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How do you remove insulation from headphone wires (these tiny) to prepare it for soldering?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm guessing you mean insulation instead of isolation. \$\endgroup\$ – Kellenjb Dec 3 '10 at 14:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kellenjb Nice catch! In some languages isolation is the proper word and when you take it directly to English, you get false friend problem. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Dec 3 '10 at 15:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AndrejaKo yep. Insulation does provide isolation, so its not a horribly wrong word, but still technically means something else. \$\endgroup\$ – Kellenjb Dec 3 '10 at 15:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are two levels of insulation in most headphone cords, the outer plastic sheath and enamel/lacquer on the individual strands. The answers are referencing both, but I assume you mean the enamel. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Dec 3 '10 at 15:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Specifically, for stranded wire with insulation on the individual strands, the term is Litz wire (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Litz_wire) \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Dec 4 '10 at 9:33
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Usually, you can remove laquer by melting solder onto the wires

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    \$\begingroup\$ sandpaper works well too. \$\endgroup\$ – markrages Dec 3 '10 at 17:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sandpaper doesn't really work that well. :) \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Dec 3 '10 at 19:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @endolith. It works well, and doesn't foul the air and the iron tip like burning enamel. Fold a bit of sandpaper over the end of the wire, hold it together, then pull the wire out. It works better than you think it will. \$\endgroup\$ – markrages Dec 3 '10 at 23:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @markrages: I mean that I've done it and it doesn't work well. Holding your breath and melting the lacquer with the soldering iron works better. \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Dec 4 '10 at 0:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @markrages & @endolith - there are different types of lacquer. Some is solder-meltable, some is completely unperturbed by a soldering iron. Because something has worked on one product does not mean it will work on the other. Generally, you want to try a soldering iron, and fall back to sandpaper if you have to. \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Dec 4 '10 at 9:30
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I've used a microtorch to burn off the insulation with a lot of sucess - use the microtorch on the tip of the wire, and let a little more burn off on its own and you're good

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    \$\begingroup\$ Me too. Also a common cigarette lighter will do the job. \$\endgroup\$ – Axeman Dec 4 '10 at 17:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Axeman - yeah, only takes about a second \$\endgroup\$ – JustJeff Dec 7 '10 at 0:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I tried the burn method using a match flame, and pulling the wire between folded fine sandpaper afterwards. It worked great, and the solder took well! \$\endgroup\$ – user51450 Aug 17 '14 at 5:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ This was definitely what was needed especially with headphones that had lots of tiny cotton(?) fibers. Applying a lighter got those out of the way leaving only the tiny copper strands \$\endgroup\$ – Colin D Jan 10 '18 at 2:12
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On smaller, thin wires, simply applying heat from the iron will delaminate (ie, remove insulation from) the wire. I've done this (by accident - creates interesting situations in a wiring harness if you are lame like me and try to shrink heat-shrink tubing with an iron - don't do it!).

You might be able to use a chemical agent to strip the insulation too.

You could also try a razor blade, but you need ninja-class hand-steadying abilities.

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I just did some soldering with small wires and noticed that if you heat up the cable, insulation will shrink back from the heated part. I usually use sharp scissors to remove a bit of insulation at the start of the cable and then just start soldering on the small exposed part. If I'm quick enough, insulation will shrink just enough to not be a problem.

If you need to remove insulation from the middle of the cable, I have no idea how to help you.

EDIT: I just did some soldering to a middle of a cable and I've noticed that on thin audio cables it is possible to just solder directly over the insulation. It requires a bit more time and heat, but insulation will break and shrink from the heated area leaving a piece of copper conductor exposed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like you need a pair of wire strippers. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Dec 3 '10 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even a cheap pair of strippers works far better than a knife or scissors or teeth or whatever. \$\endgroup\$ – markrages Dec 3 '10 at 19:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nick T @markrages I agree that strippers would normally be a better choice then scissors but here strippers either have wire marking in AWG and we use surface area of the cross-section here or are those which need to be manually adjusted and I can never adjust that type well enough for thin wires. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Dec 3 '10 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have a pair of basic basic adjustable strippers (kinda like these) that I use for everything from about 16 AWG down to 30. They're always set on 30 (for stripping Kynar), and I have a pretty good feel of how far to slice into wire and yank so I just "score and rip" the insulation instead of nicking the wire. For mass stripping I have fixed-size tools. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Dec 3 '10 at 21:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @reemrevnivek There's actually a nice chart at Wikipedia, but the problem is that in my part of Europe, cross section area is in nice round metric sizes. For example we have 0.50 mm² instead of AWG 20 or 1.00 mm² instead of AWG 17, but sizes don't actually match and that can cause problems. A big problem is 0.75 mm² which is between AWG 18 and 19 and there's no close match for it. Another popular cable has area of 2.5 mm² but again it's a bit smaller than AWG 13. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Dec 6 '10 at 9:37
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My usual approach to removing insulation is to bend the cable to put the insulation under stress and then cut it carefully with a sharp knife until it comes apart. I don't know if this would work for these tiny cables, though.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It does, albeit not every time. Sometimes when I press on the knife too much, I end up cutting the copper as well, so I have to start over. \$\endgroup\$ – Dmitry Grigoryev Apr 15 '16 at 7:15
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Use a lighter to get it off. It works really well!

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protected by W5VO Apr 15 '16 at 15:41

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