Electrical tools are designed to help protect you against electric shock while allowing you to work faster and make better, more secure connections. If you have several electrical projects around your home, a good set of basic electrical tools is a sound, cost-effective investment that can make your electrical projects easier and safer.
This buying guide will introduce you to common electrical tools and help you identify the tools you need for a few everyday residential electrical projects.
Gear up for common home electrical projects with the basics: insulated screwdrivers, wire testers and pliers.
- Rubber-gripped or insulated screwdrivers belong in every electrician’s tool belt. Never use screwdrivers with plastic handles only, as they can crack, creating a shock hazard. Use screwdrivers with electrical insulations rated for protection against shock from energized sources with voltage up to 1,000 volts.
- Wire testers tell you if the power is off to a particular wire and are essential safety tools for any electrical project. There are a variety of testers for use for different applications.
- Voltage testers sense power through wire and cable insulation to show if wires are live before you work with them.
- Continuity testers check the reliability of fuses, switches and sockets when the power is off.
- Digital multitesters perform the same tests as voltage detectors and continuity testers, in a single unit.
- GFCI receptacle analyzers, which can also be used to test standard electrical receptacles, tell you when the power is off at an outlet.
- Circuit finders will tell you which circuit a particular outlet or switch is on.
- Wire cutters are sized to cut different gauges of cable and wire.
- Wire strippers are similar to wire cutters with the addition of a center notch, which makes it easier to cut and strip various gauges of wire insulation without cutting the wire itself.
- Wire stripper/cutters take some practice to use effectively, but once mastered, make stripping insulation from wire and cutting wire faster.
- Pliers hold wires or other objects secure while you work or maneuver them.
- Side-cutting pliers have a cutting blade on one side and come in long, short-nosed and curved types. Look for a spring in the handle that makes your job easier by automatically opening the jaws after each use.
- Linesman pliers are heavy-duty side-cutting pliers that have gripping jaws as well as cutting edges. With linesman pliers, you can cut wires and easily twist them together. Buy a high-quality pair — it should feel somewhat heavy in your hand and operate smoothly.
- Needle nose pliers have long and pointed jaws useful for working in hard-to-reach places and twisting tight loops of wire that attach to screw terminals. Be sure to buy a pair strong enough for handling household wiring, as some models are made for finer electronics wires.
- Fish tape makes pulling wires through conduit or running cable behind walls easier.
While working on your electrical project, you may find you need other tools such as a flashlight, drywall saw or utility knife.
- Wire-bending screwdriver– A metal stud on wire-bending screwdrivers provides a convenient and easy way to bend, loop and connect solid wire when installing outlets and switches.
- Cordless screwdriver – A battery-operated screwdriver allows you to make electrical connections faster.
- Automatic strippers – Easily strip coaxial wire in one step with automatic strippers.
- Adjustable wrench – A wrench with an adjustable head designed to accommodate various sizes of nuts and bolts.
- Drywall saw – A coarse-bladed handsaw used to cut openings for fixtures in drywall. Most have a chisel point, so you won’t need to drill a pilot hole.
- Stud finder/laser level – Locates framing members and studs in finished walls.
- Rotary screwdriver – Ideal for installing long threaded screws in light fixtures and switch plates.
- Stapler – A stapling tool designed to accommodate various lengths of staples is useful for attaching electrical cable to studs or joists.
- Cable ripper – Removes sheathing from nonmetallic cable.
- Utility knife – A utility knife with interchangeable razor blades makes it easier to strip the sheath off of cable.
- Flashlight – When you work on an electrical project, you may have to turn the power off completely or work behind a wall in the dark.
- Electrical tape – Use black tape to insulate and secure wiring connections. Use different colored tape to mark and identify wires. Professional electrical tape is thicker, longer lasting and adheres better than less-expensive tape.
- Electrician’s tool pouch – A tool pouch will keep your tools within easy reach.
Have items such as safety glasses and electrician’s gloves on hand and be sure to use them when working with electricity.
- Electrician’s gloves are insulated and can protect you from 1,000 to 20,000 volts, depending on the gloves you buy.
- Safety glasses should always be worn when doing electrical work to keep a spark or bit of clipped wire from burning or scratching your eye.
- Extension cords with GFCI protection can be a lifesaver when no GFCI protected outlet is available. A 12-gauge heavy-duty extension cord is the minimum you should use to ensure your high-voltage tools get the power they need, which also helps to prolong their life and avoid fire hazards.
- Ladders should be non-conductive wood or fiberglass, which will help protect you from electric shock. Never use a ladder made of aluminum, which is an electric conductor, when working with electricity.
- Rubber-soled shoes will also help protect you from shock.