How to Strip Speaker Wire (7-Step Guide)

Today, we’re diving into a crucial skill often overlooked but super important in audio setups – stripping speaker wire.

Let’s break down the speaker wire stripping process into some easy-to-follow steps.

  • Step 1: Determine whether you’re working with clear-coated exposed wire or UL-listed jacketed cable, as this dictates your approach.
  • Step 2: For clear-coated wires, gently separate them by hand or use a wire stripper or scissors for a small incision at the start.
  • Step 3: When handling jacketed cables, score the insulation gently without cutting through, then pull off the insulation smoothly.
  • Step 4: With clear-coated wires, use a wire stripper to remove the insulation, ensuring you only cut through the plastic, not the wire.
  • Step 5: Look for the lettering or a line to identify clear-coated wires’ positive and negative sides.
  • Step 6: Ensure a clean, neat wire post-stripping, free from loose strands, and twist the wire slightly for tidiness.
  • Step 7: Connect the stripped wire to your speakers or amplifiers, ensuring the connection is secure and no bare wire is exposed.

I’ll walk you through each process step in this guide, from identifying your wire type to making that perfect, clean strip. So, grab your wire strippers, and let’s get started on this journey to crisp, clear audio!

Stripping Speaker Wires: A Step-by-Step Guide

I will walk you through stripping speaker wires, an essential skill for anyone looking to get the best out of their audio setup.

Whether you’re a seasoned DIYer or just starting, these steps will help you strip those wires like a pro. So, let’s get started!

Step 1: Identify Your Wire Type

First, identify the type of speaker wire you’re working with. We have two main types: the clear-coated exposed wire and the UL-listed jacketed cable.

A pair of scissors and a piece of wire on a table
Video | Z Reviews

Knowing your wire type is crucial because it determines how you’ll approach the stripping process.

Step 2: Separating the Wires

For clear-coated wires, begin by gently separating them. You can do this by hand, but if it’s tough, take a wire stripper or scissors and make a small incision at the starting point.

man separating two wire
Video | Z Reviews

Then, gently pull the wires apart. Be careful not to damage the wire strands.

A person is holding and stripping a piece of wire on a table to remove its insulation layer
Video | Z Reviews

Step 3: Stripping the Jacketed Cable

For jacketed cables, you want to be a bit more careful. The goal is to score the insulation without cutting through it completely.

man holding black and red separated wire
Video | Z Reviews

Apply light pressure with your tool, make a small indent, and then grab and pull the insulation off. It should come off smoothly if done right.

a person is stripping speaker wire using a tool
Video | Z Reviews

Step 4: Stripping the Clear-Coated Wire

Now, back to our clear-coated wire. Once you’ve separated the wires, use your wire stripper to remove the plastic insulation.

A person is stripping speaker wire
Video | Z Reviews

If you don’t have a wire stripper, scissors or small dikes can work in a pinch. The key is to cut through the plastic without damaging the wire inside.

A person is holding a pair of scissors while demonstrating how to strip speaker wire
Video | Z Reviews

Step 5: Determining Positive and Negative

One tricky part with clear coated wires is identifying the positive and negative sides.

A person is learning how to strip speaker wire and expertly placing them into a black box
Video | Z Reviews

Look for lettering or a line indicating which side is which. On some cables, like the Horizon 14 gauge, the lettering is only on one side, which can help you identify the positive wire.

Step 6: Clean and Neat Stripping

After stripping, you should have a clean, neat wire ready for connection.

A person is holding two wires together on a table while demonstrating how to strip speaker wire
Video | Z Reviews

Ensure no small strands are loose or sticking out, which can cause short circuits. A good twist after stripping can help keep everything tidy.

Step 7: Connecting to Speakers or Amplifiers

Finally, you can connect the wire to your speakers or amplifiers.

A person is putting a speaker wire into a black box and learning how to strip it
Video | Z Reviews

Whether you’re dealing with spring clips, binding posts, or any other type of connector, ensure the connection is secure and that no bare wire is exposed.

Remember, patience and practice make perfect, so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t go perfectly the first time. Happy DIY-ing!

Variations in Stripping Different Types of Speaker Wires

Let’s talk about the different kids on the block – the various types of speaker wires! Like in any good project, knowing what you’re dealing with makes all the difference.

Here’s a handy table I’ve put together based on my hands-on experiences with different wire types and gauges. It’ll give you a quick reference on how to approach each one:

Wire Type/GaugeDescriptionStripping Tips
12 AWG (Thicker Gauge)Common in higher-end speakers for better sound quality.These are thick and can be tough to bend. Use a high-quality wire stripper with a wider gauge setting. Be firm but gentle to avoid damaging the wire.
14-16 AWG (Mid-Range Gauge)Most common for home theater systems.These are easier to handle. Standard wire strippers work great. Ensure you’ve chosen the right gauge setting to avoid nicking the wire.
18 AWG (Thinner Gauge)Found in basic speaker setups.These wires are more delicate. Use a precision wire stripper and go slow. Too much pressure can break these thinner wires.
Stranded WiresIt is made of several small strands. Flexible and easy to use.Carefully align the wire in the stripper to avoid cutting through the strands. A light touch is key here.
Solid WiresConsists of a single solid wire. Less common in speaker setups.Solid wires can be a bit stiffer. Ensure the wire is straight, and use a steady hand to get a clean strip.
Oxygen-Free Copper WiresIt is known for better conductivity and less oxidation.These can be a bit more expensive, so you want to be extra careful. The process is similar to standard copper wires, but be mindful not to waste any material.

