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The Five Essential Hand Tools for HVAC Beginners

Starting out in the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) world is a great career path but it is physically demanding. There are many facets to start in. The wet and dry side to HVAC is the most common designation but these divert quite a bit even in themselves. Wherever your path takes you, The Five Essential Hand Tools for HVAC Beginners is a great resource to understand some fundamental tools needed to help you get your project done.

If you need some ideas on how to organize your tools for most efficient use, check out our article.

On most commercial buildings and houses, HVAC contractors are dealing with duct, vents for fans, condensate lines, linesets for the AC units and a furnace. 

On bigger projects, there could be a chiller system, a boiler system, with so many different things to make it complicated. The basics do not warrant a deep dive into the different systems. Most companies only do commercial buildings, dealing with roof top units, and residential units only dealing with in-home furnaces connected to coils and condensing units. 

Some HVAC contractors also do gas piping to the furnaces but not all do. One has to have an RMGA certification to run gas piping or be directly supervised by someone that has the certification.

This brief overview gives you a rough idea of how complicated HVAC can be so let’s get back to keeping it simple by giving The Five Essential Hand Tools for HVAC Beginners. 

The first tool that will be needed is a duct board knife. There are many different kinds of these. Double serrated, non-serrated, serrated and non-serrated, and then the manufacturers that make them vary their design widely. Some with wimpy handles, some with holes in handles, some with blades in weird shapes. 

My personal favorite is the serrated blade on one side and the razor sharp blade on the other. See the picture below. This is the first tool I ever bought as an HVAC laborer. 

Let me explain why it is important to have a serrated blade and a razor sharp blade. 

Being a duct board knife, it is important to have something that can easily chew through fibrous insulation without tearing it. When working with duct board, the serrated edge is the perfect tool. 

Duct wrap is a much different animal. The fibrous material is loose and pulls easily when the serrated knife is used. The serrated edge tears the strings in the insulation and pulls the edges making them hard to tape on the duct. 

I will show the perfect technique to get this to cut easily every time in a video but for now, ask a coworker with a lot of experience to show you a tip on how to cut it. It really was a sad day when someone that had been in HVAC for 20 years showed all of us two-year-in guys how to cut duct wrap and we realized that we had been doing it wrong. 

The next essential tool is the offset snips. If you are right handed, you will want the red handled ones. If you are left handed you will want the green handled ones. 

This may seem weird but eventually you will need both. For now, you are only cutting straight and on relatively flat open spaces so no need for both. 

Here is the difference between the two, the duct pulls up when cut. So if you are cutting with the red snips, the left hand can hold the left side of the cut to stabilize the duct. If you are using the green snips, the opposite occurs. If you need a pair of green snips but do not have them, turn the snips backward and use them with your left hand. They will cut the same way the greens do but they hold weird. See Figure 2.3 below. 

The Puncturing Hammer(paid link)

The hammer is another essential tool. I am not talking about a finishing hammer or a framing hammer. The claws on them make them pretty useless for puncturing duct. They work like other hammers for pounding metal drives though. 

You will need either a HVAC hammer or a roofing hammer. I prefer the roofing hammer but there are plenty of people who would use the HVAC hammer and do just as well. 

The title of this section says it all, the hammer needs to puncture metal. There will be a lot of instances where branch lines are tied into the trunk line of the duct. To do this, take-offs will be used. That is a whole other section and topic. For now, you need something that will puncture the duct. 

Lineman Pliers are going to save you in some different ways. When installing drives, they act aas a reinforcement to strengthen the drive. They can strip and cut wire. They pry and clamp. They also can be used as hand seamers. This is a really great multipurpose tool.

The final essential hand tool is a 11-in-one. This is actually a cool tool. It will save your butt in so many instances. From installing a thermostats to removing screws in tight spaces. Consider this tool the Swiss Army Knife of the trade.

There is 7, 8, 9, 10-in-ones. I recommend the 11-in-one because it has the ⅜” nut driver. It is very rare to encounter the ⅜” head but when you do, you will be so glad that you have this tool.

Bonus Tools:

We made it through The Five Essential Hand Tools for HVAC Beginners but like any good construction guy, this is only the beginning. I personally collect tools and unfortunately had to get rid of a lot of them due to a move across states. It was a sad day to give up thousands of dollars worth of tools but it was necessary. 

Once you have the tools listed above, I would recommend the following:

A pair of dikes(paid link)

Used for pulling duct together instead of duct stretchers (paid link) (we only recommend offset duct stretchers so you don't scrape your knuckles). Obviously these are pliers so they can be used as pliers as well.

These are the convenient tool for synching zip ties. Lineman pliers can do this as well by clamping next to the base and rotating the loose end of a zip tie.

This tool will have a variety of uses from cutting wire, clamping, stretching duct and a variety of miscellaneous uses.

Why not! It can be hit. Seriously this can be used to remove a drive without damaging the duct.

The shoulder straps are included. After loading down with screws and a drill this tool belt will get quite heavy to wear all day. Find out our tips on organizing your tools for efficiency from the garage to the website. 

About the Author TinnersToolBox

Tinner's Tool Box is a resource for HVAC professionals to gain access to information to help them complete their projects. It is also a reference for the everyday person who wants to improve their knowledge on the topic.


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