Hillbilly Engineering: How I Re-Plugged a Network Cable Without Calling the Tech Guy

I’m what you might call a technological “adaptive” type. Even if I haven’t the slightest clue how to fix something, I can read a how-to, study the problem, and fix it to my own satisfaction. I’m also a procrastinator. After 2 years of nagging my husband to fix the pipes under the kitchen sink, I finally decided it wouldn’t get done if I didn’t do it myself. Same thing with his unreliable network connection.

Our setup is somewhat weird, a hillbilly adaptation. We have two buildings, a house and a garage with a small office. The office was “wired” for internet by this hillbilly method: a Cat 5e cable was buried (none too well!) between the two buildings, wired into a socket in his office and the other side of the cable was pushed into the living room through a hole in the floor and pulled over to where my phone and internet enters the house. So I have a long, grey cable that snakes around the edge of my living room and plugs into a router that distributes the incoming DSL signal.

Well, the hillbilly neighbor who performed this dubious wiring job wasn’t that proficient at terminating the cable. The ill-seated plug that I had to plug into my router caused the connection to flash on and off unless I “jiggled” the cable to stabilize it. It worked well enough for awhile, but if the router was accidentally bumped or the cable shifted, a stream of invective would issue from the garage office about the “damn unreliable internet.” (I won’t repeat what was actually said).

So we lived in this uneasy partnership with the internet for about 3 years, partly because I wasn’t confident in my skills in putting a new plug on the cable to fix my hillbilly neighbor’s bungled job of it. So, a couple weeks ago, I called my ISP and bawled them out for my 0.1 Mbps “DSL” service and how I wanted the speed I was paying for. They sent a tech out three days later, and after some complicated rewiring and a nifty box attached to the house, I was thrilled to have 0.7 Mbps blazing speed service! (Don’t laugh: I’m so far out in the country I’m surprised I can get DSL service at all!)

The only problem is that the router was not only bumped, it was unhooked, moved, a modem connection removed from it; all sorts of mayhem was worked upon it to achieve this new, improved DSL hookup. My husband was furious. The phrase, “jiggle me,” became a constant refrain, and he complained more bitterly than ever. That is when I knew I would have to overcome my fear of doing irreversible damage to the network cable and go ahead and put a new end on the darn thing.

So, the rural speed-demon Jeep-driving mailman delivers my new crimping tool a couple days ago, along with a packet of 10 plug ends I ordered from Amazon. Despite the box being crushed in with a big hole in the top, my tools were intact. It was 2:00 p.m.. I decided to try to get this problem fixed before the husband got home from work.

Now, it shouldn’t take a normal human being two hours to snip, strip and align a bunch of untwisted pair wires into a plastic sheath, but it took me a fair chunk of that. First, I had to bone up on how much to cut off, how NOT to mess up the insulation on the internal wires and how to line them up so the darn thing would work.

A particular complication I experienced with my attempts to strip the cable was frustrating but not a game ender. I had done a practice run on a stray length of patch cable I had, and everything went well. The cut was clean, and the stripper (what I thought was the stripper, anyway) pulled off only the sheathing, leaving all the internal wiring untouched. It was like a dream! But then I got to the actual cable, the one running from under the house through a hole in the floor. For some reason, it was a bit thinner than the test cable. No doubt this is one difference between Cat 5 and Cat 5e network cables.

So, it cut fine, but the stripper wouldn’t even make a dent in it. My hillbilly solution? Well, I took one of those thin tools with a box-cutter shaped razor on the end, and I hooked it into the inside of the cut end of the cable and pulled up. Once I made a short nick in the covering, I was able to manually tear it to the length I needed. I wasn’t pretty, but I didn’t care at this point. The ragged edge would (hopefully) disappear inside the plug end, and it’d look like the friggin’ Geek Squad did it.

It turned out to be really quite simple, only my first two attempts failed, mainly because the wires just wouldn’t sit flat between my thumb and forefinger long enough for me to shove them into the plug. Also, there are two different arrangements for the wires, depending on what you want to use the cable for. I tried the second arrangement when the first one turned out to be a dud, but it turned out I had just done it badly. On the third try, it finally worked. Now my husband has to find something else to complain about, but I’m sure he’s up to the task!

People also view

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *