Tools for Getting Started in Your HVAC Career (With Pictures)

Tools of the HVAC Trade

A career in the HVAC industry requires the use of many tools. If you're just getting started in the heating and air conditioning trade, it can seem overwhelming to decide what is needed right away. It can also be quite costly. While the more expensive machinery will be supplied by your employer, you will be required to purchase many tools on your own.

This hub will provide you a list of tools that you will need to begin your HVAC career, along with photos and a brief explanation of their use. I will also give you various names for these tools, so that when your partner says, "Hey rookie, give me those tongs," you won't be looking for a salad utensil.

Based on my 15 years in HVAC, I'd like to share one last bit of advice. As you go about purchasing your "money-makers," it's best to purchase tools that are durable and will last a long time. This can mean paying a bit more, but it's worth it, to avoid the expense of buying the same tool more than once, and the inconvenience caused by cheap tools breaking on the job.

Author's Qualifications

Cre8tor has 15 years of experience in HVAC Installation and Service, an EPA certification, and coursework in electrical theory, thermodynamics, and refrigeration.

Three Lists Of Tools: General Purpose, Sheet-Metal Work, Air-Conditioning Work

I've got three lists of tools you might want to become familiar with: one for broad use in many types of HVAC work, one for work with sheet metal, and one for work with air conditioning systems.

I. General Tools Used In HVAC

We'll start out with common tools widely used in HVAC, tools not specific to any particular task.

1. Battery-Powered Drill

18-volt battery operated drill with two batteries, a charger, and commonly used bits.
18-volt battery operated drill with two batteries, a charger, and commonly used bits.

All these tools will become your friends, but none of them is as essential in HVAC as the battery operated drill. I suggest 18 volts minimum, with two batteries and a charger. Do not spare expense here; a good drill will more than pay for itself over time. The drill will often come with a Phillips bit, but you'll need to purchase a 1/4" hex bit as well, as this is the most common type of screw that you'll be using in HVAC.

2. Electrical Testers

Multi-meter (left), electrical sensor (right)
Multi-meter (left), electrical sensor (right)

In HVAC, you will have to work around live electrical power, so some type of electrical tester is a must. The picture shows one tester that can perform multiple functions (multi-meter), while the other will only let you know where electricity is present.

3. The Sawzall

Electrically powered sawzall with wood and metal blades. (A battery operated type can come in handy sometimes.)
Electrically powered sawzall with wood and metal blades. (A battery operated type can come in handy sometimes.)

No. I didn't spell it wrong. A sawzall does exactly that. It saws just about anything depending on what blade you put into it. This also is a tool where I wouldn't suggest sparing expense. Find yourself a durable sawzall that will last. Blades will likely be supplied by your employer. I like a quick-release blade installation, but there are many styles available.

4. Twenty-Five-Foot Tape Measure

Tape measure and permanent marker
Tape measure and permanent marker

Get a tape measure at least 25 feet long.

Permanent markers are great for marking measurements. (Pencils and pens are always handy too.)

5. Four-Foot Stepladder

Four-foot fiberglass step ladder
Four-foot fiberglass stepladder

Occasionally you may need a taller ladder, but the 4' size is easier to maneuver and will often do the trick. A fiberglass ladder with metal rungs is best.

6. Hammer

Notice the relatively straight claw
Notice the relatively straight claw

I suggest the carpenter-style hammer, as opposed to the style where the claw is more curved.

7. Fifty-Foot Extension Cord

50' heavy duty extension cord
50' heavy duty extension cord

I suggest the 50-foot length, since shorter ones can be too short, and longer ones can be cumbersome. Be sure to buy a thick, well-protected cord. (A GFI-protected three-way splitter is a nice addition.)

8. Screwdrivers

An assortment of insulated screwdrivers, plus a heavy-duty one for slicing metal.
An assortment of insulated screwdrivers, plus a heavy-duty one for slicing metal.

A variety of different sizes and types of screwdriver will always be useful. Screwdrivers with insulated handles are best, to help insure your safety from electrical shock. I also suggest one very-heavy-duty flathead screwdriver for piercing or slicing sheet metal.

9. Hex-Head Nut Drivers

Hex-head nut drivers: 1/4", 3/8", and 5/16"
Hex-head nut drivers: 1/4", 3/8", and 5/16"

Many HVAC systems are put together with hex-head screws and bolts. Three sizes are most common: 1/4", 3/8", and 5/16".

