Safe, durable electrical connections begin with clean, accurate wire
stripping. You have to remove the outer layer of plastic without nicking
or slicing the insulation or wires underneath; otherwise, your connection
might break or an electrical short might occur.
In a pinch, you can strip almost any wire or cable with nothing more than
a sharp pocket knife or utility knife. We'll show you how to do this safely
and carefully. But for fast, accurate stripping, we recommend the specialized
stripping tools we demonstrate in this article. They're affordable and easy to
use, and they produce high-quality results.
All the tools we show are available at home centers and electrical supply
stores. Buy each as you need it, and you'll soon have exactly what you need
for any home wiring task.
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Photo 1: Score the jacket
Score a circle around the cable jacket,
but don't cut all the way through
the plastic. This technique may look
dangerous, but it's safe as long as you apply
very light pressure with the knife and keep
your thumb on the opposite side of the
cord. Carefully guide the knife around the
cable until you reach your starting point.
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Photo 2: Bend and break
Bend the cable at the scored
line to break the plastic covering.
Bend it the opposite
way to tear the other side and slide
it off. Inspect the insulation on the
wires underneath to make sure the
blade didn't nick them. If you see
slices, cut off the cable and try again.
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Photo 3: Strip the wire
Align the wire with the
notch that matches the wire
gauge and squeeze to cut the
insulation. Then hold the wire with
one hand while you push the stripper
with your thumb to remove the
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Photo 4: Alternative knife method
Slice through the insulation
at an angle all the way around
the wire. Then twist and slide
the insulation from the wire. Inspect
the wires for nicks and gouges.
A knife works best for stripping sheathing
from cords. It takes a sharp blade, a steady
hand and concentration to control the
depth of the cut precisely. But once you
master the technique, you'll be surprised
how quickly and accurately you can
remove cord sheathing.
We're showing the technique on a cord,
but it also works on plastic-sheathed cable. Practice with the blade
extended (Photo 1) or barely visible to see which technique
works best for you.
When it comes to stripping individual
wires, a wire stripping tool (Photo 3)
is faster and more accurate, but in a pinch
you can use a knife (Photo 4). With all of
these techniques, the key is to control
the depth of the cut to avoid cutting or
gouging the conductor.
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Photo 1: Strip sheathing
Align the plastic-sheathed cable
with the notch that matches the wire
gauge you're using—either 14/2 or
12/2—and squeeze down to cut the
sheathing. Slide the sheathing off to
expose the wires underneath.
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Photo 2: Alternative knife methodScore the plastic sheathing with a
sharp knife if you don't have a special
tool. Don't cut all the way through the
plastic. Apply very light pressure with the
knife and keep your finger on the opposite
side of the cable. Bend and break the
sheathing and slide it off.
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Photo 3: Pull conductors through stripper
Strip individual conductors by lining them up
in the correct notch and squeezing the stripper
to cut through the plastic. Keep the stripper
perpendicular to the wire. Tilting the stripper can
cause nicked wires. Push against the stripper with
your thumb to slide the insulation from the wire.
Stripping plastic-sheathed (NM, for
nonmetallic) type cable is a two-step
process. First you remove the outer plastic
sheathing. Then you strip the individual
conductors. There are many methods to
remove the plastic sheath, ranging from
a simple knife technique (Photo 2) to
special tools. The stripping tool we're
using is unique because it combines both
sheathing removal and wiring stripping in
one tool (Photo 1) and works perfectly
for both tasks. It's well worth the price
if you do any amount of home wiring.
Otherwise, buy a less expensive, general purpose stripper, and use a knife
(Photo 2) or other method to remove the
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Photo 1: Peel an edge
Peel the plastic sheathing from the
wires underneath with a sharp utility
knife. Slide your thumb along the
underside of the wire while you pull the
knife along the top to remove a thin slice
of plastic. This technique takes practice. If
you cut through the insulation on the wire
underneath, cut off that segment of cable
and try again.
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Photo 2: Pull back sheathing
Expose a few inches of wire at the end of
the cable. Grab the ends of the wires with the
stripper in one hand and the plastic sheath in
the other, and peel the sheathing back to where you
started the cut.
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Photo 3: Cut excess sheathing
Slide your knife between the loose sheathing
and wires and cut toward the unstripped cable
to remove the excess plastic sheathing.
A special type of plastic-sheathed cable
called UF (underground feeder) requires
a slightly different technique. Since the
sheathing surrounds each conductor,
you can’t just score it and slide it off.
Photos 1 - 3 show how to strip UF cable.
This technique requires practice to
master. Develop your skill before trying
it on a real project. The key to success is
controlling the depth of the cut by
keeping the angle of the blade low, almost
parallel with the cable. When you get it
right, you'll be able to feel the blade riding
along the top of the insulation of the wire
underneath. Remember, if you gouge the
insulation or nick the wires inside, cut off
the cable at that point and try again.
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Photo 1: Adjust cutter depth
Test cutter depth on a cable scrap. Adjust the two cutting blades one at a
time to fine-tune the depth of the cut. Turn the adjusting screws clockwise
with the Allen wrench (included with the tool) to make a deeper cut.
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Photo 2: Position the cable
Set the stripper to match your
coaxial cable size. Open the jaws
and position the cable as shown.
Check the icon on the tool's handle to make
sure the cut end of the cable is pointing the
right direction. Rotate the cutter about five
or six times clockwise.
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Photo 3: Remove sheathing
Remove the cutter and
slide off the sections of cut
sheathing. Scrape the metal
foil from the plastic insulation with
Adding F-type connectors to
coaxial cable requires a two- or
three-step strip on the end of the
cable, depending on the connector.
With care, you can make the
strip with a utility knife, using
the technique shown in Photo 1
and a regular wire stripper.
But the dedicated tool we
show here makes the job quick
and accurate. Read the packaging
to match the stripper to the
type of coaxial cable you're
using. The strippers you find in
home centers work on common
household coaxial cables.
Read the lettering on the
sheathing to determine whether
your coaxial cable is RG-58,
RG-59 or RG-6, and adjust the
slide on top of the cutter to
match your cable type. Make a
practice cut and adjust the
blades if necessary (Photo 1).
Sheathed communication wires
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Use a cable stripper tool to remove the sheathing from communication wires.
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Photo 1: Score the cable
Open the jaws on the stripper
slightly and slip the cable into
the largest groove. Rotate the
cutter clockwise. If it doesn't score
the outer sheathing, move it to the
next smaller slot and try again.
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Photo 2: Remove the sheathing
Bend the cable to break the
sheathing. Then slide the
scored sheathing from the
wires. Inspect the twisted pairs of
wires to make sure the insulation
With high-speed Internet lines and
household computer networking
becoming more common, you may
soon find yourself installing new
communication cables that can handle
the greater bandwidths. Here's an inexpensive tool that makes short work of
removing the outer sheath from
these small cables without nicking
the conductors inside. The cable size
notches aren't labeled, so you'll have
to experiment to find
the one that
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Photo 1: Stranded wire stripper
This stripper removes the insulation
from 16- to 26-gauge stranded wires. Similar tools strip larger-gauge stranded
wires and solid wires.
Tiny communication wires are
tough to strip without nicking and
weakening them. The key is to
match the stripper to the wire
you're using. For example, you may
be surprised to discover that there's
a special stripper for
stranded wire (Photo 1)
that's just slightly larger
than the same size solid
wire. There are also strippers
for those tiny little
wires you find on doorbells
and telephone lines.
Read the packaging before
you buy to find the
stripper that's right
for your job.