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First of all, I am not an electrician. Meaning I’m not a licensed electrician. Meaning I didn’t go to school for/apprentice as an electrician. Though I have done extensive electrical work, including wiring circuits which were subsequently inspected. A lot of people who work in the various trades hate electricians. I don’t. I respect them, and enjoy looking at their work and hearing about what they do. Having said that, I understand the trend toward dislike, as I’ve done my fair share of fixing the destruction left behind by less than considerate electricians. I don’t have a problem with someone being confident about what they do. And a lot of electricians are like this. They know they’re one of the more knowledgeable guys in the room, and because they work in the trades they might often feel resentment toward people who act like they’re just another piece of human meat on a job. So when electricians destroy walls without any concern for the guy who comes in after, or leave huge messes without cleaning up, I sort of get it. (Maybe I’m not all that annoyed because I get payed to fix it?) You’ll probably find, if you take some time to scour the internet, that these are the main complaints about electricians. Overall, I’ve found them to typically be very competent, intelligent people who take pride in what they do. (And the master electricians I’ve known have tended to be a hell of a lot smarter than the Phds I’ve known.) So, having said all of that, I’m going to go over a very simple wall switch replacement that I just did for a client. Though I did a far better job than many typical homeowners would do, I do hope any electricians reading this feel it was acceptable.
THIS IS NOT AN INSTRUCTIONAL. This post is to show people something interesting that they might not have known about before. There are some things in here that I generally feel are good advice–how to use a non-contact voltage tester to check for electricity, shutting off the power before working–but these really are for “entertainment value,” as it were, because I actually never shut the power off when I’m working on minor electrical stuff like this. It could be because I don’t drink soy milk, or it could just be that it takes too much time. Who knows.
If you do want to learn how to properly perform minor electrical work, I suggest you read a book. This one is my favorite. By far:
Wiring A House, by Rex Cauldwell
This is part of a series of books called “For Pros, By Pros.”
Yes, that’s an affiliate link. If you find any of this advice helpful, go ahead and use it. You’ll likely notice that I took all these pictures, and I own the stuff I’m recommending.
Here are some of the tools I use on a daily basis, and everything necessary for a job like this.
• Insulated screwdriver / hex bit holder
• Heavy duty wire cutter/stripper
If you’re doing a lot of this work, the electric screwdriver is a necessity. Otherwise, I love the insulated hex bit holder.
Before I get into anything interesting, I have to make sure I don’t shock myself. (This is just sooo important to the women in my life.) It’s never fun to believe you’ve shut the power off to a circuit only to have the circuit show you, beyond any shadow of doubt, that you indeed did not shut the power off. Which is where the volt sniffer comes in. Turn it on, and put it near what is currently Schrödinger’s electrical switch. If it turns red and starts beeping, I know I still need to shut the power off.
(There’s an even cooler tool out there for checking circuits, by the way. But I’m saving that for another post.)
Now it’s time to change the switch.
Which now brings us to the most interesting/important part of this post–the bit that’s used to do this. The switch plate, as I’m sure you’ve seen, uses the typical slotted/flat head screw. If you’ve ever done any of this, you’re aware that the screws on the outlet or switch itself tend to be phillips, with a cut out for a larger slotted screwdriver as well. What many people don’t know is that professionals don’t tend to use these. You might have noticed when working on something like this that the screw heads are often immaculate, seemingly untouched. How could that be? Loosening and tightening these screws will seriously mar the head, in addition to being a very annoying process. The common phillips or slotted screw drivers never quite fit correctly in these screws, and it’s difficult to keep control of the wire you’re attaching underneath.
Which is why professionals use a #1 square bit (also called “Robertson,” ) when dealing with these screws. I’ll post some photos, and you’ll easily see that every screw beyond the switch-plate will typically accept a #1 square bit.
Time to pull the switch. (Using a square bit, of course.)
A note about re-installation.
In the first photo below, you can see the crooked switch-plate, though you can’t as easily see that the switch itself is shy (meaning below the surface) of the switch-plate.
I want this switch to sit proud (slightly above the surface) of the plate. I also want the plate to sit where I want it on the wall.
So how do I accomplish this?
I don’t fully tighten the switch itself to the wall.
These screws on the switch itself–roughly the same location on a standard wall switch, or a dimmer, or an outlet–are what hold it to the wall box.
These screws, which you saw earlier:
The tendency among many is to try to get the switch perfectly plumb (straight vertically) and tighten it down.
That’s not the best way to do it.
I leave these fastened, but loose. Then I attach the switch-plate, make sure that it is plumb, and exactly how I want it, and then tighten it down. This pulls the switch out, pulling it proud of the plate, and tightens everything down to the wall.
Lastly, I want the screws aligned vertically or horizontally. Because only a pathetic loser would leave them randomly clocked.
So there you have it. A new decora wall switch. (On an ugly old wall.)
Check back for parts 2 and 3.
At the moment, it actually costs me money to keep this site up. Some of the product links you see are Amazon affiliate links. I’ve gone out of my way to make sure to only link to products that I myself use, that I would use, or that fit a specific application and are best purchased from Amazon. You’ll notice as well that I have some product links to other sites. These are instances where there was no acceptable product on Amazon, or Amazon charged significantly more. I only make money from the Amazon links.
So if you like what you’ve seen on my site, or you’ve felt that it helped you and you’d like to help me keep the site up, please consider using the Amazon links. And also consider throwing some satoshis my way: 3L74fDSVd1YDzyp18p9VJPPa6Kdw47xVKk
One thought on “Electrical Tips and Tricks: Part 1 of 3 — How to work the screws (you’ve been doing it wrong all along)”
Well played good sir, well played.