Date Uploaded: December 15, 2004, 12:35 am
Last Edited: December 11, 2012, 1:09 am
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Recycling Old Wire
Article © MAIL User: Aderamelech
coated copper. A quick note before getting started: make sure you get permission before taking wire from landfills or construction sites. Even if it is clearly marked as waste, you may get in trouble if you try to just walk off with it. If you do not, you may be charged with theft, trespassing, or other violations. (Which I am certainly NOT condoning in any way in this article). It's not worth the risk doing something you for which don't have permission. If you can't or don't want to scrounge around someplace, ask people who work in contracting on electrical or plumbing jobs. They will often have excess wire left over from jobs.
So now that you have permission to be digging around, what is it you should keep an eye out for? Sometimes the wire is just wire, other times it is attached to or contained within old machinery and appliances. It's probably a good idea to bring a few tools (wire cutters, a screwdriver with multiple heads and maybe a hammer or crowbar) to help you more easily get what you're looking for.
Once you have returned with your new wire you will probably want to be getting the plastic coating off. Just what steps you take will depend on what sort of wire you have. Some is just contained in one sheath.
Other times there will be multiple coated wires inside of another piece of plastic.
In some cases you will find solid wire, and in others multiple smaller wires twisted together.
No special tools are required for getting the plastic off, though a pair of wire strippers will make things a lot easier.
Using work gloves is also advisable, as it is easy to give yourself burns or blisters from the friction of bare skin on wire. The first step is to get rid of any extra plastic that surrounds the several wires in the same sheath. Most of the time it will work to make a small cut in the plastic, enough so that you can grab one of the wires. Holding the bundle in one hand and one of the wires in the other, pull it away from the others. This will rip down the outer sheath making it easy to remove all the wire. In some cases, the wires within the sheath are twisted around each other, making this step more difficult. If you can, get a thin pair of cutters, even good scissors will do, and work one blade inside the sheath. Then cut down the length of it until you can pull the wires out and untwist them.
So now you have some single strands of coated wire. How you take that last layer off will depend on the size of the pieces you have and on the tools you are using. Smaller sized pieces can be done in your hands. If you have wire strippers, grasp the wire in which ever hole on the strippers corresponds to the gauge of the wire. (That's the gauge of the wire inside the plastic). Hold the strippers in one hand and the wire on one side of them in the other. Now pull your hands away from each other. This should slide the plastic off between the strippers and your hand. Continue this way until all the plastic is gone.
With longer pieces of wire you will need more leverage. Place one end on the ground and step down on it with one foot. The idea is to keep the wire still while you pull off the plastic. As before, grip the wire in the strippers at one point, and place your other hand further up on the wire. Now move both hands at the same time. This should lift off the section of plastic between the strippers and your hand. Now move the wire up, step on it again, and repeat. Don't try to take too much plastic at once, or it may bunch up and stick on the wire, making it more difficult to get off.
If you don't have the strippers the process is much the same, only broken down into more steps. This is also what you can do if the wire you are working with doesn't fit in the strippers. Take a knife and cut around the wire in a circle at the spot you would have been grasping with the strippers. Now place one hand near the cut, and one further up, and pull just as outlined above. It is harder to do this way, and more time consuming, but it will work. Of course all due precautions relating to knife safety should be used.
Occasionally you may find wire that does not have a plastic coating, but one of cardboard-type brown paper, or even a burlap-type cloth. These can usually be pulled off by hand without any tools. The wire stripper will not work as well with either of these, so a knife should be used if any tool is needed. Another unusual sort of wire you may find is that which is inside a flexible metal conduit. In these cases, if you can not just pull the wires from the tube, try cutting it off with your wire cutters. Alternately, you can try grabbing it in two places and twisting. This will sometimes cause the metal to split in the thinner, flexing areas. You can then just spiral the metal away from the wire.
And that's about all there is to it. In addition to copper, brass and aluminum electrical wire can be found. Taking the plastic off of these wires can be done in just the same way.
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