An electrician is a tradesman specializing in electrical wiring of buildings, stationary machines and related equipment. Electricians may be employed in the installation of new electrical components or the maintenance and repair of existing electrical infrastructure. Electricians may also specialize in wiring ships, airplanes and other mobile platforms.
“Electrician” and “electrical contractor” are related, though sometimes confused terms. An electrician is an individual tradesperson; an electrical contractor is a business person or firm that employs electricians to help design, install, and maintain electrical systems. In most of the United States, separate licensing requirements exist for electricians and electrical contractors. Electricians are typically not allowed to perform work unless under the employment of an electrical contractor.
In the United States electricians are sometimes referred to as Inside Wireman as opposed to Outside Linemen who work on electric utility company distribution systems at higher voltages. Electrical contracting is divided into four areas: commercial, residential, light industrial, and industrial wiring. Service electricians have considerable skills troubleshooting wiring problems, wiring, and making repairs. Construction electricians focus on the actual wiring of buildings and may have few skills troubleshooting wiring problems. Other specialty areas are marine electricians, research electricians and hospital electricians. “Electrician” is also used as the name of a role in stagecraft, where electricians are tasked primarily with hanging, focusing, and operating stage lighting. In this context, the Master Electrician is the show’s chief electrician. Although theater electricians routinely perform electrical work on stage lighting instruments and equipment, they are not part of the electrical trade and have a different set of skills and qualifications from the electricians that work on building wiring
Training and regulation of trade
In most countries, the job of an electrician is a regulated trade for safety reasons due to the many hazards of working with electricity, requiring testing, registration, or licensing. Licensing of electricians is controlled through government and/or professional societies.
United States of America
In the USA licensing requirements for construction work are controlled by local building officials. Typically, certain types of electrical work are only permitted to be performed by a Journeyman or Master electrician. The requirements for becoming a journeyman or master electrician, and the types of work they are permitted to do, vary between individual states; however, there are often interstate reciprocity agreements. Not all states offer a statewide journeyman or master electrician license.
Before electricians are allowed to work without supervision, they are usually required to serve an apprenticeship lasting from 3 to 7 years under the general supervision of a Master Electrician and usually the direct supervision of a Journeyman Electrician. Schooling in electrical theory and electrical building codes is usually required to complete the apprenticeship program. Many apprenticeship programs provide a salary to the apprentice during training. A Journeyman electrician is a well rounded craftsman trained in all phases of electrical construction installation in various building styles and maintenance of equipment after installation. A Journeyman is usually permitted to perform all types of electrical work except design of electrical systems.
The electrician’s trade requires use of a range of hand and power tools and instruments. Usually an electrician will have a personal set of hand tools and general-purpose test instruments, with the more costly power tools or instruments provided by the employer or business.
Some of the more common tools are:
- Pipe and tube bender
- Lineman’s pliers: Heavy-duty pliers for general use in cutting, bending, crimping and pulling wire.
- Diagonal pliers (also known as side cutters or Dikes): Pliers comprising of a cutting blades only for use on smaller gauge wires, but sometimes also used as a gripping tool for removal of nails and staples.
- Needle-nose pliers: Pliers with a long, tapered gripping nose of various size, with or without cutters, generally smaller and for finer work (including very small tools used in electronics wiring).
- Wire strippers: Plier-like tool available in many sizes and designs featuring special blades to cut and strip wire insulation while leaving the conductor wire intact and without nicks. Some wire strippers include cable strippers among their multiple functions, for removing the outer cable jacket.
- Cable cutters: Highly-leveraged pliers for cutting larger cable.
- Rotosplit: A brand-name tool designed to assist in breaking the spiral jacket of metallic-jacketed cable (MC cable).
- Multimeter: A battery-powered instrument for electrical testing and troubleshooting; common features include the ability to measure and display voltage, resistance, and current with other types of measurements included depending on the make and model. Are available in digital or analogue.
- Step-bit: A metal-cutting drill bit with stepped-diameter cutting edges, generally at 1/8-inch intervals, for conveniently drilling holes to specification in stamped/rolled metal up to about 1/16″ thick; for example, to create custom knock-outs in a breaker panel or junction box.
- Cord, rope and/or fish tape. Used to ‘fish’ cables and wires into and out of cavities. The fishing tool is pushed, dropped, or shot into the installed raceway, stud-bay or joist-bay of a finished wall or in a floor or ceiling. Then the wire or cable is attached and pulled back.
- Crimping tools: Used to apply terminals or splices. These may be hand or hydraulic powered. Some hand tools have ratchets to insure proper pressure. Hydraulic units achieve cold welding, even for aluminum “locomotive” [many fine strands] cable.
- Insulation Resistance Tester: Commonly referred to as a Megger. Insulation testers apply several hundred to several thousand volts to cables and equipment to determine the insulation resistance value of the item being tested. Modern insulation resistance testers often have a ohm meter function available and are often included as a function of a multimeter.
- Knockout punch: For punching holes into sheet metal to run wires or conduit.
- Other general-use tools with applications in electric power wiring include screwdrivers, hammers, reciprocating saws, drywall saws, metal punches, flashlights, chisels, adjustable slip-joint pliers and drills.
- Test light
- Ground Fault Indicator Tester