Wire strippers are an essential part of any electrician’s toolkit, they are also generally handy to have around your home, shop, or garage. Wire strippers are one of those tools where its appearance massively undermines its value — it just sort of looks like a big pair of scissors but its design and precision turn out to be hugely important.
It is easy to forget that you need a wire stripper in your kit, that is, until you face a situation where you need it. And when you need it you better has a good set because saving $5 on you wire strippers can cost you hundreds in lost time and rewiring.
First of all, check out our wire stripper picking video:
Why You Need Wire Strippers
A wire stripper is used in removing insulation from around a wire or cable. Sure, you can do this with a pair of scissors or a utility knife (and we’ve all seen someone do it with a razor blade), but the chance of damaging the wire is quite high. The chance of damaging your hand can be really high too… so just don’t do it!
Some people like to strip wires with the interior of a set of pliers. This method is safe, but not that accurate so the chance of hurting the wire ends up being surprisingly high (in my experience). This might work for a large gauge, tough cable, like a coax, but won’t for something more sensitive.
Wire strippers are one of those tools that clearly fits a purpose and they are useful enough that you shouldn’t feel like you are buying some sort of one-off tool or gimmick.
What is AWG?
Before we get started, you might be wondering, what is AWG, and why is this acronym spelled out all over the place? AWG is short for American Wire Gauge. This is a gauge measuring system that has been used since the 1850s, primarily in the United States (think metric vs. imperial systems). It’s used for describing the diameter of solid wiring that is specifically used for conducting electricity. Basically, the bigger the diameter, the more amps the wire can handle, so gauge is incredibly important. This importance extends to when you your task it so strip the coating from the exterior of the wire without damaging it.
AWG is for solid wiring, but cabled, stranded wiring is part of this system as well. Stranding wires are treated by the AWG formula to determine the equivalent size solid copper wire.
Fun fact: AWG is also used measure to the gauge (in this case the hole size) of body piercing.
Now, on to the wire strippers! There are several wire strippers available on the market, but these three stand out for all the right reasons.
Beware of Budget Wire Strippers
There are lot of tools where it won’t really matter if you go with the cheapest option. The problem with going with a sub-par wire stripper is that you can end up cutting wire instead of stripping it. And, to be honest, that’s not normally a big deal because you can just toss the wire and start again. But if the wire is attached to something important, like a ceiling fan, or means another run to the hardware store, then you are going to be kicking yourself.
The set of wire stripper above is as low cost as they come (about $8) — and I know since they’re mine! All these are is two pieces of stamped steel with a long channel cut in one side. In that channel is a nut and bolt which can be moved up and down in order to limit the size of the notch cut into the business end. This system can work, but you are just doing your best to get to the right size. That means you aren’t using AWG or any standard measurements, you’re just getting close enough.
In addition to being inexact, there are other problems with these cheap wire strippers. The first is that the stopper bolt can come come loose, messing up your next cut. Also, the nut on the adjustment bolt is tiny and requires wrench, so you need at least two tools with you. Lastly, these wire strippers are “spring-assisted” but the spring breaks every time I use it!
Considering that the excellent wire strippers below tend to cost under $20, my advice would be to get a good pair since the cheap ones will definitely cost you more than $10 within the first few times you use them.
Irwin Vise-grip 2078300 Wire Strippers
The IRWIN Vise-Grip 2078300 brings you a lifetime guarantee and a heavy duty design to match. This tool has the ability to strip wire from 10 to 24 AWG. It is also self adjusting, which is especially useful when dealing with wires that have different thicknesses.
There is a swivel knob attached to the wire stripper. This knob helps the user to make minor and even the smallest adjustments when dealing with gauges below 20 AWG. The Irwin Vise-Grip also features a 22 AWG insulated wire crimper as well as 7-9 mm terminals. The use of the ProTouch grip in this tool ensures that the user experiences high levels of comfort and not weariness when using this tool for longer periods of time.
I’m recommending this pair because it’s basically a newer version of my heavy-duty wire strippers that you see at the top of the page — the Kronus Automatic Wire Stripper. Those were purchased in 2005 or so and don’t seem to be sold any longer.
- Can strip wire from 10 to 24 AWG
- 22AWG insulated wire crimps
- Lifetime guarantee
IRWIN Vise-Grip Multi-Tool Wire Strippers
The 2078309 model Irwin Vise-Grip is a power-packed wire stripper with a simpler design then most others. This tool combines the qualities found in wire strippers, wire cutters as well as wire crimpers. It can work with wire from 10 to 22 AWG.
This wire stripper is also equipped with induction hardened cutting edges. What this means is that the tool has the ability to make very accurate and measured cuts on wires. The wire cutter also comes with a ProTouch grip, so that it’s rubberized and easy to use with gloves.
Past that it’s a pretty simple plier-style wire stripper that sells for about $14, so it’s easy on your wallet.
- Can strip wire from 10-22 AWG
- Hardened cutting edge
- Rubber grip
- Stripper/Cutter/Crimper all-in-one multi-tool
Zoto Self-Adjusting Wire Strippers
The Zoto self-adjustable wire strippers stand out with their bee-like yellow and black designs. They are made of heavy duty carbon steel, this wire cutter can cables between 10-24 AWG.
The wire strippers come with jaws that can be adjusted according to the user’s requirements. There is also a swivel knob that can be manipulated by the thumb, and is effective when stripping wires below 24 AWG. The tool’s grip handles were also developed keeping in mind the need to avoid fatigue, and is cushioned as well as non-slip. The wire striper also has a multi-tool component where it has an in-built wire crimper that can deal with insulated wiring between 10-22 AWG.
- Can strip wires from 10 to 24 AWG
- Jaws are self-adjusting
- Also doubles as a wire crimper
- Cushioned grip
And that should cover it! Send us an email if you have any other wire stripper thoughts of if you think there are any great products we missed.