USB Coil Cable

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Introduction: USB Coil Cable

About: My work combines conductive materials and craft techniques to develop new styles of building electronics that emphasize materiality and process. I create working prototypes to demonstrate the kinds of electr...

You can buy these things too, so maybe there is now use in making your own. But here is how it could be done.

The coil cable I use here is the super cheap kind from your local 99c store. I don't know if the cables inside the more expensive versions from Radioshack are any better, but these wires are quite bad and messy to solder.

The other (more expensive) option would be to order a 4 conductor custom spiral coil cable from: http://www.cablescience.com/ and ask if they offer shielded coil cables. Although I'm not sure how necessary this is, especially over short distances.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

MATERIALS
- USB cable from your stash or local electronics store
- Spiral/Coil telephone cable from local 99c store
- Shrink tubing / liquid tape

TOOLS:
- Wire cutters
- Wire strippers
- Soldering iron and solder
- Lighter

Step 2: Cutting and Stripping

Cut both ends off your USB cable, leaving about 2-3 cm of wire (plus some extra for mistakes). Strip the cables as seen in pictures.
Select the length of coil cable that you want for this connection and also cut and strip this as seen in the pictures.

Step 3: Soldering

Solder a bit of solder to all stripped wires. USB and coil cable.
BEFORE you solder all the wires together two important things:

- Cut your pieces of shrink tubing and put them on the wires first!
- Once you have soldered one end, make sure that you connect the same colours to the same colours at the other rend too!

One thing that I forgot here is to add another piece of big heat shrink tubing BEFORE soldering so that I can over all the individual cables and truly link the two (USB and coil cable) together --> strain relief!!!

Step 4: Insulating

Push the pieces of shrink tubing over the connection and using a lighter (or if you have a heat gun even better) carefully apply heat to the shrink tubing without burning it.

Step 5: Testing

For this Instructable I chose a regular to square USB connection, which I normally use to connect my Arduino board to my laptop. I don't have any super short USB cables, so the long USB cable always gets in the way and has pushed my Arduino board off the table many times.
Maybe this short coil cable will solve the problem.

I plugged it in and was able to program the chip. You can see that it is connected because the green LED on the board is lit up.

The last and missing step would involve finding a good way to relieve all the strain from the solder connections, since I forgot to add that big pieces of shrink tubing and am too lazy to re-do it all.

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39 Discussions

My phone cable has only 3 wires.

I have done this twice! Worked both times. Actually The only reason im even writing this is because I had to make a longer cable for my wireless internet to work. And as far as the 5m deal. I dont think this is entirely true. For my first cable was just over 20 feet. Worked fine for a month or so. Then started having issues with usb not reconizing it. So I made one tonight about 10 feet or so. Anyways. beats paying $30 for a 16' at radio shack! Muhahahah!

Color code of USB cable

BLACK--------- GROUND

RED ------------ POSITIVE

WHITE --------- DATA

GREEN --------- DATA

This place between black and white cord is too weak. You used isolation but those little cables are not reliable. Especially when its between two fat cables. You should cover them with another pipe.(hard to do if you dont have usb plugs from electronics shop)  ... otherwise, it won't do... 

how do you know which colors go to what? also does it work with two different usb cables?

2 replies

when you cut both the usb cable and the telephone cable you have a range of different colours and you just want to make sure that the telephone cable connects the same colours of the usb cable back together again. if you use two different usb cables then you have to figure out what colour cable is going to which pin of the usb plug so that you can figure out what should go to what >>
http://tuxgraphics.org/common/images2/article07052/usb_a.gif
make sense?

I am definitley trying this tonight with a 3foot usb cable, and creating a 15foot, using cat5. ohhh yeah, theres just nowhere for a printer when you got 2pcs on a dresser! Thanks!! this helps the cheap committee!

1 reply

wow! very cool! just one thing, i think that the USB signal can only travel up to 5 meters or so. but you can use a powered USB hub in between to reach longer distances.

Great idea. Instead of cutting up a USB cable for the ends, you can buy just the connectors from places like Mouser (www.mouser.com) and Digikey (www.digikey.com)make sure you order the connector and the boot. They have USB A, USB B, and mini USB connectors that can all be soldered.

1 reply

Thanks for the tip. great idea! somehow i didn't think to look for solderable USB connectors.

the only concerns I have over this are a) the lack of shielding and b) the lack of twists for USB 2.0. Despite how short this cable is, it's still a recvr/xmitter of noise - which causes errors. USB is good for lost packets, but still will slow you down. The twists are necessary - I can't remember how, but I seem to remember inductance being an issue and the generation of noise without it. I dont' think that the spiral wire has those internal twists for the data lines. If it works, great! but I don't think you'll get USB 2.0 speeds out of it.

4 replies

Twisted pair works by using +5v on one wire and -5v on the other, switching which is which (the opposite strategy is to ground one and do high/low on the other). This drastically reduces the need to shield, because although noise is induced from the outside, roughly the same amount is induced into each wire. The endpoint isn't measuring one wire vs a ground, but rather vs the other wire to see which was higher on the other end. Rather a clever solution, hence why it's pretty much all we use these days. Running them through two wires that aren't twisted allows outside sources to induce more into one then the other and shielding less allows more noise period. I'm not really qualified to say how much of a difference it makes, but over short distances with both wires close, it can work pretty well. USB devices often have more then spec capability too - it's not unusual to be able to double the length of an allowed shielded cable and still have it work without more then a slight drop in performance.

There are several things happening at once: Twisting, differential signaling, and balanced impedances. All help at resisting interference from other devices, and twisting and differential signaling help reduce emissions from the USB cable to other devices. There's also the characteristic impedance of the cable itself, which will cause reflections and degraded signals if it's not matched to the source and load. USB cables are actually very precisely designed, and this project isn't really a great idea for cases in which you don't want errors, especially for Hi-speed devices. :-/

Good deal, there are the official terms for those with an itch to google it and know enough to understand the more technical answers. Still, non-exact as it is, short distance USB (and even ethernet) can survive short distances if speed isn't a big issue (syncing your cell phone/PDAs calendar or something else that just needs a few tens of kb at best) so if there is already an old phone and a zillion USB cables laying around it could be a worth wile thing if bored.

well said. Thanks Larry and endolith. You're better at saying what I was trying to say.

dude, YOU may not, but others might. Never stifle someone's idea.. it may inspire others to do something different.

Very nice, i might try this, I see you have a white macbook :P me too! What can you do with an Arduino board? i havent heard of it before anyway really good 'ible 5 Star + Favrouited

1 reply

It's an AVR chip with some peripherals. It's an incredibly easy way to begin programming, especially when you want to interact with the computer over USB. Such as this incredibly awesome videoincredibly awesome video