Portable Cable Management




Introduction: Portable Cable Management

Consumer electronics inhabit everyday personal space, miniaturization allows them mobility and self-containment. This is an inquiry into the management of portable cords. Both consumer and professional electronics apply here, though the topic will gravitate toward common use electronics, such as, cell phone, laptop, headphones, media devices.

Wire is a trajectory through which objects are powered and data transferred, the preservation of its conductivity is the main concern here. Ideas this instructable focuses on are: ergonomics, portability, , storage and retrieval. The format for this will not be step by step procedures but sections pertaining to each idea along with tips. This will include essential portable electronics and appliance accessories, temporary installation techniques, safety & preventative measures, techniques for modifying cables, plus much more.

note: the neologism "coiler " is used frequently to describe devices and or accessories that spool cords.


Twisty Ties, Coil formations, figure eights and Ovals
Spike and surge protectors, line noise filter
Grounded splitters
The transformer or wall wart adapter
Dock and Charge Stations

Temporary electronic set-ups
Small area
Medium area

Management systems
RFI/EMI line-noise filter ferrites
Stress point Reinforcement Springs
Cord covers
Labels and Tags
Camera controller

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Step 1: Twisty Ties and Coil Formations

When cords arrive to us fresh out the box, they are tied up with little black wire ties. Bound up like rope they are wedged into a small retail package. Before managing these severely kinked cords, it is wise to clean them with soap. This will remove lead residue from the manufacturing process. The disposable ties function similarly as the third-party cable management products, only they ware out. These will be re-used for temporary management, an alternative to zip ties or anything that doesn't require Velcro. Cables that are going to be stored, sold or just scrap parts can also be managed in this manner. Similar ties can be found in the produce aisle of the grocery market.
The wire ties are still considered trash, but they can serve the new or old cables by removing their kinks and bends. The process eventually trains the copper and plastic to form a coil. Coils are the easiest to use and store with out tangles. When a cord is twisted, kinked or excessively bent the copper wires eventually split. This results in cables that don't conduct or have inconsistent current. With a signal or power not flowing as clean, down the line these will harm their devices.
Began by wrapping the cord into a ring coil around your hand. If the coil needs to be larger, find something cylindrically shaped such a bottle to wrap it around. Next use the ties to hold the coils shape. Let it sit like this for a while, later repeat the process until cord is less kinked and ready for a real cable management system. Find the coil size by determining the cables width and length into a reasonably sized torus (donut shape). Have both plug ends slightly overlap each other so that they can be cinched together with ties.
Every type type of cord can be managed in to a ring, regardless of how thick its extrusion is. With cords that have less plastic extrusion other types of coils can work too.
Similar to ring coils is the figure eight and oval, they're even easier to store, although the downside is more kinks and a slight amount of tangle. Cords that have a lot of shielding or extra thick rubber extrusion work best. To form the figure eight first coil the wire into oval, in the same way a ring coil was made. Then one side can be managed and the other side cinched toward it. The cinch should leave both terminals taught and not loose or dangling. To achieve this make both plug ends come together, using whatever management system is at hand.
If cable the is of medium length use both hands to create the circle. Take one end of the cord and make a circle in what ever size is needed. Then with the other hand take the cord wrap it around again. Repeat this over and over by alternating between both hands, one will hold the circles shape while the other wraps it around and then hands switch tasks.
For coiling say a long extension cord by hand. Began by holding one end and wrapping it around your elbow and back around to your hand. Repeat this until the cable is coiled in to an oval nearly the diameter of your Ulna and radius. Then to close the loop, plug the male terminal into the female. Extension cords are usually somewhat dirty from being on the ground, Bonami and coarse dish scrubs can help keep them clean.

Step 2: Surge Protection and Filtering

The surge protector is the most essential piece of protection for electronics. These units safeguard electronics from voltage spikes and noise. In context to portable cable management these will allow anyone to safely diagnose and use whichever outlet is at hand. Start off by acquiring a small portable power strip to use as your mains it will contain the following features:

Diagnostic LED's inform the user of the condition of the outlet and if its safe.
Line noise filter: eliminates EMI/RFI noise
Spike (surge) protection
Jacks for modem and telephone (if needed) grounded and safeguarded
At least two outlets: these can be split, which will be discussed in the next step

Step 3: Grounded Splitters

These devices are useful for deriving several outlets from a single one. These should be used in conjunction with a portable surge protector. It needs to be grounded so that its use is as flexible as possible. High end home theater or computer breakers have many great features and places for transformers. If a large power strip is what is at hand then use it until a more portable device is acquired. If a purchase needs to be made some good options will be discussed.

