electrical wall switch question

The sink disposal stopped working today. It has a wall switch the controls an outlet below the sink which the disposal is plugged into.
I hit the reset button even though it had not popped out on my year-old GE disposal and that didn't work. I plugged a circuit tester into the outlet and flipped the wall switch several times; that didn't work. I flipped the dedicated circuit breaker and it didn't work.
Finally I took the wall switch apart and examined the wiring. The whites were tied together and the blacks went through the switch. However the blacks were pushed into two holes on the back of the switch and the terminal screws were completely undone. I turned on the breaker again and checked for power at the terminals and there was 117 VAC present. I screwed in the terminals and checked the outlet again with the circuit tester and all was well now.
Two questions: Why were the wires not on the screw terminals and in the holes? How did it start working when I pulled the switch out of the wall?
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On 01 Aug 2005 00:15:09 GMT, "badgolferman"

It's called backstabbing (or backwiring), and I never did like it. But it saves a heck of a lot of time on large jobs. It's a code violation in many jurisdictions, and always illegal now with #12 wire or larger.
When backwired, there is not really much pressure holding the wire down. The angle of the little blade is such that it bites the wire when the wire is withdrawn. But when the switch or outlet is pushed into the box, much of the bite can be lost.
That switch is probably still good, but switches are cheap anyway (cheap insurance), so I would replace the switch.
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-john
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wrote:

There is a big difference between 'backwire' type outlets and the 'backstab' type. With the backwire type, (Levitron in the red box), you put the wires into holes on the back and then, (you must), tighten the side screws. This tightens the terminals inside against the wires and is very secure. Backstab outlets as you said, have a spring clips inside that sorta bite into the wires and is mechanically independent of the side screws. These often fail in time especially with higher loads. Kevin
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wrote:

Only semantics. :-)

Yeah, I see those on plugs even more often than receptacles, and I actually prefer them, but for a different reason.
But "backwire" is often used interchangeably with "backstab", whether right or wrong is debatable. It's really no worse than referring to gasoline as "gas". It's just wrong, but we live with it.

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-john
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wrote:

To confuse things even more the manufacture refers to the 2 types as Quickwire push in terminals and clamp type backwire. http://www.leviton.com/pdfs/d-503/d-503D.pdf Kevin

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Agree: Suggest always eliminate those (non screw tightened) back-stab outlets or switches etc. whenever found. Although never recall having one fail or blow up, certainly in this house we do.
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News to me. Can cite a code section? My recollection is that the devices say what they are made for; I used a backclamp on #10 a couple years ago because it was a 30a switch designed for #10. But perhaps it has changed.
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I'll take a look... but I don't need a specific code section, or maybe I do

I have never seen "push and pray" in anything rated over 15 AMPS. Also, every unit I've seen so far has been marked "backwire rated for 14 gauge only". It said "backwire", not "backstab", but we know it meant the latter. :-) And we know it ain't code to cram a #12 wire into a #14 fitting. The reason is mechanical: the curvature of the blade fits a #14 wire. Now I could dig up some code, but I ain't gonna. I'm too tired to hunt for the text. :-)
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-john
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toller wrote:

The #10 "backclamp", I presume, required the screw to be tightened. This is a reliable connection.
At issue are the devices where the wire is just poked in and spring tension makes the connection - the screw does not have to be tightened. These are called "backstab" at least on the newsgroups and the consensus on the newsgroups is that they are not reliable (although they are UL listed). I thought someone posted that the holes now were only large enough for #14. (My collection of older 15A receptacles took #12 wire.) You are right that the device should say what wire is permitted. They cannot be used with aluminum or stranded wire.
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Many residential grade switches have both push in connections and screw terminals. My guess is the switch is damaged internally and although it's working now, it'll probably quit soon. I'd replace the switch and get a commercial grade or 20 amp switch

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It was back-wired. You found out why that's not such a good idea over the long-haul.

The wire(s) started making acceptable contact in the switch for at least temporary operation when you pulled on it. You can move the back-stabbed wires and conect them up more safely to the screw terminals.

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