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Not all electrical faults at home require the service of an electrician. Some simple electrical issues such as replacing a bulb or a broken switch can easily be done. All you need is basic electrical knowledge and the right set of electrical hand tools.
In this post, I will share with you a list of basic electrical hand tools you may need and their uses. With these handy tools, you can fix simple electrical faults at home. However, if you do not trust yourself, do not put your life at risk. Seek help from a professional electrician. Otherwise, you might expose yourself to electrical hazards, which are dangerous and can cause serious injuries and/or even death.
Basic electrical hand tools list
1. Voltage tester
Top of my electrical hand tools list is a voltage tester. This is a simple tool for checking whether there is a current flowing through an electrical wire. You can use it to find out if there is current in an electrical circuit without making any contact. A non-contact voltage tester is also safe tool for double-checking that the circuit is dead after tripping the correct breaker. This is because working on a live circuit is dangerous!
Voltage testers come in different shapes and types and are hence classified into different categories. However, the most common classification is by mode of operation. A voltage tester operates either by contact or no-contact, hence the contact and non-contact voltage testers.
A contact voltage tester must touch the wire to detect voltage whereas a non-contact tester does not need to touch the wire. Therefore, a non-contact voltage tester is safer than a contact tester, especially for a non-electrician. For this reason, I recommend a contactless voltage tester. It is easy to use and all you need to do is to hold the voltage sensor probe within 1/2 inch of the wire. If the sensor beeps or lights up, then the circuit is still live and you need to trip the right breaker.
If you still detect voltage after tripping all the breakers, do not proceed. Seek professional assistance from a qualified electrician.
2. Electrical tape / Insulating tape
An electrical tape or insulating tape is for insulating or wrapping open wires. It helps isolate conductors to prevent short-circuiting. You can also use it to bind wire joints temporarily. I say temporarily because the electrical code in the U.S. does not accept insulating tape as the only insulation for wire joints. A color-coded wire nut is the least you need to insulate a joint.
Electrician tapes are color-coded. There is black or red for hot wire, green for earth or ground, and white or grey for neutral. There are also other colors for the electrical tapes used to label low and high voltage lines in three-phase power supplies. Unfortunately, those are beyond the scope of this article.
3. Basic screwdriver set
Screwdrivers come in many shapes, sizes, and types. But the most important ones are the standard type or slotted head and the Phillips head screwdrivers. You need these two types of screwdrivers to remove or install most of the screws in the electrical boxes and on the covers.
I would advise you to get at least a small and a larger size of each type. The small screwdrivers will help you access the screws in tight spaces with ease whereas the larger ones are good for screws in deep areas. For this reason, buying a screwdriver set is cheaper than buying individual screwdrivers. Moreover, some screw driver sets come with a storage box for easy carrying and handling.
Also, when choosing a screwdriver, select those that have a magnetic head to keep your screw from falling. Furthermore, a screwdriver with a magnetic head makes it easy to set a screw on its hole. Alternatively, you can choose the screwdriver set that comes with a magnetizer.
4. Side cutter pliers
A pair of side cutting pliers is useful for cutting wires. In fact, some people call it a wire cutter because it wedges through cable with its sharp cutters leaving behind a clean cut. Other people call it a diagonal cutter or dikes because it cuts diagonally.
Diagonal cutters are sharper than the cutter on a pair of linesman pliers. That is why I recommend them for cutting different gauges of wires. They are also easy to use and require less effort.
The handles of general-purpose side cutter pliers have rubber coating for providing a comfortable grip. The coating also protects against electric shock from small voltages. Conversely, side cutters designed for professional electricians have thick electrical insulation for preventing electric shock from high voltages.
Some side cutters are spring-loaded or have a lever to keep the jaws open until you press the handles together to pinch cut. This feature is very useful because you don’t need to open the jaws manually to grab a wire for cutting
Finally, a pair of side cutter is a versatile hand tool. Besides cutting wires, you can use it in woodworking to nip off small nails and in electronics to nip off tails after soldering.
5. Linesman pliers
Linesman pliers are the most general-purpose type of pliers. You can use it to grip, pull and twist wires and cut wires. However, unlike a pair of side cutting pliers that cuts diagonally, the linesman pliers cut straight. Because of these two functions, a linemans pliers is also known as combination pliers.
When buying combination pliers, make sure you select the one that has rubber handles or insulated handles. This will protect you from electrical shock. Also, consider the pliers with a spring-loaded action because it is easy to handle with one hand.
6. Wire stripper
An electrical wire stripper is a special tool for removing the insulation on a wire conductor or cable. It features a range of stripping holes to accommodate different sizes of wire gauges.
Wire strippers also come in different sizes. There are those that are designed to strip electronics cables and others for electrical cables. Typically, a wire stripper for electronic cables handles 20AWG to 30AWG wires or 0.8mm2 to 0.2mm2. They are also lightweight. On the other hand, wire stripper for electrical works feel sturdy and are designed to cut solid core wires. Typically, they strip electrical wires of less that 20AWG or larger than 0.8mm2. However, you should not worry about the stripping range of wire strippers. They are labeled so that you can choose appropriately.
There are other advanced wire strippers that strip a wider range of wire gauges. These strippers have a self-adjusting mechanism that adjusts the jaws to control the pressure applied on different wire gauges. This self-adjusting mechanism is the reason these strippers are called automatic wire strippers. Although they are easy to use and don’t damage the wire, automatic wire strippers are more expensive than manual cable strippers.
Most wire strippers also do more than strip wires. They combine the functions of linesman pliers, a side cutter, and a crimper. Nevertheless, the three most important functions you should look for when shopping for a wire stripper are stripping, cutting, and at least a spring-loaded action. Anything else is a bonus.
7. Socket tester
A socket tester is one of the most important electrical hand tools for the first-line diagnosis of power receptacle wiring. You can use it to check if a power outlet is wired correctly.
There are three main categories of socket tester; simple, advanced, and professional. For a non-electrician, a simple socket tester is good enough. You can use it to check if your wall outlets are wired correctly. Some of the faults a basic outlet tester can detect include reversed hot/neutral wires, missing ground, missing hot, and missing neutral. For more information about the different types of socket testers, check out this article: Best socket testers.
Last but not least, a simple socket tester is an important diagnostic tool to have in the house. You do not need to be skilled to use it. The more advanced ones are for electricians and electrical professionals.