Although we believe it is often easier to buy cables for your home Ethernet network than make them, we’ve decided to post this how-to article based on the many requests we get for information on this topic.

We’re going to make a cable that can work in both an Ethernet and Fast Ethernet network. As we’ll explain, the only difference is the rating of the cable. Fast Ethernet certified cable is now the standard.

Now, let us make this as clear as we possibly can: if you don’t have a lot of patience, don’t even try to make your own network cables. If you aren’t ready to spend money on some good tools, don’t even try to make your own network cables. And, finally, if you aren’t ready to blow through some supplies (some of which you’ll destroy as you go up the learning curve), don’t even try to make your own network cables.

If you think you’ve passed all three tests, let’s move on to Step 1 – Some of the Basics.

The basics

The standard cable used for Ethernet networking is called twisted-pair cables, so-called for the four sets of twisted wires (two in each set) in a standard cable. Each pair is made up of a solid color wire and a white wire with a small line of that same color on it. So, for example, there’s a pair with an orange wire and a white wire with an orange stripe. For this how-to article, we’ll call this second wire white-orange. Note that with some cables, the solid color wire may have a white stripe and, in other articles, you may see that referred to as orange-white. We don’t bother and will use the solid color designation.

At each end of a cable is a connector called an RJ45 plug. These look similar to typical ends of a phone cable, also known as RJ11 plugs, but have eight small conductors on them…one for each wire in the cable. Phone cable plugs have only four.

Now, just to make things a little complicated, there are two primary standards for wiring an RJ45 plug to the network cable. The difference is in the order of wires in the plug, but other than that the two standards are identical. As long as you use the same standard to wire both ends, your new cable will work just fine for connecting a PC’s network adapter to a hub, switch or router. This is called a straight-thru cable and is the “standard” Ethernet networking cable.

The two wiring standards are known as 568A and 568B.

If you look at a plug from the back (the side opposite the small clip that helps the plug snap into a port), the wire will be arranged as follows in the 568B standard (the one we prefer):
# White-Orange
# Orange
# White-Green
# Blue
# White-Blue
# Green
# White-Brown
# Brown

This photo shows a properly wired cable using the 568B standard.

In a cable wired with the 568A standard, the order (viewed the same way) would be:
# White-Green
# Green
# White-Orange
# Blue
# White-Blue
# Orange
# White-Brown
# Brown

The second standard only becomes important when you want to build a cable to connect two computers with network cards and NOT use a hub or switch between them. In this case, you’ll want to attach one RJ45 plug using one standard and the other one using the second standard. This creates a cable known as a crossover cable. These cables also can be used to connect two network devices such as hub or switch or router together using the standard ports in the device. However, most devices have a crossover, or uplink, port built in so you don’t need to use a crossover cable for this purpose.

One last note in this basic overview: we are not suggesting that you run cable through your house and simply put an RJ45 plug on each end. You certainly can do this, but we think a much neater, professional installation includes running cables in your walls to wall jacks at each end. That’s what we show you in our how-to article on wiring your house. That said, if you want to use a long cable with RJ45s on each end, keep in mind the maximum length between a PC and a hub or two PCs is 100 meters (about 300 feet) for Ethernet and Fast Ethernet. Also it is not recommended to connect one end of a cable to a wall jack and the other end to a RJ45 plug.

The recommendation: run cable through your house from wall jack to wall jack and then run a cable with RJ45 plugs on each end from the wall jack to the network adapter on your PC. Simple.

The materials

You only need two supplies or materials to make a network cable. The actual cable or wire and the RJ45 plugs.

Cable required for Fast Ethernet networking is called category 5 cable. Regular Ethernet can run under earlier cable called category 3, but it is not now nearly as prevalent as it was a few years ago. Many bulk cable retailers now sell an enhanced version of category 5 cable called category 5e. This enhanced version is meant to carry data even faster, but it is not necessary for the new Gigabit Ethernet standard (10x faster than Fast Ethernet).

Once you’ve settled on category 5e cable (as we recommend), you must decide on solid or stranded wires. Most short network cables you buy separately use stranded wire which is more flexible and can be bent easily for connecting to computers and hubs on your desktop. Most cable run through walls has solid wire which makes it stiffer and easier to fish inside walls and through holes. We chose to use bulk solid cable with a PVC cover. The solid wire cable works for running throughout the house and can also be used for short cables. Stranded wire, on the other hand, is not recommended for connecting to wall jacks and/or patch panels so you’d need both stranded and solid for both uses.

As for the RJ45 plugs, you’ll want to pick ones that match the type of cable you are using. In our case, we selected plugs for round, solid cable.

