Apprentice Tool List

If you’re about to start your career as an electrician but don’t have a clue what tools you need, feel free to consult this list.  There will be endless tools that you will buy through the years but these are the basics that every apprentice electrician needs.  If you’d rather not read all of these descriptions below, feel free to print this PRINTABLE PDF VERSION and take it shopping with you!

18-volt CORDLESS BRUSHLESS Drill & Impact Set

You don’t have to get both of these, but more than likely you’ll find a really good deal on Amazon or HomeDepot.com if you do.  You really only need one drill, but having both an impact driver and a full-size hammer drill means you’ll have everything you need.  Sometimes you need a smaller drill for tight squeezes, or you just need a high torque drill – so the impact is perfect.  Other times you need to bore large holes, or drill holes in masonry/stone – so you’ll need the full size hammer drill.  I prefer Milwaukee, but DeWalt and Ridgid are next in line in my opinion.  Also, you don’t have to have 18-volt, you can settle for the budget set and get a 12-volt but for professional use you’ll get tired of changing those batteries out often, as well as the sacrifice in power the 12-volt kits have.  Every tool I own, regardless of brand, is 18 volts.

Double-Sided Electrician's Tool Pouch

I’m a huge fan of leather pouches because they last for a long time.  I’ve had the same pouches for the past 13 years, though now they’re used as my backup set.  I’ve tried every nylon bag out there and they’re all crap.  They will rip within a year or two.  Leather doesn’t rip.  It can get rained on, abused, thrown around, and the hell beat out of…and it will still be there for you, reliable as ever for years to come.  Now…the price for leather is going to be quite a step up compared to the cheaply built nylon bags you’ll find at your local Depot, Lowe’s, or electrical supply house.  If all you can afford is nylon, that’s ok.  You can build up to a leather set in the future.  You just need something to start out with, but do make sure it’s at least a rig that is built for electricians.  Don’t get a carpenter’s tool belt, because there won’t be places to put the hand tools we use.

High-Leverage Lineman Pliers

The Lineman Pliers are a tool that you will come to know as an extension of your own arm after doing this for a few months.  You will use this tool for so many different things, and you’ll develop a deep appreciation for having one that is quality built like these Kleins.  As far as hand tools go, Klein is my favorite.  I’ve tried many of the competitor brands over the years and some of them, like Knipex, are great.  However the ruggedness and reliability of the Klein brand is unmatched in my opinion.

Needle-Nose Pliers

Another incredibly useful tool, that electricians use constantly, is the needle-nose pliers.  I like the Klein brand, because they have quite a few different options and styles, however these yellow-handled stripper combos are my go to.  I like that the cutting edge has a small hole that you can use to strip out a #12 or #10 AWG conductor (and others if you’ve got skills), so it really mixes two tools into one.  I’m a big fan of consolidating multiple uses into one tool as it’s less tools you have to carry on your hips all day long.

Diagonal-Cutting Pliers

No electrician tool set would be complete without a set of diagonal-cutting pliers.  These bad boys come in handy in so many instances.  Not only are they great for cutting most sizes of cords, cables, and conductors – but they’re outstanding for prying staples out of wood, cutting bolts, and many other things.  There are a few different styles that Klein makes, but this red-handled Journeyman line is my favorite.

Wire Stripper with Threaded Bolt Cutter

There are probably hundreds of different brands, models, styles, and sizes of wire-strippers on the market so just trying to see your way through the forest can be difficult at times.  For this tool, you’ll use it and break it so much that you’ll end up buying multiple pair.  It’s best, I think, to buy different styles each time.  Pay attention to the features it offers, the size wires it strips, the size bolts it will cut, whether it has a crimping option, as well as how the overall size of it fits in your hand.  Then adjust, and when you find YOUR pair, pick up a few pair just so you have some spares laying around.

