Manual wire strippers are an older technology for stripping insulated wire. Surprisingly, these simple wire strippers are still the most widely used wire stripping tools to date. They have a permanent place in many people’s tool bags and toolboxes.
To electricians, regular wire stripper pliers are an EDC because they are inexpensive, versatile, and easy to carry around. Auto technicians who do car wiring repairs also carry a pair of manual strippers in their toolkits. They are essential for working on car wiring harnesses and a good fallback option for when the auto wire strippers fail.
As a general auto mechanic, I always have my trusty Klien wire stripper pliers with cutters in the belt plier pouch in case I need to wire up or fix some connectors.
There are many brands of manual wire strippers to choose from. But how do you make sure you select the best stripper pliers for your project?
Well, in this article, I share the best manual wire strippers on the market and some of the most important features to look for when shopping for one. You will also find a step-by-step guide on how to use the regular wire strippers to remove insulation and outer cover from electrical wires and cables without damaging the core.
What are manual wire stripper pliers?
Manual/regular wire strippers are one of the two major types of wire stripping pliers. They have notched blades for removing insulation from wires and cables.
Typically, the jaws of manual wire strippers have multiple slots of graduating sizes for stripping wires and cables of different gauges.
When you place an insulated wire in the correct slot and squeeze the handles, the notched cutters cut into the insulation all around the wire. This allows you to pull off the section of the insulation to expose the conductor core for electrical connection.
As I mentioned, manual wire strippers are the most common stripping tool. Virtually anyone who works with electrical wires has a pair. It is the first professional wire stripping tool most junior technicians own after they graduate from using teeth and knives to strip wires.
Regular wire strippers are good for stripping both stranded and single-core wires. You can also use them to take off the jacket of medium-sized multi-conductor cables.
However, because manual wire stripper pliers don’t offer a great mechanical advantage, it is best to use them to strip light gauge wires of 10 – 30 AWG that do not require massive hand strength. They are also great for stripping wires that have a soft insulation cover.
But if you strip hundreds of wires a day or work with multi-conductor cables, you need a decent pair of automatic wire strippers. It will provide better leverage and take away the strain from your hand.
How to strip electrical wires with manual wire strippers
Stripping wire with regular wire strippers is a straightforward exercise if you have a good tool. In this section, I share the step-by-step process of stripping wire with manual wire stripper pliers.
1. Identify the size of the wire you want to strip.
You can tell the size or gauge of the wire by checking the value printed on the insulation. Typically, it will be in xx AWG or xx mm2, where xx is the size. For example, you can find 10 AWG
2. Check the capacity of the wire stripper.
After finding the gauge of the wire, see if the wire stripping section has a notch for that size. If it doesn’t, then it means your wire stripper does not have the capacity and now you might need to find another wire stripper.
Typically, the stripping range of a wire stripper will be laser etched on the side of the jaw or printed on the handles. For instance, most regular wire strippers for electrical wires have a stripping range of 10 – 24 AWG. On the other hand, wire strippers for electronic wire have a stripping capacity of 20 – 30 AWG.
3. Place the insulated wire in the right notch on the wire stripper.
If the wire gauge is within the stripping range of the wire stripper, open the jaws and place the wire in the right slot. The correct stripping notch has the same size as the wire. That is, if the wire is 10 AWG solid, you should place it in the notch marked 10 AWG.
Be sure to check if the wire is solid or stranded before placing it in the notch. This is because the stripping notches on manual wire strippers are different for solid and stranded wire.
Actually, most wire strippers have different size labels for the two types of electrical wires. But generally, the same stripping notch will take smaller gauge stranded wire than solid wire. The reason is that stranded wires have thicker insulation and hence a bigger outer diameter than solid core wire.
Also, make sure you place the wire from the appropriate side of the jaws because manual wire strippers are not unidirectional. You should feed the wire on the side where the notch appears to slant upwards. Makes sure the wire slants along with the notch.
4. Close the jaws tightly to cut into the insulation.
First, make you are stripping enough length from the end to avoid stripping back more or less insulation. Once you are sure that it is the correct stripping length, squeeze the handles of the wire strippers together to close the jaws and cut into the insulation.
5. Pull off the insulation.
Hold the wire in one hand and squeeze the handles of the pliers with the other hand. Give the wire strippers a twist to cut the vinyl cover all around. Then pull the wire and the wire strippers in the opposite directions to pull off the insulation and expose the conductors.
6. Inspect the conductor core or strands for damages
Check the conductor core to ensure it is intact without nicks or scratches. If it is stranded wire, make sure no strand is cut. Otherwise, if you notice any damage to the conductor, snip off the bare wire and strip the wire again.
This time around, use the gripper tip or linesman pliers to grip and pull off the insulation. If the damage happens again, use the next bigger notch to strip the wire.
What to do if you don’t know the wire size?
Sometimes the printing on the insulation may not be visible and you may not be able to tell the size of the wire. In such situations, the best thing is to try all the slots starting from the largest until you find a notch that grips better.
