Dave Judge, Gas Engineer and Director of Compliance, shares the essential tools for gas engineers to have in their kit, what brands to look out for and whether quality tools really have to cost a lot of money.
So the most common questions we get asked as trainers are: What tools do I need? What brands should I buy? And what tools do you keep in your toolbox?
These are straightforward questions, but there are no easy answers. Each tradesperson is different, and we all have our personal favourites. Some of my tools have been with me for a long time and are probably irreplicable. Strange, but true. It’s a trades thing, trust me.
When you first start building up your kit, there are some essential tools that all engineers should have. And from there, you can gradually build up a bigger kit as and when you need to.
So, in my own and a couple of my colleague’s opinions, the following are essential tools for gas engineers and the brands to look out for.
Before buying a haul of tools, you need somewhere to store them. You can buy a toolbox for as little as £5 or as much as £300 – my toolbox cost around £35.
Mine is simple, lightweight, and solid. It has two lift-out trays, a sturdy handle and also incorporates a kneeling pad in the lid. This feature is a standard issue by some of the larger utility companies.
Mine typically contains:
- A selection of screwdrivers
- A small hammer
- Sets of 8″ adjustable spanners
- 1×6″ adjustable spanner
- 1×4″ adjustable spanner
- 1×12″ pump pliers
- 1×8″ pump pliers
- 1x 3″ pump pliers
- 1 12″ manometer
- A small bottle of LDF
- A tub of smoke matches
- A small pack of smoke pellets
- 1x plume stick
- 1x long nose pliers
- 1x slide-cutting pliers.
You’ll find many taps, showerheads, etc., are secured with screws that require an Allen key, so having an assortment of sizes is the safest option.
Swiss Tools Allen keys are a great choice, in my opinion. Solid and long-lasting, they come in metric and imperial sizes, and some top-end ranges are colour-coded.
They come in a handy tool holder that’s marked, so there’s no trial and error when selecting the tool.
You’ll use a blow torch for soldering and fixing copper piping to create watertight joints and seals.
The Rothenberger Sure fire is extremely popular, and for a good reason – it’s a great torch.
I use Butane gas, so the Rothenberger Rofire is my go-to. It’s lightweight and easily adjustable. It has a range of adjustments from a full flame to low fire, which is quick, precise and easy to do.
Again you can’t go far wrong with the Spear and Jackson range. I was issued with a set of 3. A 4″, 6″ and 8″. All had a good grip, were strong and, again, didn’t manage to break one.
I also have some Bahco adjustables, which I think are slightly better than Spear and Jackson.
Shaun and Andy agree, naming Bahco as their go-to brand for adjustable spanners.
As far as pliers go, for both long nose and stub nose, all 3 of us have no particular preference, but in this case, quality costs.
The things to look for when buying pliers are:
- The handles should have a good-quality grip
- Be insulated against unintentional electrical contacts
- The jaws need to be strong and open wide enough “gape” to cope with everyday use.
- Longnose pliers should be sturdy enough to grip a stubborn clip or cable but be slim enough to get into tight spaces.
Expect to pay at least £20- £30 for a good quality set of 3. Although, I do have a set of jewellery makers pliers I picked up for a fiver, not because they are strong, but because they are very fine and suitable for intricate work (not something I do a lot of).
Hacksaws are useful for cutting pipes, nuts, bolts or even screws.
Though they are much the same, the body and handles differ slightly, but their main job is to house a blade for cutting – this is where choice counts.
Good quality blades will do the job quicker and easier than cheaper options. Draper is a good choice and wallet-friendly. Starret is top-end and will set you back about £10 a pop – money well spent, in my opinion.
Jointing compound is used to ensure a watertight seal around drains and faucets, and I’ve tried many brands of the stuff over the years, but I swear by Jet Blue Plus from Wolsely.
I’ve never had a problem using it, and it doesn’t seem to dry out as much as other brands I’ve used.
Pipe cutters offer a cleaner cut than a hacksaw and are helpful when cutting a pipe in a tight situation.
My choice of pipe slice is the monument or Kopex. I use a range of sizes from 8mm to 28mm and find both works well.
