Buying a Wire Stripper
When you’re doing electrical wiring, it’s easy to approach wire stripping as an afterthought. There’s not much to it, just removing a small length of insulation from the ends so you can make connections.
But if you’re not careful, you could cut through the actual wire and/or your fingers. Chances of mishaps increase dramatically when working with small wires for automotive systems, electronics and audio equipment.
If you think of a wire stripper as a specialty tool for electricians, you’re right. It can save hours of time during a large wiring project. It also happens to be a really useful tool for DIY wiring, and it’s not expensive.
Pro quality wire strippers that regulate the length of exposed wire, crimp wire connections, cut screws and even double as pliers can cost more than $100. But you can get a basic wire stripper for your home wiring project for less than $10.
Considerations when buying a wire stripper
Start by considering the type and amount of wire you need to strip, and whether you’ll use your wire stripper frequently or occasionally. You should also consider whether you’ll need the tool for other chores. And, of course, think about cost.
Three types of wire strippers
Wire strippers don’t all work the same way. There are three main types:
- Adjustable: With these, you feed the wire through the front and squeeze the handle. The tool compresses just enough to cut the insulation without notching the wire. When you pull the wire out, the insulation jacket stays behind. You can adjust the size of the wire opening, and select the gauge by turning a dial. This type of stripper is typically used for light-gauge wiring in electronics, HVAC and automotive applications.
- Automatic: The tool automatically selects the proper wire gauge so you don’t have to worry about it. This is a real time-saver when working on projects with multiple wires of different gauges.
- Gauged: Electricians favor this type. It resembles a scissors with notched blades, with each notch sized according to a progressively larger wire gauge. Insert the wire in the appropriate notch, close the blades, twist the wire and pull it out. This type usually also has a wire cutter, and the tips of the blades are often serrated so you can use them as pliers.
Some of the features to look out for include:
- Wire types: Wire diameter is measured in American Wire Gauge (AWG) units. Larger AWG numbers refer to smaller diameter wires. A general-use tool can usually accommodate 10 to 22 AWG wire. If you work with electronics, communications, HVAC or automotive systems, look for a stripper that can handle wire up to 30 AWG. All tools can handle solid wire, but not all can handle stranded wire, which multiple strands of thin wire are braided together.
- Blade quality: Wire strippers must to be sharp to cut effectively. The best wire strippers stay sharp indefinitely, but lower quality ones don’t. The cutting edges are beveled and can’t be re-sharpened.
- Easy of use: A spring-loaded stripper is less tiring to use than one with a handle you need to open after each operation. The spring lets you operate the tool with one hand.
- Length adjustment: Adjustable and automatic strippers sometimes have a length adjustment so you can accurately expose a pre-measured length of bare wire. This is a desirable time-saving feature.
- Clear gauge markings: The markings on the tiny notches of gauged strippers can be difficult to read. If they aren’t embossed, they’ll wear off. Clearly legible markings help you quickly find the right opening and eliminate guessing.
- Comfort: Look for easy-grip silicon or rubber handles. The rubber coating on some less-expensive strippers can slide off, while those on better-quality tools are permanently attached.
- Cost: Prices range from $5 for a basic gauged stripper to $140 or more for high-precision and specialty strippers. Average is around $30.
Best Adjustable Wire Stripper
The Jonard Adjustable Wire Stripper works for light-gauge communications, electronics and automotive wires from 18 to 28 AWG. Select the gauge setting by turning a dial. Choose a length setting on the slidable length stop, insert the wire through the front and squeeze. That’s all there is to it.
There are no handles to splay out and take up space in your toolbox, and the hardened steel cutting blade stays sharp. When doing sensitive electronics wiring, you can sterilize this tool in boiling water without damaging it to prevent contamination.
Best Automatic Wire Stripper
With more than 9,600 five-star reviews on Amazon, the Irwin Self-Adjusting Wire Stripper is popular for good reason. It’s a snap to use. Insert the wire through the side of the head, squeeze the handle, pull the wire out and the jacket stays behind. No adjustments needed.
This tool strips wires from 10 to 24 AWG and has an adjustable stopper to control the length of the exposed wire. You can also use it for crimping insulated and non-insulated wires.
Best Gauged Wire Stripper
Klein Tools is well-known for the quality of its linesman pliers, and the K12055 Wire Cutter and Wire Stripper measures up. The forged steel blades are super sharp and stay that way after repeated uses. This tool can strip 10 to 18 AWG solid wire and 12 to 20 AWG stranded wire.
The best feature? The oversized serrated tips on the ends of the blades. They make it much easier to grab, bend and twist wires than the narrow tips found on other gauged strippers.
Best Precision Wire Stripper
The Eclipse Tools CP-301G Wire Stripper can strip the lightest of light-gauge wires, from 20 to 30 AWG. This gauged stripper includes a wire cutter and serrated jaws. The jaws lock to prevent damage to other tools and wires stored with it.
This is one of the few wire strippers that handles gauges finer than 28 AWG. It’s lightweight, extremely sharp and makes short work of the thin wires found in automotive systems or telephone or network jacks. And it only costs $5.
Best Budget Wire Stripper
The WGGE WG-015 Wire Stripper is a gauged stripper that does pretty much everything. It strips, cuts and crimps wires from 10 to 22 AWG. The serrated tips work well as pliers.
You can use this tool to crimp insulated and non-insulated wires, and the spring-loaded jaws open automatically after every operation. Add a comfortable easy-grip handle and you’ve got a great deal for about $7.
Best Cable Jacket Stripper
When you’re working with Cat-5/5e/6 telephone cables to hook up your home communications network, it can be tricky to strip the jacket off the wire bundle with a knife. One false move and you’ve sliced through one or more of the wires.
The Platinum Tools Cable Jacket Stripper is made only for communications cables so it has only one gauge opening. Fit it around the cable, close the handle, twist and pull, and all the wires are exposed intact.
Best Large Cable Stripper
DIYers doing electrical repairs seldom need to strip cables larger than 8 AWG. The Klein Tools Large Cable Stripper is primarily used by electricians and home mechanics who need to strip battery cables.
It works like a pencil sharpener. You insert the cable and twist, and the blade shaves off insulation to expose the wire. It has four openings to accommodate 2/0, 3/0, 4/0 and 250 thousands of circular mils (MCM); 250 MCM is one size larger than 4/0 AWG.
Best Value Wire Stripper
The Irwin Vise-Grip Stripping Tool is another winner with Amazon reviewers. It’s a gauged stripper that handles 10 to 22 AWG wire, cuts and crimps wires and can even shear electrical bolts.
The easy-grip handle makes the tool comfortable to use. The hardened steel blades ensure accurate and quick cuts, and the gauge markings are easy to read. The $20 price tag is a little higher than some others, but it’s a quality tool that’s well worth it.
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