Tools for Safely Locating What’s Beneath the Surface

T&T Tools is a family business with a strong commitment to providing safe and durable subsurface hand tools

Tools for Safely Locating What’s Beneath the Surface

In the past, contractors often created probes out of whatever materials they had on hand. 

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T&T Tools is a true family business, now employing third-generation employees as part of a strong team creating probes and other hand tools. The company began when two friends created a couple tools together and realized they had filled a need in the locating market.

More tools with added safety features soon followed, and T&T Tools created a niche providing safe, durable subsurface hand tools for drain cleaners, pumpers, onsite installers, construction workers and pipeline companies.

Robert Thompson joined his father, co-founder Jon Thompson, in the early years of the company. He would commute from Chicago, where he lived with his wife and three children, learning the ropes of the business and the world of manufacturing. As the business grew, he eventually relocated the family to western Michigan to take on a larger role, and he transitioned into the role of president and owner in January 2020.

Cleaner recently spoke with Robert Thompson about the creation and evolution of T&T Tools, and its priority on safety and dependability.

Cleaner: Tell us a little about the history of T&T Tools.

Thompson: Jon Thompson and Tom Tschannen were friends and neighbors working in two different industries in the late 1980s. Tom had experience in the pumping/cleaning business and Jon had a manufacturing background. As social gatherings turned to work talk, Tom would express his struggles to find good tools to make his workdays more efficient. During further discussions, solid ideas formed and Jon utilized his manufacturing contacts and knowledge to make some tools for Tom. These first tools were for Tom’s use, but as more and more people kept ‘borrowing’ them, they realized they had a tool that filled a market need and the Smart Stick probe was born.

Their first sales occurred in 1992. The following year, Tom Tschannen chose to concentrate primarily on his pumping business and Jon Thompson became the sole owner of T&T Tools. Jon attended an early Nashville Pumper & Cleaner show with a couple of tools and utilized the corner of a friend’s booth to talk to people. The show helped him realize there was a need for a tool that provided additional safety. So in 1994, Jon created the Mighty Probe. This was the first ‘insulated’ tool of its kind in the market. 

T&T Tools is currently based out of Holland, Michigan, and is a second-generation, family-owned business. My cousin, Sarah, and all three of my children, Alex, Jennifer and Stephanie (third generation) are currently working for the company. We treat all of our employees like family, which creates a strong team.

Cleaner: How have the tools evolved? What sort of features became important? What was the philosophy behind those developments?

Thompson: The evolution of our probes is best seen through pictures. Back in the early days of the company, it was common for pumpers and cleaners to weld together whatever materials they might have on hand — this is shown in the first photo where a piece of rebar is welded to a piece of pipe. This probe was replaced with our Smart Stick (second photo). Design features of the Smart Stick include having a replaceable tip and shaft. This tip provides a clearance hole as the probe is being pushed into the ground, helping to ensure that the customer is not dragging against the probe shaft as it moves deeper.

The next evolutionary step is the Mighty Probe (third photo). This probe brought about a whole new level of safety in probing. The handle is molded into a high-strength composite material which provides an electrical disconnect between the handle and the shaft of the probe to help keep the user safe. We’ve had this tool tested up to 50,000 volts.

Next, we introduced the option to add a ‘slide adapter,’ which turns the probe into a mini slide hammer. This allows the user to pound their way through hard spots.

Following the slide adapter, we have introduced additional shaft sizes, such as a 3/8-inch hex shaft which is about 20% stiffer than the 3/8-inch round shaft and a 7/16-inch hex shaft which is about twice as stiff as the round shaft. The greater stiffness makes it easier to push the probe into the ground without it bowing; however, more material is being pushed into the ground, which can take more effort. Ultimately, a lot of having the best tool for the job depends on the soil conditions that the user is working against.

Cleaner: What differentiates your hand tools from the competition? 

Thompson: T&T Tools’ business philosophy is to manufacture durable, safe and high-quality tools. We will put additional costs into our product to make sure that it is the best that it can be. For example, we heat treat our manhole hooks. That’s a step that a lot of companies will skip to save on costs. However, it’s a necessary step to make sure the hooks don’t bend and deform immediately.

Making tools here in the U.S. is very important to us and we source and produce everything here in the states. T&T Tools will continue to produce hand tools that will last for years and will surpass standards of other similar tools that are available in the market.

Cleaner: What sort of needs do they address? Tell us about some of the various tools and what applications they best serve.

Thompson: The probes are used mainly to locate septic tanks and pipelines but can be useful for locating drainlines. We also have a line of heat-treated hooks and pry bars that are great for removing manhole covers, caps and lids. Our Handy Hook (HL30P) has been especially useful for opening hand hole covers.

Cleaner: What are some recommendations for customers shopping for hand tools/probes/hooks?

Thompson: One of the most important aspects of shopping for hand tools is keeping the ergonomics of the product in mind. It is becoming more and more important to make sure that the size of the tool fits the user. We offer our hooks and probes in many different lengths.

Safety is another hugely important aspect. Not realizing what is buried in the ground makes the use of an insulated probe that much more important. And because our hooks are heat treated, they won’t deform or ‘bend out’ on the user. All of these items increase the level of tool safety.

Cleaner: How do you see the drain cleaning/pipeline industry evolving?

Thompson: It’s amazing to see how this industry has evolved over the 23 years that I’ve been around it. The industry shows keep getting bigger and bigger. There are more and more products in the marketplace now to meet different user needs. Pipe bursting and lining technologies seem to keep evolving and improving. I can’t imagine the changes slowing down anytime soon.

Cleaner: What’s new for T&T Tools in 2022? What can customers expect out of T&T Tools in the future?

Thompson: We hope to keep introducing products that make the lives of our users easier. We are currently working on some solutions to make opening manhole covers easier and hopefully we will introduce new ways to make probing easier. We are excited about what the future will bring.

Cleaner: What do you want your customers to think of when they hear the name T&T Tools?

Thompson: I hope that they think of high-quality products and great customer service. We always try to do what’s right and provide great tools that meet the specific needs of our customers.

It’s always been a pleasure working with the people in this industry. The people I have interacted with over the years are always very professional and nice. Everyone in the industry wants to move the industry forward in a positive way and help each other out where they can. Ultimately, I hope that we can make the lives of the men and women doing the work out there in the field easier. If you have specific tool needs that aren’t being met, give us a call. 


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