The tools

Key to this how-to is a good crimping tool. This is the tool that “crimps” the jack onto the cable. There’s probably a way to make your own cables without one, but we’re not going to even consider it. As a wise man once told us, if you buy a specialized tool so you can do a project yourself, even if it costs so much you only break even the first time, you’ll be ahead the next time you do the project. That almost fits here, but the key is needing to a lot of cables before you break even. Enough said. Get a crimping tool and get a good one. If you select a crimp tool without a stripping device, you can look for separate wire strippers

Make Your Own Network Cables

Step 2 – Preparing the wire

We are ready to begin making our cable.

Stripping the wire

First, we must strip the outer casing from the cable. You’ll want to strip about 1/2 inch of the casing. The key, and this is critical, is to cut and remove the outer casing without even the tiniest of nicks on the twisted pair wires. If you do nick the wires (as we did four or five times at first), simply cut off an inch or two of the cable and start again.

Our crimping tool includes a built-in wire stripper. You simply insert the wire into this area of the crimping tool until it stops. Then close the handle and the proper amount of the outer casing is cut and ready to be pulled off. However, since we are using rounded cable, closing the handle even half way caused the tool to cut into the twisted pair wires. The technique we found worked best with this tool was to insert the wire, and then close the handle until the first click of the built-in ratchet mechanism. We then twirled the wire while still inserted in the tool. This scored the outer casing all the way around. We then pulled the 1/2 inch of casing off the cable.

Of course, you can use a Cyclops or the wire stripper of your choice to remove the outer casing.

Untwisting the wires

Now with the twisted pair wires exposed, you can begin to untwist them and arrange them in the proper order

The key here is to not untwist more than you need to and, if at all possible, not more than 1/2 inch. That’s because the specification calls for not more than that to be untwisted or risk the possibility of affecting the network’s performance.

As you can see in this photo, we have untwisted the wires and arranged them in the proper order. We actually have exposed more of the wires than necessary here in order to make it clearer in the photo. According to the specs, you’ll want to try this with less of the wires untwisted. However, we can tell you that we made a few cables with about this much wire untwisted and did not notice any problems on our network.

Again, the order of the cables (from the top in this photo) should be:

  • White-Orange
  • Orange
  • White-Green
  • Blue
  • White-Blue
  • Green
  • White-Brown
  • Brown
  • Now, after arranging the wires spread out like this, you should flatten all of the wires and bring them in tight to each other. This gets them ready to insert into the plug so, ultimately, all 8 wires should be so close that the total width is about that of an RJ45 plug. If the wires are not the identical length, you can use a pair of wire cutters to cut them off at the same length.

    Step 3 – Attaching the plug

    We are now ready to attach the plug onto the end of the cable.

    Inserting the cable into the plug

    Ready with your patience?

    You now need to insert the cable into the plug and ensure that the wires stay in the order you just arranged. As you insert the wires into the plug, you’ll notice small grooves, one for each wire, in the plug. Because the wires aren’t perfectly straight, you’ll likely get the wrong wires in the wrong grooves the first few tries. Be very careful here or the cable simply won’t work.

    Once you are absolutely certain the wires are in the right grooves, one wire to a groove and in the proper order, you now must make sure that the wires are pushed ALL the way into the plug. Again, if they aren’t, or are even just a millimeter or two short, the cable won’t work.

    Crimping

    Now you are ready to complete this end of your cable by crimping the plug onto the end. Insert the cable and plug assembly into the crimping tool. Notice that our tool has an opening for both an RJ45 plug and an RJ11 (phone) plug. Now close the handle firmly just once. If the crimp is done correctly, you should be able to pull on the plug with significant force and it won’t come off.

    Again, the biggest issue for us in making our own network cables was initially not ensuring that the wires were pushed ALL the way into the plug before crimping. And, once you make a bad crimp, forget it. Cut the wire and start again.

    Prepare the other end the exact same way for a straight-through cable or with the other wire standard  for a crossover cable, and you’ve made your first network cable.

    Now all that’s left to do is try your new network cable in your home network. Remember that you can plug cables into and out of hubs and switches without turning them off, but it’s always recommended you turn off a computer before removing or inserting a network cable. Further still, if your network cable doesn’t work at first, make sure that you have turned everything off on the network and back on. If it still doesn’t work, check again that the order of the wires is correct and that the wires are inserted all the way into the plug.

    One final note. If you are making both straight through and crossover cables, make sure to mark them clearly. It can be very, very frustrating if you’re not sure what type of cable you are using once you start running into trouble on your home network.

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