No matter whether you’re putting together a small home network, or maintaining a major network in your office, you’ll need network cables. The most commonly used type is Category 5 (short: Cat5), which supports speeds up to 100 Mb/s (Megabits per second). You can either go buy Cat 5 cable in the store, or you can make it yourself.
If you decide to buy it in the store, you’ll pay a premium price for the convenience, but if you only need 2 or three cables and don’t foresee the need for more in the near future, or need a lot of cables right away and don’t have the time to make them yourself, then this is probably the way to go.
If you decide to make your own Cat 5 cable, you’ll save a lot of money in the long run, as buying rolls of cable, a baggie of RJ-45 connectors, and the necessary tools will be a lot cheaper and pay for itself in a short period of time if you have an ongoing need.
What you need…
Cat 5 cable – you can buy a 1000 feet roll of Cat 5 cable at computer stores and industry supply houses for somewhere between 6 and 10 cents a foot, depending on the quality. Don’t be cheap, get the decent quality stuff. You don’t want to end up with network problems due to bad cables. Check to make sure that the color-coding on the wires is easily recognizable.
Also pay attention to the difference between solid and stranded wire cable. Solid wire cable means that each one of the 8 wires inside the cable consists of one solid copper alloy wire. Solid wire cable is usually used for wiring inside walls as it does not flex very easily and is intended for wires that will never move. It has better conductivity than stranded cable, which means you can run ethernet over farther distances with solid core.
Stranded wire cable means that each one of the 8 wires inside the cable consists of a few dozen very fine hair-like strands that bend and flex very easily. Stranded wire cable is usually used for making patch cables because of its flexibility (the wires won’t break as easily from being moved around and twisted frequently).
RJ-45 connectors – They usually come in bags of 50, 100 etc. and cost less than a quarter each. Pay attention to the type of RJ-45 connector you get and make sure it is intended for the type of Cat5 wire you’re using. There are two different kind of RJ-45 connectors, depending on whether you use them with solid or stranded wire cable as mentioned above. Using the wrong kind with the wrong cable will most likely result in a bad connection.
Crimping tool – While this is the expensive part of making your own cables, it’s only a one-time startup cost. They run anywhere from 10 to 50 bucks depending on the quality and features. Keep in mind that the crimpers will pay for themselves after you make a few cables. A good crimping tool has a pair of wire cutters built in, as well as a blade to strip insulation. It also might support crimping of other connectors such as RJ-11.
Diagonal Cutter Pliers – You’ll need a pair of these to cut the wires in case the crimper doesn’t come with a built-in wire cutter.