Is there a proper (or easy) way to coil ethernet cables?

Okay, so my project this weekend was to organize my two large cardboard boxes of spaghetti-like ethernet, phone, and power cables (among others). I’ve got them all untangled and stacked nicely into little piles to be stored away for quick access when needed. So far so good. Now comes the part that has so far baffled me–how the heck do I coil or bundle each cable into a neat loop? You know, like when it first arrived in the plastic wrap?

I’ve tried different things–taking an arbitrary length of cable and folding it (gently, not to stress the cable) one length over the other but this seems crude and clumsy. The resulting bundle is not too ideal. I’ve also tried the more difficult method of looping the cable around and around trying to keep the loop stable as it builds up but after a certain amount of loops I begin to lose control and it becomes unraveled or collapses in on itself. It can be very frustrating. So my question is simply: Is there any standard way to coil/bundle cables in a way that is compact, elegant, something that efficiently uses space without damaging the cable with extreme bends? Is this an art form? or do most people just not even bother?

I’ve searched the net for this type of info but couldn’t find anything relative to the question… if such a process exists I imagine some images of the process would be immensely helpful as it would probably be difficult to explain in words. In any case, please let me know your methods if you have any.


You could wind it around your hand (tighter or looser depending on how big you want the coil to be) and then tie it off with a wire tie (loosely) or a twist tie, you may two (antipodal) to keep it all together. Just becareful, make sure you don’t crease them. Ethernet cables are really easy to ruin, and it’s a royal pain in the ass to troubleshoot a network with a bad ethernet cable. (It’s hard because you don’t think it’s the cable. When it happeded to me, the computers could see each other, could see files on each other, but you couldn’t transfer files or print over the network. Just for kicks I bought a new cable and everything work perfect).

Hey that sounds simple and logical…now why didn’t I think of that? well I will have to give your method a try and I will report back if I have any issues. My biggest concern is the 50 foot ethernet cable I have…not looking forward to coiling that one! Thanks!


there is a right way to coil anything. Ropes, mic cords, Cat 5, whatever. You have to put a half-twist in with every loop. Then, when you uncoil it, you have to take all the half-twists out. Try taking one of those shrink-wrapped wires and just stretch it straight out: you’ll see that it’s all twisted.

Not sure I can write this in so many words and have it make sense, but here goes. Actually, here’s a good way to ``show’’ you how it goes: go to your sewing kit, and grab the measuring tape. (If you dont’ have a sewing kit, find some other ribbon or tape or something. It just has to be flat, so you can see the kinks).

Now, un-coil the tape, and coil it hand-over-hand, the way you were coiling the ethernet cable, and you’ll probably notice that you but a twist in it without even noticing. On the off chance that you didn’t automatically put twists in, you’ll now have a kinked-up mess, so start over and figure out how the twists should go in to make a nice flat coil. Then pay attention to the fact that you are in fact twisting the tape as you coil it. Then you’ve learned how to coil stuff. Just make sure you always put that twist in, just like with the tape.

Viking has it. This is just the method of coiling cables during my tenure at a cable TV station years ago. If your’re holding the cable coil in your left hand and winding with your right, you’ll apply the twist by moving your thumb (which will be topmost) away from you.

Viking and Q.E.D thanks for the input. I think I get the gist of what you mean and I’ve been experimenting with some success. Is this method applicable to both round and flat cables? It seems natural for me with round cables like coaxial and some Cat 5, but with the telephone cables it feels awkward because the twist is visible in the loops and it feels forced. I’m also wondering which method of coiling is better: where the coil is in equal length loops that stack up one on top of the other or where the coil overlaps the previous loop so that the circumference of the coil gradually grows outward? I feel silly having to ask so many questions about such a seemingly simple procedure… but I think it’s worth the effort to get it right. Thanks again!

Here’s the old stage-tech trick in coiling up lighting (electrical) and microphone/PA cables:

For right handers (reverse for lefties):

  1. Bend your left arm at the elbow.
  2. Place the end of the cable in the palm of your left hand and hold it.
  3. With your other hand, grab the cable and wrap it around your arm just above the elbow.
  4. Then bring the cable up from your elbow and across the palm of your hand, and then back down to your elbow again.
  5. Repeat until the end of the cable.
  6. Finally, connect the ends of the cable together (usually), and wrap the coil with tape, velcro strips, whatever to keep it together.

