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

Updated on April 21, 2016
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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.

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 stepladder
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
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

Crimpers
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
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.

Did These Lists Help You Plan Your Toolkit?

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    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 2 weeks ago from Ohio

      Hi Ezra, I read that the average national salary is around $42K a year. That said, I know I've personally made closer to $50K a year in my area and a real good tech can achieve more. Good techs are VERY hard to find these days so when a company gets one, they're usually willing to take pretty good care of them. Thanks for reading and best of luck!

    • profile image

      ezra 2 weeks ago

      thanks alot Dan i just wanna know what the average yearly salary for an HVACR technician can be

    • profile image

      Malik Idrees 4 weeks ago

      I appreciate your devotion and selection, that is helpful for us in collection of tools.

    • profile image

      Elijah Kereto'o 4 weeks ago

      Thank very much for the information.

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      Mike A - Thanks for sharing your opinion. I think I'd agree with everything you just said. Obviously some have more money to work with than others as far as how far they go with getting their tool collection started. Thanks for reading and adding to the conversation here. Best wishes.

    • profile image

      Mike A 6 weeks ago

      I just wanted to add that while I advocated some ideas on how to get what you need on the cheap, that's an approach only for starting out. You gotta work to earn money for good tools but you have to have tools to be able to work.

      Long term you really do need to invest in good quality equipment and the reality is that good quality equipment usually is expensive.

      Me personally, I try to set aside a certain amount of money each paycheck for purposes of acquiring tools I want to have or replacing the lower end tools I already have with higher quality stuff.

      As a rookie, no one expects you to have everything or have fancy stuff. Most experienced guys do not mind lending you tools you don't have. Just don't break or abuse them.

      Also if there is something in particular you seem to always be borrowing, make it a high priority to acquire one for yourself as soon as reasonably possible, so you don't wear out your welcome.

      There are guys out there (journeymen even) who've been in the trade of years who are ALWAYS borrowing everyone else's tools yet never seem willing to get their own (or like your stuff better than their stuff).

      That is REALLY annoying.

    • profile image

      Mike A 6 weeks ago

      As I'm reading this, I feel compelled to elaborate some for guys just getting started in the trade. Because if you're new to the trade, you probably don't have a lot of money & thus need to prioritize what to get and stretch your money as far as possible.

      Do NOT go buying vac pumps, ladders, or gauges initially since most employers provide them & even if they don't as an apprentice, you won't be using them much anyhow.

      As brands go, shop around. You are looking for good VALUE more than price. If you have to repurchase the same tool multiple times because it quickly breaks, you are not saving money.

      You'll see most established guys using primo name brand gear, you don't need to go buying the expensive stuff right away either. Personally, I've found good value in store brands, Kobalt, Husky, Master Tool, and such. Not as fancy or nice as the name brands but their gear is on the lower side of the price range and still surprisingly decent quality. With some exceptions it should get you through until you can afford nicer stuff.

      Two exceptions would be 1. Battery powered Drill or Impact driver (Bosch offers good value here as does Rigid & Dewalt) 2. A decent electric meter with the ability to check capacitance if you can swing it. You MIGHT be able to get along without it for a while. However, if you have one you'll be able to take advantage of opportunities to show your employer your ability to trouble shoot equipment (UEI brand offers good value in meters).

      I agree, 18 volt is best. 12 volt stuff is nice to have for small things but 50% is too under powered for the job.

      Sheet Metal Tools: A GOOD PAIR OF REDS & HANG TONGS ARE A MUST, everything else you can made due without until finances allow you to acquire them. 90% of the time, reds are all you really need. Next thing I would get are Shears, followed by a bar fold, in that order of priority. I personally prefer Midwest brand but lots of people use Malco.

      Lastly, you will need chucks for your impact or drill. I strongly advice nut drivers in 1/4 & 5/16 that are 6 inches long and another set of standard length.

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 2 months ago from Ohio

      Mike - There are a lot of good brands and some brands that no ones heard of....I've installed both and owned both. My honest opinion....is the installation is more important than the brand. Sorry but that's my honest opinion. (That and the support of the people who supply you the equipment.) Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      Michael White111 2 months ago

      I have a question of which brand is better to take the system? The site https://www.hvacplus.biz/ names such brands as the best brands York, Trane, McQuay, Barber Coleman and GE Motors. Is it true? Name a couple more good brands for me. I can not choose everything. By the way, I plan to become a master in installing HVAC systems in the future, now repairing with my father.)