If you strip the wire and notice a nick on the strands or a scrape on the solid core wire, select the next bigger notch. The correct stripping slot should not nick the core or sever the wire strands. It should leave the conductor core intact.
Why choose manual wire strippers?
The following are 5 main reasons why you need manual wire strippers.
- Manual wire stripping pliers are inexpensive. Typically cost less than $15.
- Regular wire strippers cut insulation more cleanly than automatic wire strippers which tear the insulation and leave an irregular edge.
- Manual wire strippers do not slip if you select the right stripping slot.
- Best for electronic wire and any light gauge wire (16 – 30 AWG). They don’t shear the insulation or break wire strands.
- Lightweight and therefore easy to carry around in your toolbelt or pliers holster.
- Best for round cables and stranded wires.
- Best for people who can correctly tell the size of a wire or for wires whose size is known.
Which are the best manual wire strippers?
Klein Manual Wire strippers (11055) – Best overall
- Stripping capacity: 10 – 18 AWG solid, 12 – 20 stranded
- Length: 7 inch
- Made in USA
- Weight: 5.7 ounces
These blue-handled manual wire stripper pliers from Klein Tools are a common sight in nearly all electricians’ tool pouches and toolbelts. At first, you might think they are Channellock because of the iconic blue color until you see the name Klein Tools stamped on the comfortable handle grips.
The Klein 11055 wire strippers are 7 inches long and have 5 notches for stripping 5 different wire gauges. The size of each notch is well marked in AWG for both solid and stranded wire. These pliers can strip 10 – 18 AWG solid core wire and 12 – 20 AWG stranded wire.
The wire strippers have more functions than just stripping wire. They have sharp flat blades for cutting wire, holes for looping and bending wire, and a short narrow serrated nose for shaping wire and pulling off the insulation. The wire strippers also have two screw cutter holes that are really handy for cutting to length 6×32 and 8×32 screws. These are the screws that usually attach outlets or switches to electric boxes in the wall.
What makes the Klein Tools 11055 manual wire strippers a cut above the rest is the excellent build quality and the curved comfort-grip handles. These wire strippers have a solid and well-engineered feel and the jaws have a smooth action that’s free of play.
Another notable feature is the spring-loading mechanism on the handles. It makes it easy to open and close the jaws with one hand. When you compound the spring mechanism with the smooth action of the jaws, these Klein manual wire strippers become your dream come true.
The stripping holes are also nicely machined and the blades overlap slightly to strip wire cleanly all the time.
Overall, these US-made wire strippers from Klein Tools are a great value for your money and will last a lifetime. They are the best basic stripping pliers for an advanced hobbyist, journeyman, or professional.
Irwin manual wire stripper pliers (2078309) – Most versatile
- Stripping capacity: 10 – 20 AWG solid
- Length: 8 inches
- Has crimper section
- Made in Taiwan
- Weight: 6.2 ounces
The Irwin vise-grips (2078309) wire strippers are another great manual wire stripper pliers. They are actually the most sold non self-adjusting wire strippers on Amazon largely because they are versatile and have great integrated wire cutters.
You can use these manual wire strippers from Irwin Vise-Grip to 1) strip, cut, and bend wires, 2) crimp insulated and non-insulated crimp connectors, and 3) cut small screws to size with the screw cutter holes. The stripping capacity is 10 – 22 AWG for solid wire and 8 – 20 AWG for stranded wire.
One of the best features of the Irwin multi-function manual wire strippers is the hardened curved cutters. Unlike flat cutters, curved wire cutters cut electrical wires cleanly and flat. The cutters on these wire strippers are induction hardened to stay sharp longer.
The Irwin regular wire strippers also have a handy crimping section behind the pivot. You can use it to crimp blue, yellow, and red insulated connectors. If you are using non-insulated terminals, the crimping range of the crimper is 22 – 10 AWG.
In short, you don’t need to change between tools to complete a simple wiring job when you have the Irwin Vise-Grips multi-function manual wire strippers. They also cut screws the cleanest without damaging the leading thread. Basically, the Irwin vise grips are a must-have for electricians and journeymen who need a single tool for stripping, cutting, and crimping wire.
Southwire manual wire strippers (64807940) – Most compact
- Stripping capacity: 10 – 20 AWG solid
- Length: 6 inches
- Spring-loaded handled
- Made in USA
The Southwire manual wire strippers are very much like the Kleins but they are shorter and have a larger stripping capacity. You can use them to strip 6 different sizes of wire between 10 – 20 AWG solid wire and 12 – 22 AWG stranded wire.
Southwire (64807940) wire strippers measure 6 inches long. They are forged from heat-treated steel and have double-dipped slim handles. The handles feel comfortable in the hands.
Unfortunately, the rubberized handles slip off after some time, which is quite frustrating but not a deal-breaker. You can fix them by applying some glue or trying any of these methods of fixing plier handle covers that come off.
