As I was scrolling through our extension cord page this morning, I was reminded of a product that, for no good reason, I’ve given way too little attention to. I’m all about electrical safety and smart working, and so is this little gem. How could I have passed it by?
Ever joined an extension cord to the power cord of a device or tool and started working, just to have some klutz come tripping along, catch his/her foot on the attached cords, and rip them apart? Rude interruptions like that can definitely cramp your working style, not to mention do the type of cord damage that can lead to an eventual electrical fire. Not good.
But I’ll tell you what else qualifies as “not good.” The way that people are apparently tying cords together to prevent this from happening. Are you serious??? I was so surprised to find that this is actually standard practice that, just for fun, I Googled “tying extension cords together.” A frightening number of results came back, one of the worst (and most popular) of which was a step-by-step eHow tutorial on how to get the job done.
While this seems like a quick and easy fix for the extension cord separation problem, people don’t seem to realize that tying an electrical cable in knots can lead to cracked insulation (hello, nasty shock) and damaged conductors – the kind that overheat and ignite. This solution is essentially a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or more specifically, a stupid and potentially harmful move disguised as a fast and clever fix for an annoying problem.
Call me crazy, but if I’m going for a simple but ingenious solution, I’d prefer that it be the genuine article, and not a half-baked “problem solver” that will most likely bite me back when I least expect it. That’s why I really like the Qwik-Lok Extension Cord Connector.
This twist-lock connector actually hardwires onto an industrial extension cord, replacing the original female end. Once it’s on there, whenever you plug in a power tool or piece of machinery, all you have to do is twist the connector, and it will actually lock the other plug in place internally, by sending spring-loaded locks through the holes in the device’s plug prongs. After the cords are locked together, it would take well above 250 pounds of pulling force to pry them apart.
Yep, I think that should hold.
The heat shrink end cap. The first time I saw one, I thought it was really cool, but found myself immediately wondering “why the heck would you seal off one end of a cable?” It seemed, well, a little counterintuitive. But it turns out that I was just thinking a little too small-scale. I was used to the little stuff, like computer cables and basic extension cords. But when you start dealing with the big dogs, like industrial electrical cables, things get a little more heavy duty.
When they’re sitting on shelves, waiting to be put into action, utility-grade cables face a little problem: all of those exposed cut conductor ends can start to get dirty, or even worse, corrode in the presence of moisture or chemicals. And then there’s the matter of moisture and contaminants weaseling their way into the open-faced cable. If that happens, you’ve got trouble on your hands.
This is where heat shrink end caps start to make a lot of sense. These cup-shaped pieces fit over cut cable ends, and when you apply heat to shrink them into place, their adhesive inner coating is activated as well, melting and cooling onto the cable jacket to create a tight seal that won’t let anything through. When it’s time for installation, you just cut off the end cap, and you have corrosion-free cable, ready to go. Kind of cool, huh?
I realize that most of you, like me, don’t have reels of cut-end cable that need protecting, and that brings me to another amazing use for heat shrink end caps: protecting the ends of your patio furniture legs. This suggestion from one of my co-workers, who got desperate when she lost a few of the factory-installed end caps on her outdoor chairs. Luckily, the solution was right at work: she bought a few heat shrink end caps, shrunk them onto her chair bottoms, and now there’s no nails-on-chalkboard scraping, or patio damage, when she moves her lawn furniture around. Genius!
Drossbach Wire Loom Dispenser Boxes: All the Benefits of Wire Loom with None of the Storage Headaches
I love wire loom. It was one of the first cable management products I was ever exposed to, and it’s had a special place in my heart ever since. My admiration for the bendy stuff isn’t all sentimental, though: it just works. Wire loom is one of the easiest means of taming – and hiding – multiple cables all at once. Just cut it to the length you need, insert your cables through its side slit, and things are automatically neater and more organized. And did I mention that it’s cheap, too? There’s pretty much no way you can go wrong with split corrugated tubing…
…Unless, of course, you buy more than a few feet of it, in which case, it becomes extremely tricky to store. Not long after the first time I successfully organized the cables beneath my desk with it, I was scheduled to shoot some product demonstration videos for a website called NewBaby.com. I thought: “Hey, wire loom is great for childproofing cables!” and proceeded to add a nice 10-foot length of it to the box of cable management goodies that I’d be toting along to the studio.
