Like any other repair or improvement project around the house, electrical work requires tools. For most residential electrical projects, you'll use mostly basic hand tools you already own, such as a hammer, tape measure, level, and screwdrivers. There are also some specialty electrical tools that come in handy from time to time, and these are readily available at most home centers, hardware stores, electrical supply stores, and online retailers.
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A hammer is used to secure electrical boxes equipped with nail-on brackets to wall studs and other framing members in a home. You’ll also need one to drive wire staples when anchoring new electrical cable to framing members.
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A small level, such as a torpedo level, fits easily in a tool pouch and is used to make sure your work is level and plumb. A great installation starts with level boxes and straight switch and outlet covers.
A torpedo level should be part of every homeowner's standard toolkit; it will have plenty of uses beyond electrical work.
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Electrical repair and improvement work involves a lot of dark places, from attics and basements, to wall and ceiling cavities, to the insides of electrical boxes. A tactical flashlight is needed as much for safety as it is for convenience. A couple of hand flashlights and a headlamp are good additions to an DIY electrician's toolbox.Continue to 5 of 17 below.
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A utility knife, or box cutter, is handy for cutting sheathing from non-metallic (Romex) cable, to cut off electrical tape, and to open cardboard boxes.
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Electricians keep screwdrivers with them at all times, for removing and installing cover plates, outlets, switches, and many other devices. It's best to have a few different lengths of Phillips screwdrivers, as well as #1, #2, and #3 tip sizes.
Screwdrivers with insulating rubber jackets covering the handles are designed for better safety when doing electrical work.
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As with Phillips screwdrivers, you will likely need more than one size of straight-blade screwdrivers. If you have to choose just one, pick a medium blade; it will suit most projects.
Straight-blade screwdrivers are also available with insulated handles for better safety when doing electrical work.
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Allen wrenches are used to tighten hex-head screws, which are sometimes found on ceiling fans, light fixtures, and appliances. It's a good idea to own both a metric and a standard set of Allen wrenches.Continue to 9 of 17 below.
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Tongue-and-groove pliers are known by many names, including channel-lock, groove joint, tongue-and-groove, and straight-jaw pliers. This tool is most often used for plumbing work, but a pair of tongue-and-groove pliers also has many uses for electrical projects. It will see frequent use for removing knockouts from metal electrical boxes, tightening cable clamps, and adjusting expansion-type ceiling fan boxes.
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Perhaps the most important specialty electrical tool you can own is a voltage tester. A voltage tester is used for a quick safety check to make sure there's no voltage in an electrical wire or device before you start working on it. Non-contact voltage testers, powered by batteries, are the simplest and safest types of testers because they can detect electricity just by being near an outlet slot or wire.
This is a tool every DIYer needs in the toolbox. It will be used for virtually every home electrical repair project.
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Another essential electrical specialty tool for homeowners is a good pair of wire strippers. Wire strippers are used to cut and strip insulation from electrical wires. A wire stripper tool has a row of gauged holes for stripping wires of different sizes, and it usually includes cutting jaws for trimming the wire ends. Some types are combination tools that can also be used to crimp wires and to strip the vinyl jacket off NM cable.
Along with a voltage tester, this is perhaps the most important specialty electrical tool you can own. It makes sense to invest in a good set of wire strippers, as it will serve many functions.
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Another essential specialty electrical tool is a pair of needle-nose pliers (also called long-nose pliers). It will be used for bending and twisting wires whenever you are making screw-terminal connections. The long, narrow tip makes this a great tool for detailed work. Most needle-nose pliers also include cutting jaws for trimming wires.Continue to 13 of 17 below.
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A pair of linesman pliers is an electrician's do-it-all tool. It has a squared-off end that is great for twisting wires together, a center cutting blade for trimming wire, and a grip area between the handles for pulling wire.
Casual DIYers may be able to get by without this tool, but anyone who does regular electrical work will want to own a pair of linesman pliers.
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Diagonal cutting pliers, sometimes called side snips or dikes, are used to cut wires. They are specially designed with a cutting edge that goes down to the tip of the jaws, allowing you to get into tight areas to trim wires. Some types can also have a built-in voltage detector to sense live wires. You can also find combination tools that include wire-stripping slots built into the handles.
This is a second-tier specialty tool: Casual DIYers may not need it, but those who do regular electrical work will find it very useful.
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A fish tape is used to pull stranded or solid wire conductors through metal or PVC conduit. Cable lube is available to assist you in pulling the wires through the conduit. A fish tape can also be helpful when you are pulling NM cable through wall cavities.
This is a tool used when making wiring improvements, such as adding or extending circuits. Casual DIYers who are simply making electrical repairs or replacements rarely need a fish tape, but it is a good tool for more advanced DIYers to own.
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A voltmeter is used to read voltage levels and verify that circuits are “live” or off. Unlike a circuit tester, this tool gives you reading on how much voltage is being carried. More sophisticated forms of the tool are known as multimeters, and they can not only read voltage levels but also amperage, resistance, and DC voltage and amperage. They do, however, require practice to learn how to use them properly.
This specialty tool is used mostly by advanced DIYers and professional electricians. Casual DIYers may not need to own this tool, but those who do a lot of electrical work on appliances and electronics may find it essential.Continue to 17 of 17 below.
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Wire crimpers are used to crimp lugs or connection terminals onto wires. This tool is not often used for routine circuit repairs, but it has many uses when working with appliances or electronics. Many types can also be used to strip wire insulation.
This specialty tool is not needed by every DIYer, since some of the key functions can be performed by other tools you already have. But if you routinely work on appliances, it can be a useful tool to own.