How Much Should an Apprentice Electrician pay for Tools?
You don’t need to run out and buy all the tools today. But, as you grow in experience and skill, and your work becomes more diverse, your tool needs will grow as well.
The required tools of an apprentice electrician are available in a wide range of prices. You can spend anywhere from $10 to $60 on a decent pair of pliers, for example.
Some of my personal tools - dirt and all!
I have two competing thoughts on this. On the one hand, I believe you get what you pay for. Buy a cheesy tool- get cheesy results.
On the other side is this. Tools sometimes come to a violent end.
One chop through an energized wire - and it WILL happen -pretty much destroys a nice pair of lineman’s pliers, regardless of what you spent on it.
There is also what I call, “Hey, where’s my needle nose?” factor. In other words, electricians lose tools.
I believe, for every tool in my electrician’s tool pouch today, there are 2-3 more scattered in attics and crawl spaces around southeastern Michigan. Just a fact of life - hand tools tend to get lost.
So with all that said, I usually buy tools in the mid-price range.
Your tools need a home. Tool Belts and Totes are a great way to stay organized and have what you need at hand.
The Electrical Guy
I believe, for every tool in my electrician’s tool pouch today, there are 2-3 more scattered in attics and crawl spaces around southeastern Michigan.
Tools for an Electrician Apprentice
What exactly does an electrician apprentice need when it comes to tools? Well, grab a cup of coffee (or beer) and sit down. This is going to get interesting.
Hand tools, power tools, and meters are all on the list of tools that an electrician apprentice needs to have. I've conveniently divvied them all up by category.
And, I give you my personal tips as well.
The tools of an electrician apprentice do not fall into a neat, hard and fast list. There may be variance from one employer to the next as to what you need. Still, this list is a good start for an apprentice.
No matter where you are in your journey as an electrician, keep reading for helpful tips about electricians and their tools.
I call these channel lock pliers, but they are also known as pump pliers. These adjustable pliers really come in handy! There seems to be no end to the nuts, bolts, clips, or springs that you'll need to grab hold of or loosen.
Here’s a quick example: A GFI style outlet or switch can be hard to install properly. Rectangles tend to tip and twist in the box - not to mention they will appear awful once the wall plate is on. I just open my pump pliers to the right setting so that I can grab the outlet by it's sides. Now I have all the leverage I need to straighten it out.
Some guys call it side cutters - others Linesman's Pliers. There are great for cutting through romex wire and single conductor cable up to about 4 gauge. The flat jaws are handy for grabbing things that need to be grabbed. One example is steel fish tape - but for the most part this is a cutting tool.
While the Lineman's are good for cutting and pulling - diagonals are for cutting only. Because the style is more of a snip than a side-cutter, you won't get the same leverage and therefore it is not as effective with larger sized wires. So, why bother? The advantage here is the ability to reach into tight places like outlet boxes or crowded panels. This tool is a bit more surgical and I use it every bit as much as the Lineman's Pliers.
The long-nose pliers is mostly for grabbing and pinching. But, they have a cutting blade too, which is nice when you need to snip something and don't feel like grabbing another tool. This is #3 in what I would call the "Pliers Tri-Fecta". Gotta have 'em all!
As you get proficient, it becomes like an extension of your hand. It can do things your fat, little fingers can't manage - which is saying something when you consider the engineering marvel that is our hands.
This thing is great for twisting wire round terminals, pinching, grabbing, yanking - you name it. It's also handy for retrieving little things from the bottom of your tool pouch where your hand won't fit!
Here's a stripper your wife will approve of. It quickly and neatly cleans the insulation from copper wire - stranded or solid. Most of the time you will be dealing with wire in the range of 14 gauge up to 10 gauge. They do make strippers for larger sizes - 8 gauge and 6 gauge, but it really isn't necessary to have. You can deal with bigger cable using a razor knife.
This item has a permanent place in my tool pouch. Crimping is a daily reality, be it brass grounding sleeves or insulated terminal connectors. I recommend this open jaw style over the crimpers which are in the handle. This has better leverage and it uses a more natural and ergonomic action.
This tool has but one purpose: exposing the wires in armored cable. Usually called MC (Metallic Cable) or BX cable. It is multi-wire cable surrounded by an aluminum or steel flexible shield. You will mostly see it used in commercial and industrial locations.
