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I have three hot wires connected together. They are held together by electrical tape and a wire nut. The tape goes around the bare copper and then the nut goes on top of the tape. Then there's more tape on the nut.

Previously, I had done it just by putting a wire nut on first and then using tape as extra security. However, when we pressed on the nut, something apparently shorted as lights started flickering.

I could twist the wires and then put a nut on but I have a hard time gripping the wires with my hands (they move while I'm trying to twist it which results in failure).

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    Obviously it's loose. A properly installed nut holds wires securely on its own. What's the question? – isherwood Jan 26 '17 at 18:38
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    You may need to use a new, correctly-sized, wire-nut. You shouldn't have any tape between the wire-nut and the wires. Tape over the whole thing is ok if it makes you feel better. – brhans Jan 26 '17 at 18:43
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    You might find Connecting Three 12 Gauge Wires useful. – Andrew Morton Jan 26 '17 at 18:52
  • The wires need to be twisted together properly before the nut is put on. – JDługosz Jan 26 '17 at 21:41
  • Pictures please. It's not clear (although we can speculate) why you're shorting - or even whether the flickering is because of shorting. – einpoklum Jan 27 '17 at 22:43
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Tape under the nut isn't the right way to do it.

Read the instructions on your wire nuts they may or may not require that the wires be pre-twisted. I get the ones that don't require pre-twist, line the conductors up so the ends are even, and twist the nut on. Give each individual wire a tug and if any pulls out, start over again.

Sometimes I just can't get the wire nut to twist on and make a tight connection. In that case I line up the ends of the wires and pre-twist them with lineman's pliers. In order to get a good twist I've had to resort to using my needle-nose vice grips across the three wires to hold them in place while I get a twist started with the lineman's pliers (if you do something like this, be careful not to damage the insulation where you grip the wires).

Of course, this all assumes you're using a correctly sized wire nut. Read the instructions on the packaging and there should be a capacity chart for your particular wire nuts.

  • "I could twist the wires and then put a nut on but I have a hard time gripping the wires with my hands (they move while I'm trying to twist it which results in failure)." I think the lever-clamp blocks are more useful, in this case. – Knob Scratcher Jan 26 '17 at 21:43
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    Vise grips. A "vice grip" is something very different. – Monty Harder Jan 26 '17 at 22:23
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If you have trouble with wire nuts, you could try a lever-clamp block instead

enter image description here

They are easy to use, reliable and compact. Mostly rated at up to 32A. 12-24AWG.

See also Tool Review: Ideal In-Sure™ Push-In Wire Connectors

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    Those are pretty slick. The big box stores carry a non-releasable version of these :( – Knob Scratcher Jan 26 '17 at 21:41
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    @KnobScratcher -- the non-releasable versions still beat nuts for what you're after – ThreePhaseEel Jan 27 '17 at 0:13
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Welcome to wirenuts.

My first six splices did that too, and I undid them and redid them until they were right. Since then, I've done thousands that are solid. It's a learning curve.

Use the right size wirenut. For three #14 or #12, yellow or red. Each wire-nut has a spec sheet, with an allowable range that's surprisingly broad. Work in the center of the allowable range. Near the edges, they are too finicky.

Use newer wirenuts. Reusing them isn't the issue. It's that technology marches on, and they've been made vastly better, so a 20 year old new-old-stock wirenut pales by comparison to a scavenged 2-year-old one.

Sometimes a particular wire-nut just won't perform. Toss fussy or damaged ones. Sometimes they have a scrap of wire stuck in the bottom; those will never work.

Don't throw defective wirenuts on the floor, where they'll be confused with dropped good ones. Put them in your pocket then to the trash.

Use quality wirenuts. As in all things, there's a lot of cheap dreck.

Clean up wires, if they are too-bent or have loose strands going all over the place. No need to pre-twist solid wire, but pre-twist stranded wires in the same direction as the nut spins.

Don't aim for this, but if a bare wire pokes out a bit when you start, don't worry about it. If it pokes out when you're finished, undo, trim and repeat.

Square up the ends of the wires, so they aren't going in staggered. No need to pre-twist. Proper use of a decent wire-nut will do the twisting for you. Pre-twisting in the wrong direction is worse than doing nothing.

If you're struggling with them, pre-tape the 3-4 wires together an inch back, on the insulation.

Turn the nuts the right direction.

Crank them down earnestly. Normally I say "monkey tight not gorilla tight", but they are small and hard to grab, so I say "just give it the works".

Yank each wire hard, separately. If a wire comes out, see above.

Don't use tape to hold wires in. If the wires won't hold, do it again, right. Use tape to keep the thing from unscrewing (unlikely if done right) or to keep anything from poking under the wirenut and contacting a conductor. Remember when finished, insulation should go under the sleeve a bit. Don't go crazy with the tape. I don't use it. A connection that fails without tape has already failed.

Think twice for connections larger than 10 AWG. It's too hard to crank them down hard enough. Better is with real terminal blocks, and torque to spec. And remember the goop if you're using the new AA-8000 aluminum wire, which you should consider for anything over 6AWG.

Speaking of that, never wire-nut aluminum. Learn what to do with aluminum wire.

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    +1 for "don't use tape to hold wires in". Tape is for insulation, and to keep wires from flopping around after they're in, not for holding them together - because unlike wire nuts, tape is going to decay. I shudder to think of the number of connections I've found with nothing but a black smear of ex-tape holding it together... – ArmanX Jan 27 '17 at 18:19
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    "Reusing them isn't the issue." - True enough. However, NEVER reuse wirenuts in a situation where the new connection is notably smaller than the old. E.g. don't take a red wirenut that previously clamped 4 #12 wires, and try to splice 3 #14 wires. You might get the wirenut to stick, but it will be a very poor connection at best. – Chris Parker Jan 27 '17 at 18:26
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    @ChrisParker or even two #12s. Exactly. I mean, surprising as it may be, red wire nuts are UL listed for everything we've discussed. But you should work in the center of the listed range, not the fringes. If the wire-nut connection isn't comfortable (you'll know), change sizes or types. – Harper Jan 27 '17 at 18:46
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    I sometimes tape 2 wires together, leaving the tape long. Then using the rest of that piece of tape, add any additional wires one at a time. This works great for wires that don't like to line-up properly. I sometimes line up the ends of the insulation, and cut the stripped part to force the ends to line up. – Brad Gilbert Jan 27 '17 at 23:42
  • "Turn the nuts the right direction." might be clearer as "Turn the nuts the correct direction." – GManNickG Jan 28 '17 at 0:30

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