Whether you are starting out as an electrician apprentice or you are an experienced journeyman, master electrician, or linesman, you need a basic set of hand tools to start tackling electrical projects. Among them are pliers for electrical work.
In this article, I share a list of the most essential types of pliers you will need for all your electrical projects. But first, let’s understand why you need to carry your own tools to the job site even when the employer can provide them.
Why You Need Your Own Hand Tools
It is a no-brainer that you should have your own tools when you are a contractor. Of course, your client is not going to provide them for you. One of the reasons they hire you to do the job is because you are skilled and have the tools needed to do the job.
But if you are employed, I know you wondering, “Should I still have my own tools?” And the simple answer is yes! You need to carry your own tools even when you are employed because tools say so much about you.
You see, I am a firm believer that if you are in any hands-on craft or trade, the tools you carry will define you and your ability to do the job. In other words, the first impression you create when you show up for a job that will require the use of hand tools will determine how people perceive you.
Basically, just as dressing code matters when you show up for an interview so do the set of tools you carry to the job site as a handyman. If you are the type that shows up at a construction site without a tool, just know no one will forgive your ignorance. It is even worse if you show up with the wrong tools or junk tools. People might start to cast doubt on your qualifications for the job.
But don’t get me wrong. You don’t need to splash money on an expensive collection of power tools to prove that you can do the job. No! You just need decent tools. And for your information, hand tools are mostly all you will need when you are an electrician.
Another reason why you should at least carry your own hand tools to a job is that they enable you to work more effectively than having to share tools among colleagues. Not to mention, good personal hand tools feel even more comfortable because you buy what you like.
The third reason why I think hand tools are handy to have is that they are generally cheaper than power tools. This makes them good starting tools before you can upgrade the useful ones with power tools.
However, not all hand tools can be replaced with power tools. Some such as most types of pliers are simply irreplaceable. You can only upgrade them with quality alternatives.
Lastly, it is obvious that good tools make work easier, safer, and help you do the job well. But you need to match good tools with the right skills. Otherwise, if you use the wrong tools for the job or use the right tools wrongly, you could hurt yourself or end up breaking more stuff than you can fix.
So as you look for the best tool for the job, make sure you match it with the right skills to get the most out of it. And here are the 10 most important pliers for electrical work.
10 Essential Pliers for Electrical Work
You can have several sets of different pliers for your electrical projects but these pliers are a must-have in your tool set. It doesn’t matter what your level of expertise or experience is. You will need each of these pliers at some point in your project.
1. Linesman pliers
Linesman pliers are some of the most important pliers for electrical work. A basic set has a cutting edge and a gripping area on the jaws.
But some advanced linesman pliers have additional features such as a crimping tool, cable puller grip behind the pivot, and a stubby head with knurling for reaming pipes.
Linesman pliers are native to linesmen for cutting, twisting, and pulling aluminum and copper wires on distribution lines. But as an electrician, you can use these heavy duty combination pliers to pull, grip, cut, and crimp wires. Linesman pliers can also double up as a reamer for the piping in your electrical wiring project.
You can also use the cutters on your linesman pliers to strip off the insulation on electrical wire. But this needs a special skill because you can easily cut off the wire core unintentionally.
2. Needle nose pliers
Needle nose pliers or long nose pliers are another type of pliers for electricians that you cannot start an electrical project without. These pliers have long tapered jaws that allow you to grip electrical wires in tight spaces.
Some needle nose pliers even have integrated cutters that you can use to cut wires on the fly. Some of the tasks you can do with long nose pliers include pulling off and inserting wires on electrical terminals.
If the jaws of the needle nose pliers are rounded on the outside, you can use them to make nice end loops or pigtails on ground wire. You need the end loops to securely attach solid ground wire to screw-type ground terminals. Sometimes you might even need to loop all the conductors if they are solid core and you have to attach them to a screw terminal.
To learn more about needle nose pliers, read this article: best needle nose pliers for all trades.
3. Wire Strippers
Wire strippers are important for removing insulation from wires to expose the conductor core. You will always need to strip electrical wires to make an electrical connection.
There are two types of wire stripping pliers: manual and automatic wire strippers.
Manual wire strippers have multiple slots on the jaws for stripping different sizes of wire. In contrast, automatic strippers have one stripping area that adjusts automatically to accommodate different wire sizes.
It is important to note that most wire strippers have integrated flush cutters. The cutters allow you to strip and cut wires with one tool. You don’t need to carry separate wire cutters.
Although you can use regular pliers or side cutters to remove insulation on electrical wires, wire stripper pliers are the ultimate tool for stripping wires.
Moreso, automatic wire strippers offer a safer and more convenient way to strip wires of different sizes. They adjust automatically so you don’t have to worry about selecting the right stripping slot. This is good, especially for a novice electrician or when you want consistency such as when terminating electrical panels.
Self-adjusting wire strippers also reduce the risk of accidentally severing or cutting off wire strands when stripping stranded wires.
I am a big fan of automatic or self-adjusting wire strippers and I have a few inexpensive options I would recommend. I have reviewed them in these articles:
- Klein 11061 Automatic Wire Stripper (the G.O.A.T.)
- Kaiweets Automatic Wire Strippers (for DIY projects)
- VCELink self adjusting wire stripper (for home wiring)
- VCELink parrot head wire stripper (best for small wires)
4. Side cutters/diagonal cutters
One task that is part and parcel of electrical work is to cut electrical wires to size. And while you could use tools with integrated cutters to cut wires and cables they don’t do as good of a job as side cutters or diagonal cutters.
