Side Cutters for Electronics Work

Created on: 7 August 2012
Updated on: 11 February 2015, 2 February 2023

Miniature side cutters are an essential tool used in electronics work. Every beginner in electronics needs a suitable pair of side cutters, even if they are used just to remove resistors from their paper tape. Side cutters are used to cut wire and the leads (or legs) of components in electronics. They can also be used to strip the insulation from wire.

The video below shows small electronic side cutters being used to strip the insulation from the wires of a battery clip in order to plug it into a breadboard. Purpose made wire strippers are also available, but for those users on a tight budget, side cutters can be used for the job instead.

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Cutting Component Leads with Side Cutters

When cutting component leads and wire, be careful as the piece of off-cut lead or wire can shoot off rather fast and may injure you or someone else. Point the piece of lead being cut away from yourself and others.

To ensure that you do not get a piece of off-cut wire in your eye, wear safety glasses or goggles.

Stripping Insulation off Wire using Side Cutters

Practice First

When learning to strip insulation off wire using side cutters, you may want to practice on a piece of scrap wire first before attempting to strip the wire from a battery clip. If you make a few mistakes and accidentally clip the wire of your battery clip instead of removing the insulation, you will find your battery clip leads getting shorter and shorter.

Stripping the Insulation

To strip the wire, carefully nick the insulation with the side cutter jaws, but do not cut through to the wire inside the insulation. After turning the wire so that the insulation is partly cut all around the wire, close the jaws only partly on the cut and pull the insulation off. Be careful not to cut the wire inside at any stage.

Twisting Wire Ends

The video shows that the wire end can be twisted so that it fits into the breadboard. Be aware that touching the bare wire ends or component leads can put oils from the finger tips onto the wire which may cause some corrosion of the wire after some time.

Wire Stripping Tools

Tools for stripping insulation from wire can be bought, but learning to strip insulation from wire using side cutters is a good skill to learn.

The image below shows more expensive stainless steel flush cut pliers and cheaper side cutters – both are designed for electronics work.

Two pairs of side-cutters used in electronics work
Expensive Side Cutters (left) and Cheap Side Cutters (right)