How to Make Pigtail Electrical Wire Connections

Making secure and reliable electrical connections is an essential skill for any DIYer working with electrical wiring. Pigtail connections are a common and effective way to join multiple wires together in a basic splice. Learning how to properly make pigtail wire connections will allow you to complete electrical projects safely and with confidence.

What is a Pigtail Wire Connection?

A pigtail wire connection involves joining multiple wires together by twisting them into a single bundle that resembles a “pig’s tail.” This bundle is then secured in a wire connector or other type of terminal.

The main advantage of pigtails is that they provide a simple and tidy way to connect multiple wires without requiring a separate length of wire. The pigtail itself acts as the connector between the wires.

Pigtails are commonly used in lighting circuits to power multiple lights from the same power source. They allow new outlets or switches to be added into an existing circuit. Pigtails can also connect wire runs between junction boxes.

Benefits of Using Pigtail Wire Connections

There are several benefits that make pigtails a preferred method for joining wires:

  • Simple: Pigtails don’t require any special tools. Just stripping and twisting the wires together creates a solid mechanical and electrical bond.
  • Reliable: Properly executed pigtails make very dependable connections that are less prone to coming loose over time.
  • Versatile: Pigtails can join a wide range of wire sizes and types. They work for everything from large gauge cables to small fixture wires.
  • Compact: Pigtail splices take up very little space compared to other splice methods. This allows junction boxes and fixtures to remain uncluttered.
  • Organization: Pigtails neatly bundle multiple wires into a single unified connection point. This keeps wiring orderly and easy to trace.
  • Safe: Pigtails contained securely in wire connectors are an inherently safer connection method than unreliable methods like bare wire twists.

For most basic home wiring jobs, pigtail connections check all the important boxes of being simple, compact, and reliable.

Wire Size Compatibility

An important factor with any electrical splice is ensuring compatible wire sizes are joined together.

Pigtail splices perform best when wires of the same gauge are connected. Joining wires of varying thickness can lead to poor contact and loose connections over time as the thinner wires stretch and work free.

As a general rule of thumb:

  • Wires from 18 AWG to 14 AWG can be pigtailed together reliably. This covers typical branch circuit wiring range.
  • 12 AWG wires should only be pigtailed to other 12 AWG wires.
  • 10 AWG and thicker wires are too large for pigtail connections. Butt splices or split bolts should be used instead.

When pigtailing wires of different gauges together, choose a connector size suitable for the thickest wire. For example an 18 AWG pigtail could connect to a 14 AWG wire, using a yellow 14 AWG rated wire nut.

Consult manufacturer wire size charts for the appropriate connector for the wires being used. Using properly sized connectors for the wires creates solid, lasting pigtail splices.

Wire Stripping for Pigtails

Good electrical contact requires exposing the inner conductor of the wires. The insulation must be cleanly stripped off to allow wires to make a solid connection when twisted together.

Follow these steps for properly stripping wires for pigtails:

1. Measure and Mark

Measure back 3/4″ to 1″ of insulation from the end of each wire. Make a shallow cut around the entire circumference of the insulation at this point with a sharp utility knife or wire stripper.

2. Lightly Score the Insulation

Make a second, slightly deeper cut a 1/4″ closer to the end of the wire. Avoid nicking the inner conductor.

3. Pull Apart and Strip Off Insulation

Flex the wire right at the score and the insulation should snap off, exposing the inner stranding. Pull or twist the insulation free from the wire.

Repeat with all wires being pigtailed, leaving 3/4″ of bare conductor exposed. Wires are now ready to be twisted together.

How to Twist Pigtail Wires Together

With wires stripped, begin forming the pigtail splice:

1. Arrange Wires Evenly

Line up all wires so insulation ends are stacked evenly and conductors are all in alignment. This allows wires to mesh cleanly when twisted.

2. Hold Wires Tightly Together

Grasp wires tightly together between thumb and forefinger near the base of the exposed conductor. With other hand, begin twisting slowly.

3. Continue Twisting Wires Together

Keep firmly twisting conductors together in a clockwise direction, allowing strands to mesh and intertwine. Continue twisting until achieving 5-6 tight rotations.