The Monster 4-1 or 3-1 is compact and versatile. Breaker included and pilot light. These can work with up to 4 transformers but become very clustered when in use. It can be set up on the table or floor but may require an extension somewhere up the line.

The Power squid with its on/off switch and extension cord also is another direction. This easily accommodates multiple transformers, which should be plugged in upside down so that all extensions face upward. The squid almost always remains stationed on the ground, because of its size. Unfortunately its size and design is large and obtrusive.

Step 4: Transformers

The ubiquitous wall wart is the most troublesome of power cords to deal with. The bulky transformer doesn't store easily, because of its shape, protruding prongs and extension. Each transformer is a puzzle to manage. Nice transformers have pilot lights, fold away prongs, vents and even built in coilers. The Apple wall wart became the most sophisticated laptop power supply. With its flat body, status light plug, magnetic RFI/EMI filter/plug connector. This was chosen for modification because it has a lot possibilities.
Compact mobile phone chargers are another often needed power supply. These are designed for portability and will modified with cable management.

Transformer type one ball and chain. These are difficult to integrate with breakers and surge protectors. When these are used you must make sure the breaker has a special wide access area for it, other wise you will need a very short extension cord. When coiling these up for storage there are some useful techniques that apply. First leave four inches or so of extra slack right where the cord exits the transformer (the stress point 1). Next coil the cord loosely around the body of the transformer, guiding it through the metal prongs. Use Velcro located on the transformer end to keep the cord from unraveling.

Transformer type two floor wart: is like the ball and chain, but almost always rests on the ground. Floor warts are considered extremely difficult to manage because of the two different size and length cords and the bulky transformer in the middle. Unfortunately there is not one conventional method for manging these either. Some of these have the ability to remove the ac cord for storage, other AC cords can work with them even if you have to whittle down the plug to fit it.

Notes on modification
Any transformer that can not be opened via screws, is sealed together with heat or glue. If it was put together it can be taken apart, only prying may damage the plastic exterior. If a transformers extension looks old or damaged, open it up and get to the terminals. De-solder them and replace with speaker wire. Make sure your polarity (tip/ring +/-, look on your device or its manual for info) is matched correctly before soldering on a new plug. Almost all transformers do not have heat vents but actually need them. To mod a hot transformer with a vent simply take it apart and drill holes at its top or sides.

Step 5: Charge and Sync Dock

The dock can come in handy for phones, media players, g.p.s, etc. Most docks also take in to consideration protecting the lens, screen and finish. Many of devices all ready have rubberized bottoms or protective skins on them. The point of the dock is to prevent the unit from accidentally being pulled off a table and dropped on the floor. The Issue of portability is how to have a compact and universal dock that isn't a hassle to bring along with the charger cables etc.

Other Recommendations
Secure the cord to a table leg or other object via Velcro strap and or wrap around.
place unit on top of protective pouch, media sleeve or belt case
Buy or make a protective pouch to use as a dock

Step 6: Temporary Electronic Set-ups

This next section will discuss temporary installations for a laptop hub. The laptop was chosen for its broad application. Though these examples will be limited to such, the point of them is the connection process. Finding the power source in relation to furniture and lighting, tapping the current, extending and splitting it. All the techniques contained within are transferable to other objects such as audio interfaces, USB hubs, decks etc. The main part of this does not change, surge protection to grounded splitter, transformers to their respective devices. The main peripherals of the set-up will include the stereo speakers, phone and DVC/camera. Along the way tips will be included pertaining to portability and transportability.

Step 7: Set Up for a Small Work Area

This is a somewhat nomadic workstation, set up on nightstand as if a table wasn't available. This was chosen because it is similar to a hotel room or intermediate space. The lodger set up only uses equipment that is transported in backpack or by hand. The laptop can be used at the stool or the bedside. In consideration of a minimal work space there should be some sort of table. Other surfaces that work nice although lower than a night stand, are a milk crate, Japanese tea table, laptop stand or foot stool.

