Many electricians working today have been on the job for several years, and while their hand tools may not look much different than those they used as apprentices, important differences abound.
Tool makers say today’s hand tools are better designed, made of improved materials and more durable than those veteran electricians used as apprentices. Many tools are ergonomic, which means they are designed to comfortably grasp in work situations while the hand is in a neutral position and when force is applied. The tool also must be easy, efficient and safe to use. For example, an ergonomic handle is shaped to fit into the hand and padded to be soft but firm enough to transfer applied force.
Promotions may not be specific about what makes a tool ergonomic, so when evaluating a product, be sure to ask about the features and benefits.
Ryan DeArment, vice president of sales and marketing at Channellock, Meadville, Pa., said the most significant difference in tools an electrician uses today is better quality control. Tool quality is more consistent due to improved techniques and manufacturing processes.
“Dies today are cut with computer numerical control milling equipment,” he said. “This provides more consistent forgings to downstream, enabling us to machine joints and cutting edges with less hand-honing and fewer adjustments. Manufacturers also have identified more multipurpose tools that electricians and other tradespeople use every day. Designers looked at electricians’ tool pouches and noticed that several tools could be consolidated to make room for more tools and to lighten their load.”
DeArment said a forged wire stripper eliminates the need to carry a standard wire stripper, long nose pliers and cable cutter.
“Tool improvements come from many sources,” DeArment said. “The way tradespeople use our tools may lead us to make advancements in product features. We also love seeing our customers find alternative uses for our tools, which often inspires us to make improvements and even design new products altogether.”
Ryan Berg, director of product management at Greenlee, Rockford, Ill., believes the significant differences electricians will find in hand tools today are the enhanced ergonomics and ease of use.
“Thirty years ago, the focus was primarily on safety only, and there wasn’t the understanding of the role ergonomics could play in tool design,” he said. “Today, while safety is still the main priority, employee health and minimizing career-ending, soft-tissue, repetitive-motion injuries is an emerging design consideration.”
Electricians will see this difference in the design of ratchet cutters.
“Historically, these cutters used a flip-top configuration, a design that was physically taxing to use,” Berg said. “Now, smaller, lighter, open-jaw ratchet cutters are available that enable single-hand operation in confined work spaces. These are significant improvements that benefit both safety, efficiency and overall user well-being.”
Berg said the Greenlee line of ratchet-able and ACSR cutters provide up to a 35% reduction in peak energy when cutting copper in comparison to a manual cutter. Each is designed to give maximum leverage with minimum effort.
Blade design eliminates strokes per cut for faster work, while putting less strain on the body. Their precision-ratcheting mechanism also holds cable tight and allows rapid advance cuts, while the material-specific blade design allows clean cuts and robust durability. These ratchet cutters cut copper up to 600 MCM, aluminum up to 750 MCM and ACSR up to 336 MCM.
“Along with enhanced ergonomics and ease of use, tool durability has improved, increasing tool uptime. Because productivity always is critical on every job, today’s tools are designed to withstand harsher job conditions, and many repairs can be made in the field to allow electricians to get back to work faster and [for] overall work [to] be more efficient,” Berg said.
To know the needs of tool users, Berg said Greenlee personnel spend time in the field working alongside electricians to get hands-on experience and gain invaluable information for creating the next generation of electrical hand tools.
Ed Scirbona, senior director of engineering at Jonard Tools, Elmsford, N.Y., said improvements of hand tool designs have made them more efficient, safer and ergonomic.
Over the last 40 years, Jonard’s diagonal cutters have had modifications and improvements so they cut with less force and have ergonomically designed handles to reduce stress on the user’s hand.
“Our line of midspan slit-and-ring tools are great examples of these features. The tools in this collection (currently nine), have a unique, simple design that not only makes it easier to get into outer cabling jackets and buffer tubes, but also makes it safer for technicians to use,” he said. “Rather than using a knife to open outer jackets, which can easily lead to serious injuries, these small and lightweight tools can perform either radial/ring cuts or longitudinal cuts. When a longitudinal cut is made, there actually are two cuts made in one slitting motion to allow peeling open of the jacket.”
