The most basic of the tools in a cabling installer`s kit, the cable stripper, can easily be taken for granted. Installers use so many other more-expensive, highly technical tools and testers in an installation that the cable stripper may not get a second thought.
But at least one experienced installer believes that a second thought and a second look are worthwhile. Larry Sellers, a fiber-optic and copper cable installer who also conducts training for 3M Telecom Systems Div. (Austin, TX), says, "Once you get past the cable strip, the rest of the termination job is pretty easy. But the stripping can be a hassle. I think there`s room for improvement in the way some strippers are made."
Sellers explains that many strippers can accommodate several kinds of cable, including coaxial, fiber-optic, and unshielded twisted-pair (utp). He adds, however, that some of the utp products designed for high data rates require proprietary strippers, provided by the cable manufacturer (see Product Update table, page 20). "Some of the higher-data-rate cables tend to be irregular in shape. The texture is more like that of a rope than of a water hose. Manufacturers of these irregularly shaped cables sometimes have to develop their own strippers because there are no suitable strippers on the market. That specialized part of it can be a pain, because if you don`t have the right stripper, you end up cutting the inner conductors."
Design affects performance
An outsider to the telecommunications industry might have trouble believing that the two styles of strippers--plier-type and rotational--actually perform the same function. One style resembles a pair of slip-joint pliers. The clamping mechanism at the top of the tool contains blades that put a 360o score in the cable sheath. Another style has no handles; the user places a cable inside the stripper and rotates the tool, scoring the sheath. Most of these rotational strippers have blades that can be turned 90o to allow for longitudinal cuts.
Sellers finds the plier-type easier to use. "With rotational strippers, you often have to move something on the tool--which is generally spring-loaded--and insert the cable into the tool somehow. It helps if you can see somebody do that once before you use it. Some rotational strippers have a place where you insert your finger, and the cable is loaded into a slot with a razor blade. Again, you probably need to see somebody do it before you try it on your own."
One concern with plier-style strippers is ergonomics. The size as well as the design of a tool can affect a user`s decision to choose one tool over another. "The stripper`s size is particularly important, especially when you`re mobile," says Rick Salvas, sales manager with The Ripley Co. "You don`t want to carry a big, cumbersome tool. Installers want the most field-friendly tool they can get."
Jerry Sgrignoli, product manager with Phoenix Contact, adds, "A product that places less stress on the hand and wrist is advantageous." To this end, manufacturers have focused on the handles of plier-style strippers, making them more comfortable to hold and mini-mizing the exertion necessary to strip a cable.
Some strippers have adjustable blades, others do not--and opinions are mixed on the merit of adjustable blades. "Users look for simplicity in a stripper," Salvas says. "Installers don`t want to take a lot of time adjusting a stripper because in this business, as in many others, time is money. A blade that doesn`t need to be adjusted is a time-saver."
Sgrignoli agrees. "With our stripper, the tool does all the work. There`s no need for a user to adjust a screw or turn a lever. That`s convenient."
However, Sellers remarks, "One fiber stripper I use has a set-screw adjustment, so when you squeeze, it only goes so far. That`s a good thing in the fiber world."
Different media, different methods
Although some tools can strip both copper and fiber cables, the installation practices for the two media differ greatly. "They are two different worlds," says Tom Reinert, national sales manager for Clauss, a manufacturer of fiber-optic equipment, including strippers. He says that stripping methods are just the beginning of the differences. "Working with fiber is much more precise than working with copper. Unfortunately, many installers who have worked with copper for years and have just begun working with fiber think they can treat fiber the same way they do copper. They can`t.
"When you`re installing copper, it`s all right to leave scraps lying around indiscriminately. But you simply can`t do that with fiber. I think much of the industry could benefit from being educated on the proper and safe use of fiber," he continues. "I have even been to trade shows where manufacturers of different fiber components have demonstrated fiber termination at their booths, without carefully disposing of the fiber scraps."
Prudence should prevail
Reinert commends fiber-optic training companies that stress safety in their programs. His company has released two videos--one on fiber-optic safety, and one focusing on the tools involved in the termination process. "The whole industry should be educated, because it`s a very serious topic," he says.
Sellers also has harrowing stories to tell about some of his peers` practices. "I have seen people without the correct equipment using inappropriate tools to strip cable," he says. "They use sheath knives, razor blades, utility knives, and pocket knives.
"When you do that, there are two dangers. You can easily go too deep into the cable and cut something you`re not supposed to. And more importantly, fingers and thumbs get cut. So I cringe every time I see somebody pull out a rusty pocket knife on an installation job."
Practices like these are evidence that the cable stripper`s significance is ignored too frequently. However, you can bet that many installers have, with bandaged hands, picked up their first cable-stripping tools. Reinert, Sellers, and others hope that installers will take a different approach to learning the dos and don`ts of cable stripping in the future.
For a list of manufacturers and their products, see Product Update table.
For More Information...
"Use caution when working with fiber," September 1997
"Prepare fiber-optic premises distribution cable for termination," July 1996
"Work safely when terminating fiber-optic cable," June 1996
"Hazards of lead-sheath cables," June 1996
"Remove outer-jacket coatings in cold environments," May 1996
The Siemon Co.`s CPT-RGTP cable-stripping tool can prepare both coaxial and UTP cable for termination.