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[Informational] Zalost's general guide to cables and how to make them.

Greetings! Zalost here with another tutorial!  This one is going to be a quite long and will cover several topics so I'm going to put an index here to link different subjects together.


Wire Basics, Calculations, Charts.
Wire Splicing Methods and Practices.
Making Plugs and Connectors.
Constructing an RJ45/RJ11 cable.
Advanced connectors and specialty tools.

To start with what are cables?  well usually a cable is a strand of material, usually not made of fabric but woven much like rope and generally stronger.  Examples include steel cabling (as seen on suspension bridges), Electrical cabling (our topic of today), Network cabling (specific variant of the previous), etc.

Some key things to remember about electrical cabling specifically are the following.  The thicker the cabling the lower the gauge and the less resistance it has and the farther power can travel before losing some of it's overall power at the other end.  Why is Cable a lower gauge despite being thicker/larger?  Because the gauge actually refers to the number of times it was run through a machine to make it that size.

This used to be somewhat like a pasta maker but these days it's a kind of steel roller/press.  You start out with a metal rod, usually copper, and you feed it into a machine that squeezes and stretches it into a smaller longer size, rinse and repeat. 

[Image: UFlt3Vv.png]

There's also two different kinds of cable, bundled strand and solid core.  Bonded strand is what is typically used and makes very flexible cables, think of it like a copper rope that's been twisted together to make a thicker cable.  Solid core however is more common in scenarios where flexibility is less important such as the wiring in your house where its lower resistance matters over the distances in your walls.
[Image: g6ej7qo.png]

As an example of wire gauges here are 3 wires, listed as 14, 10, and 4 gauge wire from smallest to largest.
[Image: T3lvSREl.jpg]

Notice the stands in each one, all 3 are examples of stranded wire.  Be wary of fraying when working with these as it can make it so you have to cut and strip your wire all over again.

When working with wire something else you have to keep in mind is amperage.  Usually the lower the gauge the more amperage it can handle over a longer distance.  I use the following chart as a reference.
[Image: GJlBxld.png]

It doesn't cover stuff outside of what you would most likely be working with such as 00 or even 000 gauge wire which is more like what you'd see in power lines and power relay stations.

As for what gauge to use, you can use that chart and it's great if you're working with 12 volt but what if you want to use more voltage or need a specific wattage at the end?

Well you can use the following formulas to work that out.

Watts = Amps times Volts

Amps = watts divided by volts

So for example let's say you want to power a 15 watt bulb on a 120 volt circuit.  what gauge of wire would you use?

Well you would divide 120 by 15 which comes out to 8 amps.

Using the chart above you could run that for about 10 to 12 feet on 12 gauge wire, or over 20 feet using 10 gauge wire.

For a full reference chart of electrical calculations you can use this.
[Image: 61EmYdL.png]

Your voltage divided by the watts your getting at the other end will actually tell you your resistance on a wire so if you're only getting 10 watts then your getting 12 ohms of resistance, meaning you're only able to get 10 amps of power that distance even if you're putting in 15 watts.

It sorta goes back and forth but the key thing is you want to make sure your wire gauge can handle the watts, amps, and volts you're feeding it or your Resistance will create loss and you won't get as much on the on the other end.  The easiest way to fix this is to just use a bigger wire and it doesn't hurt to do so outside of cost and of course a higher conductivity.  I usually put a fuse in circuit just in case but usually using 10 gauge in place of 12 should be fine since the difference isn't that much and your motor/bulb/etc will only pull as much as it needs usually.

Conversely when you under size your wires you end up not being able to provide enough amps/watts to your device and making it under perform.  If your wire is too small it'll have too much resistance and just burn through... this is actually how the filament on an incandescent light bulb works.  it's a high resistance thin wire that's heating up enough to emit light and eventually burns through.

Anyway that should cover the basics of wires, wire gauge, and how to figure out what kind and size you need for a project.

Stay tuned for more because we're going to cover a lot of topics from how to actually splice wires to making your own connectors and the use for things like bus bars and terminals.
"I reject your reality and subsitute my own." - Adam Savage, Mythbusters
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Wire Splicing, methods and practices.

So now that you know about wires and figuring out what kind you need it's time to talk about splicing.  Splicing is where you connect two or more wires together by binding the copper threads/cores.  For example you can splice a broken wire back together or splice a second wire onto the first.