Step 8: Set Up for a Medium Size Work Area

Here is a picture of a larger set up where several devices are being used or tested. This much stuff can fit in a small car trunk or on a handcart. Cables are all pouched together. Electronic devices were transported in a milk crate, backpack and retail box.

Here the power supply is located off the ground and on the table, using first an extension cord then a power tap and splitter. The extension cord is slightly wrapped around the table leg with its extra slack near the outlet. In practice its good to leave the extra cord slack near the outlet in case of a trip and fall, while the other end is secured.

A fan is conveniently placed to cool off the laptop and the user. Its connected to another outlet along with the room lamp.

Step 9: Management Systems

Velcro is the standard management system used by most consumers and professionals. Its re-usable and color coded. Although only available in two sizes it can be cut for smaller applications. Velcro is applied to either one or both ends of a cable with or with out a zip tie. Its shortcomings are it will get dirty and eventually ware out.

Zip ties are semi permanent, disposable and inexpensive. Available in many lengths, sizes and colors. They work great for labeling, color coding and modification. Reusable zip ties are available from Ikea, but are still difficult to re-use. The ninety-nine cent store (and other bargain stores) sell these for reasonable prices.

Cable cuffs are strong and reusable plastic clamps. They're adjustable and come in several sizes. Color coded for visibility and organization. These can attached to the cable with two zip ties. Although durable they can break if stepped on.

Cable ties are reusable plastic straps for managing short cords. These lock with a serrated teeth that hook into small slots on its other end. Refer to the first section of this instructable for instructions on how they're used.

Other management systems
Interesting names for other management systems are Clam, disc, yo-yo and ring. Many different companies have patented cable coilers that all do the same exact thing: coil the wire into a spiral formation. For quick and easy storage and retrieval these won't make the cut. Although intended for every day use they quickly become an annoyance. These small devices take a straight cord mold it into a small tight spring, when uncoiled the spring becomes a tangled twisted mess. They don't deal with preservation of the cord and actually increase wear and strain when used repetitively. Like the undesirable ball and chain effect, these add another bulky object in between it user and the cord. These management devices are more effective as solutions for shortening cables in a permanent installation. None of these devices are recommended, though their designs are fascinating.

Step 10: RFI/EMI Line-noise Filter Ferrites

Ferrites fight against both electro magnet and radio frequency interference. These are a tube on either end of a cable either built in or snapped on afterwards. Ferrite beads help to prevent high frequency electrical noise from exiting or entering the equipment. These mods are most useful for data, fire wire, and camera cables.

Step 11: Stress Point Reinforcement Springs

Stress resistance springs are the best insurance to protect a cable. After years of use the cord stress points will be unbent.

Step 12: Tape

3M painters tape is useful for a temporary cord installation. It functions as a temporary safety precaution for a remote set up. If an extension cord is being dealt with, it will undoubtedly need several pieces of tape in various areas. Painters tape can damage surfaces such as walls or furniture, be sure to de-stick the tape on a shirt or sweater to weaken the adhesive, and don't crease it down.

Electrical tape is used for quick reinforcement, splicing and repair.
Occasionally its used with a sharpie marker for cord labels or marking wires.

Step 13: Cord Covers

Cord covers are not just for aesthetic appearance they have utilitarian purposes that can not be over looked. The covers reduce tangle, and allow for effortless management. All though some of these products are designed for other applications, they work great for modification projects too.

There are fabric cord covers available from home and decorator stores. Usually available in one size, but with many variations on color and fabric. These cord covers are almost purely for looks, except for that they reduce tangle. Some cord covers attach to cord with velcro or snaps, these are difficult to install and will have holes through out. The closed sleeve covers are preferred because its look is cleaner and has no holes, these one are installed by easily walking the plug through the sleeve.

The Shoelace is a inexpensive alternative for the look of cloth covered cable. Acquire a patterned hallow shoe lace made from nylon or other synthetic material. Cut the aglets (the plastic bit) off, from both ends. Take a lighter and singe the frayed end, then take saliva or water and pinch the threads together. This should prevent it from fraying apart. Now take the cable and "walk" it through. Use heat shrink and hot glue to keep the covers ends secured beneath the plug end.

Split loom is for semi-industrial wire management, usually applied in a permanent installation. Split loom works well for grouping together several cables of the same length that all follow the same trajectory. Also very useful for modifications and projects. It is made from durable plastic and comes in several sizes. The white and black colors are most commonly used, do not buy the metallic colored loom, its paint chips away and makes a mess.

