The Top Ten Electrical Tools You Should Have in Your DIY Kit
(And The Five You Can Do Without)
By Victoria Figueiredo
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, there are certain electrical jobs you shouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. They’re dangerous if you’re not properly equipped and nobody wants you to pull a Fester Addams anyway! Though we love talking about the dangers of doing your own electrical work, we also like to discuss all the different things you can totally do yourself if you have the right tools. We love saving a few bucks as much as the next guy, so we thought we’d help you help yourself. Below is a list of the top ten tools our head electrician believes you should keep in your toolbox for the jobs you can handle yourself with a little know-how and prep work.
1. Wire Strippers
Wire strippers kind of look like pliers, but they have sharp edges that help you strip the plastic sleeve away from wires of all different sizes. Pretty self-explanatory, huh? These top our list because they’re so incredibly versatile and handy. Any electrical job that you take on yourself will likely require a pair, since the ends of copper wires need to be exposed in order to come into contact with terminals and power whatever it is you’re wiring – outlets, lights, etc. The wire stripper pictured above includes a wire cutter, which (again, self-explanatory) severs the wire completely, and can also be super handy. Plus, they come in a variety of colors. Perhaps a nice periwinkle will suit your taste better than the lemon yellow pictured above?
2. Screwdrivers (Insulated)
This is a pretty basic item on the list, but it’s totally necessary. Screwdrivers come in handy way beyond electrical work, but it’s good to have a set of insulated ones if you find yourself doing electrical work around your house often. The rubber and plastic coatings on insulated screwdrivers keep you from being shocked or electrocuted if you mess up and stick the metal tip in an outlet or something. Good to have around as a preventative measure!
3. Electrical Tape
There’s no way that you don’t know what electrical tape is. Every dad who has ever existed has like thirty half-used rolls of it cluttering their toolbox, and for good reason. Electrical tape is a great way to repair minor cord or wire damage without going through a whole to-do. You just stretch the tape as you wrap it around the damaged section of the cable and you’re good to go! The one thing we will mention is that you should never use electrical tape on a badly damaged wire that has the insulation peeled back so the actual wire is exposed and you should NOT use them as a replacement for wire nuts (see #4). Pretty serious fire hazard, especially if the wire is around carpeting, insulation, fabric anything, etc. The heat produced by bare wires can degrade the tape and leave a live wire flailing around in your ceiling, waiting for a dry piece of something to give it a dirty look. Next thing you know, your roof is going up in flames. Not a good look.
4. Wire Nuts
Any time you’re going to splice wires together, you gotta screw a wire nut onto the end of them. These plastic caps stop the wires, which you should have previously stripped with your handy dandy wire strippers (told you they’d come into play often), from just hanging out all exposed. Once you twist the wires together, just screw the cap on, secure with electrical tape if you’re feeling extra careful, and voila! Job done.
5. Face Plate Screws
This may be the oddball on our list. Face plate screws are exactly what they sound like – special convex screws that you use when installing face plates, the plastic covers for your outlets and light switches. These make it way easier to install your new face plates without scratching the surface or scraping the paint off your plate. They also provide a more polished finished look, so it’s something to think about!
6. Utility Knife
A good utility knife will change your life. These can be used for just about anything at all. The little one pictured above is very cute, but we recommend finding the size that fits best in your hand for comfortable and easy use. Keep one of these in your belt or box for cutting through dry wall, plastic, insulation, or whatever’s in your way.
7. Tape Measure
Do we even need to elaborate? Any DIY job requires measuring! Keep a heavy duty tape measure in your kit and you’ll be golden. We like the kind that lock, but to each their own.
Multi-meters are great for testing voltage, continuity, appliances, batteries, charges, all kinds of things! These are simple to use and can help you isolate electrical issues in your home so, even if you can’t fix it yourself, you at least have a good idea of what’s going for when you call us up! Always helpful.
9. Outlet Tester
Outlet testers are amazing little gifts to the world. All you have to do is plug one into your outlet and it can tell you exactly what is wrong (or right) with the little lights on the end of it. The code key is on the top of the device, so you’ll never find yourself staring at it from across the room trying to figure out what it’s telling you. Again, even if you can’t personally do anything about the issue it reveals, it at least tells you what to tell us!
10. Tool Belt or Box
This is where you get to have fun. Your tool box or belt can be whatever size, color, material, or level of messy you want. You get to decide what you keep in it and, if you’re anything like us, whether you’re going to organize by size, color, or function. This is on the list because it’s convenient and efficient to have all your tools in one spot, where you can reach them easily. Whether you decide your box should be the size of a lunchbox or your entire garage, we recommend organizing it in a way that makes sense to you!
Now that you know who your best DIY friends are, here are the five tools that are too specialized, gimmicky, or just plain unnecessary for you to bother buying:
1. Fish Tape
Fish tape is used for running wire through walls, ceilings, attics, or wherever. Why don’t you need this? Because you shouldn’t be running wire yourself! That’s a job for a licensed electrician to handle. Anyway, it’s a sweaty job. Let us save you the trip to your attic in the middle of the summer. Trust us, you don’t want to be up there.
2. Tick Tester
To put it succinctly, tick testers are garbage. They’re meant to detect voltage, but are so sensitive that they go off when the wind blows. Save yourself the 20 bucks.
3. Battery Tester
There are so many other ways to test your batteries that don’t involve spending $50 on specialized equipment. You don’t need ‘em.
4. Lineman’s Pliers
Do you work for a power company? Probably not. Do you deal with live wires often? You shouldn’t be if you’re reading an introductory blog about what belongs in your toolbox! Stay away from live wires, don’t touch power lines, and call us if you’re not sure whether you should be working on something yourself! You’re welcome.
5. Fault Indicator
Fault indicators look a lot like tick testers, except they cost quite a bit more. If you ever find yourself needing one, chances are you shouldn’t be doing the work yourself. They’re so expensive because they’re specialized for a certain task that pretty much only electricians deal with on a regular basis. Again, call us! We’ll point you in the right direction.
That’s it! A lot of these tools you can find on the cheap, which is great if you’re not planning on doing any work beyond switching out face plates or updating your sconces. Now that you have a better idea of the basic things you’ll need to conquer your fear of exposed wires, head to the hardware store and be the master of your fate. We know you can do it! Besides, if anything goes wrong you can just get in touch with us. We’re happy to help.