How to Strip a Wire

Stripping wires is an essential skill for any electrical work. Properly stripping wires ensures solid contact between conductors for a safe and functional connection. While it may seem intimidating at first, stripping wires is easy with the right techniques and tools. This comprehensive guide will teach you how to properly strip wires of all sizes for any application.


Stripping a wire means removing the plastic insulation from the end to expose the metal conductor inside. This allows the bare metal wire to make contact with connectors, terminals or other wires. Secure electrical connections require metal-to-metal contact without insulation getting in the way.

Stripping wires is needed for making nearly all electrical connections, including in junction boxes, switches, outlets, lighting fixtures and appliances. It’s a fundamental skill every do-it-yourselfer should know. Learning proper wire stripping techniques will give you the confidence for wiring and electrical projects around the home.

This guide covers everything you need to know, including:

  • Why proper wire stripping is important
  • Recommended tools for stripping wires
  • How to strip solid and stranded wires
  • Technique for stripping small and large wires
  • Stripping wire with lineman’s pliers
  • Using wire strippers for precise stripping
  • Safety tips for wire stripping
  • Common mistakes to avoid

Whether you’re working with large power cables or small signal wires, this guide will help you strip wires quickly and safely. Let’s get started!

Why Proper Wire Stripping Is Important

It may be tempting to simply cut away chunks of wire insulation and make the connection. However, proper wire stripping has several advantages:

Creates Solid Contact – Exposing just the right amount of bare metal wire allows for maximum surface contact between conductors. This ensures solid and reliable connections. Insulation caught in the connection can cause faulty contacts and loose joints.

Prevents Short Circuits – Exposing too much bare wire can lead to short circuits if wires touch. The remaining insulation helps prevent contact with other conductive parts. Only strip as much as needed for the connection.

Provides Strain Relief – Leaving some insulation at the end of the wire provides strain relief at the connection point. This prevents stress on the conductor which could break thin strands.

Maintains Safety – Keeping unused sections of wire insulated prevents accidental contact with live current. Only exposed areas should make contact in connections.

Looks Professional – Nice, clean wire stripping gives your work an organized appearance and shows attention to detail. Doing the job right is always the professional approach.

In short, proper wire stripping is crucial for safe, durable and functional electrical connections. It’s worth taking the time to do it right!

Recommended Tools for Stripping Wires

Having the right tools makes wire stripping much easier. Here are the essential tools for stripping wires of all sizes:

Wire Strippers

wire strippers

Wire strippers are specially designed tools with holes sized to grip insulation while cutting into the wire. Self-adjusting wire strippers have spring-loaded actions and various hole sizes for different gauges.

This tool strips insulation cleanly without nicking strands of wire. Interchangeable cutters allow stripping many wire sizes with one tool. Use for any solid or stranded wire.

Linesman’s Pliers

linesman's pliers

Linesman’s pliers (also known as electrician’s pliers) are versatile for cutting and gripping wires. The knife-edged cutting blades grab and slice through insulation.

Useful for quickly stripping large power cables. The adjustable hinge allows gripping a wide range of wire sizes. Can also be used for pulling and bending wires.

Utility Knife

utility knife

A simple utility knife with a sharp blade can be effective for stripping many types of wire insulation. Score around the insulation, then bend the wire to break the coating at the score line.

Utility knives afford more control than wire strippers for precise cuts. Great for stripping flat cable or insulation off conductors. Use with caution not to nick wire strands.

Sandpaper or Emery Cloth


For stripping small gauges of wire, a piece of fine grit sandpaper can remove thin insulation. Lightly twist the end of the wire against the sandpaper to create a clean stripped end.

Sanding also removes any small wire strands damaged by other stripping tools. This helps prevent shorts or bad connections on small gauge wires.

Isopropyl Alcohol

isopropyl alcohol

Some wire insulations can be dissolved for easy removal by certain solvents. Dip the end of wire in or wipe isopropyl alcohol to dissolve the coating.

Ideal for small wires where mechanical stripping can harm conductors. Also useful for wires with thin insulation. Exercise caution when handling solvents.

How to Strip Solid Wire

Solid wire conductors are one piece of metal and are quite stiff. They are commonly used for power transmission in larger building wiring. Here’s how to properly strip solid wire:

1. Measure and Mark

Measure from the end the length you need to strip. Use tape or a permanent marker to indicate the stripping point. This ensures consistent length when working on multiple wires.

2. Score the Insulation

Use a utility knife, wire strippers or linesman’s pliers to lightly score around the circumference of insulation at the stripping point. Don’t cut into wire yet.

3. Snip End Section

If working with large solid wire gauges, cut the end off using diagonal pliers. Remove any insulation past the stripped section.

4. Deeply Cut Insulation

Make another deeper pass cutting into the insulation using your stripping tool. Stay just shy of cutting into the wire conductor.

5. Break Apart Insulation

Grip the wire in one hand while bending back the wire end with your other hand. The insulation will break off at the score line.

