Let me get this straight...
July 30, 2010 6:53 AM   Subscribe

How can I straighten a cable with many kinks / bends in it?

This is not a repeat of this question; I want to know how I can straighten out a cable or cord that was wound tight at one time and now retains those kinks. I often have this problem with computer mice, headphone chords, or usb cables when they arrive wound into tight little bundles - once you unroll them they still remain in this zig-zag shape.

I want to know if there is a trick to getting them straightened out. I have done a bit of googling, and most tips seem either to risk damaging the cable (putting a heavy weight at the end, stretching it repeatedly over the corner of a desk) or heating the cable up (putting it in boiling water, heating it with a hair dryer), which could remove the plasticizers and make it brittle. Is there any better solution to this?
posted by PontifexPrimus to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Leaving it out in the sun for a few hours, or in a car on a hot day. Arrange it how you want it and let a slow heat take care of it.
posted by tomierna at 6:59 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am electrician, and we have lots of wires and extension cords and such that we need to straighten out once in awhile.

A great way to do it is: hang a weight off one end (but not too heavy to damage the wire), then hang the other end high enough that the whole thing is hanging in the air. If you do it outside on a hot day, the sun and the weight will completely straighten it out. Let it hang for hours, as the weight will gently (imperceptibly) move, untwirling the twists.
posted by Flood at 7:04 AM on July 30, 2010 [7 favorites]

While a hair dryer "could" chemically damage the plastic, that's highly dependent on using excessive heat. You don't need to bring it up to those kind of temperatures to see improvement.

I'd actually be more concerned about exposure to the sun; the radiant heat on a black cable can get higher than you'll get with gentle use of a low-temp setting on a hair dryer.
posted by phearlez at 8:10 AM on July 30, 2010

I've always just stretched the cord across a floor in front of some windows that let a lot of sun in and left it there for a day or so.

The trick seems to be a combination of pulling the cord out straight and getting it warm for a while. Whatever system you have that combines these two things will probably work fine.
posted by quin at 9:46 AM on July 30, 2010

Nth-ing the sun as a good heat source. Once they're straightened, practice coiling your cables. A little practice and you'll be able to do this as fast as other coiling methods, and your cables will be much happier for it.

Alternately, if you don't have a whole lot of room to lay a cable flat outdoors, coil it as above, then set the coil in sun.

Optinal pro-tip: you can spritz some Armor-all on a rag and wipe cables while coiling. That keeps them looking fresh and smelling nice.
posted by Wulfhere at 9:51 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the tips, I'll be sure to try them out!
posted by PontifexPrimus at 10:52 AM on July 30, 2010

Be interesting to see some x-rays of such cables to find out whether the kinks ever really come out of the conductors inside. I'd bet not.

Or you could shoot a pulse down them and look for reflections from the kinks.
posted by jamjam at 11:34 AM on July 30, 2010

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