Monthly Archives: October 2018
A little cable prep can go a long way towards keeping your work area tidy. Anytime you use more than a few cables, they can quickly become a tangled, jumbled mess. Using a few cable prep tools can keep cables safe, secure, and neat.
When lots of different cables are all hooked up right next to each other, it can be hard to remember where each cable goes. One of the simplest ways to keep track of each cable is with some simple labels. These labels come with templates and are on sheets the size of a standard piece of paper, allowing them to be printed on any standard printer. The individual labels are also available in multiple sizes to ensure a fit regardless of how thick or thin of a cable you have.
American Wire Gauge (AWG)
What is American Wire Gauge (AWG)?
American Wire Gauge (AWG, sometimes called the Brown & Sharpe wire gauge) is the standardized wire gauge system used to measure the size of electric conducting wire in the United States since 1857. AWG refers to wire made with a solid metal core. It is represented as a simple number that is calculated by finding the radius of the wire, squaring that number, and multiplying it by pi (AWG = πr²). The smaller the number is, the thicker the cable will be.
Stranded wire is also commonly referred to using AWG, but it a little more complex. Because standard cables are made using multiple wires instead of a single solid core, they can be given multiple numbers. For example, a cable called “24 AWG (7x32)” means that the overall outer diameter is 24 AWG but on the inside, the cable has seven 32 AWG wires.
Common Wire Gauges
Certain types of cables will always be the same AWG. For example, RG58 cable is always made as a 20 AWG cable regardless of manufacturer. Coax cables tend to be the same size across the board with different connectors made for the different kinds of cables. There are a few exceptions, such as cables with Quad Shielding being a little thicker and needing special connectors, but these are few and far between.
On the other side of that, there are some cables that come in different variants and as a result, can have different AWGs. Ethernet cable is a prime example for this. Standard ethernet cable is typically 23 or 24 AWG from most manufacturers. However, you also have versions like
Speaker wire is one of the most common types of audio cable. While it looks simple at a glance, there are a fair number of factors that come into play. Some speaker cables have connectors while others are blunt (ending with bare wire). The AWG (American Wire Gauge) of speaker wire comes in a few different varieties with different types having advantages and disadvantages depending on the application.
Speaker Wire Connectors (or Bare Wire)
Most speakers (and some similar equipment) do not come with the speaker wire they need. The first step in selecting one is deciding how you the wire will be connected to the speaker. Many speakers have the option to insert the bare wire, eliminating the need for a connector. Bare wire does provide the best sound quality since there is nothing between the wire and speaker but comes with a few downsides. Since the wire is out in the open it can be frayed or otherwise damaged over time, which can lower the signal quality or even break the cable. If the cable or speaker ever needs to be moved, it is also easier to unplug a connector than undo bare speaker wire.
All types of speaker connectors work in pairs. One cable will be positive (red) and the other will be negative (black), similar to a car battery. Typically, connectors are sold in pairs since they are designed to be used together.
Banana connectors are the most common speaker wire connector, with virtually every speaker on the market having banana ports. Bare speaker wire is inserted into the back of the banana plug and held in place with small screws. These screws act as the conduit between the rest of the banana connector and the speaker wire itself.
Power cables are incredibly varied, with different types of cables and standards being set by their use and the country they are used in. In the United States alone, there are over a dozen types that are commonly used. Each type of power cable connector has its own name, so most power cables will have two names associated with them. There are two main standards for power cables in the US, NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission).
Types of NEMA connectors include:
Types of IEC connectors include:
Many cables will contain either a NEMA 1-15, 5-15, or 5-20 connector for connecting to a wall outlet. 1-15 is the older, ungrounded type of connector with two metal prongs. On old cables, these prongs can be the same size, but typically one is slightly larger than the other. 5-15 is the three-pronged upgrade to 1-15 that has been grounded. 5-20 looks similar to 5-15 but one of the metal prongs will be horizontal instead of vertical. These are rated for higher amperage than their 5-15 counterparts and commonly used for hospital equipment.
Fiber optic cable is the newer, faster way to transmit data. These send data signals using light (lasers) instead of electricity. Light signals can travel faster for higher bandwidth, suffer from less signal loss, and degrade less from electrical interference. Fiber optic cables come in a few different varieties with multiple types of cable as well as multiple connectors.
Types of cable include:
Types of connectors include:
Single-mode fiber optic contains a very thin core, making it ideal for long-range transmissions. These cables can be incredibly long, with a single line potentially running for miles. The light transmitted by single-mode cable is between 1,300 and 1,550 μm, a frequency range that almost puts it into the infrared wavelength. This version of fiber optic cable is mainly used for telecommunications.