6. Pull Insulation Off End

Slide the cut insulation off the end of the wire, leaving the bare solid conductor exposed with no insulation remaining.

The key with solid wire is scoring the insulation before making deeper cuts. This prevents the stiffer solid conductor from bending and cracking. Take care not to nick the wire when cutting into insulation.

How to Strip Stranded Wire

Stranded wire is made up of smaller gauge tinsel wires bundled together. It is more flexible than solid wire. Follow these steps to strip stranded wire properly:

1. Measure and Mark

As with solid wire, measure first and mark the stripping point with tape or a marker for consistency.

2. Secure in Wire Strippers

For small wires, use automatic wire strippers by inserting into the appropriate sized notch. Self-adjusting spring tension will grip the wire.

3. Spin and Pull Insulation Off

Rotate the wire strippers around the insulation several times until the blades cut through. Then simply pull the wire strippers away to slide off the cut insulation.

4. Trim Ends

For cleaner results, use flush wire cutters to trim any frayed strands at the newly stripped end. This leaves a tidy tip.

5. Re-Strip If Needed

Examine the stripped wire tip. Re-strip slightly longer if any insulation remains. Remove all insulation for solid contact.

With stranded wire, take care not to cut into the conductor. Avoid nicking or damaging thin strands which can break over time. Leaving a little extra insulation provides strain relief.

Technique for Stripping Small Gauge Wire

Thin gauge wires 18 AWG and higher require extra care when stripping. Follow these steps for best results:

Use Sharp Sandpaper

Lightly rub the end of the wire over fine grit sandpaper. Twist the wire as you sand to slowly abrade off the thin insulation.

Dip in Solvent

Stripping fluid or isopropyl alcohol dissolves certain insulation. Dip just the end of the wire then wipe clean.

Use Precision Knife

Carefully shave the insulation using a sharp utility blade. Slowly rotate the wire while barely cutting into the insulation.

Watch Strand Damage

Inspect the conductor closely for any cut strands which could cause issues. Re-strip slightly if needed.

Go Slow!

Work carefully and slowly when stripping thin gauge wires. Rushing can damage the tiny conductor strands. Take your time.

Thinner wires are more prone to being cut or frayed when stripping. Use patience along with the right technique to avoid problems.

Technique for Stripping Large Gauge Wire

Heavy, thick wires can also be challenging to strip properly:

Choose Big Tools

Use linesman’s pliers or large wire strippers to grip thick insulation. Standard smaller tools won’t cut it, literally!

Score Around Many Times

Creating a deep scoring cut takes multiple bites into the thick insulation. Keep revolving the wire to score evenly.

Cut Off End

Use diagonal pliers to cut off any excess insulation past the stripping point. This makes it easier to break the coating loose.

Bend and Wiggle

After scoring, bend the wire back and forth while wiggling the insulation. This will eventually break it free at the score line.

Pull and Twist

Grip pliers on the remaining insulation and pull away from the conductor while twisting. The insulation will slide off the wire.

Re-Strip if Needed

Examine for any remaining insulation stuck to the conductor. Use a knife to carefully scrape it off.

Thick wire insulation requires strong tools and effort to strip effectively. Take your time working around the entire circumference.

Stripping Wire with Lineman’s Pliers

Linesman’s pliers are the go-to tool professionals use for stripping large gauge wires. Here’s how to use them for quick and easy wire stripping:

1. Score the Insulation

Grip the wire firmly in the plier’s knife blades. Squeeze tightly while twisting the pliers around the insulation several times.

2. Deepen the Cut

Repeat the twisting motion, squeezing tighter to cut deeper through the insulation down to the bare conductor.

3. Bend and Pull

With one hand, bend the wire at the scoring cut. Use pliers in the other hand to grip and pull insulation.

4. Twist and Slide Off

Maintain tension pulling back as you twist the pliers around insulation. It will break free at the score line.

5. Clean Up Ends

Use the plier’s wire cutter to trim any frayed strands at the newly stripped wire end.

Linesman’s pliers make quick work of bigger wires. The sharp blades easily score and cut through thick insulation. Perfect for on-the-go stripping!

Using Wire Strippers for Precise Stripping

For neat, precision stripping, wire strippers are the best tool. Follow these steps when using wire strippers:

1. Select Hole Size

Consult the wire gauge range printed on the tool. Align wire with the appropriately sized hole.

2. Insert Wire & Squeeze

Insert the wire into the hole until it bottoms out. Squeeze handles together allowing the blade to grip insulation.

3. Rotate Several Times

Keep pressure applied while turning the strippers around the wire a few revolutions. This will cut through insulation.

4. Pull Off Insulation

Release the handles, open strippers and slide off the cut portion of insulation. Carefully avoid cutting strands.

5. Trim Ends

For a tidy finish, use snips to trim any frayed wire strands. Remove all residual insulation.

