Hot Wire Strippers are Probably The Best Tool You Aren’t Using

I wanted to point out a tool that I often use, but rarely see on other people’s workbenches: thermal strippers. They aren’t cheap, but once you’ve used them, it is hard to go back to stripping wires with an ordinary tool.

I know, I know. When I first heard of such a thing, I thought what you are probably thinking now: maybe for some exotic coated wire, but for regular wire, I just use a pair of diagonal cutters or a mechanical stripper or a razor blade. You can do that, of course, and for large solid wires, you can even get good results. But for handling any kind of wire, regardless of size, you just can’t beat a thermal stripper.

There are two minor issues. The first is they are pretty pricey, especially new. However, on sites like eBay, you can pick up used ones that are affordable. I have a Teledyne Stripall TW-1 and they are built like tanks. You can also easily get replacement parts for them, so there’s no reason you can’t keep them running for quite a while.

The second problem is that burning various insulation produces fumes. Not much, but probably some nasty stuff. You probably should have some forced air blowing the fumes away from you. I use a simple fan.

How Do They Work?

stripall1As you probably expect, a thermal stripper has some sort of jaw that gets hot and melts the insulation. The TW-1 is like a scissor or pair of pliers so you bring two hot blades down until it firmly holds the wire. The blades get hot almost at once. There is an adjustable guide to keep the jaws from getting too close together. You close the jaws, give a twist as you pull the wire out and it is perfectly stripped. No nicks in the wire, no small strands damaged. Just bare wire.

There is another guide that lets you control how much insulation the tool removes along the length of the wire. The idea is you insert the wire until it hits the guide and then close the jaws and twist. Every wire will have exactly the same amount of bare conductor exposed. You can see a video about the TW-1, below.

Other Vendors

Teledyne is not the only maker of this type of strippers. Patco has the PTS-10 that is not very expensive new. Hakko makes a version. There’s also a company called Eraser (see  video, below) along with many other manufacturers.

Hacked?

I was surprised that a quick search didn’t turn up any homebrew tools. After all, the device isn’t exactly high-tech. About the closest I found was [kl27x’s] “frankenclipper” (see video, below). I’m sure if I missed one, it will show up in the comments.

We’ve talked about improving mechanical strippers in the past. We’ve also seen a fully automated machine for cutting and stripping. However, shop around, get an inexpensive thermal stripper and a fan, and I think you’ll be highly pleased next time you need to strip wires.

131 thoughts on “Hot Wire Strippers are Probably The Best Tool You Aren’t Using

      1. I haven’t had a pair do that, well until after I broke them and still used in desperation… the spring I broke spreads the jaw on the back movement. Maybe a weak or cracked spring issue.

        1. I have a pair of those and if I find the insulation gets wedged between the jaw and the length guide (to the right). Sometimes it comes loose with a couple of squeezes but sometimes it gets stuck and I have to stop working to manually pull it out.

    1. Yeah, I’ve known them to pluck the odd strand of a fine stranded wire, but so does any other mechanical stripper.

      I’ve actually picked up a pair similar to these recently, not sure yet if I like them better or I’m gonna spring for high quality version of above..

      So far have only had minor stripping to do, one or two wires at a time… it’s when you’ve gotta do a ton at once you figure out whether you **really** like a pair.

      1. I have a (red) pair of those made by Kronus. I think I got them at Radio Shack (RIP) ages ago. When I have to strip more than five wires or so, I’ll grab them. Otherwise, a gentle hand and the diamond-hole adjustable ones work fine.

        1. Likewise. A red Radio Shack Kronus pair… purchased about a decade ago and still stripping like a pro. When I bought them I figured they’d be a stopgap measure until I could justify buying a “real” pair. Turns out sometimes you find a winner, and that was one of them. I expect they’ll outlast me by a good margin.

      2. That is the perfect tool to open up a wire somewhere so you can turn another wire around it, solder it / tape it up, to make a solid connection. Much better and faster than having to cut the wire to solder the new wire on.

