This has been bugging me for a long time. Take this video for example.

I have always thought that electricity will take the shortest path. When the electromagnet's windings are uninsulated, it seems that the electricity would flow straight through the "mass of metal" created by the wire, not in the circular path needed for the electromagnet to work. I have also seen solenoids that work like this. How does this design work?

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    \$\begingroup\$ They're actually insulated. Search web on "Magnet wire" and "transformer vernish coating" \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19, 2016 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Similar: electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/34743/… \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19, 2016 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ If the wire was not insulated, the whole thing would act as a continuous metallic cylinder (than helix) with zero turn number \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19, 2016 at 13:37

4 Answers 4


It is insulated. Have you ever noticed that sometimes solenoids are made from copper wire that seems distinctly non copper coloured?

Red solenoid

This is called enamelled copper wire, and it available in a whole range of colours.

enamelled copper wire

The insulation is just a very thin coating of polyurethane, polyamide or polyester. It shouldn't be confused with vitreous enamel, which is glass. The good thing about it is that you can easily remove the insulation by rubbing hot solder on the wire.

Tinning enamelled copper wire

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    \$\begingroup\$ Some enamels can be easily removed at molten-solder temperature. But some are more robust and mechanical removal is more effective. \$\endgroup\$
    – mlp
    Jun 18, 2012 at 1:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Coated in glass? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2012 at 3:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's certainly not glass - every example I have seen is a polymer layer (or several). \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2012 at 4:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ When I was a kid I used to recover copper wire from old transformers to make my first electrical circuits: battery-switch-lamp. I recall that that wire's insulation was extremely hard to remove. \$\endgroup\$
    – stevenvh
    Jun 19, 2012 at 12:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sean87 - How do you know they are non-isolated ? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2012 at 18:57

The wire is actually insulated. Most solenoids I've seen are wrapped with magnet wire or something similar. The wire is coated in a small amount of an insulating material. To create an electrical connection, you have to scrape off (or otherwise remove) this coating.


This insulation is thin and more windings are placed on the solenoid core than would fit with other insulations, it is also usually fairly indifferent to high temps. The goal is a high magnetic field in a small space. Often called magnet wire, transformer wire....


The thin insulation can also be verified by stripping it -- by using a small flame to burn it (I use a good-quality lighter, like BIC). Then, steel wool can be used to remove the remaining residue, making a very clean surface to accept your solder. This is in my experience the best way to remove the tough coating, especially for the thinnest magnet wire.

Just be careful to use the steel wool over a trash can, as the resulting dust creates much havoc with circuits and components like switches and potentiometers, and easily creates short-circuits with your circuit boards and fine-pitch chips.

Also be careful where the steel wool is kept, and don't let a 9-volt battery accidentally spark it off, which could cause a fire. I just keep it in a little container that has only that purpose (and is fastened in place).


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