Choose a connector that fits the wires
Every wire connector is made to join a certain minimum and maximum volume
of wires: The larger the wire gauge, the fewer it can hold. Always check the approved
list on the packaging (photo above) to make sure the connector is listed for the wire
combination you want to join. Even though the connectors appear to be color
coded, you can't rely on this. For example, one style of yellow connector joins up
to four 14-gauge wires, while another connects a maximum of three. You have to
check the label on the package or go to the manufacturer's Web site to find out. Keep
a range of small to large connectors and their packaging on hand so you won't be tempted to make do with the wrong size.
Line up the wire ends, then tighten
With the exception of stranded wire, which we'll talk about below, it's important
to make sure the ends of all wires are lined up before twisting on the connector. Otherwise
the connector won't clamp all wires evenly and one or more could slip out.
Start by stripping the ends of the wires. Check the label on the connector package
for the length of bare wire to expose. For all but the smallest and largest
connectors, this is usually about 1/2 to 5/8 in. Then arrange the wires parallel to each
other with their ends aligned. Keep your eye on the wire ends until the connector
covers them to make sure none slips out of position. You don't have to twist the wires
together before you screw on the connector. Simply twist the connector until the
insulated wires outside the connector begin to twist. Photos 1 and 2 below show
how to install the connector. When you're done, tug on each wire to make sure they're
all firmly connected.
Buy a wire-stripping tool
Wire-stripping tools do a fast, clean job
without nicking and weakening the
wires. For most standard house wiring
requiring 12-gauge and 14-gauge plastic
sheathed cable, I like the Klein No.
1412 stripper ($18) shown here. It can
cut the plastic sheathing of 12-2 and 14-
2 plastic sheathed cable, as well as strip
insulation on individual wires.
Extend stranded wire 1/8 in. beyond solid wire
If you hold the ends of solid and
stranded wire even with each other
while you screw on the connector, the
stranded wire will often wrap loosely
around the solid wires, resulting in a
loose connection. This is especially
likely when you're joining multiple
solid wires to one stranded wire. The
problem is easy to prevent by extending
the ends of all stranded wires
about 1/8 in. beyond the solid wires.
Then install the connector as usual.
Stranded wire is a little
larger than the same
gauge of solid wire. Use a wire
stripper labeled for stranded wire,
or use the hole for the next largest
gauge of solid wire. Remember to
tug on each wire to make sure the
connector has a solid grip.
Loop the wire for a strong screw connection
Since switches and outlets vibrate a little when used, it’s critical
that the connections to them be strong so they don’t work
loose. For screw connections, start with a 3/4-in. length of
bare stripped wire. Photos 1 and 2 show how to bend the
loop and close it around the screw. Wrap the wire clockwise
around the screw so that the loop closes as the screw is
tightened. Make sure to tighten the screw firmly. Keep in
mind that only one wire is allowed
under each screw.
Cut off nicked, bent or twisted ends
Wires that are bent, twisted or nicked
are weaker and won't nest together as
easily in the connector. Before you
reconnect wires to an outlet or switch,
or rejoin several wires with a connector,
cut off the old bare wire ends and
strip the insulation to expose clean,
straight wire. It takes a few extra seconds
but ensures a better connection.
If cutting a wire leaves
it too short to work with
easily, splice on an additional
6-in. length with a wire connector
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Buy top-quality outlets for the best connections
At most home centers, you can buy an
economy outlet for about 50¢ or you can
spend about $1.75 for a better one. That's
a big jump in cost for something that looks
similar and does the same job. It’s tempting
to buy the cheap one. But you get what
you pay for. Premium outlets are stronger,
make better contact with plugs and work
more smoothly. Cheap outlets can literally
wear out if you use them frequently.
If you decide to buy premium outlets,
look for the kind with clamp screw terminals
(Photo 1). They
resemble the "stab-in" holes you'll
find on economy outlets but actually
clamp down firmly when you
tighten the screw. If you don’t want
to spend the extra money to install premium
outlets everywhere, at least put
them in heavy-use areas like kitchens,
garages, workshops and laundry rooms. Some of these areas may require GFCI protection. Always check with your local electrical inspector before replacing outlets.
Strip the wires to the length shown
on the stripping gauge (Photo 2).
Loosen the terminal screw by turning it
counterclockwise to open the clamp. Then
hold the wire or wires, one in each hole,
while you tighten the screw. Tug on the
wires when you're done to make sure
they're securely connected.