Can you imagine today’s world if we suddenly lost all our electricity? It would be chaos. The electrical grid affects every part of our society from transportation to basic life needs like eating, cleaning, and communicating. As an electrician, you play a vital role to ensure our homes and businesses have a reliable electrical supply. That includes following safe electrical work practices that meet United States Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) guidelines.
To install and maintain electrical systems, you need proper electrician tools and equipment. Your electrical toolkit covers an array of vital tasks. On your electrician tools list, you’ll find both the hand and power tools needed to safely work on residential, commercial, and industrial projects. It’s critically important that you use your electrician tools safely and your tools are suitable for the job site tasks.
What Tasks Most Electricians Perform
Without question, electricity powers the world. Whether you’re an apprentice electrician learning the trade, an experienced journeyman employed in everyday electrical work or a master electrician responsible for planning jobs, you contribute to America’s economy. Your daily tasks ensure order across society and comfort to individuals. To do those tasks, you need a fundamental understanding of all tools used by electricians and what’s necessary in your electrician tool kit.
Electrical tasks differ from electronic work. Electronics refers to devices and components such as televisions and appliances rather than to general electrical work like linking energy sources to a workable infrastructure. Your employment tasks will fall into one of three electrician groups or specialties:
- Residential Electrician Tasks: Residential work is a common starting point for most electricians’ careers. You might start out as an electrician’s helper by roughing-in electrical circuits and attaching boxes in homes under construction. If you’re an apprentice, you’ll learn electrical theories and practices that develop your skills and move you on the path towards a trade certification or designation as a journeyman electrician. Residential tasks include both rough-in and finishing work. Finishing involves hanging fixtures and energizing circuits by installing switches and plugs.
- Commercial Electrician Tasks: Some electricians start their careers learning tasks that apply to commercial job sites rather than residential. Commercial work involves larger components and bigger services that run shops, offices and service-related businesses. You’ll find voltage and amperage requirements much higher than houses need. With that come specialized tools for these tasks and expertise with more complex components. Commercial electricians often do service, maintenance, and renovation work. Although commercial electricians work with higher energy sources, their commitment to task safety and tool use is equally important as residential counterparts. Safety is also the same for industrial electricians.
- Industrial Electrician Tasks: As an industrial electrician, you’ll be employed doing tasks in huge operations. Examples are factories, refineries, and mills. You could also be involved in hospitals, airports, and shipyards. Industrial electricians perform tasks on a large scale. Often, industrial electricians work at great heights installing heavy components like transformers. However, many tasks performed in industrial jobs involve the same principles and tools you’ll need in smaller commercial and residential settings.
No matter if you specialize in industrial, commercial, or residential electrical work, your skills and tasks will follow many of the same patterns. It’s the scale at which you work that varies. Here are common tasks you’ll do in every electrician role:
- Rough-in wire through stud walls and conduit raceways
- Install circuit boxes and brackets
- Set breaker panels and connect circuit wires
- Energize circuits and test reliability
- Troubleshoot problem situations and find solutions
- Finish electrical work with fixtures, plates, and labels
To do these tasks safely and efficiently, you need to learn certain skills. That takes some time and it comes with an understudy or apprenticeship program. However, even if you’re a journey-certified tradesperson, you’ll be required to update your skills and show proof of competency. Some skills common to all three electrician categories include:
- Read blueprints and specification sheets
- Know relevant regulations like the National Electrical Code
- Develop excellent hand-eye coordination
- Work as a cooperative team member with peers and other trades
- Practice impeccable safety standards at all times
- Understand how to use and maintain your tools
An overview of tools needed for electrician field jobs finds a combination of manual and operated equipment. In the business, electricians call these groups hand and power tools. Every electrician needs an intimate familiarity with their tools — their livelihood depends on it. So does their personal safety and that of others working around them.
