SPOILER ALERT – there’s no right answer! Your decision on which wire or cable is right for your needs, as is often the case, depends entirely on what, where, when and how you’ll be using it.
Continuing our 2018 educational series, we turn our attention this time to the great debate (that no-one’s having), stranded or solid wire – which is right for you?
As usual, if you have a burning wire and cable question, there’s a strong chance you’re not the only one. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you an instant answer and add it to our education roster.
What’s the difference?
A very simple question with a very simple answer. Broadly speaking, copper wire and cable falls into two categories – stranded core and solid core.
In a stranded core, lots of small gauge copper strands are bundled tightly together, sometimes twisted to form a tight weave, and surrounded by non-conductive material for insulation.
A solid core, in contrast, contains just a single, thick strand of copper wire.
What is each used for?
As you might expect, both types of wire conduct and transmit electricity perfectly well. However, each is better suited to different types of uses, within commercial, residential and industrial applications, and both have quite distinct characteristics.
The construction of stranded wire makes it more malleable and flexible than solid core. The thin strands can be manipulated into any shape allowing them to git into tight spaces and are resistant to constant movement and twisting. This more delicate nature is perfect for intricate jobs like consumer electronics or the automotive industry, where frequent bending or shaping to connect electronic components is needed.
Conversely, it stands to reason that a thick, solid core wire should have the opposite effect – it’s tough, durable and ready for anything, but less able to bend to your will and fit into cramped spaces. For outdoor applications, or where temperature extremes exist – the rugged nature of solid core wire will stand the test of time and is more resistant to corrosion over time.
Which is right for my project?
To commit a recommendation to written word here would be crazy, and despite my penchant for pushing the boundaries, I’m not going to do it. The best wire and cable for your needs will depend on a myriad of factors – temperature, internal/external conditions, load and application requirements.
Solid core wire is simple and easier to construct than stranded wire. Broadly speaking, this makes it cheaper to purchase than stranded wire, and carries longevity advantages, provided you’re not intending to twist and bend it into shape or expose it to repetitive movement. Now that would be crazy!
Stranded cables are easier to route and can withstand vibrations and flexing without fatiguing. As a result, you won’t have to replace stranded cables as often as solid core wire. However, the initial cost of stranded wire is higher due to the more complex manufacturing process. Remember, there’s no value in making a short term saving if the maintenance bill is going to be higher over the longer term.
As a general guide, and I must stress GENERAL, run your decision-making process through this test first:
– For wire flexibility – Go Stranded
– For outdoor use – Go Solid
– For optimal protection against corrosion – Go Solid
– For use in repetitive motion environments – Go Stranded
– For the cheapest* option – Go Solid
*always weigh up initial cost vs durability
Get it right first time
Before you make a wire choice, you should always consult a professional. It is vitality important for the success of your projects to get this right – as a wrong choice can lead to some very unhappy clients and managers. Our in-house team have more than three decades of experience in selecting the right wire and cable, and we understand that every project is different. So, if you’re in need of wire and cabling advice, just give us a call toll-free on (888) 792-9283.
Until next time, happy spec’ing.