Having been a die-hard Shrinky Dink fan growing up in the ’80s, there’s one particular variety of cable management product that I never seem to get tired of: heat shrink tubing. What’s not to love? It’s easy (and dare I say fun?) to use, comes in lots of bright colors, and, like my old pals the Shrinky Dinks, transforms before your eyes with the simple application of heat. Come to think of it, said heat application doesn’t seem to release the same burning plastic fumes that my little hand-colored charms did while they baked, so maybe heat shrink tubing is even better than the Dinks (but I digress). And the concepts of “heat” and “shrink” just make sense together; if you don’t believe me, try accidentally throwing a “hand wash cold only, line dry” item of clothing into a warm wash cycle and then the dryer. Ouch.
So you can imagine my confusion when I began hearing talk of a little product called “cold shrink tubing.” What? How is that possible? And now I finally know, and can in fact introduce you to some extremely handy cold shrink tubing.
The reason why cold shrink can be shrunken into place cold is because it’s made of stretchy, highly-conforming rubber, unlike traditional heat shrink tubing, which is made of cross-linked plastic that requires relatively high temperatures to go into shape-shifting mode. Heat shrink is basically pre-expanded, irradiated plastic tubing that “remembers” its smaller original diameter when heat is applied. In the case of cold shrink, a length of rubber tubing is stretched over a hollow, larger-diameter plastic inner core, which is slid over a cable or splice until it’s right where you need it, at which point the inner core is removed, and the cold shrink tubing basically snaps back down to its original smaller diameter, creating a snug, weatherproof seal over the wire connection point.
I don’t know about you, but now that I know the complete story behind cold shrink, I’m a little embarrassed that the mere thought of it used to puzzle me. That said, here are a few fast facts and benefits, lest you’re wondering about actual practical applications. First off, it’s only suitable for low voltage applications (like A/V, voice & data, and coax), is UV-resistant (so it’s great outdoors), and obviously, eliminates the risk of burns and overall charring (to components and people alike) due to misuse, or overuse, of heat guns and torches. And since there are no heat tools in the picture, it’s great for using in the field, and tends to free up quite a bit of real estate in your tool kit, which is never a bad thing.
Filed under: Cable Ties, Clips and Grommets, Heat Shrink Tubing
Happy Friday! It’s time again for our Weekly Video Rewind. I know that a lot of you are probably itching to bust out of the office and head to the movies to catch The Dictator or Battleship, but before you do that, here are a couple of our more recent video demos that show you how to do useful stuff with cool products. So stop fidgeting through your Friday afternoon and check these out, okay? You never know – you may learn something that could make your life (and job) easier come Monday. Roll ‘em!
PRT Wraparound Heat Shrink Tubing: Tiffani, our New Product Expert Extraordinaire, is back in this video, this time to show us a very interesting concept in heat shrink: wraparound tubing. If you’ve never used standard heat shrink tubing before, the whole idea is that you slide the tube-shaped sleeve over the end of a cable, and basically slip the tubing along the length of the cable until it reaches the exact location where it’s needed. This means weaseling heat shrink over the initial obstacle of a plug or connector, and that can be tricky and sometimes completely impractical, especially if there’s such a large size discrepancy between cable and connector that by time you find something that will fit over the plug, it’s too big (even when shrunk) to fully conform to the cable. Sigh. Enter Zippertubing and their PRT wraparound shrink tubing, which is slit all the way along its length so it can be wrapped around cables from the side. Add peel-and stick adhesive edging to the already genius design, and you have a product that turns out a very respectable finished product with nowhere near the hassle of regular heat shrink.
HellermannTyton EVO 7 Cable Tie Gun: When you watch this video, you’ll see that Tiffani’s back again, this time demonstrating a tool that’s a lifesaver for cables and fingers alike: the EVO 7 Cable Tie Gun from HellermannTyton. If you’ve ever installed more than 10 or 20 cable ties in one sitting, you probably know that they have a habit of leaving the fingers a little raw – and then there’s that pesky universal cable tie probelm of overtightening, which can impede signals and damage insulation by essentially strangling your cables. Tiffani shows how to use a cable tie gun to quicky and correctly tension and trim cable ties, all while keeping your hands comfortable.
