Is it possible to very quickly learn how to terminate network cables?
October 5, 2006 9:20 PM   Subscribe

Good news: I have been offered a job. This job involves running and terminating network cables. Bad news: I do not really know how to terminate network cables. Please help me learn how to do so.

I have worked as a computer tech/junior sysadmin for the last 5 years. No jobs where I had to know cabling in depth. For the last year I've done mostly temp/contract type jobs. I have very very limited experience terminating Cat 5 cables, I may've done 10 in my entire life, and none in the past 2-3 years. I need to be able to do this fairly efficiently by next Thursday.

So, is it possible to learn this skill that quickly? If so, can someone point me to some high-quality tutorial-style sites?

The job lasts 3-4 months, pays well, and I need the money, but I would prefer to not make a fool of myself and get fired after half a day.
posted by aerotive to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

First off, don't worry a bit. Ortho's link is good.

Second, I've done enough of these (hundreds, if not thousands) to know that A) it's easy as all hell and B) some percentage of them will not work, no matter how goo you are at it. Get a cable tester. I've got one of these and it works wonders for the paltry price.

Also know that if you fail to terminate a cable, you just cut off a few inches and do it again. Really not a big deal.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:36 PM on October 5, 2006

Go to Radio Shack and buy:
- a single cat5 patch cable (to cut up for later)
- a bag of RJ-45 connectors
- an RJ-45 crimp tool (make sure it works with the connectors above, sometimes they don't match)

And then practice! You'll get good enough at it after 10 or so.

Also, the crappy RS crimp tool you buy will probably make you appreciate the (presumably) higher grade tool that they give you at your new job.

Learn how to eyeball A) whether a cable is wired straight or for crossover (hint: hold both ends in front of your face and compare the color sequences), and B) whether a cable is wired to the old 1-2-3-6 10 Mbps standard (hint: 4 wires vs 8).

I think most places wire to T568B these days, not T568A.

Finally, don't ever trust Belkin RJ-45 couplers. Those people are idiots.
posted by intermod at 9:43 PM on October 5, 2006

Kickstart70 has a point. Don't skimp on the tools. If you're buying your own crimper, spend the extra bucks to get one with a ratcheting design. Your forearms will thank you.

By experience has been that while it's not difficult, it is time consuming, but then I've never done it professionally.
posted by Brian James at 9:43 PM on October 5, 2006

If you can see colors, and have the hand-eye coordination neccesary to feed the colored wires into little slots, you're golden. Just cut the wires short enough that the RJ45 jack or plug covers the end of the cable sleeve, so there are no exposed wires.

I spent a summer once running Cat5 cable in dorm rooms. Electricians showed us how to do it in just a few minutes. Heck, some jacks actually have color code stickers on them just in case you forget which wire goes where.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:48 PM on October 5, 2006

Also key is a decent hard copy cabling/pinout diagram [borderline nsfw] for crossovers.
posted by datacenter refugee at 10:10 PM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Practice, practice, practice... but do it in a quiet place and take a break if you just can't get an end crimped. It'll eventually just click and you'll be in the zone (at least that's my romanticized memory of CCNA training + wiring my house).
posted by djb at 10:26 PM on October 5, 2006

How to Make an Ethernet Patch Cable (RJ45)

It's a link to a do-it-yourself video showing exactly what you need to do to terminate a cable. Its an easy enough video to follow that'll give you the confidence you need just by watching it.

Good luck with your job!
posted by Advocate, I at 10:37 PM on October 5, 2006

Making an ethernet cable is fairly simple.
Making them at the speed required to keep up with a team of professional installers isn't quite as simple.

Not only that, but there are tricks of the trade in running cables as well (avoiding light fixtures, power lines, not making your bends too tight, etc.)

You'll also likely be punching down cables as well as making the drops.

Odds are pretty good you'll be exposed as a novice installer within the first couple of hours just as you would if you claimed extensive experience in construction and had never been on a building site before.

