Wire pulling can be difficult, especially when you’re pulling long runs of cable through winding corridors of conduit inside industrial buildings and commercial locations.

Not only is it hard to physically pull the building wire through the conduit, but the friction created during the process can also damage the insulation surrounding the conductors. Abrasion damage caused during the pulling process may lead to exposed conductors, opening the possibility of shorts, sparks, arcs, and even fire.

To prevent abrasion damage from occurring, many electricians use wire pulling lubricant, also known as cable lube or wire-pulling compound, to make the process easier and faster without causing any damage to the wire.

Wire lubricant reduces the wire’s friction coefficient as it makes its way through the raceway (the ratio of force that resists motion between two surfaces pressing against each other). As a result, electricians can pull wire through conduit faster while reducing abrasion damage to the cable itself.

When to Use Wire Pulling Lubricant?

There are a ton of lubricants available on the market today, and many of them do similar things. When deciding to use a wire-pulling compound, understanding the application will impact what type of lubricant makes the most sense.

  • What conductors are being used? Depending on the coating, pulling through the conduit can be trickier. For example, XHHW wire has a cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) insulation, which is rubbery, while vinyl nylon tray cable (VNTC) has a PVC (polyvinyl chloride) outer jacket, which isn’t.
  • What is the length of the span? Longer spans mean more opportunities for drag.
  • What are the operating conditions? Some lubricants are more suited for dry locations than others. The same goes for temperature ratings.
  • What is the bend radius? As you add more bends and steeper angles, there are more chances for rubbing.
  • What is the width/diameter of the cable? Higher gauge wire has a smaller diameter, making it easier to pull through conduit. As the gauge decreases, the size of the wire increases, making it harder to pull.

Types of Wire Lubricant Available Today

Wire lubricants come in several forms, each with its own strengths.

The four main types of lubricant electricians will come across are synthetic wax, gel, foam, and liquid/spray. Depending on the application, knowing which one to use in different situations will make the job easier, reduce mess on the job site, and speed up work.

Across the board, these products are nonconductive, odorless, non-corrosive, and non-toxic, making them safe to use in work environments without masks or gloves. Don’t forget to also keep an eye out for lubricants featuring PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). This synthetic fluoropolymer resists water and high temperatures and offers great lubricity. The only problem is PTFE doesn’t come off as easily as products that don’t have the compound.

Keep in mind that some cable types may not require lubricant and can be pulled without it. If it’s a short run or if the wire you’re using is a small enough gauge, you may be able to get away with a standard dry pull.

Wax Lubricants

Synthetic wax lubricants are high-heat resistant, making them useful in areas where temperatures are likely to become an issue for gel and liquid lubricants. Wax is also water-resistant and can even maintain its properties underwater, making it ideal for wet locations.

Wax also dries slowly compared to other types of lubes, meaning it doesn’t need to be reapplied as often as other compounds.

Gel Lubricants

If you don’t want to make a big mess on the job site, a gel lubricant may be the answer. Lubricant gel works across a wide array of temperatures and sticks to wire and cable without a lot of dripping, making it an excellent choice for running lines around indoor areas like finished office spaces.

These lubricants are easy to apply and simple to clean up, usually only needing a bit of soap and warm water.

Foam Lubricants

According to Klein Tools, their version of foam pulling lubricant is sprayed into the conduit rather than applied to the wire itself. When the wire is pulled through the conduit it gets coated in foam, making it easier to pull through the rest of the run.

There are fewer messes on the worksite compared to gels, waxes, and liquids because the foam is relegated only to the conduit. The residue is also less likely to stain carpets, clothing, and walls, making cleaning up faster.

Liquid Lubricants

Liquid lubricants are unique in that they can be poured onto a wire, into the conduit, or sprayed onto the wire as it’s being pulled. Liquids are great for vertical runs, as electricians can simply pour the lube down the top of the conduit and let it coat everything.

Unfortunately, pouring lubricant or spraying it onto a wire does have its drawbacks. It can quickly get all over the worksite, especially when workers are running wire in overhead areas. There is also the possibility of creating unintentional slip hazards in the workspace.

What Doesn’t Work as Lubricant

For every mind-bending worksite idea or innovation, there is one not-so-great idea.

Plenty of things can make wire slippery and easier to pull through tight conduit, but that doesn’t mean you should use it. While some products found around the house can work, they may damage wire insulation, dry out quickly, or create a gigantic mess.

From oil and powder to grease and soap, there is no shortage of “hacks” that can ruin your wiring and create unsafe conditions on the worksite.

Petroleum-Based Jellies – They may be great for your hands to lock in moisture but can wreak havoc on electrical cable and wiring. It will eat away at plastic insulation on the circuit wiring, eroding it and eventually causing damage to the wire itself.

Soap – Shower gel and dish soap are great for keeping things clean, but soaps are not a good wire lubricant. Today’s polymer-based formulas are much better, last longer throughout the project, and don’t create slip hazards on the worksite.

Talcum Powder or Chalk – This may seem like a clever idea and was a staple of wire pullers decades ago, but the powder doesn’t stick to wire all that well and can make a huge mess.

The Final Word

It is entirely possible to drag electrical wire through twisting conduit and long pulls without lubricating it first, but it will slow you down and add unnecessary pressure to the job.

Lubrication simplifies the wire pulling process, protecting insulation and jacketing from abrasion damage and pitting and speeding up the project by reducing the wire’s friction coefficient. Finally, it helps wires navigate sharp bends and long runs within a conduit more easily.

There you have it! Whether you’re using solid or stranded wire, copper or aluminum, make your life and day a little easier by finding a cable-pulling compound that fits your needs.

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