I am getting into robotics, and when I was building something, there were a bunch of wires that were too thin to get stripped by my wire stripper. I also tried sanding down the wire with sandpaper and stripping it with a Swiss Army Knife. The sandpaper took much longer than I would've liked and using the knife was very hard and also made the wire smaller and smaller each time I messed up or pressed too hard.

Are there any hacks for stripping very thin wires when the wire stripper is too big?

  • I've stripped larger cables with a pocket knife, but I don't know how much that would help you with smaller wires (yes, I noticed that you mentioned that). Good luck!
    – Shokhet
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 19:40
  • Are you talking about enamel coated wire? Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 19:48
  • 4
    Use your teeth! Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 21:28
  • I usually just use my teeth
    – slebetman
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 5:18
  • I chipped my tooth doing just this. Not recommended!
    – Kramii
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 15:42

6 Answers 6


Another option I didn't say is simply to pinch the wire between the thumbnail and index finger and pull. The insulation will tear and will not damage the wire inside. Sometimes it helps to chafe the insulation a bit with the thumbnail before pulling. Be careful where the wire is being pulled from. It should be held by pinching with the other hand.

I never use a wire stripper, but dikes or wire cutters. The dikes must be very sharp. I don't use my dikes for anything except cutting wire, and I don't loan them, which keeps them in good shape.

Squeeze the wire slightly with the dikes at the point where the insulation should separate, then pull. The insulation will separate and slide off the end of the wire. The intent is for the dikes to cut through the insulation but not the wire, score the insulation, and allow it to tear the rest of the way off.

More care must be used with thinner wire. If stripping very thin wire, use fingernail clippers following the same procedure. However, nail clippers will not offer a "feel" and with them it's easy to cut too deep, cutting the wire. Clippers do offer precise control, however. With practice they work well.

Try not to score the wire when stripping. With multi-strand wire it's easy to cut some of the strands but leave others. Make a decision whether the wire is too damaged, needing to be redone. If being soldered, solder will flow up the wire a bit if done properly, strengthening it.

What I would do in your situation is make a custom wire stripper using fingernail clippers by placing a piece of metal between the cutting surfaces, preventing them from coming together completely. You can then reach into small spaces, squeeze, and pull off insulation easily.

Another method that works well is to roll the wire on a knife blade with your thumb, cutting the insulation completely around the wire, then slide off. For small wires this works well. It's not necessary to completely cut through the insulation, but score it all the way around. Doing this much will leave superficial cuts in your thumb, but it works well providing good control.


There's a few options I can think of, ranging from safe to not the best idea, but it works

  1. Score the insulation with a sharp hobby knife, and pull. Works for normal insulation
  2. Heat the insulation with a soldering iron. Don't breathe the fumes!. Works for some sorts of 'conformal' insulation, such as what you'd find in headphones. Its a dry heat so you're less likely to set the insulation on fire or cover it with soot.

  3. Microtorch. Its a 'cigarette lighter' with a much more optimal fuel mix, and burns with a hot, clean, blue flame. Fastest way to get headphone insulation off ;p. Unlike a cigarette lighter, you're not going to get soot, and a quick pass with the VERY hot flame works. Try not to use it for too long on the same spot since its hot enough to melt wire

  • You should never use a flame on any copper conductors. It reduces the reliability of the conductor almost instantly. (Sometimes under the existing sheath). You can put a diffuser onto the torch you mentioned which brings the temperature down substantially (1400°C down to ~600°C) which is much less stressful to the copper, and still hot enough to remove enamel coatings on headphone cables.
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 1:45

A couple of options I have used.

1) For internal telephone and network width cable (which cabling of similar width seems to be what you are working with), I have used the gap in my teeth on occasion when I have dropped my strippers. Many other times sometimes it is faster to do so as I could strip a pair at a time. As long as it is not connected to anything any moisture will be gone in a second or two.

2) Use a large head flathead screwdriver, press it against the table with it up on one corner, pull the wire through.

3) Run the wire through the teeth of a key pressing down with your finger.

4) Use a set of nail clippers.


There are a variety of options. The thinner the metal wire and the more adhesive coating, the more difficult to strip.

However, most coatings are plastic-based, and the wires are metallic, so to achieve your goal, you simply have to subject the wire to a treatment one can handle, and the other cannot. This could be chemical, depending on the type of plastic, or much simpler: Heat.

  1. Cut the wire cleanly
  2. Hold the end of the wire well above a lighter, or other direct source of heat (in a well ventilated environment)
  3. Move it closer to the source of heat, if the plastic is not shrinking / burning
  4. Gently clean the last plastic residue off of the metal.

Be careful with the gradual application of heat, because some plastics can get quite hot, and some metals melt easily. If you know the type of metal and / or plastic, obviously we could find a chemical more suitable.

  • 2
    I do not like using a lighter because the insulation often does not come off and wads up on the wire as a little black circle. Also, if the wire gets hot, insulation will melt far up the wire and totally mess it up. Copper is a very good conducter and it's difficult to control the heat. Also what happens often is to make a stringy mess where the insulation melts and blends in with the strands. Do not use a lighter. Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 20:16

I have found that for me the quickest and easiest way to consistently strip wires is by using my telecommunication scissors. It takes a little practice to get the hang of applying just the right amount of pressure, but once mastered is the way to go. It is the preferred technique of stripping small gauge wires amongst the guys I work with. By small gauge I am referring to 18 AWG and smaller. This technique also works well with stranded wire.

With larger gauge wires, especially solid wire, say up to 10 gauge, I will use my "dykes", which is jargon for side cutting diagonal pliers. On the bigger wires, for like transformers or main breakers I will use a razor knife.

I have seen quite a few fancy strippers in my time, but when it comes right down to it, normal hand tools work the best as they stay sharper and are more likely to be readily available when I need them. I hope this helps. Have a great day.


Any pair of nail clippers will work exactly the same as electronic side-cutters. Pinch the shielding of the wire at North-South and East-West points of the wire. The larger the wire, the more the shield will need to be pre-cut before you attempt to remove the shield. Hold tension on the clippers and pull back.

I also always have a scalpel or craft knife nearby. For multi-conductor cable it's very good at negotiating through the various shielding layers. Just bend the cable over to tension the shield, and brush the blade gently over the shield. The tension will cause it to split. repeat as necessary. Never press too hard, as you don't want to nick the underlying layers.

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