Stranded vs. Solid Wire: Which is Best for You?

You have likely already heard or read references to stranded or solid cabling. If you need to decide to pick either one, there are multiple factors to consider,  including environment, standards, application, and price. Hence, we cover the key distinctions between stranded vs. solid wire to help you determine which is most suitable for you.

1. Solid vs Stranded Cable: The Basics

The terms solid and stranded refer to the construction of the conductors in the cable.

What is a Stranded Wire Cable? 

A stranded wire is composed of multiple small gauge wires twisted together (usually but not always in a helix) to form an organized bundle. 

There are different types of stranded wire construction.

  • Bunch stranding – The strands are twisted together in the same direction with no concern about their geometric arrangement.
  • Concentric stranding – A central core or wire is surrounded by one or more layers of helix-laid wires. Each new layer has six more strands than the preceding one. Also, each layer is in an opposite direction to the layer preceding unless it is compact concentric stranding.
  • Unilay stranding – Similar to concentric stranding except that the lay length in this case is the same for each layer.
  • Rope lay stranding – A concentrically stranded conductor where each component strand is itself stranded. The type of rope lay stranded conductor is described by stating the number of groups laid to form the rope as well as the number of individual strands in each group.

Stranded Wire Conductors are best for:

Stranded vs. Solid Wire1

You will typically deploy stranded wire conductors to situations where you must route the cable through tight spaces, significant flexing and vibration, and where intricacy is vital. They do not sever or split even when bent or twisted. 

Examples of situations where you could use stranded wire conductors include patch cables, appliance cables, headphone cables, speaker wire, circuit boards, robotic arms, and internal wiring of electronic devices. 

What is a Solid Wire Cable?

A solid wire consists of single solid metalcore. It is heavier, more rigid, and less flexible than stranded wire.

Solid Wire Conductors are best for:

Backbone cabling – This includes noisy CAT6 runs and straight-pinning for backbone runs. Backbone cabling here consists of transmission media, intermediate as well as main terminations, and cross-connects. 

Since they are a single wire, you can easily punch down-solid cable conductors onto patch panels and wall jacks. Other applications of solid wire include home electrical wiring and instances where you do not need to flex the wire constantly.

Solid wire is the best choice for intra-building and inter-building wire connections. It also works well for structured cabling between telecommunications closets, equipment rooms, and entrance facilities. 

Rugged-duty or outdoor applications – Solid wire is ideal where the cable is exposed to frequent movement, adverse weather conditions, and corrosive elements. 

Breadboard or protoboard wiring – Solid wire is preferred for breadboard or protoboard wiring. It is easier to push through the solid wire into the breadboard and through the holes of a printed circuit board. The wire is more resistant to abrasion and impact. Trying to do the same with a stranded wire can be difficult as the strands will tend to separate when you press them in. 

Summary table of the most suitable application for solid and stranded wires.

ApplicationSolid WireStranded Wire
Is wire flexibility important?X
Does the wire need to withstand corrosion?X
Will the wire be outdoors?X
Will the wire be subject to repetitive motion?X
Do you need to minimize the proximity effect?X
Do you want the lowest cost option?X

2. Stranded vs. Solid Wires: The Key Differences

Stranded vs. solid wires have several key differences.

Wire current capacity

Solid cables offer superior and more stable electrical properties over a wider range of frequencies than stranded wire. 

Thinner (that is, higher gauge) conductors have more insertion loss than thicker conductors. So stranded cables experience 20-50% more attenuation than similar gauge solid conductors. And since the cross-section of a stranded cable is not all copper, the wire has a higher DC resistance.

Solid wire has a higher current capacity. When electricity flows through a wire, a skin effect occurs. The parts closest to the outer layer of the wire are most vulnerable to electromagnetic fields and therefore more prone to the electricity dissipating into the air. 

Due to its thickness, the solid wire has a smaller surface area and therefore experiences less current dissipation. On the other hand, because the stranded wire has multiple strands, air gaps, and a greater surface area, it has a lower carrying capacity for electric current.

Routing

Stranded wire has better bendability and routing. This makes it easier to maneuver around diverse obstacles when compared to solid wires.