Remember, the right tool makes all the difference. And always ensure you’re stripping the right amount. Too much-exposed wire can lead to shorts, and too little won’t make a good connection. Happy stripping!

Troubleshooting Common Wire Stripping Issues

A person is holding a pair of pliers and cutting wires, demonstrating how to strip speaker wire

If you’ve ever found yourself fumbling with speaker wires, trying to get that perfect strip without damaging the core, you know it’s not always as straightforward as it seems.

But don’t worry, I’ve been there and got your back. I’ll share some of my experiences and the practical solutions I’ve discovered.

Dealing with Brittle Wires

Let’s talk about brittle wires. They can be a real headache. I’ve faced this issue more times than I’d like to admit. The key here is to be gentle.

If you’re dealing with older wires that feel brittle, the last thing you want is to break them. I’ve found that warming the wire slightly with a heat gun (on a low setting!) can make them a tad more pliable. But remember, go easy with the heat to avoid damaging the wire.

Tackling Uneven Stripping

Now, uneven stripping – that’s another common issue. You’ve got your wire stripper set ready to go, and bam! You end up with an uneven strip. Frustrating.

Here’s a trick I’ve learned: always ensure that the wire is perfectly perpendicular to the stripper blades. A slight angle can lead to uneven stripping.

And if your first attempt doesn’t go as planned, don’t force it. Just readjust and try again. Patience is your best friend in these situations.

Avoiding Accidental Cuts

Accidentally cutting through a wire is something we’ve all done. It usually happens when you apply too much pressure on the wire stripper.

The trick is applying enough pressure to cut through the casing without touching the wire. It’s a bit of a feeling – you get better with practice.

If you’re starting out, practice on some spare wires. You’ll get the hang of it in no time!

Handling Hard-to-Strip Insulation

Some wires come with tough insulation; stripping them can be a workout! If you’re struggling with this, try using a wire stripper with adjustable tension.

This allows you to handle tougher casings more effectively. I’ve also used a small cut with a utility knife to gently score the insulation before stripping. But be super careful with this approach – you don’t want to nick the wire inside.

Remember, the key to successful wire stripping is patience and practice. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t go perfectly the first few times. And always prioritize safety – wear protective gear and ensure you’re working in a well-lit area. With these tips and some practice, you’ll be stripping wires like a pro in no time! Keep at it, and happy DIY-ing!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the Best Way to Handle Very Short Wires?
    • Working with short wires can be tricky. If you have enough length to grip, use your wire stripper as usual, but be extra cautious. If it’s too short to hold safely, try attaching a temporary extension (like a spare piece of wire) to give you something more to work with. Once stripped, remove the extension, and you’re good to go!
  • Is There a Risk of Damaging the Wire While Stripping?
    • Yes, there’s always a risk, especially if you apply too much pressure. The key is to use just enough force to cut through the insulation without nicking the copper wire inside. Practice makes perfect, so don’t get discouraged if it takes a few tries to get it right.
  • How Do I Avoid Short Circuits After Stripping Wires?
    • To prevent short circuits, ensure no stray strands are sticking out when making connections. A good twist of the stripped wire ends can help keep those stray strands in check. Also, double-check that no exposed wire is visible once connected to your equipment.
  • What’s the Ideal Length to Strip Off the Insulation?
    • The sweet spot is usually about 3/8 to 1/2 inch of insulation removed from the end of the wire. This length ensures a solid connection without leaving too much-exposed wire that could cause a short circuit.
  • What Should I Do with the Stripped-Off Insulation?
    • Don’t just toss it in the trash! Collect the insulation pieces and dispose of them responsibly. If they’re plastic, check if they can be recycled.
  • How Do I Identify Positive and Negative Wires If They Aren’t Marked?
    • Sometimes, it’s not obvious which wire is positive or negative, especially if they’re not color-coded. Look for subtle markings like text or ridges on one side of the wire. Keeping the orientation consistent at both ends is the safest bet if no markings exist.




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About Sam Orlovsky

AvatarCertifications: B.E.E.
Education: University Of Denver - Electric Engineering
Lives In: Denver Colorado

Electrical engineering is my passion, and I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. This gives me a unique ability to give you expert home improvement and DIY recommendations. I’m not only an electrician, but I also like machinery and anything to do with carpentry. One of my career paths started as a general handyman, so I also have a lot of experience with home improvement I love to share.

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