Understanding Wire Gauge Sizes - AWG 101

Understanding Wire Gauge Sizes - AWG 101

Mark Li
Mark Li
23/10/23 ·

What Are Wire Gauges?

The gauge of a wire indicates its thickness. It is denoted by a number, where a smaller number signifies a thicker wire, and a larger number indicates a thinner one. This simple yet fundamental principle is central to the world of electrical installations and circuitry. In contexts where precision, safety, and efficiency are paramount, understanding wire gauges becomes not just beneficial but essential. Whether you’re a seasoned electrical engineer, a hobbyist, or someone venturing into a project that involves electric actuators and motors, grasping the intricacies of wire gauges can spell the difference between optimal performance and systemic inefficiency, safety, and potential hazard.

Navigating the World of Wire Gauges (AWG) for Electric Actuators and Motors

In any electrical setting, particularly where electric actuators and motors are involved, understanding the significance of wire gauges and, more precisely, the American Wire Gauge (AWG) is not just beneficial but essential.

Unraveling the AWG

American Wire Gauge, abbreviated as AWG, is a standardized wire gauge system used predominantly in North America for the diameters of round, solid, nonferrous, electrically conducting wires. The essence of this system lies in its inverse relationship between the wire’s diameter and the gauge number. Lower AWG numbers indicate thicker wires, while higher numbers are used for thinner wires.

What does CMA stand for in the Wire Gauge Conversion chart?

CMA stands for Circular Mils Area. A circular mil is a unit of area used primarily in the United States and Canada to express wire diameter, and it helps in measuring the cross-sectional area of a wire. One circular mil is equivalent to the area of a circle with a diameter of one mil (one-thousandth of an inch).

The Intricate Dance Between AWG and Electric Actuators & Motors

Electric actuators and motors are at the heart of many industrial applications, and their performance is intrinsically tied to the wire gauge. The AWG of the wire affects not only the current a wire can safely carry but also its electrical resistance and, by extension, the efficiency of the motor or actuator it powers.

The Dynamic of Current Draw

Every motor and actuator is characterized by a specific current draw. The selection of the appropriate AWG ensures that the wire can accommodate this current without excessive heat build-up, ensuring both the efficiency and safety of the equipment. For instance, a 10Amp draw actuator may require at least a 16 AWG wire for optimal performance. However, as the length of the wire increases, a thicker wire may be needed to combat the voltage drop.

AWG Sizes: A Comprehensive Table

Below is a full AWG table, showcasing the diameters in both millimeters and inches for each wire gauge. 

AWG Diameter (mm) Diameter (inches)
0000 11.684 0.4600
000 10.404 0.4096
00 9.266 0.3648
0 8.252 0.3249
1 7.348 0.2893
2 6.543 0.2576
3 5.827 0.2294
4 5.189 0.2043
5 4.621 0.1819
6 4.115 0.1620
7 3.665 0.1443
8 3.264 0.1285
9 2.906 0.1144
10 2.588 0.1019
11 2.304 0.0907
12 2.052 0.0808
13 1.828 0.0720
14 1.628 0.0641
15 1.450 0.0571
16 1.291 0.0508
17 1.150 0.0453
18 1.024 0.0403
19 0.912 0.0359
20 0.812 0.0320
21 0.723 0.0285
22 0.644 0.0254
23 0.573 0.0226
24 0.511 0.0201
25 0.455 0.0179
26 0.405 0.0159
27 0.361 0.0142
28 0.321 0.0126
29 0.286 0.0113
30 0.255 0.0100
31 0.227 0.0089
32 0.202 0.0080
33 0.180 0.0071
34 0.160 0.0063
35 0.143 0.0056
36 0.127 0.0050
37 0.113 0.0045
38 0.101 0.0040
39 0.090 0.0035
40 0.081 0.0031


The Art of Choosing the Appropriate AWG

Deciphering the right AWG isn’t merely a function of the current draw but an amalgamation of factors including the wire length, total amperage, and the planned load. An in-depth understanding of these variables facilitates the selection of a wire that not only suits the immediate electrical needs but also ensures longevity and safety.

Real-world Applications and AWG Selection

Diverse AWG sizes cater to a wide array of applications, each characterized by distinct electrical and physical needs. For example, AWG 4, with its thicker constitution, is ideal for furnaces and large heaters, while the thinner AWG 18 is tailored for low-voltage lighting and cords.

Adjusting Wire Sizes for Voltage Drop Due to Wire Lengths

Adjusting Wire Sizes for Voltage Drop Due to Wire Lengths

When it comes to configuring electrical circuits for motors and actuators, understanding the influence of wire length on voltage drop is crucial. Voltage drop refers to the reduction in voltage as electricity travels along a wire. This phenomenon is primarily influenced by the wire’s length, cross-sectional area, and the material from which it’s made.

The Science Behind Voltage Drop

As electrical current moves along a wire, it encounters resistance, which inevitably results in a loss of energy, manifested as a drop in voltage. This can be particularly pronounced in extended lengths of wire. The longer the wire, the greater the resistance and the more significant the voltage drop. This is where the role of wire gauge becomes crucial. We have created an online Voltage drop calculator where you can actually calculate the amount of drop you get in voltage for a given set of inputs such as wire thength and size etc. 

Wire Gauge and Voltage Drop

The thickness of a wire, denoted by its gauge, plays a pivotal role in mitigating the effects of voltage drop. Thicker wires (lower AWG numbers) have less resistance and are therefore more efficient at transmitting electricity over long distances. When the wire length increases, using a thicker wire can counteract the increased resistance and subsequent voltage drop.

Practical Implications for Electric Actuators and Motors

For electric actuators and motors, ensuring that the voltage at the point of use is within the equipment's operational specifications is paramount. A significant voltage drop can lead to reduced performance and efficiency, and in some cases, it can prevent the equipment from working altogether.

Consider a scenario where a motor is designed to operate at 120 volts. If the voltage drop is not accounted for, the motor might receive only 110 volts, leading to reduced performance or failure to start. Adjusting the wire gauge can ensure that the motor receives the voltage it requires to operate optimally.

Example of Adjusting for Voltage Drop

The process of adjusting wire sizes to counteract voltage drop is underpinned by precise calculations. These calculations take into account the total length of the wire, the current (amperage) it will carry, and the acceptable voltage drop for the specific application. Electrical codes often provide guidelines on the maximum allowable voltage drop, typically around 5%.

Here’s a simplified example. If you’re powering a 10A electric actuator with a wire that’s 50 feet long, you might initially choose a 16 AWG wire. However, due to the length and potential voltage drop, you decide to opt for a thicker 14 AWG wire to ensure that the actuator receives adequate voltage.


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