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 22 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
I suggest the carpenter-style hammer, as opposed to the style where the claw is more curved.
7. Fifty-Foot 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.)
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
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
A caulking gun can seal duct work, holes in houses, and many other openings. I suggest a dripless gun in order to avoid messes.
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.
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
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, 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.
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 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 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 brand tool; it is quite durable and can take a good beating. I've used the same set for years. Other sets that are spring loaded and have plastic grips are nice, but not nearly as durable. Fairmont
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: 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 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
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
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
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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© 2012 Dan Robbins