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Written by Phillip L. Harris   

Let’s talk about Cable Coiling

We’ve all seen it. You walk into your storage room and there on the floor IT is. What seems like the largest pile of black spaghetti in the world! Students checked out equipment and dutifully returned it to its proper place. Then they took the cables and …and…added them to the spaghetti pile. ARG!!! You scream and start what seems to be an every other day rant with your current class whether or not they were the ones who created the pile. How do you stop this endless cycle of mess and ranting?

The first step is to teach the students to coil cables.

The second step is to get some cable ties.

The third step is to install some large hooks to hang the cables on.

The fourth step is to make some very tough, no–excuse, black and white, firm rules.

Did you enjoy the video on Cable Coiling? This is the first video in a series of tutorials SVN will be producing in cooperation with the Fairfax Academy, Fairfax, VA. These talented students and their teacher, David Ruby, will be creating more videos over the next several months.

Make sure you check out ALL the videos on the new SVN VIDEO link

Cable Coiling:

Now, how to cable coil. I learned to coil a cable from my dad who was a neat-nik who couldn’t stand the orange spaghetti of extension cord after he made me use the sidewalk edger. You know, wrap it around your elbow dozens of times and then tie a knot with the ends of the wire. That’s how everyone does it, right? Ever notice how what was in neat coils when it was new becomes a mess of uneven loops that refuse to un-kink? Here’s why it kinks: Every time you make a turn around your elbow you end up twisting the cable 360 degrees. This is why when you finally get towards the end of the cable you’re coiling it’s a twisted mess that you start slinging around until it untwists – sorta. Have you ever watched your neighbor doing the “coiling dance?” Perhaps he starts swinging it around like a whip until he hits himself in the face with the end. It’s pretty funny, right.

Anyway, your students probably coil cables the same way, if they bother to coil at all. Besides being a visually sloppy way to coil, it causes tremendous strain on the delicate wires inside that plastic insulation. This kind of coiling is the primary reason for cable failure – and that always seems to happen at the worst of times – when you don’t have a spare with you on a very important shoot far from the studio. Coiling cables around your arm/elbow is probably one of the worst things you can do to a cable.

Proper coiling does not twist the cable – ensuring a very long and useful life for your cables. Proper coiling also makes cables very neat visually and that looks very professional. NOTE: Unfortunately if your students have been coiling your cables this way for a long time, it is entirely likely that the cables are so kinked up that they may never coil properly. If you can afford it, replace these kinked cables ASAP.

You can do a web search for Cable Coiling and you’ll find a few sites that try to explain how to do this in words. How successful would you be in learning to play the piano by sitting in an easy chair and reading a book? Come on! We’re video people!!! We know that a picture is worth 1000 words. Some things need to be taught visually. The technique is sometimes called the “over/under method.” Have your kids watch the video and practice on OLD ALREADY BROKEN MIC CABLES until the kids can all do it -- DON’T USE GOOD CABLES!!! Do smart parents buy their learning-to-drive kid a brand new car? Ok, maybe that was a bad example. How about this analogy: Would you let a first year med student attempt heart surgery on a living patient? Anyway, create a pass/fail test – a practical test. Have them take a mic cable that is at least 25 feet long, coil it with even loops which lie neatly and then throw the cable out underhand while holding one end. Oh, maybe they should yell “fore” before throwing. The cable should unroll completely without a hitch. If it does, they pass. If it doesn’t, they practice some more until they can pass it. Here’s your firm rule: Students may not check out equipment for any reason unless they have passed the practical exam of coiling a 25’ cable and putting a Cable Tie on it.

Cable Ties

If you go to the local hardware store electrical department, you can find two kinds of cable ties – releasable and non-releasable. If you get the non-releasable they will have to be cut off your cables, so stay away from them. The releasable cable ties can be found in the electrical department. They are cheap as dirt and you can buy them in bunches of 100. You’ll need a lot because they will be lost often. Warning: Anyone with short fingernails (most boys) will likely have a terrible time trying to release these when they need to. That is the cheapest option.

The next cheapest option is to get some string – you’re looking for something about the size and durability of a shoestring for sneakers. You can cut it into 12” or more lengths and tie the middle of the string it to one end of the cable. This will leave 2 long dangling ends of the string. Now once the cable is coiled the kid just ties the two ends around the bundle with a bow knot. Downside: This string is permanently tied to the end of the cable and looks pretty tacky.

From many video suppliers ( www.Markertek.com is one) you can find many kinds of releasable cable ties that are actually designed for use in the audio/visual world. They look very similar to the releasable cable ties from the hardware store. They’re a bit more expensive but much easier to operate because they are larger than the hardware store option. Downside: Boys will still need a fingernail and kids will remove the cable tie and drop it on the ground only to not pick it up again.. That makes this option too expensive in my mind.

There is also an option using Velcro. The tie is permanently attached to the end of the cable and then once the cable is coiled, you just wrap the Velcro strip around the bundle and it sticks to itself. Again, the permanent attachment of the Velcro is visually unattractive. (Imagine this end of the cable being attached to a hand held mic.) This option is more expensive.

My favorite option is Bongo Ties (www.BongoTies.com ) They operate exactly the way girls take an elastic band to gather their hair into a ponytail. Very simple to operate and when you take the tie off, you just put it on your wrist so you don’t lose it. The elastic is heavy duty – those hair ties will break if you try to use them instead. These are about the same price as the Velcro ones but the reason I like them is they aren’t permanently attached to the end of the cable. Also, they are not as easy to use when you ingrain it in the kid’s heads that when it comes off the cable it immediately goes on their wrist. An annoying annual expenditure of funds to buy cable ties was eliminated for the last three years I taught because I started using Bongo Ties.


You can get large hooks at a hardware store. Look for something like you’d use to hang a bicycle or ladder in your garage. You can also get some conduit and bend it into a U. Then flatten one end and drill holes in it and attach it to your wall.

Firm Rules:

Take the time to make sure that all your cables are coiled and have a tie on them and placed on hooks.

Create a firm rule: All the cables in the facility are coiled properly with a cable tie. If you take out a cable then you bring it back coiled and tied. Period. If you do not bring it back properly coiled and tied, you will not leave until it is done.

In order to “spread the responsibility” have a different student each day be the “cable manager.” Their job is to inspect each cable brought in and taken out. If they determine the cable is incorrectly coiled or tied, then they must fix the problem themselves or have the person who turns it in fix it. Any guesses on how many cables they’ll fix themselves? Kids hate cleaning up other kid’s messes. The entire class will get very picky and organized pretty quickly rather than do someone else’s work.