The Best Way to Strip Copper Wire

Stripping the plastic insulation off a piece of copper wire can be useful in a number of situations. Besides exposing the end of a wire to connect it to an electrical device, stripping wire can also be useful if it is required for recycling or selling the copper as scrap. Using wire cutters is the best method for stripping copper wire, but other methods exist as well.

Using Wire Cutters

Wire cutters are designed to cut and strip wire, making them the best tool for stripping copper wire. Hold the wire in one hand and, with the wire cutters in the other hand, slowly close the cutting head onto the wire about an inch from the end. Once the sharp surface has cut into the plastic insulation, stop applying pressure as soon as you feel the resistance of the wire itself. Slide the cutters toward the end of the wire, removing the insulation intact. Repeat this until several inches of wire are exposed, then clip off the exposed wire and continue stripping the remaining insulated wire.

Many wire cutters can be adjusted and locked so that they will not fully close. To do this, determine how far the cutters must be closed to fully cut the insulation but cut as little as possible into the wire inside. Hold the cutters in this position while tightening a lock screw on the handle. This will make repeating the process easier, but another set of wire cutters must be used to snip off the exposed wire.

Other Methods

Another common method for stripping copper wire involves using a utility knife. This method is best when removing insulation completely from a longer piece of wire. While more dangerous because of the use of an exposed blade, using a utility knife may take less time. Begin by stripping one end of the wire until there is at least 1/2 inch of exposed wire. Place this end in a vise and tighten the vise so that the wire can be pulled to full extension without coming free. With the wire pulled taut, run the blade slowly along the edge of the plastic insulation, cutting down to the wire. Then, at the end nearest the vise, loosen the insulation and begin pulling it off leaving only the copper wire. Using a very sharp blade or heating the utility knife before cutting will make cutting through the insulation easier.

If none of these tools are available, copper wire can be stripped with a hammer. Simply pound the wire against a hard surface until the plastic insulation splits and the wire is exposed. This is a very time-consuming method but can be used if no wire cutters or blades are available.

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