How to remove wire insulation without cutting wire

It’s hard to strip the insulation off wire without cutting or nicking the copper beneath.It’s frustrating when you cut through the wire, but nicking the wire is bad too. The danger when you do that is you weaken the wire. And then the end may snap off someday, causing a bigger problem. So here’s how to remove wire insulation without cutting the wire.

If you consistently cut through the wire, check your tool. Some wire strippers work with all types of wire, and some work with just one. If you have the kind for one type of wire, get the other one too, and learn to recognize which is which.

The key to removing wire insulation: The right tool

how to remove wire insulation without cutting wire
If you’re always cutting or nicking your wire, check your wire stripper. I used the wrong kind for years, so no wonder I had problems.

There are wire strippers that self adjust. But they’re a bit expensive, and while they won’t cut the wire, they may nick the wire. With a self adjusting wire stripper, the key is to not squeeze it too hard. It doesn’t take a lot of force to cut vinyl wire insulation. Even with a light touch, it can be tough to get it right.

I like the idea of a self adjusting wire stripper better than the execution. That’s why I don’t own one.

The tool you want is the one that looks like an overgrown pair of pliers with holes for various sizes of wire in it. Each hole has a mark telling you which gauge wire it’s for. Some work for both solid and stranded wire. Others are meant for only one. Look at your set. If it says it’s for solid, don’t use it on stranded. And if it says it’s for stranded, don’t use it on solid. When you use the wrong type, you may either nick the wire, or not cut all the way through the insulation.

I don’t want to tell you how old I was when I learned that. Too old. Way too old.

There’s a set of wire strippers for both solid and stranded wire that costs around $12. It does a reasonable job at either. It’s an adequate tool at a fair price.

If you’re OK with buying two tools, you can get one for stranded wire and one for solid wire, assuming you don’t already have one of them. They each cost about $12.50. They’re better, if you use the right one. If you use the wrong one, they’re a lot worse.

Having the appropriate tool is most of the battle. But there’s a technique too.

The technique to remove wire insulation without cutting wire

Once you have an appropriate tool, you match up the wire size with the proper groove. The grooves are labeled. Sometimes the wire has the size printed on the insulation too. If yours doesn’t, eventually you learn to recognize it. You can hold the wire up to the strippers to eyeball it.

Once you find the right one to use, put the wire in the appropriate groove at the depth you want, then squeeze the strippers down gently. Use a light touch. And then you only have to turn the strippers a quarter turn. A quarter turn is enough to cut all the way through the insulation. Then take the strippers off and pull the insulation off the end of the wire.

You may need to practice on some scrap wire, but after a few tries, you’ll find you can reliably remove wire insulation without cutting the wire. This reduces frustration and improves the quality of your work. I’ll call that a win.

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