Ready At A Moment's Notice

Recent columns have focused on tools and test equipment and how to use them, but what about taking care of them properly? This point was brought home to me recently when I spent two days training instructors to help them get started with their Fiber Optic Association (FOA) certification classes. I ordered some supplies I knew I needed, got back the test kit I had loaned to another instructor, threw all my boxes of parts and equipment into the car, and headed out to do the training.

I had not used some of the gear for a long time and had just packed it away on the shelf when I returned. I had loaned some of it out for others to use. Since that last training, I only had used some of the gear and supplies to create FOA YouTube videos.

Due to schedule constraints, I did not organize or check all the gear. I just packed and left. Big mistake. Things did not go smoothly to say the least. Some of my test gear needed batteries, and I was out of spares. I could not find some tools, and others didn’t work properly. 

Learn from my mistakes: Never, ever, go out on a job unless you have inspected your tools and test equipment and verified your tool kit is complete, your test equipment is working properly, and you have all the supplies and consumables you need.

A corollary of this is never take new gear into the field until you have tested it in the office and are familiar enough with its use that you will not have problems in the field due to unfamiliarity. When I was in the fiber optic test equipment business, it amazed me how many help calls I got from customers who were at the job site and wanted to know how to use the equipment.

Start with your tools

Clean off a table, and open your fiber optic tool kit. Are all the tools there? Grab a notepad, and list what you are missing. Even better, create a checklist of tools you need, and use it so you don’t forget anything. And keep a copy of that list in your toolkit for reference. For your convenience, I have included a list of recommended tools at the bottom of this article. 

Some of your tools are bulletproof, but some are delicate and/or will wear out. In particular, check the condition of your fiber optic strippers and scribes. They both should be carefully cleaned and inspected. Use a magnifying glass or loupe to check the working areas. Then get some fiber and test them to make sure they work properly. I recommend you keep spares of these two tools since they wear out and can be damaged, so extras on hand are warranted.

Most test equipment is battery powered, so spare batteries are important. Check the condition of the batteries in the piece of gear, turn it on and make sure it works properly. If your gear has adapters for various fiber optic connectors, ensure all those adapters are there and kept in marked plastic bags to identify and protect them. Find all your reference test cables and mating adapters.

Grab one of your reference test cables, and use it to check the operation of your connector inspection microscope. At the same time, you will be checking the condition of the reference cable connector. Does it look nice and clean? Is it free from scratches? Reference test cables wear out after hundreds of tests, even with regular cleaning, so use the microscope to check the condition of every connector on every reference cable. Set aside any cable that looks questionable.

Next, use your light source and power meter to test all of the reference cables. Use a single-ended insertion loss test to determine if they are still in good condition, with a loss of well under 0.5 decibels, and discard the bad ones or set them aside for retermination. If you have a checklist, keep track of the loss and watch how the loss will increase the more they are used. If you have an optical time-domain reflectometer and associated launch cables for it, use the light source and power meter to check them, too.

Finally, check your cleaning supplies. Ensure you have enough for the next job. If not, add that to your notepad list of things to order ASAP. Don’t wait until the next job comes up; order all the replacement tools and supplies you need now so you’re ready to go.

List of Test Equipment, Tools and Consumables

QuantityTool or Test EquipmentComments
Tools for installer's toolbox  
1Tubing cutter - cuts through armored cableA regular tubing cutter is perfect for cutting the cable jacket and armor
1Rotary cable slitting & ringing toolTo cut cable jacket for removal – to cut around cable or slit jacket for removal
1Cable jacket stripperUsed for cutting 2-3 mm cable jacket for removal
1Fiber optic stripperUsed to remove primary coating from fiber without nicking the optic fiber. Some are also capable of cutting 2-3 mm cable jacket
1Buffer Tube Stripper – to cut jacket/buffer tubes in loose tube cableSimilar to some coax or UTP jacket cutters but must be precise to prevent fiber damage
1Crimp Tool – crimps fiber optic connector on the cableMust have crimp die appropriate for the crimp size required by the connector being used for termination
1Kevlar Scissors – super-sharp to cut Kevlar fibers in fiber optic cableNever use these scissors to cut anything else. They are expensive and will dull easily if used to cut other materials.
1Scribe – used to cleave fiber when terminatingSapphire or carbide are best
1Needle nose pliers – use when accessing and pulling cords or ripcords. 
1Polishing Plate – place under polishing padNeed smooth surface for polishing
1Polishing Pad – place under polishing filmProvides soft polishing surface for PC connectors
1Polishing Puck – insert connector into this polishing tool, lay on polishing paperNeed one for 2.5 mm ferrule connectors (ST/SC/FC) and one for 1.25 mm ferrule connectors (LC)
1Safety glassesAlways wear safety glasses.
OptionalConnector Curing Oven – to cure epoxy/polish connectorsEpoxy/polish connectors are still the cheapest and most reliable and a portable curing oven allows fast installation
1Lineman scissors – heavy duty to cut through cables or other heavy materialsUse these for general cutting – not your Kevlar scissors, which are expensive and dull easily
Test equipment  
1Flashlight continuity tester (MM only) or visual fault locator (VFL – red laser – SM or MM) – bright, visible light source for checking continuity or tracing fibers, VFL can find faults alsoContinuity tester as a minimum, VFL recommended – the hogher power makes it more versatile
1Light source850/1300nm LED for MM, 1310 and/or 1550 for SM
1Power meterCalibrated at 850/1300/1550 nm
As neededPower meter adaptersOne adapter can fit 2.5mm ferrules (ST/SC/FC) on some meters or may require dedicated adapters
2 per test kitReference Test Cables  - tested and known to be low lossNeed 2 each (launch and receive) that match the fiber type (62.5/125, 50/125 or SM) and connector types. If meter has universal 2.5mm adapter, you may be able to test all 3 types  (ST/SC/FC) using one type with hybrid mating adapters, these wear out and need frequent replacement. Test and replace as needed.
2 per test kitConnector Mating Adapters – with metal or ceramic alignment sleeves (not plastic)ST/ST, SC/SC, etc. or hybrid ST/SC, etc. Note that just like reference cables, these wear out and need frequent replacement.
1Connector inspection microscope100-400X microscope with adapters for fiber optic connectors. Should have oblique lighting for best viewing of connector ferrule surface and e IR filter to protect eyes from fiber optic source light in fibers.
OptionalST bare fiber adapter – to test bare fibersThis is a connector with a clamp on the back that allows cleaving the fiber and using for tests.
OptionalOptical time domain reflectometer (OTDR)Used for OSP cables to verify splices and troubleshoot problems. Special OTDRs can also be used in premises if cables are sufficiently long.
2 per test kitReference test cables  - ~100 m for MM, ~1 km for SM - tested and known to be low lossNeed 2 each (launch and receive) that match the fiber type (62.5/125, 50/125 or SM) and connector types. Test and replace or re-terminate as needed
Cleaning/safety materials


