Fish tape (also known as electrical fish tape, draw wire, draw tape, or pull tape) is an electricians tool used to pull wire through walls or electrical conduit. Fish tape is a flat, thin, long wire wound up inside a donut shaped wheel.
The wire is typically made of steel or nylon – although the best fish tape brands use fiberglass wire for its superior performance and durability. The wheel usually has a handle to make it easy for an electrician to carry it around with them.
What is Fish Tape Used For?
Fish tape is used most commonly for running conduits through areas out of reach. A conduit is a tube that protects electrical wires from being exposed, rendering them safe from interference. Fish tape is similar to a rod. It works as a piece of steel or fiberglass that is run folded at the end and forced through the length of a conduit. At the other end, the wires are attached once it exits and then is pulled back.
It is then secured and pulled back through the length and linked to an electrical box or conductor. Fish tape is typically used in areas where exposed wires are present such as tight spaces, the lowest and the highest level of homes and other areas.
No matter what it’s made of, fish tape has to be flexible enough to make it through the conduit, but it needs to be rigid enough to guide it through to the other end. Durability is also essential in fish tape, as it needs to be able to snake through a conduit without ending up deformed or worn out.
Types of Fish Tape
Fish tape that is used in residential and commercial products differs based on the amount of damage it can handle as well as how much you’ll have to pay for it. As you would expect, a residential fish tape is the best choice for quick jobs at home while commercial fish tape is used by electricians and other professionals.
There are three different materials that fish tape is commonly made of:
Nylon is the most flexible material that fish tape is usually made of, so it is the best option for twisting or winding conduits. Despite its excellent degree of flexibility, nylon fish tape easily maintains its rigidity, and you won’t have to worry about it getting bent out of shape as easily ass steel.
Fiberglass vs Steel Fish Tape
The two most common choices are fiberglass and steel fish tape. These different fish tapes have very distinct uses. If you’re looking for an affordable option for a small residential project, then you’ll likely opt for steel fish tape because it is more affordable than fiberglass, as it’s usually good enough.
However, fiberglass offers superior performance and durability at a higher price point, so it is a popular option for those looking for quality fish tape. Electricians and other professionals will usually have fiberglass fish tape because it will last longer and give them a better return on their investment.
For those deciding on the right material for their needs, it is crucial to consider the types of jobs you’ll be performing, and their frequency. It’s also prudent to use a good pair of electrical gloves to protect your hands whilst conducting your work.
How to use Fish Tape through Conduit
Start by examining your conduit before you using fish tape. Inspect the conduit by its near end to far end to find the length. Unwind about 4 feet (or more based on how much you need) and feed it to one end of the pipe.
Use a vacuum cleaner and attach it to the other end. Make sure you seal the connection with the vacuum to prevent the string from falling off.
- Watch where your string is feeding the pipe and make sure that it doesn’t stop or reach a snag.
- Watch how your vacuum pulls the string. If your not careful, most of the string can get stuck inside the vacuum cleaner.
Once the light string is pulled around the pipe, you’ll need a piece of heavier string to keep it attached. Attach a heavier string and manually pull it through the pipe. After it’s been pulled, attach your fish tape and pull through the conduit manually.
The flexibility and strength offered by the fish tape will make it easier to push the wire through it. Often, the fish tape can be used to push new wire directly through the conduit, which saves a lot of time. If you need to remove the wire insulation before putting it in the conduit, you can strip the insulation off with a good set of wire strippers or electricians pliers.
Using Existing Tape
To use an existing wire for your conduit, make sure that the wire is disconnected and is free at the conduit that’s closest to you.
Take the box of cable towards the far end of your conduit. If your pull wire is connected to anything, you’ll have to remove it. Make a small loop so that it can fit into the conduit. After that secure the loop by wrapping tape around the wire stand.
Why is my Fish Tape getting Jammed?
Fish tape gets jammed on jobs regularly. Many decide to skip out on paying for a durable fish tape choice because they imagine they are always destined to snap. More modern choices are specially built to lessen the stress damages that happen during regular use on more arduous jobs.
- Fish tape can get jammed from mishandling the crank mechanism by overstressing or not maintaining a consistent flow when retracting.
- The transition to using more reliable forms of steel such as Blue steel lead to fewer instances of locks and breakage.
Fish Tape Alternative
- Choose a single strand wire with a solid gauge. Values around 8 AWG have worked best for me. The goal here is to use a wire which will bend without retaining those deformations permanently.
- Account for about 3 extra feet based on the length of your run. Cut that distance with a wire cutter.
- Create a hook by bending around 2 inches into the wire. Wrap electrical tape around the nose in order to create a smooth head which will easily lead the way through the conduit.
- To increase rigidity, insert the solid wire into the pneumatic tubing. This allowed the core to be extremely tough while the outer shell provides a way for it to bend back into shape and avoid sharp bends.
Following the steps above you’ll be able to build your own fish tape substitute.
Additional Tips For Using Fish Tape
Protect The End of The Tape
The end of a fish tape is a dangerous thing, so make sure that it’s not exposed. If it ever springs, it can leave a nasty gash.
Take the end of your fish tape and use a pair of pliers – Crimp the fish tape down tightly, so that its sharp end is no longer exposed.
Slight Bends In The End
When applying fish tape through the walls, a slight bend in the tape stops it from getting stuck in the wall. Also, flipping the fish tape (in 180 or 360 degrees) back and forth stops the tape from self-coiling.
You can have a lot of control over how your fish tape slides against your wall or ceiling.
Experiment with different bends and see what works!
Use Marks to Track Your Distance
Measure how far you’re going to extend your fish tape, and then mark that via wrapping electrical tape around it. This will determine if your fish tape is going off course or hits an unexpected object.
Turn the fish tape both clockwise and counterclockwise. This prevents it from placing a helical twist on the tape, making it easier to apply wire throughout the wall.
Threading a wire or guiding string through a wall or a conduit without fish tape is nearly impossible, so it accomplishes an essential task for professionals that work with wiring. While it may not be the most exciting tool in an electrician’s tool kit (not nearly as exciting as an electricians multimeter), fish tape is still one of the most versatile and useful tools at an electrician’s disposal.