Indispensable Extension Cord Tips
You can't get much done on a jobsite without extension cords. These field-tested tips for storing and using those cords safely can save you time and money.
Hang ‘em High
Whenever I’m up in the air on scaffolding, a roof, or even a ladder on a job that requires extension cords or air hoses, I make a loop by tying a simple overhand knot. I use that loop to support the heavy part of the cord that dangles down to the ground. I’ll hang it over a nail, on a scaffolding peg, or anything else that I can hook onto. That way I don’t have to deal with hauling around several pounds worth of cord or hose. And if I drop my circular saw or nailer, it won’t crash to the ground.
Cord in a Bucket
If I need electricity, and the nearest outlet is only visible with binoculars, I reach for my extension cord bucket. It’s simply a 5-gallon bucket with a 2-in. hole that I cut in the side near the bottom. I keep a long, heavy-duty extension cord loosely coiled inside with the male end sticking out of the hole a couple of feet, just enough to reach an outlet. After plugging the male end of the cord into a GFCI-protected receptacle, I grab the female end and start walking. No kinks and no tangles. Works great! Unravel the entire cord if you’re running high amperage tools for a long period of time. If you don’t, the cord could heat up, which poses a potential fire hazard.
Keep Short Cords with Tools
I love short extension cords. I keep one in the boxes of many of my most used tools, like my circular saw and Sawzall. They don’t reach the nearest outlet every time but they do often enough to justify taking up extra space in the box. I make sure to buy 14-gauge, and prefer the ones that have a couple extra spots to plug in, like this 9-footer here.
Scrap-Wood Extension Cord Reel
For small to medium-size extension cords, I make reels out of scrap 1x boards or plywood. I cut two scoop cuts at each end and round the edges if I have a router handy. There are a few things I like about these reels. You only have to unwind what you need, so it’s easier to avoid a rat’s nest of unused cords. They store nicely in a bucket or on a shelf, and they’re easy for an unskilled helper to figure out. If you make one for a long cord, it’s smart to lengthen the reel rather than make enormous scoop cuts at the end. And like all reels, you want to be careful of heat build-up when running a high load continuously.
Speedy Cord Wrap
Every pro has a favorite way to wrap up cords, and here’s mine. Grab both ends and start wrapping the cord into loops about the size of a beach ball. When you get near the end, wrap the remaining loop around the middle of the coiled cord and pass it through to make a small loop. I like this method because it’s super fast, and you can easily hang several cords from one hook. Try it the next time you’re in a hurry to pack up and get home before your dinner gets cold.
Protect Your Cords and Yourself
Steel tracks are sharp, and accidently stepping on an extension cord that’s draped over a sharp track is a perfect way to cut your cord and electrify the entire wall. To avoid a shocking development, take a scrap chunk of track, flip it upside down, and lay it down on any area of the wall where extension cords pass through.
Run Cords Along the Building
My first boss was always shouting at us,“Kick the cords against the building.” It was a good habit to get into. Cords next to the building won’t get tripped on, stomped into the mud or trapped under the next delivery of trusses. They’ll last longer too, if they’re not always being walked on, rolled over with wheelbarrows, or crushed by 10-ton telehandlers.
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