There's a few ways to go about this.  First there's wire nuts and Wago terminals.  These work by making it easy to bind wires together however they have their own positives and negatives.  I'd highly recommend not using wire nuts for most things for example.  This is because they tend to catch fire and melt when an overload is fed through them.  They're also commonly found in older setups like in houses and used sorta like quick disconnects.  Wago connectors were an attempt to improve this but ideally you don't want to use either unless you plan to be able to replace stuff later on.

Wire nut and Wago connector examples.

[Image: FDkVn5B.png] [Image: XNywHK7.png]

The second method is by using the rat tail method.  this is where you take the two ends of a pair of wires and twist them together like a rat tail.  This dates back to the early days of electrical design and is actually quite dangerous in that the end can be easily left unshielded.  Wire nuts simulate rat tail setups by twisting the two together.  You can technically twist three or more together this way but this can make it unweildly as well.
[Image: K5qPkAu.png]

Typically the above are less common with Wago Connectors having replaced wire nuts in most places but be on the lookout for any of the above three if you're doing home repair.

Finally there's the tried and true method pioneered by Western union and Bell Telephone.  The Lineman's splice.  This method is even in the NASA astronaut manuals in most spacecraft and has been thoroughly tested with results usually ending up stronger than the rest of the wire being repaired.

[Image: HpU6Irdm.png]

You can make a lineman's splice by doing the following.  First strip off about an inch or so of insulation leaving the bare wire.  Second place the two bare wire ends across each other in an X shape.  Third wrap them around the other wire end twisting to make sure they're secure and tight.  at the end you end up with something like this.[/font] [/b]
[Image: xqJcO2Om.jpg]

You can take this a step further and apply solder for an even stronger connection.  Just place your soldering iron (already heated up of course), underneath your splice, and feed solder into the top.  the wires will naturally wick away the molten solder and fuse together.

Finally either wrap it in electrical tape or if you can slide heat shrink tubing over it and apply heat, I usually use a lighter for this and keep a small stick lighter in my utility bandolier for this exact purpose.  You can heat up both Electrical tape and heat shrink and it has the same effect of creating a bonded sheath that won't easily come undone causing shorts.

You can also do the above and add an additional splice onto it by wrapping a third wire somewhere else along your exposed section of wire.  If you plan to do this strip back more than an inch or so and leave room for it.  This is known as a taproot splice and is very effective at splitting off lines from a main wire.  Keep in mind though it's usually better to stagger these to keep your wire splices from being overly thick and prone to failure, soldering and inline barrel crimps help but it's still something to consider.

Furthermore there's also an alternative to soldering. To protect your splice you can get what are called barrel crimp connectors.

[Image: 1Kn0oiM.png]

To use these you simply slide one along your wire splice, place your wire crimper over it, and squeeze.  anchoring it around the wires and securing your wire splice.  Then slide the heat shrink over it and heat it up.  This comes in handy if you are in the field for example and don't have access to a soldering iron which typically need a workbench to setup.  Feel free to give a firm but gentle tug once you've spliced your wires.  You'll find the lineman's splice is pretty strong, more so once you've either soldered or crimped it in place.

For your reference here are the main methods of splicing covered in this section.  The wires in the image are solid core but you can apply the same techniques to stranded wire as well.

[Image: q2xGsnLl.png]
"I reject your reality and subsitute my own." - Adam Savage, Mythbusters
[Image: 5.jpg]
Making Connectors/Plugs


There are a lot of connector types out there but the basics remain the same and outside of some special examples (Registered jacks (RJ11, RJ45, etc), and Milspec being two key examples), most remain the same.  For this guide I'm going to cover two very common connector types that are very easy to make but this knowledge can be applied to many other kinds of connectors.

For our first connector you have what are known as terminal lugs or terminal connectors.  These are common in automotive and non specialized infrastructure however you may recognize the type as a variant is actually used to make the power cables you use every day.  These are very simple flat connectors but come in a variety ranging from flat terminal lugs to ring and crescent kinds which can be attached to screw terminals.

