Tool Reviews

Reviews of Tools That I Use

Dear Mr. Electrician:  What tool reviews have you written for products that you have used?

Answer:  Tool reviews of my own tools are down below.  NOTE: Some text links below go to applicable products on Amazon.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

There are a number of tools I have grown to love working with because work just goes so much better with the proper tools.  Having the right tool for the job increases productivity and also helps ensure that the work is getting done correctly.  My tool reviews are based on my actual use of the tools as part of my work as an electrician.

One thing I can say with certainty is that not everything is manufactured to the same standards, and identical services from different companies don’t always match up.  Now more than ever it is important to shop around to find the best deal or product for you and your needs.  Read many tool reviews.

A close shot of a Bright Star Continuity Flashlight
A close shot of a Bright Star Continuity Flashlight

One of my favorite tools from my young electrician days that I still use occasionally is my Bright Star 1618-CT continuity testing flashlight(s).  See the photo at the top of this post.  They are very handy for checking fuses and incandescent or halogen light bulbs.  They are also good for identifying wires on dead circuits or wires that are shorted together.

The flashlight has a jack in the back screw cap that a set of alligator leads can plug into.  After the leads are inserted in, the flashlight will only light when the two alligator clips are connected together.

I saw in a store LED upgrade kits for these flashlights so I bought one.  The original PR type incandescent bulb was not that bright.

These flashlight continuity testers are no longer made by the original manufacturer, but there are plenty of other types of testers available.

I have always been a tool nut and when I was much younger would buy tools because I liked them and hoped to be able to use them one day.  Now I have many tools in my collection that I have never or hardly ever used.

My current advice to myself is to wait until I actually need the tool before buying it unless a bargain buying opportunity comes along that is too good to pass.  My tool reviews are based on my own experiences with using them while working as an electrician.

TOOL REVIEWS

A pair of BX cutting pliers with the jaws open
A pair of BX cutting pliers with the jaws open

I have used BX cutters since I was a kid.  Working with my dad in the 1960’s we mostly installed BX cable.  A hacksaw and these BX cutters were what was used to cut and trim BX cable.  The round opening below the jaws on the BX cutters is used to reshape the BX armor after trimming.  I have found that the BX cutters are also useful for cutting sheet metal.

On my blog post about removing concentric knockouts I demonstrate how I cut the knockout rings with my BX cutting pliers and my Knipex high leverage diagonal pliers.

A pair of Knipex high leverage diagonal pliers
A pair of Knipex high leverage diagonal pliers

I don’t remember how I came to purchase my Knipex high leverage diagonal pliers, but I have never regretted it.  I was amazed at the many things the Knipex diagonal pliers would cut.  I think my most popular use is cutting the nails from electrical boxes that I am removing.

Some of my blog posts include photos of my Knipex high leverage diagonal pliers in action.  My post about converting a switched outlet to hot at all times is one example of where I cut nails to remove a switch box.

A Roto-Split BX Cutter for cutting armored cable
A Roto-Split BX Cutter for cutting armored cable

I met the inventor of the Roto-Split BX cutting tool at an electrical trade show many years ago.  I fell in love with the tool as soon as I saw it.  His wife told me how the two of them would work all hours in their garage assembling the parts together for each tool and then packaging them.

Now several manufacturers have their own variation of the Roto-Split.  I think the original inventor sold his company to a larger organization.  The Roto-Split makes it much easier to cut BX cable while up on a ladder or while in odd or confining positions.

Before Seatek came out with the Roto-Split armor cutting tool I used a hacksaw or my Klein BX cutters to cut the armor.  For the hacksaw I would have to put my foot on the BX coil on the floor and pull the tail end tight and cut it at an angle, stopping short of nicking the wire insulation inside.  Working while on a ladder up in a ceiling and having to cut BX cable with a hacksaw was a learned necessary skill.

If I wanted to cut the armored cable with my Klein BX cutting pliers, I would have to snap the armor by squeezing it tightly or twisting it until I opened a small loop where I wanted it cut and slip the cutters in the loop to cut and trim.  Although this worked well it tired my hand muscles after doing it all day long.

To use the Roto-Split simply insert a BX cable in the side groove.  Tighten the set screw where the cable should be cut or armor stripped back.  Squeeze the Roto-Split with one hand while turning the crank handle with the other hand.  The small circular blade will cut the metal armor to the correct depth without harming the wires inside.

The Roto-Split blades last a long time and they are easy to replace.

Four different depth electrical box receptacle extenders
Four different depth electrical box receptacle extenders

I first saw ReceptXtenders while perusing the electrical aisle of a big store.  I was browsing to see if the store had any unique products that I might find useful.  I saw the ReceptXtenders and bought one in each size.  Though they work very well for their intended purpose, I came up with an idea on how to use them that saves me a lot of work and aggravation.

