I don’t think I’m that great at suspense so I’ll just answer my title: you should be using all of them. I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of my favorite wire strippers that I use almost daily. Even though I’m talking about specific pairs, these form factors are available from many different manufacturers. Let’s work through them from left to right:
The left most pliers-style wire strippers are what most people think of. They have a series of notches each specifically sized to the wire you’re stripping. They also have a flat blade for cutting plus a grippy plier nose. The wire I work with is usually either 22AWG for signals or 18AWG for power delivery, sometimes even larger if I’m wiring AC power input. When I buy a wire stripper, I want it to span those two target numbers so I only need to carry one tool. Pictured is the Engineer PA-07 I recently purchased for Christmas that has a capacity of 12-24AWG. This is usually what I grab with I’m doing a quick fix that only requires a little work.
Next up is my pair of Klein Tools Katapult wire stippers. If you’ve never used these, it has an awesome double-action trigger style snap to it. The jaws have the same array of wire size notches in them but this time there’s a gripper that firmly holds the wire as it is being stripped. I’ve got a replacement set of jaws on mine for a range of 16-26AWG. Smaller wire can be hard not to mangle while stripping and this tool makes that a much easier process. I’ve also got an add-on depth stop so I can strip just the perfect amount for things like small crimp connectors. I use these mostly when working with smaller wires or when I need to accurately strip the same amount of insulation many times in a row. The Ideal Stripmaster is another brand in this style.
Our third pair is the Irwin Vise-Grip Self-Adjusting wire stripper. While it has a similar action to the previous pair, it doesn’t have unique slots for each wire size. Instead it has a cutting jaw that automatically adjusts to the wire size. This is my workhorse for taking the outer jacket off of multiconductor cables (e.g. 2 and 4 conductor speaker cable). It works well on most wire diameters 18AWG and larger.
Finally we have the most maligned tool in the group, the T-Rex… err automatic wire stripper and cutter. This is also a grip and cut style tool but the flat blade makes it ideal for stripping the 3 and 4 conductor wire you often find when working with LEDs. Stripping all the wires in the ribbon cable at the same time is a huge time save. The downside is that it’s a gamble whether it will work the way you want. There’s an adjustment knob but who knows how to dial that in. Many off-brands sell this style of stripper but I don’t know who makes the original good version that they’re all cloning (surely that exists). Eliot from the FUTURE: I found it! Or at least one of the best in class. The Weidmüller Stripax is a best in class tool for stripping 28-10AWG wire. It’s price $80-$100 but is a worthwhile investment if you’re doing any sort of repetitive assembly. I just completed a massive project and didn’t use a single other stripper. Okay, back to the past: The other bonus this has is the easy to access front mounted cutter. The other three pairs above all have cutters but they’re either located deep in the jaw or handles making them slow to use. I usually use a pair of dikes with the other strippers but this tool is fast enough to just use the built in cutter.
These certainly aren’t all the possible wire strippers but they’re the ones I have the most experience with and grab when doing a job. There are other designs out there: I don’t do coax work so I don’t have any of their specialized cutters. I do hang on to these mini strippers that come with ethernet kits since they can do good work with a little finesse. I don’t own this Jonard ST-550 Adjustable Precision Wire Stripper but it looks like a good design and probably fits between the pliers and the Katapult on my list as far as function.
I hope you found this post helpful and maybe one of these tools is better suited for the type of work you’re doing than what you already have.