All-in-one copper-cable prep tools winning favor

For the past 10 years, the industry focus on copper cabling has been to push more information through the cables; however, little attention was paid to the actual installation of copper cables. That`s all changing. In the past several years, there has been increased awareness for best practices in cable installation, and cable installers and manufacturers have paid more attention to copper-cable prep tools such as cutters, strippers, and crimpers.

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Lynn Haber

For the past 10 years, the industry focus on copper cabling has been to push more information through the cables; however, little attention was paid to the actual installation of copper cables. That`s all changing. In the past several years, there has been increased awareness for best practices in cable installation, and cable installers and manufacturers have paid more attention to copper-cable prep tools such as cutters, strippers, and crimpers.

"We`re seeing tighter practices and self-policing by installers to meet the high data requirements," says Butch Sarma, product manager at Connectool Inc. (Ashland,VA), manufacturer of Paladin Tools.

Manufacturers report that the market for this group of products is competitive. Cable installers, they say, are looking for reliable, lightweight, ergonomic, and easy-to-use products that enable them to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.

While the days of using razor blades, linesman`s pliers, and scissors to prepare copper cable for installation are not quite gone, installers who opt to use the right tools for the job can choose from a broad array of products, price ranges, and manufacturers.

Performance Cabling Systems (Dudley, MA) owner Gus Dufault says he looks for copper-cable prep tools that are comfortable, lightweight, compact and, if possible, offer a lifetime warranty. For cutting, stripping, and crimping, he uses tools from a number of vendors, including Klein Tools (Chicago), the Siemon Co. (Watertown, CT), and Ideal Industries (Sycamore, IL). "There are a lot of cheap tools around, but I prefer tools that work well and last," he says.

Closer look

At least a dozen manufacturers offer cutters, strippers, and crimpers. Many products have been around for a number of years, while others have been enhanced or new product lines have been introduced. One trend in this product category is that manufacturers of tools for electrical cabling are expanding their lines to include copper-cable prep tools for data-communications and telecommunications applications. The reason? Many electricians are broadening their job scope to include the installation of cable for data communications and telecommunications.

Klein Tools exemplifies this trend. "Our end user, who has typically been the electrical contractor, is migrating to the data-communications market, and we have to recognize the change," says Nancy Szankowski, product manager at Klein, adding that the company expects to introduce a completely new set of copper cable prep tools in the second quarter of 2000.

Until the new product line becomes available, installers can still opt to use Klein`s current line of cutters, strippers, and crimpers. Most recently, the manufacturer introduced a coaxial-cable cutter for the cable-TV specialist. Installers tend to be leaning toward ratcheting-type cable cutters that are no longer than 10 to 12 inches, says Szankowski. "Installers want compact tools that provide a clean cut."

Greenlee Textron Inc. (Rockford, IL) is another manufacturer who recently made its entrance in the datacom tool market with the introduction about 15 months ago of a complete line of cutters, strippers, and crimpers for copper cable.

Greenlee currently offers about a half-dozen models of utility-type cable cutters. According to Chris Vernon, product manager for data-signal voice tools at Greenlee, ratchet cutters are most popular among installers. The ratcheting mechanism, he says, allows installers to use a full handstroke to get small movement in the blade while lessening the hand force required. "Ratchet cutters allow installers to cut in one pass," he says.

One of Greenlee`s more popular cutters is the Model 45482--a generic, multipurpose tool for cutting copper cable. Another popular datacom prep tool is the Kwik Strip Flat Telephone Cable Cutter/Stripper 45480, a combination tool from Greenlee. According to Vernon, the front of the tool is used for cutting while a blade for stripping cable is closer to the hand grip. "Customers tend to like the combination tools because they`re quick and easy to use," he says.

The Telephone Ratcheted Crimper, Model 45575, is another universal tool from Greenlee that features combination crimping, stripping, and termination functions. The tool has a flat stripping blade and built-in termination dies for 4-, 6-, and 8-conductor modular plugs.

All-in-one-type cable prep tools are popular with installers because they are cost-effective. Bill Lenz, registered communications distribution designer (RCDD) at Poe Enterprises (Virginia Beach, VA), for example, likes a four-in-one stripping tool from the Siemon Co. "I can carry one tool versus five single tools," he says, noting that weight is a big factor for installers in the field.

