July 28, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Wrapping/Wrangling Cables the Professional Way

Being able to properly wrap or wrangle a cable is one of the most essential skills you can learn if you haven't been on a set before (assuming you do want to work in one of the positions in film that might actually involve being on set). While most people end up learning the hard way (by doing it wrong), you can get a head-start by watching the video embedded below and practicing on some cable you have sitting around your house.

This video was posted awhile ago by Evan at The Black and Blue, but it's a technique that is useful regardless of the technology you're using. Here are a few things he said to say about using over/under:

It will also, as mentioned above, decrease the lifespan of the cable. When you are leaving these cables overnight on carts, in cases, or in a truck, you want them to lay in their natural position so they remain usable. When you utilize the over/under technique, you’re making sure you can store the cables compactly and without damaging their internal design.

Lifespan, speed, storage, and safety are some of the major reasons that this is the proper way to wrangle cable, though it's definitely more crucial for cables that are very sensitive to being wrapped incorrectly, like XLR and video cables. While power cables might not be as sensitive to damage, using this technique will still apply for the other reasons, like speed, safety, and storage. As you wrap larger and larger cables, you won't necessarily be able to hold them in your hand, but you can still wrap them using the over/under technique by placing the cable on the ground.

A great tip from the video above is getting out knots. Bringing the entire cable through all of the knots does work (try it if you don't believe me), and it can save a tremendous amount of time from pulling each knot out individually.

If you've got any interesting stories about wrapping cables, share them below (I'm sure some of the older readers have some great ones).

[via The Black and Blue]

Your Comment

29 Comments

Thanks for sharing Joe!
I do some teaching at a local film school and this is something that I am constantly trying to drum into my students! I will definitely be using this clip in my classes. Thanks again!

July 28, 2012

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For power cables its usually over/over and it should be done clockwise due to the twist in the copper.

July 28, 2012

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I have a bag of zip ties and I just tie shit together into one fat multi-cable.

July 28, 2012

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john jeffreys

Why are all instruction videos always incredibly cheesy?(: Good video nonetheless.

July 28, 2012

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Mark

Nice.

July 29, 2012

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moebius22

This video reminds me the first time on a set. I was involved as video assist, and there was miles of sdi-cable. The first days I was always the last one of the camera department because nobody teach me the right way for wrapping this cables. And when the operator told me how to do it, I needed some other days to understand it!

July 29, 2012

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The only advantage of over/under is the ability to throw the cable out, provided you grab it in the right way, otherwise you get those knots. Otherwise over/under is in no way superior to straight coiling which all cable manufacturers use and ship their cables in. Straight coiling does no damage to the cable as it follows the twist memory of the cable. Straight coiling however cannot be thrown out across the room like over/under.

Straight coiling is exactly like winding on a spool and can be done by hand even faster than over/under. I use it because I am rarely in a big enough space to throw a cable out safely. In a big studio over/under is preferred and that is the only reason it's considered the "pro" way to do things. The risk of knots though is a big enough minus to choose against it otherwise.

July 29, 2012

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Peter

Straight coiling gives hard-coated cables a horrible memory - particularly with multicore or fiber - anything thick and prone to memory. Even some SDI cables will develop a hardcore memory and never lay straight again.

July 29, 2012

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alex

You either don't understand what I am describing, or you are wrong. As the poster below describes, for stingers which are too stiff to throw out across the room, you always use straight coiling. Straight means that it just keeps the memory consistent with how the cable was manufactured. It lays absolutely flat when coild properly, flatter than over/under which doesn't stack as efficiently (and that is a reason manufacturers do not use it, along with it being harder to do and prone to knots).

I happen to own several miles of cable, and hand-coil at least a mile of it a year. And yes I do not use over/under though as I said I would for cables to be thrown out across a room. But don't let me argue from authority. Do the experiment.

Cable, we see, is a religious topic...we haven't even gotten into whether cable has a "sound", dielectric quality, capacitance, noise rejection, star grounding, ad nauseum...

July 29, 2012

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Peter

I have to agree: all the pro eng trucks wind all their longer cables on spools because it is extremely fast and also very good for the cables when done correctly.
As soon as the cables are off the spools, they lay out open eights on the floor with the excess cable.
Spooling and laying eights is compatible and both does not hurt the cable when done correctly.
BTW who would want to make an eight with half a mile of triax camera cable? You cannot do that, you need to spool it. Watch an eng truck crew pack up after an event: they spool their cables so incredibly fast, you can make an eight from a short 2 meter SDI cable in the same time they spool like 200m of thick camera cable.

August 2, 2012

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heiko

Good video teaching proper professional protocol. Not following this procedure is a sure way to let everyone on the set know that you're a rookie! I would add that the size of coil is also important. When wrapping a 25 - 50' length of SDI or XLR cable, a diameter of approx 12 - 16" is preferred by industry professionals and rental houses. Also, electrical cables for lighting such as stingers, bates extensions, and banded cable are wrapped clockwise WITHOUT using the over under technique. This is standard protocol for the electric department to keep the cable "memory" consistent among all users. The desired size of the coil for stingers (edison plug extension cords) is approx 18 - 20". Anything larger is hard to pack properly on a grip truck. Often plastic milk crates are used to store stingers on a shelf.

