Cool Tools: Gadgets

Who doesn’t like gadgets? The idea for this report began with the premise that electricians often find simple tools or devices—gadgets—not directly related to tasks at hand that can be helpful in getting work done quickly and efficiently. 

Paraphrasing several dictionary definitions of “gadget” yields this broad description: A gadget is usually a small mechanical or electronic device or contrivance that is useful for a particular job.

“A gadget can be as handy as a shirt pocket,” said Frank Bisbee, editor of the online electronic magazine, Heard on the Street ( “Gadgets in the workplace sometimes evolve as the special tools we use for new or specialized needs. Many of our mainstream tools of the trade began as somebody’s idea, transformed into a simple gadget, and improved and refined into a viable and marketable tool.”

Early mobile phones could be described as gadgets, novelties even, and were far from being a dependable tool for business. We have seen how quickly they have changed. Few electricians today are without a multipurpose wireless telephone, and owners, managers, supervisors and foremen use smartphones to make phonecalls and to wirelessly transmit project information and plans, photos and videos, and emails. Most smartphones also have GPS capability.

Some electrical contractors even use their smartphone as a primary device for running their entire business.

In selecting items that could be used for electrical and low-­voltage work, it became clear most candidates were far beyond the gadget definition. The resulting report, therefore, covers useful, sometimes unusual products, many not fitting conventional tool categories. An exception is a screwdriver incorporating a gyroscope. Others include accessories or basic support products tool—docks for recharging multiple lithium-ion batteries, for example. A light-emitting diode (LED) headlamp could be considered a gadget.

Ergonomic tool carrying system

More than a tool belt, Duckbill ( tool carrying systems are designed to carry hand tools, instruments, and devices comfortably and safely while minimizing back, neck, shoulder, hip and knee pain. A Duckbill system incorporates a belt—with or without suspenders—and patented docking technology with dozens of modules and holsters to establish a stable, convenient and comfortable way to carry a heavy load around all day. 

Heated wearable gear

For the cold-weather season, Milwaukee Tool ( offers heated jackets in several styles, heated hoodies in several color choices, hand warmers, and a women’s heated jacket. The heating element can be set to high, medium or low with the touch of a button on the lapel. Powered by Red lithium batteries, M12-heated gear provides up to six hours of active heat from a compact power source.


Headlamps provide hands-free spot lighting. Popular for hunting, fishing and hiking, headlamps are available in both consumer and professional versions. Professional models are more rugged. Coast Products ( recently introduced the 309-lumen HL27 LED headlamp. It features adjustable elastic straps, an expandable Z cord in the headband, and a hinged beam adjustment to position light. The light also can be worn on a hardhat. The battery pack is built into the light.

Power cord reel with a “brain”

The sleek, ball-shaped RoboReel ( is billed as the world’s first extension cord reel with a “brain.” With the push of a button on RoboReel or on the receptacle ball on the end of the cord, RoboReel automatically retracts 50 feet of heavy-duty 12-gauge power cord in less than 10 seconds at a controlled speed. The cord reel’s “brain” is a microprocessor in the reel’s high-impact plastic shell. It enables users to program a “docking point,” a slow-down point during retraction, preventing the dangerous whipping action found in spring-loaded reels. The microprocessor also senses if the cord is severed accidentally and shuts off the unit power in less than a second. Redundant thermostats sense if the unit is overheating and will turn off the power until the reel cools down. The reel stops retracting if the cord is stepped on or obstructed or while the power tool is in use. 

Wireless time clock

Exaktime ( time clocks can be used anywhere, eliminating the need for handwritten, paper time cards. Employee time tracking and payroll is automated, ensuring accurate time records and efficient payroll procedures. For example, the JobClock Hornet is a wireless time clock that delivers work-site updates hourly. Clocking in and out takes seconds. Housed in a rugged ABS plastic composite case, the Hornet operates in temperatures from –10°F to 170°F. A car adapter can charge the device’s lithium-ion battery, making it unnecessary to bring the device back to the office to recharge.

Motion-activated screwdriver

Black & Decker ( promotes its new cordless 4V Max Gyro screwdriver as the world’s first motion-activated screwdriver. An internal gyroscope senses wrist motions, which are measured by a microprocessor that activates changes in the tool’s speed and direction. Tilt to the right, and the driver rotates clockwise to tighten. Tilt left, and the direction is reversed. An integrated LED illuminates the work area. 

One-step stud finder

The MultiScanner i520 OneStep from Zircon ( quickly locates the edges and center of wood and metal studs and joists behind walls, floors and ceilings. It also locates metal and live alternating current (AC) electrical wiring. A four-mode switch makes it easy to change functions, and its bright screen, pointing system and audio tone indicate target location. The deep-scan mode doubles scanning depth to 1½ inches.

Charging docks

The rapid growth in lithium-ion powered hand tool use calls for a supply of freshly charged batteries. Multibattery charging docks keep batteries charging throughout a workday. Makita’s ( 18-volt (V) four-port, lithium-­ion charger has two controllers to speed up charging time. As batteries charge, the device communicates with the computer chip inside each battery to achieve optimum, faster charging. 

The Milwaukee Tool M18 six-pack sequential charger sequentially charges up to six of the brand’s M18 lithium-ion batteries at once. The charger has a compact design, integrated hang holes for vertical mounting, and a pass-through plug to conserve outlet space. 

Both brands cite charging times of 30 minutes for compact batteries and 60 minutes for extended-capacity batteries.

Cordless shop vacs

Keeping job sites clean is made easier by the advent of lithium-ion powered wet/dry shop vacs that provide corded power without the cord. Compact, easy-to-carry models are available in various sizes and capacities and employ the same lithium-ion battery platforms used on hand tools of the same brand. Cordless shop vacs are available from well-known manufacturers including DeWALT (, Milwaukee and Ridgid (

Knee pads

When work requires getting on the floor, knee pads make the process more comfortable. Big home improvement centers and hardware stores carry a variety of knee pads, ranging from about $5 for simple foam pads with elastic straps to rolling plastic cap pads with a three wheel roller base that allows the wearer to glide along the floor. Pads that don’t mar floors are available with caps of foam, rubber polyester and leather. Top-of-the line models usually are no more than $50. An option is a board or pad made of soft foam of various materials. The Kobalt ( kneeler board is made of lightweight polypropylene. Measuring just over 1 foot by 1½ feet, the board has handle grips that are attached to each end.

Video inspection camera

Miniature video cameras attached to a flexible camera allow tradesmen to look at difficult, sometimes impossible-to-access spaces on work sites. For example, the Extech ( BR200 video borescope/wireless inspection camera has a 17-millimeter waterproof camera mounted on a 39-inch flexible gooseneck. Two built-in lights illuminate dark spaces. A detachable, wireless 3½-inch color liquid crystal display can be viewed at distances to 32 feet. A memory card captures jpeg images or video for viewing on the monitor or downloading to a computer with a USB cable or microSD card. 

Cordless work site fan

Lithium-ion continues to power an ever-expanding list of tools and products. The Makita 18V LXT job site fan provides construction site performance by either lithium-ion battery power or with an AC adaptor. It has two speed settings. Using a fast-charging 18V LXT lithium-ion battery, the fan can operate continuously for three hours at the low setting.

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