Wire stripper tools, along with cutters and crimpers, are used quite often in alarm installation and other low-voltage wiring work.
Wire strippers are used to remove the outer jacket from multi-conductor cables, as well as to remove the insulation from individual wires. The blades of simple wire strippers are ground with various-sized grooves for stripping wires. Many also have flat-blade sections that double as wire cutters, and short, serrated tips that act as very fine gripping “pliers” tips.
Automatic wire strippers don’t use specifically sized grooves to strip wires; instead, they use finely-grooved or serrated jaws to grip the jacketing or insulation, and rely on leverage from the handles to generate enough tension to remove the jacket or insulation.
I’ve used some of these that work well, but none that seemed to work consistently on all kinds of wire. Also, automatic strippers don't usually work at all on multi-conductor cables. This means I need to have a simple wire stripper tool for removing cable jacket anyway.
In the end, I’ve found it easier and more natural to use a standard-type wire stripper and adjust my technique to suit the wire at hand.
Wire stripper suppliers design tools with a range of wire gauges that can be stripped. I’ve used various models of the Ideal brand “T-Stripper” cable stripping tool for years. The Ideal wire stripper was inexpensive, and was capable of cutting, stripping, and bending most low-voltage wiring.
For alarm work, a non-automatic, general wire stripper tool that can handle gauges from 18 AWG to 26 AWG is the most useful.
The grooves for 18 AWG and 16 AWG wires work very well for scoring the outer jacketing of most 22/4 and 22/2 cables, respectively. The 22 AWG grooves can then be used to remove the insulation from the individual wires.
I recommend getting a wire stripper tool that includes 24 and/or 26 AWG size because copper telephone wiring is so often involved in alarm work, and it’s handy to be able to strip the conductors bare for testing, splicing, or making connections to screw terminals.
Some other wire stripper tool features that aren’t absolutely necessary, but are handy to have, include:
As simple as these tools are, good technique plays a big part. You don’t have to squeeze the handles with full force to cut through wire insulation or cable jacketing material. Too much force will sometimes nick the copper conductor, causing it to fail and break off when making the final connection.
Most often, a lighter touch, along with slightly rotating the handles around the wire, will be enough to score the insulation. This will allow a gentle pull with the fingers or the pliers tip to remove the cut-off material.
As mentioned above, most wire strippers also include a wire cutter function. However, wire stripper cutter blades tend to be thin, like knife blades, and are only designed to cut soft copper wire.
If you work with steel fish tapes or other heavy-gauge metal parts, I recommend saving your wire stripper and cutter blades. Instead, add a pair of linesman’s pliers and/or diagonal cutters to your tool kit for heavy-duty wire cutting chores.
Also note that some RG-6 and other coaxial cables have a center conductor made of copper-clad steel. Most wire stripper tools with cutting blades will cut this type of RG-6, but the steel will dull the blades quickly. If you can, use diagonal cutters instead of your wire stripping tool to cut these cables.
A terminal crimping tool is not only good for securing ring, spade, and other terminals to wires. It is also great for crimping (and uncrimping) the “B” or “beanie” connectors used almost everywhere in alarm installation.
As a bonus, most crimping tool manufacturers also include a narrow nipper-type cutting section at the nose of their crimping tools. If the nipper is made well, it also happens to be perfect for cutting off the tag ends when installing nylon tie straps.
The nipper is also good for cutting a cable tie off of a bundle of wires without damaging the wire conductors or jacketing. If your crimping tool cuts tie straps cleanly, hang on to it. Not all crimper/cutters will do this job very well.
The jaws of most wire crimping tools are usually machined with several different profiles, so they can crimp a terminal in various ways.
As an alarm installation and service tool, I’ve found the most useful notches to be the shallow ridged area, in the middle of the jaws, and the “U”-shaped notches.
The shallow ridged profile is best for crimping and uncrimping standard B-connectors, because it doesn't put a deep groove in the connector. By avoiding the deep groove, the connector can be uncrimped pretty easily.
The U-notches with opposing teeth is best for actual crimp terminals and for the cap-style crimps. These fittings are made of heavier-gauge metal than the softer B-connectors, and need the extra “bite” of the U-shape to grip the wires securely.