However, with enough practice and a little bluster, you might be able to hang on long enough to catch up and keep your job.
posted by madajb at 11:02 PM on October 5, 2006

orange white, organge, green white, blue, blue white, green, brown white, brown.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:32 AM on October 6, 2006

I sympathize with your stress, because I have a really random set of skills and a boss who will never ever let you forget it if you might accidentally not know how to do something. Terminating cables was one of those things. Just get your supplies and a tester and then practice over and over. That's all it takes to get fast and accurate.

If you're going to have to do punchdowns too (either ethernet jacks in walls/biscuits or at the panel), that's a little harder to do and harder to get the supplies to practice, though you can use one keystone over and over, unlike RJ-45 terminators. You'll need a punchdown tool.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:39 AM on October 6, 2006

What kind of wiring are you doing? Are you putting in patch cables, or jacks? (I recommend the jacks!) The jacks are actually easier, though you do need to get a little pressing and stamping tool. (Or a screwdriver and a knife, but I don't recommend that) Home Depot carries jacks, and you can get lengths of cable there cheap too. Probably has the too, but I haven't looked.
Scroll down halfway to this page for more info on Cat 5e and Cat 6 Jacks.

Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it in no time.
posted by defcom1 at 5:42 AM on October 6, 2006

I have to ask too: Are you making actual patch cables? (male RJ45 on each end) Or are you punching down patch panels? (panels full of female RJ45 jacks).

If you're busy making patch cables, tell your employer to stop being a cheapskate and just buy the damn things. I've seen way too many funny issues that result from homemade patch cables. Not to mention that the higher speed standards for GigE and the like are a lot more sensitive to the quality of your work than good old 100BaseT, and you need a high end tester to measure crosstalk and impedence and the like.

If you're punching down patch panels, there is a lot more to it than just knowing which pair goes where. Are you going to be working with an experienced installer? There are issues of electrical code, and there are best practices for ensuring your punchdowns are up to spec, non of which I know much about.
posted by kableh at 6:26 AM on October 6, 2006

Get a tester!
posted by furtive at 9:51 AM on October 6, 2006

AMP crimpers were the shiznit when I used to do this 10 years+ ago. I still have mine, though I haven't used it in forever. That thing will still reliably crimp RJ45's for the networked cockroaches when they take over after the Apocalypse.

(Punchdown tools aren't generally as finicky, but AMP makes a good one for that too.)
posted by dragstroke at 10:21 AM on October 6, 2006

As others have said, this isn't hard at all, and a goof is easily fixed by cutting off the end and trying again.

For those curious, memorizing the following is what I'd call absolute, baseline knowledge for a cable builder.

Here's the "B" standard, which goes on each end of a standard Cat5/5e/6 patch cable:

Orange-White, Orange, Green-White, Blue, Blue-White, Green, Brown-White, Brown.

A crossover has the "B" standard on one end, and the "A" standard on the other. I've never bothered to memorize the "A" standard, as I almost never, ever make crossover cables. I just keep one on hand and reference it on the odd occasions I have to make one.

Step By Step:

1. Cut off about 0.5 inches of sheath, and splay the colored wires out so you can work with them.
2. Organize them into the above color order, holding the colored wires in order between your fingers.
3. When you have them in order, bend the ordered bundle of them back and forth a few times to straighten them so that they'll slide into the terminator end easily.
4. Use your crimping tool to cut the ends of the wires even so that the edges make a straight line.
5. Push the wires into the terminator CLIP SIDE DOWN, all the way so that you can see the copper ends of the wires through the end of the terminator.
6. Look through the terminator and check that your colors are still in the right places. With the terminator clip side down, and pointed away from you, you should see Orange-White on the left, and Brown on the right. Make sure all the colored wires are in the correct sequence.
7. Insert the terminator end into your crimping tool, and squeeze that sucker HARD. If you don't squeeze hard enough, the contacts won't sink into the terminator end far enough, causing either bad contacts with the colored wires below, or lots of difficulty plugging and unplugging the cable.
8. You do have a cable tester, right? Crimp the other end and then test the cable.

Maybe it sounds a little involved here, but chant the color code to yourself and built 10 or 20 cables, and you'll find that it's a lemon merengue pie of a job.

Good luck!
posted by SlyBevel at 2:52 PM on October 6, 2006

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