Hat’s Tricks

This is the page where you can find simple tricks of the trade. Even though they do not require their own video, these tricks will save you a lot of time and money!

Getting an Extra Set of Hands for Installing Conduit Alone

Many times in the electrical trade you will be installing conduit overhead. Often you will use unistrut for this. The best way is to have the conduit resting on top of the strut. However, many times the conduit will have to be strapped to the strut from below. If you have to do a job like this by yourself, it can be a bit cumbersome to install a ten feet long stick of conduit. The simple solution is to manufacture a second set of hands. In addition to time, this trick will save you a lot of running up and down on a ladder, and moving a ladder back and forth.

On my project, I had to install three 3/4 inch conduits. (with this trick I feel confident I could have 10 or 12 conduits). I used a 1-1/2 inch strut strap as my extra set of hands. I put an 8 inch piece of all thread between the two pieces of the strut strap. I used nuts on each side of each strut piece to hold it to the all thread. The pictures make it obvious what I did. I placed this into the strut at the end away from the couplings I was putting my conduit in. The end of the conduit easily rested in my little support system and allowed me to easily install the conduit. I could install all three conduits using the same support in one end before moving down to the other. By using a larger set of strut straps for the support, I was able to finger tighten my straps onto all three of the conduits. Then I removed the manufactured support and made the final adjustments to make the conduit straight and evenly spaced.

You can use this trick for larger conduits also, but you will need to keep in mind the need to work safely and limit the number of conduits you install at one time.

Hole Saws and Fender Washers

When using a Hole Saw, a common problem is that the pilot bit snaps off as soon as the saw teeth contact the surface. In order to help prevent this, place a 1/4″ fender washer on the surface first. Then, put the pilot bit through the hole of the washer and drill. When the hole saw teeth contact the fender washer, it will spin, relieving stress on the pilot bit. Then, you remove the fender washer and can control the hole saw contact with the surface much better. This is an old trick that the new guys should pick up.

Hole Saw Heat Reduction

In order to help your hole saws last longer and stay sharper, it is necessary to reduce heat buildup. This can be done by filling the hole saw about one fourth of the way with duct seal compound. This will absorb a lot of the heat. Leave the duct seal in the saw for next time.

Spring Nuts and Bolts

This trick is very handy when installing flourescent light fixtures, but can also be used successfully in many other applications. If you take your linemans pliers and take a little bit of a bite out of the bolt at the first and second threads, it will catch into the spring nut at that place when you go to thread it in. First, put the bolt and washer through the fixture. Then thread the spring nut onto the bolt until it catches at the “bite.” You can then stick the spring nut and bolt combination into the uni-strut. The bit grabs into the spring nut threads enough to allow you to turn it and set the spring nut into the uni-strut. When the spring nut grabs into the strut, the bolt will force its way into the spring nut threads. This is why it is important not to “bite” into it too deeply. With a little practice you’ll get the hang of it. Finish the job by pulling out away from he strut until the spring nut is fully seated into the strut. You can then use your ratchet and socket, or nut driver to tighten the bolt as you keep some steady pressure on it. Note: Many times when using spring nuts it is helpful to remove the spring.

Be Ambidextrous

Someone said that this one of Hat’s Tricks should be titled “Learn to Swing Both Ways.”  Let’s stick with “Be Ambidextrous.”  This simply means learn to use tools left-handed and right-handed.  Once you master this, it will get you out of a few jams in your career as an electrician.  This is not really that hard to do.  It is a little uncomfortable at first.  Soon, you’ll get used to it and be confident. There are several things to keep in mind to make this process less painful.First, use the mirror image of your movements when you use the opposite hand.  Use the same motions, grip and stance – in other words – all of your body dynamics should be the same as when you use your dominant hand.  The tendency is to use shorter and more forced motions.  This leads to jerkiness and fatigue, frustration and a lower quality job.  Be patient and be smooth.  Your muscles will get used to it.  Once you start being ambidextrous, you will start doing it more naturally just to give your dominant hand a rest now and then. Actually, in the long run, it may help prevent things such as carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis in your dominant hand.(Consult your doctor about this.)

Installing a Tek Screw Without a Drill

It’s happened to all of us.  We’re in a place with no electricity and the last battery in our cordless drill just died.  All we need to do to finish the job is put in a few more tek screws.  What do we do in a situation like this?  A simple one of Hat’s Tricks that often works is to take a scratch awl or a center punch and pound the beginning of a hole into the metal.  Mind you, this only works on the softer types of metals like drywall studs.  Once you have the hole, or a major indentation, you can usually take a screwdriver and get the tek screw to thread in by hand.  This will take some muscle.  Be careful not to stab your self with the screwdriver.  Once the tip of the screw gets started, the rest of the screw will go in relatively easily. This is a simple trick that is well worth remembering.

