Computers these days are made to be networked. Period. A computer that is not connected to a type of network (LAN, WAN, Internet, etc..) is basically useless in 90% of applications.
These days the term network cable normally refers to Category-5 cable (aka 10BaseT or 100BaseTX cable) which is used to wire an Ethernet network. Very similar in design as the cable that you have connecting any traditional phone in your home (which has two inside wires), Cat-5 cable consists of 8 small wires inside of an outer shell. Each wire is paired up with another, and twisted together; this how the ‘twisted-pair concept’ gets its name. This twisting, along with the outer shell around the cables, helps protect against magnetic interference, among other things.
Any more explanation than that is beyond the scope of this post, and is better explained by Wikipedia. Now, on to making your own cable!
Tools of the Trade
To effectively crimp your own cables, you will need four things. They are:
- A length of Cat-5 Cable: I have found the best places to buy this cable is at small computer shops in your city, as larger ones don’t usually have spools of cable around because they would prefer you to buy the more expensive, pre-made cable. You can also purchase cable online in large spools.
- RJ-45 Heads (Ends): You will need at least two heads, one for each end of the cable (obviously), but I would suggest getting some extras for future wiring needs, not to mention having some to fall back on if/when you goof up. You can purchase these from the same place you get the cable.
- Cat-5 Crimping Tool: This is what makes the magic happen. Crimping tools are available in many different varieties, ranging in different prices. I suggest finding a tool that locks as you squeeze it as it can take quite a bit of pressure to crimp a wire. These tools should also be available from the sources above.
- Cat-5 Cable tester: This is optional, but if you’re serious about creating network cable, then it is a very good thing to have. There’s nothing worse than crimping a cable ‘perfectly’ but not being able to figure out why it won’t work. Availability is same as above, but they’re pretty expensive. You may even be able to rent a tester at some locations.
First off, figure out how long of a cable you need, then add a couple feet to that number. Next, carefully cut approx. a 1/2 inch (1.25cm) of the outer coating from each of the ends of the cable. Now, unravel the twisted-pair wires so each is it’s own single wire. Here’s where things might get confusing.
At this point you need to figure out how you’re going to be using this wire. In most cases, you’ll want a ‘Straight-Through’ Cable for connecting a PC to a hub/switch/router, but sometimes you might require a ‘Cross-Over’ Cable to connect two computers together without the aid of a hub-style intermediary. Take a look at the simple diagram to the right to figure out in which order the wires should be; assume you’re holding the the two tips of the wire up in front of you.
Making Your Cable
Now, once you’ve decided what type of cable you need, use the diagram to separate the wires in the right order; let’s assume we’ll be making a Straight-Through cable. Grab a RJ-45 end and carefully stick each little coloured wire into the appropriate slot. In order to keep things straight with which wires go where, I always insert wires with the springy tip pointing away from me.
Now here’s where you need a little strength! Grab the Crimping Tool and stick in the now wired RJ-45 End.
Be very careful! Ensure you are careful not to pull out any of the wires from the RJ-45 End while you are placing it in the Crimping Tool; it is best if, while crimping, you keep the ends of each wire pushed in as far as possible to ensure the leads make full contact with the ends.
With the RJ-45 End (with wires inserted) in the crimper, use your crimper to clamp the 8 tiny metal contacts of the RJ-45 End into each tiny wire. Depending on the type of crimper you have, this may require a great deal of pressure.
Once you’re successfully crimped your first end, grab the other end of the wire.
This is where you can make or break the wire! Make sure you insert the small coloured wires in the proper order, using the above illustration for reference. Now check, and double check, that you’ve inserted the coloured wires in the proper order. Once you’re sure you have, crimp that end also.
If you have a crimping tool on hand, jam the two newly crimped ends into the tester and test away! If everything went right, you should get a full, strong reading. If something happens that you don’t, double check the alignment of the coloured wires in the ends, they’re probably wrong. IF so, this si where you chop off whichever end is wired wrong, and start again. Once an RJ-45 End is crimped, you cannot reuse it. This is why I suggested having a few extra ends on hand ;)
Well, now you know how to crimp your own Cat-5 network cable. Keep in mind that if you just need one or two cables, it is usually more cost effective to go to your local FutureShop or BestBuy and buy the length of cable that you need, but crimping your own cable is a viable option if you plan on making a large number of cables. Also, making your own cable makes is cool.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment.
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