You Asked For It....
After writing this article I have had many request to know what tools I actually use. This is about it...
The tools on the left hand side are my primary hand tools. They are:
AMP = Seven tools total - These are all guillotine style tools, jaws come together vertically not like scissors.These tools are for Red, Yellow & Blue insulated/PIDG & "F" type open barrel terminals. These tools are the GOLD STANDARD, cost HUGE money, and usually only do one or two sizes per tool... (ouch!)
Rennsteig = Orange & Blue handle - This is a high quality German made guillotine style tool that I use for red, blue & yellow butt splices. I also have dies for solar MC-4.
Molex = Three tools for pin & socket style connectors etither waterproof or non waterproof. I use these for assembling field install waterproof connectors for radar, Espar heaters etc. etc...
Hollingsworth = This is a tool that I modified to use for heat shrink 14-16GA butt splices & brazed barrel heat shrink 14-16GA ring terminals. NOTE: This tool was not designed for heat shrink but in testing out performed my heat shrink specific dies.
Anderson = This is a tool that I use for 10-12GA heat shrink butt splices & brazed barrel heat shrink 10-12GA ring terminals. NOTE: This tool was not designed for heat shrink terminals but in testing out performed my heat shrink specific dies.
Daniels = This is a tool I use for multi-pin plugs that use this type of pin crimp.
PM Hand Tools = A Sweedish made guillotine style tool I use for crimp solder style PL-259 VHF connectors.
The tools still in packages are tools I use less often or where the specific die information is on the packaging and it is just easier to keep the package. I also did not list any of the mid grade tools. Those are just to $200.00 to $1800.00 tools.......
When you are thinking $50.00 is a lot to spend on a tool consider that that wall contains about $6000.00 worth of crimp tools and dies......
The Good, The Bad & the Ugly of Crimpers
In this photo I have lined up a short selection of wire crimper's. The one on the far left IS NOT A CRIMPER! I only say this because I have witnessed people putting together marine terminations with a pair of PLIERS.
The next crimper, the one with the yellow handles, is a cheap hardware store quality crimper and should only ever be used in an absolute emergency.
The middle crimper is a low grade Klein strip & crimp tool though it's not really well suited for much other than crimping non-insulated terminals and stripping wire.
The fourth crimper is a good DIY quality crimper. This one is made by Ancor Products, and designed specifically for crimping marine or aviation grade heat shrink terminations. The jaws of this crimper are well machined, and wide enough in cross section, to produce a good quality crimp. This crimper is also of the ratcheting type and will not release until a proper crimp has been made.
The final crimper shown is another ratcheting type crimper but this one, set up with the jaws shown, is designed for insulated terminals. It makes a "double crimp" for insulated terminals.
Read on for more details on these different crimpers.
NOTE: There is no such thing as a "marine grade" terminal. I refer to "marine grade" only because that is what the retailers tout them as and what most boaters know them as. "Marine Grade" is just a high quality insulated or heat shrink crimp termination. The same terminals are sold into aviation, industry and marine applications. In aviation they are often referred to as aviation grade... The difference with aviation terminals is that they need to meet minimum standards and be crimped with "certified" tools all of which are FAR MORE EXPENSIVE than the average boater is willing to buy. I personally & professionally use aviation certified tools but the ones below will get you you to better than average...
A Good Example of a BAD Crimper
This is an excellent example of a bad crimping and stripping tool. These hardware store quality crimper's will deflect, flex and cut the heat shrink thus defeating the purpose of spending good money on great terminals. The biggest worry with crimper's like this is the lack of strength you can achieve due to the very narrow cross section or thickness of the jaws.
A Good Example of a Decent Crimper
This crimper is designed specifically for use with heat shrink connectors. While certainly not the best quality it is a decent mid grade tool and far better than using the wrong tool on expensive connectors.
This tool will not damage the heat shrink and will yield a strong crimp when used on factory made heat shrink crimp connectors.
This pair is distributed by Ancor Products and are called the "Single Crimp Ratchet Tool" Part No. 702010.
I paid about $55.00 for this crimper at Hamilton Marine
in Portland, Maine.
You can buy a nearly identical crimper, without the Ancor name, from Sailors Solutions for only $39.95.
Why To Use a Qualtity Tool
This should illustrate why NOT to use cheap crimpers. The bottom tool is the Ancor Products heat shrink crimper and the top one is a standard $12.00 cut, strip & crimp tool which certainly does none of it's intended uses well at all.
The thicker jaws of the Ancor Products crimper will yield a significantly thicker crimp band and lead to a better cold formed crimp.
Well Machined Jaw Faces
A smooth well machined jaw surface is important when working with heat shrink connectors. This tool will not rip the heat shrink as a cheap tool will.
