Pool service technicians rely on a variety of tools made especially
for their job, including nets, vac hoses and lid wrenches. But
it’s the range of tools not made specifically for the pool
industry that form the backbone of their fix-it arsenals.
Here’s a look at what service experts say should be found in
your toolbox — and how these tools come in handy on the
A set of Allen wrenches can be purchased in a plastic case or in
the “jackknife” style, where each wrench is folded out
of a case one at a time.
Veteran tech Bob Blade carries both kinds. “The jackknife
style is great because it keeps them all together. But sometimes
you just need the single wrench, and the jackknife style can be
cumbersome,” says Blade, owner of Aloha Pool & Spa
Service in Pacific Grove, Calif.
Allen wrenches are important because they’re often needed for
brand-name-specific jobs. “I use a 1/16-inch for the Laars
heater thermostat knob, and the 1/8 -inch for the old Sta-Rite
motor,” Blade says.
Experts recommend that techs keep on hand an array of chisels:
metal, stone, wood and even a putty knife.
“Wood chisels are for scraping old gaskets off pumps, or
calcium off tiles,” Blade says. “A cold steel chisel is
for cutting bolts and other metal cutting.”
Blade also keeps a carbide tile and masonry chisel on hand for
chipping work and cutting out tile.
Although most of today’s equipment is plastic, techs still
suggest having a 10-inch, half-round mill file for metal work. It
can come in handy when dealing with bronze pump bodies, to clean
off burrs, or to fix bent or corroded lids.
Goggles and gloves
For goggles, purchase the splash-proof kind for chemical handling,
and the vented ones to prevent fogging. Experts recommend goatskin
or deerskin gloves.
These pliers often are referred to as “Channel Locks,”
a common brand name.
They’re good for grabbing onto pipes and twisting, as well as
loosening filter nuts. Don’t use them to tighten PVC unions
and filter unions, or you’ll crack the nut, says Blade.
David Hawes, owner of H&H Pool Services in Dublin, Calif., says
his pair of grooved-joint pliers is essential. “If I have to
grab only a couple tools off the truck to go do some
troubleshooting, it’s my screwdrivers and Channel
Locks,” he says. “They get me through a lot of
Hawes brings several sizes including a small model, and the
standard 12-inch size. “I have a huge one to loosen filter
bulkhead fittings. You can use them instead of pipe wrenches. It is
a very universal tool,” he explains.
Most techs have a collection of hammers. Blade uses a hammer and a
long block of wood to remove old-style steel filter band clamps, or
to loosen fitted pump lids.
Rubber mallets also come in handy. “I use a rubber mallet to
put filter-lid clamps in place and to hit anything that might
otherwise be damaged by using a conventional hammer,” says
Steve Jones, owner of Anglo-American Pool Service & Repair in
Avoid wood-handled hammers because most of the work takes place
around water, and the wood can decay over time when constantly
exposed to moisture. Steel, graphite and fiberglass handles are
When it comes to all-purpose tools, look for something called the
Leatherman. “By far, the best tool for every pool and spa
service [tech] would have to be the inimitable Leatherman
Wave,” Blade says.
The device includes two switchlike blades, four screwdrivers
(including a Phillips), a sharp saw that can cut up to 2-inch PVC,
a hacksaw with an industrial diamond-fused file, scissors, a can
opener, wire strippers and needle-nose pliers.
“It’s what most paramedics, firefighters, military and
other service trade workers have on their belts as the compact
multi-tool of choice,” Blade says.
“Every toolbox needs a pair of needle-nose pliers,”
Blade says. “But be sure it’s equipped with wire
Experts suggest carrying two styles: long and narrow for getting at
hard-to-reach places, and short ones that can be used primarily as
“Needle-nose pliers are good for holding wires onto relays,
so you can tighten them down,” Hawes says. “Mine
probably gets used more than any other tool in my box, other than
Blade says the longer pliers are good for removing leaves, hair and
other debris from pump impellers.
Commonly known as monkey wrenches, they’re good to have
around even with the advent of plastic pumps and PVC plumbing.
“I think Rigid makes the best, no substitutes,” Blade
says. “I have a 24-inch lightweight aluminum type with offset
‘bulldog jaws.’ I don’t used it much anymore
except on 1-inch gas lines and big brass pumps.”