It takes longer to describe than to do this! In effect, you are coiling the cable between your hand and your elbow. This provides a handy sized coil for stage wiring, and with practice you can get real fast & real consistent at this.

Hmmm. There shouldn’t be a twist in the loops. Basically, you put one in so it isn’t there. That sounds really weird.

Try this again with your measuring tape. Pull about 12-18" between your two hands. It’s flat, right? With all the inch markings on the top, let’s say. Now, bring your two hands together, so the 12-18" hangs down as a bight, and transfer the two bits you’re holding into the same hand. Notice that the bight ends up as a twisted figure-of-eight kinda deal. That’s what you don’t want. But you can only see it in stiff, short, bit of flat tape/ cable. So now stretch out your 12-18" again. Hold one end with your left thumb on top, and left forefinger below. Hold the other end with your right forefinger above and right thumb below. Now bring the two together again, but twist your right wrist away from yourself as you do so, so when you transfer the end to your left hand, the bight hanging down is flat and untwisted. That’s what you want.

How I avoid messes when coiling cable/rope/hose:

I string the cable out in a more or less straight line on the ground. I then do a standard wrap around my arm or whatever. I stay in one place and draw up the cable towards me. The turns in the coil that are created travel down the cable and off the end into the 23rd dimension.

If a long enough space is not available for a straight line, I use conviently located objects to zig zag the cable around, making sure they won’t hang the cable up.

Note that minimum radius for cat 5 cable is 5 inches or so. A two foot diameter loop would give you plenty of margin of error. (You also don’t want to use coiled cat 5 in a network. Uncoil it/shorten it before using.)

I think that there might actually be a second way to coil some cables!

If you do as viking suggests, then when you uncoil the cable you have to un-twist it, or you will get kinks in the cable. There is a way to avoid this, and that’s to coil up the cable in figure-of-eight. That way, every kink is countered by a kink in the opposite direction.

The only problem is that the bending radius is buch smaller, so you put more strain on individual strands, so it’s not ideal for fragile monofilament stranded cable, unless you can make the ‘8’ large enough.

(This also works wonders for garden hose - if you don’t have a reel to spool it up on, do a figure-of-eight around two poles. Then next time you need to use it, you can just remove as much as you want, without risking kinks!)

The half-twist method works for me. Or;

You could also use a small empty spool and support the spool with a piece of pipe between the rungs of a ladder. Straighten out the cable and then attach one end of it to the spool. Spin the spool so the cable is taken up by the spool, being sure to guide the cable side to side as you do this. This will eliminate the need to remove or add twist as you reel it up.

If I understand you correctly, you’re describing a practice (‘elbow wrapping’) that will get you yelled pretty quickly at in the sound company I work part time for.
Generally, whenever we used to do this, the end of the wire (XLR plug, or whatever) in your hand would get strained, and often enough the connection between the plug and the wire would break, come loose, pull out, whatever).
We use only the loose coil in hand: twist in looping method describe in the thread by others (except for really balkly extension cords, which we ‘pretend’ are strong enough to take it).

>> There is a way to avoid this, and that’s to coil up the cable in figure-of-eight

In nautical terminology “coiling” means wrapping the line around a spool or around a single circle as if there was a spool. As has been said, this means the line has to be turned once around its axis for every loop that goes in our out of the coil. This makes a coil unsuitable for situations where the line has to be free to run out without kinks. If the line has to run out freely (like if you are harpooning whales) you cannot have the line coiled as it would have kinks in it as it paid out.

The solution, as you say, is to store it over itself, horizontally, without any twists. The simplest way is in figure 8 but it can be with more or fewer crossings. This method is not called “coiling” though. It is called “flaking” (I have often heard “faking” but I believe it is not correct). Lines which are flaked can run out freely without kinks so this method is often used on boats and ships.

There are several methods to flake a line. Basically it means just piling it over itself with no kinks. Sometimes a flaking board is used. It is a board with pegs and the line criss-crosses itself many times. Then it can be dumped on deck and you have a neat stack of line ready to pay out.

