Since my first tool video I did a few years back, I’ve had so many people ask me for a more condensed list of tools that I would consider as the essentials for an apprentice to buy. This list is ONLY hand tools - not power tools like drills and saws. Here’s my top 13 list.
#1 - LINEMAN’S PLIERS
Every electrician, no-matter where they’re at in their career, must have a set of lineman’s pliers. There are several brands and styles out there to use, and I think I’ve got at least one of all of them. The one’s I have the easiest access to, that have been reliable my whole career, have been Klein’s. I’ve tried several different models of Klein lineman’s pliers, and there are definitely a few I like more than others. The high-leverage set are great for having torque and power behind the tool. The smaller multi-tool lineman’s offer a little more versatility since they have strippers, bolt cutters, and the front is shaped like a standard lineman’s pliers - but they don’t offer the same power with the shorter handles. Either way you go, you need a set of lineman’s pliers if you’re getting into the electrical trade.
#2 - NEEDLE-NOSE PLIERS
The needle-nose pliers is our next “must-have” as an electrician. We use these in so many ways, and for so many reasons so having one near-by is always a good idea. There are times we need to get in to really tight spaces to grab things, or we need to bend the ends of conductors to fit into a termination. Some needle-nose pliers come with a stripping hole, or some yet come with an entire set of different gauged-holes for stripping various sizes of wires. Either way you go, you need one of these beasts and will probably use it on a daily basis.
#3 - DIAGONAL-CUTTING PLIERS
Having a good set of diagonal-cutting pliers in your pouch is a no-brainer as an electrician. We cut things, a lot, and having a tool specifically being able to cut at the tip of the tool, or use it to pry is an extremely handy thing to be able to do. A lot of times we need to cut things in tight spaces, or we just need to grab something and pry on it it. These do both. Many electricians have holes in theirs from cutting live wires and not paying attention to the fact the tool is grounded out. This is an expensive mistake to make, but we’ve all done it. Just try not to, but definitely get a set of these.
#4 - WIRE-STRIPPERS
Another obvious tool electricians use all day, every day, is the wire-stripper. There are MANY different types, brands, and models of wire-stripping tools on the market and while some of them are trash, many of them are great - and cheap. I like having a couple of different pairs on me at all times, because some of them have features that the others don’t. For example one of my pairs has longer handles, bolt cutters, stripping holes, and several different crimping jaws. I don’t use this as a stripper, but all of the other functions on it I do use on a regular basis. I tend to keep a smaller, more compact version on me as well - this one just for stripping and cutting. Either way you go, get a set - and in the US I recommend getting one that will strip 10 guage down to 16 guage wire. If you could find one that would go from 6 to 24 guage that would be amazing, but I have yet to find one that does this. It would be impractical, I feel, but who knows…maybe some day somebody will make one.
#5 - CHANNEL-LOCKS
I have several sets of channel-locks, and several sizes as well. I’m a firm believer that you need to have 2 sets of whatever you buy. Most of the time we use these to clamp onto something, while twisting something else on or off - such as couplings, connectors, and lock-rings. I debated throwing a pipe wrench (or monkey wrench) into this list as well, for the same reason, but that’s really more of an “extra” tool to have if you want to have an ace up your sleeve. For most of our work, a couple sets of channel locks will do just fine. I suggest getting 2 pairs of 11-inch, and 2 pairs of 14-inch channels. This gets you through most of the conduit sizes we deal with from day to day.
#6 - SCREW-DRIVERS
There are SEVERAL types of screw-drivers that you’re going to need as an electrician, and rather than having 10 different handles sticking up out of your bag - I find it smart to try to combine as many of these as possible into one tool as possible. I do think having a large 11-inch 5/16" or 3/8” screw driver for prying is a great idea. Also having some square (robertson) drivers is smart, but really only a #2. You’ll rarely need a #1 but if you want to have it just in-case, its not a terrible idea. There are nut drivers that I did not include in this video, because one of these multi-tools will give you a 1/4” and 5/16” nut driver inside of it. But if there was a 14th tool to have in this list, it would definitely be a set of nut-drivers.
#7 - PRECISION SCREW-DRIVERS
Having a good little set of precision screw-drivers is a great idea as well. There are a lot of situations you’ll find yourself in, whether it’s installing light fixtures, terminating control wiring in control cabinets, or tightening up set-screws, that you’d use these little guys for. You don’t need anything too fancy, but I do like having a set that has a free-spinning back-end. It’s not necessary, just a preference. Either way you go, get a set of these.
#8 - KEYHOLE SAW
If you’re working in any residential or commercial environments you need a good keyhole saw. Many people call these different things, like sheetrock saws, sheetrock knives, and jab-saws. Whatever you call it, get one. You’ll more than likely be cutting sheetrock at some point to find where you’re boxes or wires were buried by a sheet-rocker. Or if you’re in a remodel environment you’ll find yourself needing one of these to cut holes for recessed cans, access wires, all kinds of things.
#9 - TAPE MEASURE
Every electrician uses a tape-measure. Most of us use them every day too. I recommend getting one that stretches 25-feet. Some people only get 16-foot tapes, some prefer 40-footers - it’s all a matter of preference really, but I find a 16 is always too short, and a 40 is over-kill and typically larger than I like to hold in my hand. I do like fatter tapes than skinny ones as they tend to stay rigid as you extend it out further. Some are magnetic-tipped, many are not - again just a preference. If you can’t decide, start with the Stanley Fat Max and try out others as you go.
#10 - FLASH LIGHT
Electricians often work in dark environments because a lot of the time we’re working in areas that don’t have power. So having a good collection of flashlights is a really good idea. Some of your power tools will have lights on them, which works alright for the most part - but a lot of the times they’re timed lights that turn off after a few seconds. You want to have a head-lamp that you can put on your hard-hat, or just wear on your head. This allows you to work with tools in your hands, and light shining everywhere you’re looking. Besides a headlamp its a good idea to have a few other types of flashlights on you. I like styles that have magnets on them, or clips that allow you to hang them from surfaces. This just gives you more options for being able to set it down and still work, or just keep them in your hand as you walk them around.
#11 - HAMMER
A hammer will probably be received as a weird one for a lot of people, but you’ll be surprised at the amount of times that you need to pry on things or strike things to get them in place. A lot more construction electricians use hammers than service electricians - however there are many times and places that you’ll need a good hammer. I’m pretty specific about the shape and size of hammer that I use, mainly because you can pry easier with a straight claw than a curved one, and you can hit harder with a heavier hammer than a light one. Beyond that I’m not very specific about brand.
#12 - ROTO-SPLITTER
Most commercial electricians use roto-splitters on a regular basis, however even residential electricians will come across working with MC from time to time. To strip MC I like to use a roto-splitter, then use my diagonal-cutting pliers to clean the sharp point before sticking it into a connector. You do not have to use one of these to strip MC, you can use anything you wish - but a lot of people prefer these over cutting the MC with anything else. If you’re interested in hearing more about this check out Episode 37 where I talk about working with MC.
#13 - KNIVES
I always keep a knife on me, it’s just a good tool to have around because you find yourself (or others around you do) needing to cut or pry on something. I like to keep a pocket knife on me, but also keep a razor-knife or utility knife in my tools for use on jobsites. Razor knives are great because they’re extremely sharp and precise. You’ll use this in a lot of places. But still having a nice Gerber or Buck Knife to carry around in your pocket is a great thing to have as well.
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**Disclaimer - These videos are for training purposes alone, all work done on electrical systems should be done by a licensed and insured electrical contractor. If you are not an electrician, do not attempt any of the work you are seeing in these videos.**