These US-made wire strippers from Southwire Tools are spring-loaded to keep the jaws open to aid a one-handed operation. The spring mechanism also provides smooth action on the jaws so you can control the pliers better. Lastly, the wire strippers have a latch to lock the jaws and keep them from occupying a ton of space in the toolbox. It also helps protect the stripping notches from getting dinged accidentally.
Overall, the Southwire manual wire strippers are small and lightweight enough for carrying in the pocket or pliers holder. They cut and strip wire like a champ and are well priced. They are the best small-sized manual wire strippers for both DIYers and professionals.
Dowell Manual Wire Strippers – Best under $10
- Stripping range: 10 – 22 AWG
- Length: 7 inches
- Made in China
- Weight: 4.2 ounches
Dowel manual wire stripper pliers are forged from high carbon steel and measure 7 inches long. It has comfort grip handles that have an ergonomic handle for great hand comfort. Unlike many other regular wire strippers, the Dowell strippers do not have many functions but you can use them to strip wire, cut wire, and make wire loops.
In its class, the Dowell wire stripper has the largest stripping capacity. You can use it to strip 7 different wire gauges of sizes 10 – 22 AWG. Each stripping notch has the size marked against it in AWG and mm for easy identification.
Lastly, Dowell wire stripper pliers have a coil spring between the handles to keep the jaws open. There is also a lock to keep the jaws closed during storage so that the pliers don’t take up much space.
Overall, the Dowel 10 – 22 AWG wire stripper pliers are a good bargain. They provide great value for less than $10. This makes them the best choice for DIYers and handymen who strip wire occasionally in their projects.
Craftsman manual wire stripper (CMHT81714) – Best bang for the buck
- Length: 8 inches
- Stripping capacity: 10 – 22 AWG solid
- Has crimper, stripper, bolt cutter, and wire cutter.
- Made in Taiwan
- Weight: 6.5 ounces
The craftsman manual wire stripper pliers (CMHT81714) measure 8 inches long and strip 10 – 22 AWG solid wire. These wire stripper pliers arguably have the most comfortable multizone handle grips. They feel soft in the hands and have contours to keep the pliers from sliding out of the hands.
The craftsman wire strippers are multifunctional. They have holes for cutting bolts, cutters for cutting copper and aluminum wire, and crimpers for crimping insulated and non-insulated terminals.
As far as quality is concerned, the craftsman manual wire stripping pliers have a great quality feel. They open and close smoothly and the stripping notches cut through the insulation quite smoothly.
Unfortunately, the craftsman manual wire stripping pliers are not spring-loaded. As such, they can fatigue your hand when stripping a bunch of wires because you have to open and close them manually. The upside of not having the spring mechanism is that the jaws remain closed for storage.
Lastly, although craftsman wire strippers are not made in the US, their quality reminds you of when Craftsman was under Sears. And to top it all off, the wire strippers come with a lifetime warranty in case anything goes wrong. These wire strippers from Crafstman are the best value for money.
Engineers precision wire stripper – Best for thin wires
- Stripping range: AWG34 – AWG22
- Stripper only
- Made in Japan
If you work a lot with thin wires, say between AWG 22 – AWG 34, you need a precision manual wire stripper. Automatic wire strippers fail miserably with thin wire. The best precision wire stripper for fine wires I have come across is the Engineer PA-14.
Albeit a little on the expensive side, the Engineer PA-14 wire stripper is exceptionally well made and extremely precise. The stripping v-grooves are nicely machined and sharp enough to strip the insulation cleanly every time.
When working with any hand tool, comfort is always a concern. With these Engineers precision wire strippers, your hands will thank you. They have ergonomic oil-resistant rubber handle grips that provide a comfortable non-slip grip all the time. This makes working with them a breeze.
The only gripe I found with these Japanese wire strippers is the fairly weak locking and spring mechanism for a wire stripper of this form factor.
That being said, these Engineers wire strippers are what you need for stripping extremely thin wires; solid or stranded. You can even use them to remove insulation on things like Kynar wire.
Unfortunately, you can only use these Japanese precision wire strippers to strip and cut wires. They don’t have a crimping section or any other add-on function. Despite their limitation, they do the one job and do it well.
Overall, these PA-14 engineer strippers are a worthy addition to your professional toolset. More so, if you fancy the quality of the vintage pliers such as the good old Proto, then you will definitely find these wire strippers from Japan a worthwhile alternative. They are exceptionally well made, extremely accurate, and light on your hand. You will only have to pay a tad more.
In summary, a nice pair of manual wire stripper pliers is a timeless tool. It is a tool that deserves a permanent place in your toolbox or tool belt because of its usefulness in stripping electrical wires for both DIY and professional projects.
Unlike the automatic self-adjusting wire strippers, regular wire stripper pliers are easy to carry around, are relatively inexpensive, and most of them can do multiple functions.
Manual wire strippers are simply nice to have at hand. They also make nice gifts for electricians and handymen who strip electrical wires every day or every once in a while.
If you would like to see how the different wire strippers compare in action, check out this video by my friend from Project Farm channel.