Building Custom Cables – Lessons Learned

March, 2014

Many of the projects I have completed benefit from the ability to detach peripherals to allow easier augmentation, replacement or repair.  Years ago, I invested in some Molex connectors, pins and a crimping tool.  Using the kit, I can create easily detachable custom cables to suit my needs.  However, more recently I’m seeing a trend with these custom cables failing due to wire fatigue.  It seems strain on the wire immediately above the crimped pin causes the problem.  I’ve attempted to use shrink wrap to provide some strain relief, but the problem persists.

Recently, I did some checking and found that several wires used to control my motorized air vents needed to be repaired due to this problem.

molex connector

So, it got me thinking about an alternative approach.  After scrounging through my inventory, I found the answer – .1″ stackable headers with long leads.  I had a bunch of extra from some Arduino Shields and thought I would try to re-purpose them.  I used a sharp knife to cut down the header to give me only the number of pins I needed.  The long leads gave me lots of room to work with to bend the ends and wrap wire around, then add shrink wrap to keep them from moving.  This worked very well and I was able to repair the cables.

DSCN0256

Recently, I found myself in the San Francisco bay area on business.  I visited many surplus electronic component stores during my visit and stocked up on various .1″ stackable headers with long leads.  Moving forward, this will be my preferred approach for building custom cable connectors for thin wires.  Sorry Molex!

Stackable Headers

I also bought several surplus Male-to-Female PC and JST extender wires – I can just cut the wires in the middle, join the two connectors, and splice the wires together.  I used this approach for creating a disconnect for the top and bottom parts of my 2013 Halloween costume.  These thicker wires handled more voltage and current without concern and gave me a more robust molded plastic connector.

custom cable

Plato is credited as first stating “Necessity is the mother of invention”.  However, after this experience, I’d change that to “Impatience is the mother of invention”.  The solution to my problem exists, is inexpensive and readily available.  However, it’s hard to push off projects waiting for Internet-ordered parts to arrive.  Rather than wait, why not re-purpose something something I already have!

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