4. Inspect and Adjust Pigtail

Check that no copper strands are sticking out and insulation is not peeking through. Re-twist if needed to achieve a tightly wound pigtail.

5. Trim Excess Tail

Trim off any excess pigtail length extending beyond the edge of the insulation. 1/4″ – 1/2″ of exposed wire is ideal.

The wires should now be securely joined into a neat, tight pigtail ready to be connected.

Securing Pigtails in Wire Connectors

Pigtails should always be secured in wiring connectors for safe and lasting connections:

1. Select Proper Connector

Choose an approved wire connector sized for number and gauge of conductors. Many basic splices use a twist-on wire nut.

2. Start Connector onto Wires

Place wire connector over twisted base of pigtail and begin twisting connector onto wires clockwise.

3. Ensure Wires Are Fully Inserted

Continue twisting until all wires are inserted into connector with no copper exposed. Tug gently to ensure a tight fit.

4. Check Connection

Finished splice should show insulation entering fully into connector with no copper visible. Whole assembly should be solid with no movement or rotation.

Helpful Tips for Pigtail Connections

Follow these useful tips for making solid, long-lasting pigtail splices:

  • Twist connectors firmly. Use pliers for better grip if needed for tight connections.
  • Stagger wire ends. When stripping wires, stagger cut lengths to help conductors mesh cleanly.
  • Keep wire lengths matched. Avoid excessive loose wire when pigtailing as it can jam inside connectors.
  • Use proper connector size. Undersized connectors strain to accommodate wires and loosen over time.
  • Insulate connections. Use electrical tape to provide secondary insulation and moisture protection.
  • Limit total wires per connector. Excessive wires packed into a single connector creates unstable connections.
  • Inspect finished product. Double check no copper strands are protruding and connection is mechanically sound.

Properly preparing and connecting pigtail wires ensures electrical current flows cleanly through solid, lasting junctions. Taking care with initial twisting and terminal installation avoids loose, shorting connections down the road.

Common Pigtail Applications

Pigtail splice connections provide simple and effective wire management in many residential and commercial electrical systems:

Lighting Circuits

Pigtails allow multiple light fixtures to be powered from the same circuit in lighting loops:

Lighting Circuit Pigtail

Pigtails splicing lighting circuit wires. Image from Family Handyman.

The lighting wires from the power source connect to a pigtail joining the run to the first light. Another pigtail then connects the next light, and so on down the complete circuit.

Device Outlets and Switches

New outlets and switches can tap their power from another device in the circuit via pigtails:

Outlet Pigtail Connection

Electrical box pigtail connecting outlet to existing circuit wires. Image from StackExchange.

Pigtails allow new outlets, switches, and fixtures to be easily incorporated into existing wiring by splicing into hot and neutral wires.

Junction Boxes

Pigtails neatly connect multiple wire runs that transition through common junction boxes:

Junction Box Pigtails

Pigtails joining several branch circuit wires within a junction box. Image from EasyDoItYourselfHomeImprovements.

The simplified junctions streamline complex wiring between locations and allow circuits to be broken down into manageable segments.

Pigtails create orderly splices for safely tapping into existing wiring or extending new circuits. The tight connections resist vibration and corrosion, providing very durable long term reliability.

Step-by-Step Pigtail Wiring Instructions

Here is a complete walkthrough for safely wiring electrical pigtail connections:

What You’ll Need

  • Wire strippers
  • Needlenose pliers
  • Appropriate wire connectors
  • Electrical tape (optional)

1. Turn Off Power

Turn off power to the circuit at main breaker panel and verify it is off. Remove cover from junction box accessing wires.

2. Identify and Prepare Wires

Determine which wires provide desired power source. Strip insulation off 1″ of wire ends using stripping tool or utility knife.

3. Arrange Wires for Pigtailing

Hold wires to be joined together tightly in one hand keeping ends evenly aligned. Prepare to twist.

4. Twist Wires Together

With firm grip, slowly twist wires together in a clockwise direction to form a joined pigtail. Make at least 4-5 full twists.

5. Inspect Pigtail

Ensure a tight connection with no loose wire strands protruding. Trim any excess pigtail length beyond stripped insulation.

6. Install Wire Connector

Select properly sized wire connector and install over base of pigtail. Twist connector firmly to secure wires.

