Introduction: Retractable 1/8" Stereo Patch Cable

This cable's a lifesaver for recording to a laptop or connecting to a car stereo that has aux input. The only problem is that they normally retail at $20 and up. I decided to make my own cable from the most abundant and inexpensive retractable cables available, Dollar Store USB Cables. I found my source at "Dollar Tree" in Littleton, NH. They carry a cable by eCircuit Electronics.


eCircuit retractable USB Male-Male 30" cable - $1
2x 3.5mm male jack plugs - $3.99 @ RadioShack (ouch!)


soldering iron
wire strippers
helping hands

In total, the project cost me $4.99, but it could have been $2-$3 if it weren't for RS' inflated prices.

Step 1: Cut Usb Cable

Extend the cable and snip on each side of the spool, about 1-2" from each end.

Make sure the cable can't retract while working.

Leave enough on the ends to be able to reuse the connectors.

Step 2: Strip Wires

remove the outer rubber from about 1/2" on each end, and carefully separate the enameled wire by color; but, don't bother trying to strip it.

then slip the screw on sleeves over the wires.

I cut the strain relief to make the cable more compact.

Step 3: Solder

Twist the inner two sets of wires together (i.e. twist blue and green together) and solder the sets to the plugs (red to tip, bare to ring, blue/green to sleeve/ground)

the enamel should burn off under heat, but triple check your connections with a multimeter to be sure.

then, reassemble.

voila... $5 retractable patch cable


bunnie benton made it! (author)2007-01-06

instead of making this which is always fun, you can go to the Dollar Tree and buy one ($1, duh). i got one the other day and they also sell retractable USB to printer cables

gschoppe made it! (author)gschoppe2007-01-06

what dollar tree has stereo patch cables... i couldn't find any in the three I hit. are you talking USB to Parallel (IEEE 1294) cables, or just USB type-A male to USB type-B male? I can't see a USB type-A male to IEEE 1294 (centronics) connector hitting the $1 range.

Punkguyta made it! (author)Punkguyta2008-08-16

There is no such thing as a Usb to firewire cable as far as I'm concerned, totally different data transfer protocols, not to mention the 30V of the firewire.

gschoppe made it! (author)gschoppe2008-08-16

firewire is IEEE 1394, Parallel (old printer interface) is IEEE 1284 ... I made a typo and mixed the two...

and, yes, for the record, there is only one type of firewire to usb adapter in existence... its called a computer... it can transfer a file from firewire, to memory, to usb, and vice versa... <insert LOL here>

You wouldn't believe the number of times I get that question from camcorder owners (I work in an electronics store)... some people get quite angry that there's not a $1 cable adapter to give them firewire on their laptop... its like wanting to use an arc welder to power a 2xAA flashlight... two entirely different implementations of the same principles. </exaggeration>

One guy screamed at me for 15 minutes, at the top of his lungs, before storming out, because I told him that he could not connect a USB hub backwards so as to share a printer... I showed him the print-servers, told him about printer sharing, and even showed him an auto-sensing USB switch, but he wanted us to have USB A male to USB A male cables for one end, and USB B male to USB mini B 5-pin Male for the other...

some people cannot be satisfied...


SVNature made it! (author)2008-05-13

Can i do this with 1/4"????

gschoppe made it! (author)gschoppe2008-05-13

although it would work, I wouldn't recommend this for any situation involving recording or live performance (the most common domain of the 1/4" jack)... in any situation where signal integrity is important, you need MUCH better shielding on your cables than any retractable offers.

dudisguy made it! (author)2007-11-02

Some dollar stores sell retractibe earbuds, you could snip off the buds and replace with another jack.

DIY Dave made it! (author)2007-10-07

you also could get the male 1/8 plugs from dollar headphones

jeffreyf made it! (author)2007-01-06

Awesome! I once did a similar thing for a headphone jack and a pair of headphones. In fact, I might have to post an Instructable on that.....

papa-g made it! (author)2007-01-05

This is great timing, I needed to make a male-male jack, but I hadn't thought about making it retractible. If you wanted to save 2 buck, you could have also bought dollar store headphones and stripped off the jacks. Cool.

gschoppe made it! (author)gschoppe2007-01-06

i considered scavenging plugs, but I was worried about strain and overall retractability with a big piece of elecrical tape on each end

gschoppe made it! (author)2007-01-06

I couldn't find a male-male anywhere in local stores, except in a $25 ipod accessories pack. plus the labor is half the fun.

DanAdamKOF made it! (author)2007-01-05

Nice work! My only concern would be the strain being put directly on the solder joints inside the plugs when retracting the cable.

gschoppe made it! (author)gschoppe2007-01-06

the plugs have a crimped strain relief on the end of the sleeve connector where you just squeeze it tight when you're finished... not perfect, but it works

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