No-solder USB plug adapters / tools?
February 22, 2017 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Is there such a thing as a crimping kit to build USB cables? I am interested in wiring USB lights to USB plugs and would prefer to skip the soldering iron.

I have been researching USB-powered LEDs as household lighting. Ideally I would like to obtain a very long strand of these strip or string lights and cut to measure for under cabinet applications and wire in my own male USB connector.

I note several suppliers of either USB to three-strand pigtails or USB plug cap connectors, but nothing that would mimic the wiring-in process for ethernet, where you have a wire, a box of blank jacks, and a crimper that allows one to thread the wires and crimp down the jack without messing around with a soldering iron.

Does such a product exist? It seems kinda like it really must.
posted by mwhybark to Technology (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: It appears that perhaps I had not excavated the word 'crimp' from my cranial recesses on initial Google / Amazon / eBay searching for this.

Here's one, for example.

Still, interested in reccys if you got 'em!
posted by mwhybark at 1:43 PM on February 22, 2017

You could buy some crimp butt splices and some shrink tubing. Only tools you'll need are the crimp pliers and a lighter.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:53 PM on February 22, 2017

Adafruit has 'em: male, female. Nope sorry, those are soldered.

What I'd probably do myself in your situation is use standard, common-as-dirt 5.5mm jacks, then a USB-to-5.5mm adapter (also fairly common) if I felt the need to power via USB instead of a wall wart. Monoprice has the 5.5mm barrel jacks for cheap (pigtails or screw terminals); can't dig up a link right now.
posted by neckro23 at 2:04 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just a side-note really, but you're aware that standard USB isn't made to deliver more than about 4.5W? I have a OnePlus Dash charger that's rated at 20W, and that only works because of a specially designed cable that dissipates heat.

LEDs for room lighting will typically be several Watts. You might just be able to power one such light using USB. But an IKEA Omlopp 80cm LED strip (to use a readily available example) needs 10W, so I'd want to be using something a bit heftier than USB.

If you're thinking of using the USB connectors with a heavier gauge wire (and maybe only 2 cores, as it's only for power), then that's probably less of a problem, but there are any number of different kinds of crimped connectors that will do the same job.
posted by pipeski at 2:32 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: neckro23, I like your thinking. Here's a range of no-solder 5.5mm adapter heads 10 for $5 shipped, and here's 3 5.5mm to USB power-only cables for $8 in Prime, which means I could find these free-shipped direct for less.
posted by mwhybark at 2:34 PM on February 22, 2017

Response by poster: Further info in hopes it may be of service to others.

I started prodding at eBay and Amazon looking for 2300-2700k USB rechargeable lights that would be suited for use as picture lights. I didn't really find my exact desired product, which would ideally have a PIR sensor and deliver the light from a T-configuration on to the associated image, but I did find some inexpensive USB-rechargeable gooseneck lights at Amazon which have a simple adjustable temp control as well as brightness adjustment in Prime. They are really closer to 33k than 27k at the warm side of their spectrum but I was trying to keep unit cost under $10. Their temp control is toggled; there are two LED strips, one 'warm' and one 'cool'. The settings are just the warm strip, both strips, and the cool strip. As expected they have somewhat variable use life. I got twelve hours out of one and three out of another. Overall for $8 shipped I am pleased.

In the course of poking around I discovered a baffling and interesting variety of USB-powered LED lights on both selling platforms.

I purchased this short gooseneck PIR lamp in hopes that I could run a long F-M USB cable to an iPhone-charger-size brick or to a hub ziptied to a powerstrip, but the lamp's diffuser dome provides an uneven light field and the lamp itself is too dim for my needs. Still an interesting gimcrack. It shipped from China and took quite some time in arriving.

My other thought was to buy parts to build my ideal picture light: a positionable gooseneck USB cable, a USB LED card lamp (preferably with both PIR and illumination sensing), and either rechargeable power banks or the cable-to-hub-or-charger implementation described above. At $2.50 per cable and $0.99 per card lamp, this looked like a ready low cost option with the bonus factor of a raw technology aesthetic.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find the PIR/illumination sensing combo in a card lamp. The linked product does have illumination sensing and adjustable sensitivity via a *physical dial* on the card that one adjusts with a jeweler's screwdriver. It has very satisfactorily warm light, much more like the 2300-2700k I had hoped for from the white goosenecks. The vendor at the time of my purchase did not specify a kelvin color temp, which seems common among vendors of these low cost products presumably to facilitate multiple sourcing and variable factory quality control.

In the end, however, I moved away from the rechargeable battery-pack concept and stuck with the white goosenecks, largely due to difficulty identifying an appropriate low-cost, long-life, known-safe external power bank. There were several power bank options that used off-the-shelf disposable battery types (AAA or 9-volt, what have you) which resolved the unknown safety factor concern but in the end I felt that the power bank idea was not one I wanted to pursue.

My wife was very clear in her desire for me to *not* run long USB wires to a hub. I pondered adding low-voltage cable runs to a receptacle that had 2 to 4 female USB power ports but decided that was overkill for what I was attempting.

All of this USB LED nonsense rattling around my dome led to looking at LED solutions for under cabinet lighting, which led to this post.

I hope this brain dump will prove of interest and use.

As I was learning about this stuff I started going to look at the lighting sections of my nearby Lowe's and Home Depot and it's clear that LED lighting is upending their merchandising categories and pricing, with product being moved around, displays in disarray, and products being discontinued.

They generally sell LED products at a premium over their standard incandescent, halogen, and CFL products. An LED product on the shelf there at $75 can usually be located on either eBay or Amazon for a third or less the cost. Additionally, some of the more innovative products on both venues are essentially category killers for certain shelf lines, such as these integrated PIR standard-size lightbulbs, carefully not advertised as all-weather and outdoor-appropriate. If your illumination and motion sensor is integrated into your light bulb, why would you spend an extra $40 on a yard light unit that incorporates the sensor and which is prone to failure?
posted by mwhybark at 3:14 PM on February 22, 2017

I recently had a need for some relatively specific LED lighting design and parts and the people at Oznium were very helpful and great to work with. I cannot recommend them enough and I would like to say that they should be able to match up products with your skill level and what you want to do.

Looking at stuff like this at Lowe's and Home Depot to learn about it is how mistakes are made and bad things happen. You should either check with an electrician, electrical engineer, or someone who knows what they are doing if you need 1:1 help. Mistakes with this can and do burn houses down. Even if it is rare since it is low voltage, there are a few cases a year where it happens. It is okay to admit that you do not know what you are doing and hire a professional.
posted by Nackt at 3:28 PM on February 22, 2017

Response by poster: Looking at stuff like this at Lowe's and Home Depot to learn about it is how mistakes are made and bad things happen.

One would think that the approach I am employing, which is looking at eBay and Amazon to learn about it more than I am at Lowe's and Home Depot, might be even less advisable.
posted by mwhybark at 4:20 PM on February 22, 2017

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