A good Quality "Double Crimp" Tool
This is an Anchor Products Double Crimp Ratchet Tool Part No. 701030. This crimper is not as ideal for use on heat shrink connectors as the previous crimper but can work on them.
This crimper, as shown, is designed to crimp standard insulated connectors, often sold as "marine grade", from 22ga wire to 10ga wire. This tool allows for the barrel and the strain relief sleeve to be crimped, in one motion, and at the same time and will not release until the full crimp has been made.
One other key feature, of a high quality ratchet type crimper, is that you can simply re-calibrate when and if they ever go out of adjustment. You can also order different jaws or "dies" for this tool to crimp different types of terminations such as BNC or RG type cable terminations.
Dimple Crimper = Poor Choice
In this photo I have placed a marine grade adhesive lined heat shrink connector into the jaws of my Klein "dimple" / staking crimper. It certainly does not take a rocket scientist to understand why a dimple crimper should be avoided for use on an insulated terminal. Once you squeeze the grip the dimple can puncture the expensive terminals protective heat shrink thus rendering the protection you paid for virtually pointless.
Note: This Klein crimper shows a spot for insulated crimps and also says insulated & non-insulated for the dimple crimp slots. I can not, with a good conscience, recommend anyone using this particular crimper, or any crimper like this, on any heat shrink insulated termination.
Using inexpensive, one size fits all, crimp tools will probably not save you any money in the long run. If and when you do use a dimple/staking crimper the dimple should be made opposite the seam, always "saddle the seam" this means face the seam AWAY from the dimpler, not at it as I have shown.
In this photo I am showing the orientation many folks often use, it is incorrect. Doing this can split the brazed seam and cause the termination to fail at a very low pull out strain. If you must use a dimple type crimper the dimple should be be opposite the seam.
Perhaps the most lacking feature of a dimple or staking crimper is that you lose any sort of strain relief crimping on standard insulated crimps. The entire load is taken by just the crimp barrel.
A double crimp ratcheting tool is designed to make two crimps, one for strain relief, which has different sized dies, and one for the bare wire crimp. If you are trying to wire a boat to be ABYC compliant, which by the way is not a requirement for a DIY, a dimple or staking crimper would not qualify as the correct tool to use under E-11 for insulated terminals.
Use The Right Tool For The Job
This is a prime example I came across of why it is critical to use the right tool for the job. These expensive heat shrink crimp terminals were ruined by the installer by using a staking or dimple crimper as opposed to a tool specifically designed for heat shrink terminals.
Crimp Terminals - Best To Worst
This photo shows a few of the different types of crimp terminals you can buy. The terminals in the top row are marine grade crimp connectors with built in adhesive lined heat shrink and are the best possible solution to use on a boat.
Technically there is such a thing as "marine grade" terminals but that is what the better quality stuff has become known as. Yes, heat shrink terminals are expensive, but in my opinion well worth it. They are available from manufacturers such as Ancor Products
, AMP, and FTZ
The second row of connectors are marine grade but non-heat shrink. While these terminals stand head and shoulders above the bottom row they are not sealed connections and as such are open to the marine environment. When used in conjunction with UL Listed tinned marine grade wire these crimp connectors will last a long time provided they are not in any direct contact with water such as in a bilge.
The third row represents Wal*Mart quality connectors that should be avoided on a boat. They vary tremendously in ID and OD diameters and as such it is a crap shoot as to how a crimp will turn out.
A good tip when buying connectors is this; if you can't see through the insulation, it's most likely vinyl, and should be avoided. The vinyl insulation on this type of connector can and will crack and the raw metal thickness, where the wire meets the connector to be crimped, is very, very weak in comparison to top quality terminals from reputable manufacturers such as those listed above.
I buy my FTZ heat shrink terminals from Sailboatowners.com (LINK)
For non heat shrink insulated terminals I use AMP PIDG Terminals
and buy them where ever I can find the best price. Because they are AMP they are quite expensive so I search around......
Don't Be Fooled By Cheap Connectors
Don't let your self be swayed by a cheap price on crimp connectors. Good quality connectors will be made of tinned copper and not aluminum. As I mentioned above Ancor Products, FTZ and AMP all make very good quality insulated and heat shrink terminals so you don't necessarily need to buy them at West Marine.
For example, I buy 100 adhesive lined yellow terminals from my distributor for about $70.00 per 100 so my guess is that you should be able to find them for less or slightly more. West Marine sells 25 for about $32.00 or about $128.00 per 100..
Real Copper !
OK, So I've ruined a few connectors for the sake of illustration, but, I did this to show what you should find beneath that tinned surface. I simply ground away the tinned coating to reveal the solid copper.