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 3 months ago from Ohio

      There are some certifications tests that are a one time deal online that I am ok with. There are certain topics that I can see doing online would be fine but call me old fashion...there's nothing like hands on experience and education with dialogue. HVAC is the type of business that deals in specific tooling and equipment that most have never worked with...not like Dad had an recovery machine or evacuation pump laying around the garage. There's more and more electrical knowledge and skill required...I could go on and on. It's one thing to know how to wire in something but it's a whole other to be playing with a screwdriver in an electrical panel or opening a refrigerant system that's under tremendous pressure and can burn and/or poison you. If you can find a company that will educate you on the job or put you through a training course, jump on it. Better to get paid while learning than to be paying to learn and in all honesty, guys who come from trade schools are still rookies in the eyes of fellow workers and employers because there is still so much to learn outside of a book or computer. Thanks for reading and best of luck!!!

    • profile image

      abuyusha 3 months ago

      Just wondering your thought on learning hvac/r online courses or hvac/r

      through some of the websites that say you can learn for free and the take test on your own

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 5 months ago from Ohio

      Thanks for the comment TVL. I'm glad you found it helpful.

    • profile image

      TVL 5 months ago

      Thank you so much, it is very really helpful to me. again thank a lt

    • profile image

      Rahman 8 months ago

      The way you are explained to a new HVAC starter

      it was really helpful to me and I believe it is helpful

      to every one.

      again thanks a lot

    • profile image

      ruwan harshana 9 months ago

      its very useful note......thanks for very mach...

    • profile image

      Salival 10 months ago

      5th week in as a apprentice as a commercial, apt; new installs, and service. Furnaces and a/c. Rooftops, and basements, and under sinks. And a warehouse winterizing. I've already use all these and more. Had a nice bit of my own tools before starting. Had a cheep craftmens drill, dropped it 10ft, broke. Now I have a Dewalt set. I find an impact drill is as needed if not more, the same as drill. But I'll been wondering in what order to buy the things know I need and the sooner I do, the better. Cause I need it all. This list helps me plan, and understand my own needs. Yes my company does supply the big stuff, I want my own too, so I'm more valuable to them. Too bad your list doesnt help me with when to buy hilmor hand pipe bender and swang tool... I liked those. But like all, the good but worth in, you can feel in when you use something nicer, is costly. I'd add in sheet metal: a Duct knife, and drywall knife. Looking at an sman, but I hear the manual hose manifolds are very nice too. Carbon moxcide detector pairs with a v-meter. A tote hand tool bag, or toolmans backback. And a rope!" Never know when you need a good rope." (Boondock saints). I'm thinking about knee pads, and new boots. And coveralls. Damn michigan winters. A good flashlight.

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 10 months ago from Ohio

      GG Steve - You're correct and I've looked in the gutter guys tool box thinking the same thing before. Haha. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      The Gutter Guy Steve 11 months ago

      Most of your list is in a guttermans tool box. I think I should start doing duct work. At least repairs or replacement.

      Great articles.

      Good on ya for sharing your knowledge!

      Keep it goin!

    • profile image

      eli 12 months ago

      a vacuum gauge is an essential tool in the hvac industry

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 14 months ago from Ohio

      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.

    • profile image

      Clevance Nsofwa 14 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

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 16 months ago from Ohio

      Derek,

      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.

    • profile image

      derrick 16 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.

    • Cre8tor profile image
      Author

      Dan Robbins 19 months ago from Ohio

      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.

    • profile image

      Ryan 19 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?

    • profile image

      Sam Lucero 20 months ago

      Thanks, attending class at RCC, Riverside, CA

    • profile image

      Ty 20 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

    • antigravity profile image

      antigravity 2 years 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.

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 2 years ago from Ohio

      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.

    • profile image

      Juan Camaney 2 years 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.

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 2 years ago from Ohio

      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.

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      Ryan 2 years ago

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

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 3 years ago from Ohio

      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.

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 3 years ago from Ohio

      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.

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      daniel profit 3 years ago

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

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 4 years ago from Ohio

      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

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      5yr rookie 4 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.

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      Kyle 4 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 :)

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 5 years ago from Ohio

      @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.

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      James 5 years ago

      missing some key ingredients to the tool bag

    • Cre8tor profile image
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      Dan Robbins 5 years ago from Ohio

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