STUBBY Multi-Tool

This is an insanely good tool to have on you, and it will help you in so man circumstances where you can’t get a drill, screw driver, or even your hand into a tight space.  I love this tool because it has the option for two different size philips, two sizes of flat, and a 1/4″ and 5/16″ nut driver.  All in a small 3 inch tool!  You won’t use it everyday but when you need it you’ll be thankful you have it!

6-in-1 Extended Screw/Nut Driver

Some sparky’s out there may disagree with my choice on this one, but I’m a fan of these extended 6-in-1 screw/nut driver that Klein makes.  I don’t like any other brand, model, or type of multi-tool.  Must of them lack proper exectution.  However this specific model is solid.  I like the version that gives you two different size Philips, two sizes of Flat, and a 5/16″ and 1/4″ nut driver – all combined into one tool.  There’s another version of this with a number 1 and number 2 square (Robertson) end on it rather than the smaller Flat and Philips options.  I just don’t like it as much, personal preference.

10-inch 3/8" Flat Screw Driver

This beast of a screwdriver is also a great pry-bar as well as a chipping screwdriver once it becomes dull.  There’s a lot of times where having an extremely stout flat screw driver will save your butt, so be sure you have one in your kit – even if it is not the Klein brand/model I show here.  But let’s be real, go quality and you’ll never be disappointed.  You get what you pay for with tools.

#2 Square (Robertson) Screwdriver

A Square-Driver, Robbie, or Roberston screwdriver (depending on where you live) – is a great sidekick for any electrician.  It’s not 100% necessary, as you can use a flat-head or philips a lot of the time – many screws are slotted AND square.  But I find that square drivers allow you to get more torque for certain applications.  Many panel covers, device screws, and other terminations have square and slotted heads – it’s really just a preference thing.

Keyhole Saw (Sheetrock/Drywall Saw)

Regardless the environment you’re in, you’ll need to be able to cut holes in drywall.  The best tool for this is either a sawzall or a keyhole saw.  I’d start with the keyhole saw until you get the gist of it.  Once you gain some experience with a sawzall – then try precision cuts in drywall.  I like this Stanley keyhole saw because it’s very rigid.  A lot of other brands have super cheap/flimsy blades that bend on you when cutting.  This Stanley is stout and does an amazing job at doing the majority of the work for you.

Utility Knife (Folding or Non-Folding)

Another tool you’ll use often is a knife.  I tend to carry multiple knives, because some are for being rough with and I don’t care if they bend, chip, or break.  I abuse them purposefully – these are usually pocket knives however.  For more precise cutting, especially when you need a really sharp blade, you’ll want to use a utility knife.  Some people prefer a fixed utility knife with a retractable blade and storage for extra blades.  These are great.  Other people want a foldable blade, which sacrifices blade storage but is handy so you can keep it clipped in your pocket.  Again, personal preference will dictate what you roll with.  I like these fold-up knives.

Magnetic Torpedo Level

A level is something EVERYONE in the trades, or any construction-centric job needs to keep on them at all times.  What makes this level unique is that it shows you 0, 30, 45, and 90 degree level.  This is helpful when bending conduit, so for an electrician this level is designed for the work we do.  It also has incredibly strong magnets on one side, which is really helpful since most of the things we’re putting a level on are metal.  Don’t buy a crappy cheap plastic level that will break the first time you drop it.  Get this metal level and you won’t need to buy another one.

Flat Claw, High-Leverage Hammer (20-24 oz)

Making sure that you have a good hammer is essential.  Even if you’re just on the service side, not so much construction, you’ll still need to have a hammer.  The amount of times you’re going to be prying or hitting things will astound you.  Also, pay attention to how flat the claw end of this hammer is.  This isn’t a crappy round handyman hammer, this is designed to get in to places and move things.  I prefer a 22 or 24 ounce hammer, as the weight distribution allows you to get extreme force behind your swing.  It also ends up being longer, so the leverage and pivot you have are great.  Anything below a 20 ounce hammer and you’re going to find it difficult to get power behind it or leverage enough to pry effectively – without using a hell of a lot of force to achieve the same result as a longer, heavier hammer would be capable of.  The only down side of a 22 or 24 ounce hammer is, if you’re a smaller person, you’ll have a tough time maneuvering such a big hammer.  Go with your body type on this one.  A 16 ounce hammer is ok if you’re small.  Work with what feels comfortable.

