There is more than one method of stripping wires and cables. You can use a knife to cut off the insulation or any regular pliers with inline cutters such as linesman, side cutters, or combination pliers. However, stripping wires with regular pliers requires a bit of skill to avoid cutting or nicking the wire core. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to strip wire with ordinary pliers cutters.
Some people even strip electrical wires without tools. They use their teeth to cut and pull off the insulation on small wires but this is not safe at all. Insulation material contains elements that can pose serious health issues. You could also break your tooth and end up spending more money at the dentist than you would have spent on a good wire stripping tool.
Of all the wire stripping methods, the best and the easiest way to strip wires is using wire stripper pliers. These are a type of specialty pliers for removing insulation from electrical wires and cables.
Types of wire stripper pliers
There are two main types of wire stripper pliers: manual/regular wire strippers, and automatic wire strippers.
Manual/traditional wire stripper pliers
Manual wire strippers are just like regular wire cutter pliers with multiple notches on the jaws. The notches have different cross-sections for stripping the insulation of different wire gauges.
To strip a wire or cable using manual wire strippers, you first place the insulated wire in the appropriate notch and close the jaws. The jaws will cut the insulation all around the wire to make it easy to remove the insulation when you pull the back of the wire and pliers in opposite directions.
The biggest challenge when using a manual wire stripper is to select the correct notch. If you select a notch with a smaller cross-section than the wire, you will end up cutting off some wire strands. If the notch is bigger, the wire will just skid and you will not be able to strip it.
Automatic wire stripper pliers
The other type of wire stripper is the automatic or self-adjusting wire stripper pliers. It has handle levers just like regular pliers but has a complex jaw mechanism. The jaws adjust automatically to grip and strip wires and cables of different sizes. It is the safest wire stripping tool for removing wire insulation without cutting strands off or scoring the wire core.
That being said, different people prefer different types of wire strippers. People who are used to the old method of stripping wire, especially electricians, swear by linesman pliers while those who handle tons of wiring cannot imagine working without wire stripper pliers. But which one is the best between manual and automatic wire strippers?
In this article, you will learn which one between manual vs automatic wire stripper pliers is best in different situations.
Automatic vs regular wire strippers, which is better?
Manual wire strippers – Good for the pocket but bad for hands
Manual or regular wire strippers are the most common type of stripping pliers. They have slotted jaws, are lightweight, and are inexpensive. Most people looking for a specialty wire stripper tool start with regular wire strippers.
These pliers typically have multiple slots for stripping small to medium size electrical wires. The reason for the capacity limitation is that large wires are difficult to strip manually and you can hurt your wrist trying to pull off the insulation material. So, manufacturers try to protect you by limiting the strippers to only accept small to medium wire gauges.
Although manual strippers have limited capacity, most of them can do multiple functions. Some have integrated cutters so that you can use them to cut and strip wires while others feature holes for cutting and resizing small screws and bolts.
Who needs manual wire strippers?
Electricians like to use manual wire strippers for simple house wiring jobs because they are versatile and easy to use. DIYers also love traditional stripper pliers because they are inexpensive. They use them on small projects that do not involve stripping a lot of wires.
Automatic wire strippers – Expensive but save time
Unlike regular wire strippers that need proper positioning of insulated wire inside the right stripping slot, automatic wire stripping pliers adjust automatically. You just place the wire between the jaws and the stripping mechanism will resize to remove the insulation without damaging the wire core.
It also takes less effort to strip a wire with automatic strippers and you do not need to pull the pliers or the wire. The pliers do the donkey work for you. One side of the jaw grips the insulated wire while the other part pulls off the insulation. All you do is squeeze the handles and the compound jaw mechanism will do the magic.
Who needs automatic wire strippers?
Automatic or self-adjusting wire stripper pliers are good for anyone who does a lot of wire terminations. These pliers will not only save your wrist but also your time and leave neat work behind. They are the best auto-wire strippers for terminating automotive wiring.
Other professionals who need automatic wire strippers are technicians who do panel termination – this includes distribution panels or fire alarm panels. These pliers make light work of terminating hundreds of wires. They use a high leverage mechanism to eliminate the need to exert a ton of pressure on the handle levers. This saves your hands from fatigue and helps you complete the job quickly. You can even strip several wires of the same size at the same time, which is not possible with regular wire strippers.
Similarly, control guys who work on PLCs cannot imagine terminating tons of stranded wires without using an automatic wire stripper tool. One advantage of the automatic stripper pliers is that they have an adjustable stopper for controlling the length of the core strip. You can set it if you want to remove the same length of insulation on many wires. In other words, self-adjusting wire strippers are the best when you need precision and consistency when stripping multiple wires.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the limitations of using traditional wire strippers is stripping capacity. Most manual wire stripping pliers can realistically strip thin to medium size wire gauges (14 – 30 ga).
Thicker wires require more hand strength and not many people have mammoth strength in their hands. For instance, the elderly and people with arthritic hands find it difficult to use manual wire strippers. This is where self-adjusting wire stripper pliers come in handy.
Self-adjusting strippers require less effort to operate. This makes them a perfect choice for stripping thicker wire gauges and wires with thick insulation such as PV wire.
Typically, most automatic wire strippers will strip 6 – 18 AWG solid and stranded wires, all sizes of 12/2 and 14/2 Romex cable, and other non-metallic sheathed cables. You can also use them to strip thin wires but this works best if you strip a bunch of small wires simultaneously. Otherwise, auto wire strippers savage thin and soft stranded wires.
In a nutshell, there is a place for both manual and self-adjusting wire strippers in your projects. Regular wire strippers are more suitable for stripping thin wires of 14 AWG or less whereas automatic strippers are suitable for thicker wire gauges.
However, if you strip tons of wires a day, I recommend getting the automatic wire strippers. They will allow you to strip a bunch of wires at a go while providing consistent results all the time. Even better, automatic wire strippers will not leave your arm hurting from pulling.
Unfortunately, self-adjusting wire strippers are more expensive and bulkier than regular wire strippers. This disqualifies them from being an EDC and makes it a brilliant idea to have both types of wire strippers.
Regular wire strippers are lightweight and therefore good for carrying around. You can use them to do light electrical work around the house or in the car. They are also the right tool for stripping electronics wires. On the other hand, automatic wire strippers are for bigger electrical projects that involve terminating tons of wires. They are the ideal stripping tool for anyone who works on panels.
So, there you have it. I hope this article puts to a stop the tug of war between automatic vs regular wire strippers.