    2. I obtained a pair of this type [older model] about 30 years ago [they have adjustable pressure on the blades], and they are great also for stripping 2-4 conductors of ribbon cable at a time.

      1. I use Weidmuller mini stripax, which appears to be the same mechanism — maybe one bought the other since I purchased mine, or one white labels the other. Very good, works down to 30 ga. Kynar just fine, also does OK on Teflon insulated wire.

        I suppose the hot wire stripper wouldn’t do much with Teflon, eh?

    3. I was amazed when I discovered this kind of tool at my current job. I wouldn’t go back to anything else now. And certainly not that hot thing in the article. It forces you to twist the wire and on top of that you get molten plastic all over the place.

    4. I have a pair of these and I cant imagine working without them. Friend of mine brought them back from england for me (havent seen them in the states personally but I havent really looked either). If your working with one size wire these are flawless.
      Close over wire, set stop screw, set locking nut. Done. strip all day without nicking a single strand.
      Nice diamond shaped cutting surface cuts through most of the insulation on bite, quick twist and pull and your done. or leave it ready to pull off latter if your just prepping wire.

      Now if your working with various sized wire at one time, they arent going to be for you.

    5. I have some of those and love them for most wire usage.
      Mine also tend to tear stranded wire and they really really dislike some insulation types, house wiring with them is almost a no-go as they just slide around on the insulation and maybe stretch it a little.

    6. I like those but they always break. I’ve gone through quite a few of them at this point. Whenever I find them someplace, I usually buy three or four at a time. But they are cheap and break very easily.

  1. I’ve seen these before, and just couldn’t spend that much cash. I ended up with these:

    https://www.kleintools.com/catalog/adjustable-wire-stripperscutters/katapult-wire-strippercutter-8-22-awg

    Still pricey (around $30 retail), but do a great job on larger wires.

    I am also surprised at the lack of a homebrew version – I made a hot wire foam cutter a few years ago; it would be easy to adapt a design for those.

    Or how about this one – hammer a cheap soldering iron tip flat, then cut a v-groove into it.

    1. I bought a wood burner/hot knife that takes xacto blades… seems like an easy solution that leaves the original tool intact, just notch an xacto for wire cutting, put a normal xacto in for hot knifing.

    2. I bought that one. Found it terrible.
      Now I use that beauty:

      Not the same price tag (retail price around 80€) but German quality. Not the cheap made in US one.
      Definitely the best stripper I ever had :)

    3. Yeah, or a V blade strapped to a lighter….

      Wonder if you could ziptie two number 11 blades firmly enough to a lighter for that… maybe “used up” ones and break the tips off. Or tiny bolt through lighter windshield to hold them on.

    4. The Klein is the same design as the classic Ideal (which is still made) I have a couple of the Ideals, and have passed a number of them along to other people, and I don’t think I paid more than $5 for one used. A bit more than the Klein new, but I still use the one I got in the 1970’s, and it was old then. I keep different blades in them, as each set is only four or 5 wire sizes. Reliable and never a nick. If I was doing production work, especially with ribbon cable, I would go for a hot element stripper, but I don’t really have the need.

    5. I just made one. I had to crank up the heat. Works for larger wires; with more care forming the blades, you could use it for smaller ones, too:

      It would also be convenient to mount the iron in a fixed position to free up both hands to mange the wire. The tip is replaceable, so no permanent mods to the iron.

  2. After the hot (russian) tubes, the hot (wire) strippers, HaD has never been so hot with fantasies. Yet still no article about the real stuff like dilduino and OSSex library

    But still tons of gameware toys and mods, look-at-my-big-(printed/CNCed/smart) gun, sterile drones (unlike bees) and childish things like weaponry articles. You guys need to grow up and leave childhood at some point !

    1. That thermal wire strip setup looks like its designed to give people carpal tunnel and lung cancer.

      The mechanical ones are way faster and work well for a little while when new. I wish there was a machine to strip the wire and automatically crimp on ferrules in one go. What the heck, it mind as well label the wire at the same time.

