Congrats on your new job as an electrical apprentice! You’re about to embark on a rewarding career in a field that is in high demand and you are helping build America. As an apprentice, you’ll be learning the basics of electrical work and you’ll need a few essential tools to get started. We’ve compiled a list with input from electrical contractors, individual electricians, and trade associations from across the industry to put together a list of the most important tools to have on day one.
We’ve done our best to balance quality with cost. Since you’re just starting out, you don’t want a set of tools that will fall apart in a month, but you also likely can’t buy top-of-the line before you even start your apprenticeship. You’ll notice a mix of mostly two manufacturers in our product recommendations who consistently provide quality products for the electrical industry: Klein and Milwaukee.
At the top of the list, we’ve listed the essentials – tools that you will need every day that you don’t want to be borrowing from the more experienced electricians. Below that, we’ve listed some extras that you will likely need early in your career, but can probably get away with not having right away. It’s also worth checking if your company provides some of the more expensive tools, like the power tools, before you go out and drop your whole first paycheck on them.
Here are the 12 essential tools that every electrical apprentice should have
- Tool Belt and Backpack. First up, you’ll need a way to carry all the stuff below. A tool belt and pouch is a convenient way to keep your tools within reach, so you can work efficiently. And a high-quality leather tool belt can last forever, but leather will likely be too expensive if you’re just starting out. It will be helpful to get a backpack or utility bag as well since you won’t be able to store everything on your belt. A backpack can usually hold more and may be more comfortable for some people, but some prefer the convenience of being able to grab right out of a utility bag. Which one you choose is a matter of personal preference.
- Set of Screwdrivers. You’ll need a variety of screwdrivers, including Phillips (cross), flathead, square (Robertson), and nut drivers. You may also find it helpful to have a stubby multi-head screwdriver and an extended multi-head set for tight places. Some electricians prefer to have separate screwdrivers instead of a combo set with interchangeable heads, but to start out the combo set will be fine. If you decide you’d prefer a more durable flathead later, you can always upgrade then.
- Set of Pliers. A good set of pliers is essential for electrical work. You will need them for cutting, bending, and stripping wire. You will need lineman’s pliers (side cutters), diagonal cutting pliers, needle-nose pliers (long-nose pliers), and channel locks (pump pliers or straight jaw pliers). You could probably get away with not having channel locks right off the bat, but if you don’t but them now, get them soon.
- Wire strippers. Wire strippers are used to remove the insulation from wires, which is necessary before you can connect the wires to electrical components. We recommend getting a set with a crimping component.
- Utility Knife. A utility knife is a versatile tool that you’ll use for a variety of tasks, including cutting wire, stripping insulation, and opening boxes. You will want one with an interchangeable blade because dull knives are dangerous.
- Tape measure. You will need a sturdy tape to measure the length of wires, the distance between electrical components, the dimensions of boxes, and more. Get a sturdy, wide one with a magnetic tip so that it doesn’t collapse over long distances and will stick to metal conduit and metal studs. The difference between a cheap one and a high quality one is like $10 so it’s worth it to get a good one that won’t break.
- Level. You need to make sure that electrical components are installed correctly and for measuring conduit bends. Get a sturdy metal one that is magnetic so that you stick it to a piece of conduit without holding it. It’s helpful to get one that shows has the fourth bubble for 30 degrees for conduit bends. Don’t bother getting the light-up one; you can use your headlamp for that.
- Hammer. You will need it to install electrical boxes, fasteners, and other components. Contrary to what you may hear in the field, your channel locks shouldn’t take the place of a trusty hammer. We recommend a lighter hammer so that you can maneuver it easier it tight places; carpenters like heavier ones because they’re hammering hundreds of nails usually in wide open spaces. We also recommend getting a smooth head because you’re less likely to damage wire insulation if you miss your target.
- Pencils & Permanent Markers. Use pencils for marking plans or making lighter marks on walls. Get a box of them because you will lose them. Carpenter’s pencils are nice because they’re easier to sharpen with a knife, easier to hold with gloves on, and can mark on concrete or stone. You’ll also need markers for making marks where pencils won’t get the job done, like on conduit and boxes.
- Receptacle Tester. This is a handy little tool that you can plug into a receptacle to get a quick answer on if you wired up your outlet correctly. There are light indicators to tell you if you’ve mixed up wires and a button to ensure your GFCI is working. It’s also a great safety tool so that you can check if power is off to an outlet before taking it apart. See the next tool in the list for the product link.
- Voltage Detector. This is another great safety tool to have on hand. For any wire or electrical component that isn’t an outlet, use this to confirm that what you’re about to work on isn’t live.
