What Are Your Desert Island Fiber Optic Tools?

What Are Your Desert Island Fiber Optic Tools?


If you could only have a few items to do everything you need to do, what would they be? 

We all know the age-old scenario, right? If you could only have a few items to do everything you need to do, what would they be? This seems like a pretty tall task if you’re in the telecommunications industry but let’s indulge together for a second. To keep it simple, let’s narrow down the parameters a bit. Let’s say that these items are tools that a fiber optic network manager would daily use. Sound simple enough? Alright, let’s make some choices!

So to start, the first tool I would grab would be my trusty Tri-Hole Fiber Optic Strippers. These can do all of the essentials from stripping a 3mm simplex jacket, to a 900um tight buffer, down to the acrylate coating on a bare fiber. They also have a flat surface, so you can actually cut the fiber if need be. These are critical when working with fiber optic cable on a day to day basis. Finding myself without a pair of these on the job, would definitely be a bad day. That’s why they’re the #1 choice for my list.

Next, I would grab a pair of Kevlar Shears. I know what you’re thinking, “the strippers can cut fiber so why would you need a pair of shears?” Well, first of all the shears can do a lot more than cut bare fiber. You can use them to cut the aramid yarn inside a cable. You can use them to score the buffer tube on multi fiber cables. In a pinch, you can even use them as a mid-span tool, although I don’t recommend this. They also come in handy when trying to open a plastic case of batteries from Best Buy. These are very versatile and make it to the #2 slot on my list.

If you work with fiber on a daily basis, you know that there’s nothing worse than a dirty fiber optic connector. A simple speck of dust can ruin anyone’s day. So, how do you know if you have a dirty connector end face or not? Well, a simple Hand Held Fiber Optic Scope will allow you to inspect the end face of your connector. Using one of these before plugging your connector back into the patch panel will help guarantee that you’re not introducing any dust or high back reflection into your fiber optic network. This brings me to my next two choices. Every connector needs to be cleaned. Typically a combined wet and dry approach is the best method. That’s why I would definitely need to have Alcohol Wipes and a Click Cleaner in my desert island list.

Troubleshooting is a critical part of any network manager’s job. Sometimes, quickly trouble shooting is a priority. A mini Visual Fault Locator is always a good tool to have on hand. By connecting a VFL to a fiber, you can quickly identify a break or shattered end face visibly by its red 650nm light. You can also use it for quickly locating fibers in a rack mount or while terminating connectors. It’s not an end all be all tool, but it will certainly help when you need to quickly trouble shoot a problem.

Speaking of trouble shooting, sometimes you need to dig deeper to understand what’s going on in your network. A simple VFL check isn’t giving you an answer on signal integrity and you need to know what your signal loss is. Side Note: You can still get red light through a cable but have bad attenuation. To dig deeper, you’ll need to use a Power Meter & Light Source Kit. Using a PM/LS you can find out the overall loss in your fiber to ensure that it’s performing as it should. If the fiber you’re testing is reading a high loss, then it’s time to use a greater tool with a little more intuition.

An OTDR is a staple in trouble shooting a fiber optic network. Not only will it help you find the problem, but it will tell you a lot more about what’s happening in your fiber. For those not familiar with OTDR testing, an OTDR will map out and list all of the reflective and non-reflective events occurring in your fiber. It provides measurements to help you identify splices, mated connector pairs, bends, and breaks. If you have a break in your cable, an OTDR can tell you exactly where the break is located. This can come in handy, especially if you have fiber optic cable running underground between two buildings. You don’t want to dig that hole twice!

If the OTDR scan shows that you have a break in your fiber. The next tool I would choose to have on my desert island list is a Fusion Splicer. A fusion splicer is an extremely handy tool to have when working with fiber optic cable because not only can it easily repair broken fibers, it can also be used to splice-on new connectors. This is really beneficial, considering how easy it is to do and how little back reflection is introduced in a fusion splice. In my humble opinion, a splice-on connector is the quickest and most cost effective way to make a permanent quality termination in the field.

The last item on my list may seem a little petty but it’s super important to me. Velcro Tie Wraps are essential for anyone that’s doing any kind of cable installation. These little tie wraps are always good to have around. They will help keep your racks clean and tidy. There’s nothing worse than having a cluttered network room. They’re also useful for keeping cables running along in neat bundles. Using tie wraps will help keep both you and your boss happy, especially when they unexpectedly walk into that server closet.

Well, there you have it! There were a lot of other tools that probably could have made this list but these are some of the ones that I couldn’t do without. Thanks for reading along and I hope you join the conversation. What are some of your desert island fiber optic tools? 

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