Automatic-adjusting wire strippers provide reliable and consistent results. Cushioned grips make repeated stripping easy on the hands.

Safety Tips for Wire Stripping

Working with electricity requires proper safety:

  • Wear eye protection when stripping wires to prevent injuries. Insulation bits and wire strands can fly off.
  • Never strip wires while they are live or connected to power. Always confirm circuits are de-energized.
  • When using knives or razor blades, cut away from yourself in case the tool slips. Keep fingers clear.
  • Rotate the wire while cutting into insulation to avoid plunging the blade straight into the conductor.
  • Discard old nicked or damaged wire strippers. Their blades can tear up wires instead of cutting cleanly.
  • Keep a first aid kit nearby. Wire fragments occasionally get lodged in fingers during stripping.
  • Properly dispose of stripped insulation. Dangerous metals could linger on old coatings.

Work slowly and deliberately when stripping. Don’t rush the process only to injure yourself or ruin wires. Stay safe!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Stripping Wires

It takes practice to become skilled at wire stripping. Watch out for these common mistakes:

  • Cutting too deep into the conductor when trying to remove insulation. Damages wire strands.
  • Twisting insulation off by hand instead of scoring around the sheath first. This can break internal wires.
  • Stripping too much insulation off and leaving excess bare wire exposed. Risks short circuit.
  • Using excessive force and biting down hard with tools. Can nick or cut wire strands.
  • Stripping short wires too close to the cut end. Leaves insufficient conductor to make connections.
  • Failing to fully remove all insulation from tip of stripped wire. Prevents solid contact.
  • Not using the right sized stripping tool. Wrong size holes will tear up insulation.
  • Rushing while stripping wires and causing accidental cuts or nicks of the wire.
  • Pulling and stressing on wire strands. Wire conductors are delicate and breakable.

Be patient and practice proper technique to avoid common mistakes. Taking your time results in clean and professional wire stripping.

How to Strip a Wire – Step-by-Step

Here is a recap of the complete steps for stripping both solid and stranded wire like a pro:

  1. Measure from end of wire, mark stripping point with tape or marker.
  2. Secure wire in proper size stripping tool – pliers, strippers or knife.
  3. Score around insulation’s circumference with tool, don’t cut wire yet.
  4. Make deeper cut into insulation, rotating tool around wire while avoiding conductor.
  5. Bend wire back and forth while wiggling and pulling insulation off.
  6. Use pliers or snips to trim any frayed strands and tidy up tip.
  7. Inspect stripped wire end. Re-strip if any insulation remains. Remove all.
  8. When finished stripping, safely dispose of removed insulation pieces.

Those are the key steps for cleanly removing insulation off copper and aluminum wires of all sizes. With the right tools and proper technique, you can strip like an expert!

Frequently Asked Questions About Wire Stripping

Here are answers to common questions about properly stripping wires:

How much insulation should be stripped off the wire?

Only strip as much insulation as needed to make a solid connection. Typically 1/2 inch is ideal for most electrical connections. Avoid stripping longer than 3/4 inch sections.

What size wire stripper do I need?

Refer to the wire gauge size printed on the stripping tool. Match this to your wire gauge for the right sized stripping hole. Strippers have multiple notches for different wire sizes.

What is the best way to strip thin gauge wires?

Use sharp fine grit sandpaper. Rotate the wire while lightly sanding to slowly abrade the thin insulation off. Take care not to damage small strands.

Can I use pliers to strip wires?

Yes, linesman’s pliers work well for stripping, especially larger wires. Grip and twist repeatedly around insulation to score and cut through the sheathing.

What solvent dissolves wire insulation?

Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) can dissolve certain insulation coatings. Dip the wire tip in or wipe on then scrape insulation residue off.

How do I strip old brittle wiring?

Old wire tends to have cracked insulation. Use a utility knife to carefully shave it off. Go slow to avoid damaging old copper strands underneath.

What size wire stripper for 12 gauge wire?

For 12 gauge, use wire strippers with a notch sized for 10-12 AWG wire. The hole must match the insulation diameter to grip properly.

Can I re-strip a wire after cutting it short?

Yes, you can re-strip the insulation on a cut wire as long as enough conductor length remains to make connections.

Why are my wire strippers tearing the insulation?

The hole size is likely too small. Try the next size up stripper opening to fit the wire insulation thickness and diameter.


Learning how to properly strip wires is an essential electrical skill that will serve you well for all types of wiring projects and electrical repairs around the house. Use the right tools, follow the techniques described, and avoid common mistakes. With practice, you’ll be stripping wires like a professional electrician in no time.

Remember to always prioritize safety when stripping live wires. Wear eye protection, use extreme caution with sharp tools, and ensure wires are completely de-energized. Take your time and don’t rush the stripping process. Patience and the proper method will lead to clean, successful results.

Now you have all the wire stripping knowledge to tackle your next electrical project confidently. Time to put your new skills to work!