- Ugly’s Electrical References Book. If you’re new to the electrical industry, you’re starting from scratch when it comes to electrical theory and electrical code. This super convenient, pocket-sized guide tells you things like how many components or wires you can put in a junction box, how to calculate the load of a circuit, what rating of boxes you should use for outdoor equipment, and so much more. It will take you 4-5 years to finish an apprenticeship, so this book will help you hit the ground running instead of relying on your lead electrician for every decision. Having this book when you show up will also show your employer and the rest of your team that you’re planning on learning and growing in your career, rather than just showing up and being told how to do everything.
This 28-piece set from Klein is a good option if you are starting from scratch. It has everything but the tool belt (but does come with a backpack), hammer, pencils & markers, and Ugly’s Book. It also comes with individual screwdrivers and nut drivers instead of the combo set, which is nice but obviously costs more.
Additional tools to consider
Below are some tools that you will probably need at some point, but likely won’t need to own yourself at least on day one or week one. The tools below will open up some additional work that you can’t do with just the tools above and will also help you level-up your game to complete jobs faster .
- Multimeter. A multimeter allows you to test the electrical components of a circuit. It measures electrical current, voltage, and resistance. This will be a vital tool in your long-term electrical career, but you’ll need some basic electrical training before you’re ready to use one.
- Drywall Saw. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing commercial or industrial work, maintenance or new construction, you’re going to need to cut holes in drywall for receptacles and devices. But since you should be working alongside more experienced electricians when you start, you can likely borrow one for the cuts you make early on. Plus you won’t want to make any cuts at first without some direct oversight unless you’ve already got the experience. You will notice a number of cutting tools on the second portion of this list for that reason.
- Reciprocating Saw. Once you get more experienced, you will want to be able to cut holes faster than a manual drywall saw will allow you to go. These reciprocating saws can be a little tricky to get the hang of and can be a bit dangerous for that reason if you’re inexperienced and not careful. Learn from someone experienced and get some practice before making critical cuts.
- Cordless Drill and Impact Driver Set. You will need a drill and bit set for cutting holes and driving screws. Some employers provide power tools to help shoulder the cost, so check with the before making this purchase since a good set is not cheap. You’re going to want a cordless set since you will be working in environments with no access to a plug or in situations where you’ve shut off the power. If you are buying more than one power tool, save some money by buying tools that use the same batteries.
- Screw Driver Bit Set. Once you are able to add a drill and impact driver to your toolset, one of the first things you’ll also need is a bit set. Your jobs will go much faster once you master using a power driver instead of a manual screwdriver.
- Spade Bit Set. Just like with drywall, you’re going to find yourself in situations in which you need to cut holes in wooden studs, even if you’re primarily doing commercial work. Like anything else, make sure you get training on where to cut holes before you make Swiss cheese out of the framing.
- Step Drill Bit. This type of bit will be particularly important for commercial work so that you can put holes in metal framing or in boxes for connectors.
- Headlamp. This is a pretty critical tool, but we’ve listed it outside the top 12 most essential since everyone has a flashlight on their phone. You will want the convenience of being able to work with both hands down the road, so go ahead and get one if you’ve got the spare funds. Otherwise, you can get by with your phone or a spare flashlight from home at first.
- Armored Cable Cutter. Also known as a roto-split. This is a controversial one. Some electricians swear by this tool while some just use their side cutters or hands. The advantage of this tool is that you drastically reduce the chances that you’ll knick the cable, which could save you having to re-pull a cable.
- Conduit Deburrer/Pipe Reamer. Removing the burs from your conduit after you make a cut is critical to ensure you don’t damage the wire when you pull it through. However, you can start off by using channel locks, side cutters, linesman pliers, or a utility knife to ream your conduit (then add a bushing). A tool specifically made for pipe reaming will make the process faster, cleaner, and safer.
In addition to these tools, you will also need some safety gear, such as a hard hat, safety glasses, and gloves. It is important to dress appropriately for electrical work, as you are working in hazardous situations. We will have a separate blog post on safety gear.
These are just the basics, of course. As you progress in your apprenticeship, you will need to add more tools to your collection. But these tools will give you a good start on your journey to becoming a skilled electrician.
Here are a few additional quick tips for electrical apprentices:
- Keep your tools clean and organized.
- Learn how to use your tools properly.
- Be safe when working with electrical equipment. Always de-energize equipment and devices before starting work.
- Ask questions if you don’t understand something.
- Be patient and persistent.
- Show up 15 minutes earlier than your start time every day.
With hard work and dedication, you can become a successful electrician. So get out there and start learning!