Electrical work can be (and probably should be) a little intimidating for those who have not been trained to perform it. While many electrical jobs around the house are technically simple, the consequences of mistakes can be severe. There's no doubt that a moderately skilled do-it-yourselfer can perform a number of home electrical repairs successfully and safely, but first-timers should always do a few practice runs (and sufficient research) before attempting any electrical repair.
One of the most common tasks performed in electrical work is wire stripping. Wires in your home are protected by a jacket of non-conductive insulation; when joining two wires together or connecting a wire to an outlet, breaker, or other terminal, this insulation must be removed from the end of the wire to expose the metal underneath. In a 2009 article for Electrical Contractor Magazine, Jeff Griffin writes, "Precisely cutting and stripping wire is essential to making quality wire connections." Though relatively simple, wire cutting and stripping should be done with precision to ensure that connections allows electricity to move smoothly and unhindered. Here are 3 tips to help you on your way to better, more effective wire stripping and higher quality connections.
1.Know Your Wire's Diameter
It is true that wire can be stripped without the use of a specially designed wire stripping tool, but this is far from the ideal.
The gauge of your wire determines how quickly and efficiently electricity can be transmitted; the smaller the gauge, the thicker the wire's diameter and--when comparing wires made of the same metal--the faster electricity can travel through it. Most of the wire in your home will use copper as a conductor, but it is important to recognize that a wire with a solid conductor and a wire with a stranded conductor (many smaller strands of metal in a bundle rather than a single, thicker length of metal) of the same gauge can have different diameters. Wires with stranded conductors will always have a slightly larger diameter than wires with solid conductors of the same gauge; this difference in diameter is sometimes negligible, but when dealing with lower gauge wires, it becomes more significant and may require a slightly different stripper selection.
2.Don't Use a Knife
Just because something is possible doesn't mean it is necessarily a good practice. It is true that wire can be stripped without the use of a specially designed wire stripping tool, but this is far from the ideal. Wire stripping tools are designed to take much of the guesswork out of the process as well as make the stripping itself more precise. These tools allow you to remove the wire jacket without nicks, and do it quickly, too. Sure, a utility knife can do in a pinch, but because wire stripping tools can readily be purchased from any hardware store or home improvement center (and are very affordable, to boot), there's no excuse for the wasted time and possibility of less-effective connections that come from striping wire with a knife.
3.Give Yourself Some Wiggle Room
While seasoned electricians may be able to make a precision cut and a perfect connection almost every time, folks who are just learning how to strip, splice, and connect are going to make some mistakes along the way. What you don't want, however, is one mistake to ruin more work than it should. When putting in runs, give yourself a little bit of leeway; cut slightly more wire than you actually need for the length and then, if you make a mistake stripping, splicing, connecting, or anything else, you'll be able to literally cut your losses and start fresh without wasting the entire length of wire.
Of course, one sure-fire way to make sure that your splices and connections are done right is to hire a professional. For smaller jobs, a handyman service may be able to fit the bill just fine and perform a number of additional small repairs during the same visit. Any substantial electrical work is the job for a certified, experienced electrician, however, and should not be left to anyone but.