What's Up With American Wire Gauge (AWG)?

The American Wire Gauge (AWG) is a wire-sizing standard used in North America to measure and regulate the thickness of conductive wires made from nonferrous metals. The AWG is not to be confused with the US Steel, Music Wire, or Washburn and Moen (W&M) gauging methods, which are used only for steel-based wire.

The AWG is based on a total of 44 standardized wire sizes: 0 – 40, as well as the additional 00, 000, and 0000 gauges. Though it may seem a little counterintuitive, the higher a gauge number is, the thinner the wire is; this is because the gauge is named after the number of sizing dies the wire needs to be drawn through to reach the correct diameter. For example, a 24-gauge wire is drawn through 24 different sizing dies.

The AWG system was developed in 1856 by J.R. Brown and Lucien Sharpe, who ran a small firm in Providence, Rhode Island specializing in watches, clocks, and mathematical instruments. By February of 1857, eight major American manufacturers had signed resolutions to adhere to the Brown and Sharpe gauge standard; the following month, a nationwide circular was distributed, introducing the new wire gauge standard to the American public.  Manufacturers of wire formerly had proprietary wire gauge systems; the development of standardized wire gauges rationalized selection of wire for a particular purpose.

Listed below are a few common cable types and their corresponding AWG sizes:

  • Speaker cable: 14 and 16 AWG
  • Coaxial cable: 18 and 20 AWG
  • Cat 5, Cat 5e, and Cat 6 cables: 24 AWG
  • Telephone cable: 22-28 AWG
AWG gauge tool
AWG size chart