The Roto-Split makes a quick and clean job of stripping that outer sheath off when terminating the cable. Some electricians prefer using their diagonal cutter for this task - and that works fine in a pinch. But, if I need to strip a lot of cable, I find that this tool is much faster and makes a cleaner cut.
You can't see electricity so how do you know what it's doing? The volt meter is to an electrician what a stethoscope is to a doctor. When you learn to use it, you can measure voltage, current, frequency, and continuity. It's indispensable for testing, diagnostics and troubleshooting.
The absolute best training in the electrical contracting field is troubleshooting. Nothing will teach you how things work like figuring out why they are not working.
You'll find this digital meter to be indispensable for testing, proving and troubleshooting. The T5 electrical tester lets you check voltage, continuity and current with one compact tool. All you have to do is select volts, ohms, or current and the tester does the rest. I love the clamp feature which makes it even faster to check current.
In the field, this is usually called a proximity tester or "chirp tester". Hold it next to an energized wire and it will glow red or emit an audible tone - or both. It's simply a quick check to see if a circuit or device is energized. This is not meant to replace a volt meter.
I use this when I am troubleshooting a circuit. Places a tone on the wire which allows you to detect it on the other end.
In the same vein as the "Chirp Tester" (aka Voltage Tester), this is specifically designed to check receptacle outlets. Plug it in and the lights (or lack thereof), will tell you if the plug is working.
You might be wondering, "Why don't I just plug in a lamp or vacuum?" You could do that. But, this tool will fit right in your pocket, whereas a floor lamp is a bit more cumbersome. Additionally, if there is a problem, this will indicate what the trouble is: loss of ground, loss of neutral, etc.
A nice feature is the little black button, which is a GFCI tester. When plugged in, pressing that button will trip a properly functioning GFCI device.
Also known as a de-burring tool, this little guy is part of the process in cutting conduit. This process protects the wires from being damaged as they are pulled through the conduit. Insert into the freshly cut end and twist to clean off the sharp edges left behind. Works on 1/2" - 1" thin wall conduit.
Ok. Screwdrivers. Do you really need me to tell you what these are for? One nice feature here is that the insulated shaft keeps you from making sparks and arcs when working in an energized panel. You will want a straight blade and phillips. Don't go crazy and buy every size out there, but I do recommend the following:
Straight blade and Phillips - Medium-size for general use
Straight blade, small - useful for cover plates and small set screws
Straight blade, large - good for .... well .... large stuff.
Why do I need 7 different screw drivers? Well, for one thing you’ll loose three of them the first month. Seriously, more of my hand tools are now in peoples attics than my truck. Fact is, you will be glad to have a variety of sizes as you get more and more involved.
I also like the insulated grip which allows me to work on energized equipment when necessary. The indicator on the tip allows me to see the type while in my tool pouch.
The square drive bit is for a very specific screw head - clearly. The screw head can be found on many electrical panels and devices. I keep it in reach right next to my phillips screwdriver. You'll find you can apply much more torque on a square drive without it slipping.
Stubby screwdrivers seem a bit silly - until you need one! Every now and then you will need to remove some irritating screw located in a tight spot; like pulling out the insides of a recessed light fixture (don’t worry, you will!). The six in one feature combines 2 sizes of both phillips and standard blade, as well as 1/4” and 5/16” nut driver.
For making quick, small cuts in drywall. I often use this when installing electrical boxes in a finished wall or recessed lights in ceilings. Also indispensable for finding boxes and/or wires buried by dry-wallers who just don't care.
A sharp utility knife is an absolute must. It is very difficult to get through a day without a good razor. I prefer this snap off style because they get dull pretty fast. It is much quicker to break off the used tip and keep going than to take the knife apart and install a new blade each time. You'll use this for everything from stripping large gauge wire to cutting drywall and opening boxes.
The razor knife also efficiently separates the flesh on your right forearm when you are being careless. Two trips to the walk-in Clinic, 6 stitches later - I'm fine. Thanks for asking!
No, this isn’t for leveling a torpedo. Making sure things look good is very important. Keep those conduits straight, and light fixture plumb with this hand held level which fits nicely in your tool pouch.
The magnetic side makes this a hands-free tool that won't get dropped - at least not as often.
