Bigger often is better, but that rule has seldom applied to hand tools, especially hydraulic tools used in the electrical industry.

For example, bigger is not better when speaking of the venerable hand-held hydraulic crimping tool that has been around in one form or another since the 1920s.

Initially, the need for tools to help bring electricity to all of America drove the market. Because of that demand and "overkill" ratios built into each connection, there was little need to make changes in this trusty tool. (Early electrical connectors were large and bulky, but they were engineered to be better than the conductors attached to them.)

Over the last 50 years the design of tools and connectors have become streamlined through a combination of engineering, metallurgy, and machining. This streamlining has helped to keep down installation costs while maintaining performance.

After World War II, hand tools-like most products in the American marketplace-grew with add-on applications, like alternative power sources. For example, foot-powered pumps allowed two-handed connector installation in heavy-duty or awkward situations. Small innovations like streamlining, slightly curved handles, and lighter materials-like fiberglass over wood and metal-reduced operator fatigue. Advancements from the 90-deg or 180-deg rotational head to a full 360-deg and the advent of a "C-body head" expanded tool versatility considerably.

During the last decade, tool engineers began to address in earnest the problems of operator fatigue. Concerns about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome led engineers to design ergonomic tools. By analyzing how tools are used in the field, design engineers have been able to build smaller and more versatile hand-held hydraulic tools. For example the BurndyY35 tools consistently deliver 10,000 lb of compression force to a connection.

Further, seemingly simple calculations have reduced the 50-lb of handle force required in one tool to about 42 lb to achieve that 10,000 lb of force. Although a 15% reduction may not sound like much, it can translate to faster crimps, less operator fatigue, and lower costs.

As the tools became more user-friendly and mechanical forces were reduced, toolmakers realized that bearing surfaces and machine tolerances needed to be even more precise. That investment in precision has paid off in durability-often improving the life expectancy of a tool as much as four times.

The scissors-type hand-held hydraulic tool remains a staple of the installers' toolbox, but innovations continue. Specifically, the same compression heads found in two-handed, or remote-hydraulic source tools can now be found in a new generation of battery actuated tools. Quality "bat" (battery actuated tools) tools are self-contained and can be operated single handedly, leaving a second hand free to position cable and connections for a faster fit and often eliminating the need for a helper.

Early versions by some makers were inconsistent, and reliability was sometimes spotty. By 1995, these tools proved they could deliver accurate, inspectable connections despite their small size, which is slightly larger than a power drill.

Now, a single squeeze of a trigger mechanism can deliver 10K psi/12-ton output pressure anywhere. Because of their size and shape, speedy recharges, and battery interchangeability, these battery-actuated tools are finding favor in demanding situations such as new construction, tight working spaces, and in post-severe-storm power restoration.

Like their earlier two-handed stable mates, battery-actuated tools continue to evolve. Advancements include automatic ram return, and audible pop-off when the correct pressure is reached, and low-battery warning lights that activate when there are five crimp/cut cycles left in the unit.

The demand for safer, more versatile and productive tools and for highly specialized versions of old standbys will continue to drive major hand tool research and development. Additionally, incremental improvements will continue for many years to come, driven by precise computer-aided designs and quality programs like ISO 9000.