While most people fix wires by just wrapping them together, you can lose quality and strength that way. When joining cables – audio or not – soldering will make a huge difference, and here’s how to do it properly.
Broken Cables and Soldering
Broken audio cables of all kinds can be fixed pretty easily and painlessly with a little time and a touch of solder. Small, cheap cables are expendable, but nicer cables – especially those attached to expensive equipment – aren’t as easy to just throw out. In general, thicker cables are easier to fix without a drop in quality and also require a more powerful iron to solder with. Thinner cables require more care and you risk damaging them if you’re not careful.
Many people wonder if soldering is important. When it comes to digital cables, skipping the soldering won’t hurt your quality, but it will affect your cable strength. For analog audio, soldering is an absolute must, otherwise the quality will degrade quite a bit. There’s no real reason not to solder; you’re getting better quality, better cable strength, and ensuring longevity. This is absolutely imperative when you want a solid connection for things like your car stereo, where vibrations and bumps can shake things loose.
Be sure to check out How to Use a Soldering Iron: A Beginner’s Guide if you’re not sure what exactly to do one, but it’s pretty easy and straightforward as long as you’re careful.
Cutting and Joining Wires
Start by isolating the damaged area of your cable.
Cut that portion out of your cable, and start stripping the wires.
If you plan on using heat-shrink tubes, now is the time to slip them on the wires. My cable’s small, so I’ll stick to electrical tape.
Again, depending on what kind of cable you’ve got, this may be more or less of a chore. the main thing to remember is that you want to keep track of which wire is which, and you want room. My cables are pretty small, so I’ve got an 1-2” of stripped wire to work with. Cross one set of wires.
Twist the end of one wire around the other wire, and vice versa.
Try to get a good, firm wrap without knotting things up and perhaps causing the metal to break.
When you’re ready, heat the joint and add some solder.
You can see that I’ve added a bit too much solder to the joint. You don’t need so much, just enough to fix the joint and get a good connection.
Lather, rinse, and repeat with the other wires. Take care to join matching colors, otherwise you may end up with unintended consequences.
Electrical Tape or Heat-Shrink Tubing
You can coat the unshielded portions of the wires in some electrical tape, and then wrap the joint as well. For larger cables and when strength really matters, you may want to look into heat-shrink tubing.
(Image credit: makerbot)
“Heat-shrink” is plastic tubing that will shrink tightly over joints and ends when heat is applied through a heat gun. If you have a really powerful hair dryer, that may suffice as well.
(Image credit: makerbot)
Above, you can see various sizes of “solder seal heat-shrink.” When applied with a heat gun, the special solder will melt at a relatively low temperature and bond with your joint. It’s made to be a one-step solution, but the solder quality can vary.
Heat-shrink provides a professional touch and can really help keep your cables strong, but be sure to thread it onto your wires or cable before you start soldering. In basic applications, though, electrical tape wrappings work fine. Either way, make sure that all your wires (except for the ground) are covered. You don’t want to short anything or have mixed signals by having them touch!
A little solder can go a long way when fixing cables. It’s especially important when you’re working on your car’s speakers and the like, since easier methods can come undone so quickly. Soldering won’t give out due to vibrations and bumps, and heat-shrink will give you that professional touch.
Have any cable fixing tips or stories? Share them in the comments!
Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.
- Published 06/16/11