The Good, The Bad, and The UGLYs

As professional electricians, we are required to install electrical work per the current NEC edition (as well as any local ordinances). However, the NEC isn’t exactly small and is filled with quite a bit of information which some may find daunting. With the current edition of the 2020 NEC coming in at over 900 pages and the current edition of the 2020 NEC Handbook weighing in at over 1,200 pages, it’s not very convenient to carry in your tool bag or box, and it certainly won’t fit in your pocket or safety vest. In addition, the NEC is very extensive in the items contained within it, and most of us electricians do not go looking for ALL of that information on a daily basis.

The Ugly’s series of reference books is one of the solutions to that problem – quick reference to the items we would encounter on a normal day-to-day basis or would be referencing most frequently. As a disclaimer, the Ugly’s books are not meant to replace the NEC Codebook/Handbook or other more in-depth training manuals; they are meant as companion items to these documents we would need most often. Even though the current edition of the Ugly’s electrical reference, (based on the 2020 NEC) is only 200 pages long – and about a quarter of the physical size of the NEC – it is far from light on information.

Who Writes the Ugly’s Books

George Hart wrote the original book over 35 years ago. An electrician by trade, George wanted to fill a void within the electrical industry by developing an electrical quick reference book that would fit into a pocket or tool box, and thus the Ugly’s book was born. Charles Miller is the current author of the Standard Electrical References Ugly’s Book as well as the Electrical Safety and NFPA 70E Ugly’s Book. Dr. Alan Stanfield is the author of the Conduit Bending Ugly’s Books, and all five are published by Jones and Bartlett Learning in Massachusetts. The Electrical References version of the book is published on the same code cycle as the NEC, while the others in the series are updated as needed to stay relevant.

What Versions of the Ugly’s Books are Available?

Electrical References 

This reference book contains the most sought-after information a general electrician would encounter on most given days. It contains practical information like common electrical system voltages, finding motor amperages, voltage drop calculations, transformer sizing, miscellaneous conduit bending, how to size junction boxes, and a general partial 2020 NEC code summary, etc. In addition, this book has theory information such as Ohm’s Law, series/parallel/combination circuits, and other useful information like weight and measurement conversions, math formulas, and hand signals among others. A good general ‘all the way around’ reference book.

Residential Wiring

This reference book is based upon residential installations and the information a residential electrician would need on a daily basis. The book is laid out much like the original Ugly’s book, but the code reference sections are for dwelling units specifically. It still contains a plethora of information regarding theory, wiring diagrams, series and parallel circuits, and other useful information, but caters more to the residential construction industry.

Motors and Controls

As with the other Ugly’s books, this reference book contains some electrical theory items such as Ohm’s law, practical electrical information such as voltage drop calculations and how to calculate amps and watts, etc., but the bulk of the book contains items specific to motors. You can find things like full load current for motors, motor branch circuit/feeders, overcurrent protection for motors, and basic wiring diagrams. In addition, it has more in-depth items like gear sizing, gear reducers, and torque, as well as line diagrams for motor control circuits. This reference manual is a perfect addition to the toolkit of anyone working with motors or motor control circuits.

Conduit Bending

The Conduit Bending edition of the Ugly’s line of reference manuals is designed to provide the common information needed to bend conduit accurately and efficiently. It has general information about the different conduit benders one would have access to, and how to use them to make standard bends such as 90°, offsets, and three and four-point saddles. It even gets into more advanced skills like segmented and concentric bending. The book also has quite a bit of information regarding conduit fill, using math for bending, conduit cover for underground installations, and how to thread rigid conduit, and it references the NEC on where you can use the different types of conduit and their associated fittings. As with the other books in the series, it also has plenty of general information like weights, measurements, and conversions as well as a good amount of safety information. One of the great things about this book is that it is full of pictures, not just text, to help the electricians who are visual-type learners.

Electrical Safety and NFPA 70E

The last book in the Ugly’s line brings together the common items regarding safety and the NFPA 70E that impact us, electricians, on a daily basis. Things like shock protection and equipment, safe electrical work practices, arc flash protection, and general protection from electrical injuries can be found here. It also contains information on how to recognize electrical hazards, various items concerning electrical safety training, and a nice selection of common first aid topics. While not intended to replace more in-depth safety training, this reference book is definitely one to look into to protect yourself and co-workers from injuries in the workplace.

Where Can You Buy a Copy of the Ugly’s Book

You can purchase the Standard Ugly’s Electrical Reference Book at most electrical supply houses or home improvement stores like Lowes or Home Depot. For the other variants of the Ugly’s line of books, you will most likely have to shop somewhere online for them at places like Amazon. is the official website where they have an impressive array of reference materials, but the Ugly’s books can be found easily anywhere online.

Considering what you get with these reference books, they are of tremendous value to the electrician whether you are entry-level or advanced in your career. The average cost is somewhere between $15-$20 per book, but if you bundle them together with multiple copies of some of the different variants of the Ugly’s books, you can usually get them at a discounted rate.

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