Introduction: Terminating an Ethernet (CAT5e/CAT6) Cable

Terminating an Ethernet or CAT5e/CAT6 cable is an easy and useful skill, particularly for those interested in home networking or those in the networking field.  When you learn to terminate cables yourself, you can save money, space, and frustration with tangled cables by making them the exact length you need instead of having to use cables manufactured by a company.  In about 15 minutes, almost anyone can measure and terminate the ends of a cable.

Step 1: Materials

• Wire Strippers – I recommend the IDEAL Telecomm/Datacomm Wire Strippers
• Wire Cutters (Side Cutters will work)
• RJ45 Crimping Tool
• 2 - RJ45 Modular Data Plug (Ends)
• Bulk CAT6 Network Cable
• Ruler
• 2 Wire Boots (Optional, not pictured)

Step 2: Measure the Cable

Step 1:
Using the coil of wire, pull the necessary amount of wire for the connection you need to make.  Be sure to include an extra 2 inches on either end of the wire for the data plug.  

    NOTE:  Network cables have a maximum length, depending on which type is being used.  Although maximum length varies by manufacturer, a common rule of thumb is 650 feet for a CAT6 cable and 250 feet for a CAT5e cable.  If the length of the wire between two powered network devices exceeds this length, signal degradation and data loss may occur.

    TIP:  Do your best to run the wire along the path it will follow between the two devices.  Do not pull the cable tight between two points and be sure the cable is not kinked or tightly pulled around corners.  The cable should have a little wiggle room.

    TIP:  If the location of the wire allows, consider including an extra length in the cable.  This prevents having to make another cable if one device needs to move a short distance after the cable is made.  One way of adding a short length to the cable is to wrap it around a closed fist 2 or 3 times.  

Step 3: Strip the Cable

Step 1:
Measure out 1.5 inches from one end of the wire and place the wire in the wire strippers at that location.  The cable should be snug in the strippers, but not tight.  For the recommended strippers, the second notch inward is appropriate.

Step 2:
Ensure the blade of the wire stripper is perpendicular to the wire and turn the wire stripper around the cable once, which will score the sheathing of the wire.

     NOTE:  Turn the wire stripper only once.  Turning the stripper more than once increases the chance of cutting the sheathing of the inner wires.  If the inner sheathing is cut, it can make the next steps more difficult or cause the wires to break.

Step 3:
Remove the wire stripper and gently bend the cable along the score line.  This should break the sheathing which can be pulled off the wire and thrown away.

    NOTE:  Some wires contain a strand of fiber similar to the one shown in the image.  Cut the fiber from the cable near the end of sheathing.

    NOTE:  As you become more experienced with making Ethernet cables, you may not need to remove the full 1.5 inches of sheathing.

After the sheathing is removed, the bundle of 8 wires will be exposed as shown.

Step 4: Prepare Wires

Step 1:
Separate the twisted pairs into an "x" pattern as shown.  When you look down the cable from the end, you should not see any of the twisted pairs crossing over each other.  Also, the wires do not have to be in the same configuration as seen in the image as long as the wires are not crossing over each other.

Step 2:
Separate the wires of the twisted pairs.  When the wires are separated, they should not cross over each other.

Step 3:
Assemble the wires into a fan shape and organize for the data plug.  There are two common ways to organize the wires for the data plug.  Regardless of which one you use, both ends of the cable MUST use the same configuration otherwise the cable will not work.
I use the following configuration moving left to right (Clockwise from the 9 o'clock position)
• Orange-White
• Orange
• Green-White
• Blue
• Blue-White
• Green
• Brown-White
• Brown

    TIP:  If this is the second end of the wire, look at the end that is already terminated to ensure the cables are the same on both ends.  If you made a mistake on your first end, this is your opportunity to fix it by configuring your wires the same way as the terminated end.

    NOTE:  The wire configuration used above is the T-568B configuration, which is the most common configuration.  The T-568A configuration works just as well and will not affect the transmission quality of the cable.  Both of these configurations use the design of the wires (twisted pairs) to insulate the wires from each other and prevent interference and data loss.  It is useful to memorize whichever configuration you prefer.  If you are interested in making an Ethernet Crossover cable, just do an image search for "Ethernet Crossover Cable Diagram" to get a wire configuration diagram.

Step 4:
Firmly grasp all the wires near the sheathing and slide your fingers up, collecting all the wires into a flat line.  Make sure none of the wires jump positions.  When looking at the wire colors from left to right, the wires should be in the same configuration as described above.

Step 5:
Straighten the wires.  The wires do not have to be even, just straighten them as best you can.

    TIP:  If you have a table with a sharp (not rounded) edge, pinch the cable between your thumb and the edge of the table.  Next, pull the wires between your thumb and the edge.  This will straighten the wires and make them easier to manipulate for the next steps.

Step 6:
Using the wire cutters, trim the tips of the wires so all of the wires are even.  Make sure the cut is perpendicular to the wires.

Step 5: Insert Wires and Crimp

If you are using boots, place 2 boots on the cable now with the large ends of the boots facing the ends of the cable (The large ends of the boots should be facing opposite directions).  I choose not to use boots because as the plastic ages it become hard which can make unplugging a cable from a jack very difficult.  Some people counter this by saying it keeps the tabs from breaking off if you have to pull the cable through a bundle of wires or a tight space, but if the tab breaks off, you can cut the end and terminate it again!

Step 1:
Ensure the wires are still in the same configuration as the last step.  Insert the wires in data plug as shown in the figure.  The tab on the data plug should be on the bottom of the plug and the Orange-White wire should be the leftmost wire in the plug.  When inserted, the sheathing should be just inside the end of the data plug.  If the wires are too long, remove the data plug, cut a very small length of wire from the end, and reinsert the cable into the data plug.

    NOTE:  When viewing the data plug from the side, all of the wires should be as far forward in the plug as possible which is past the spikes at the closed end of the plug.  Also examine the plug from the end, ensuring all the wires are completely inserted in the plug.

  TIP:  The the wires do not want to slide into the data plug, moisten them with a drop of water or, if you are comfortable, a small lick will do the trick.

Step 2:
With the sheathing just inside the plug, pinch the wire about 2 inches below the plug.  Using your other hand, pinch the wire just above where you have pinched and slowly slide your second hand up towards the plug, like you are stretching the sheathing.  This will move the sheathing farther into the plug.  Repeat this step until the sheathing is near the center of the plug.  Be sure you are not pulling the wires away from the end of the plug.

    NOTE:  If you push the sheathing too far into the data plug, you will start pulling the wires back into the sheathing.  Make sure all the wires are fully inserted in the plug.

Step 3:
Insert the prepared plug in the crimping tool and squeeze the handle, crimping the wires.

    NOTE:  Typically, I actually squeeze the cable in the crimping tool twice.  I know it does not do anything extra, but it also cannot hurt.

Step 6: Terminate the Other End of the Cable

Now the other end must be terminated.  Return to the "Strip the Cable" step and repeat the stripping, preparing, and crimping steps for the other end of the cable.

Congratulations!  You have terminated an Ethernet cable!  Now you are ready to interconnect the world!