When it comes down to it, we run a lot of cables in the world of lighting.
Data one way, power the other, and all of it needs to be safe, but at the same time, taking care of our cables that are not cheap themselves.
On one hand, you want to be safe and make sure all of your cables are tame, but on the other hand, the brand-name gaffer’s tape is expensive and it’s kind of a pain to tape down every single cable – so what’s a lighting person to do?
When Do I Tape?
Not every cable needs to be taped.
This is where you’ve really got to look at your own situation in context, especially when it comes to backstage cable.
Since I’m all about working smarter and not harder, the 1st step to taping cables is to think about our cable runs with avoiding crossing walkways of any kind.
This means, whenever possible, you should follow the edge of the stage or a wall or any other architectural feature that prevents the area you’re running the cable in from becoming a walkway. This is key.
Still, some cables are going to have to cross walkways, whether that be on the stage deck, backstage or in an audience area.
Here’s how to tape smarter:
You’ve got a cable that has to go across a walkway somewhere, and you need to tape it.
What tape do you use?
Duct tape will work, right? Not right!
1) Duct tape leaves tons of goo and gunk on cables, even if it is only there for a day or 2.
2) Duct tape is really, really ugly and
3) Duct tape will damage many floor finishes and walls – including polished concrete. Yuck!
So say no to duct tape- it’s not worth it! What about Gorilla tape? It’s black, right?
It’s even stronger at taking off finishes and leaving gunk compared to duct tape.
Again, just say no! I have seen many ruined stage decks and cables with gorilla tape glue all over them, which couldn’t be cleaned without solvents that damaged the plastic deck. Just say no!
Instead, we are going to use gaffers tape. Gaffers tape, if you’re not familiar, is a cloth-backed tape which though somewhat similar to duct tape, is WAY better!
Typically in 2″ or 3″ rolls, this tape can do many thing – taping down cables, taping up signs, fixing almost anything from broken mic stands, instruments, cars, clothing, and more! It’s very versatile and generally comes off cleanly (unless exposed to heat over significant time)
2″ is the standard sized roll because you can tape 1 extension cord or a couple of mic cables with just 1 strip. But, gaff tape is actually available in a variety of roll sizes from very skinny “spike tape” to some rolls wider than 4″!
Gaff tape has a reputation of being expensive, and it can be. Pro-Gaff, the big name brand is sitting around $27 per roll at the time of this writing. Thankfully, there are other good options, like Gaffer Guys, who offers their rolls through us and other dealers for much less, while offering just as high-quality of a tape.
Whatever it costs, gaff tape is an indispensable tool for anyone in the stage industry, and by following this guide, you can save tape by only using it when essential and reusing tape occasionally too.
What Are the Alternatives to Using Gaffers Tape?
Above, we concluded that gaffers tape is really the only usable tape for stage use, and it’s what we’re going to use for our cables.
But when can we get away without taping cables down at all?
The first place you can do this is when you have floor mats. You know those mats that are at every door in your church or venue, they’re about 3”x4′, and flexible.
If you just need to run 1 or 2 small cables, just sweep them “under the rug” at doorways.
Now, don’t do this in a main entrance, but for side doors and doors backstage, this is great. If you’re worried about the mat moving(use your best judgement), you can tape the mat down to the floor.
The 2nd way you can get away without taping small cables is around doors.
Any door can be outfitted by a carpenter to carry a hidden cable track between the door and the wall with an ornamental plate attached to the door frame.
This way you can easily hide cables behind your doors, and you can get this done pretty cheaply, especially for your backstage doors.
If you have a modern look, you can do this on a temporary basis with a goalpost design made out of lighting truss with sandbags.
The 3rd place to get away without taping is when you have too much cable for tape, when working with temporary feeder and Socapex multi-cable. In these instances, door crossings should be avoided, but when necessary should be completed with cable ramps.
We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a message about our good friend, the cable ramp.
Professional duty, large cable ramps are just one option when it comes to product selection.
There are also single channel ramps, drop over ramps, and ADA compliant ramps, all at different price points. Though cable ramps seem expensive, they typically won’t break for at least 10-20 years unless you abuse them!
And last, if you have commercial carpet, you can use these Velcro cable covers for small numbers of cables, and they work great!
Time to Tape!
Now that we’ve got over every possible way to not tape cables, where to tape cables, and what tape to use, how do we tape cables?
Across and Through Low-Traffic and Backstage Areas
When dealing with a low-traffic or backstage area, you don’t need to go overboard with the tape, since it’s not a public area.
The first step, as always, is to lay your cable out roughly along the path you want to tape.
Starting at one end of this trajectory, place a strip of gaff tape that covers the cable as well as 3-4 inches of floor to either side.
Next, do the same thing at the other end of the stretch of cable, whether that is 5 feet away or 100.
By taping the one end first, then moving to the other end, you are able to straighten the cable out before the 2nd piece of tape.
This lays to groundwork for a really tidy cable run.
To finish it out, lay more of these same size strips across the cable evenly. If the cable is in a popular walkway, finish it off by running a strip of tape over the whole length of the cable to secure it well.
Across and Through High-Traffic and Public Areas
Taping in public areas is going to require much more tape, but it is completely necessary and worth it.
Even when running cables again walls in public area, you need to at least use some strips of tape to keep your cable in place.
When going around corners, make sure to place a strip of tape every time the cable changes direction.
Always over-do taping in public areas, and of course, it’s not a bad idea to brainstorm any possible way to NOT have to run cables across these areas!
Wrapping it Up…
Before you wrap up your cable, we’ve got to take care of our tape.
Now, because gaffer’s tape is awesome, it sticks to itself very well.
When it does come time to take up your cables, it is essential that you first pull up the tape, then the cable. At first, it seems like a boatload of extra work, especially at the end of a long night.
I get it – I’ve been there.
But it’s even more work to cut the tape off of the cable when it sticks to itself. Gaff tape is tricky like that, and it can quickly go from your friend to your enemy as it cunningly wraps itself down the cable the whole way!
Remember to be safe, and tape well, my friend! The safety and reliability of your show depends on it!