Today, let’s talk about the things that you, in retrospect, should have thought of earlier. Things like letting your newly housebroken puppy out before you left for the night. Closing the garage door when you peeled out of the driveway, headed for the airport. The fact that a first name like Moonbeam or Ruckus might thwart the career goals of your child, who is now 17 and aspires to become a Supreme Court Justice. Or maybe just the possibility that vital network cables or electrical wiring that can’t be temporarily disconnected post-install would someday need a little extra insulation or strain relief.
I can’t do anything to help with the gross spot on the carpet, stolen lawn mower, or bitter, upwardly-mobile teenager, but those undisconnectable cables aren’t as big a deal as you might think.
Thanks to Zippertubing’s very cool new line of wrap-around heat shrink tubing, it’s easy to repair or add some extra protection to cables that you either can’t, or would just prefer not to, unplug. Unlike traditional heat shrink that needs to be slipped over connectors and slid along the length of the cable you’re trying to cover, wrap-around heat shrink is slit along its length, so that you can slip it around cables from the side.
You’re probably thinking the same thing I was when I first heard about this tubing: “Soooooooo… what happens to the slit when you start to shrink this stuff?” The answer is: nothing. Because thanks to an adhesive strip along one edge, the slit is nonexistent by the time you get around to applying heat. Once the sleeving is positioned the way you want it around the cable, you just peel the backing off the adhesive strip and press it against the other side, sealing everything into a solid tube.
Once that’s done, shrink away – you’ll end up with well-insulated cables that won’t leave you feeling even the tiniest bit of regret. I just wish I could say the same for poor Moonbeam.
The heat shrink end cap. The first time I saw one, I thought it was really cool, but found myself immediately wondering “why the heck would you seal off one end of a cable?” It seemed, well, a little counterintuitive. But it turns out that I was just thinking a little too small-scale. I was used to the little stuff, like computer cables and basic extension cords. But when you start dealing with the big dogs, like industrial electrical cables, things get a little more heavy duty.
When they’re sitting on shelves, waiting to be put into action, utility-grade cables face a little problem: all of those exposed cut conductor ends can start to get dirty, or even worse, corrode in the presence of moisture or chemicals. And then there’s the matter of moisture and contaminants weaseling their way into the open-faced cable. If that happens, you’ve got trouble on your hands.
This is where heat shrink end caps start to make a lot of sense. These cup-shaped pieces fit over cut cable ends, and when you apply heat to shrink them into place, their adhesive inner coating is activated as well, melting and cooling onto the cable jacket to create a tight seal that won’t let anything through. When it’s time for installation, you just cut off the end cap, and you have corrosion-free cable, ready to go. Kind of cool, huh?
I realize that most of you, like me, don’t have reels of cut-end cable that need protecting, and that brings me to another amazing use for heat shrink end caps: protecting the ends of your patio furniture legs. This suggestion from one of my co-workers, who got desperate when she lost a few of the factory-installed end caps on her outdoor chairs. Luckily, the solution was right at work: she bought a few heat shrink end caps, shrunk them onto her chair bottoms, and now there’s no nails-on-chalkboard scraping, or patio damage, when she moves her lawn furniture around. Genius!
Heat guns are fantastic for shrinking short lengths of heat shrink tubing, but when the inches start to add up, so does the Roast Factor. While heat guns are designed with directional airflow in mind, their heat output still tends to travel beyond the immediate shrink zone, and cause things like hands, clothes and nearby objects to become uncomfortably, and sometimes dangerously, hot. Not such a problem when you’re shrinking only a few inches here and there, but if the heat shrink job extends into feet, then you can be in for a bit of trouble. And the wasted energy! These things are like tiny jet engines. There’s got to be a way to efficiently apply heat shrink without cooking yourself or going broke on butane refills or utility bills in the process.
