How to Strip a Wire
Stripping a wire is not only a foundational electrical skill, it's an inescapable one. Anyone who needs to install a light, outlet, switch, or perform any basic electrical repair will need to strip a wire. The ability to strip a wire easily, quickly, and precisely determines the electrical project's overall quality as well as your safety.
What Is Wire Stripping?
Wire stripping severs and removes the thermoplastic coating on individual solid or stranded copper or other metal wire. Wire stripping is different from cable ripping, which severs and removes the larger, outer plastic jacket of electrical cable.
3 Ways to Strip a Wire
Pliers-Style Wire Stripper/Cutter
Easy to use
Wire and tool gauge must match
Limited range of gauges
A traditional wire stripper looks like a thin pair of pliers. In closed mode, it has a series of five to seven cutting holes corresponding to wire gauges. The wire gauges are usually stamped into both jaws of the wire stripers. Be sure to use the one associated with not only the size but also the type of wire. Stranded and solid are not the same. When the pliers are open, the hole open up and become half-circles.
Pliers-style wire strippers work by inserting a coated wire into one of the gauged half-circle stripping holes. For example, a #14 gauge wire must be inserted in the "14" half-circle. Squeezing the pliers closes the two sides to form a circle. The edges of the stripping hole are sharp, so they cut the wire coating.
Pliers-style wire strippers are inexpensive, lightweight, and compact, so they can easily fit into small or tight areas. But these strippers can nick the wire if you try to strip a wire on the wrong gauge.
Pliers wire strippers can strip anywhere from 6 AWG to 30 AWG, though not usually on the same model. A typical low-cost model strips 10 to 22 AWG solid wire. A separate model strips 16 to 26 AWG stranded wire. Most models can be used for solid as well as strained, however you size up on slot for strained. Size 14 AWG strained would go in the 12 AWG solid slot.
Auto Self-Adjusting Wire Stripper/Cutter
Auto wire strippers differ from pliers-style strippers in two important respects: the method of cutting the wire coating and the stripper's ability to self-adjust to the wire gauge.
The wire coating is torn apart until it snaps into two pieces rather than being cut with a sharp blade. This means that there is little to no danger of nicking the wire.
The wire strippers can take any wire gauge within its product specifications and strip it—no need to slot the wire into a specific numbered stripping hole.
In addition, some auto self-adjusting strippers are able to rip and remove cable sheathing from 12/2 and 14/2 NM wire.
A quality pair of auto self-adjusting wire strippers can be expensive enough to limit them to the toolboxes of electricians or dedicated DIYers. They're also so large and heavy that using them in tight or precarious situations might be difficult or impossible.
Manual Wire Stripping
Electricians and do-it-yourselfers have manually stripped electrical wire for ages. While manual stripping should never be your go-to method, it can help you strip a wire when better tools are not immediately available.
A dull pair of scissors works best. The scissors are opened. Then the wire is placed in the scissors' open V-shape of the blades. Twisting the scissors back and forth cuts the wire coating.
Manual wire stripping is slow and difficult to do without nicking solid wire. With stranded wire, it's very hard to strip the coating without severing some of the strands.
|Ease of operation||Moderate||Easy||Difficult|
|Wire damage||No damage or minor||None||Major damage possible|
|Solid wire||10 to 18 AWG||10 to 20 AWG||Any gauge|
|Stranded wire||16 to 26 AWG||12 to 22 AWG||Any gauge|
|Cost||$15 to $20||$25 to $50||$2 to $5|
While stripping wire is a safe activity, wire stripped improperly can result in arcs, fires, shocks, and other injurious electrical events. Strip wire correctly. Preserve all strands in stranded wire. Do not nick solid wire. If you have damaged the wire or its coating, cut back the wire to an undamaged section.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Pliers-style wire stripper/cutter
- Auto self-adjusting wire stripper/cutter
- Thermoplastic-coated wire
How to Strip a Wire With Pliers-Style Stripper/Cutters
Identify Wire Gauge
Identify the number of the wire's gauge (#12 and #14 are common gauges in household work). With wires bundled into cables, the wire gauge is usually printed on the plastic jacket.
Place Wire in Stripping Hole
Separate the wires within a bundled cable so you have better access to the wire you wish to strip. Place the wire on one of the half-circle stripping holes that corresponds to the wire's gauge. The stripping hole will be the cut point.
Hold the longer end of the wire with your free hand. With your other hand, gently squeeze the wire stripper's handles. Do not twist or squeeze more than once.
Pull Stripped Coating Off
With the handles still depressed, pull the stripper sideways to remove the coating from the wire.
How to Strip a Wire With Auto Stripper/Cutters
Adjust Tension Wheel
Though the auto wire stripper is considered to be self-adjusting, wires smaller than #10 gauge may slip out of the stripping heads. Look for the adjustment mechanism (a serrated thumbwheel on many brands) and rotate it.
Place Wire in Stripper
Place the wire in the wire stripper's heads. The center of the two heads is the point where the wire coating will separate.
Slowly squeeze the handles of the wire stripper. The stripper's heads will grab each side of the wire and move in opposite directions. The wire coating will rip apart cleanly in the middle.
Remove Stripped Wire Coating
If stripping toward the end 1-inch or less of the wire, squeezing the handles will also move the coating off of the wire and the coating will drop away. If this does not happen, remove the wire from the wire stripper and pull the coating off by hand.
How to Manually Strip a Wire
With one hand grasping the scissors handles, open the blades of the scissors until they are about 2 inches apart at the tips.
Place Wire Within Blades
Place the wire between the blades at the "V" where the blades meet. Shift your hand so it is firmly holding the blades in place. The blades should not be free to move.
Rotate Wire or Scissors
Rotate the wire a few times. Alternatively, you can hold the wire steady and twist the scissors a few times.
Pull Stripped Coating Off
With the wire still in place on the scissors, move the scissors sideways to pull the stripped coating off of the wire.