Introduction: Steampunk USB Cable

Picture of Steampunk USB Cable

I’ve seen many creative Instructables on DIY steampunk keyboards, mice and other USB peripherals, but many of these don’t include “steampunking” an important part of these devices – the USB cable.

This Instructable will show you how to make a quick, easy and inexpensive steampunk USB cable for your retrofitted, retro-historical steampunk or dieselpunk devices.

Note: This Instructable was inspired in part by the beautiful Steampunk Mouse, posted by Miss Betsy. But this Steampunk USB cable doesn't require as many tools, or as much skill as is required to recreate Miss Betsy's steampunk cable. I also borrowed a few ideas from an Instructable on Cloth Covered Banana Cables.

• Bootlace
• USB Cable
• “F” type quick connect video adaptor
• Altoids tin
• Glue (Crazy or Gorilla)
• Heat shrinkable wire wrap (or brass eyelets)
• Gold or bronze metallic paint
• Female-to-female "F" type connector (optional)

• Soldering iron & solder
• Exacto blade (or razor blade)
• Dremel (or similar rotary tool)
• Pliers
• Wire cutter
• Paint brush
• Lighter
• Clamp or vice

Step 1: Prepare the USB Cable

Picture of Prepare the USB Cable

If you are starting with a USB cable with plugs at both ends, cut off the end you don’t need. If you are starting with a mouse or keyboard, de-solder the cable from the device. (To do this properly, you should use a de-soldering iron, but I don’t have one!) You may want to take a photograph or careful notes, so you know how to re-solder when you’re done.

With your Exacto or razor blade, make an incision around the cable, at the base of the plug, to remove the plastic tubing, being ever so careful to not cut through to the wires. Then carefully slice the tubing length-wise, (kind of like you were skinning a snake;-) Be carefully not to damage the wire shielding, as this will make it very difficult to pass through the lace.

Step 2: Choosing a Bootlace

Picture of Choosing a Bootlace

You want to select a lace that fits your color scheme. You also need one that’s not too thin, or you wont be able to push the cable through, and not too thick, or else the final product will look like sagging nylon stocking!;-)

I bought three or four pairs of bootlaces before I decided on this rust colored lace that matches nicely with my soon-to-be-posted "Decopunk Keyboard."

Step 3: Lacing the Cable

Picture of Lacing the Cable

Cut the plastic tips off your boot-lace. If it has a string running through it, remove. (The one I chose came sans string). Stick a screwdriver into the lace a few inches to widen the opening.

Put a small piece of tape around the tip of the wire mesh at the end of the USB cable, so it feeds through the lace without catching or snagging the lace, then feed the cable through the lace. (Kind of like an inch-worm… It’s a tedious process, but well worth it:-)

Once the whole cable is laced, trim the other end of the lace, to match the cable length.

Step 4: Finishing the Cable

Picture of Finishing the Cable

Take a piece of your heat shrinkable wire wrap (about an inch), and feed the laced cable through until the wire wrap reaches the plug.

Heat this with a lighter until it shrinks tight around the lace. (Be careful not to burn the plug, the lace or yourself!)

If you want, now is a good time to add a little bit of gold metallic paint to the base of the plug where it might show.

Feed the cable through your “F” type video adaptor until it reaches the base of the plug. (If you have trouble feeding the laced wire through the adaptor, you can put a small piece of shrink wrap tubing on the tip).

Step 5: Making the Tin Sheath

Picture of Making the Tin Sheath

Eat a box of Altoids. Save the tin.

Remove the lid from the base by prying open the hinges with a small screwdriver.

This is a good time to bust out your steampunk goggles, as I’m told flying metal splinters in your eyes can be very painful. If you don’t have steampunk goggles, any goggles, or even sunglasses are better than nothing.

Cut a piece from one side of the tin, about 5cm wide (just under 2 inches) with your Dremel or similar small rotary tool. You want this piece to be from top to bottom and edge to edge, just before the curved corners.

Place your USB plug on your cut piece of tin, and mark the inside of the tin on either side of the plug, so you know where to bend.

Use your pliers to bend the tin into a rectangle, and place the tin sheath you have just made over the USB plug to check the fit. Make sure to point the “lip” of the tin up, and the edge you cut down. (You also want to position the sheath so that the seam will face down when plugged in).

Take the tin sheath off and use your rotary tool to trim off any excess tin. Be very careful, as the tin may have sharp edges, and will certainly get hot after a bit of grinding.

Step 6: Solder and Paint the Tin Sheath

Picture of Solder and Paint the Tin Sheath

After you've trimmed off any excess tin, replace the sheath, and squeeze it a bit with your pliers. Place the plug in a vice or clamp of some sort, so the sheath is squeezed snuggly against the plug, and then solder the seam. (Try to make this line of solder as neat as possible).
Use your rotary tool to grind of any excess solder.

