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.
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#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.
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