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How to strip wires like a pro (and my must-have tools)

Stripping wires can be a daunting task. Let me show you two methods to do it and the best tools to get the job done.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Micro cutter and bespoke wire stripping tool
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Stripping the insulation off wires is a task that DIYers and makers have to undertake regularly, but it's not an easy skill to learn, and there's scope for making a real mess of things, especially when the wires are thin and easily broken.

Also: How to fix broken wires the easy way - with heat-shrink butt connectors

I came across a good example of this the other day when someone asked me for advice. In the process of stripping the insulation off the wires connected to a component, they accidentally broke the wires and made them too short to be used. Nothing that some precision soldering couldn't fix, but still, a hiccup they could have done without.

Here's how to strip wires the easy way. In fact, I'll show you two ways. 

Method 1: Using snips

To use this method you will need some decent micro cutters. Here I'm using the Knipex electronic snips, but any decent quality snips can do this trick (you can buy a pack of five for around $12).

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1. Nibble away a bit of the insulation

Nibble away a bit of the insulation
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

First, I use the snips to nibble a tiny bit of the insulation, breaking the surface but not going as far as the conductor underneath.

2. Use the blade of the snips

Use the blade of the snips
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Next, I put the blade of the snips on the spot where I nibbled off the insulation, apply a bit of gentle pressure to the snip -- enough to grip the insulation, but not enough to cut the wire -- and then apply pressure with my thumb to the back of the cutters.

3. Push!

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The pressure of the thumb on the snips should send the bit of insulation flying off into the distance (hopefully not for you to later find it in your coffee!).

And you're done!

Method 2: Using a cable stripper tool

If you have a lot of wires to strip, then nothing beats a dedicated cable stripper. This Knipex cable stripper is not cheap, but it is packed with all sorts of features, from the ability to strip the insulation from wires of varying diameters to safely cutting the outer sheathing from cables. There's even a hidden blade for trimming.

Its ability to strip the insulation without damaging the conductor wire is the most important benefit.

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1. Choose the right size stripper for the wire

Choose the right size stripper for the wire
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

When in doubt, choose a size bigger and work down until you find one that grips the insulation without biting into the wire beneath.

2. Clamp and twist

Clamp and twist
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Clamp the stripping tool down on the wire and twist.

3. Use your thumb!

Use your thumb!
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Apply pressure to push the tool away from the wire to remove the insulation.

4. And you're done!

And you're done!
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The insulation will break away, slide along the wire, leaving the conductor undamaged.

5. Bonus

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The tool captures the bit of insulation, so it doesn't end up in your coffee!

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