1Safety glassesAlways wear safety glasses
ManyAlcohol-saturated pads – to clean fiber and connectors during splice, termination, test, CleanTex 806 or equivalent (may also use lab wipes and reagent grade ethanol)Must be pure alcohol since rubbing types have high water content that will cause problems with adhesives and fibers.
ManyLab wipes – e.g. KimwipesUse to clean up, dry off connectors after cleaning with alcohol pads
1 per jobTrash bin - small, disposable container with top to hold fiber scraps1 pint deli container with lid works well
1 per studentBlack work matHelps see the fiber scraps to clean up – black place mats or vinyl cut to size
1Dry connector cleanerThese have opening to push connector in, operate once to clean connector. Neater than wet cleaning, just as effective
Termination consumable kit  
OptionalConnector Curing Oven – to cure epoxy/polish connectorsEpoxy/polish connectors are still the cheapest and most reliable and a portable curing oven allows fast installation
SeveralHeat cure, two-Part Epoxy, 2.5 grams“BiPax” Package has epoxy and hardener in plastic package that is mixed in the package. Can be used with many connectors at one time
SeveralCheap scissors to cut corner off epoxy packageYou will get epoxy on these when you cut the epoxy package, so get cheap ones and discard after use
13 cc Application Syringe  w/flat end needle to apply epoxy. 
1 bottleAnaerobic Adhesive + Accelerator (optional) (Loctite 648 adhesive, 10ml bottle, Loctite 7649 accellerator works well)See recommended directions on FOA site (Anaerobic connector termination)
1 for each type of connectorPolishing puckUsually come in versions for 2.5mm ferrule or 1.25 mm ferrule. May be plastic or metal.
Sheets as needed12 µm aluminum oxide lapping film, 3-by-6-in. sheet with 3-mil backing Use for “air polishing” fiber – first polishing step. Purchase polishing film in packages typically of 100 sheets.
Sheets as needed3 µm aluminum oxide lapping film, 3-by-6-in. sheet with 3-mil backingPlace on pad on top of polishing plate for first flat polish with polishing puck
Sheets as needed1 µm aluminum oxide lapping film, 3-by-6-in. sheet with 3-mil backingPlace on pad on top of polishing plate for final polish with polishing puck
Splicing kit  
1Fusion splicerMany types and manufacturers are available
1Fiber cleaverMost fusion splicers come with a quality cleaver. The same cleaver should be used with mechanical splices
As neededFusion splice protectorsUse the type recommended by the fusion splicer manufacturer
As neededMechanical splicesMany types exist, mostly used for restoration
1Mechanical splice tool(s)Some mechanical splices require special tools to crimp the splice or fibers
As neededWipes and reagent-grade (99%+ pure) alcohol (ethanol)Use for cleaning fibers before splicing
Reference materials  
As neededInstruction sheets and manuals, websites, videos, etc. for all equipment and processesDon’t forget all the FOA Guide, YouTube and Fiber U free information available on your smartphone or tablet:

Information provided by the FOA is intended to be a guide to assist you in making decisions as to what kinds of equipment you need. It’s not complete. You need to use it only as guidelines to develop your own equipment and materials lists. FOA assumes no liability for this list’s use or your work.

About the Author

Jim Hayes

Fiber Optics Columnist and Contributing Editor
Jim Hayes is a VDV writer and trainer and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at .

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