Tool Tutorial: Wire Strippers

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Tools & Materials
Material List
Tool list
  • wire strippers
  • utility knife

    What are wire strippers used for?

  1. Wire strippers are multi-tasking tools; if you need to create an electrical circuit, they are the tool for the job. They are great for cutting wires to length, as well as “stripping” wires, meaning to take the plastic insulation coating off to reveal the copper below. Wire strippers can also be used to make hooks on the ends of wires with which to connect the wire electrically to outlets and switches. If you need to splice wires, you can prep them with the wire strippers before using your Linesman’s pliers to do the twisting.
  2. Many wire strippers are a standard size that can strip both solid and stranded wire of different gauges, usually between 10 to 18 AWG (a measure of wire thickness). You will see the labeled half-circle slots numbered on the jaws to show you where to place the wires depending on their gauge. If you are working with finer gauges of wire in electronics or instrumentation settings, you will need a pair of wire strippers that have smaller holes to accommodate the thinner wires.
  3. Safety considerations

  4. Always wear safety glasses when using hand tools. Sometimes small clippings of wire can go flying while you’re cutting.
  5. Make sure to disconnect any electrical circuit that you are working on! Some wire strippers may come with insulated handles to protect you from some amounts of electricity, but it is good practice to make sure that there is no chance for any electricity to be flowing through the wires while you are working on them.
  6. Cutting wire to length

  7. Place the wire between the blades at the base of the wire stripper jaws as shown. Hold the wire still and squeeze the handles of the wire strippers together to clip the wire. Try clipping off a few 1” pieces of the different wires you have.
  8. Stripping wire

  9. You want to match the gauge of the wire that you are stripping to the numbered hole on the wire stripper jaws. Sometimes the numbers will indicate holes for “solid” or “stranded” wire – look at the end of your wire to see if it contains one thick piece of copper (solid), or many strands of thin copper wires (stranded), then check the insulation casing for a printed gauge number that you can match to your wire strippers.
  10. Use your utility knife to slice the white exterior jacket from the 14/2 wires in a lengthwise slice, exposing the three wires beneath. Choose either the white or black wire and place the last 1” in the hole labelled “14” on the wire stripper jaws. Squeeze to close the jaws fully.
  11. Keep the wire strippers closed with one hand, and hold the wire secure with your other hand. Hold the strippers so the wire is poking straight out from the “14” hole and pull sideways with your hand to slide the small tube of insulation free from the end of the wire as shown. You can use your thumb to help by pushing the side of the wire strippers.
  12. If you are ever unsure of what gauge wire you are stripping, start with the largest hole on your wire strippers, and keep moving the wire to consecutively smaller holes until you finally feel the jaws “bite” gently into the insulation. Stop there and use that hole size to strip your wire.
  13. Try stripping some of the 12 AWG stranded copper wire. Be delicate with stranded wire, as the blades for stripping the insulation are sharp enough to break the tiny copper strands inside. Use the proper sized hole on your wire strippers for the wire gauge and be gentle when rotating and pulling on the tool.
  14. Hooking the wire end

  15. When you are wiring up an outlet or a switch in a residential wiring setting, you will be stripping the last 1” of insulation off your 14/2 wire pieces and connecting the bare wire to a conductive screw on the side of the outlet or switch.
  16. Poke the end of the stripped wire about ½” through the “loop” or “hook” hole on your wire strippers. Hold the wire still in one hand, and twist with your wrist to create a “U” hook shape in the wire.
  17. If you're making the Residential Wiring Model project, you can now hook this wire end over the screw on the outlet or switch and tighten the screw to secure the connection.
  18. Environmental concerns

  19. Choose a high-quality pair of wire strippers that will last a long time and stay out of the landfill longer. Remove the plastic insulated handles before recycling the metal jaws. Collect any scrap wire that you made while practicing using your wire strippers and take it to a metal scrapper for recycling.
Extension Challenges
  1. Ask an electrician for some 14/2 wire scraps. Practice your wire cutting and stripping. Bend small sections of wire into tiny human or animal figures, using the hook function of your wire strippers to make feet. Use needle nose pliers to help you make finer adjustments and bends to your wire.
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