8 Must-Have Electrical Tools

Basic electrical tools will save you money on simple repairs and should be in every home owner’s toolbox.

Circuit testers plug into an outlet to test for the presence of electricity. Image: Gardner Bender

You don’t need a lot of experience or expensive electrical tools to test a receptacle, mend an extension cord, or rewire a flickering lamp—that’s basic stuff that $150 worth of electrical tools can fix. Here’s a list of electrical tools that every home owner should have in his or her toolbox.

Electrical tools fall into two categories: test and repair.

Test the power

Electrical testers are useful to determine if, where, and how much electricity is flowing—good and easy information to collect before you call an electrician.

1. Circuit tester: This plugs into an electrical outlet to test the presence of electricity, aka whether an outlet is “hot.” It’s a good tool to help you determine whether the lamp is broken or the outlet isn’t working. Make sure you test the tester on an outlet you know is hot, so you can trust its accuracy on others. Cost: $4.

2. Multimeter: One meter checks several electrical properties—AC or DC voltage, current, resistance—to help diagnose malfunctions. They’re digital or analog, and can test switches, batteries, and power sources. Cost: $15 digital; $10 analog.

3. Battery tester: Digital or analog meters are great for testing that drawer full of loose batteries. Cost depends on the types and sizes of batteries it tests. Cost: $15 for a household battery tester with an LCD display; $7 analog.

Repair the problem

4. Linemen’s pliers: These pliers grip, twist, and cut heavy wire and cable; they also can do double-duty to hammer nails or wire staples. Cost: $30 for 9” pliers.

5. Long nose (needle-nosed) pliers: These skinny and grooved pliers have snipping blades that reach into small places to snip and bend the end of wire. Cost: $20 for 5” pliers.

6. Wire stripper: This plier-like tool cuts through and strips plastic or rubber insulation around cable and wire. Cost: $12 for a 6” stripper.

7. Insulated screwdrivers: Flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers come with insulated tops that protect against electrical shocks up to 1,000 volts. Cost: $40 (2-piece set; 4” Phillips and flat).

8. Electrical tape: This plastic vinyl, ultra-sticky tape covers and insulates wire. Cost: $4 (3/4-inch, 66 ft.)