizes of connector types.
Mark Govier, product manager, Greenlee, Rockford, Ill., said basic tools for structured-wiring technicians include wire cutters, wire strippers, cable preparation tools such as screwdrivers, pliers, punchdown IDC termination tools and crimpers.
“Several new tools have been developed to handle the higher grades and the increased quantity of network cables that technicians work with,” he said. “All our new copper and coaxial cable tools feature ergonomic handles. Cutting pliers have laser-hardened edges and chrome vanadium steel construction for strength and added durability. A lightweight, spring-loaded cable stripper allows single-hand operation. The six-in-one multitool provides hex nut, Phillips and flat screw fittings.
“There is a torque wrench that creates an audible click when 30 inch-pounds of torque is reached, two ‘fixed’ compression tools for maximum repeatability and LED penlight is sealed against water and dust,” Govier said.
Greenlee offers a variety of kits for structured wiring technicians.