Paint the underside (or the whole plug) with gold metallic paint to hide the solder seam.

Step 7: (Optional) Connector or Plug at the Other End

Picture of (Optional) Connector or Plug at the Other End

If you plan to attach this cable to a keyboard (as I plan to do), you might want to consider using a gold female-to-female video connector to mount the cable to the keyboard. Just punch the plastic out of the center with a screwdriver, and add a bit of heat shrinkable wire wrap to the cable where it meets the connector.

If you plan to re-attach a plug to the other end, there are a number of fine Instructables which will give you directions on how to do that. Here's one that might be helpful: How to repair a moulded USB cable.

This Instructable also has a detailed description of hacking a USB cable at Step 10, (although it doesn't mention the two wires that handle data): Mini USB powered Tiffany Lamp.

Step 8: Brass Eyelet Alternative

Picture of Brass Eyelet Alternative

After I finished this Instructable, I found some brass eyelets at my local 99 cents store which I realized would fit perfectly inside the "F" type video plug on my Steampunk USB Cable. While the laced cable fits perfectly through the eyelet, I couldn't get the eyelet over the shrinkable wire wrap.

In an attempt to shrink the wire wrap just a bit more, I ended up burning the bootlace! So I removed the wire wrap, unlaced the cable, and fed it back through the other end. (The burn will be concealed inside the keyboard).

So here are instructions for using brass eyelets instead of shrinkable wire wrap. I think this final product has a much cleaner, "steampunkier" look.

Glue the eyelet to the base of the "F" type video adaptor, and glue another eyelet to the female-to-female video connector. (I wish I had some Gorilla Glue for this;-)

Thread the laced cable through the adaptor and connector.

Attach the spliced end to your favorite steampunk or dieselpunk device.

Enjoy the compliments on your new Steampunk USB Cable!

If you like this Instructable, please consider rating it (just to the right of the introduction), and/or voting for it in one of the contests I've entered. If you decide to make your own, please post pictures!

Note: I had originally intended this cable for my Decopunk Keyboard, but decided it was too short. So instead I attached it to my Steampunk USB mini-Lantern.


nerd7473 (author)2014-01-10

well neat

SteampunkToreador (author)2012-02-02

Another more time-intensive idea (but one that doesn't involve surgery to your USB cord or USB device) would involve braiding embroidery floss around the cord. A tight braid secured at the ends with heat-shrink tubing or a thin bead of silicone adhesive/sealant would do the job nicely.

Steampunk Toreador – I have thought about ways to try and decorate a cable without surgery, and the idea of braiding or embroidery has occurred to me, but this would require some skills I just don't have. After a bit of practice, re-attaching a usb plug to it's cable is not that bad;-)

hyratel (author)Winged Fist2012-05-11

consider though, that usb-micro plugs are almost small enough to shove-flare braided hollow over without modification.

I'd like to see an 'ible of this, Toreador, or a slide show. BTW, a lot of old cord had a metallic thread running through the cloth, like this [not my pic]:

Was that metal functional or decorative? Perhaps coding?

Winged Fist (author)ToniRose2012-03-09

I think that what you are seeing in this picture is an outer layer of black and gold thread, and an inner core of copper, insulated with asbestos fiber, but the gold thread looks like copper at the end when it gets unravelled... Just my guess...

matthew matthew (author)2011-10-11

Id like to do this with my Ipod sync cable... not sure how I would get the lace over the USB end though.

Mathew Mathew - You might want to take a look at "How to make an iPod Line Out Dock," although this certainly isn't a project for beginners!;-)

In order to use this design for a cable with plugs at both ends, (like your iPod sync cable), you would need to remove one end, and then splice it back on when you're done. Here's an Instructable that might be helpful: How to repair a moulded USB cable. But be forewarned: Working with the very thin wires inside a USB cable can be tricky... You might want to practice on a junk cable first.


ToniRose (author)2012-03-09

I like your take on steampunk in all your 'ibles, Winged Fist. You've got the look without overdoing the bric-a-brac, so it's functional without being awkward.

Winged Fist (author)ToniRose2012-03-09

Thanks ToniRose! I generally try not sacrifice functions for form, which is why I tend not add a lot of useless decorative elements;-)

yaly (author)2012-02-18

You can use the plastic tips as mini darts by poking a pin with a small flat head through the side that had the rest of the lace till it comes out the other side and spread the small piece of lace at the end to create the fins, give it a good throw at a sofa for example, enjoy

astilly (author)2011-10-11

Hrmm...whilst aesthetically quite enjoyable, it's unclear to this humble layperson what to do with this USB cable. I don't see what's going on with the cut end. Something about an "F" type video, but I don't see how the wire splice is happening or what the utility of this kind of cable is...can you clarify? Is this cable functional or merely decorative?

