What’s in the perfect security electronics tool box? It depends on the sort of applications you’re working on but there are some electrical tools, hand tools and testers that you really can’t do without – if they’re not in your tool box, they should be in the van.
Toolbox or tool bag? Probably both. Larger items work well in a bag, while smaller tools and components are best kept in a folding case, or a toolbox with compartments. One of the issues with tools is that they are heavy, and they tend to multiply. It’s important to ensure your tools are portable or are arranged in such a way that you can select everything you’ll need for a particular job from your van or home/work tool storage centre.
You’ll need electrical measurement tools such as DMMs (standard and hall effect to test cables without breaking jackets), a voltage tester, a light meter. A cable tester for RJ45 and RJ11, a stud finder, a circuit finder like the Fluke 2042 Cable Locator Set (expensive) or the MASTECH MS5902, a receptacle tester, an RF noise detector to help with wireless applications – there are less expensive units from makers like RS and more expensive solutions like the Tenmars TM-190. An endoscope for looking into spaces you can’t access can help with mysterious cable obstructions, as well as tip you off to metal behind wood or plaster, or live mains cables in unexpected locations.
Electrical tools will include drills and bits, a heat gun, portable lighting (including a head lamp), a portable vacuum and a soldering kit – a wooden bread board makes a useful portable workbench for soldering in the field. With drills and heat guns less can be more. You need 90 degrees C to handle glue-filled heat shrink butt connectors – there’s no need for more power unless you want to risk melting adjacent conductors. Meanwhile, drill settings for electrical work are at the delicate end. If your installs involve working with timber, masonry and metal, then you’ll need to cover off these requirements, too.
If you are starting out, 18V lithium tools are the more powerful option but if you have 12V, stick with it unless you must upgrade. There are drill kits with a huge number of useful accessories that can handle polishing, grinding, even pumping – how far you go down this path depends on the demands of your applications. A hand drill is a surprisingly subtle tool in experienced hands, don’t rule it out, even as a backup to battery powered units. Hole saw kits and drill and tap sets have a place, too.
You’ll also need a laptop – it need not be a gaming machine, but it should have enough power and enough storage to handle your requirements. We’d say 256GB SSD for software storage and 2TB HDD for data makes a nice combination – i7 processing goes without saying. Your laptop does not have to be something you can use outside but there will be times you will wish it could be if it can’t be. Should you use a standard body, invest in a padded carry case. All your software and manuals should be in the cloud – Google Drive File Stream works well.
When it comes to hand tools, favour insulated tools rated to 1000V and tested to handle arcs of 10,000 volts. If in doubt, look for tools that comply with OSHA, NFPA, and IEEE regulations. For a start, you’ll need a good screwdriver set – smaller as well as larger ones, and shorter as well as longer ones. A good set of hex keys covering imperial and metric (there are 1000V insulated hex sets), multiple sets of pliers – smaller for delicate work, larger for serious grip in long and blunt nose types. There are diagonal pliers and channel lock types as well. A set of small right-angle pliers can be exactly what you need when working in the back of control boxes. You’ll want tweezers, too, as well as clamps to give you an extra hand in busy corners.
Wire cutters – there are times you’ll need a pair of linesman’s cutters but for most low voltage work, a smaller pair will be a better option – dedicated cutters are better than the multipurpose cutters on a crimper or a set of pliers – they’ll be made of higher grade metal and will deliver a cleaner cut. There’s no comparing the cleanness of the cut made by a full size Wiha and the cut made by a mini no-name. Try both and you’ll see – bearing in mind there are times you’ll want to trim conductors with the tool in your hand.
When it comes to crimpers, you’ll want multiple sets to cover all the connector sizes you run into. Smaller for alarm zone cabling, larger for power cables. You’ll also want a very small pair for crimping in hard to reach places where using full sizes crimpers will snag on wires, pressure delicate connections and terminations and generally cause chaos. There are a number of crimper types, as well as different crimp gauges – which works best for you depends on what you are crimping but will also be based on preferences. These will depend on hand strength and the robustness of the connections you are able to make with each type. Stronger hands will make more robust connections with squarer crimpers offering greater contact area between conductor and connector.