PVC pipe cutters
This tool is essential for getting clean cuts on PVC piping,
whereas a hacksaw won’t give an even cut. PVC pipe cutters
come in several sizes.
Sometimes the most basic tool is also the most essential. “I
have three different sizes of the flat blades, and two sizes of
Phillips,” Hawes says. “I carry one for lock screws on
pumps and for the motor shaft. I use a big one like a chisel or pry
bar. I use a very skinny one, about 1/8-inch wide, for electrical
work — things like faceplate screws. I also carry very tiny
screwdrivers for working on terminals inside
Blade says he’s been using a 6-in-1 combination screwdriver
set available from hardware stores at a cheap price. “You can
leave a set at all your commercial pools,” he says.
“They’re cheap, so I buy one just about every time I go
into the store.”
It’s important to replace screwdrivers if they get even the
slightest bit worn, Hawes says; otherwise, the screws can be easily
Standard nut drivers
Veteran service techs say the 1/16 - and 1/4 -inch tools are
crucial sizes to carry for pool work. “The 5/16 is the
standard nut size on most terminal connections,” Hawes points
The tools are important for removing motor bolts, radiator hose
clamps and heater tops.
“I generally use nut drivers to dismantle heaters because the
variety of the drivers make the job easier than using an ordinary
screwdriver,” Jones says. “Hex nuts and screws can be
removed and tightened easier with nut drivers.”
Toolmakers also are making them user-friendly. “They come
color-coded nowadays,” Hawes says. “For example, I know
that the yellow is 5/16 and the red is 1/4-inch.”
Although many manufacturers make filters and pumps that techs can
take apart without tools, experts say plenty of the old-style
equipment is still out there, and that requires wrenches.
Stock wrenches in sizes from 3/8 through 9/16, as that will cover
most motor bolts and such, experts say. “I also carry a 1/4
-inch and 5/16, open and box end,” Hawes says. “These
are good for getting into places where there is no clearance and
you can’t use a nut driver.
“Many techs also carry an adjustable crescent wrench, in case
they’re not sure of the size of the nut,” he
Brass or stainless steel brushes won’t rust and are good for
cleaning around brass pumps. Brushes designed to work on plastic
and PVC are available, so look for those with nylon bristles, or
use an actual toothbrush on those kinds of jobs.
These are used for removing the plastic coating on wires and
exposing the copper inside. Blade favors the GB or Klein brands. He
also likes the new automatic wire strippers — hand-operated,
labor-saving devices with springs and levers.
3/8-inch electric drills and bits
These drills are perfect for installing flow meters, gauges, feed
pump tubing and so forth.
“I have three of them,” Blade says. “Two are
battery-operated and one is [A/C] electric. They have variable
speeds, are reversible. Everyone has their favorite.”
Jones finds his battery-operated drill very useful.
“It’s invaluable if you need to drill and tap a new
thread into a brass pump pot lid that has worn out,” he
explains. “It’s also good for removing screws and nuts
while tearing down old equipment. I use it in place of a power
These saws are good for cutting into control system boxes and
electrical time clock boxes to facilitate electrical conduit
connections when there are no longer any available knockouts.
“I use the reciprocating saw for speed and efficiency,”
Jones says. “I use it primarily for the removal of pool
equipment, and also installations and plumbing repair.”
Blade uses a Sawzall brand power saw. “It’s great for
cutting large pipes and comes with a wide variety of blades,
including diamond for cutting tile,” he says.
Besides using them on screws, power screwdrivers can be used to
drill. They are particularly helpful for drilling holes for
25-foot steel tape measures
Jones calls his tape measure “one of the most essential tools
in my kit.” Blade keeps a 100-foot, fiberglass measuring tape
on hand to determine pool length when he needs to calculate volume
or size a new pool cover.
Indelible marking pens, such as Sharpies, have a variety of uses.
“I use a Sharpie for labeling [equipment, valves and meters]
in the pump house,” Blade says. “It will tell what the
multiport valves are for, where the automatic cleaner is,
Hawes uses them to benchmark filter gauges when cleaning filters.
“It’s good for troubleshooting,” he explains.
“We note where the clean mark is on the pressure gauge and if
there is a problem in the future, we know where that point
- Ultimate Tech Manual: Tool Organization
Tips for properly storing the gear on your truck.
- Rough & Ready
Sometimes, the best tool for the job comes from the last place you’d expect.