Another way is this: Grab it horizontally with your hands about 4’ apart, like it was a long pole. Now bring the rear hand forward to meet the other hand and transfer the segment from the rear to the front hand so it is facing in the same direction. The line hangs in a figure 8. Slide the rear hand back again and repeat. You end up with the line flaked in figure 8 loops. Then you can lay it on deck and have it reay to pay out. Or you can store it by hanging it. In some cases you can “fold” one half of the 8 over the other and you have a circle. Then you unfold it before using again.

It all comes down to not creating any twisting stress on the internal wires of a Cat5 cable (or any other cable with multiple internal wires). If you keep twisting in the same direction you’re basically corkscrewing all of the cables inside, and if you do that many times over the course of a year, something is going to stress out and snap. So, any “winding methodology” you employ should make sure you’re not repeatedly twisting the internal wires. So, viking’s is fine, the elbow coil is not.

I learned this technique when running sound cables. Start like viking said with the half twist on the first loop. But on the second loop you want to wind the cable in the same direction, but twist the opposite way of the first loop. So, on the first loop you have an overhand twist, while on the second loop you have an underhand twist. Then repeat this back and forth twisting. That way every twist you put into the cable, is counteracted by the following loop. The other cool thing about this technique is that when uncoiling the cable you just hold on to one end of the cable and throw the other end. If you’ve coiled it right, it should come out is a fairly straight, unknotted line.

I was taught a method called “over-under”, which is basically like the really obvious method of spiral-coiling a cable, except that every other loop, you twist it the other direction so the long end goes under the previous loop instead of over. A picture is worth a thousand words.

It’s hard to get used to the backwards twist you need to give the “under” loops, but once you do, you can do this just as fast as regular coiling, and this method introduces no twisting, so you can (for example) play out more cable without unplugging the free end and untwisting it. It’s really useful for garden hoses too.

It is, however, very difficult to roll cable up in this way if it starts out twisty or kinky. I got a 100ft ethernet cable which was rolled up the normal spiral way, and I had to completely unroll it and untwist it before I could manage to do the over-under roll.

No, it’s just my unclear description of it. You do NOT hold onto the plug at the end, but the cable a few inches in from that. You need to have a few inches free to connect the plugs up when you have the whole thing all coiled up.

Holding or pulling on the plug part of a cable at any time is indeed bad; it certainly will eventually damage the cable. People who do that should get yelled at, like SirRay said.

Fors short cables, I fold them in half then in half again, and possibly again if thin, and then loop a knot. For longer cables rolling them up then tying with cable ties works well.

Happiness is a well-coiled cable

I see now. I learned the “figure 8” method way back when we used punch tape. Really handy to wind the tape around thumb and little finger. I have tried to do it with cables and such but there’s just a huge bulge in the middle and tieing up can be a problem. So I’ve wondered how to do the figure out without the bulge. And the answer it: The over-under method. Take the figure 8 and fold it in half, that’s what you get. I had noticed a tendency of garden hoses to naturally do that, but I tried to avoid it on the assumption that uncoiling would be a mess. Ah, interesting.

Thanks Dopers.

This method produces exactly the same result as making a figure 8 loop and then folding it over itself. For some people this is the easiest way to see what the result should be.

This method is useful for storing a short length of cable or line by hand but it is not used commercially on reels because every other coil overlaps over itself and it would make for messy and bulky coils.

When you buy electrical cable it comes in a cardbord box which opens at the center and you can pull the cable out from the center of the coil but it comes out twisted because it is simply coiled. If it were flaked by this method it would come out without kinks. Maybe some manufacturer could provide this method and improve their market share.

I don’t think this is likely, sailor, for economic reasons.

It would cost money to develope a machine to store cable in a flaked design; they already have machines to coil cable.

A flaked configuration would likely take up more (and differently shaped) space than a coil, so they would have to buy larger boxes to hold the cable.

Finally (and most relevant) their biggest customers are electricians, who don’t use the cable from the center hole the way you described. Instead they have roller frames on which the mount the entire coil of cable, and then they use it from the outside end. The entire coil rotates as they pull wire off, so there is no twist in the cable. For electricians, a flaked cable would be an unwelcome change from the way they use it now.