Scirbona said ideas and suggestions for tool refinements and improvements often come from Jonard customers.
“They are the ones using these tools on a daily basis, and they let us know what they like about a tool or suggest something that could be modified,” he said. “We often get new product ideas from customers working in the field who may have tools that don’t work as efficiently as they could and have suggestions that will make the tool work better, be safer, make a task easier or have other ideas that could eliminate a problem.”
Internal testing also may reveal areas where refinements may be needed.
“Earlier this year, we launched the Jonard Tools Inventors Lab. Through this initiative, we encourage technicians, customers or any creative individuals to share their concepts and partner with us to develop new tools or product ideas,” Scirbona said.
Todd Warda, electrical technical training manager at Ideal Industries, Sycamore, Ill., believes the most significant changes for those entering the trades today include a wider selection of tools, including hybrid tools; tools that are lighter-weight; those made of better, stronger materials; and tools with better, well-thought-out designs.
“And today, electricians have access to more specialty tools,” he said, adding that “Tools have better warranties, and there are more choices at varying price points. Hand tools today also have better grips and handles [and] more safety features.”
Warda said Ideal has developed multiple specialty tools for specific applications with many choices of tool grips and handles for varied customer preferences.
“Our newest line of hand tools has a connection for safety tethers to be secured on all our hand tools as required by OSHA for drop-prevention standards when working in high locations,” Warda said.
“We actively engage students, apprentices and active and retired electrical professionals in our tool design process,” Warda said, adding that, “We field-test our tools with these people before we release them to the marketplace.”
Adam Moscherosch, group product manager at Milwaukee Tool, Brookfield, Wis., said electricians today are being challenged to do more on the job and, to help them succeed, they are looking for tools that allow them to be more efficient and complete most, if not all, the applications without needing to swap different hand tools.
“Multifunctional tools, such as combination pliers or multipurpose wire strippers, allow users to do more with fewer tools.” Moscherosch said. “And more durable tools allow users to stay on the site working, rather than having to track down a replacement for a damaged or broken tool.”
Milwaukee’s 6-in-1 and 7-in-1 combination pliers provide maximum versatility. Each features a wire cutter, wire stripper, loop maker, reamer, bolt cutter and pliers that allow an electrician to replace several tools on their tool belt. The 7-in-1 features an added crimper and high leverage handles for even easier cuts.
“Developing new tools and innovations to products starts with spending time with electricians to learn about their challenges and needs,” he said. “Once we understand those needs, we work with our engineering team to develop new and innovative solutions. Throughout the design phase, we continue to engage with users to refine the product and make sure we are meeting user needs. Once we have that confirmation, we move into production to bring that solution to market.”
Brendan Haas, product manager at Panduit, Tinley Park, Ill., said that over the past three decades, manual tools have been upgraded ergonomically, engineered with proper balance and weight in mind and improved on the common rubberized grips.
“However, the most important advancement of hand tools has been the control-cycle mechanism,” Haas said. “Controlled-cycle crimping tools ensure a proper crimp so long as the cycle fully completes. This means anyone, of any strength or prowess, can make a proper crimp.
“Our control-cycle crimping tools also feature connector locators for proper alignment of the crimp and long handles for use with two hands to lighten the crimping load,” he said. “We’ve focused on other, more automated tool platforms over recent years, because we believe these long-standing hand tool designs are still the best in the industry.”
Haas said Panduit continually gathers feedback from trusted customer partners that usually focus on safety, productivity and performance.
“Before implementing a new solution, we always vet the concept with these partners to make sure the added value is captured in a practical way and setting. We also make sure to go through the proper testing to list the connector-to-tool product to the appropriate and expected industry standards,” he said.