Although, a special mention goes out to the guys at Ridgid – their duel-sized cutter is well-made, robust and adjusts from 15mm to 22mm in seconds.
Pump pliers are often called slip-joint pliers or grips and are possibly the most used tool in the box (often misused).
I think these are the best I have ever seen or used, and sadly, I don’t know the exact brand, although I suspect they’re from Draper.
I have four pairs, and all are nearly 20 years old. Yet, there’s no distortion, no slipping, and they’re still solid.
I’ve tried every other make out there, and nothing comes close to these. Again nearly 20 years old and showing the odd sign of wear and tear.
Shaun opts for Rothenberger, while Andy doesn’t favour one particular brand:
“Rothenberger is good, but in all honesty, when it comes to grips, buy cheap, buy twice.
Radiator/Meter Box Keys
You’ll often have to be able to access the gas meter when you’re on the job, so having a universal gas meter key is one of the essential tools for gas engineers – along with a radiator key, of course.
As far as which ones to use, you can’t beat the freebies. Collect them from merchants or trade shows, and keep one on your keys.
Having a healthy collection means you can pass them on to customers after jobs if they don’t have one. And, if you’re like me, you’ll lose at least three a week.
My favourite screwdrivers are the Spear and Jackson sure grip range.
I still have three left from my original set. All the others are sadly lost. However, I never broke one of these, which speaks to their quality.
The thing I like most is the grip. It’s in good shape and is nonslip; it has a softer feel and is hardwearing. Also, the tips are solid and hard-wearing.
I have yet to find a set of screwdrivers as good as these. I have used Stanley, Draper and Rothenberger in the past, and although they’ve all been good, they aren’t quite as good as my Spear and Jackson ones – not bad for 20 years old.
Shaun swears by the Wera range of screwdrivers: “They’ve never let me down and look good too.”
Andy’s pick is Draper, “In my experience, they’re strong and reliable.”
Service Engineer Kit
As well as the standard tools, I also possess a service engineers kit manufactured by Makita. It’s an excellent kit, and although I have lost a few bits over time, it’s still in good condition after 20 years (apart from the case hinge and clasps). It contains:
- A selection of sockets
- Allen keys
- Torx bits
- Screwdriver bits
- A flexible handle
It’s a great piece of kit for a service engineer to own.
Shaun: “I have a couple of socket and ratchet sets. Raptor and Bahco are good quality.”
Andy: “I have several, some better than others, but I agree that Bahco is quality.”
A torch is a must when working in lofts, as many customers won’t have any lighting up there.
I have a range of torches, and I lose more than I break, so I now buy rechargeable handheld and head torches from Amazon. I also have a rechargeable site lamp that comes into its own when working in lofts and dark cupboards. Mine is a LAP from Screwfix, which does the job well.
There are some expensive options, but I wouldn’t recommend paying hundreds for one.
While you often get what you pay for, you can pick up some gems for low prices in places you might not think of. We all have at least one random piece of kit that we have obtained or stumbled across.
I have a set of box spanners I bought from Aldi for £3.99. They’ve got me out of a tight spot more than once.
Shaun; “I bought a set of long-reach screwdrivers from Lidl, cost me about a fiver.”
Andy: “I have a handheld electric pump I use for recharging vessels. Again it was from Aldi and cost me around £7.99.
Toolkit Advice To Remember
The most important advice regarding tools for gas engineers, or any other trade for that matter, is that quality counts. So before you buy any tools, pick them up and pull them about. Are they comfortable to use? Do they feel too big to handle? Will they stand the rigours of daily use?
But also, don’t buy a Rolls Royce when a Ford Focus will do the job just as well. Of course, cost doesn’t always equal quality, but cheap normally means nasty. Having said that, most tradespeople will own a 50-pence piece of kit that they swear by.
Don’t try and buy everything you need for your toolkit in one go. Instead, build up a substantial kit over time.
As I said at the start, I can pack everything I need into one box, but I can barely fit everything I own into one van. Also, don’t be tempted by nice new shiny stuff you have no use for. What’s the point in buying a £100 piece of kit that just takes up shelf space?