Before you make your connector though you need to figure out which terminals to use.  there are two kinds, male and female terminals.  Male typically have prongs and can carry an electrical charge, female are usually bent or flexed metal to allow for securely inserting male connectors into them and locking them in place.
[Image: vsD1lYam.jpg]

Now before you go making your lugs or connectors you're going to need a wire crimper/splicer/cutter type tool.  In my case I'm using my leatherman multi-tool as it includes all 3 of these in the pliers part but a decent set of wire cutter/crimper/strippers can be had for around $10.  If you've money to spend I highly reccomend an auto-stripper.  this makes removing wire incredibly easy as it both strips and removes the sheath in one move and fits a variety of wires.
[Image: shO6U1Cl.jpg]

Next you're going to want to cut your wire to the length you want and strip the end you're putting your wire lug on.
[Image: rn2Xhx1m.jpg]

Finally if you have stranded wire it helps to twist your exposed strands together as it'll make inserting this into the lug easier.
[Image: kq76v9Fm.jpg]

Now that you have everything you need insert your wire lug into the crimping part of your crimper/multi-tool, then insert the wire into that and squeeze.  It may take a couple attempts but you'll know once you've done this step.
[Image: h9Sc1R5m.jpg] [Image: v5XUNfXm.jpg]

And there you have it, a connector that can fit on any inline fuse or relay block you'd find just about anywhere.  in this case for connecting to a relay terminal.
[Image: Mjx9RXGm.jpg]

There's other types of connectors too, such as ring terminal connectors which look like this.
[Image: HtWcfBkm.png]

And of course you can actually take that first connector and pair it with one of these to make a quick disconnect.
[Image: zxU33Szm.png]

Now you need to understand the previous steps to grasp the basics but once you have it you can take it a step further and make multi-wire connectors as well as fuse boxes and relay panels such as this one here.
[Image: NaVE00Xm.png]

You've probably seen one in your car as the "fuse box or power distribution box"  but basically each one of those little holes the pins go into is a female connector like shown above crimped around a wire and likely with a heat shrink sheath to protect it.  Anyone can build one of these or replace a wire in one, the terminals have tabs that latch into place when inserted inside and can be easily pushed out with a pin or long needle nose pliers.

The same is true for a fairly common kind of connector, the MOLEX connector.
[Image: Xoq0kZMm.png]

Each one of those pins inside is a crimped wire lug that looks like this when not crimped.
[Image: 7WnYAzK.png]

To make your own power connectors you crimp the lug onto the wire, and insert it into the plug housing, you'll hear a little click when it's in place and will find it secured fairly easily.  You can use this for PC power supply cables, Furnace cables, appliance cables, basically anything you want to make a cable for that isn't going to run several feet across a room and thus can use a smaller gauge.  Typically 14 to 20 gauge.  See the first section for information on gauges and why you'd want to use certain ones for your project.

Finally there's specialty plugs which deserve their own write-up.  See my network cable post for how to make a registered jack style connector (Telephone, Ethernet, etc.).  These typically need special crimping tools but the process is largely the same.  Strip the wire, insert it into the pin or plug connector and crimp it down.  In the case of RJ11 and RJ45 style plugs you crimp the wires directly to the connector all at once.
[Image: H23XXQrm.jpg?1] [Image: OhOln6Um.jpg]

Same for milspec
[Image: 2VOiW1Cm.png]

These use circular adjustable pin crimping tools which crimp down on 4 sides at once instead of two like your typical molex connector and need a special tool for inserting the pins into the connector.
[Image: LMQy0u2m.png] [Image: ieRinpom.png]

Hopefully this clarifies things a bit on making cables and connectors.  looking at a typical north American power plug I'm sure you recognize the flat connectors.  You can indeed make your own but fortunately and for safety reasons there are now screw terminal power connectors to be had at most home improvement stores.  so crimp on a crescent or ring style connector and hook up your wires that way.  it comes with the housing too which makes connecting/disconnecting them a breeze.  If they use the other style use the female flat terminal crimp connector.
[Image: VaBI9F2m.png]

The sky's the limit as long as you keep in mind the pin out of the power cable.  For a molex connector that'll depend on how you're wiring it up.  For outlets usually it's wired like so.
[Image: uSI23Inm.png]

The wide pin is white or neutral, the skinny pin is black or hot, and the round or half circle pin is ground (usually green or copper.)  With this knowledge you can make your own power strips, power cables, fuse boxes, power toggle switches anything you want. as long as it can support the voltage and amperage you're planning to run through it.
"I reject your reality and subsitute my own." - Adam Savage, Mythbusters
[Image: 5.jpg]

I know people like stranded, but as a hobby-scrapper I prefer solid core. Tongue Thankfully the electric repairs I do in my houses are all solid core and I have no waste. Dealing with stranded is immensely easier to work with in installations, but you lose clippings of some strands when trying to save clippings for the scrap pile. Its miniscule, but I hate waste. Tongue
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(January 8th, 2023 at 4:22 PM)Guardian Wrote: LOVE THIS!