I use my hammer every day. There are plenty of things to secure and plenty more to tear apart. You don't need an expensive framing hammer. I'm happy with a simple 16-inch one, especially when I have to staple Romex in tight places. It also makes a nice measuring stick when putting up outlet boxes around a house. Just stand up the hammer on the floor and set the box on the top of it. Hold and nail in place.
You're going to measure a lot of stuff! Locating light fixtures, mounting boxes, running conduit, are just a few things that require a decent tape measure.
I'm not real fussy about this tool with a few exceptions. First, get one with a heavy duty blade. You want to be able to extend it out as far as possible without it collapsing. That really helps when you are trying to find the center of a ceiling. Another feature I like is a magnetic tip. This allows me to butt the end up to something metallic and have it hang on.
Having a cordless drill on your truck was a luxury at one time. Today I would call it an absolute must.
You will use this thing every day - sometimes all day. Most common use is installing or removing devices such as outlets and switches. Hint: make sure you have an extra battery so one can be charging while the other is in use.
The first time I used one of these bad boys I thought - where have you been all my life? If you, like me, have ever schlepped through an attic or crawl space with tools, material and a mini flashlight in your mouth - you know how awesome it is to have a hands free source of light. Get one of these!
Here's a little gadget I have come to really appreciate. The inside of this tray is magnetic. I can fill it up with screws and have no fear of them spilling out. The base is also magnetic so I can park the whole thing in a convenient spot like on a metal stud, I-beam or panel cover.
Protect your eyes! Stuff is always flying in the air: wood chips, dirt, concrete dust, shards of metal - you name it - it has hit me in the face.
Recently I shorted out a screwdriver in a panel. The resultant shards of molten steel (that would be the tip of my screwdriver) wound up on my forehead faster that I could react. That definitely left a mark. Imagine what that would have done to my eyes. Get yourself a pair of goggles and use them!
Unless your'e wearing a suit of armor, you are not impervious to cuts. A good pair of cut resistant gloves will protect you from most of those nasty nicks and slashes you get from razor knifes, jagged sheet metal edges, broken lamps, etc.
The worst cut I got was from a cut-off piece of corner bead (for drywall), which was hanging over my head vertically, just out of my line of sight. I reached up to grab something and drove the flippin' thing right into the back of my hand. A pair of gloves would have prevented that.
Many times you'll need to shut off a particular circuit breaker. Rarely are panels labeled correctly, if at all. So what now? You could start shutting them off one by one, but if you're working in a place of business they may not appreciate having their server shut down. Believe me, they don't!
Another trick is to short out the circuit - but that really isn't a great idea.
Enter the Circuit breaker finder. This thing puts a signal on the circuit in question and allows you to identify it in the panel with a receiver. Clever little gadget!
Unless you have forearms like Popeye, you will want a set of these, which are particularly good for SE cable #8 - #4. You can hack away on it with your linesmen pliers, or use this cutter and with one quick snip its done.
I won't deny that it's also found it's use in small branch pruning when bushes have gotten in my way. But I can’t actually recommend doing that.
This tool has but one purpose; bending conduit! If you work in the trade for any length of time, you will need to install electrical conduit. EMT (electrical metallic tubing) is the most common grade of pipe used. It comes in 10 foot lengths, and unless you are extremely lucky, you'll eventually need to bend it. This tool is designed for the 1/2" trade size, which is the most common. The next larger size is 3/4", and it requires a larger bender.
Bending conduit takes a lot of practice and is kind of an art form. I would say it is right up there with golf in the frustration quotient department. The best way to learn is to get a bunch of pipe from Home Depot (and a bunch of patience), and just practice. There are books available that will walk you through the most common bends you will need to master.
Every now and then you need to cut apart a conduit with wires within, or in some tight space where you can't get a saw in there. You just set the cutting wheel where you want the cut, and tighten as you spin it around the pipe. Eventually it scores all the way around and you can snap it apart.
This tool has but one purpose. Make that two! It enables you to easily open and close links on light fixture chains.
Fixtures usually come with way more chain than you will ever need. This chain pliers allows you to open and close links without damaging the finish. It's much quicker than using whatever pliers happens to be in your tool pouch.
This is another one of those tools you will use every now and then. Sometimes you need to get a screw into something that is too tiny for you're fingers and the miserable flat head screw won't stay on a screw driver long enough to get it started. A holding screwdriver physically grabs the screw allowing you to get those first few threads engaged.
