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Wire Stripping Methods
- Apr 14, 2017 -

Removal of the insulating cover on electrical wires is necessary to attach the wire to its terminal or other wires. 

Some critical applications require precise wire stripping to prevent damage to the wiring while others, like speaker wires, are more forgiving. 

According to the William T. McLyman book, "High Reliability Magnetic Devices," wire stripping techniques include cutting, abrasive, mechanical, chemical, fire and laser. 

Most wire stripping is imprecise, slow, inconsistent and can damage the conductor.

Also check:What is an Insulated Screwdriver?



Using a pair of wire cutters is the easiest way to strip wires. This specialized tool has a cutting mouth with indentations for proper stripping of most wire gauges. 

You can easily strip the wire by closing it inside the appropriate indentation and, while holding tight, pulling the cutters to the end of the wire. 

Some shops use bench-top wire strippers. But the common, yet more dangerous, method of stripping wires utilizes a sharp knife. 

"The procedure is much the same as for sharpening a pencil," according to the Electrical Engineering Training Series. 

"The knife should be held at approximately a 60 degree angle to the conductor." It is important that you avoid damaging the conductor. 

You can use a vise to hold the wire, and heat the blade to make it cut through the insulation easier.

Also see:Guide To Wire Strippers


Properly used, an abrasive wheel strips the wire's insulation and leaves the wire clean and polished. 

You place the wire between two erosive wheels, which are typically composed of fiberglass or wire.

When using an abrasive wheel, the challenge is choosing the correct wheel material and roughness for the wire gauge and insulation type you are using. 

Selecting an inappropriate wire wheel can result in a rough surface and removal of the copper conductor. Improper tension will grab the wire and cause breakage.


Mechanical wire strippers include rotary wire strippers and wire stripping machines. 

While some use the abrasion method, others use sharpened steel blades to cut through and remove insulation.

Most systems, according to Assembly Magazine, have fine blade adjustments and positive stops, but damage still occurs. 

"Damage to conductors such as combed, pulled, scraped, cut, nicked or bird-caged strands is inevitable," the magazine states.


According to Assembly Magazine, chemical stripping is very toxic and highly regulated for worker safety and air and water quality. 

"The chemicals need to be handled carefully and disposed of as hazardous waste, all adding cost to the process," states the magazine.

The tedious chemical-stripping process utilizes a chemical reaction to remove the insulation. 

The wire tip is placed in stripper, neutralizer and alcohol. After being in each chemical, the wire must be wiped clean, rinsed with distilled water, scrubbed with an acid brush, re-rinsed and wiped clean. 

"When the specifications require the least physical stress," states McLyman, "the chemical method is the only way." This method is limited to skilled operators with the appropriate personal protection.


You can use a candle, lighter or small alcohol burner to melt the insulation on thin wires, such as speaker wire. 

According to McLyman, you should keep the wire in the upper portion of the flame.

Another method of using heat to remove the insulation, according to the Electrical Engineer Training website, is a hot blade wire stripper.

Thermal stripping devices have high operating costs due to the heating element, according to Assembly Magazine, and encounter issues such as "excessive edge flash, irregular transitions, and burned, melted, and charred insulation."

The magazine states dielectric residue on the conductors can affect conductivity.


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began studying laser wire stripping in 1976. 

According to Spectrum Technologies' website, NASA started its program during the development of the space shuttle to "to overcome problems encountered in the production of the electrical wiring systems." 

Lightweight and fine gauge wiring are used in aircraft, including the Space Shuttle, to lighten the crafts.

Laser wire strippers, according to Spectrum Technologies' website, "selectively remove non-metallic insulating materials while leaving the metallic conductor completely untouched."

Although developed for fine gauge wire, according to Control Micro Systems (CMS), lasers can strip shielded, twisted pair wires; coaxial, shielded, screened, and ribbon cable; and coils.