  3. Am I the only one, who did use a hi-power blue laser diode for this? I know, it’s dangerous but it worked really well on ribbon cables and other painful isolations. Would have been better with two opposite lasers, but 20 wires pre-stripped in two passes wasn’t that bad.

    1. One thing is that most wire insulation is PVC, and if you vaporize it with a laser, (quite possibly this tool as well) it will release chlorine gas.

      Other insulation includes PTFE (Teflon), which releases a flourine gas.

      There are other nasty things, so be careful.

        1. It’s non-reactive within its operating temps, which is up to about 200C. After about 300C, it melts and then breaks down into fluorine gas among other things.

          Teflon brand pans even come with a disclaimer to that effect:
          “The recommended maximum use temperature for cookware with Teflon™ nonstick coating is 500°F (260°C).”
          Source: https://www.chemours.com/Teflon/en_US/products/safety/cookware_safety.html

          I work with this stuff in an application near its max temp, and I definitely have safety measures in place to avoid exposure to outgassing in the event of thermal runaway.

      1. Don’t keep a parakeet or any bird and forget a Teflon pan on the stove!
        At high temps the stuff created is on prime concern now because it has a huge greenhouse gas action and is indestructible at that.

  4. The thermal stripper doesn’t nick the wire, so they are use for stripping wires for military and aircraft use where the wires are expected to see a bit of vibrations. Wires weaken where there is a cut/nick.

    1. Yep, I had a HS electronics teacher who used to be a(Martin Aerospace?) Titan II ICBM soldering guy in the manufacturing process somewhere. He permitted us one nicked or cut wire, which according to him was one more than mil-spec.

      1. Though I contest that where the nick is on multicore is where the wire breaks. You tin the wire, get some meltback from the insulation and solder creeps 2 or 3 mm up from where you cut it. That’s where it breaks.

    1. I thought I was the only one, stripping wire with my teeth (thin wires, with soft insulation) works great for the past 30 years hope to do another 30. Some delicate wires are even easier to strip with my teeth then with some sort of stripping device.

      Funny how many people complain about the fumes of 3D printers and soldering irons, but thermal strippers seem to be no problem. Thermal strippers might be a great tool (for people working in a factory who strip wires 8 hours a day and have good fume extraction)… but for the amount of wires I will be stripping at home it makes no sense at all… no way I’m gonna buy such a device. I rather invest it my money in a good measurement tool.

    2. A few too many times with teeth has left me with various AWG notches in my front teeth. It’s useful since I can just locate the proper one, but…
      Frankly it’s not a thing I’d recommend even though i’ll turn around and do it, the end result is not too pleasant.

  5. Rotary stripping tools take the cake in my opinion. They take the insulation off while twisting strands together and only require 1 push/ 1 pull motion on the wire to get a 360 degree strip. (as opposed to push–step on pedal–rotate 180+ degrees–step off pedal–pull)

  6. Am i the only one, who just uses a pocket knife and/or swiss army knife and/or leatherman? I carry one (of each) with me most of the time. I just roll the wire between my thump and my knife. Yeah, it does cut the skin sometimes, who cares.
    I’d do it with a revolver, but i don’t have a permit for one and the permit wouldn’t give me permission to carry it with me anyway. That was a joke, if you didn’t get it.

    American wires have thicker insulation than european ones. I don’t like the american wires. It’s like cutting rubber.

    1. Have done that, and used victorinox scissors and the strippers on my multitool pliers, and nail clippers, side cutters, carpenters pincers, garden secateurs, my teeth and a steel rule against a desk…. but some days you quit MacGuyvering around and actually sit at your bench to do stuff and appreciate decent tools.

      1. Many times i don’t have the luxury of a bench, although when it comes to electronics i do that mostly at home, but just can’t be arsed to find/get the strippers.

        I bought a cheap stripper from USA once, but they don’t work on european wires, because of that thicker insulation.