10. Caulking Gun

Dripless caulking gun
Dripless caulking gun

A caulking gun can seal duct work, holes in houses, and many other openings. I suggest a dripless gun in order to avoid messes.

11. Level

Eight-inch magnetic bubble level
Eight-inch magnetic bubble level

Furnaces, air conditioners, and thermostats all need to be leveled when installing. A magnetic level will come in handy since many surfaces that you'll be leveling will be metal, and if so you can keep your hands free while leveling.

12. Pliers

From left to right:  wire strippers, needle-nose, open-face, linesman, and channel-lock pliers.
From left to right: wire strippers, needle-nose, open-face, linesman, and channel-lock pliers.

The picture shows you an example of (from left to right) wire-stripping, needle-nose, open-face, linesman, and channel-lock pliers. All of them have their uses, and again, I suggest insulated handles.

13. Pipe Wrenches

Pipe wrenches
Pipe wrenches

Many HVAC systems involve natural gas lines and plumbing connections. Pipe wrenches are used to connect both.

II. HVAC Tools Used For Sheet Metal Work

The following tools are the common hand tools used for working with sheet metal. Nearly every HVAC system uses sheet metal for the duct work that carries the air to and from the unit driving the system.

1. Three Types of Tin Snips or Aviators

Tin snips.  At top:  a "left" or "red"; middle, a "straight"; at bottom, a "right" or "green"
Tin snips. At top: a "left" or "red"; middle, a "straight"; at bottom, a "right" or "green"

Tin snips, or "aviators," come in three types.

  • Lefts (or Reds or Offsets): Normally colored red, they're called "lefts" because they cut left in direction. Though they can be a bit awkward to use at first, the offset angle of the blade allows the metal to pass much easier over the end. This means you don't have to pull up on the metal as much, and leaves fewer sharp "fish-hooks" hanging on the edge of the cut.

  • Rights (or Greens or Offsets): Normally colored green, they cut to the right in direction.

  • Straights (or Bulldogs): These snips cut straight in direction, and are typically used for smaller cuts. Called "bulldogs" because of their strength and ability to cut multi-layer and thicker gauge sheet metal. Commonly, but not always, colored orange.

2. Shears


Shears, like tin snips, are used to cut sheet metal, but are good for longer straight-line cuts. I'd suggest strong steel construction and an insulated handle for comfort.

3. Folding Bar or Drive Bender

Folding bar
Folding bar

Folding Bar or Drive Bender: This is a simple-looking tool with multiple uses. Each side is slotted (one side is slotted 1" from the edge, and the other 1/2") so that sheet metal can be inserted and bent to whatever angle you need. It also comes in handy as a straight edge.

4. Hand Seamers (or Tongs, or Fairmonts)

Hand seamers ("tongs")
Hand seamers ("tongs")

Hand Seamers or Tongs or Fairmonts (a brand name): You won't be serving salad with this tool. Tongs are used to bend smaller pieces of metal. The ends are marked at 1/4" intervals, for easy measurements when bending. The set in the photo is a Fairmont brand tool; it is quite durable and can take a good beating. Other sets that are spring loaded and have plastic grips are nice, but not nearly as durable.

5. Crimpers


By inserting sheet metal, usually round piping, in the teeth of this tool and squeezing down; you can create a "crimp," a wrinkled male fitting, to be inserted into the uncrimped female side of another pipe for joining the two together.

6. Awl or Scratch Awl


Awl or Scratch Awl: The awl is used to puncture round metal piping for the installation of dampers. It is also used to scratch markings on sheet metal.

7. Staple Gun

Staple gun
Staple gun

Staple Gun: Most often used for securing "Themo-Pan" or other brands of foil-covered cardboard panning to a joist, to create a space for the return air flow to an HVAC system.

III. HVAC Tools Used For Air Conditioning Work

The tools are below used to service and install air conditioning systems, though many of them are used in refrigeration as well. Your employer will supply some of these, but you might want to take a look now at the tools you will work with regularly.

