How to Use Electrical Pliers and Strippers Properly

- Apr 06, 2017-

Doing electrical work for a profession, home maintenance, or even as a hobby requires that you have a few specific tools on hand. 

Among them are pliers and wire strippers. These simple hand tools may not look like much at first glance, but the benefits of having them as part of your toolbox are many. 

To begin with, both pliers and strippers come with wire cutters and possibly even crimpers, which can make any electrical job much easier and neater to perform.


When talking about electrical pliers and wire strippers, the choice of tools is a bit wider than might be thought. 

Since electrical wiring comes in a wide-range of sizes and construction materials, the size and design of wire strippers and electrical pliers must also be varied. 

Before beginning any electrical wiring project, be sure to have the correct size and type of electrical pliers and wire strippers on hand. 

Along with the proper safety equipment, nothing is more important to ensure the job is done right the first time.

Safety First

Before beginning any project that involves working with electrical wiring, especially if the system is already under a charge, 

It is critically important to take all safety precautions and use all safety equipment available to ensure a safe work environment. 

As part of your project preparation, include a six-point safety checklist.


Realistically look at the job that needs to be done and make a common sense judgment at to your abilities; if it is too much for you, consult a professional

Turn it Off:   

Before doing anything else, turn off the main power source to the structure or device you are working on

Double Check:   

Test the circuit or device with a multi-tester once more before beginning work

Use Protection:   

While working on electrical projects, wear eye protection and form-fitting, insulated or rubber gloves

Step Safely:   

If working in an area where water may be on the floor, basement, or hot water heater closet, be sure to wear rubber boots

Proper Tool Use:   

Use only the proper type of tools that the job calls for; skip the pocket knife and use wire strippers, for example

Ensuring that you are capable and outfitted to perform the steps required for the electrical project to be done will ensure you the best chances of success and a safely completed project. 

Be sure to follow the six simple rules for safe electric power projects and you will get a positive result.

Electrical Pliers

Pliers intended for use in electrical projects are easy to identify quickly as they will have rubber grips on the handles. 

In addition, packaging that comes with the pliers should identify if they are rated for electrical use or not. 

Never use nonrated pliers when working with electricity. 

Depending on the project, the type and size of electrical pliers used will differ. 

For heavy duty work, traditional lineman's pliers are called for, while more delicate work calls for miniature needle-nose pliers. 

Be sure to choose the right tool for the job.

Using all types of pliers is pretty similar across the board. 

Grip the pliers in one hand and manipulate them open (some types have a spring loaded automatic opening feature), 

And then grip the wire with the jaws of the pliers in whatever manner is needed to complete the intended task.

Be sure to keep your exposed skin well away from any part of the pliers that may be in contact with energized wire.

Needlenose Pliers

Needlenose pliers are one of the more variably designed types of pliers available. 

There are sets with very long jaws, some that are spring loaded to be self-opening, while others are designed with wire cutters or crimpers near the base of the jaws where the handles and blades hinge. 

Needlenose pliers are used by electricians to bend and cut electric wire and reach into recessed spaces to attach wires and even turn small nuts or bolts.

Not all needlenose pliers are intended to be used with electrical projects. 

Be sure to inspect the tool to ensure it meets the needed criteria to be used with electricity. 

Needlenose pliers intended to be used with electrical projects will have a UL approval mark on the tool and the handles will be covered with rubber grips that insulate the tool. 

Sometimes the UL listing will be different; ensure it is high enough to use for the project.

Lineman's Pliers

Lineman's pliers are heavy-duty hand tools designed and intended to cut, bend, and hold heavy electrical wire and cable. 

Forged from hardened steel, lineman's pliers are extremely durable and designed with crimping jaw tips, and a second set in the crux of the handle. 

Additionally, lineman's pliers have a set of cutting blades at the base of the jaws next to the hinge. 

The handles are covered with rubber grips that protect the user from shock, based on the UL rating.

These tools are used by professional electricians, along with cable and satellite installation professionals, mechanics, and military engineers, as well as civilian demolition experts. 

Lineman's pliers are intended to be long lasting and are manufactured by some of the biggest names in hand tools including Craftsman, Snap-On, and Wright. 

As well as being durable, lineman's pliers are normally modestly priced and in the right situation worth far more than any purchase price.


Wire Strippers

Wire strippers are tools designed to remove the plastic coating from around electrical wiring to expose the wire for attachment to electric devices, breaker boxes, and all other types of electrically charged devices. 

There are several different types of wire strippers, both manually and automatically operated, and depending on the job to be done will need to be paired properly.

Manual Wire Strippers

Basic manual wire strippers are a simple scissor-like device that uses an adjusting nut to set the depth of the bite of the strippers, 

so that it removes the casing from the wire, without cutting any of the wire's individual strands. 

Manual versions will have multiple pre-measured blades in a row with the smallest diameter at the tip of the strippers, and gradually getting larger as they move toward the handle.

Manual wire stripper will have rubber coated handles and each of the stripper teeth marked by size.

The way to use manual wire strippers is fairly easy. With the strippers firmly held in one hand, lay the coated wire in the stripper blade on the proper mark for the wire's size. 

Close the strippers on the wire and rotate the strippers around the wire, without twisting it. This will cut the casing without cutting the wires beneath. 

Be sure to slot the wires into the proper cutting tooth (they will be marked by size; match the wire size to the tooth size).

Automatic Wire Strippers

Automatic wire strippers are not powered devices as their name might imply. Instead, the automatic designation refers to the process with which the strippers strip the wires. 

The way the device operates, a wire is placed within the jaws of the strippers at the depth desired, 

and when the handles are squeezed together, the wire casing is gripped by one set of teeth and cut by blades that offer a 360-degree radius cut. 

As the handles continue to be squeezed together, the wire is gripped below the stripped portion and the top set of jaws moves away from the lower stationary jaws, pulling the casing off of the wire.

Automatic wire strippers can be as small as a pair of pliers and designed extremely similar for use in residential and industrial interior wiring, or large floor models for extremely large wire gauges. 

Depending on the job that needs to be done, the size and type of wire stripper will vary. 

Therefore, it is important to know what kind you will need before beginning the job with the wrong tools on hand.



Doing any kind of electrical work should be planned out completely before beginning, including having the right tools on hand to complete necessary tasks.

This means choosing the proper types of electrical pliers and wire strippers. 

If doing more delicate types of electrical wiring tasks, such as installing a car audio system or more construction type work like installing a home thermostat or electric outlet, needle-nose pliers might be best.

In turn, if doing more heavy duty jobs, such as tying an emergency generator into a home power system, lineman's pliers might be a better choice.

No matter the job, be sure to work safely and do not bite off more than you can chew. 

If the job is beyond your abilities, get help from professionals. 

If doing the work yourself, be sure to disconnect any electric power and test all existing wiring before contacting bare wires. 

With the right tools and following basic safety procedures, project success is right around the corner.

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