Enter the Focus-Lite Heat Shrink Processing Oven, which can shrink many, many feet of heat shrink tubing at a time, without causing the operator heat-related discomfort, or burning up too much energy in the process. It’s really pretty cool – you just hold the heat shrink wrapped cable in both hands, and gradually move it through the oven’s shrinking chamber, which reflects its contained heat around all sides of the tubing for a perfectly even shrink.
The Focus-Lite uses a halogen lamp that’s capable of hitting optimum temperature in milliseconds, and is able to shrink in a fraction of the time it takes a run-of-the-mill hot air tool, which accounts for a large part of this machine’s energy-saving qualities. The rest of the energy conservation factor is due to the fact that the oven requires only about 20% of the power typically guzzled by a standard heat gun. It’s also controlled via foot pedal, leaving you with two free hands, both of which I always like to have available when working on projects that require any degree of precision or quick response.
All this, and it’s small enough to mount right onto a work bench, so it’s ready at a moment’s notice, without you having to dig through a drawer or tool box, untangle a power cord, and plug in. It’s high volume heat shrink done right, with no waiting time, uncomfortable ambient heat, or wasted electricity. So learn from the burn, and get one of these into your workshop fast.
Filed under: Cable Identification, Heat Shrink Tubing, Label Printers
Patch cords can be a tricky bunch. First of all, they all look the same – it can be almost impossible to tell them apart. And I think that they had a little network cable meeting and planned it that way. It’s like they’ve taken the oldest decoy trick in the book to the extreme: when one misbehaves, they all gang up together like an army of clones, looking the same, so that the poor IT tech sent in to troubleshoot can’t visually separate the real culprit from the rabble of imposters surrounding it. Who knew that mere cable could be so devious?
So right off the bat, it goes without saying that patch cords need labels – at least they do if you want to remain in possession of your sanity when you deal with them. But depending on where the cables are located, you need to give some thought to what you use. In well-ventilated areas where heat doesn’t really get the chance to build up, sticker-style labels work fine on patch cords. But if they’re cooped up in an enclosure with hot-running servers or in an otherwise warm environment, the toasty conditions can eventually cause the label adhesive to fail. After a while, you can end up with a bunch of gummy, unidentifiable patch cords and a pile of fallen-off labels on the floor below them. That’s no good.
To keep your patch cords labeled for the long haul, I recommend using a nice tube-style heat shrink label, like the ones in Brady’s IDxpert™ line. IDxpert™ heat shrink labels come in cartridge form, so that they can be used in conjunction with Brady label printers. You just load in the heat shrink cartridge, type the legends you want to use into your label printer, and let it rip. Once they’re printed, slip the sleeve-style labels onto your patch cords, and shrink them into place with a heat gun. No slipping around, no peeling off, just labels that stay exactly where you need them… on those pesky little patch cords.
Filed under: Braided Sleeving, Heat Shrink Tubing
I know you’re not tuning into this blog for a weather report, but it’s 52°F in South Florida. Considering that it’s late December, that’s nothing to shake a stick at for most other people in the United States, but to all of us who have devolved into wusses from living in a warm climate, it’s cold. After seeing one of our coworkers wrapped up in a stylish shawl to ward off the chill, my office mates and I began wishing we had something similar. Somehow that led to Snuggie™ jokes. Talk about a quirky hybrid – 50% blanket, 50% robe, 100% “what the heck?”
Anyway – I am going somewhere with this, I promise. All of this stream of conciousness stuff that led me to think about unusual product hybrids ultimately brought to mind Shrinkflex Fabric Heat Shrink Tubing. Shrinkflex is a new type of cable protection product that recently came our way, and while it’s tempting to call it just “braided sleeving” or “heat shrink tubing,” you can’t, because it’s both! Sounds strangely cool, doesn’t it? It is.
