Everything About Electrical Tools
One of us is a pretty accomplished electrician having done everything from installing an electrical outlet to changing the main electrical service to a home. On the other hand, the other of us is far handier with a paintbrush than a pair of wire cutters.
Case in point. Some years ago, the “electrically-challenged” one of us was asked by his wife to replace a light fixture mounted on the ceiling in a bedroom with a new decorative paddle fan-light. This, of course, necessitated removal of the existing light fixture to expose the electrical wires that would be connected to the new fixture.
Having been shocked once or twice in the past and to avoid such an occurrence, brother made sure that the light switch was off, thus assuming that there was no power at the light fixture. Then, while perched on a sturdy ladder and armed with all of the necessary tools (a screwdriver) – he proceeded to remove the existing light fixture. What he soon discovered would be remembered by him like the “shot heard round the world” – just because a light switch is turned off doesn’t mean that the wires that it is connected to are not “hot.”
As the voltage traveled through his body like a bolt of lightening, the screwdriver that brother was holding was ejected from his hand like a bullet being fired from a gun – landing on the other side of the room. Fortunately, the shock was minor by comparison and he was more shaken up by the experience than anything else.
What he didn’t realize is that the source of power for a light fixture can be located at the switch or at the fixture itself. Thus the moral of this story: always make certain that the power is really off before attempting to work on the electrical system in your home.
One of the easiest means of determining if an outlet or wires to a light fixture are “hot” is by using a voltage tester. This pencil-sized device consists of two wires with metal terminals at the ends along with an indicator light at the other end. When the terminals are inserted into an outlet or touched against the “hot” and “neutral” wires of a plug or switch, the light will illuminate when there is power.
Never attempt to perform any type of electrical work without first making certain that the power is off by flipping a breaker or removing a fuse at a subpanel or main service.
Armed with the proper tools and instructions, most do-it-yourselfers are well qualified to perform minor electrical tasks around the house such as replacing a light fixture, installing a dimmer switch or even adding an outlet.
Aside from having a few good tools (more on this later), there are a couple of other steps that should first be take before attempting a home electrical project. Start by investing in a good “how-to” book that will explain, in detail (with illustrations), how to perform a specific task. Read and understand the material prior to beginning your work.
Always check with your local building department to determine if there are any “special” local codes that must be followed and/or if a permit is required. The modest cost of a permit is well worth the investment for the security of knowing that your work meets local health and safety codes.
Once you know what your doing (or at least you think you do), and have the blessing of your local building official, now comes the fun – TOOLS. Aside from the fabulous sense of accomplishment that accompanies a job well done, there is nothing that is more satisfying to a do-it-yourselfer than buying tools – hand or power.
As with any job, having the right tools can make all of the difference in the ease, safety and professionalism of a project. Just ask the pros. Tools aren’t an expense, they’re an investment. We believe that when tool shopping, it’s always better to spend a bit more to get better quality tools. They will work better and last longer. We still use some of the hand tools that our dad acquired decades ago.
Some of the basic electrical tools needed include a couple of screwdrivers (Phillips and flat blade). Models with a rubber ergonomically designed grip are the best. There are three types of “pliar-type” tools needed for most electrical projects – a wire stripper, “lineman’s pliers” and a pair of needle-nose pliers.
The wire stripper is used to remove the insulative casing that surrounds the wire. Good strippers are adjustable to accommodate various sizes (gauges) of wire. Some wire strippers consist of a “combination tool.” Thus, the wire stripper can also be used as a crimper.
Needle nose pliers are a must for any home electrician. You will find them invaluable for creating a loop at the end of a wire that will then fit neatly around a screw around a terminal at a switch or outlet. They are also great for maneuvering wires within an electrical box. We often feel like surgeons when armed with a pair of needle nose pliers.
“Lineman’s pliers” are used for splicing and bending wires – especially heavy-gauge wire.
Be sure that all of your hand tools have an insulative coating at the grip for added safety and comfort.
When the occasion should arise where you will be pulling wires through walls or conduit, a “fish tape” is a must. This handy device consists of a continuous roll (typically 50 to 100’) of flat metal wire about the width of a screwdriver blade with a loop at the end. The wire is coiled into a neat case much like a retractable tape measure.
The wire is inserted into conduit, wires are attached to the loop at the end and then the wires are pulled through the conduit with the fish tape. Often, a special lubricant is used to prevent damage to the wire. You may also need Electric Benders For Rigid Conduit when installing a new wiring system.
Never attempt to take on an electrical project that you don’t feel completely confident in performing. In such a case the best tool that you can pick up is your telephone to enlist the services of a qualified electrician with an electrician certification.