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Reclaiming copper wire

Greetings all,

I’m just learning a bit about making jewelery so I’m starting off
working with copper. I’ve been trying to use old insulated copper
wire to recycle it. So far, every time I try to get the insulation
off I wind up with nicks and scrapes on the wire. I had thought about
burning the insulation off but I’m concerned about oxidizing the life
out of it. I’m trying to use wire sizes ranging from 10 ga. to 30 ga.
I also wonder about how to go about cleaning the wire up if I do burn
it. Is there any kind of pickeling process I should know about for
copper? As I said, I’m pretty much a complete newbie here, but I
also believe that the dumbest questions are the ones that nobody
asks. So…any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


I have a suggestion: instead of using insulation wire which is
covered with tough plastic: go to a scrap metal place (I’m sure
there is one near you) and look in their bins of scrap wire from
industry. You will find tons of fabulous multi-braided chunks of
wire that will keep you busy into the next decade. And you won’t
have to bother with insulated wire. The stuff costs a buck for about
2 pounds. You won’t believe it. What a treasure trove scrap metal
yards are. Just watch out for sharp bits.

So far, every time I try to get the insulation off I wind up with
nicks and scrapes on the wire. I had thought about burning the
insulation off

What are you using to strip the wire? Annealed copper is soft and
will nick easily. You can file out the nicks and sandpaper using wet
dry sandpapers from auto supplies. They now carry very fine papers
that will give a satin finish. What do you plan on making with the
wire? You only need to pickle if you have used flux. What sort of
torch are you using and what kind of solder? You’re not trying to
use a soldering iron and low temperature solder are you? Have you
checked your library for books on metalsmithing, coppersmithing, and
jewelry making. Copper is good for beginners projects because it is
cheap and if they can solder it, silver and gold should be no

Marilyn Smith

Hi Mike,

Burning the insulation off sounds like a dangerous fumes proposition
and will not only discolor your wire, but anneal it (soften) it as
well. When you heat copper it will go through color changes that can
be removed by pickling it in a mild citric acid solution. You can do
an archive search for citric acid and other pickling solutions.

To avoid the smell, the mess and the clean-up you can try stripping
the casing off with a very sharp x-acto knife (or similar).
Straighten out the wire as best you can so there aren’t lots of hills
and valleys. Hold the knife flat against a solid surface, like the
back of an old wooden chair or an anvil, so the blade is horizontal
with the surface. Slip the cased wire under the blade, make a cut
into the casing and then pull the wire while stripping the case off.
Patience is the key and you’ll have an occasional knick or scrape.

I wouldn’t bother with any copper wire 19g or higher. This wire can
be purchased so inexpensively at any hardware store it’s not worth
the time. Remember, time is money!

I hope this helps,
Best of luck!


Go to the hardware store and get some wire strippers. The ones that
I have strip from 10 to 22 gauge, they may have finer ones though
for electronics.


*If you tie one end of the wire to a fixed object, then use a knife
that is not to sharp, slide the knife along the wire and it will
peel the insulation off without nicking the wire. I usually do about
15 to 20 feet at a time.

You folks are great! Thanks so much for your responses. For the most
part I try to use wire that I’m recycling from a variety of sources.
I use old wire that was originally utilised as home wiring. Lots of
people in this desert just dump the stuff in the out-of-the-way
places I do my boonie-stomping in. It’s very wasteful on their part
but I view it as free materials. I clean up the environment and can
turn a greater profit with the stuff making fashion items than I can
selling it as scrap copper. I also find quite a bit of the stuff at
these illegal dump sites that comes from old household appliances
like washers, dryers, refridgerators, microwaves, etc…It sickens
me to see the lack of care folks have for the environment but
someone’s trash has become my treasure.

To answer some questions: I have tried using pocketknives, wire
strippers, simply pulling and the like to remove the insulation. I
also burned some at one time and got mostly carbon coated, highly
oxidized, very soft wire that didn’t clean well, hence the questions
about a pickle. I have never tried citric acid but white vinegar was
a blowout. Perhaps I had an incorrect view of chemical cleaning.
Pool pH adjusters are on the horizon. So far the wire strippers have
been the most successful method but I will try the exacto knife
trick. I have used wet/dry papers up to 2000 grit with a great deal
of success, as well as red rouge, white diamond, even simple baking
soda to achieve a variety of surface textures and polishes. I also
use a tumbler and media made of treated corncob ( The kind used by
ammuniton reloaders for polishing cartridge cases).

When soldering I originally tried common rosin core lead/tin soft
solders but found them completely undesirable. I don’t want lead to
be in the picture at all, it’s simply too nasty. I was recently
given some low temp silver solders that I haven’t yet tried, and I
also bought some 65% silver solder. I intend to try boric acid
dissolved on alcohol as a flux. I have used simple propane torches
in the past and I own an oxy/acetelyne torch as well. Temperature
control is a big issue with that one. I’m hoping to get a prestolite
rig soon. I work with copper sheet, wire, tubing and pipe. I’m
currently experimenting with ferric chloride etching techniques. I
want to produce the standard items; earrings, pins, bracelets, rings
etc. I also hope to use mixed media and so forth. You know jewelery,
the sky’s the limit. I have several books on metalsmithing and
jewelery making that I spend a lot of time in, but I also like this
forum because you folks have the voice of experience that frequently
doesn’t get presented well in print.

Here, I can ask specific questions and get specific answers. Thank
you again for your replies and I look forward to more interaction
with you all.


Hi Mike, Depending on the gauge & length of the wire, you should be
able to ‘strip’ it without marking the copper. If this is electrical
wire commonly used in residential buildings, it’s probably 14, 12 or
10 ga.

How long a piece you are able to strip depends somewhat on your
strength. I’ve been able to strip 6 foot lengths, but have seen some
folks able to do over 10 ft.

It helps to have tool called a wire stripper, terminal crimper or
wire cutter (depending on who you’re talking to). The tool usually
has a several sections that are used for specific purposes. The wire
stripper section will have a number of holes, usually from 10 ga to
20 ga. The idea is to clamp the wire in the hole designated for that
size wire. The tool will cut through the insulation & stop short of
the wire. Then, while holding the tool closed, pull the tool & the
insulation. the insulation will slide off the wire.

Here’s how I do it.

  1. Cut a length of wire to be stripped from the wire supply.

  2. Strip about 1" of insulation from 1 end of the wire.

  3. Clamp the stripped end in a vise.

  4. Place the appropriate gauge hole in the wire stripper around the

  5. Grip the wire stripper securely & pull perpendicular to the vise.
    The insulation will slide off the wire.

When you examine the holes in the wire stripper, you’ll notice one
side is flush with the surface of the stripper & one side is
indented. When stripping wire, the flush side should always be
against the insulation being stripped.

Until you’ve found the length of wire you’re able to strip, It might
be best to start with a piece about 2 ft. long. Increase the length
in 1 ft. increments until you’ve found the maximum you’re
comfortable with.

Wire strippers are usually available at hardware stores, home
centers, & electrical suppliers.


Hello Orchidians, Dave gave a great description on stripping
electrical wire to get copper wire.

If you need longer lengths of wire than you are able to strip, try
cutting through the insulation (as Dave described) at intervals
along the wire. It’s easier to pull off a foot of insulation at a
time as friction is decreased on a shorter length. Total length of
recovered copper wire can be about as long as your space and
patience .

Judy in Kansas, where the forsythia and daffodils are blooming.
Time to start planting!

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
B.A.E. 237 Seaton Hall
Kansas State University
Manhatttan KS 66506
(785) 532-2936 FAX (785) 532-6944