Spring tubing is similar to split loom, designed for cable management and protection. Its best uses are for permanent installations, although it might be applicable for some modifications and projects too, such as a custom cable snake. The wrap around plastic strip looks like a spring. It is also available in many colors and sizes.

In terms of making a cord cover from scratch there is a ingenious instructable that uses a loom. The instructable will allow one to create a cover for any size in any color with out using a sewing machine.

Step 14: Labels and Tags

Cable tags are useful when similar cables types could get mixed up, also for identification and ownership. Labels are very handy when an assistant goes to fetch a cord their not familiar with. Equipment rental facilities write a number of the device or some other code on a tag so each device has a cable dedicated to it. Extension cords can have either a Velcro strap with labeling, or written directly on the cord with sharpie (subject to dis-coloration). Cords are also tagged by with a bar code and number assigned to each. Labeling on yellow electrical tape with black sharpie marker can be seen easily under low light situations.

Step 15: Prongs

The Prongs are the part that make contact with the electricity from the outlet. The only metal part that is exposed are these and its terminals on the opposite side. Some prongs are polarized so that they can only enter the electric socket in one way. The holes in the prongs are slots for metal contacts in the outlet to attach to.

Fold away prongs are a interesting feature for transformers. These prevent abrasion or damage to other objects their stored and transported with. Similarly a cover preserves the metal and makes it easier to transport.

The first prong guard is a simple piece of plastic that is sometimes included with the retail package like the twisty ties.

It is also possible to make a cover using plasti-dip, scotch tape and a releasing agent such as vasoline.

Step 16: Modified Camera Controller

This project will make the camera controller completely tangle free. making easier to document the next project. To open a controller remove any screws on its body, then figure out were the plastic tabs are (inside) that hold the two halves together. To find the tabs you may have to pry a little, but avoid this till the controller has been throughly inspected. Opening up a controller is different depending each model, most have their tabs on the longest side.

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    12 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Power protection is also very important for the computer. And safeguard the health of all of your devices with a surge protector you can trust. We carry a range of products that will suit your needs. Because they can't intercept all surges when Power fluctuations, it's best to use a whole-house protector in conjunction with point-of-use protectors.
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    8 years ago on Step 11

    Excellent idea!

    I came across your guide while searching for methods to re-enforce my laptop power cable and connector. I am going to implement your method in my project along with something to protect the cable from damage if it is squished (trapping the cable under the corner of the coffee table when i slide it over the floor for example) along with a nylon wrap using some pretty coloured paracord!

    What ya think? :)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Good instructable.

    I can usually find a cheap Velcro alternative after the yule holidays, about $0.50 for 10 feet, 2 sided strap. I will sew a loop onto one end of this and put the cord through the loop. The strap will stay on the cord and not get lost.

    Another idea is to always "Fake" your cords, never spin them into a loop, but make a figure 8 between your thumb and little finger. This prevents twisting of the cable and reduces the chance of tangles when you release the loop. (You can also do this with longer/thicker cords between your elbow and hand.)


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I think there is another powersquid by phillips for European outlets.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I like this instructable, but why are the main pics black and white?


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    maybe he only had access to a black & white digital camera at the time


    11 years ago on Step 7

    It's a good idea to organize my cables, Good job!!!

    Great tips & tricks! Lots of useful stuff.

    Just a word of warning, though: I strongly discourage wrapping an extension cord (or any other longish cable) around your arm. It's quick and easy, but it makes your cord very twisty and kinky in no time. Mastering good coiling technique will save a lot of time and mess in the long run, and help your cords last longer as well.


    Great ideas! One consideration is the method to coil the wires. I'd suggest a common boating coil called a "Gasket Coil," which will let the coils lie flat and eliminate the nasty kinks that are common in cords (don't put the loops around the coil, use wire wraps instead).




    11 years ago on Introduction

    Very thorough. This should sort out my cable troubles. One critisism though, bigger yellow picture boxes. Hard to mouse over teeny weenie boxes. One bump and the paragraph is removed in mid sentance.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Good work and very detailed. A note of caution when coiling 110V or 240V colds that are in use. Don't coil the cord to small, especially if it is a high current device. Tight coils can have an inductive effect and cause heat. In some cases causing a fire.