What to Carry in an Electrical Tool Kit
If you check an experienced electrician’s basic toolkit, you’ll find everything from adjustable pliers to a torpedo level. Each tool has its place and purpose. It also has its proper use and limitations. Safe electricians know their tools well. They know what to use each tool for and what not to use it for. But there’s more to an electrical toolkit than cutting and measuring devices.
To start with, electrical toolkits refer to everything an electrician needs to perform their work. Power and hand tools are just part of the overall equipment any electrician needs on every job type. That’s regardless of whether they’re involved in residential, commercial, or industrial sites.
Most electricians are mobile professionals. They move from place to place as the work presents itself and stay for as long as it takes. To be efficient and well-equipped, electricians need a central source to transport, store, and protect their expensive investment. Most electricians house their toolkit in an enclosed cube van or a secure semi-trailer. That way, everything they need will be close by and well-secured.
Commercial and industrial electricians’ trailers hold a wide array of equipment. That can be different ladder types and usually includes a hoisting apparatus. It also usually involves stationary devices like drill presses, cutting tables, and metalwork machines. Storage trailers also house supplies like wire rolls, panels, and boxes.
Residential electricians more likely use cube or panel vans. They also hold ladders, parts, and tools but tend to be on a lighter scale. But light-duty electrical jobs need materials too. A typical residential electrician’s toolkit includes everything they need to cut, pull, and splice wire as well as attach expensive light fixtures inside luxury homes.
If you asked a layperson, “What’s in an electrician’s toolkit?” they’d likely think of screwdrivers, crimpers, and probably a drill. However, as a professional electrician, you’d know there’s a bigger picture. You’ll recognize that your cell phone and laptop are indispensable tools today. So is your personal protection equipment (PPE).
If someone asked you, as an electrician, “What’s in your toolkit?”, you’d likely tell them that you have the best-quality tools you can afford. You make your livelihood using all of your tools, after all. That goes for your vehicle, power tools, hand tools, and PPE. You know you get what you pay for and that by purchasing top-quality tools you’ll have them as dependable partners for years to come.
Electricians divide their toolkit into distinct categories. Business tools like vehicles, cell phones, and computers are one category. Power tools, hand tools, and safety tools are other categories. For the most part, communication and financial tools like banks and accountants are personal choices. They vary depending on your location and preference. Safety, hand, and power tools are closer to the action. They’re the tool types you’ll use for most common electrical tasks.
Types of Tools for Most Common Electrical Tasks
You can’t do electrical work without hand tools. No matter how sophisticated our technological world gets, you’re never going to replace the human hand in residential, commercial, and industrial work when it comes to sheer dexterity. Just as there’s no likelihood in the near future that electricity will be delivered wirelessly, no one remotely suggests putting away your hand tools.
Hand tools take in every electrical installation device that you manually use. Generally, your hand tools cut, twist, shape, install, and remove the materials used in electrical work. Common hand tools are in your belt all day long, making many of them as comfortable as old friends. Here’s what you likely carry on a daily basis:
- Pliers: No electrician works without pliers — they are extensions of your hands. With experience, you become so adept at cutting, stripping, splicing, and twisting wire that you can nearly do it blindfolded — although this is not recommended. Each plier type has its designated purpose. The most common pliers in your belt are sidecutters, cablecutters, linemans, diagonals, channel-locks, slip joints, needlenose, and vice grips. You’ll also have strippers and splicers.
- Screwdrivers: Screws are as common as wires in electrical work. You use screws to attach wall boxes and surface fixtures. You’ll also screw wires to breakers and breaker boxes. In America, the most common electrical screws are Phillips and slot. There are specialty screw heads as well and you’ll want a driver assortment that covers the normal range. Screwdriver shaft lengths vary. So does the head or receptacle size. Electrical screwdrivers are specially insulated with rubber or plastic handles to ward off shocks.
- Sockets and Wrenches: Many electrical connections, including those in breakers and transformers, don’t use screws. Instead, they utilize more robust fasteners that require more torque to tighten or remove components. Sockets snapped onto ratchets are common. So are hex keys and nut drivers. Combination and crescent wrenches find their way into electricians’ tool belts as well.
