Electrical testing equipment that ELECTRICIANS use.
Welcome friends! In this episode we talk about the many different types of electrical testing equipment that electricians use daily. This is a list of the multi-meters and electrical testers that I use, as an electrician, most often. We cover, plug testers, non contact voltage testers, toners, multi-meters, amp clamp and ammeters, continuity, amperage, voltage, capacitance, and resistance. If you're looking to buy a new tester or just don't know where to begin, this episode is a great place to start.
Below is a complete transcript of everything talked about in this video. Also further down are some links to these products if you're interested in buying anything you saw me talk about.
Complete Video Transcript
Hello friends, I’m Dustin from Electrician U, and today I want to talk about testers.
So there are a lot of different testers that electricians use for various different purposes. There are some testers that I’m not going to talk about, but for the majority of my work for every single day these are the testers that I’m going to go out to my truck and grab.
Starting out, this guy is pretty important. This is a plug tester specifically, so if you wire a house and you want to go and figure out if all of the plugs are working and are wired right – or if you have a dead circuit and you just need a place to start, this thing works great. It has 3 little lights on it, if any two of them light up a certain way – there’s a little code on the front that describes if your ground and your hot are wired backwards or your hot and neutral are reversed, or everything is just ok, you did it right. So this guy doing residential work, actually just doing all kinds of work – this guy is a really handy tool to have – go get one.
Next thing that I’m embarrassed to even be talking about is this guy. It is a non-contact voltage tester. I would tell you to break this, throw this mother fucker away and don’t ever use it – but there are some times where it is useful to have. The reason that I talk badly about it is a lot of apprentices grab these things and stick them in something and think “I know everything that’s going on with the circuit because this little light beeps” there are so many times where these things will lie to you, for instance if you stick it into a box and the thing starts beeping at you, you have no idea if the ground is what it’s testing that has voltage on it, or if the neutral is testing that it has voltage on it. Even in the pamphlet that these things come with, there’s a whole list of reasons why this may not work. One thing it says that if your feet are not solidly grounded, or there isn’t an effective ground fault path for you, that it’s not going to work. That’s not true at all, I’ve used it. So there’s a lot of misinformation just in the manuals alone on these things. I’ve seen more electricians get hurt and get lied to by this fucking thing right here. This does not tell you anything that’s going on with the circuit. What I use this for, and I use it very carefully and I always double check after I use it – which is bullshit that I have to fucking double check after I use a tester with another tester – anyways, say I’m up on a scissor lift somewhere and I have a junction box, and there are 3 hots in it. All 3 hots are off, and I have a helper that’s down in an electrical room. I’m on the phone with him and I’m trying to find this one circuit so I can stick this in a box, hit the button to power it on, and then I can tell my helper “start flipping breakers.” Let’s see if this thing comes on or not, after he sits and flips and flips and flips – all the sudden beep beep beep – “Hey I know I’ve got a circuit here.” So it helps identify basically an on or an off situation. But what you have to do after you use this is pull your big boy meter out and you actually have to check the power and see what’s going on, don’t ever trust this thing and think that the power is off and stick your hands in something. There’s a high likelihood that you could still get hurt. Plus batteries die on these things, or when batteries start getting week it may not test right or it may not sound at you. So just a horrible thing to be selling at home depot for $14 for the everyday person that’s going to go in and start messing with electricity because they think this is an electrical tester. Its not.
A little bit side-tracked but this thing is pretty cool. This is actually a 12v DC tester. A lot of times when you’re doing control work or doing something on a circuit board or automotive – these are great for automotive. You can clamp this to ground and stick the tip (piercing) the sheathing of a wire and it will actually light up when you have 12v. So pretty nifty tool, I don’t use it all that often but I thought I’d at least bring it on to show all of y’all.
This thing is pretty cool, if you notice most of these are Fluke – I just love fluke. They make high quality testers and I’ve never had any issues with them. This is really for low voltage – for guys that do networking, tv, phone, and internet – they use these – what it is essentially you clamp these alligator clips on each side of the circuit (one on the black wire, one on the white wire) and you’d follow this down the wall. You’d hear some kind of tone and it will actually tone out for you. You can trace a wire behind or inside of a wall and figure out where the other side of it is. Sometimes we can’t figure out where the hell a wire goes. These things are really handy, you have to make sure the power is off in the circuit. Don’t hook this up to 120v or you’ll fry it. So always go turn the breaker off, hook this thing up, make sure it’s got a good connection and follow it through the wall and it will sit and squeal at you the entire way until you get to the next plug or switch or wherever it goes. There is some troubleshooting with these things – if you hook up to the incorrect neutral, when you think you’re on the right neutral. Or if you hook the alligator clip up to a group of neutrals that you didn’t take apart, it’s going to read really funky because it’s sending a signal through but it’s sending the signal to multiple different places in the house because you left all those neutrals together. So this takes some practice in becoming efficient and being able to use it.
