Best Electrical Wire Pulling Tools | Fish Tape, Rods, or Vacuum?
Pro electricians use a variety of tools to pull cable and wire. When pulling either high or low voltage cables, you need good electrical wire pulling tools. You also need to understand which tool is the right tool for the job.
While wire pulling is simply part of the job, it can slow down those new to the electrical trade. Recent advances have thrust new products onto the market. These new electrical wire pulling tools can save you time and money if used properly. Whether you find yourself in a complex retrofit or a new commercial job, the right electrical wire pulling tools can reduce frustration and shave time off the job.
We want to cover several things in this article. Selecting the right wire pulling tools for the job is the primary challenge. You must also understand how those tools work and in what scenario each excels. The right tool can land you in a happy place—and the wrong tool may put set you up for some long, grueling hours.
What are the Most Common Electrical Cable Pulling Tools?
This is your number one stop for pulling 12 gauge wires or even low voltage cable through conduit. A good fish tape is going to make or break you. We look for features that keep you safe or speed up the work.
Consider opting for non-conductive material like fiberglass or a threaded or adjustable nose pin that easily adapts to your needs. Fiberglass tapes will offer additional protection against contacting a live circuit. The trade-off is rigidity. A steel tape can push and pull with a lot more authority and strength before bending.
When you get a fish tape, make sure you have ample length for the type of work you do. Also, be sure to get something that has a stable and solid reel not prone to binding. We really like the Southwire SIMpull series as well as some models from Klein Tools. With truly long, bendy runs of 1/2-inch conduit, you may require the stiffness of more traditional steel or fiberglass products.
- Best Fiberglass Fish Tape: Southwire SIMpull non-conductive fish tape (see the video) $42.95
- Best Steel Fish Tape: Klein stainless steel fish tape $88.35
Wire Pulling Rods
The difference between fish tape and rods is that rods are shorter lengths of material that are not used in conjunction with a reel. Where reels are great for long conduit runs, rods are excellent for fishing up and down wall cavities and across other hidden areas where rigidity gives you an edge. You also typically have the ability to splice rods together for greater lengths.
Other features to consider include glow rods that are easily visible in ceiling, floor, and wall cavities. If you only do light work or short distances, non-conductive wire pulling rods are going to be your staple product.
Rods typically come in lengths of 3 to 6 feet, and several in between. There are numerous heads to accomplish nearly any task (magnetic, loops, hooks, etc). Rods are perfect for pulling network lines, cable/satellite TV, telephone, thermostat, and other wiring or cable short distances. Klein has a recent line of Splinter Guard fiberglass fish rods that we absolutely love. They do a better job at not creating immediate splinters as the rods invariably run up against joists, drywall, and other materials on a daily basis. They also glow in the dark.
- Best Fiberglass Fish Rods: Klein Tools Splinter Guard fish rods $129.78
- Also: Greenlee Fiberglass Fish Rods $54.08
Conduit Pistons, Airbags, and Blower/Vacuum Systems
You have never fished string or leader wire until you’ve attached it to a conduit piston and literally sucked it through a line. No fuss, no muss. The added benefit is that the conduit gets cleaned out in the process. This works really well for high-end residential and commercial jobs that require a new wire to be run through conduit over longer distances. There is some prep work involved, but it’s an excellent solution. For bent or obstructed conduit, you can use airbags that adapt better to the needs of conduit that isn’t a straight shot.
Light Nylon Pull Cord
If you’re going to pull electrical cable, you want to use an appropriately-sized nylon string that is strong, light, and ready to provide a lot of tensile strength. You’ll see tensile strength marked in “pounds”. That’s pounds of pull force and you can typically find values between 22 and 500 lbs. Keep in mind that higher strength typically means a heavier cord. You can even buy, from some companies like Kena, piston/pull string combo packs that come ready to be vacuumed through a line (see above).
Metal Stud Punch
When dealing with residential electrical jobs, a right angle drill usually suffices for creating holes in metal. If, however, you plan to run conduit through steel studs in a commercial setting, you might want to invest in a metal stud punch. This takes the hassle out of inserting metal conduit through steel studs.
Good models will handle up to 20 gauge steel and also insert stud bushings to protect your conduit and cable from sharp metal edges.
In continuing with our commercial conduit theme, a conduit bender is also essential. While you can get a more sophisticated model, there are a handful of manual “hand” benders that work extremely well provided you aren’t going to bend a ton of material in a day. The “hand” benders rely on your feet, with the metal handle guiding the fulcrum of the bend. For larger jobs, a power bender often arrives on the scene to facilitate larger pipe and higher numbers of bends.
- Best conduit bender: Klein conduit benders $36.22 (1/2″), $73.58 (3/4″), $86.91 (1″)
- Best power bender: Southwire Bendmax compact power bender
Wire Pulling Lubricant
It sounds obvious (or like a bad joke) but lubricant makes your wire pulling easier. Better wire pulling lubricants leave less mess and go further per amount used. It’s a material that is non-corrosive to aluminum, copper, PVC, and galvanized steel. It dries to a non-toxic lubricating powder after it’s applied.
You primarily used this with high-stress electrical work as well as communications cable pulling. These are areas where friction is your enemy. The lubricant is water-soluble and typically doesn’t bother the skin. The newest types we’ve seen claim 100% non-toxicity and environmental friendliness.
Hopefully, this guide will expose you to the best electrical wire pulling tools that can make this type of work more profitable for you and your company. The right tools can really cut down on time spent pulling wire through walls or conduit. Knowing about some of the more obscure tools—like airbags—should result in a lot more friendly piston-style pulling of cable through imperfect conduit. Improvements in fiberglass glow rods and foam lubricant also promise to speed up your workflow. Let us know your personal favorite wire pulling tools in the comments below.