Coiling Your Cables ... You're Doing it Wrong.

Coiling Your Cables ... You're Doing it Wrong.

There's one pet peeve I have above all else in the studio, and any assistant can attest to it. Coiling cables around your elbow is wrong. Really really wrong. Of course I realize that it's how you were taught, I learned the same way. Until the day I was working with an audio engineer and nearly made him cry. You would've thought I set fire to his birthday cake and kicked him in the shins.That's why Chris Crisman and his studio manager Robert Luessen are my two new heroes. Over on Chris' blog there is a post about some often ignored benefits to something as simple as putting a cable away. While it doesn't delve into proper methods (youtube for those of you elbowing) I really enjoy the fact that they point out the reflective time that such a simple task can provide if you let it.

Enough of me talking, go read his post yourself!

I don't want to leave you hanging with the meditative aspect, so here's a quick video on one method.

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The cable actually doesn't have to go clockwise. It's perfectly fine to go counter-clockwise as long as you're still alternating. There are many audio technicians that do this.

It's just important to make sure that the loop isn't too small/tight and that every other loop twists in the opposite direction as the previous loop so that there is no net twisting on the entire cable. It's the twisting that damages cables and causes them to tangle. Over/under puts the least amount of stress on the cables.

Other important notes for audio cables:

I prefer starting the coil from the male end for audio cables.(the opposite end as in this video). This way, I can place the rolled up cable down by a mixer (or wherever I'm plugging it in) and walk the female end to the microphone. This way, I don't have a large pile of cable sitting on stage.

For longer cables, it's better to do larger loops. If your loops are too small, you'll have a really tall/fat coil and that can still get tangled up. Larger loops are easier to manage and also have the added benefit of putting less stress on the cable.

If you're going to have a velcro strap or something to hold an audio cable when it's coiled, make sure it's on the male end so that you don't have a flag waving around on your mic stand. It's visually distracting, especially on stage.

Untrue.  Because of the direction that cables are spun inside, you have to coil them clockwise, especially if you don't over/ under the cable (which, of course, you should).  Otherwise, the twists inside will untwist and cause the cable to eventually fail...or the shield in this case, at least.

I think I misspoke, You can still loop it counter-clockwise (starting with the connector pointed away from you) and slightly twist the cable clockwise as you go, the same way the wire components inside are wound.

You're right, twisting it counter-clockwise would be bad.

Having set up gig's for year's this was just second nature to me and just thought everyone knew how to do it.

Great advice.

I was taught very early not to do the elbow thing. It really messes up the cables.
But i did not knew about the alternating thing. I was doing regular loops.

So, we did learn something new today! Thanks.

John Dewberry's picture

Every gaffer that I have ever worked with told me to wrap power cables clockwise, the only time you do over under like this video illustrates are for cables with shielding (audio, bnc, coax ect).

Just my two cents. 

I don't understand why electricians hate over/under. Over/under preserves shielding effect from twisted pair, but it doesn't do anything bad to cables that aren't shielded. I coil everything over/under because it's easier to run without untwisting it.

Over/under is bad for certain applications. I know this from boating - if you are trying to spool line from a pile it won't run if it's over/under.

neat...I didn't know you could prevent tangles :-)

i've coiled 200ft cables with this method and been able to toss them loose without a kink or tangle. every single cable in my house and studio is coiled this way. It's the best way to maintain your cables and chords.

I've done this for years, except on 1000m broadcast TV triax cables. Real muscle builder that one.

Oh ya! Definitely not fun cleaning triax or CCU! Luckily (usually) we get ours on a spool with a crank

I just drag them like long garden hoses, gather them up, and stuff them in a studio closet where they belong. Not really. Good tip. I did not know this either. But it makes perfect sense. Thanks.

Some really insightful comments here, so not much more needs be said. I'll just add that the care needed when coiling a cable correlates with the complexity of a cable. For instance, power cables, especially heavier gauge ones are less likely to fail* if coiled roughly than audio cables. 15 foot USB cables are pretty much the most sensitive cables I can think of, and should be coiled with great care. 

*but should still be coiled correctly, not just because of wear and tear, but also because if you've got a power cable hooked up to an ARRI 10K, and it's coiled wrong, you'll burn yourself, or wind up with a puddle of molten metal and plastic. Induction is crazy.

What's the difference between a sound guy and a lesbian?

Brilliant post, and thanks to the maker of the video. I'll be sharing this amongst a few friends who don't believe there is a "right way" to put cables away.

Thanks, I really love this post and a great description of how to coil cables. Most home users won't think about why they need to coil audio cables in a particular way since they are more concerned with tidiness (in my opinion). Keep up the good work.