The next thing is a friendly desktop multi-meter. This is a multi-meter that’s in my truck but I only use it if both of these get attacked by unicorns and exploded or some fucking…I don’t know…something happens. It’s just a backup. What’s cool about it is you’ve got voltage ac settings, volt dc settings, resistance testing, continuity that will actually test to see if a circuit is making a continuous loop. You’ve got amperage. It’s pretty much anything and everything that you want. What I don’t like about it is that you have to make sure that you’re on the right setting with these leads. So it’s not fool proof – you kind of have to know how to use it. It’s cool because it has a hold function. So if you get a reading you can hold it and it will save that reading. But this is really meant for desktop use. You can set it down somewhere, and you’ve got a circuit board or something that you’re working on where you can be hands on with it. You can’t hold this and like try to do chopsticks with it, it’s just impossible to do. This is kind of a last resort for me, or if I’m doing something here at the shop and I don’t need to have this at my hand.
Now this guy is what I use every single day. I usually keep this in my back pocket and that’s why I like it. If I’m doing service work/ troubleshooting something I can pull it right out and use it. The other thing I like about it is that it’s simple. It has volts, ac and dc, and it automatically senses if its ac or dc. You don’t have to have 73 different settings on this thing. You’ve got volts, amps, ohms. For every electrician, that’s pretty much you’re basic 3. Ohms also does continuity. Which is cool, continuity is something I use all the damn time. It will actually beep at you. I like that it has a slot back here so I can put one of my leads in there and the other one in here so I can actually have this thing in my hand and read what I’m testing, while I’m testing. That’s super handy. I like that it has an ammeter so I can take a wire and put it over the wire and it will actually tell me the amperage that’s going through the wire. So this things just a handy mother fucker all the way around. I really like it. One thing I don’t like about it is that the leads are removable. So if you ever don’t get the lead all the way back on and you don’t realize that, and you’re going to test and you think “it’s dead” you could get shocked. So make sure that those leads are in good shape too. A good way to test that and make sure your leads are functional is to flip this thing to continuity. If you hear a tone you’re good. That means that you have a complete loop all the way through from tip to tip. But if you pull that lead out accidentally and you don’t realize what’s going on, you’re not going to get a tone. Once you connect it back you’ll get a tone. Anyways these thing are great, they’re like $100 or $110 – something like that. Really worth while. (Actually they vary depending upon where you buy them, and could go up to around $200)
And the last one that I’m going to go over is my other absolute favorite to use. This is actually an amp clamp meter. What’s cool about it is if you’re out in the field - it doesn’t have the slot in the back for your lead, so you can’t really leave this in your hand and test, but it allows you to clamp on to something. – and you can test this way and still read everything. What’s also cool about this is, electricians often run into wires that are huge. Like 500 kcmil copper wires, and this will not fit around those wires. So an amp clamp is necessary when you have big wires to clamp on to. I like the fact that this will actually test capacitance so it will sense microfarads. It still does amps, volts, continuity, ohms, it’s got a cool little light feature so if you’re working in the dark it lights up. And it also has a hold function so you can hold whatever your readings are. Very very good quality, but what makes me go to this guy all of the time is just again, I can pull it out of my back pocket, slide this in the slot – it just works better in my hands when I’m testing stuff. I don’t have to set anything down and I really like that. Those are my main testers, if you guys use things that I don’t use that you think I should check out. I’d love to know.
There are things like meggers I didn’t’ talk about, or line locators. I’ll talk about that stuff in a later episode. Basically a megger senses mega-ohms which is a massive amount of resistance. So this will basically sense 1000 ohms of resistance but anything higher than that you’d have to get a different meter and that’s called a megger. Meggers are really good if you run wires underground and you need to figure out if a wire is nicked. If you’re leaking voltage. That’s a really specific application, that’s not something that I keep in my truck. It’s something that is very seldom used
The other thing is a line locator. Line locators are cool but man they’re expensive. I don’t own a line locator, I rent line locators. But it’s something I’m definitely going to buy because they’re worth their weight in gold. Even if you paid $5,000 for a line locator, it would make you hundreds of thousands of dollars in return. They’re so worthwhile. A line locator essentially you take a screw driver – there’s a screwdriver that comes with it – but you stick it into the ground and clamp onto it on one side. Then you’ve got headphones that plug into this wand and you just walk around the ground and it tells you exactly where the wire is – it doesn’t matter if its 4ft buried underground. You can follow with incredible accuracy and find wires that are buried underground.
Anyways that’s all the testers that I can think about or that I care bout. Let me know any comments that you’ve got anything that you think I’ve missed out on, or any testers that you use – especially if you have other brands that you like better than Fluke, or Klein, or anything. Let me know!