Push Pull Rods and How Avoiding Exercise
Installing recessed lighting is fairly simple, but electrical work is usually the last thing only the most experience DIY’ers will try. The reasons are obvious on the one hand, everyone is understandably afraid of lighting up like a Christmas Tree because they touched a live wire. Burning down the house, setting a small fire and blowing the fuse box are also pretty large and valid concerns. But on the other hand, frankly, once you’ve turned the power OFF and made sure you’re not violating any local codes by doing minor work like this yourself, it’s really not so tough. Matching a white wire with another white wire, black with black, and the green or naked copper to a ground screw; simple. The tough part is actually pulling the wire from one spot to the other!
As a seasoned veteran of the DIY world, I’ve installed tile, bamboo floors, wood floors, kitchen counter tops, cabinets, sinks and even a brand new shower. Electrical was the last thing I tackled as well, and possibly the most annoying of them all! I realize my choice of seasons, high summer, and the location of my home, in Central Florida, was probably a large contributing factor to the misery that was my first electrical DIY experience. We had just completed renovating the kitchen and turned our attention to the small dining area where we at our regular meals. In order to tie this area in with our new kitchen, we decided to do 2 things:
- Float some kitchen cabinets along one wall at waist height. This made a nice banquet for us to store games, place mats, etc.
- Put 2 recessed lights above the banquet so we could highlight some artwork on that wall as well as shed light on the extra workspace.
#1 was a piece of cake.
#2 required some thinking, planning, and careful deliberation. I’m really not capable of any of those things. So, I went right into cutting 2 holes over the sideboard where I wanted the lights. Then came the questions: how do I get the electrical wiring from the switch to the attic, then to hole 1, then to hole 2? My wife and I then employed the Florida Attic in June Weight Loss Program:
Move #1: climb into the attic and try and push the wire down the wall into where the light switch was.
Move #2: climb down and try and figure out why my wife couldn’t see the wire I knew was right in front of her (it wasn’t, really). Find the flashlight and go try again.
Move #3: climb back into the attic, it’s 2PM now and the attic at least 140 degrees (this was before hatha yoga was so popular). Finally get that wire from the attic to where the switch is.
Move #4: do squats, digging through the insulation in the attic to find where you drilled those holes for the lights 4 hours ago. Find the holes and realize one of them is so close to where the roof meets the outside wall that you’ll never get in there to thread the wire. Run the wire now attached to the light switch to the first hole.
Move #5: climb back down the stairs.
Move #6: wire toss. Since you can’t reach hole #2 from the attic, try and push the wire through the insulation to hole #2. Give up after 40 minutes.
Move #7: Dexterity. Go find a wire coat hanger, straighten it and try and thread it from one hole to the next. EVENTUALLY this works.
If you’d like to avoid the exercise and spend as little time in the attic or under the floors of your house, you should use what the professionals do, called a push pull rod. If I would have only known, I’d still have those love handles!
A push pull rod, also known as a fish rod, glow rod or wire puller, is simply a flexible stick with an attachment on one end that allows you to tie or tape a wire to it. As the name implies, you would simply PUSH the Rod through one hole, tie or twist the wire onto it, then pull it through the other. It’s called a fish rod or wire fish rod because you are literally fishing for wire. A glow rod, coincidentally enough, glows in the dark, making it easy for your wife to see as she waits comfortably in the air conditioning look into that gap in the wall where the switch is. Every CableTV installer and Electrician have a 6’ to 30’ push pull rod on their truck. It’s likely one of the reasons they’re not all incredibly thin, having kept the attic-sauna time and the residential stair master sessions to a minimum using the appropriate tools. Luckily, there are some great video demonstrations of the push pull rod available online, you don’t have to take my word for it.
Push Pull Rod Types and Options:
Fiberglass: Most professional push pull rods are made out of fiberglass, with brass fittings glued onto the end. Normally they come in individual lengths of 5 or 6’ and screw together to form up to 30’ or so and come with a hook on one end. These will range between $30 and $70 depending on the diameter and manufacturer.
Glow (also fiberglass): All the same things apply as above, but when charged up under lights for a few hours they will glow in the dark. Usually, there’s big premium for these. A 30’ set is usually around $85-$120
The two preceding options are great for the professional who might NEED to go 30’ across a buildings ceiling (most residential walls are about 8’) and who has plenty of room to store 30’ of rods. The rods are typically kept in those white tubes you see on top of contractor’s vehicles.
There are 4 issues with the standard fiberglass rods for the homeowner:
- Price – for $80, I’ll spend a long time on the attic stair master
- Fiberglass – it’s really fiberglass. If you use it enough, it will get into your hands. If you stress it enough, by trying to go around corners or in some way exceed the bend radius, it will shatter.
- Glued ends – the most common failure of these rods is when the end break off.
- Metal ends- the tips and attachments of all of these rods are made of metal. Electricity + Metal = bad new hair style.
Polymer Rods: There’s a trend just beginning in the tool industry to use advanced polymers and nylons not just for grips, but for the tools themselves. It’s the same for push pull rods.
One good example of the new Polymer push pull rods are the Mille-Rods by Millepede. They’ve done a good job of creating a more homeowner friendly version of the professional product. Here’s a comparison:
- Price – they start at under $20
- Polymer and Nylon construction – they will never leave glass in your hand, physically cannot shatter, and come with a lifetime replacement warranty if you bend them beyond all recognition.
- One Piece – there are no end. The rods are all one piece with threads on the end. No point of failure here.
- Attachments – there are no metal ends so nothing that can spark. They also come with 5 different, helpful attachments.
- Convenience – the rods are only 14” long, so you can fit 14’ in a handy 18” tube that fits in a tool box.
The next time you think about doing your own electrical work, and not making it part of your exercise program, do what the pros do! Use a push pull rod.