Shrinkflex 2:1 (the “2:1″ describes its shrink ratio, and means that the product is able to shrink down to half of its original diameter) is actually woven just like braided sleeving, but incorporated into the blend of yarns is polyolfin, which is a cross-linked polymer that shrinks when exposed to heat. When you combine these features, you end up with a product that has the good looks and flexibility of braided sleeving, but the “like a glove” fit that you can only get from heat shrink tubing.
So why would one want to use Shrinkflex? It provides great protection for cables, wires and hoses found in harsh environments that dish out high heat, vibration, and abrasive conditions. It stands up to liquids and chemicals like oil, antifreeze, gasoline, Diesel, brake and hydraulic fluids, battery acid and water, and can be used at a continuous maximum temperarture of 257°F.
Heat shrink tubing: it’s such a simple and inexpensive product, but there aren’t many other materials out there that are as useful or versatile. Sure, most people use it for insulating cables or protecting wire splices, but there are a million other ways to put heat shrink to work. We hear from customers all the time who have invented uses for heat shrink that would put even MacGyver to shame. There’s the guy who repaired his glasses, a young lady who reassembled a broken curling iron, and a fitness enthusiast who needed to improve the grip on his home pull-up bar. It’s true that necessity is the mother of invention, but it seems that that whole “invention” thing is a lot easier when one has some heat shrink laying around.
While the most die-hard heat shrink users (network technicians, electricians, custom car hobbyists and case modders) tend to keep multiple feet or even spools worth of the stuff around, buying heat shrink in quantity may not make sense to others who just want to use it for odd repairs around the house. In cases like these, a heat shrink tubing kit is the way to go. These kits include a variety of heat shrink in different sizes and colors, which has been pre-cut into usable lengths so you just have to choose a piece that suits your project, and shrink away. You’ll find that heat shrink is perfect for protecting soldered joints or spliced wires, for holding mlutiple cables together, and even for providing some much-needed strain relief to older cords that have a tendency to hang heavily from their connectors when plugged in. But like I said before, those are just a few standard uses – we think you’ll cook up some far more inventive ways to use heat shrink when the need for a quick fix arises.
To read more about our customers’ and employees’ heat shrink improv, check out “The Handyman’s Guide to Improvisation: 7 New Ways to Use Heat Shrink Tubing” in the CableOrganizer.com Learning Center.
Whether you’re a hobbyist who’s into case modding or automotive customization, or you just want to lend some extra strength and insulation to cables and hoses, heat shrink tubing is an easy and affordable way to get the job done. If you’re not familiar with heat shrink, it’s a flexible plastic tubing that fits over wires, cables, splices, hoses — anything generally cylindrical in shape — and shrinks snugly to the object it’s covering when heat is applied. This happens because the plastic used in heat shrink tubing is “crosslinked” (exposed to radiation) so that it’s physical properties change and it shrinks propotionately when exposed to heat.
As I mentioned briefly at the beginning of the post, heat shrink tubing is a great way to add extra support and insulation to cables, wire splices and hoses without adding extra bulk. Even though it only forms a thin skin over things, that “skin” greatly increases resistance to chemicals and fluids, provides strain relief for cable connectors, and just plain looks good. That’s right — many people use heat shrink for no reason other than the fact that it gives cables a custom, cosmetically-enhanced look. Heat shrink is also terrific for color-coding cables that need to be easily identifiable.
Our heat shrink tubing comes in a 2:1 shrink ratio, which means that its original, unshrunk state is twice the diameter of the smallest shrunken diameter it can achieve. Shrink ratio and diameter measurements are very important to keep in mind when you order heat shrink, so know the diameter of the object you want to cover, as well as how snugly you need the heat shrink to fit. For example, if you need 2:1 heat shrink to fit tightly around a cord with a ⅛” diameter, you wouldn’t want to use tubing that has a diameter more than ¼”.