How to Side Wire and Bend Wire for an Electrical Outlet

  • 01 of 04

    Loosen the Screw on the Outlet Face Plate

    Remove Electrical Outlet Face Place
    Remove Electrical Outlet Face Place. Laara Cerman/Leigh Righton / Getty Images

    When installing an electrical outlet, there are two ways to attach the wires to the outlet. One method is to back wire the electrical outlet by inserting the stripped and straight wire ends into holes in the back of the outlet. But side wiring, favored by many electricians, is considered to be the classic technique for attaching the wire because it tends to grip the wires a bit tighter.

    One technique that will help with effective side wiring, too, is learning how to correctly bend the wire ends prior to clamping them down with screws.

    The first step is to remove the plastic faceplate with a manual screwdriver. While you can use a cordless drill, you may want to stick with a manual screwdriver for this step to avoid damaging the plastic screw or faceplate.

    Tools and Materials

    • Manual flat head screwdriver
    • Cordless drill with a driver bit
    • Tool for bending the wire: wire stripper, needle-nose pliers, or electrician's screwdriver
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  • 02 of 04

    Loosen the Side Screws on the Outlet

    Loosen the Side Screws on the Outlet
    Laara Cerman/Leigh Righton / Getty Images

    Loosen the side screws on the outlet with a manual screwdriver or a cordless drill. Loosen the screws without removing them. The screws need to be raised high enough to permit ​the wire to be placed under them.

    Continue to 3 of 4 below.
  • 03 of 04

    How to Bend Wire for the Outlet

    Bend Wire with Screwdriver
    Lee Wallender

    Bending wire for side wiring the outlet is both a craft and an art. Experienced electricians or do-it-yourselfers learn to do this step quickly since each outlet has as many as five screws: two gold, two silver, and one green for grounding. There are three primary tools you can use for bending the wire:

    Electrician's Screwdriver

    Some screwdrivers have a little nub parallel to the screwdriver's shaft that allows you to bend the wire into a loop. Place the wire between the nub and the shaft, then turn the screwdriver until you have formed a loop. This tool works the best because there are no angular surfaces to mangle the wire.

    Needle-Nose Pliers

    You can use the very end of a pair of needle-nose pliers to create a near-circle on the wire. Grab the wire with the pliers, then turn the pliers to create a loop.

    Wire Stripper

    Most wire strippers will have holes of different gauges built into the handle meant for bending the wire. This tool works differently from the screwdriver and pliers, as it is more difficult to form a circle.

    When bending the wire, do not close the loop. Make it as much of a circle as possible, while still maintaining a small gap for the screw to pass through.

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  • 04 of 04

    Screw the Wire Down to the Terminals

    Finished Side Wired Outlet
    Lee Wallender

    Place the Wire

    Fit the wire around the screw, making sure that the wire is looped clockwise. The reason for this is that you want the loop to close up when you tighten the screw. If you were to place it counter-clockwise around the screw, the wire loop may open up and the wire fall off of the terminal. This is a potentially dangerous situation, as you do not want wires accidentally touching each other and arcing.

    Turn the Screw

    Screw down the wire. If the wire still is not flattened down, it is sometimes possible to force it down when screwing it in. Make sure the wire is staying under the head of the screw. Sometimes it works its way out, so that it's no longer held by the screw.

    Nudge Wire Tighter (Optional)

    Stop just short of screwing it in hard. Check your loop again. If the loop is not closed, you need to take this opportunity to force the loop closed. Use a flathead screwdriver. This step also helps to further force the wire under the head of the screw.

    Note: for demonstration purposes only, a generous amount of insulation has been stripped back from the wire. When you strip back wire, strip back the bare minimum that will have contact with the screw.

    Finish Turning the Screw

    Now screw the wire down very firmly. A finished side wired electrical outlet should have a fully-looped wire tightly held under the head of the screw. A firm experimental tug should ensure that the wire won't pull out under the strain of installing the outlet.