Properly outfitting a work bench to work with wire might include more tools than first comes to mind. Using the proper tools will always lead to better results. For this reason, it’s important to understand the difference between wire strippers, cutters, and crimpers.
First off, let’s get to know the standardized system for measuring diameters of single, solid round electrically conducting wire, the American Wire Gauge (AWG). You will see AWG referenced when determining the appropriate size of some wire tools. With AWG, an increased gauge number signifies a decreasing wire diameter. It is based upon a circular mil system; one mil is equal to 0.001 inch.
Wire strippers are used to remove the insulation from electric wires in order to make contact. There are two primary types: manual and automatic. Of course there is the time consuming scissor method as well as the destructive method of biting off the insulation that can result in pain and a hefty dental bill. We don’t recommend either of the latter two methods.
A manual wire stripper has opposing blades like a pair of scissors, but has a notch in the middle of the blades to place the wire. The stripper is then rotated around the wire so the outer insulation comes off while leaving the actual wire intact.
Some wire strippers have varying notch sizes which allow you to strip wires at various AWGs without twisting. There are also automatic wire strippers. They have one side that grips the wire while the other side removes its insulation. Although an automatic stripper greatly reduces the effort required, it can also break thinner wires so they are not suited for all applications. When choosing a stripper, make sure that it has a comfortable grip, cleanly removes insulation from wires, and that it keeps the actual wire intact.
Wire cutters are commonly used to cut copper, brass, iron, aluminum, and steel wire. Some wire cutters have insulated handles which ensure that you will not get shocked from the wires you’re working with.
Diagonal cutters have intersecting jaws that cut the wire at an angle, leaving a flat tip. Electricians commonly refer to these as flush cutters in order to differentiate them from symmetrical cutters, which leave a pointed tip. Unlike a symmetrical cutter, a flush cutter allows you to cut a wire very close to its base.
Crimping is often used to affix a connector to the end of a cable. Wire crimpers look like a pair of pliers, but join two pieces of metal or other ductile materials (such as wire to a metal plate) together. A crimper deforms one or both of the pieces, which holds them together. Some crimpers are ratcheted, meaning the pieces you are working with will not be released until a threshold pressure is delivered. Ratcheted crimpers sometimes come with interchangeable dies that allow you to crimp connectors of varying widths. When looking for a crimper, be sure to verify the types of wire or cable it is capable of crimping.
The correct tool to use depends on the job at hand so avoid ruining a good project with a bad tool. Remember that wire strippers are best for removing the insulation from wire, while cutters are best for (you guessed it) cutting wire. Pliers help you reach, bend, grab, cut, hold and loop wire, and crimpers are the best tool to join two pieces of ductile material together.