Contractor's Low-Voltage Kit

Low voltage wiring requires a specific set of tools, and I keep them all in a single bag. That way, when I get to the job I'll have everything I need. I've set up similar bags for other specialized tasks. Sure, there is some duplication but that's better than having to run out in the middle of the job to buy a tool you forgot to bring.

Nothing says professional like a neatly labeled panel or wires. I did quite a bit of research before deciding on this RhinoPRO 5000 labeler, a mid-range model with functions and symbols specific to datacom and electrical applications. I bought it about five years ago and it has since been discontinued. But the manufacturer continues to produce similar models. The label is printed vertically in succession so it can be read from any side then you wrap it around the wire. As I tone out or remove the rough masking tape labels we use from each jack location I put on the wire wrap labels in the network panel. I also label the regular circuit breaker panel with it if the stickers that came with it got lost (as they so often do) before the end of the job. It’s hard to find the cartridges in stores so I buy online and make a point to keep a good assortment of them on hand.

These strippers are just like any other strippers you might carry except they strip the smaller gauge wires normally associated with datacom work. They work with 22-32 AWG Stranded and 20-30 AWG Solid (cat5e wire is 24ga solid).

This is my favorite tool in the kit. I can connect the toner to the end of a wire (with alligator clips or by plugging it into a RJ45 jack) and use the probe (the pen-like device) to get a rough approximation of where the wire runs inside the wall. The probe will emit a tone when it gets close to where the wire is. This comes in handy when the sheetrockers cover up boxes by accident. You can identify a wire in a remote location by connecting the toner to one end of the cable and then passing the probe over the other end. The probe will emit a distinct tone when its tip is at the correct wire.

These Ideal brand coaxial cable and twisted pair data cable wire strippers allow me to quickly and efficiently install terminations at cable/data panels or at jack locations throughout the connected home. Twisted pair data cable is typically category 5e or 6. The data cable stripper works to strip the outer sheathing off the cable so you can untwist and work with the individual wire for punch down jacks or line your wires up to insert into an RJ45 (ethernet) or RJ11 (phone) jack before crimping it on with another tool. The coaxial strippers have multiple sets of blades at different depths to strip both the inner and outer shields simultaneously. These handy little strippers can be found at most major building and hardware supply stores.

Sometimes you got to get in some tight spots and these are great for that but are more than just needle nose pliers. They have a flat area in the middle made for pushing down on gel filled splice caps – which contain conductive silicone gel and are used when you’re in a bind and have to splice a wire. The tool also contains a stripper for 24-gauge wire, the standard gauge of data wire. I use them for twisting wire around binding posts, which are used in phone and AV wiring (if you have some decent stereo equipment there’s probably some kind of binding post behind your receiver). Regular needle nose pliers would work for these applications but for my job specific kits I prefer to have the best tools for the job.

VDV stands for voice, data, video. This is a great little tester for toning out (sending a tone down a cable so you can locate or identify it) coaxial and data cables. Unlike the probe tool this tester connects to the terminations (RJ11 or RJ45) and gives you a read on whether you got the connections right when you installed the jacks. Basically, it tells you if any of the connections are open (bad) or if you flipped a pair of wires when you made the connection.

Every tool bag needs a utility knife. I began in the trades as a drywall hanger so out of force of habit I carry a fixed blade knife in my tool bags. But for low voltage work I carry a retractable knife because I don’t want to accidentally knick something delicate. There’s nothing special about this knife – I got it because I like the paint job and it came with Lenox Gold Blades, which in my opinion are really tough and stay sharp noticeably longer than similar blades from Stanley.

You can probably guess where this comes in handy, yup, as a screwdriver with every bit on board - enough for 99% of the fasteners you’ll encounter in a typical installation. It’s just what I need for my job specific low voltage kit. I used to keep one of these tools in my carpenter’s bags but switched back to individual screwdrivers because the retention balls don’t hold well enough for the amount of jostling the tool got and I was always loosing tips.

When you connect wires to jacks or terminal blocks you punch them down between a pair of bars that slice through the sheathing and make electrical contact.. If you buy a blister pack of data jack ends at a big box store the package will include a little plastic punch down tool. That free tool is nothing like this one. Sometimes I really gotta’ give it some pressure and the larger handle is more manageable. The business end that you see out of the handle in the photo stores in the butt of the handle to keep it protected when stowed in your bag. I like that the tool is spring-loaded and automatically trims the wire (to length) when you punch it down.

After removing the jacket from data wire and sorting the wire pairs I use this tool to trim the wires to length and crimp RJ45 or RJ11 terminations onto them. It’s a matter of poking the wire into the back of the jack (the termination) and using the ratcheting action of the handles to crimp it on. When the crimp is made pins in the Telemaster drive the knife bars in the termination into the wires so electrical connections are made.

These scissors came out of a road warrior office kit I received from the staff of a company where I used to work. They rode around in my glove box for a number of years. When I built my datacom kit and started stripping data cable there was a little white nylon strands in it and I used to fuss with it to keep it out of the way or try to cut it off with the utility knife. One day I remembered I had these scissors in that little office pouch and they worked great cut off that annoying little nylon. They’ve been in my kit since that day. I also use them for trim labels if I want them shorter than the labelers onboard cutter makes them.

I use this cable cutter specifically for cutting coaxial cable. Its’ rounded jaw help leave the cut end in better form for an accurate strip with the coaxial strippers.

I use this compression tool for installing F style connectors to the ends of coaxial cable (like for cable TV). I never use the twist or crimp style ends as they can interfere with the cables shield at the cut end and cause slight noise and signal leaking.

The butt end of this driver is used for pushing on the compression style F connectors and then after they are compressed the front nut driver can tighten the connector after it has been threaded on to the post you’re attaching it to.

If I have leftover screws from a job and I need to replenish my kit I’ll throw them in a little zipper pouch. Invariably a panel will show up a screw missing or I’ll drop one and it bounces out into outer space it seems because no matter how long I spend on my hands and knees I can’t ever find it. I use the short patch panel cables when I’m testing connections.

I recently switched bags and moved my low voltage tools to a Veto Pro Pak bag. It has multiple pockets and compartments, is reasonably protective, and is sized to hold what I need.

Here it is from the other side.

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