Woodworking Tips
Woodworking Tips Index
GFCI Extension Cord
This may seem a little odd to present in the context of woodworking tips, but I have wanted to share this idea for a while -- making your own Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter extension cord.

Most of us work in shops in our basements or garages, places that often have damp or wet floors, or at least the potential for a lot of moisture. So this topic isn't too far off the mark for people with the interests we share.

Here's how I got to thinking about this. A while ago, the Woodsmith offices suffered some water damage from floods, so there was clean-up to do. What we needed was an extension cord for a wet/dry vacuum and a power washer. A ground fault protected extension cord would be the safest kind to use. But an extension cord with a ground fault circuit interrupter receptacle can be hard to find, and expensive to buy.

So we gathered all the parts to make our own GFCI extension cord. Note: This is one of those projects that's best to complete before it's needed.

First, let me take a minute to explain what a ground fault protected circuit is. It's one that's able to detect differences in current coming into and going out of an electrical tool. If the current into and out of the tool isn't the same, it means there's a short somewhere. This can be a dangerous situation if you're operating a tool on a damp floor -- your body could become part of the circuit and carry the leaking (and possibly deadly) current to the ground. That's what's called a ground fault. A GFCI protected circuit will detect such a fault and interrupt the flow of current before it can hurt you.

To make a GFCI extension cord, we started by gathering up all the parts from a local electrical supply store. Note: Most of the parts are available from hardware stores, but we wanted to use commercial grade parts for extra durability when used outdoors. Altogether, we spent about $40.

The safety part of the extension cord is the GFCI receptacle. The one we used is rated for 120 volts at 15 amps. The receptacle is mounted in an outdoor-type aluminum box.

Besides the safety features, what we liked best about this extension cord is the heavy-duty cable. It's a 14 gauge, 3-conductor cable wrapped in a bright yellow jacket. This a lot tougher than the 14-3 cable you're likely to find at a hardware store. And it's more expensive, too. But for a short length (our cord is only 16 feet long), it's only a few dollars more.

On one end of the cable is an aluminum connector that joins the cable to the receptacle box. This grabs onto the cable so it can't easily be pulled out of the box. It makes a water-tight connection, too.

At the other end of the cable is the plug. Here again, we chose a heavy-duty component. It a three-prong plug with a connector that prevents the cord from being pulled out of the plug.

It worked well during the clean-up, and now we use it any time we need an extension cord in the shop, and when we're working outdoors on a project for Workbench magazine.

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