Within the last 12 months, Panduit Corp. (Tinley Park, IL) has introduced the Models CST114 and CST157 wire strippers. The Model CST114 targets cable with diameters of 0.17 inch to 1.14 inches, while the Model CST157 wire stripper is geared toward smaller cable 0.75 inch to 1.57 inches in diameter.

The 4200 Series from Rostra Tool Co. (Branford, CT) is a new line of ergonomic crimp tools designed for industry professionals working in the data-communications, telecommunications, cable-TV, electrical, and electronics industries, according to Michael Sunter, sales manager at Rostra. Introduced last May, the products are designed to reduce hand stress and incorporate a pivoting action and cushioned hand grip. "We`ve redesigned the ratchet mechanism to facilitate two-handed crimps," Sunter says.

Rostra also manufactures the 8700 Cartridge Stripper, which is used with interchangeable cartridges to accommodate both coaxial and unshielded twisted-pair copper cable for those installers who want a single tool for different media. The vendor`s products range from $10 to $200, depending upon product selection. Rostra also sells both standard and customized kits that include both stripping and crimping tools.

The UTP Cable Stripper Tool from ICC Premise Wiring Div. (Cerritos, CA) is a multipurpose tool for tele-communications cable stripping. The tool strips and slices most types of round cable, according to the company. The manufacturer recently added new features to the tool design, including a tension arm to control the pressure of the blade on the cable jacket, a stripping cavity that accepts various cable sizes, a gauge that provides 0.6-inch-minimum unsheathed cable, a slitting blade slot to slit the cable longitudinally or score the cable jacket, and an ergonomic design.

ICC also manufactures a modular crimping tool with ratchet mechanism for 4-, 6-, and 8-position conductors.

Other tool considerations

Ideal Industries has an ongoing campaign for successful cable installation. The manufacturer offers a number of round cable cutters, copper-cable stripping tools, crimpers, and seminars on cable installation and tool usage.

According to Dave Long, director of sales and marketing at Ideal, the company`s strippers, for example, are designed for coaxial and twisted-pair cable. The twisted-pair version includes a settable blade depth and stainless steel blade that cuts the jacket only, without nicking the cable pairs. "While a nick in the pairs may not be visible to the eye, it will become apparent in network performance," he says. Controllable depth setting for the blade also allows the process to be repeatable--a time saver for installers.

Ideal`s crimpers are primarily ratchet-style, which forces the tool operator to complete a full cycle of crimping. The Crimp Master is a craft-grade ratchet-style tool with interchangeable dies. The company recently changed the handle design from a rigid polypropylene material to a softer compound and round style for a more comfortable grip.

Ideal`s seminars for cable installation and tool usage cost $300 and include three hours of training and a complete set of tools. The seminars provide students with hands-on training with the cable-prep tools.

While much has stayed the same in this category of prep tools for copper cable, manufacturers are all eyeing new cable types such as proposed Category 6 and 7 as an opportunity to introduce new lines of copper-cable prep tools in the not-so-distant future.

Connectool, for example, plans to introduce a line of crimp and punch-down tools next quarter. "We believe that everything is going toward STP [shielded twisted-pair] because of tighter cable requirements for higher-speed communications," says Sarma, whose company will offer a single tool that addresses two functions--modular plug crimping and compressing the shield. The tool is reportedly easy to use: The user installs the cable into the connector, puts the connector and cable assembly into the tool, squeezes, and the job is done. "The installer only has to go through one quick function, which saves on cost and labor," he adds. In fact, he estimates that using the single tool can save one minute per connector. The tool will be priced from $50 to $55 and includes one die set, compared to purchasing two tools, which would cost $75 to $80. Additional die sets will cost $20 to $25.

Another product design feature is a thumb screw to enable installers to change dies quickly rather than using a screw driver.

Savvy installers know the importance of using the right copper-cable prep tools: Do it once and get the job done right. With increased scrutiny of copper-cable installation and a lot of potential jobs, no one wants a call back.

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The 1330 series crimp tools from Paladin Tools have interchangeable die sets available for modular plugs, coaxial cable, fiber-optic cable, open- and closed-barrel terminals, and wire ferrules.

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The UTP Cable Stripper Tool from ICC Premise Wiring strips and slices most types of round cable. The ergonomic device features a tension arm, stripping cavity, and slitting blade slot.

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If your company manufactures the type of products in the table, and you wish to be included in future Product Updates, contact Steve Smith at tel: (603) 891-9139, or e-mail: stevesm@pennwell.com.

Lynn Haber is a freelance writer specializing in networking and telecommunications issues.

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