Top 7 Hand Tools for DDC Controls Technicians

CLC 23 Pocket Large Electrical Tool Pouch CarrierWhen I started out in controls I used to have a full double pouch tool belt and carried with me a drill bag that prolly weighed all of about 30 pounds! Of course back then I was doing everything from the rough installation to service after the project was over. Now that I am a little wiser and not needing to do all the rough stuff; I have a single small tool pouch that I can take care of 90% of all service calls and issues on any building automation system out there. Here are the Top 7 that you should have with you on site and on your hip.


1. Klein 11 in 1 Screwdriver

Klein 11 in 1 Screwdriver and Nutdriver ComboUndoubtedly the Klein 11 in 1 screwdriver/nutdriver will be your most used hand tool when dealing with HVAC and DDC Controls. I normally don’t push favor toward expensive name brands and Klein is usually more expensive compared to other comparable tools, but these awesome screw/nut driver combos can be had for as little as $15-$20. They are tough and can withstand alot of harsh treatment for the buck.

The one gig on them is that you WILL lose the tips for your #2 phillips and 1/4″ slotted which are the same piece. The reason this will happen is you will pull that tip out to use the 1/4″ nut driver most of the time and well it’s small and you’ll end up with it being held in your mouth or on that  top step of your ladder already filled with wire nuts and screws. So buy an extra pack when you see them, they are cheap too.


2. Digital Multimeter

Amprobe Digital MultimeterOk, so this isn’t exactly a ‘hand tool’, but I guarantee if you are or want to be a HVAC Controls Tech worth his salt; you will be whipping this puppy out once you’ve narrowed down a problem to a device or piece of equipment. This is one tool that should be a one time purchase and you don’t want to skimp on. If you are just starting out don’t go for the Fluke if you wanna save some cash. Fluke wants you to pay for the name and the prestige and there are other good name brands out there that will work just fine like Extech, Amprobe, and Ideal.

Make sure the meter you get can do AC and DC Volts, Ohms, Continuity (or ‘The Beeper’ setting – you know… the setting that makes a beep when you touch the two ends together), AC amps and if you wanna go the extra mile get one with an amperage loop like in the example photo even if it is NOT True RMS. I’ll discuss more about choosing a multimeter in a later post.


3. Termination Screwdriver

Wera Kraftform Insulated 2.5mm ScrewdriverNow you are wondering why you would need another screwdriver when you already got an 11 in 1 in your pocket. Well that would be because as a technician working on Building Automation Controls, you need more than just muscle tools to tighten, pry and jab. You need small tools to do all the delicate work that comes with working on the circuit boards and control panels, not to mention some of the computer parts and cables you will also come in contact with.

A good termination screwdriver will be a small slotted driver (2.5mm / 0.10in) with a good sized handle that you can grip with your whole hand and not the typical pocket screwdriver that you pinch with two fingers. The pocket one will work in a pinch and I do carry one myself in my pocket, but when boots are on the ground ready to control stuff, get something that doesn’t say Fisher-Price on it.

4. Wire Strippers

Gardner-Bender Wire Strippers with Voltage SensorIn controls you are going to be working with small wires and lots of them. Get a pair of wire strippers that are light and feel comfortable in your hands. Because we control techs can find ourselves trying to terminate 16 pairs of wires at a time you are gonna want a pair that has a spring to help open the teeth of the stripper after each pull. Typical wire gauges you will be working with are stranded copper 12-18AWG and sometimes for communication lan wire, stranded 22AWG and 24AWG. You might not be able to find one pair that will work for 12AWG through 24AWG, but you can usually strip the smaller gauges with the 18AWG hole with a slight angle of the wrist.

The bestest set of strippers I have ever used would be hands down the Gardner Bender wire strippers in the pic. They have the spring, an awesome two-position grip that’s comfortable, 3 size screw cutter and even an audible voltage sensor that beeps when it detects you are close to 50-600VAC. Ya just can’t beat that!


5. Needle Nose Pliers

Channel Lock 317 8 inch Needle Nose Pliers with Side CuttersThese will be your go to tool when ya need to get a good grip on a wire, zip tie or anything else you need to grab in tight spots. Be sure to get a good set with the wire cutters toward the back as it will save you from having to switch tools to do a quick cut of a wire.

Most needle nose pliers will be really stiff when ya first get them so soon as ya pull em out of the wrapper go find ya some spray lubricant and spray it all over the center hinge point and work them back and forth till they just fall open when you hold one handle. If you skip this step you take twice as long doing your work having to work the pliers open each time.


