Doing any job requires the proper set of tools, otherwise
the work will be inefficient at best and can become downright
dangerous. Being a theatrical electrician is no different.
I have come up with a list of tools that every electrician
worth his or her weight should own. Some of them are not
absolutely neccesary, but they are all tremendously useful
in getting the job done. Initially building up your toolkit
can take a good bite out of your wallet but the majority
of these tools need only be bought once. It'll only hurt
for a little while. So, without any further adieu, here is
Also known as dikes, this tool comes in extremely handy
when your are cutting wire or trimming small objects. They
easily cut through staples & small nails.
A pair of gloves is essential for an electrician. You learn
quickly the first time you focus that lights get hot, and
fast. There are a wide range of options from cheap two dollar
gloves from Wal-Mart to 50 or 60 dollar purpose made gloves
from setwear. I personally used the 2 dollar gloves for nearly
3 years, the major advantage of the specialty gloves is that
they are built to give you as much control as possible while
protecting your hands whereas the cheap gloves tend to be
clunky. Make sure that whatever you do, do not get gloves
made out of material such as polyester, which can melt to your
A must-have for troubleshooting, knowing how to use one of
these tools lets you isolate most problems in a few seconds.
They come in a wide price range, but the lower end models
work just fine. One feature that is worth paying a little extra
for is a buzzer that goes off when continuity is detected,
this feature will keep you from having to find a way to actually
see the indicator when working in low-light troubleshooting situations.
There are two basic types of wire strippers out there: manual
and automatic strippers. Manual strippers tend to be more
versatile because they are smaller and you can use them to cut
smaller lengths of wire, especially splayed 12/3SO cable which
tends to be tough to get to with auto-strippers. Auto-strippers
also tend to be quite a bit more exspensive (about 4-5 times the
price of manual strippers). If you do choose to go with auto strippers,
pay the extra little bit for quality.
|Soldering Iron & Solder
These are important mainly when it comes to wiring practicals.
Adjustible temperature soldering irons are nice, but you'll pay
for it both in terms of price and size. Make sure you have a good
variety of iron tips for different situations.
| Leatherman (or Gerber) multitool
This is something that not only electricians, but everyone on this
planet should own. There is a huge range of options when it comes
to multitools, and this is definitly one of those things where you
get what you pay for. You can get $5-$10 no-name brands, but I would
really reccomend going with eather Leatherman or Gerber. You're going
to pay somewhere between $35 and $60 depending on what model you get.
There are many different tools that they can come with as well as
a variety of sizes to fit just about anyone's hand. Many people like
Gerber because of it's rectractable pliers that are made to be
easily accessible with one hand. I prefer Leatherman because they
seem to be much more durable and rugged, and with a little practice
you can open a leatherman with one hand with a simple flick of the
wrist. Make sure that whatever type of multitool you decide to go
with, that the knives and such lock into place to keep it from
collapsing onto you fingers (trust me, that's bad).
If you have a multitool, a separate knife isn't really essential
but it can come in very handy. Knives on multitools tend to be
a little tough to get to with one hand, and you also occasionaly
need to use a knife while holding something with the pliers on
your multitool. Again, make sure the knife locks into place so you
don't cut your fingers off.
|Wrench on a rope
If you carry nothing else with you to a work call, carry your crescent
wrench, without your wrench you are nothing. Again, there is a range
of options but in general one wrench is as good as the next. For most
people an 8" wrench is the best size for most jobs, it's big enough
to fit on all of the bolts you need to hang/focus a light yet fits
comfortably in your pocket (and doesn't have too much torqe, people
tend to break off set screws with the 10" wrenches). I prefer to have
a wrench with a rubber grip because it's more comfortable and it only
costs an extra dollar or two. It is essential that you have your
wrench on a lanyard (and have that lanyard attacted to you at all
times) because carpenters don't appreciate chunks of metal falling on
their head. You can either tie it directly to your belt loop, or
you can get a climbing hook so that you can quickly clip/unclip it.
This is not an essential tool, but can be very handy when you have
a stuck T-handel or a light you need to crank down for some reason.
It has holes drilled to fit all bolts on an Altman instrument, but
I find the design to be rather clunky and akward when using it
for anything other than T-handles. It is by no means a replacement
for your crescent wrench, but can be a very handy timesaver at
Unless you're a math wiz, it's a good idea to carry a calculator in
your toolkit in case you have a question about the load you need
to put on a circuit or calculate weight distribution, or if you
need to figure out how much your fellow crew members owe you for
lunch. A simple four function or scientific calculator should suffice
for 90% of the calculations you'll come across.
This is something every techie should have. If you don't know what it
is, it's basically a book of data sheets for a huge array of things
that are used commonly in theatre, from weight limits for different
types of ropes to American Wire Gauge charts. It contains many
different forumulas used for electrical calculations. It is an
indespensible resource that can save huge amounts of time.
Yes, these are more of a designers tool, but can be of use to
electricians, especially when you come across unmarked gel
(of course you aren't the one who cut it and didnt mark it)
and need to find out what you have.
This goes along with the multitool as an item that every person on
earth should have. Again, I would not cheap out to save a few bucks.
When you're working in the theatre, your tools get banged up quite
a bit and the durability of mini mags is much higher than the cheaper
brands. When you buy a minimag they usually come with at least one
extra bulb in the holder (built into the endcap), and you can sometimes
get them packaged with more extra bulbs. Either way, make sure to
store an extra bulb in the holder because you know it will burn
out at the worst possible moment.
One of the most overlooked tools in the box yet one of the most
important and I hope that I don't have to explain why. Try to keep
a stock of pencils in your kit and have at least one pencil on your
body when you start a call (I generally try to carry at least two).
Mechanical pencils are best for this because when you break a tip,
finding a sharpener in the theatre isn't usually the easiest thing
This one needs little explanation, when you're wiring stuff you
need electrical tape. Make sure you buy the higher quality tape,
especially when you are working with the high load equipment you
see in theatre. The lower quality tape has a tendency to become
brittle and lose it's adhesiveness. It should have a rubbery feel,
whereas the cheap stuff tends to feel like plastic.