Can Wires & Cables Be Too Thin? (Explained)

Wires and cables are everywhere. We tend not to notice them all that much, let alone pay attention to their thickness.

However, there are important things to note when it comes to how thin or thick a wire should be, and in this article, we’ll give you the power to understand if the wire you pick is thick enough.

Here’s If Wires & Cables Can Be Too Thin:

Wire thickness is measured in American Wire Gauge (AWG). This standard measurement not only identifies the diameter and cross-section area of a given wire, but also provides the exact total amperage and resistance that the wire size can accommodate. 

Interrupted red cable with copper fibers inside

Using an AWG chart allows individuals to determine the correct thickness of wire needed for the circuit. 

Does The Thickness Of Wires & Cords Matter?

When it comes to your wires and cords, size really does matter.

The thickness of a wire or cord is a crucial factor when it comes to how much ‘load’ they can handle.

Think of it like this: you’re sending a certain amount of amperage through a circuit and your wires are the conduit.

If the amperage that runs through your specific circuit is too powerful for your wire to handle then obviously you’re going to have a problem.

This is where thickness (and length) all factor in.

How Thick Does Your Wire Or Cord Need To Be

So, the thickness of your wire will really depend on what job said wire or cord is needed for.

  • Thicker wires are necessary to handle high amperage circuits.
  • Calculating your amperage, therefore, is the first step to knowing what thickness of wire or cord you need.
  • Problems can occur if an inappropriate wire or cord is used which does not allow for the total amperage of the specific circuit.
  • Wire thickness or thinness dictates both ‘resistance‘ and the total ‘load‘ it can handle.
  • A thicker wire will be able to carry more electrical current than a thinner wire.

It’s all about understanding how thick your wire needs to be in relation to the power that will be running through it.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that length also will play a part, too, as electrical power will reduce the further it has to travel and so a thicker wire may well need to be employed to balance out the loss.

As the folks from the Precision Manufacturing Company rightly point out:

“Using wires that are too thin for the specified circuit amperage can result in wire failure or ignition.”

Just remember, the thickness of a wire is all about how much current needs to pass through it.

What Happens If High Voltage Runs Through A Thin Wire?

So now we understand that thick wires are required for heavy load circuits it’s time to investigate what the situation is when it comes to voltage:

Did you know that a police stun gun uses a whopping 500,000 volts – sounds like a lot, right?

But did you also know that the wires in a stun gun are surprisingly thin?

The reason why this is the case is that the amperage in a stun gun is low.

If you have high voltage, but a low load current, then a thin wire is perfectly fine for the job.

  • Higher voltages do not need thicker wires.
  • High voltage can run through thin wires.
  • High voltage wires need to be insulated at an appropriate thickness that is proportional to the voltage being used.

How Thin Can An Electrical Wire Be?

We’re living in an age of incredible developments in technology and scientists have quietly been working on a way to create wires that are thinner than you can possibly imagine!

The development of extra thin wires is fundamental in the race to build the first quantum computer.

Quantum computers will allow humanity to solve near-impossible calculations that our current computers cannot yet begin to unravel. The possible uses of quantum computers include, but are not limited to:

  1. Super-speed searching of databases.
  2. Economic strategy.
  3. Precise weather predictions and forecasts.
  4. Code breaking.

So before we have these sophisticated machines we’ll need some fairly sophisticated wiring to make it all possible.

This is where the innovative development of silicon wire comes in:

  • This silicon wire is thinner than a single strand of a human hair – in fact, it is actually 10,000 times thinner.
  • It’s so thin that it is actually measured in atoms – 4×1 to be precise.
  • It has been created by a group of physicists from Sydney, Australia.
  • This ultra-thin wire is created by inserting phosphorous atoms into silicon crystals and the result is a nanowire that mimics how elections flow through a copper wire.
  • Each atom is placed in such close proximity to one another (less than a nanometer) that it creates very little resistance.
  • The idea is that a quantum computer, when the technology is eventually born, will send information in the form of atoms instead of ‘bits‘, which is what our computers currently use.
  • Naturally, if bits are going to be replaced with single atoms, then it stands to reason that we’d need to have wires that are thin enough for the job.

How Is Gauge Measured In Wires?

When we talk about how we measure wires it’s important to understand how gauge is measured.

How thick a wire is can be discovered by checking the AWG and the numbers that follow it.

AWG stands for American Wire Gauge and the number that accompanies a specific wire will indicate how thick it is – the higher the number the thinner the wire.

The AWG goes as high as 40 all the way down to 0000, with an AWG 40 having the capacity of 0.0137 amps, whilst 0000 handling as much as 302 amps.

There are many AWG sizes and they all have different purposes or uses and so it may be easier to break them down in relation to the common application of specific gauges, such as:

  • Using an 18 gauge for lighting.
  • A 12 gauge for small AC units.
  • 6 gauge for your kitchen hob.
  • A 4 gauge for use with a large heater.

How Do I Know If A Wire Or Cord Is Too Thin?

To determine if your wire is too thin you should take a look at the AWG standard chart.

As mentioned, when it comes to understanding what thickness of the wire you need, it’s crucial to be armed with the understanding of what capacity of amperage your wire has to handle.

Cross-checking your wire against an AWG chart will allow you to confirm whether your wire is up to the task – or whether it is too thin.

There’s no point in risking wiring up a circuit or system without double-checking that you are using the correct AWG – it’s simply not worth the risk.

Remember, if the total amps exceed what your wire can safely handle, then the result will be an increase of heat.

You do not want hot wires.