Wire strippers – dedicated strippers are better than a multipurpose tool, again taking into account there will be times when contorted in the foetal position with dust in your eyes you will want to use the tool that’s already in your hand. For this reason multipurpose tools have their place. Dedicated strippers, even less expensive versions, are sharper, have more options, better overall design, and require less of a Hail Mary when you’re trying to establish the right stripper gauge in real time. When it comes to network cabling, you’ll need a Cat5/6 stripper and crimper – the Klein Tools VDV226-110 is a good one – and a punch down tool.
Shifting spanners and wrenches can be useful but they are no substitute for a quality socket set with a range of extenders that allow you to put a little torque on a bolt from outside a control box. Be careful with socket sets. They go from very useful yet surprisingly heavy, to a ton of bricks you will never want to carry in a single step. Buy what you need for work, rather than covering off a possible need to remove the diff from the XM ute at some vague future point. Socket sets also come insulated to 1000V if you need that protection. Shifters are useful but they incorporate tolerance that guarantees they will round the heads of nuts and bolts over time. For electronic security work, smaller shifters are going to be better than larger.
With hand tools you need a couple you can beat the hell out of by using them for prying out stripped screws and the like. These sacrificial lambs can be anything old from home you’ve been using as paint stirrers – 3 flat head screwdriver sizes are probably best but a range of philips heads you can ruin on rusted screw heads are also worth having around. If you don’t have tools like these for nasty work you will end up damaging your quality tools in a way that will impair their performance, as well as messing up fixings for the technicians who come after you.
You’ll need levels in small and larger sizes, tape measures in smaller and larger sizes, a magnifying glass with integrated LED lighting, a pair of 1x reading glasses, a pair of 2x reading glasses, cable ties in various sizes, hammers – one larger for timber or metal work and a smaller item for more delicate operations in crowded spaces. A couple of chisels, a set of awls, vice grip or multi-grip pliers can be useful, too. If you’re fitting out a van, having a bench vice setup has advantages. A utility knife is vital and a metal straight edge will be useful, too. We tend to favour knives with a folding blade to ensure that when the blade is away it’s away, not half out in the bottom of a bag waiting for fingertips.
You’ll want tape – electrical tape and painter’s tape, we don’t really like using the former, but it will come in handy. Glue – wood glue and something stronger. A solvent to remove the last tech’s stronger something. A tube of Loc-Tite to isolate stainless from less noble brackets. Plastic spacers. Liquid electrical tape has its place but only use it if you really have to.
You need connectors of all shapes and sizes, heat shrink in a range of sizes – not too big though, as heat shrink only loses half its diameter and might not form a proper seal around bare connectors if you overdo it. Velcro tabs can be useful. A good pair of scissors, penetrating lubricants, marine grease, sugar soap in a squeegie bottle. When things get a bit messy using liquids, those big foldup absorbent pads for pets can help. When things go completely sideways, a couple of nappies will save the day. For cleaning almost anything, wet wipes.
Cat cable ends are important – as is practising building them. Security techs who worry about the superiority of IT integrators should bring their A-game and rejoice in the fact they are likely to be much better at this hands-on stuff than IT people are. Screws, nuts and bolts, and a magnetic tray to drop them onto. Hose clamps, a little Blu-Tak, IP67 network cable connectors for commissioning/troubleshooting, fish tape in smaller and larger types. A wee mirror on a telescoping rod, a magnet on a telescoping rod, resistors, fuse holders and fuses, including blade fuse cases and blade fuses for protecting bigger jobs, static straps.
If you’re doing anything with optical fibre you will need a separate kit that includes things like a fibre crimp tool, 6um diamond film to 0.05um Aluminium oxide film, polish disc, A/B fast epoxy glue, a cleanser carbide scribe, Kevlar cutter, working pad, stripper, syringe, fibre push cleaner, etc. You’ll want a lens cloth, a lens pen for cleaning lenses and camera sensors, as well as iso alcohol wipes.
When it comes to cabling, you’ll need to ensure you have all your needs covered – multi-core alarm cable, power cable, Cat cables, maybe coaxial cable if you’re doing analogue cameras, fibres. You’ll need conduits, too, but obviously a lot of this stuff won’t fit in your toolbox. You also need a hacksaw and blades, perhaps a pipe reamer, pencils, a notepad, safety gear – boots, gloves, eyewear, and a hardhat.
If you’ve got any must-have tools you’d like us to add to the list, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org