From a digital multimeter to tongue and groove pliers, these are the essential tools of the trade.
Every experienced electrician has a set of tools that he or she considers essential. Of course, depending on the work, the tools may vary. Electricians also need personal protective equipment, and energized work requires properly rated insulated tools. That said, these are the literal tools of the trade.
1. Screwdrivers and nut drivers
Screwdrivers and nut drivers should always be within easy reach. Electricians need an assortment of screwdrivers that can handle any kind of fastener head, including slotted, Phillips and Torx for sure. But you’ll need to be prepared for less common heads, such as square heads, as well.
Perhaps the single most important tool is a simple pair of pliers. Of course, no single pair of pliers is going to cover all situations, so you’ll need to invest in a variety of sizes. Make sure to include needle-nose pliers, handy for holding small fasteners and retrieving dropped items in small spaces. And since you lean into pliers a lot, look for models with cushioned handles — they’re worth it.
3. Side-cutting pliers
Side-cutting pliers are used for cutting wires to a specific length as well as for crimping connectors, ripping out staples, and performing other miscellaneous tasks.
4. Tongue and groove pliers
These pliers, also called channel lock pliers after the brand Channellock, are essential for working with pipes and conduits. And one isn’t enough. You’ll need two for working with pipes and tightening couplings when working solo.
5. Pipe reamer
Electricians depend on pipe reamers to smooth out the edges of cut conduit. This prevents wires from getting snagged on them.
6. Wire strippers
There was a time when every electrician carried a standard-issue manual wire stripper with a slew of slots for various wire gauges. These days, an automatic wire stripper, which automatically adapts to whatever gauge you feed into it, is a great candidate for the tool kit.
7. Fish tape
Routing wiring through walls and electrical conduit is a common task, and fish tape (sometimes called draw tape) makes that happen. Fish tape is generally made of a narrow band of spring steel or, when non-conductive draw tapes are needed, fiberglass. Either way, fish tape is ideal for connecting with and pulling through the guide string, which in turn can be used to route the wiring.
8. Fish poles
Fish poles are typically light and strong fiberglass rods that are used to pull wires through suspended ceilings and cable trays and under raised floors.
9. Measuring tape
No electrician would be caught on the job without measuring tools. First and foremost, that means having a 6-foot wooden rule for work in energized environments. You should also have a traditional metal band measuring tape, but these days, laser measuring tools are increasingly popular because they’re fast, accurate, have memory to store multiple measurements and can do measurement calculations as well.
A well labeled, clearly marked jobsite is a safe and efficient jobsite. That’s why a labeler is an electrician’s best friend. Labeling machines that can print simple graphics and bar codes in addition to plain text are essential for many tasks. A labeler may be used to label wires, cables, panels, switches and more.
No matter what kind of electrical work an electrician does, there will eventually be a need for a power drill. In fact, some electricians need multiple drills. A low voltage cordless model is handy for fastening work, and you’ll need a hammer drill for working through concrete.
One thing you can say about saws is that electricians need a variety. Thanks to their versatility, many electricians invest in a handheld reciprocating saw, though spiral saws (which rely on a bit rather than a blade) are common as well. And don’t forget to include a sheetrock knife with a stiff blade that won’t bend while cutting.
13. Digital multimeter
Yes, you can pick up a small and cheap voltage meter, handy for measuring the difference in potential between two nodes in a circuit. But beyond telling you if power is present, a multimeter tells you a slew of things about a circuit, including ohms and amperes, resistance, and (depending on the model) possibly even factors like inductance, capacitance and temperature. Remember that this equipment needs to be properly rated for the voltage and environment it’s being used in.
14. Non-contact voltage tester
Yes, you probably have a multimeter in your bag. But a non-contact voltage tester is a quick and easy way to find out if a line is live. Pen shaped and pen sized, it senses electrical fields without making contact.
Dave Johnson is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who writes about all aspects of business and technology since before there was an internet.