How to splice cable like a rocket scientist

Rocket Science without the expensive college education!

Often, in the world of electronic experimentation or repair, there's a need to splice a wire or a 2-wire cable.

How many times have you seen a wire splice where the wires are sloppily twisted together and insulated with electrical tape, or worse, yet, masking tape?? A Plague Upon such slipshod methods! Don't even go there. Such practices will only result in heartache down the road.

Do you want to make a strong, reliable, secure, neat connection in a 2-wire (or more) cable? This is not that hard. Despite the title, you don't have to be a Rocket Scientist to make a neat wire splice and do it right.

The best splices are soldered, so knowing how to solder is essential in electronics. If you need to learn the basics, I suggest my Instructable on soldering.

The kind of splice we're going to use is a modified Western Union or Lineman splice. Unlike ordinary twisted splices, this style has a very high tensile strength, which is why it's the preferred method of NASA.

If it's good enough for NASA, it's good enough for me!

All you need to make a professional wire splice is:

  • Wire cutters and strippers
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • A soldering iron and solder
  • Heat-shrink tubing (Various sizes). You can get this at Radio Shack or almost any store carrying electrical parts.
  • Match, lighter, or heat gun to shrink tubing
  • A few minutes of time

If you've done any kind of electrical or electronic work, you probably have all of these already.

splicing cable

Picture of Prepare the wire ends
 
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The important thing to do when splicing a multi-wire cable is to stagger the splices of the individual wires. This accomplishes two things: It reduces the possibility of a short circuit if your insulation method fails, and reduces the bulk of the splice so you don't have a huge unsightly glob in the cable (also making it easier to thread the cable through holes if you need to).

Let's get started. I'm using a laptop power cord as an example. If the cables you're splicing have a jacket, gently strip about 1 1/2 inches of the jacket on each cable end, being careful not to nick the inner insulation. The wires here are color-coded, so we'll be joining white to white, and red to red. On one cable end, cut one of the inner wires about 1/2" shorter than the other. Strip 1/2" from both wires. (These dimensions will vary depending on the thickness of the wires you'll be joining. 1/2" - 5/8" works well for small gauge wires.)

Now, on the other end, cut 1/2" off of the opposite wire - In other words, if you cut 1/2" off of the red wire on the first end, cut 1/2" off the white wire on thesecond end. Twist all the strands together tightly. When you are done, the wires should look like the second photo.

If splicing a cable containing more than two wires, stagger all the lengths by a similar amount. Of course, this will increase the total length of the splice.

The NASA method calls for the wires to be tinned (Coated with solder) before splicing. While this will probably improve the neatness of the splice, it makes the wire much stiffer and harder to bend and twist, so I did not do this on my demonstration project.