Big projects are made up of small processes. Until you master those small processes, the big projects can seem like an unreachable dream. Hopefully this instructable will help those of you who are beginning your paths to big things!
When wiring up projects at TechShop, I find myself using wires that are much to small for my wire stripping tool. Through trial and error and many damaged wires, I think I've come up with a great method for removing the shielding without damaging those delicate metal strands inside.
Step 1: Nick the Shielding
The trickiest part is to nick the shielding deeply enough that you significantly weaken it, but not so deeply that you cut the wires inside. I've found that the best combination is a sharp knife, very little pressure, and a very slow slice perpendicular to the wire. I usually support the wire on the pad of my left index finger as I cut, which provides more textile feedback when I break through the shielding and touch a wire inside. If you feel the telltale grind of metal on metal, stop immediately. The higher your ratio of slicing motion to downward cutting, the less damage you'll do. Don't just push down with the blade to cut!
Some shielding will yield in the next step without having to cut all the way to the core, which is better for the conductive wires, but some stubborn shielding won't give unless you cut all the way through in at least one spot. Whenever possible, I try to stop before I break all the way through the shielding to avoid nicking the wires inside.
After nicking the shield, if you bend the wire away from the nick you can get a better idea of how much of the shielding you've cut, and it opens up a bigger gap for you to grab in the next step.
Normally two nicks in the shielding on opposite sides of the wire is sufficient.
Step 2: Grip the Notches in the Shielding
Grab the wire by putting your thumbnail and middle finger nail into the notches and the tip of the wire pointing towards your palm.
Having short nails helps a lot here as you can really get some good leverage when you start to pull. Longer nails tend to bend, and if they bend at the nail bed, it's not a pain-free experience. Short nails, people.
Step 3: Pull the Shielding Off
Angle your hand so your thumb is pointing more towards the tip of the wire. Your middle finger's nail will mostly just be used to hold the wire against the thumbnail. Pull the standing end of the wire away from your thumb at the lowest angle possible. That will give your thumbnail a lot of support as it pushes the shielding towards the end of the wire.
If the shielding is properly nicked, it will tear neatly between the two nicks and pop off the end of the wire without much trouble. If you are unable to pull the shielding off, go back to step 1 and either deepen existing nicks that have not yet made it to the metal core, or add additional nicks around the shielding.