Hot wires can melt, cause failures, and worse – create a fire.

A quick google will allow you to source an AWG chart where you will see the following information listed:

  • The AWG Number
  • The Diameter
  • The Cross Section Area
  • The Resistance in Ohms
  • The Current in Amps

Take the time to identify your wire’s capabilities and use it appropriately.

What Happens To Audio When Using A Very Thin Wire?

Audio quality will decline with a wire that is too thin and also with a wire that is too long in length.

A wire’s performance is affected by how much electrical resistance is present.

If there is a lot of resistance, more electricity is being wasted in the transmission process.

Lost electricity should be avoided wherever possible when it comes to the efficiency of your devices.

Not only does it mean they are receiving less power, but you are also losing money on unnecessarily high bills.

In general terms, thinner wires have much more resistance than thick wires.

Most speaker wires on the market have a gauge between 12-18, so if your wire is within these specifications you should have no problem.

If you are using a wire with your speaker that is too thin, you may notice the audio quality from your speaker is not as good as when you use a wire that is slightly thicker. The difference, however, is fairly minimal.

You may not begin to notice a decline in audio quality until the wire’s resistance differs from the speaker’s impedance by more than 5%.

This can happen due to 3 main factors:

  • The gauge of the wire.
  • Length of the wire.
  • The material the wire is made of.

Lifewire.com describe impedance as:

“A measure of the amount of resistance the speaker offers to the current flowing from the input wire. Speakers are identified by an impedance rating measured in ohms. You’ll encounter 2-ohm, 4-ohm, 8-ohm, 16-ohm, or 32-ohm speakers in the audio market.”

However, as previously mentioned, the difference in audio quality is very minor and can be hard for the human ear to notice.

So when it comes to the thickness of your speaker wire, you do not need to be overly concerned, unless you are trailing a 32-gauge wire along the length of a football field in hopes of achieving impeccable audio.

Read our blog here about is bending an HDMI cable ok?

Can Electric Wires Be Too Thick?

With such an abundance of wires, it stands to reason that some of us may question whether the type of wire we have chosen may be too thick to be suitable for the task at hand.

Technically speaking, an electrical wire can never be too thick, unless it physically cannot be fitted or run through the location desired.

If the space available is limited, then trying to install an overly, non-flexible wire would be pretty pointless – not to mention incredibly frustrating.

As previously mentioned, the thickness of a wire can be correctly defined as its ‘gauge’. The lower the gauge number, the thicker the wire.

It is always best to know and understand the different gauges of wires in order to be sure that the gauge of the wire you are using is suitable for the job.

There are not many obvious differences when it comes to using a thick wire, but here are some of the benefits that are worth considering when making a decision on the wire gauge.

More Electricity Is Supplied

In general terms, thick wires (typically 6 AWG-14 AWG) have a much lower resistance than thinner wires.

    • Long, thin wires will have a much higher electrical resistance, which isn’t usually a positive thing.
    • The reason lower gauge (thicker) wires have less resistance is because they have a greater amount of conducting material inside them.
    • This material is typically made from either copper or aluminum, and the more of it, the more free electrons are in terms of mobility.

To summarise, thicker wires provide a higher freedom of movement for electrons.

If electrons have the ability to move around easier, it means more electricity is flowing.

This is great news for homeowners that are using thicker wires in their housing circuits because it means they will always have an abundance of electricity being provided from A to B.

When electricity is easily obtainable for larger electrical appliances, such as ovens, refrigerators, etc, it improves their efficiency. Increased efficiency equals lower bills!

A Lower Gauge Increases The Longevity Of The Wire

This one is fairly simple, when the wire has a thicker protective layer it will be less prone to everyday damage.

Have you ever accidentally rolled over a carelessly placed extension cable with your office chair – Well, if it has more external protection, it is less likely to suffer any lasting damage.

This doesn’t however mean you should make it common practice. You should always pay attention and follow health and safety regulations when it comes to electrical wiring and appliances.

Repeated wear and tear should always be avoided when it comes to wiring. 

Increased Safety

A wire with a 6-gauge thickness has more insulation than a 24-gauge wire, meaning they have better temperature regulation.

This means thicker wires will often remain cooler than thinner wires, and because of this, are less prone to overheating.

  • When a wire is less prone to overheating, it means there is a reduced risk of an electrical fire.
  • The appropriate gauge for a wire is determined by its intended function.
  • When you start to get lower than 14 AWG there are not many noticeable benefits.

After reading this, however, do not be tempted to ensure that every wire in your house is as thick as possible, because not only is this unnecessary but there are also some cons to using thick wires as outlined below.

Less Flexibility

Yes, 6-gauge wires may have a very thick outer coating, but this means they are also much less manageable.

  • When a wire is incredibly thick it can be a nightmare to fix into place or move around in general.
  • They will also be much heavier, which isn’t ideal when it comes to maneuvering them into position.
  • It’s also worth noting that if a wire isn’t very flexible because of its thickness, it may actually be prone to cracking or snapping if the bending stress becomes too intense.

Higher Costs

Probably the most important thing, the thickness of a wire dramatically changes how expensive it is. This makes sense, as you are paying for more material the thicker the wire is.

The dramatic price increase may not necessarily reap you any benefits, as described by whatblueprint.com who point out the price difference:

“The price of 14-gauge wire is around $20 while the price of 6-gauge wire is $60(prices are for 25 feet of wire).”

Therefore, it is worth weighing up the benefits and negatives when selecting the thickness of a wire.

Read our blog here about can you bend cables?

Sources

 

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