I know people like stranded, but as a hobby-scrapper I prefer solid core. Tongue Thankfully the electric repairs I do in my houses are all solid core and I have no waste. Dealing with stranded is immensely easier to work with in installations, but you lose clippings of some strands when trying to save clippings for the scrap pile. Its miniscule, but I hate waste. Tongue

Ya I know what you mean, always little bits of stranded core flaking off lol.  But it all really comes in handy.  Feel free to check out the two additional sections btw which cover wire splicing and making terminal lugs and connectors.
"I reject your reality and subsitute my own." - Adam Savage, Mythbusters
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  • Guardian
How to construct a Registered Jack or RJ style cable.

So almost everybody probably knows what a network cable is right?  Sorta looks like a phone cable but bigger with more pins?  Well there's more than one type of network cable, but the one most commonly used that everyone is familiar with is known as an RJ45 connector.  It looks like a phone cable because it's an 8 pin version of the RJ series connectors, the phone being a 6 pin RJ11/RJ12/RJ14 etc.  the RJ stands for Registered Jack.
When it comes to home networking these three are the most common from left to right you have RJ45 (ethernet), RJ11 (phone/modem), and BNC (coaxial)

[Image: 8bfeswb.png]

BNC looks a lot like your standard coaxial cable because the two are related except instead of sending video signals it sends network signals between two computers.  This was common in the 1980's.  From the 1990's onward most people used Rj45 or Ethernet cables.  and I'm going to go into how to make such a cable today.
You will need a few things first.
  • An RJ11/RJ45 Crimper
  • A cable cutter/stripper
  • some RJ45 Jack ends
  • A spool or bundle of Ethernet cable.

For our case we have a combination wire cutter, crimper, stripper, designed specifically for this purpose.  Though just in case I keep some flush cutters as well since they make decent cuts but for the rest we use this tool by commercial electric.
[Image: WLI9cvVm.jpg]

It's $10 at home depot and this plus a decent flush cutter and maybe a multi-tool is all you need to make network ethernet and phone cables.
next you'll want to be aware that cable uses different thicknesses.  Cat 5e can handle gigabit but it can be lossy, cat 6 is thicker and handles stuff better.
I ended up getting cat 6 cable and RJ45 jacks, cat 5 RJ45 jacks won't work with cat 6 cable due to it's thickness.
[Image: OsaQYK0m.jpg?1]
[Image: wxEnDlLm.jpg]

now measure your spool of wire to your desired length.  give yourself some extra in case you need to re cut/strip the wire, a little extra is often common on custom cables and you can make it however long or short you want anyway.
[Image: JVyrLJFm.jpg]

You want to strip about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of the outer sheath off revealing the 4 twisted pairs of wires.
[Image: UziEBLVm.jpg?1]

Next you untwist the wires and lay them out in the following order.
[Image: eLrXT9zm.png]
[Image: 6KFqrcOm.jpg?1]

This is the guide I often reference when I can't quite remember the wire order.  This next part is important, DO NOT STRIP THE INNER WIRES!!!! This is because the sheath on those wires actually helps guide them into the connector.  basically you make sure the wires are flat in the correct order and then slide them into the connector, push them in as far as they will go.  there's 8 channels that they'll slide into with pins at the end which poke into the wire ends.
[Image: ansJFCEm.jpg?1]
[Image: fgEO7xkm.jpg?1]

Once you've checked your work and made sure the wires are all in there go ahead and stick the cable into the special slot on the crimper tool and squeeze, don't pull on the wire or they'll come loose and then you'll have to cut off the end and try again.
[Image: H23XXQrm.jpg?1]

Then just repeat that process on the other side and you're done, you now have a network cable!
[Image: sYv6hvNm.jpg]

This process can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes depending on how good you are at it.  but it's worth it for two reasons.  First, because you know the cable was made correctly, it's not DOA from the factory.  And second, because if it ever breaks you left some extra on there right?  just cut off the damaged end and put another one on.  The end connectors are maybe $0.20 each and the cable is $20 for 100 feet of Cat 6 at the time of this writing.

