Strip insulation from thin wires

A longtime reader 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 or steel wool

He 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 medium or coarse grade steel wool. Or if you want to use sandpaper, 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 cut through the insulation. This seems harder than the other methods, but if you’re really good with knives, maybe not.

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3 thoughts on “Strip insulation from thin wires

  • November 5, 2016 at 2:18 pm


    Those methods are great for thin wires but I was referring to the extremely thin insulation on say, stereo headphone jacks. You know, when the jack breaks and you have to buy a plug and solder another jack on?

    Each wire has two leads, one bare copper and the other a very thin wire coated with cellophane or something. You have to strip that insulation off before soldering the common (thin) wires, and then the mains to both left and right sides of the jack.

    Well, I figgered it out! Jasco! Don’t know if they even sell the stuff any more, but I found some buried in the basement. Methylene chloride is the active ingredient and dissolves the insulation while leaving the copper alone.

    I also suspect brake cleaner might also work, but mine had evaporated.

    So anyway, in case you’re interested…

    Now to figure out which lead is right and which is left. One is green, the other red.


  • November 8, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Repost (lost in the aether): use a small alligator clip for wire under 18ga. It’s a bit of a “grip, rip, and tear” thing, but neither the insulation or the wire seem to care…

    • November 8, 2016 at 2:13 pm


      I’m talking about extremely thin wires: 22-24 Ga, or less.

      There’s a cellophane or plastic coating on them which makes soldering impossible unless it’s removed. There’s also a nylon core, but that can easily be removed with scissors.

      I can strip wire with the best of them, but this had me stumped until I thought of the Jasco.


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