1. Tubing Cutter

A tubing cutter for electrical conduit and other metal tubing
A tubing cutter for electrical conduit and other metal tubing | Source

A tubing cutter is used to cut the copper lines used in air conditioning systems. It is adjustable to fit various diameters of tubing or piping. Often, a de-burring tool will be built into the back of the cutter. The cutting wheel is tightened down on the copper, the tool is spun around the tubing a few times, then tightened again. This is repeated until the copper is cut where desired. Do not rush this process as you will damage the copper. The de-burring tool then is used to remove any burrs left behind, since these small pieces can cause a system to malfunction if they get into the lines. Cutting wheels will get dull over time, so they are usually replaceable.

2. Refrigeration Gauges

Complete set of refrigeration gauges
Complete set of refrigeration gauges
A closer look at the gauges and manifold
A closer look at the gauges and manifold
The quick-release valve, separated
The quick-release valve, separated

You will need a set of gauges that can read and hold pressures related to different types of refrigerants. The refrigerants R-22 and R-410A are most common in residential air conditioning. The brass portion of this set is called the manifold, and is usually sold with the gauges. You may have to purchase the hoses separately, and I suggest getting a longer set, which can come in handy for tighter areas. Lastly, the brass fittings on the hoses, for attaching to your air conditioning system, must be quick release and "de minimis." Not only are de minimis fittings required by law, to reduce the amount of refrigerant leaked into the environment when disconnecting, but they can help prevent you from being harmed, as coming in contact with a significant amount of refrigerant can cause extensive skin damage.

3. Vacuum pump

Vacuum pump
Vacuum pump | Source

Your employer will most likely provide you with a vacuum pump. It is used to suck moisture and air out of air conditioning lines. The lines must be pulled into a vacuum and tested for leaks before the system can be charged with refrigerant.

4. Refrigerant Scale

Refrigerant scale
Refrigerant scale

Another item most likely supplied by your company, the refrigerant scale is used when charging an air conditioning system, and also lets you know when the tank you are using to recover refrigerant is full.

HVAC Uses a Wide Variety of Tools and Equipment

Now we could go on to recovery units, re-claimers, the various refrigerant storage tanks and more but this list will be more than enough to get you started in repairing and installing heating and air conditioning systems and equipment. After some time in this industry, you will be capable of using more tools than you ever imagined. Talk with your colleagues and bosses about suggested brands and the potential for a tool allowance to help you obtain what you need.

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Comments 24 comments

eli 2 weeks ago

a vacuum gauge is an essential tool in the hvac industry

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Cre8tor 2 months ago from Ohio Author

Clevance - That would largely matter on where you are. In my area, the supply houses are not national so you may have options that I'd not be aware of. There's always Granger but often you'll do better with a more local supplier. Thanks for reading.

Clevance Nsofwa 2 months ago

Am in HVAC/R field looking for a genuine supplier of vast components,accessories and tools basing on the field for my company, what advise can you give me.I have an experience in the field for two years

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Cre8tor 4 months ago from Ohio Author


All good tools and yes, there are many aspects to the HVAC field. Obviously, you're not an installer and prefer the service field however I highly doubt that "getting started" in the trade you purchased the $10K list of tools you just supplied us. Furthermore, a good employer will not have you spend large amounts of money on things like thermal imaging. A book could be written on every tool needed to perform the enormous amount of issues the HVAC world can provide but again, now having worked in the supply industry for over 5 years as well as 15 years in the field can assure my readers that very few guys "getting started" or even after years in the industry own their own thermal imager or "See Snakes" or recovery machines. They are almost positively owned by the company they work for. I wish I could sell a Flir C2 to everyone in the biz, I'd be doing pretty well for myself. Thank you for reading. You do mention some useful HVAC tools and point out that there are many areas one can choose to go in the field.

derrick 4 months ago

I've been in the field for 7 years now and never not once have I ever had to use shears, a folding bar or sawzall and I don't plan on to. If you like doing ductwork and working with metal then your gonna need all that but there are many aspects in HVAC/R. One has to find what he likes doing most, if you like troubleshooting as per myself, you'll need more than just an electrical meter. A good thermal image camera, a circuit tracer rated for 460V or more, megohmmeter, phase testers will be good companions in troubleshooting. If you like doing installs then yeah your gonna need the sawzall, all different types of snips, shears, pipe wrenches a bandsaw. Then there are guys who like doing airflow, they have their own specific tools as well. An HVAC guy can't be good at it all. Find what you like to do and stick with that. Be sincere with your employer where you stand out most and let him know your weaknesses. A good employer will let you work within your interest. That's why most companies have their install guys and service guys.

