The purpose of fish tape hasn’t
changed since someone discovered that
getting wire through a conduit would
be simplified by “fishing” a rigid wire
through the conduit and pulling it back
out. However, fish tapes have come a
long way since the first steel pulling wire
was enclosed in a case.
Today’s tapes are made from a variety
of materials; they pay out and reel in easier and faster, and they are more durable.
In addition, a variety of accessories make
pulls faster and more efficient.
For placing voice/data/video cabling,
fish rods and poles are often used, rather
than conventional fish tapes, and fiber
optic cable requires careful handling.
Fish tapes come in a variety of materials, including steel, stainless steel,
stranded steel and fiberglass. Professional tape lengths typically range from
“Steel is a good general-purpose, fish
tape material,” said Jason Schaper, tools
and supplies product manager at Ideal
Industries, Sycamore, Ill. “Steel tape is
durable, low-cost, and known for its push
and pull strength. There have also been
improvements in steel quality, such as
moving to blue steel, which is rust-
resistant, more durable and less
likely to kink.
“Stainless steel has all of the qualities of steel with the added benefit of
rust resistance and is good for use in
underground conduit that often contains
water and condensation. Additionally, it
is favored in coastal areas where there
is airborne salt that accelerates oxidation. Laser-etched footage markers have
expanded the use of fish tape not only as
an installation tool but also to measure
conduit to allow electricians to accurately know the length of wire needed
and thus reduces waste. Nylon generally
is not used by professional electricians
because it has lower push strength and
tends to curl,” he said.
Tape length and tensile strength are
important aspects to selecting the right
type of fish tape. The larger the conduit
dimension, the thicker and stiffer the
tape needs to be to avoid jams.
Ease of payout and retrieval of the
tape is largely dictated by the case
design. Cases should allow for smooth,
quick retrieval, while preventing the
tape from kinking. Retainers keep the
tape properly positioned at the opening
and prevent breakage. Ergonomically
designed handles are stronger, slip-resistant and large enough to grasp
from the top or the side, even when
“Wire-pulling lubricant is an essen-
tial tool for all wire and cable installers
and helps prevent cable failures caused
by excessive pulling stresses,” Schaper
said. “The best lubricant will help
keep cable from twisting, scraping and
stretching as it is pulled through the con-
duit. Lubricants make the work easier
and faster, saving on labor costs.”
Fish poles simplify the installation
of electrical and data cables in walls,
roof voids, raised floors and suspended
ceilings. The poles also assist wire pulls
in areas where insulation is already
installed. Most are nonconductive and
can be used with different cable and
“One of the biggest areas of improvement we hear about is the need to make
reading the numbers on the tape easier,”
said Sumeet Pujari, senior product manager at Greenlee, Rockford, Ill.
To address this, look for fish tapes
with laser-etched numbers. These distance markings are etched into the steel
every inch for maximum readability, and
diamond-shaped marks remain legible
over the life of the fish tape, compared
to the standard hash mark.
“Also look for fish tapes that have
measurement in both feet and meters,”
Pujari said. “This will help improve
productivity by saving time because it
eliminates a separate measuring step
during the installation process.”
How easily fish tapes can be wound
is very important.
“A fish tape that is housed in a self-tensioning case for easy winding is the
best,” Pujari said. “Some of the wide,
impact-resistant rewinder cases come
with viewports to ensure the tape fits
back in the case. A retaining strap is on
the inside to hold tape secure. Fish tapes
with a sturdy thumb control assure that
winding and rewinding can be done
quickly and easily.
“The biggest influencing factor
for metal tapes is rust. Conventional
steel rusts, causing added friction and
shortened lifespan of the tape. Look for
corrosion-resistant wire that has the
same strength as conventional steel tape
but comes with smooth plating,” he said.
FISH TAPES ARE ESSENTIAL BASIC TOOLS that are easy to take for granted, but
imagine pulling cable through on a large commercial job without them.
COOLTOOLS BY JEFF GRIFFIN