Longtime reader Jim asked last week how to strip insulation from thin wires–really thin wires. That’s a great question. I used to use wire wrap wire to build my own computer circuits, and garden-variety wire strippers don’t do the job. Here are four options you can use when you’re repairing electronics with fine wire.

Strip insulation from thin wires with a soldering iron

This is controversial, but in days of yore I used my soldering iron. Don’t use your good soldering tip for this, and your 20-watt iron for soldering chips might not get hot enough. My 60-watt iron got the job done though. Be sure the iron is good and cool before you change the tips too. Safety first.

If you don’t have an old, worn-out tip, get a new tip, use your old one for burning insulation off wire, and use the nice new tip for soldering.

Strip insulation from thin wires with sand paper

Jim tried using very fine steel wool and didn’t get very far. I’m not surprised. The fine steel wool probably polished the insulation more than it cut into it. I would think you would need something no finer than 120 grit sandpaper and frankly I’d probably use 60 grit. Set the wire down on a flat surface, hold it tightly with one hand, and sand in one direction with the other. As soon as you see metal, stop and peel the insulation back and trim it away.

Strip insulation from thin wires by whittling

A similar trick involves setting the wire down on a flat surface and gently whittling it away with a sharp knife or blade. Use a very sharp knife. With a dull knife it’s easy to lose control. Again, just whittle back insulation until you see metal, then peel the insulation back and trim it off.

A different method with a knife

There’s another way to remove insulation with a knife. Set the blade down on the wire, press down, then spin the wire to circumcise the insulation. This seems harder than the other methods, but if you’re really good with knives, maybe not.