It’s an electricians job to be able to identify what’s going on in an electrical circuit, and sometimes this can be a difficult task. Having a firm knowledge of how to use various pieces of electrical test equipment can be the difference in solving a problem and making a guess. In this episode, I cover all of the pieces of test equipment I believe an electrician should know how to use.
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#1 Basic Multimeter/Tester
This is a pretty obvious piece of equipment for an electrician to have, but you’d be surprised at how many electricians and apprentices out there don’t know how to use one. Well, let’s dive in!
For starters this is not “technically” a multi-meter. Fluke calls it a tester, but most of us in the field still call it a multi-meter, so for the sake of this article I’m going to continue calling it a multi-meter. It has multiple functions, which is why we call it a “multi-meter.” It can read voltage (difference of potential), amperage (current flowing in a conductor), resistance (opposition to current flow in a conductor), and continuity (whether or not you have a complete loop.
Most of the time, this is all an electrician will need to know. This Fluke T5-600 fits in your back pocket, has detachable leads that can be snapped into the tool, or used hands-free, and a backlit LED display. This model is one of the most used testers on the market, and because of its rigidity and reliability will continue to be so for quite some time.
#2 Clamp-on Ammeter
The clamp-on ammeter is similar to a standard tester or multimeter with the addition of a clamp/jaw that reads amperage on large diameter conductors. What the clamp provides is the ability to measure larger size wires for use on feeders and service-entrance conductors. In addition to measuring amperage, this tester also allows you to read voltage, resistance, continuity, and capacitance. This specific model (Fluke CL323) does not allow you to snap the leads to the tool so it can be a bit cumbersome to use when testing voltage – unless you have something nearby that you can clamp on to, allowing the tester to hang in front of you while you use the leads with both hands.
#3 Pocket Voltage Tester
The pocket tester is for quick and convenient AC/DC voltage testing. It’s not a high-dollar, 100-feature tester but it does allow you to test if power is present in a circuit. It fits easily in your pocket, so I personally keep one of these on me everywhere I go. You never know when you’ll need to use it, but when you don’t have all of the rest of your tools on you – carrying this around will give you a little bit of an edge, and possibly save you a trip to the truck.
This tester can test ranges from 0 – 240v AC and 0 – 17v DC making it extremely versatile as most electricians work in both of these ranges, most often. Do not try using this meter on 480-volt systems as it is only rated for up to 240v max.
#4 Tick Tracer
Taking a walk down the average Facebook Group or Electrical Forum, you’ll come to know that the use of a tick-tracer is a rather contentious issue. And for good reason. A lot of people have gotten hurt thinking that the audible beep this tester gives off, should be trusted for accuracy. These tools are not very accurate and have a definite purpose, but a very limited one.
First things first – DO NOT USE THIS AS A REPLACEMENT FOR A MULTIMETER. Always double check with a multimeter before touching a wire. What the tick tracer is used for is testing for the presence of power. If you’re unsure whether or not there is power on a conductor or not, you can use this tick-tracer to tell you that. It doesn’t tell you anything beyond that. Some of these are auto-ranging so they’ll tell you if you have low voltage or line voltage present – but again….ALWAYS DOUBLE CHECK WITH A MULTIMETER BEFORE STICKING YOUR HANDS ON A WIRE! his tool is battery powered so make sure you always have an extra set just in case yours are low. If you are going to use this tool, know that it uses capacitive coupling so it’s not sensing true “power” meaning it’s possible for you to get readings that make no sense. Not the most reliable tool in your belt however it is good for quick diagnosis when checked afterward with an actual multi-meter.
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