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Cre8tor 7 months ago from Ohio Author

Ryan - There are a lot of good tools out there but when it comes to sheet metal tools, I'm a big fan of Malco. Fairmonts are the best, toughest tongs (hand seamers) there are. Power tools...I like Milwaukee, DeWalt, Ridgid and Porter Cable. Yellow Jacket (Ritchie) and Robinair are the 2 most common and reliable. As for misc. hand tools...I like Husky, Craftsman...there are quite few decent brands but I don't recommend the cheaper end of the line. My advice, don't skimp on tools. Cheap ones just need bought more often and no one wants a broken tool in the middle of a job.

Ryan 7 months ago

I've started in the field recently and have started gathering the tools of the trade, I stumbled upon this article in search of the best quality tools to buy that will last and work the best for the job that needs to be done. I want to know from the experience tech. what are the best brands to buy?

Sam Lucero 8 months ago

Thanks, attending class at RCC, Riverside, CA

Ty 8 months ago

Oxyacetealean torch(hope fully provided), no loss fitting for gauges, burr brush, nitrogen tank to remove copper oxide, sand mallet, sand paper, thermistor attachments dry and wet bulb for testing super heat and subcooling, pt chart app helps personally for out dated refrigerant no longer on conventional pt charts a good tool bag

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antigravity 17 months ago

Now a days HVAC enginneers are in demand and this career field has growth. The most important thing is that no high degree & qualification is required.

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Cre8tor 17 months ago from Ohio Author

Juan - Thank you and thanks for the idea. I've written on residential ducting a bit and the materials that are used there actually. You can find them under my profile...but you bring up a point that even there, I haven't really dove into some of the other types of fasteners and array of ducting as far as I could. I work in the supply industry nowadays and I know the possibilities are nearly endless. Thanks again and thanks for reading.

Juan Camaney 17 months ago

Very good buddy, can u post list of materials ull be working like spiral pipe, tap ins, dampers, unistrap, s-drives, duck mate...thanks.

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Cre8tor 21 months ago from Ohio Author

Thank you Ryan. I also forgot a state license, van, first aid kit, uniform, coffee, and insurance (and more) however the article is focused on tools for getting started.

Ryan 21 months ago

You forgot to put liscenses and reclaimer/reclaim and virgin tanks ptt charts and more

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Cre8tor 2 years ago from Ohio Author

daniel profit - I'm sorry, I'd confused your comment with another hub...long story. Anyhow, if you want to work in the HVAC field, you'll want a set up for a "B" tank or an Oxygen/Acetylene rig. Braise is what's used on A/C to bond the joints. Sorry for the confusion and thank you for reading.

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Cre8tor 2 years ago from Ohio Author

You shouldn't be messing with the copper lines really. A license is required to work with refrigerant. That said, no...glue wouldn't last a split second on A/C lines and it takes more than a small torch to do it quickly and if you don't melt the braise quickly, it clumps and you'll ruin the copper. I don't mean to offend but based on your question, I don't suggest you work on these.

daniel profit 2 years ago

do you glue the copper lines or would a small torch set be helpfyl

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Cre8tor 3 years ago from Ohio Author

Yes, this Hub could've been a site of it's own. I do have the awl and in combo with a tape measure, who needs a scriber? Sheer skill there eh? haha

5yr rookie 3 years ago

I'd add a scriber to the sheet metal section. You can also make your own our of 16ga. 1/4 - 1 1/2. Also a duct stretcher and malco hole cutter if your doing a lot of commercial install. A type k temp clamp for proper charging and a core removal tool so you don't smoke the schraders while brazing. Good beginners list. Im a tool junky. I don't think the list ever ends really.

Kyle 3 years ago

All of these things are extremely important indeed. I would add a refrigeration wrench in for good measure. All of these tools look so old haha :)

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Cre8tor 4 years ago from Ohio Author

@James - Okay...your thoughts? Keep in mind I'm not trying to give them everything they need on day one for the rest of their career.

James 4 years ago

missing some key ingredients to the tool bag

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Cre8tor 4 years ago from Ohio Author

Thanks ACDoc. I appreciate your visit and your support of this information.

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ACDoctor 4 years ago from Miami, FL USA

Wow, Very good article.

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    Daniel Robbins (Cre8tor)318 Followers
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    Dan has been in the HVAC industry for 22 years with experience in aspects ranging from installation and service to sales and distribution.

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