Using Jack Chain in Residential Electrical Remodeling

When remodeling older homes with hollow walls, or at least when upgrading or adding to the existing electrical installation, a 10 foot long length of jack chain can be a very useful item to have in your toolbox.  A very good feature of jack chain is that when it is lowered in a slow and steady manner, it will drop straight down.  This will allow you to drop it from the attic, into the wall space, and into the old junction box.  It is not only quite possible, but with a little bit of practice, relatively easy to get the chain to hit the opening that the old wire was in.  A helpful trick is to have someone down below place a lighted flashlight (Maglite) in the junction box.  You’ll easily see this from above by looking in the hole in the top plate of the wall.  Of course, this is not as critical if you are using a new cut in box and have a decent hand hole to grab your wire.

Once the jack chain is in the box, you can then tape it to the Romex and lower it in a smooth steady manner down the wall and into the box.  Make sure that you put the appropriate connector onto the Romex before you lower it down the wall.  The local building inspector won’t let you get away without it.  Then, you can install the Romex into the attic junction box and make up the receptacle or switch or other device in the wall junction box.  For instructions on finishing the job, check out our lesson “Residential Wiring Methods – Make Up and Trim Work.”

This can work on a commercial job as well, but in that situation, a fishtape is usually a better choice.  This trick can be used to drop any type of cable into a wall – phone lines, Cat5, cable TV to name a few.

The Easy Way to Gain Speed and Productivity

The Easy Way to Gain Speed and Productivity or Get the Most Out of Your Tool Every Time You Pull it Out. I’ve always taught my students to focus and do high quality work.  I’ve always taught that your job should make it as easy as possible for the person who has to follow you to do their job.  That person will often be you.  When the job is started right, you can easily stay ahead of the game.  You don’t play catch up and get in a hurry and end up making even more mistakes.

A very specific trick to increase productivity easily with the same effort that maintains the same level of quality is this:   Use your tool as many times as you can when it is in your hand before you change tools.  Do the same with each tool in the process.  At the same time, if your tool performs several operations, do as many of the same operations at the same time as possible.  A few weeks ago, I was making terminations in some control boxes for a large number of loading dock doors.  I had to crimp stak-ons on 10 #14 wires in each box.  Here’s what I did.

1.  Labeled each wire while I had the wire marker book in my hand.

2.  Cut the wires to the appropriate length.  There were three groups of wires so I had three lengths.  After the first couple of boxes, I had this length down and could easily cut the wires in proper groups.   With the same tool – the Ideal stripper and crimper combo tool I stripped the appropriate length of wire off of each of the ten wires.  The final operation with this tool was to crimp a stak-on onto each wire.  After all the stak-ons were crimped onto the wires, the tool could be put down and the wires pushed onto their proper points of termination.

Three operations were performed on 10 wires with the same tool.  Each operation was performed all 10 times before the next operation was performed.  A big key to productivity like this is that the labeling was done as the first step.  This is not always possible.  Sometimes, you may be in a situation in which you must change tools and do each step individually.  This is often the case when you are adding on to an existing situation and need access to tighten the screws/bolts of your fasteners and supports.  The accessibility that exists in new construction is now gone.

Think your job through.  Use your tool effectively and you’ll get more done with less effort, and you won’t have to sacrifice quality. Get the Most Out of Your Tool Every Time You Pull it Out.

Threading Rigid Conduit With a Machine - Be a Smooth Gentleman

Even though Hat Video doesn’t have a lesson on how to use a machine to thread rigid conduit, we are often asked for some tips on how to do this basic skill needed by the industrial electrician.  The greatest advice we can give is “Don’t stop the threading machine until the pipe is threaded.”  This technique has several advantages.  It saves wear and tear on the threading machine motor by eliminating unnecessary starting and stopping.  Also, when you set this as a goal when using the threader, it will help you do several things.  It will get you to visualize each step of the process from start to finish.  With less effort, you will work faster.  You will also look much more professional and skilled.  The keyword is “smooth.”  Work smooth.  Don’t be frantic or jerky.  Each time you go to thread the end of a rigid conduit, set the intention that you will complete the process in one smooth series of continuous actions while the machine is continuously running.

While we’re on the subject of threading rigid conduit, here’s another trick.  Before you begin threading the conduit, stuff a rag inside of it about ¼ to ½ an inch deep.  This will keep the oil from the threading machine from getting deep inside the conduit.  As one old timer put it, “Work like a gentleman.”  There is no need to get yourself covered with oil.  Neither is there any need to have the cutting oil dripping out of tshe conduit all over the floor, creating a safety hazard – as well as a big mess. Let’s sum up this Hat’s Trick by saying “Be a Smooth Gentleman.”