* I've decided to merge my network cable guide into this one since it's related to the general cables guide.  The next two to follow will cover Milspec style cables and Power Distribution Buses.*
"I reject your reality and subsitute my own." - Adam Savage, Mythbusters
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So I've talked a bit previously about how to make your basic cables, crimping, soldering, stripping, splicing, etc.  The next part is going to be a more broad overview, let's call it: Advanced Connectors and specialty tools.

Now you know about one type of specialty tool I covered regarding Registered jack type cables.  These don't need stripping for the inner wires and the connectors bite into the cable once you crimp the connector on the end.  That's one example.  Then you have your standard cable Crimping tool used for putting standard end connectors onto cables such as the one I demonstrated on the leatherman wave multitool I use pretty much daily.  That kind is more for boxy or angular crimping ends like you see on automotive equipment, industrial equipment, and flat end terminals.

But what about different kinds of connectors besides those?  Let's start with a pretty common one.  This one is commonly called a circular crimper or DMC crimper.
[Image: exTdm4r.png]

It's also known as a Milspec Crimping Tool.  it works similarly to the previous two shown examples however this one applies pressure to all sides of a connector when crimping it onto the end of a wire.  These are great for rounded pins such as is used in Milspec (aka amphenol or Aerospace) cables, Din Cables, VGA cables, And Molex Connectors will sometimes have these instead of the more standard box or V type crimping surface. 
[Image: Bjc68sr.png]

These are great because you can make them fairly easily and the connectors are usually pretty robust.  with just the three listed so far you can make just about any kind of cable you want and Milspec is great for applications where you want something to both easily disconnect but also lock down and secure thanks to it's screwdown terminal nut.

But what if you have a cable with pins and the wires are damaged or you want to change how the connections are laid out?  Well I've got great news for you.  There's a variety of tools to remove those pins which push down the locking tabs making them easy to remove and replace.  They come in a variety of designs from something resembling a screwdriver to a set that fit on a keyring and look like these.
[Image: HQ5UELY.png]

To remove a pin from your cable connector you simply insert the removal tool in the front, it pushes down the tabs, and it pops right out.  You can't use these on RJ type connectors however, but those are fairly cheap to repair/replace, just lop off the bad connector, strip the wires, crimp on a new one.  This is why we leave some extra cable length.  To cheaply and quickly repair stuff like that.

Milspec cables also need a special tool for both inserting and removing pins.  These look like this.
[Image: caJKEY1.png]

You can install new pins in a milspec connector or remove them depending on which side you use and they're purpose built to slide into the pin sockets which are very tightly spaced to deal with environmental changes.

Now there are a variety of cables and connectors too.
Milspec of course is great for low voltage/amperage/gauge bundles of wire run outside or in an environment that would undergo a lot of stress such as the inside of your engine bay.  It's one reason spots car enthusiasts use them for high end performance connections.  Easy to connect, easy to remove, fairly robust, and can handle a wide range of temperatures from -65 to 250 degrees Celsius. That's  -85 to 482 Fahrenheit and if your engine or environment is getting that hot it's likely on fire.  Any colder and you're likely in space or somewhere else that requires something more specialized. 

But for on earth these cannot be beat for Low voltage/amperage/gauge cabling such as data or signaling wire between the inside of your engine bay and the inside of the cabin.  You'll often find these cost a little more so use them wisely.
[Image: DZgaXj7.png]

Then you have DIN connectors which are similar to milspec but are more for civilian use applications such as PS/2 Cables (keyboards and mice).  Microphone Cables, and S-Video cables which are all likely examples most people are familiar with.
[Image: Gwj6YyL.png] [Image: f9EET4r.png]

Getting away from circular cables you also have DB style which have a number to indicate the number of pins.  These are used in VGA, CGA, SVGA, Serial, Parralel port.  And other similar style connectors.
[Image: gRwHt5B.png] [Image: IonW5w0.png]

These are all data cables, they are low voltage/amperage/gauge connectors which can be constructed/modified using the methods and tools listed so far.  But what about power?

For that we have Molex connectors as a classic example.
[Image: kBWZtvR.png]

There are a wide variety of Molex style power cables and they've become the defacto standard in power connectors.
[Image: Jr7nHc9.png] [Image: x3S068h.png] [Image: sCsObfS.png]

As an additional note.  If you're going to make cables and connectors I highly recommend bundling the wires together and sealing the connector end with heatshrink to help seal it once you've finished constructing it.
"I reject your reality and subsitute my own." - Adam Savage, Mythbusters
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