Build a Versatile USB Power Cable for Your Arduino Projects





Introduction: Build a Versatile USB Power Cable for Your Arduino Projects

About: Helping teachers and schools teach technology in the classroom

Pretty much all small mobile electronics projects need power. Often 5 volt power works well for micro controllers and sensors. My favorite source for mobile 5V power are power banks. They come in lots of shapes, sizes and capacities, are rechargeable and fairly cheap.

Unfortunately not everything that needs that power has a convenient micro USB connector especially breadboards. I hacked together this simple cable and have since found them incredibly useful. I also use the same process on my battery boxes that have plain wire leads so I have flexible battery solutions from 1.5V to 12V.

The 22 gauge wire is strong enough to jam into breadboards, easy for screw terminals to grab and fits well in female headers and jumper cables. Because the wires are stiff and held in place with heat shrink tube they are much less likely to accidentally short together.

These power cables will work with screw terminals, breadboards, Arduino headers, alligator clips, jumper wires and more.

Step 1: What You Will Need

  • USB cable
  • 22 Gauge solid wire
  • Heat shrink tube or electrical tape
  • Scissors or wire cutter
  • Something to strip your wires
  • Soldering iron

Find a USB cable you don't mind cutting up, I recommend one with a standard USB type A male connector on one end.

Heat shrink tubing, 2 sizes one size for the individual wires (1/16 inch) and one size (3/13 inch) for the USB cable. You also want a way to tell the difference between positive and negative wires (I used traditional red and black tubing). Obviously you will need a heat source to shrink the tubing. You could also use electrical tape

Scissors or wire cutters to cut the wire and USB cable

22 Gauge wire, other gauge may work this is just what I had and it seems to be a good size, you don't need much. The wire I used was "floral wire".

Soldering iron

Step 2: Prepare the Cable

Once you have picked your cable, decide if you plan on using both connectors. Then decide how long you want your cable to be. For my little projects about 6 inches work for me.

  • Cut your USB cable to size
  • Trim the outer insulation back about 1/2 inch or so
  • Find the red and black wires and separate them from the other 2 wires
  • Cut off the other 2 wires leaving the black and red power wires
  • Strip some insulation off the black and red wires

Give yourself enough wire to work with when cutting off the outside and individual wire insulation, you can always cut off the excess. The first time I tried this I experimented on the end of the USB cable I wasn't planning on using.

Step 3: The Secret Sauce

Because these cables get used on mobile projects they get bent around and abused. We need to make them more rugged. We can do that using the 22 gauge wire. Make sure the wire extends down to the insulation to help make a good physical connection, soldering the power wires will give us a good electrical connection. The 22 gauge wire also works well in breadboards.

  • cut 2 pieces of 22 gauge wire about an inch long
  • push one end of the wire down to the insulation
  • Wrap one of the stripped power wires around 22 gauge wire
  • repeat with the other piece of wire and the other power wire

Once again it's fine if your wire is too long, we can cut it off after we get everything put together.

Step 4: Bring the Heat

We will solder the wires for a good electrical and physical connection then we will use shrink tubing to make the connectors more rugged and give the project a finished look.

  • Solder the power wires to the 22 gauge wires they are wrapped around
  • Slide the proper color of heat shrink tube over each wire
  • Apply heat to shrink the tubes around the individual wires
  • Position the larger heat shrink tubing over the outer insulation and make sure it covers the bottom of your 22 gauge wire
  • Apply heat to shrink the tube around the insulation and wires
  • If your cable has a fabric sheath your may need to trim it to get the tubing over it.
  • Optional - add a 2nd piece of tube to better hold the 22 gauge wire in place and seal the outer fabric covering if your cable has one

When you solder the wires make sure there are not an large lumps of solder because it might make it hard to get the heat shrink over them. Also make sure there are not any sharp points of solder sticking out.

It's very important to keep the red/black wires identified. You don't want to mix them up when powering your project.

We want to secure the bottom of the 22 gauge wires with the heat shrink tubing to make sure they don't poke through the insulation when we are pulling on the top of the wires plugging them into various connectors.

Having power wires beefed up like this makes it quick and easy to supply power no matter what the connector the project needs. They are a good tool to have in your box of cables and connectors. I hope you give them a try.



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    I had not seen your instructable before but built something similar directly from a 5 Volt Nintendo DS charger that had a faulty micro usb plug. Rather than just adding some thicker gage wire to plug them into a breadboard or a connector, I soldered them on a tiny piece of stripboard that also had 2x3 pins sticking out that I could plug into the powerrail of a breadboard (3 pins for 0 and 5Volt each, to give it more sturdity).
    Your solution is a bit more versatile, but beware the ends dont touch :-)

    Christyl, no need to thank him. He is an SEO spammer. Just trying to get his unrelated website a high rating. He leaves similar messages all over the place

    2 replies

    OK, and I thought I was special, oh well this is my first instructable, I still have a lot to figure out

    Regardless, this is still a great instructable. I use power banks all the time for my projects and have yet to make one of these (can we say lazy?). Thanks for the great and simple method.

    I did this with a 5V adapter I recently bought. You can also try adding male berg strips.

    1 reply

    Hmmm, berg strips - I had to look that one up, I had never heard them called that. I know them as headers or header pins. You certainly could use those. I did one that way but I personally liked the longer wire, it felt like little stronger connection to the original wire and I could bend it to 90 degrees if I needed to.

    I did this with a 5V adapter I recently bought. You can also try adding male berg strips.

    I did this with a 5V adapter I recently bought. You can also try adding male berg strips.

    HI, thanks for the video, I have been doing this for quite some time now, for wire stock, however I usually use the cut off's from LED's or Resistors used in other projects. Someone once told me to NEVER throw away those cut off ends as there will be a million ways to use them down the line. Well I kept to his advice till I had enough to perhaps build a replica of the Eiffel Tower, so now I have begun throwing them away. I have them stored in baggies at my work station, and in my tote that I use when going on remote calls, or while we are on the road in our Rig, we are becoming more and more nomadic now that we have both retired, our Motor Home rarely sits at our home site except for the rare stop to resupply.

    1 reply

    Thanks Jerry, I don't cut that many off - it's such a commitment, plus most of my LEDs and resistors aren't nearly as stout as the 22 gauge wire but I applaud your resourcefulness

    this is exactly how i power my projects. thank you for a very detailed instructable.

    Easy upgrade is to hook an on/off switch to the power line. Then you can avoid having to pull the plug in/out repeatedly while prototyping. Also there are some inexpensive mating barrel jacks you can use just to avoid having the bare wires exposed. E.g. you have the male end attached to battery side, then female side has the two exposed wires to insert into project. I have this set up so I can store the battery pack and cable with the adapter on my bench then I don't worry about it shorting while laying around.

    1 reply

    Having an on/off switch for power is really useful, I agree, Fortunately most of my battery boxes have them and even my power banks. But if you didn't have one an inline switch would be a nice upgrade

    Yes, and the wide range of capacities is really useful