If you’re like many folks doing lighting, and you setup and teardown your lights, cables are gonna break! It’s just a fact of life.
When I first began working in this industry, I had no idea how to fix cables. I left that to highly paid professionals or just threw the cables away.
Please don’t do that!
I was scared of soldering, but I later found out that I had nothing to be afraid of. In fact, many DMX cables are a easy and quick fix.
Most cables that break do so at the soldered connections of the plugs, and it’s super easy to repair.
Here’s what to do:
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
To fix cables correctly, most of the time you’re going to need to re-strip the wires to start fresh and keep the inside of our connector clean. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Wire Strippers/Cutters
- Utility Knife
- Soldering Iron and Solder
- Cable Tester
- Optional: Helping Hands to hold your wires.
If your connector is physically broken, you also will need new plugs for your cable. You’ll only need to replace the broken ones, but if your cables had cheap plugs you may elect to change both of them.
- New Connectors (Male 3 Pin, Male 5 Pin, Female 3 Pin, Female 5 Pin)
Step 2: Disassemble Your Connectors and Inspect
Your DMX plug with either have a boot that twists off to reveal the wires, or it will have a couple of small screws that you’ll need to back out before it comes apart.
Once you get inside, there’s a good chance you’ll instantly see a disconnected wire!
It may have come de-soldered from the plug if it wasn’t soldered well, or it may have a physical break in the wire.
If it just came de-soldered, you may be able to just re-solder it back in place using your soldering iron, without doing any wire stripping.
This is where I like to use my cable tester as a helper – I plug the cable into the tester to hold the plug upright as I hold the wire and soldering iron and get down to business.
The person who made this video didn’t do that so that he could best visually demonstrate this – and we all appreciate that!
Step 3: De-soldering
If you didn’t get lucky in the last step and fix your cable quickly, it’s time to de-solder your plug from the wires and get ready to re-strip the cable to begin fresh.
Use your soldering iron to heat up the wire and the receiver until they come apart. You may need to pull on it gently once you see the solder liquefied.
Step 4: Re-Strip the Wires
Now that we’re free from our plug, we can re-strip the outer jacket with a knife.
Be careful as you do this so you don’t cut too deep, slicing into the wires themselves. Many cables have a thin layer of paper or twine that protects the cable, but not all cables do!
Once you get the outer layer off, you can cut off the old soldered ends and re-strip the wire using your wire strippers.
You’ll want to match the amount of exposed wire and exposed copper conductor that was there before you began.
Step 5: Re-Tin Your Wires and Connector
Now that you’ve re-stripped your wire, you can re-twist the wires and the silver ground wire to prepare for soldering.
At this point, you’ll also want to re-tin the cables, or add some solder to them to prepare for actual soldering. If I’m putting on a new plug, I also drop a good lump of solder on the new connector’s receivers.
Doing these 2 things in preparation makes the actual soldering way easier, so don’t act on your temptation to skip it!
Step 6: Soldering Time!
Now it’s time to solder!
Before you begin, make extra sure that the connectors boot and strain relief are on the wire before you begin! It stinks to finish and realize you forgot this!
Many plugs nowadays have a strain relief that you can put on after soldering, but you definitely need to have that boot on there before soldering.
Hold up your wires and iron to your plug and use the iron to heat the receivers on the plug, not the wire.
You want to get the metal cup or strip hot enough that it melts the solder both on it and on the wire to fuse them together for the best connection.
Once everything is visibly liquefied, you can carefully release the iron and hold everything in place. I also usually have a fan running while I do this or blow on the connection to help it cool faster.
This is the step where you can use “helping hands” to hold your wires for you as you solder. I honestly only get out the helping hands if I’m doing a lot of cable, but you may find they make your life much easier!
Step 7: Put Your Cable Back Together and Test
Once you’ve gotten everything put back together, you can now use your handy cable tester to make sure you matched all the wires up exactly the same way they came apart!
This is important!
I also recommend you plug your cable into your lighting console and a light to make sure it works.
Though I’m sure it will work based off the cable tester results, I always test all my cables in a real-life situation. Whether that be a mic cable, guitar cable or DMX cable – then I know we’re good!
If you’ve never soldered a cable before, I think you’re going to find that it’s not too difficult and much cheaper than buying new cables!
Check out the full video from Youtube below for the full details – this guy does a really good job explaining everything.
You’ll notice he does a few things differently than I do, but those are just small details, and the work can be done either way!