July 29, 2012

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I joined IATSE Local 728 waaay back in the late 1970s. I wrapped extension cords (e-cords, stingers, whatever) using the figure 8 technique 'cause it made it easier to throw them across the room to a waiting juicer (throwing the male end at a lamp would earn you a "dumb-shit). Production loves lighting crews that are both safe and fast.

July 30, 2012

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c.d.embrey

I can see why this is necessary when using bnc cables because of the internal shield material, curious: what about xlr cables which are far more flexible? Has anyone actually done a test to see of xlr cables would have less life long usage if not wangled as above?

July 30, 2012

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Johnny

I started-out in Hollywood (1970s) working at a Lighting/camera/sound rental house. That's how pros wrapped XLR cable then and they are still doing it that way now ... is that a long enough test 8-)

July 30, 2012

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c.d.embrey

I remember getting this drilled into our heads in my first audio class. We would take exams and he would make us wrap the xlr cables perfectly before we could leave. He would just keep making a mess of them for us to fix and some people would be there forever until they got it right.

July 30, 2012

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I wish my school was like that.

July 30, 2012

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moebius22

When wrapping cables that are connected to a large filmset generator, make sure to place them in a figure-8 pattern to disrupt the polarity flow of the electrical current. If it's wrapped in a circle while power is flowing through it, it creates an electro magnet coil effect and could damage surrounding equipment and connected ballasts.

August 2, 2012

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Ryan

He should add that for very long and/or thicker cables (like 100 meters of triax camera cable) you should be laying an actual, open "eight" on the floor. You can fold that eight when you need to transport it, but for just lying on the floor the real "8" is the fastest way to manage long and thick cables (but also longer SDI cables)

August 2, 2012

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heiko

Great tip - but the camerawork nearly made me quit by half way through ... I coped by looking away frequently, only coming back to watch when I saw the scene had changed via peripheral vision.

I wanted to learn about the wrapping, and wasn't interested in watching a head / figure wandering about my screen like a ball in an early arcade game!

August 4, 2012

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Gary

Nice tip. The clip could have been shorter to just show how to loop the cable. The camerawork is really distracting. However, it is a nice tip and will help folks moving into filming with DSLRs.

August 4, 2012

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I have heard arguments for both "over/under" or "round & round" (straight coiling) since I first started in the business. I personally think over/under is best for most any cable - especially the relatively thin cables for video or audio. The argument I hear most often from the "round & round" people is that the cables were originally made to go round and round and that forcing them to go over/under would cause the cable to fail quicker. My reply is always "How many cables have you ever seen fail in the middle of the cable? 99.9% of cable failures is caused by the connector at the end of the cable". About the only way the internal portion of the cable ever fails is if somebody smashes, bends, or cuts the cable - which would damage the cable regardless of how it was coiled!

August 4, 2012

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Ken Jones

Haha Great info: I was JUST thinking about doing a video on this - THANKS for saving me the trouble - good education.

ps
Please lock off the pan head next time. :-D (I know its a choice)

August 6, 2012

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Jonathan

One piece of advice for people who've gotten to the cable *after* the intern has tried wrapping cable on his own (because he didn't want anyone see him doing b/c it came out so untidy last time and would do it when the other people aren't around and then just throw it back with all the other cables thinking no one would know who did it)...

...find a sunny day and leave them out uncoiled in the sun to loosen the kinks and reset the coil memory. They are often fixable (although I've seen several cables permanently destroyed.)

August 8, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

power cable is ALWAYS clockwise. never over under power cables.

June 4, 2013

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To correct the above person, The "Set Electricians handbook" By Harry box states that all power cables are coiled in a right hand twist and that only if the cable is unmanageable that then an occasional single over under can be used. It says then that all other cables such as Data, audio ect, should be coiled over under.

Every electrician that actually works professionally in the industry knows this. If you were to be on a top tier film and tried to coil over under as an electrician you would certainly get yelled at.

http://my.safaribooksonline.com/book/-/9780240810751/stingers-and-cablin...

August 21, 2013

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Shawn

XLR audio cables are really hard to damage and if they are its unlikely you'd ever notice.

September 8, 2013

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Corey

And to people who think that wrapping a cable the wrong way untwists the wires in side the cable has never cut open an old cable...

September 8, 2013

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Corey

Thanks for the video. Does anyone have any tips on getting the pre-formed loops out on brand new cables that have been tied together in the packaging. I'd like to wrap my cables bigger than it came in the packaging but I can't seem to get rid of the square shape it came in

September 18, 2013

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Sam

u r doing a good job of over under but u r coiling backwards (left handed) . as most people r rt handed.. and u r coiling left handed..as i am left handed myself..and have worked in sports tv for 20+ years and had to learn to coil rt handed.

November 19, 2013

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mike thress