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.
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.
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
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.
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
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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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.