Channel Locks (Various Sizes)

If you can only afford to buy one set, I’d get an 11 inch pair of channel locks.  By pair I mean get two of them.  You’ll need to use two of the same size channel locks to tighten some fittings in our trade, and often times you’ll need to loosen things and without BOTH channels, you won’t be able to.  You can go much bigger, and much smaller – but until you’ve been doing this awhile I’d wait until you know what you’re getting and why.

Digital Electrical Tester/Multimeter

This is one of those things you should probably hold off getting until you’ve been trained on how to use it.  Multimeters are generally at least $100 (any worth buying at least), and can go up to several thousands of dollars.  Most of the time a $150 tester with volts, ohms, continutiy, and amps will be all you need.  But brand and type are extremely important to consider.  Which is why I say hold off until you’ve been doing this and can see what the electricians around you use. For your information, however, IDEAL and FLUKE are the two brands you need to stick with.  Everyone else is just trying to compete and most of them aren’t doing well.

Plug (Recep) Tester

We use plug testers/recep testers to test…well…you guessed it…RECEPTACLES!  When installing anything it’s important to check whether or not it works when you’r done.  Since most 15 and 20 ampere receptacles are the same you don’t have to pull out a fancy multimeter/tester for every recetacle.  You can stick this in and the lights light up a certain way, depending on if it was installed correctly.  These are also really useful for “hot-checking” a job that you just trimmed out, or if you’re just trying to find a circuit that’s not labelled in a panel.  Cheap tool, I’d get two of them.

25 ft Tape-Measure (WIDE TAPE)

You’re going to use a measuring tape all day, everyday in your career as an electrician so I recommend spending a little bit to get a great one.  Don’t just get a cheap $10 crappy tape that will rip and won’t stand out on it’s own when you go to measure across a room with it.  You need a tape that is rugged, that has a WIDE tape so that when you stretch it out over a 10 foot span it doesn’t break.  The wider the tape, the better.  If you can find one with writing on both sides of the tape like this Milwaukee Magnetic STUD – even better.  In doing commercial work I love to use this Magnetic STUD because it sticks to the metal studs and beams I work around.  This is great when you’re working above your head on a lift.  For residential, you may consider getting the Stanley Fat-Max instead.  Both of them are top of the line tapes.

Paddle/Spade Bits

Whether you’re working in residential or commercial you’ll want to keep a set of these bits on you.  Most commercial environments are steel, but you will run into wood-framed commercial buildings from time to time.  Drilling holes in studs so you can run wires through them will happen so often that NOT having a set of these will put you in a bind.  Even if you have a hole-hawg you’ll still run into situations where you’ll use these in tight spaces, in attics, etc.

A BIG 'OLE pack of Construction Pencils (WITH ERASERS)

Ok so you don’t really have to get pencils with erasers, that’s really just a personal preference of mine.  Nothing irritates me more than someone drawing on my plan and making a mistake, and not having the ability to erase it.  If you don’t buy pencils with erasers, at least buy a big eraser and keep it with you.  It even helps when you make light marks on walls to be able to erase them if need be.  There are more reasons to have an eraser around then to not.

Permanent Markers

Sometimes you’ll use pencils, sometimes pens, but more often than not you’re going to use the hell out of permanent markers as an electrician.  I recommend getting a big box because you’ll burn through so many of them, however to start out you can begin with just one or two.  Just keep track of them, nothing is worse than your only marker breaking, running out of ink, or getting lost and not having a backup out in the truck!

Want to see the tools I use?