Flexibility

Stranded wires are more flexible than solid cables. Thus, they can withstand vibration and flex better. Solid wire conductors would break if bent too many times. You would have to replace solid wires more often than stranded wires in instances where there are significant vibrations and movement.

However, when it comes to cable termination, stranded wires are more fragile. They are prone to growing loose or breaking over time, unlike solid conductors, which hold their shape and seat well in position, whether on jacks, connecting blocks, or patch panels. The termination of solid wires is, therefore, less complex.

Ease of manufacturing

With a single-core, the structure of solid wire is simple,  which makes it much easier to manufacture. Stranded wires require fairly complex manufacturing processes to twist the wires together.

Distance

Since solid wire has lower dissipation, it is best suited for longer runs through walls, floors, and ceilings. Its superior signal handling lowers the degree of signal deterioration. Also, the semi-rigid nature of solid wire makes it easier to pull through buildings. 

Stranded wire will be most ideal over shorter distances such as from a router to a computer.

3. Stranded vs Solid: Which is Best?

Stranded vs. Solid Wire2

You can use stranded and solid wires in a wide range of applications. Each has pros and cons that determine the circumstances where it will be most suitable. The best cable will depend on what factors are a priority for you. Consider initial cost, long-term cost, environmental factors, motion, durability, loads, and applications.

When it comes to cost, durability, and simplicity, solid wire is king. Like a single strand of thick wire, it is not only easy to manufacture but resistant to damage. The wire’s thickness also inhibits the effect of electromagnetic interference on its surface. On the downside, the wire lacks malleability. When you twist a solid wire, there is a risk that it could split or severe. 

Stranded wires are most ideal in applications that require intricate movement, bending, snaking, and reshaping, as in an electronic, vehicle, and robotic circuit boards.

If you are uncertain about which type of wire is best for you, seek advice from an electronic expert or a qualified electrician.

4. Stranded Wire or Solid Wire, what cable to choose?

Stranded vs. Solid Wire3

When evaluating stranded vs. solid wire, pay attention to the following.

Amperage load

A solid wire carries more current than an equivalent gauge-stranded wire.

Use case

Since they are more delicate, intricate, and flexible, stranded cables are your best alternative where twisting and bending are necessary to connect electrical components. Solid wire is best for outdoor, rugged areas as well as building wiring.

Costs

The production cost of a solid cable is substantially lower than that of stranded wire. In addition, strand count has an impact on the price of different types of stranded wire. Therefore, the more the strands, the greater the cost. 

Nevertheless, when comparing stranded vs. solid wires based on cost, ensure you weigh the initial cost against longevity. Whereas a solid wire will cost less at the point of purchase, the stranded wire will last longer in applications that require frequent motion and wiring alterations. Under such circumstances, the stranded cable may have a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) over the long term.

Metal type

Conductor wires may be copper, aluminum, or copper-clad aluminum (CCA). 

Copper is the most conductive metal (except silver) and is an international standard for conductivity.  Apart from its exceptional conductivity, copper demonstrates excellent thermal expansion, thermal conductivity, and tensile strength. Copper is used for building wire, automotive, electronic cables, power distribution, and power generation applications.

While copper is by far the most popular metal for conductor wires, aluminum has several advantages too. While it has 61 percent copper’s conductivity, aluminum is just 30 percent as heavy as copper. You can find aluminum conductors in aircraft and overhead transmission lines.

Copper-clad aluminum is the best of both worlds. That is the conductivity of copper and the weight advantages of aluminum.

Wire gauge

Two numbers usually denote stranded cable. The first represents the number of strands and the second the gauge. For instance, a 7/32 (or 7X32) means the conductor cable comprises 7 strands of 32 American Wire Gauge (AWG) wire.

Solid wire cables are specified using a single gauge number that shows the size of the conductor, such as 24 AWG. 

It may be confusing to see that both solid and stranded wire can have the same gauge. But remember, whether solid or stranded wire, the overall size is the same – a 24 AWG cable is a 24 AWG cable.

That being said, solid wires are mostly available in smaller gauges.

Conclusion 

Both solid and stranded wire have pros and cons before making your decision whether to go for stranded wire or solid wire, weigh and consider the intended use. 

In case you need assistance with cable assemblies, get in touch with us. When you partner with us, you enjoy the full expertise of our team to ensure your project’s success.

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