  7. I have several old K Miller scissor type with the screw set, and one (General) with a stiff but movable stop. It will strip the tiniest stuff when needed and very close-up to things for repair of broken off short as hell battery wires in some tiny gadget. If the wire is expected for moving use, I will only thermal strip usually with the same tool used to solder it. I have plenty of ventilation, including always blowing at both stripping and soldering. In DC, PA, and audio, such wiring needs not a single wild strand or nick to be used for the show or flight. I will try an X of car lighter nichrome held in a pair of those “euro style” barrier strips with the hot side plastic trimmed back. For years I have seen adverts in zines, of a “V” wire make.
    What really needs to be hacked is a way of twisting multi-strand wire ends before tinning and connecting. All the way down in size to frog hair gage. The twisted wire is less prone to breakage in flex applications. This is for repair not just the white room ease of a spacious work bench and a reel of wire.

  8. I use this one for all sizes of wire except enameled wire:

    For flat/ribbon cables I use a cutting knife, cut across wires front and back, then cut the individual wire from each other. Use pliers or tweezers to pull off the insulation. It’s easy, fast and cheap, no nasty gasses, heat or power wastage. Also works on single wires but still prefer the tool above.

  9. If you have a lot of wires to strip, hot wire strippers are the way to go. Also, if you have to tin the ends, a tinning pot is the way to go. No question about it. We made custom cables for a while and when you are faced with stripping and tinning thousands of wires a week, they are sweet. However for day to day use, I have a very good feel with a pair of diagonal cutters, using the tighten a bit and pull method. If I have shielded cable or something with a tough jacket or teflon, I am quite good at the tighten, spin, than pull method. The thermal stripper just takes too long to find, and plug in, and takes up room on the bench.

    BTW, the single hardest thing we had to do in the cable business was bundling with tie wraps. Some of the cables were hundreds of feet long and required releasable tie wraps every 6″. It sounds easy, but man, getting that down was a pain.

  10. As an electrical fitter I’ve stripped far too many wires to count. All the above images of wire strippers are not as good as this style. Many brands YMMV but this design for sure. Not used heated strippers as process of stripping 1000 wires takes too long to do manually.

    1. We tried those, but they tend to slip on teflon wire and in general did not do as good a job as the thermal ones. Your mileage may vary, and a lot has to do with what you are doing and, the materials you are working with and the fit and finish the customer is paying for. On these everything had to be perfect.

    1. … “Also reseals antistatic bags, so you can sell defective items on eBay and blame the buyer when they don’t work! A convenient extra profit center for your small business… all this value for 72 easy payments of $29.99.!!!”

    1. This, wire strippers are neat and all, but all you really need is a blade and some experience, ive been stripping wires with the blade of a pair of scissors or sometimes just a plain hobby knife for years now, in the beginning i did screw up quite alot, nowadays i can strip very thin wires without losing a single of the (almost hair like) copper wires within, its just a matter of knowing how much force to put on your thumb that’s pushing the cable into the knife edge.

      Wire strippers on the other hand, i often end up using the wrong ‘hole’ and not cutting deep enough, or going to far and cutting the wire clean off.

  11. I am surprised nobody mentioned the old PACE PPS-101 desoldering unit with the AC Heat Pulse option. The TS-15 wire stripper looks just like the Teledyne shown here. Got mine on eBay 10 years ago very very cheap (not working, for parts), came with all the options/accessories and just needed a cleaning up of the diaphragm pump. Totally worth it, even if just for the thermal wire stripper. Might be worth a look as an alternative to a new unit.

  12. i just spin my $4 soldering iron around the wire and pinch off the wire insulation while it is still hot and soft. it’s not great for my tips, but nothing i do is great for my tips, that’s why i use $4 soldering irons. just get them all funky with burning plastic and then wipe them off with a piece of wood, or wet paper towel, or just a knife if it’s my funkiest cheap iron. my $100 soldering station and fancy soldering iron is in another state, but i used it just the same. Could also just build one with kanthal, which i’ve used for soldering in survival scenarios where your headphones need repair but your soldering iron is not nearby.

  13. I have used these before for coax where i worked … they are slow, would commonly melt the foam, stunk, guncked up after just a single day of stripping requiring pain in the ass cleaning, and if you were not careful the 2 ends would seal back up again … id just stick with my friction strippers or a jig if i absolutely had to

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