Doing Your Own Electrical Work

There was a recent thread on one of the woodworking fora about electrical work that got me thinking. I've been doing my own for 30 years or more, and I've never really given it a second thought. My first exposure was even farther back than that when we had a swimming pool installed and my father had to have the electrical service moved. The father of a friend was an electrician and he was hired to do the job. I was fascinated and I watched every step.

Years later when SWMBO and I bought our first house, I started making the garage into a shop which necessitated some wiring. Ever the do-it-yourselfer, I got a book from the local hardware store entitled Electrical Wiring Simplified and started reading. I've always been able to teach myself stuff in that way. The book had lots of references to the National Electric Code and covered everything from how many wires per cubic inch of handy box to wiring a drop to a barn on the farm.

I bent some pipe, added some breakers, and pulled some wires and got some outlets where I needed them. I even helped a friend wire an outbuilding that he was converting into a shop. Bent more pipe, pulled more wire.

I don't ever remember any trepidation in lighting off the first project, in fact, I'm not even sure my first electrical project was there; I may have done something in the house as I was growing up, since I was already involved in amateur radio and had built high voltage power supplies, transmitters, and various other electronic paraphernalia, including the family TV. I've always had the confidence that I had done it right so why wouldn't it work?

When we moved to the Chicago area and bought a house its electrical service was utterly inadequate for the shop I wanted to build in the garage; fuses, 60 amp panel, no empty slots. So, looking things up in the book, I got a permit and installed a 200 amp circuit breaker panel, meter socket, and weather head, and 4/0 pigtails for the drop. The village inspector signed it off, I called Com Ed who came out and cut over the drop, and I was pretty doggone proud of myself.

Five years later we built the house that we just left, and I built an extensive shop in the basement. I did quite a bit of electrical work in that one; 5 8' and 4 4' fluorescent fixtures, 2 220V drops and a dozen or more 110V drops, all in conduit. I was quite proud of my work there, too.

Add in numerous ceiling fans, additional outlets, dishwasher, utility lights, radio room wiring, including 220V for an amplifier, and so on over the years, and it becomes a fairly extensive curriculum vitae; not enough to get a master's card, after all, I know nothing about 3 phase or 408V (and a lot of other stuff), but perhaps I could get a job as an apprentice.

Needless to say, I haven't been intimidated (or unsafe) in providing the electrical service I've needed for my home or shop. So, when I've read the many questions about electrical work that have cropped up on the internet, my reaction has often been oh, that's easy! Well, I'm beginning to think it's not so easy. Not everyone is equipped to self teach. I thought about having this page be a tutorial on basic shop wiring to help answer the questions that keep popping up, but I've decided against it for several reasons.

So, I'll leave you to decide whether or not to pursue your own electric projects. If you can teach yourself, then get a book and get the basics. If you can't, then bite the bullet and get a professional in to help you. As Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force, a man's gotta know his limitations.

I've just been informed of this excellent article on electricity. It's worth a visit.

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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