Top 10 Tools for DIY Electrical Work
When you're ready to tackle an electrical project yourself, make sure you have these go-to tools on hand.
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Non-Contact Voltage Detector
Step one for an electrical job is to make sure the power is off by switching off the circuit at the main panel. But sometimes, circuits are mislabeled. And in some cases, there’s more than one circuit spliced in a junction box. That’s were this tool can be a lifesaver. Unlike other electrical testers, a non-contact voltage detector senses power without touching wires or terminals. When it’s near voltage, it lights up and/or sounds. That means you can check for power before you even begin work.
A simple circuit tester with two probes can help answer a variety of electrical questions: Which wire is hot? Is this outlet wired correctly? Is there a reliable ground? Most circuit testers are designed for just one range of voltage. This one tests them all.
Basic Wire Strippers
There are endless types of elaborate wire strippers available, but most DIYers (and many pros) prefer the simple versatility of this type. Aside from stripping wire, they also cut wire or cable, allow you to hook wires for screw terminals and act as pliers.
Better Wire Strippers
These wire strippers are just like the basic version, but include a nice feature: They also slice the outer jacket of 12-2 or 14-2 cable without damaging the wires inside. That’s a great time saver. The downside is that they strip only 12 or 14 gauge wire. But we think that’s a good tradeoff.
There are lots of tools designed to remove the plastic outer jacket on electrical cable (including the wire strippers that do the job). But this version is a good choice for DIYers. It’s simple, inexpensive and works well.
A fish tape is simply a roll of flexible metal ribbon. You can feed it through walls, ceilings or conduit, hook your cable onto the end of the fish tape, then pull the cable through. This 25-ft. version is just right for most DIY jobs.
Push-In Wire Connectors
Twist-on wire connectors (often referred to by the brand name “Wire-Nut”) are the standard method for joining wires. But for ease and speed, push-in connectors are much better. They’re also a great problem-solver when the wires in a junction box are too short to accommodate a twist-on connector. Some push-in connectors have just two wire ports. Others have six or more. Here’s a good assortment kit.
Running cable usually means drilling holes through studs and joists. For just a few holes, inexpensive spade bits are fine. For lots of holes, go with auger bits. The screw tip and flutes on an auger bit pull it through the wood, so you get much faster holes with far less effort.
Recessed Light Hole Saw
If you’re installing recessed light cans in an existing drywall ceiling, here’s a tool that will give you perfect holes almost instantly. It cuts holes up to 7 in. in diameter and even has a plastic shroud to catch the mess.
Whether you’re installing outlets, switches or fixtures, electrical work involves lots of screw driving. So a small cordless screwdriver is a huge time saver. Some cost less than $20. This model is a favorite among pros because you can select forward or reverse simply by turning the driver clockwise or counter-clockwise. A gyroscopic switch senses that movement and responds. No need to constantly fumble with a switch.