Ask Hackaday: Stripping Wires With Lasers

Most of us strip the insulation off wires using some form of metal blade or blades. You can get many tools that do that, but you can also get by with skillfully using a pair of cutters, a razor blade or — in a pinch — a steak knife. However, modern assembly lines have another option: laser stripping. Now that many people have reasonable laser cutters, we wonder if anyone is using laser strippers either from the surplus market or of the do-it-yourself variety?

We are always surprised that thermal strippers are so uncommon since they are decidedly low-tech. Two hot blades and a spring make up the heart of them. Sure, they are usually expensive new, but you can usually pick them up used for a song. The technology for lasers doesn’t seem very difficult, although using the blue lasers most people use in cutters may not be optimal for the purpose. This commercial product, for example, uses infrared, but if you have a CO2 laser, that might be a possibility.

The technique has found use in large-scale production for a while. Of course, if you don’t care about potential mechanical damage, you can get automated stripping equipment with a big motor for a few hundred bucks.

We did find an old video about using a CO2 laser to strip ribbon cable, but nothing lately. Of course, zapping insulation creates fumes, but so does lasering everything, so we don’t think that’s what’s stopping people from this approach.

22 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: Stripping Wires With Lasers

        1. With the commercial product the original poster has linked (via Laser Wire Solutions) a fume extractor is provided with each machine so it’s safe for widespread use – especially in factories – regardless of the material of the insulation.

      1. Chlorinated hydrocarbons from the decomposition of pvc are toxic. Add oxygen and copper as a catalyst to the reaction mixture and the toxicity goes way up. There are at least several papers on the subject. There are also keywords I am not writing here.

        For the same reason you don’t incinerate PVC, absolutely not a good idea.

  1. I would be careful laser stripping because the materials most used for insulation create rather unfriendly fumes. PVC, PTFE, Kynar, etc, create fumes that need special handling, both for health (The chlorinated and fluoridated burn products, in particular) and the machine (HCl, HF)

    I should guess that an industrial setup is designed to properly handle these fumes, given that stripping wire is an application where positional control of the work and airflow can be much better than a general purpose laser cutter

  2. What are the advantages compared to a mechanical stripper that centers the wire and cuts down to a controlled diameter? My “overkill” device would have three jaws and blades, sense the wire to control the depth of the cut, and twist a little.

    1. I would guess the same as thermal (no nicks, no ring of uncut material left making it more difficult to remove the waste, breaking, or at least loosening, the weak bond between the insulation and the wire surface), as well as being non-contact, fewer wear parts, and needing fewer moving parts in a fully automatic operation. It may be faster, as well

    2. There aren´t, unless you plan to cut insulation on many many wires, in which case a specialized machine would be more effective and cheaper in the long run than wasting a laser cutter.
      Also with the laser cutter solution, one must still do the stripping part.

  3. Always with ventilation I just melt with a gun warm enough go around and use nature’s given wire stripper, fingernails. The next step is soldering anyway. Specifically solid wire of small gage but house wire too. That Knyar wirewrap gives to a thumbnail without tools.

    I’ll get into a knife “fight” if I ever see one out of a pocket whilst wiring is being done. A small single notch pair of strippers with a sliding stop is great to have. Set it up with a stripped sample and adjust for no bite first and the rest is easy. Jeers to those big crimp-stripper things with all the separate notches inside the handle.

    Mid wire stripping is easy either way with both hand’s fingernails. I’ve done a few ribbon cables with a quick pass both sides with a pointy iron, again fingernails work. Don’t let it cool, it won’t burn you.

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