This 7 piece set will set you up with the most common sizes. The magnetic tip prevents the nuts from hitting the floor and running away. Don’t want to spring for the whole set? At the very least you’ll want to carry a 1/4” and a 5/16”. These are the most used nut sizes you will encounter out there.
This seems like something a mechanic would carry, but some days that’s what you are. Taking things apart to get to what you need to fix happens quite a bit.
In commercial and industrial settings, you're often working in large buildings among many people. When a piece of equipment is de-energized for service (say for example, a 480 volt compressor), there exists the ugly potential of that machine being inadvertently turned back on by mistake before you're finished. It happens and it's a dangerous situation. Lockout is a protocol that alerts others to the fact the equipment is being serviced, and keeps it from being energized until you remove your lock and tag.
Also called Slug Busters, this is an invaluable tool for cutting trade-sized holes in panels or other equipment. They come with cutting dies for all the common hole sizes you will need. Typically 1/2" through 2". This creates a perfect, clean hole ready for conduit. When your'e ready to upgrade - consider the hydraulic model.
Sometimes you just need to make a hole. From getting cables through walls to punching into homes from the outside, or installing recessed lights in existing ceilings - hole saws are a must for every electrician's truck.
The field name is "Thru Tap". Threaded holes often become stripped out from repeated wear and tear. This tool provides a quick way to re-tap those problems. It ranges from a 6/32 - 1/4-20 thread. This is one of those $20 items that will kick around in your toolbox for months making you wonder why you ever bought it. Until that one time it's needed and you're glad it's there.
The non-conductive material of this fish tape allows me to push into an energized panel without worry - which is why I prefer fiberglass or nylon over steel. Also, there's no issues with rust or corrosion that steel tapes have. One hundred feet is almost always plenty, but you can get a 200-footer if you like.
Sounds like the worst lunch ever, right? These guys are indispensable when getting cables down walls or through attics. They thread together to make one long rod, or can be used individually. The little hook attachment will save your bacon more than once - until you lose it. (Don't lose it!)
And that glow-in-the dark thing? Very handy in attics.
Let's face it - we're electricians, not auto mechanics. We won't be using wrenches and sockets constantly, so there's no need to spend top dollar on this one. That said, you definitely need a set of these on your truck. I like that there is a 1/4" adapter on this one for the smaller sizes. Word to the wise: take care of the case. Plastic hinges will only take so much wear and tear until they break.
From ground rod lugs to hard to reach bolts - a ratcheting box end wrench can really make the difference. I keep a set of these with me at all times. This is great in tight spaces where a conventional socket won't fit. As an added bonus: no more sockets falling off and out of reach. (just don't drop the wrench!)
Let's face it - we're electricians, not auto mechanics. We won't be using wrenches and sockets constantly, so there's no need to spend top dollar here. That said, you definitely need a set of these on your truck. I like that there is a 1/4" adapter on this one for the smaller sizes. Word to the wise: take care of the case. Plastic hinges will only take so much wear and tear until they break.
Some guys say they use this for cutting conduit. I prefer a band saw or chop saw for all that. But a decent reciprocating saw is a must on every electrician's truck. Cutting studs, removing old steel boxes from walls, large drywall cuts, uni-strut and even the occasional recessed box in a log house wall keeps me using mine constantly.
This tool is a significant investment, but an invaluable piece of equipment to own. Especially if you'll be doing any new construction electrical work. This is the guy to have when you need to drill out more than a few studs.
The primary task of my impact drill is driving the cutting die on my hole punch tool (the non-hydraulic one). Because this tool has but one or two uses for me, it doesn't come out of it's drawer every day. But when needed, it's second to none and gets the job done in a fraction of the time. Without it, I would have to use a ratchet and socket. It's also very useful for driving lag bolts into wood.
Another very useful cutting tool is this step drill. No one actually calls it that - we call it the "Christmas tree" bit. This is ideal for cutting specific sized holes into metal to run wire and cable, or to terminate conduits. The most common uses are adding a 1/2" or 3/4" hole to a panel or cutting an opening in the top plate of a metal studded wall. Each level or "step" on the bit is a larger size than the last. Simply continue drilling through until the desired opening size is reached.