Side cutters or dike have sharp hardened cutters that slice through electrical wires with minimal effort. If you get a good pair, you could use it to cut thousands of miles of electrical wire before the cutters begin to dull.
These cutting pliers are also good for stripping electrical wires. You can use them to carefully cut into the insulation material and methodically pull it from the wire when you don’t have wire strippers at hand. Read this article to learn how to use side cutters as wire strippers.
Another use for side cutters in an electrical project is to cut cable ties bundling conductors together. Side cutters have better control than a utility knife, which if you are not careful could slice through the insulation on the conductors and expose you to electrical shock.
The only thing you need to be careful when buying side cutters or dykes is the quality of cutters. If you get poor quality cutters, they will dull out or get nicked even before they start making money for you. If you want to know who makes the best side cutters in the market, check out this article.
5. Terminal Crimping Pliers
When working with stranded electrical wires, you need to terminate them with crimp connectors. These are special types of metal terminal ends that allow you to transform a regular wire end into a terminal configuration that will provide the best electrical contact for your connection.
There are several types of crimp connectors but the most common ones are spade, ring, and splice. You will encounter or use them in electrical boxes, switches, outlets, and lighting fixtures. And in appliances and electronics, crimp connectors help to make secure connections between wires and components.
You need wire terminal crimping pliers to attach crimp terminals securely to wire ends. These pliers typically have multiple slots that allow you to squeeze different sizes of crimp connectors.
There are crimper pliers for insulated terminals and non-insulated terminals. But you need the former more because insulated terminals are more common in wiring projects.
The market offers so many options to choose from but there are our top choices: Best wire crimper pliers.
So, if your electrical projects involve dealing with screw terminals and splicing wires, then you need terminal crimping pliers to terminate the ends of stranded wires. This is the only way to get solid electrical contact with stranded wire on a screw terminal.
6. Wire Ferrule Crimping Pliers
When you are an electrician, nothing matters more than your safety. One way to ensure safety is to make solid electrical connections.
When you are not using a crimp connector, another type of connector you can use to terminate stranded wire ends is a ferrule terminal.
A wire ferrule is a tin-plated copper sleeve for wrapping stranded wire-ends to keep them from fraying. It also gives stranded wires the characteristic of a solid core conductor.
Ferrule sleeves help manage wire strands to keep them from getting into place they should not. They can help avoid shorting electrical terminals accidentally. Not to mention that free-hanging wires can be a source of an electrical hazard.
You use ferrule crimping pliers to securely attach ferrule sleeves. These are special types of crimping pliers that instead of dimpling a connector at one point as the regular crimpers do, they squeeze it all around. This results in an all-around cover to the terminal end.
7. Cable Cutters/Wire cutters
You can use side cutters to cut small electrical wires and cables but when dealing with large conductors you need cable cutters.
Cable cutters are heavy duty wire cutting pliers with shear-type jaws. They cut flush with their shearing action and provide high leverage when cutting. You can even use them with one hand to cut a 4/0 cable.
If you are a linesman, you need cable cutters to cut overhead aluminum conductors and soft copper conductors. These cutting pliers are also great for cutting large communication cables. And like other types of pliers, cable cutters are available in different sizes but the best size for an electrician is a 10-inch long pliers.
8. Swaging Tool
If you are a linesman who deals with guy wires quite often, you might need a cable ferrule swaging tool for securing the guy wires to turnbuckles.
A swaging tool is a heavy-duty type of crimping pliers for compressing wire rope ferrules. They are useful for making end loops on cable rigs. But in the electrical world, a linesman uses a swaging tool to make strong eye loops on a guy wires for attaching turnbuckle hardware.
If you want to learn more about swaging tools and their uses, read this article on swaging tools
9. Multi-function Combination Pliers
Sometimes when working on a small electrical repair project, it might not be necessary to carry the whole tool bag. A single tool might do the job. And this is where multi-function tools come in handy.
Good multi-function pliers should have more than 5 functions. These include side cutters, crimpers, strippers, grippers, a wire looping feature, and a screw cutter hole. One such tool is the Milwaukee 7-in-1 high leverage multi function pliers.
10. Cable Tie Cutters/ Flush Cutters
Cable tie cutters are special types of pliers for cutting cable ties. They have sharp blades for slicing the nylon zip ties flush. These special cutters have bent tapered tips for getting under tight tie wraps.
You need cable tie cutters for electrical maintenance and cable management jobs that obviously involve cutting tie wraps all the time.
You can also use diagonal cutters or a utility knife to cut cable ties. However, the problem with using these tools is that you can accidentally cut the wrong thing. Also, side cutters do not cut cable ties flush. They can leave sharp zip tie ends.
Zip tie cutters, on the other hand, allow you to quickly remove even the very tight zip ties without damaging electrical cables. They cut cable ties flush just like flush cutters. The only difference is that flush cutters do not have bent tips for accessing tight spaces.
Read more about cable tie cutter pliers in this article to learn why they are indispensable in the field of electrical and electronics repair.
And there you have it!
Linesman pliers, needle nose pliers, wire stripper pliers, side cutters, terminal crimper pliers, ferrule crimper pliers, swaging pliers, cable cutters, multifunction pliers, and cable tie cutters are the 10 most important types of pliers for electrical work. Any electrician (pro or novice) must have them in the toolbox. If I missed any pliers that you think qualify as electrician essential, please let me know in the message box.