The name “single-mode” comes from the cable only transmitting a single mode of light down the cable. Typically, single-mode fiber optic is color coded yellow. The downside of single-mode is that their long range means they require very powerful lasers to operate at those extreme distances. The equipment needed to make lasers that powerful tends to be very expensive.
Along with the many types of coax cables there are to pick from, there is also an assortment of different coax connectors. When selecting a connector, you need to make sure you select one rated for the cable you are assembling. The back end of the connector that attaches to the coax cable needs to be the right size for installation. If the connector is too small, it will not fit. If it is too big, the connector will not secure properly and can be pulled off or even just fall off.
The type of connector you need will be determined by the equipment used with the coax cable. A television coax connection, for example, uses an F-type connector as the industry standard. Not every connector can be used with every type of coax cable, but all types of coax cables do support multiple types of connectors.
Every connector comes in two versions, male and female. A male connector will have a pin in the center while a female connector has a hole. If you are using an RP (Reverse Polarity) connector, this is switched. Male RP will have the hole while female RP has the pin. The term “reverse polarity” refers to the fact that the hole and pin are switched. They do not change the polarity of the signal going through the cable.
RP connectors were originally implemented by the FCC to try to stop members of the public from using antennas and other equipment to boost their Wi-Fi signals, in violation of federal law. This worked for a few years but now RP connectors are just as available on the open market as their conventional counterparts.
Coax (coaxial) cable is one of the oldest types of cables, having been in use for over 100 years. Like ethernet, coax cables come in both solid and stranded versions, although they are usually solid. Only a few types of coax, namely RG58 and RG8, are available as stranded.
Most coax cables fall into one of two categories, RG (Radio Guide) and LMR. No one is 100% sure what LMR actually stands for. It could stand for a term, someone’s name, or just be random letters. There are many rumors and theories for what LMR may mean but nobody really knows for sure.
RG cables are labeled “RG#” with the number formerly standing for the diameter of the cable. For example, RG59 cable originally had a diameter of .059”. While these measurements have changed over the years, the names of the cables have stuck. There are many types of RG cables and this article will only review the most common variants. Typically, RG cables have a 50 or 75 ohm impedance. Some off-shoot cables have different impedance, but all the standard RG cables covered here will be one of those two.
LMR cable is owned by the company Times Microwave. While the cables and name LMR are their property, other companies will frequently make equivalent cable, such as ShowMeCables EMR cables. These cables are labeled “LMR-#”, with the number being a rough estimate of the cable thickness. For example, LMR-400 has a 0.405” OD (outer diameter). LMR, like RG, has a few main types that this article will cover but off-shoot versions are also available.
Telephone cords are one of the more basic types of cables. Phone cables have remained mostly the same over the years with a few small changes here and there. There is a little terminology to know that will tell you a bit more about your phone lines, such as how they are wired and what type of plastic connector is on the end of the cable.
Phone cords come in two varieties, flat cords used to connect phones to the wall and coiled cords used for handset receivers. Flat cords will use either an RJ11 or RJ12 connector. These two connectors are the same size and look the same on the outside. On the inside, RJ11 will have four metal contacts for the internal wires inside the cable while RJ12 has six contacts. Since they are the same size, RJ12 is backwards compatible with RJ11. However, since RJ11 is the older of the two it is not compatible with RJ12.
The next distinction is whether your flat cord is straight or reverse. Straight cables are used to send data, like a fax machine, while reverse cables are used for voice, like a telephone. On a straight cable, the wires will connect to the same metal pins on either side of the cable. Pin 1 to pin 1, pin 2 to pin 2, etc. On a reverse cable, the opposite is true. For RJ12, a reverse cable would go pin 1 to pin 6, pin 2 to pin 5, etc.
Round versions of the flat cord also exist but are usually used for something other than a phone. Typically, they are equipped with extra features that make them larger than the average flat cable, such as something built for outdoor use or
Audio and video cables go hand-in-hand, often being paired together. Some cables can even transmit audio and video on just one line. Over time a lot of new audio and video cables have been introduced, so the cable you need will often depend on the age of the equipment you are using. Most TVs, computers, and other devices can use multiple types of audio and video connections, so it is good to be able to identify them and know your options.
Audio-only cables include:
- Optical Toslink
Video-only cables include:
Audio/video cables include:
3.5mm, also called ⅛” cables, is one of the most common audio cables. They are sometimes called “headphone jacks”, being the type of connection used for headphones. These ports are frequently found on cell phones, computers, and televisions.
There are a few different versions of 3.5mm: TS, TRS, and TRRS. TS cables will have one ring, dividing the metal sections into two conductors and are most often used for mono connections like microphones. TRS has two rings to give it three conductors, allowing them to be used for stereo connections such as speakers. TRRS has three rings for four conductors to support stereo aud