6. Wire Cutters

Channel Lock Wire Cutters with CrimperNow you may be wondering why you might need another tool that can cut wire, well its all about the leverage. When it comes time to rip out some existing wiring or nip that piece of metal strapping or 10AWG solid copper, these guys will bite threw alot with minimal effort because of the long handles and the cutters at the far end of the tool.

The other great bonus about this tool are the two crimping notches. These make it easy to crimp those butt splices using the front of the tool and not having to release the handle and use the back side like on some wire strippers. And once again… leverage. With standard wire strippers you really gotta grip hard on the handle to make a good secure crimp, but with these guys take it easy cause they easily tear right through the insulation.


7. Thermostat Tool

Johnson Controls JC5309 flexible Thermostat ToolFinally we have a tool that is controls specific and though you may not use it every day, you will want to have it because no other trade will have one laying around in their pouches. There are a few different sizes to contend with but most all thermostat set screws will be a hex screw. When dealing with these types of set screws be sure to check if you are supposed to screw it in or out to release the cover. Most use the screw in or a loosen, but not remove method to help from losing that tiny screw.

If you can find one I strongly recommend a flexible tipped thermostat tool so that it makes it easier to get your big hands under, over or along side the stat on the wall without resorting to small fingertip turns and marking up the wall finish.


…and that my friend is called a GOOD START! As you get more familiar with your exact requirements of your job position you will begin to look for additional tools that will make your job easier, more efficient and at some point… Cool. Yes it will happen, your buddy is gonna get some nifty tool or gadget and everyone is gonna wanna be his friend for the day. But you will of course be subscribing to The Controls Freak and learning about new gadgets and tools to buy so as not to be out done!

For those of you who have experience in HVAC controls work… What tools have you found that really made your job easier or made the next guy go running to the Sharper Image or Sky Mall for revenge?


8 Responses to Top 7 Hand Tools for DDC Controls Technicians

  1. Paul Ainsworth November 29, 2011 at 09:10

    I love this. I have been in the controls/HVAC/R industry for 10 years now and I too have gone from the 30 pound tool bag to a much more manageable tool kit that will still allow me to do the job. I guess those years of crawling through industrial attics has taught me a thing or two. Paul Ainsworth, M.L. Building Technologies.

    • The Controls Freak November 29, 2011 at 09:40

      When customers or the younger field guys make fun of my small little tool pouch, I just tell them, “If I can’t fix it with what I got… then I don’t need to be fixing it.” LOL

      It all comes with time.

  2. Lenny Lopez December 22, 2011 at 19:15

    Those are the same tools I carry around with the addition of a small pair of adjustable pliers by JIrwin for those stubborn vav shafts. I have been doing controls for 2 yrs now, and quickly ditched the toolbag with all my tools in exchange for current lighter setup. Oh and I almost forgot my 300 lumen led flashlight.

  3. The Controls Freak December 22, 2011 at 23:09

    Congrats on the 2 years! Yep a good pair of channel locks are great for torquing on stuff like damper shafts. They are a bit heavy on your hip, but if it’s something your going to be doing throughout the day, definitely makes sense.

  4. David Jenkins December 29, 2011 at 11:23

    I carry nearly the same things, except that Klein has a wire stripper that has usable long nose pliers and wire crimpers, so that brings my tool count down.

    Also if I am doing a large installation, particularly if its VAV controllers, I find that a cart is very helpful. You can put all of your tools and supplies on it and really get things moving as opposed to having to stop every few controllers to get more. It is also a convenient place to put a laptop, if needed, so that you aren’t left awkwardly operating the computer with one hand and holding on to it with the other.

  5. Brian Edwards February 16, 2012 at 18:20

    You just cant beat having a signal generator for troubleshooting devices. My other favorite is a bluetooth headset!

    • The Controls Freak February 18, 2012 at 20:09

      HEY! That’s pretty schnazy avatar ya got there… NICE!

      In all my years I have never used a signal generator, but after reading your comment I started to think that alot of the service techs that don’t have access to the controls software whether onsite or on the bench can’t just use a known good controller or command the output easily. Guess I took it for granted that everyone has access to manually command the DDC controllers.

      I have bought 3 blue tooth headsets and I only have one now and I’m not sure where it is. I think if I had some sort of inconspicuous holster for it… I might actually keep it ‘on’ me without having to wear it. LOL

      • Lenny Lopez February 23, 2012 at 17:30

        I have had a signal generator in my car since I started, I have never taken it down at a jobsite, I take it down when I clean the truck out. I can see the benifit maybe I’ll start using it at recent college retrofit were starting. Usually the problem I find is that devices are wired incorrectly by the installers. On a side note I recentyl bought about 5 diffrent pouches diffrent sizes looking for the perfect setup.


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