Suffice it to say, in the 3 days that elapsed between my assemblage of demo products and the actual filming date, things got a little, well, untidy. That box of products did nothing but sit in the corner of my office, but somehow the wire loom managed to interweave itself with its box-mates, as well as start creeping out of the actual box – all by itself. It’s like it was alive; I’d coil it up around my arm until I though things were secure, carefully set it back in the box, and it would unfailingly loose itself again, like a twisted, slow-motion version of those practical joke snake-in-a-cans.
Which is why I’m feeling so enthusiastic about Drossbach’s wire loom dispenser boxes. Designed for people like installers and organizers who have an ongoing need for large amounts of wire loom, these boxes-o-loom each have a built-in spool, around which the wire loom is coiled, as well as a handy cutout that’s big enough to neatly dispense wire loom, but small enough to keep the tubing that you don’t need inside the box.
I hate to cut things short, but I think we’ve pretty much reached the “’nuff said” point. This is one of the only good ways I can think of to store any quantity of split wire loom on a shelf. It’s neat. It’s organized. It won’t make you tear your hair out. Maybe I should say it again: ’nuff said.
Rack-A-Tiers Thomas Wheeler Coil Spinner: The Way to Pull Cable Off a Large Spool Without Putting Your Back Into It
It’s pretty much a universal law: a heavy spool of cable never spins as fast as you want it to, even if it’s on a dispenser. That’s twice as true when you’re up on a ladder, trying to yank cable off the reel and feed it into a wall or over a ceiling at the same time. Sounds like there’s about to be some serious cable – and back – strain going on.
Things would be a lot different if you could make that cable spool magically levitate above the ground in a horizontal position. Just imagine – you’d be able to twirl it around with the lightest touch, instead of struggling against all of the friction and sluggishness that come from a too-heavy spool grinding against the dispenser bar that it should, ideally, be rotating effortlessly around.
Well, not to sound like some sort of cabling Fairy Godmother, but you can! And you don’t need pumpkins, mice, or wands to make the magic happen – just a Thomas Wheeler Coil Spinner from Rack-A-Tiers.
Designed to hang from 2×4 beams or ladder tee bars, the Thomas Wheeler looks a lot like an industrial version of those kitchen counter paper towel dispensers that have a disc-like base with a vertical bar extending upward from its center. The basic idea is that you slip a spool of cable onto the center bracket, and let it come to rest on the disc-shaped base. Then, just hoist the Thomas Wheeler momentarily off the ground, attach it to your ladder or a 2×4, and behold the glorious sight of an otherwise cumbersome spool of cable floating in midair.
With the spool being in such a friction-free situation, it’s free to spin at the slightest tug from you, so cable glides off the reel as fast as you need it, without any stubborn resistance. Cleanup is just as easy – if you’ve pulled too much slack and need to put it back on the spool, just give the Thomas Wheeler a twirl in the opposite direction, and the cable will practically wind itself back up.
No, Burt Ward never exclaimed that one during his years as Robin, and yes, it is kind of a weird way to kick off a blog post. But cut me a break – what else was going to pop into my head when I found out about Ideal Industries’ Duct Seal?
Duct Seal is a soft, putty-like compound that can be molded, squished and worked into just about any small gap in flashing or heating/air conditioning ducts, and around pipes, conduit and electrical boxes. It helps stop air leakage, makes surfaces smooth and void-free, and pretty much saves the day, just like the Dynamic Duo.
Because it’s ultra pliable, Duct Seal can take almost any form you need it to; you can work it into a low-profile sheet to patch cracks in ductwork, or mold it into more of plug-type shape to fill in the holes and gaps that are usually left around electrical boxes or pipe penetrations. Just work it into place and smooth the surface: problem solved.
Unlike some other filling materials, Duct Seal never hardens, so if you ever need to undo your work, the compound can be easily removed without you having to hack or chip away at it, or otherwise make a mess. But here’s the really cool thing: even though Duct Deal stays soft, it’s actually paintable, so you can match it to your walls for a seamless finish.
The Duct Seal formula is completely nontoxic, and unlike many other chemical-based repair materials on the market, you can handle it without gloves or fear of skin irritation/chemical absorption. It’s also completely non-corrosive, so it’s safe to use on both plastics and metals. Ooooh, and one more thing: Duct Seal also has a relatively high flash point (590°F), so it’s helpful in preventing electrical fires.