Winged Fist (author)astilly2012-02-16

Here's another project utilizing this steampunk USB cable: My Steampunk incandescent lamp.

Winged Fist (author)astilly2011-11-02

Astilly – I've posted an Instructable which demonstrates one possible use for this cable: Steampunk USB mini-Lantern.

But of course the possibilities are limitless;-)

Winged Fist (author)astilly2011-10-11

You are correct that "as is" this is purely decorative. This is part of a larger project I am working on – my "Decopunk Keyboard." I decided to post this as a stand-alone project, as this method can be used for adding a steampunk or dieselpunk motife to any number of USB peripherals, including a mouse, keyboard, webcam, headphones, etc.

Grasshopper1221 (author)2012-02-06

Hey Wing... Have you tried using copper to wrap the USB connector? I'm bust 1 out I think you will you Dig it!

Grasshopper – I've seen some fantastic steampunk plugs (and usb drives) on Instructables that were done with copper, but since I lack the proper tools (including a vice, a blow torch or a pipe cutter), I've opted for the much simpler tin method. I also worry that a copper plug my be a bit too heavy for some of the more delicate usb wires I've created.

bricabracwizard (author)2012-01-09

I enjoyed your instructable describing this process that I hope you don't mind that I've created a link from my instructable to yours:

Monsterguy (author)2011-10-13

I made a few probs for a friends Steampunk LARP. I covered cables in much the same way, but used paracord instead. There are a few advantages & disadvantages to doing so -

1, You can have any length you like, I went upto 4m (12feetish).
2, It's availlable in a very wide range of colours.

3, It's only availlable in a few widths so the thickness of cable needs to be appropriate.

You just need to pull the (usually) white strands out of the middle and slide your cable in.

I've used the ParaCord like you discribe fro making Audio Patch Cords the the home and truck. Very nice and easy to finish off. Long Live ParaCord! ;)

Winged Fist (author)Monsterguy2011-10-13

I'd like to see photos of your steampunk'ed paracord cables. Or better yet an Instructable!;-)

Robot Lover (author)2011-10-16

I'm surprised that you were able to solder the tin together with a soldering iron. Usually soldered large pieces of metal requires a torch. Good job.

Winged Fist (author)Robot Lover2011-10-16

I think the trick here is that I bent the tin sheath to firmly conform to the contours of the plug, so the solder is really just covering the seam, and not really holding it together per se. I'm new to the world of soldering, and while I'm sure this piece could be welded, I wanted to make an Instructable that could be done with a soldering iron, for those DIY'ers, like myself, without welding tools or skills. Thanks for the comment!

Beergnome (author)2011-10-13

It's absolutely lovely..

why did you unsheathe the original cable? seems to me that it was completely unnecessary and compromises the integrity of the shielded pair cable.
It looks like you are trying to emulate corded asbestos insulation, and you do a good job of that. But unsheathing the cable runs risk of damaging the actual conducting wires and the shielding around them. and once everything is hidden in the boot lace sleeve? well.. whats the difference? in fact.. with the outer cable sheathing intact, it should actually be able to insert it through the boot lace.

Winged Fist (author)Beergnome2011-10-13

I actually tried feeding the cable as-is through a number of laces, unsuccessfully, which is why I decided to remove the shielding. I could have kept looking for a lace that would fit properly, but I didn't think that removing the plastic shielding would damage the integrity of the cable. I was pretty careful not to damage the conducting wires, or the mesh shielding, but I guess I'll find out when I re-attach the cable to the keyboard whether or not I damaged it in the process...

Beergnome (author)Winged Fist2011-10-15

Im sure its going to be fine :) I was just expressing my concern. and in no way did I mean to poopoo on you project if it came off as such.
my concerns are born from my former life as a industrial automations technician. low voltage data wires, like say a USB cord. you have your data wires, power wires, and a elctromagnetic shield tied to a grounded drain wire.. as in the shiled would be connected to the ground on one end and open on the other.. a connected circle could cause a hum after all.

as long as your +5 and 0v are good, and your D+ and D- are good, there should be no problems, and considering the length of the cable in question there should not be a problem as long as the foil shielding is at least connected, a crack in it is allowable. But the outer shield in a data wire is to protect the low voltage wires from external Electromagnetic interference like say 50mgz hum from120,240, or 480v AC voltage. so best practice is to keep the shielding and casing intact to closest allowable termination point for the wire and ground drain the terminated end.

On such a short run of wire, and a digital source of data? this is not going to be an issue what so ever, my concern is based on personal training on best work processes.

I make beer for a living now though, so go on with yer bad self

andrewcaseley (author)2011-10-11

this is superb i love it well done , doffs hat

Thanks Andrew! And thanks for having the first comment on my new creation!

ehudwill (author)2011-10-11

Love this idea!

Winged Fist (author)ehudwill2011-10-11

Thanks ehudwill!

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