- Measuring and Marking: There is no electrician in America who doesn’t have a tape measure clipped to their belt or stuffed in a pouch. However, there are hundreds of tape measure brands and designs. Retractable tapes are the most common but you’ll also find reel tapes for marking long distances and small rules for finer work. Marking is a major part of electrical work. Many electricians still use carpenters’ pencils but always carry an indelible ink marker.
- Cutting: Handsaws and hacksaws tend to stay close at hand. Although power tools now do most cutting work, some precise tasks like key-holing through drywall and tight-space cuts can’t be done other than by hand. Retractable knives, though dangerous when misused, have a prominent place in the belt.
Power tools for electrical work form the other daily tool lineup. This usually means drills, circular saws, reciprocating saws, and grinders. Many in the electrical business often call a particular tool by its brand name, like Sawsalls or Hole-Hawgs. While this might not be technically correct, everyone with a bit of experience knows what they mean.
Over the past two decades, cordless power tools have taken over much of the construction market. That involves industrial, commercial, and residential electricians. The new 18- and 24-volt lithium ion batteries have similar power and longevity as power tools plugged into the grid. Electricians now drill, cut, and grind all day long without cumbersome cords in the way. That goes a long way towards job safety.
Electrician Safety and Personal Protection Tools
The best skill you’ll ever develop in any trade is knowing how to work safely. For electricians, this involves every aspect of your profession — from knowing theory, applying materials, and using tools to always wearing the proper personal protection equipment. PPE are tools too, remember. Just as your pliers, screwdrivers, and cordless drills serve their purpose, so do your hardhat, gloves, and insulated boots. Here are the PPE tools you’ll need in your electrician kit:
- Hardhat: Head protection is mandatory on all industrial and commercial job sites. It’s getting that way on residential jobs, too. For electrical work, always wear an approved plastic hard hat, as metal head protection conducts electricity.
- Gloves: Gloves aren’t just mandatory on most sites — they’re your front-line defense against cuts, burns, and shocks. Electricians have a wide choice of glove materials and styles. Ever popular are leather lineman gloves. You also should have rubber gloves and cut-resistant hand protection.
- Eye Protection: It’s good practice to always use PPE eyewear at work. Make sure yours is impact-resistant and has safety side shields. You’ll also want approved face shields when cutting or grinding as well as wraparound goggles when doing any impact work like chiseling.
- Hearing PPE: Electrical work sites are noisy places — and it’s not just your activities that are loud. You’ll usually be in the midst of other workers, each one creating their own decibel levels. You have two ear protection designs: earplugs are suitable for short-duration and low noise levels and earmuffs are best for long-term work and louder sites.
- Footwear: Electrical safety footwear must be insulated from shock. Preferably, you’ll have a non-conductive, non-slip sole. You might also want ankle protection when going on and off ladders as well as metatarsal coverage on top of your foot.
- PPE Clothing: High-visibility clothing is also mandatory on all professional sites. You want to be seen in all conditions by all other workers. PPE clothing for electricians can also be waterproof, chemically-resistant, and insulated from severe climate conditions.
Ongoing StateCE Classes Make You a More Skilled Electrician
Your professional electrician career requires your initial investment in training and tools. You acquire the skills, experience, and equipment to do the job efficiently and safely. You need to do the same with your formal education.
Completing an apprenticeship and getting your journeyman certification takes effort and expense. However, it’s an immensely rewarding challenge. So is your enrollment in StateCE electrical courses. Whether you’re starting out or need recertification to maintain your electrical license, StateCE has the training you need at your stage of professional development.
StateCE is a proud member of the Vista College family. We’ve offered online courses to electricians for 17 years. Over 100,000 StateCE students have earned many course credits in trade-certified areas like electrical work and other professions. Our system works with you, so you get the greatest benefit from StateCE training. You work at your pace and in your environment through a module-based approach.