While it may not be a caped crusader, Duct Seal is a multitasker that’s really worth keeping in your toolkit. Because it’s able to run the gamut between HVAC, plumbing and electrical, it can save you from having to keep a stock of different tapes and filler compounds on hand, and unlike some of the stickier products out there, it’s actually easy to redo if you need to make changes.
So Bam!!! Pow!!! Splat!!! Take that, holey ductwork.
Triplett Breaker Sniff-It (Type 2): Because “Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Moe” is No Way to Find the Right Circuit Breaker
Tell me if this has ever happened to you. You’re sitting in your home office, hammering out a blog entry (or Facebook status update, or similar) on your laptop, when suddenly the overhead light goes out, and your PDU starts screeching for lack of electricity. Just as you’re saving your work and powering down so that you don’t lose anything, you hear a muffled “Ummmmmm… sorry!!!” drifting up from the basement, and you realize exactly what’s happened.
It’s an age-old story, one that’s resonated throughout human existence for as long as there have been circuit breakers. Someone needs to replace a light switch or receptacle, so they mosey over to the breaker box, throw what has to be the right breaker (according to the time-honored “Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Moe” selection process), and plunge the wrong part of the house into the depths of darkness and electrical deprivation. Oopsie.
Aside from the sheer annoyingness of it all, there’s also the danger factor. There are some people out there who are trusting and assume that as long as they’ve snapped the supposedly correct circuit breaker into the “off” position, they’re clear to safely begin work. That type gets shocked far more often than I do. Me, I prefer to take the more paranoid route and check a few hundred times that the circuit I’m about to touch is nice and de-energized. That process is significantly shortened if I know for sure that I killed power to the right breaker to begin with.
And how does one do that, you ask? Very easily, thanks to gadgets like the Triplett Sniff-It Type 2 breaker locator. It’s a super simple two-piece electrical tester that leads you straight to the correct breaker switch the first time around, no guessing or squinting required. To use it, you just plug the receptacle unit into the outlet on which you’ll be working, and then take the “sniffer” part of the test set to your breaker box. Run the nose of detector over the circuit breakers, and when the tester starts to beep and blink, you’ll know you’ve found the right one.
The Sniff-It Type 2 isn’t limited to use with receptacles; if you need to customize your testing, you can also use optional accessories like light socket and alligator clip adapters to tailor this amazing little detector to just about any job.
Every time I use a tiny picture hanger to mount 30 pounds of frame, matting and glass on the wall, I can’t seem to believe that a nail/bracket combo that’s barely the size of a quarter can possibly keep heavy wall art suspended for any length of time. Every time I’m in the framing section of the craft store to pick up more picture hanging supplies (which is surprisingly often), I find myself looking at the weight ratings on the packs of hangers, and thinking “Yeah, right.” But somehow, without fail, I always end up putting my trust in these miniscule pieces of metal, and you know what? I haven’t been let down yet.
Now that you know about my admiration for miniature metal fasteners that are greater than the sum of their parts, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I’m newly enamored of (what else?) a little steel connector with a lot of holding power, also known as the Wire Grabber™ by Arlington Industries.
Although the Wire Grabber is designed to grasp hanging wires and support impressive amounts of weight, it has nothing to do with mounting wall art – it’s actually used to suspend cable trays and other fixtures from beams and purlins. As a matter of fact, the Wire Grabber’s name really says it all. Its main function is to create strong hanging loops in the steel wire that suspends cables trays from the ceiling. Here’s how it works.
The Wire Grabber is made up of 3 components: a base, a clip, and a screw. You start out by running the loose end of a suspending wire through the Wire Grabber’s base. After that, you insert the wire end through the hanging ring or hook on your cable tray or light fixture, and then thread it back through the Wire Grabber’s base in the opposite direction. Once that’s done, you just fit the top clip into the base and tighten the set screw. That’s it – the Wire Grabber will hold the newly-formed hanging loop in place, even under a weight load of up to 100 pounds.
What’s really nice about the Wire Grabber is that even though it makes contact with the hanging wire in 6 places, it never actually bites into the wire or causes damage, so if you need to adjust hanging height or switch out a fixture, you can use the exact same piece of wire over again. The Wire Grabber’s holding power is also unaffected by oils and grease, so you can use it even in less-than-pristine environments without any worry.