7. Check Connection

Tug lightly on wires to confirm a tight connection. Ensure insulation is fully seated inside connector.

8. Tape Connection (Optional)

For extra moisture protection, wrap electrical tape around finished pigtail splice.

9. Turn Power Back On

With all wires securely pigtailed and connected, replace box cover, turn circuit breaker back on, and test operation.

Following proper process for making pigtail connections ensures effective, long-lasting, and safe electrical performance. Take it slow, double check work, and call an electrician for complicated jobs.

Common Pigtail Wiring Mistakes

While seeming simple in concept, poor technique can lead to faulty pigtail splices. Be alert for these common errors:

  • Insulation inside connector – Bare conductor must make full contact inside wiring connector. Any insulation remnants cause high resistance.
  • Stranded wires not twisted – Wires simply bundled together without twisting leads to eventual separation.
  • Insufficient twists – A minimum of 4-5 full twists is needed to make a solid pigtail connection.
  • Loose connector – Wire connector needs firm tightening by hand or pliers to avoid loose wires over time.
  • Damaged conductors – Any nicks, scrapes, or cuts into wire copper stranding degrades the connection.
  • Incompatible wires – Pigtailing wires of differing gauges often creates unreliable connections long term.
  • No secondary insulation – Lack of electrical tape allows corrosion and short circuit risks for exposed pigtails.
  • Excess untrimmed pigtail – Long exposed pigtail ends can potentially short to box or each other.

With focus and care taken during the preparation and installation process, high quality pigtail connections can be achieved. Periodically check existing pigtails for tightness and re-tighten or re-tape as needed.

FAQs About Making Pigtail Wire Connections

What size wire nut do I need for a pigtail splice?

Choose a wire connector appropriately sized for the thickest gauge of wire being used, even if also pigtailing in thinner wires. For example, use a yellow 14 AWG nut for joining 14 gauge and smaller wires.

How long should I strip wires for a pigtail?

Strip insulation off approximately 3/4″ – 1″ to expose enough bare conductor for effective twisting and insertion into the wire connector.

Can I pigtail more than 2 wires together?

Yes, multiple wires can be connected via pigtail twists. However, limiting bundles to 2-3 wires helps ensure a tight connection. For higher counts, a terminal block may be better.

Should I pre-twist pigtails before installing wire nut?

Pre-twisting is generally not required, as most wire nuts twist wires together as they are installed. However, for larger wire bundles, a preliminary manual twist can help integration.

Is soldering better than pigtail splices?

Soldering is not necessary for solid pigtail connections. In fact, soldering can introduce points of brittleness leading to breaks under vibration or corrosion.

How tight should a pigtail wire nut be?

Twist connectors firmly by hand until reaching maximum tightness. A properly tightened pigtail connection will not loosen or rotate. Tugging wires should not produce any movement.

Do I need to tape pigtail wire nuts?

Tape is an optional extra protective step but not strictly necessary. Properly installed connectors provide sufficient insulation for interior wiring splices. Tape helps where moisture exposure exists.

Should I stagger wire strip lengths for pigtails?

Staggering conductor end lengths can help wires mesh and twist together more cleanly. But it is not mandatory for making solid pigtail connections.

Pigtail wiring is a straightforward method for making tidy yet durable electrical splices. With quality materials and proper technique, even DIYers can produce wiring connections meeting professional standards.


Pigtail wire connections remain a tried and true wiring technique for both professional electricians and home DIY installers. The simple process of wire stripping, twisting, and termination produces neat yet extremely robust joints suitable for a wide range of applications.

Understanding proper wire compatibility, twisting procedures, connector selection, and installation technique is key to achieving lasting electrical performance. Avoiding common pitfalls like damaged conductors or loose fittings ensures safe current flow across secure pigtail junctions.

While employing proper caution against shock hazards, developing skill making basic pigtail joints empowers homeowners to take command of electrical projects and repairs. Even complex wiring scenarios can be systematically managed through orderly pigtailing of conductors within junction boxes.

For many, learning the basics of how to make solid pigtail wire connections provides a foundational electrical wiring skill set. And one that delivers professional-quality results improving the safety and functionality of home electrical systems.