How to strip wire with side cutters without damaging conductors

Wire stripper pliers are my first option for stripping wires and cables. But when I can't find them, I use side cutters. Here is how to do it.

Have you ever been in a situation where you want to strip a wire but don’t have a pair of wire strippers? So, how do you go about it? Do you reach for a utility knife to cut off the insulation or go for a lighter to melt the insulation material and pull it off? Or do you wait until you can find wire strippers while you could use a pair of linesman pliers or side cutters? Well, in this article I share how to strip wire with side cutters or any regular pliers step by step.

I like to use wire strippers to strip electrical wires because they are the best tool for wire stripping. They are easy to use and have multiple slots for different wire sizes. That is why I always carry small wire strippers in my pliers holster together with my other EDC pliers. However, when I don’t have them (which rarely happens), I prefer to use side cutters over any other DIY hack for stripping wire.

There are people who use a utility knife to strip wire while others prefer to burn the insulation material off the wire. While both wire stripping hacks work, I find them tedious. Sometimes they result in a rough cut into the insulation, which is not great. This makes side cutters a better option for taking insulation off wires and cables when wire strippers are out of reach.

How to strip wire/cable with side cutters

1. Grab your side/diagonal cutters and open the jaws

Get your trusty pair of side cutters or any regular pliers with inline cutters and pull the handles to open the jaws. Some pliers have a spring mechanism that keeps the jaws open. So you don’t have to pull the handles apart every time you want to use them.

2. Put the insulated wire or cable between the cutters

Place the wire or cable you want to strip between the cutters. Position the wire at the center of the cutters or toward the tip so that when you squeeze the handles, the blades will not cut all the way into the cores.

The cutters on pliers tend to be more aggressive as you approach the pivot. So make sure you place the cable or insulated wire further from the pivot to avoid cutting the core. Also, position the cutters where you want to strip back the insulation.

3. Grip the insulation with the cutters

Grip the insulation material hard enough with the cutters so that they will just cut into the insulation material without cutting the wire.

4. Pull back the insulation

While squeezing the cutters hard into the insulation sheathing, pull the pliers outward with one hand while you pull the cable backward with the other hand. You can use your thumb to push the head of the pliers outward. As the pliers slide off, they should come off with a piece of insulation material you just cut from the main sheathing.

5. Wire stripping done!

You have successfully stripped off the wire without a stripper tool. This method works best with insulated wires, not cables. But you can try to use it on both, anyway.

Well, that is how to strip wire with wire cutters or any type of pliers with sharp cutters. It might be difficult at first but with some practice, you can perfect the art of cutting into the insulation material without cutting or nicking the core. Most people often start by cutting some wire strands or denting the core before they can perfect the art of applying just enough pressure on the jaws to cut into the sheath without reaching the wire.

That being said, I don’t recommend using wire cutters to strip cables and wires. Always use a pair of wire strippers as your first option and if possible the automatic wire strippers. They produce clean cuts on the insulation sheathing and don’t damage your conductors.

However, when you can’t find your wire stripping tool, you can follow the above steps to strip the wires and cables with side cutters or regular pliers.

Lastly, I hope you found this pliers hack helpful. If you did, please feel free to smash the share button.

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