Our last Toolbox Tuesday Thursday covered a handy little helper for stripping the sheath off of Romex. Several commenters mentioned they had some electrical projects that were upcoming and that this tool would come in handy. Their comments got me thinking, "what are the main must have tools for electrical work?" There are obviously a boatload of tools that one could use for electrical work, but my Top Three Tools immediately jumped to mind. So if you have an electrical project coming up, or you're trying to start your electrical toolbox, these three tools should be some of your next or first purchases if you don't already have them.

And if you're looking for that perfect Valentine's Day gift for that tool lover in your life, perhaps these might be perfect for the upcoming holiday.

1. Wire Strippers

This is basically an automatic must have tool, but there are a ton of options out there. I've personally owned at least seven different wire strippers since we bought our house, and it took a long time before I found the right ones for me. But once I discovered this great pair of strippers, it was settled, I never wanted to use a pair other than this pair again.

Kline is a brand that is somewhat synonymous with electrical work, but not all Kline tools are created equal. These blue handle wire strippers are just more comfortable, work better and more reliably, and simply seem to do a better job stripping wire without nicking the copper. I just didn't realize how much difference a good pair of wire strippers actually makes until I bought this pair. If you need a set of wire strippers, or if you don't like how your current pair works, do yourself a favor and pick up a pair of these.

2. Outlet Tester

You've stripped your wires, curled your copper, secured your posts, and taped your new outlet...but did you do it all correctly? It's a great sign when you turn on the circuit and there's no sign of fire, but that doesn't mean everything is properly connected. Rather than leaving it to chance, use this plug in outlet tester to give you color coded confidence. 

When you plug in the tester, the pattern gives immediate indication if you've properly grounded your outlet, have all of your wires connected, and even that you have electricity going to your newly wired outlet. If there's a problem, the color combination will attempt to let you know what the likely problem is. Open ground? No problem, the tester let you know so now you can quickly and easily take care of it. This tool will both give you peace of mind and time savings when you need to troubleshoot.

3. Non Contact Voltage Detector

I didn't pick up this little tool until just recently, and now I can't believe how much time I could have saved if only had it earlier. Have you ever tried to figure out which wire is live and which is off? Perhaps you've been standing at the electrical panel switching circuits off and then running to an outlet to see if the light that's plugged in is still on? Or worse yet, you have a random wire that you don't know where it goes, and you need to determine if it is live or not? Worry no more!

This little miracle can tell you if a wire has voltage running to it or not just by touching it to the outside of the wire's jacket. No need for running up and down stairs, getting shocked by cutting into a wire you thought was dead, or yelling to your partner "IS IT STILL ON?" Just press the button, wait for the beep and the flash to let you know it is ready to test, and touch the detector to the wire's jacket. The tool will tell you if the wire is live by lighting up when you make contact. Here's a quick demo video to show you just how it works.

There you have it, my top three electrical must haves. Do you do any electrical work and have tools that are almost as important as your right hand? Be sure to leave a comment and share them with us. I mean, we can all use some good tool purchase ideas with Valentine's Day right around the corner. After all, nothing says "I love you" like the installation of a new light fixture.

Did you enjoy reading this post? Want to learn more about our first-hand experiences with other tools, devices or items used throughout our renovation? If so, check out our complete list of product reviews in our Toolbox Tuesday section

Note: We weren't compensated for this review. We simply want to share good products when we see them, and hope that learning from our mistakes can help save you time, money and frustration.

Comments 8


2/7/2012 at 9:53 AM
That outlet tester and the non-contact voltage detector would be GREAT for Mike (or me, because I hate being asked "IS IT STILL ON?!").

The voltage detector doesn't ship to Canada, boo.
That stinks! Check out this whole list of voltage detectors. I like the one we have, but others may work just as well.
2/7/2012 at 2:58 PM
Lineman's pliers are a must-have as well!

Cool voltage detector, although, I don't see how it saves you from running up and down the stairs or from yelling IS IT STILL ON across the house. You still have to be at the panel to flip the breaker, and you still have to be at the wire in question to touch the detector, right?
Yes, you're right to some extent. In my isolated example, I know which wires coming out of the panel go to the part of the house I care about, but I don't know specifically which breaker it goes to once in the box (I've been lazy and haven't mapped out specifics no matter how long I've thought about doing it). So I can flip the breaker and then make sure the wire I've killed is my intended one. But otherwise I'm yelling up to Wendy. :-)
Yep, those are two additional must haves.
2/8/2012 at 9:19 AM
LARGE package of wire nuts. It's one of those things like nails and screws that you should always have in "the drawer" or "the box".
3/21/2012 at 12:25 PM
Hey Alex I've been following your blog for a couple of months now, I own an old home in western Ma and will soon be tackling some of the projects you have already done.

I was a nuclear electrician in the Navy for 10yrs so I am pretty familiar with all electrical tools. My two favorite are: A fluke which is helpful in determining if a breaker is bad, if you have an open or short in a corded appliance,(resistance) or for many repairs especially to cars where a certain tolerance in voltage is necessary to determine if something is working properly. Obviously a quality set of wire strippers is key and I have a set made by Klenk that strips the insulation off of wires without damaging the copper or you having to guess the gauge wire it is its pretty fantastic, BTW I love your wainscoting you did up the staircase I intend on doing something similar in my house.
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