I have worked on many kitchen renovations as an electrical contractor.  During the remodeling process I must install, move, or adjust electrical outlets and switches.  After I put the electrical switch and outlet boxes in the wall with wiring, I usually don’t come back to the job until the walls are finished.

In the past when I went back to do the finish wiring and install switches and outlets, I would often find that the electrical boxes were partially covered with ceramic tile, stone, or some other wall covering.  The installers thought they left enough room for me, but they really didn’t.  I had to buy a RotoZip Spiral Saw and tile cutting bits so I could neatly enlarge the tile and stone wall openings.  This was time consuming and made dust.

What I do now is install the deepest ReceptXtenders on my roughed-in outlet boxes so that they will be extended past the finished wall.  When I go back for my finish work I remove the ReceptXtenders and the electrical box wall openings are the same size as the electrical box.

The tile installers had cut their tile to the edge of the extender.  The boxes that I installed will be flush with the finished wall and the existing outlet boxes get the proper depth ReceptXtender to support the switch or outlet.

Here is an example of a kitchen that I worked on and used the ReceptXtenders.  I guess the above is more of a product review than tool reviews.

A Fluke category 4 non-contact voltage detector
A Fluke category 4 non-contact voltage detector

I had tried a few other non-contact voltage detectors from other manufacturers, but the Fluke Volt Alert seems to work best for me.  The problem with the other non-contact detectors was with false readings.  The readings on older insulated wires, especially cloth insulated conductors were often erroneous.  The Fluke model doesn’t seem to have a problem with old insulation.

An SDS Max ground rod driver for attaching to a rotary hammer
An SDS Max ground rod driver for attaching to a rotary hammer

Having the SDS Max ground rod driver do the work of pounding in ground rods saves labor as well as your hands and wrists.  The cost was minimal compared to the savings.  On this blog post of mine you can see how the tool is used.  This will work on all SDS Max rotary hammers as well as Hilti TE-Y.

Klein six in one tapping tool for electricians
Klein six in one tapping tool for electricians

My Klein 627-20 six in one tapping tool is a standard pouch item.  It is so useful when re-tapping holes on switch and outlet boxes.  It is especially handy for cleaning out threaded holes that have joint compound or paint in them.  The taps are replaceable should they wear down or get broken.  I usually buy the replacement taps at my local electrical supply company.

Three headlamps with different features included in my tool reviews
Three headlamps with different features included in my tool reviews

My first headlamp was a lightweight Zenon bulb model.  It worked well enough to get me hooked on wearing a headlamp.  When I worked for my dad I did what he did when light was needed while working.  We would stick our Brightstar double D battery incandescent flashlights (The ones at the top of this post) between our neck and shoulders and tilt our necks to hold it in place while we worked.  Talk about a pain in the neck.

The Princeton Tec headlamp in the middle is watertight and it has a flashing feature.  The AA three battery pack is on the rear of the headband with a durable cord connecting the light.   Princeton Tec also sells replacement headbands.

The Coast headlamp on the right has a separately switched red light and a green light and the main light has a focusing lens from spot to flood.  AAA batteries are inside the headlamp.

The Duracell model on the left also has a red light and it has separately controlled lights on the sides and bottom which are nice when you are with other people as the light is not in their faces when you talk to them.  Good for camping.  Uses three AAA batteries.

I keep a couple of the Duracell’s at home for when the power goes out.  All of the headlamps above have multiple brightness settings.

Two Milwaukee oscillating multi-tools
Two Milwaukee oscillating multi-tools

I first heard of oscillating multi-tools on some newsgroups that I follow.  Then I saw some videos and watched a Fein Multimaster infomercial.  I thought it was a very cool tool.  I had a job coming up where I thought a multi-tool would be helpful so I bought a cheap electric one to try it out.

I was convinced that I bought a very useful tool the first time that I used it.  I found so many other uses after that I kept it on my truck full time.  The cheap one that I originally bought worked well and I still have it, however it was a little on the heavy side.

I picked up a Milwaukee cordless multi-tool from a store display and realized what a difference there was in weight.  I bought it on the spot.  When I got busy and had a bigger crew I bought a second one.  They paid for themselves very quickly.

One caveat that I don’t like about the multi-tools is that many of the blades are proprietary to the particular tool manufacturer.  Not all oscillating multi-tool blades are interchangeable like reciprocating saw blades are.  Adaptors are available.  I just make sure that I always buy the correct blades.

I will continue to add more tool reviews to this post.

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