How to Wrap Cables and Avoid a Tangled Mess

How to Wrap Cables and Avoid a Tangled Mess

How many times have you picked up a cable only to find it tangled like an Octopus orgy? Or maybe you've grabbed a video cable and thrown it out on set only to have it tie itself in knots? You could even be the one who wrapped those cables causing them to get jumbled up.

Don’t worry, you are not alone. Each of these moments has happened to the best of us and the results are frustrating.

Lucky for you there’s a quick and easy solution that is popular for wrapping cables. If done correctly, it will help you save time on set, keep your frustrations low, and help your video cables last a lot longer.

The Over/Under Method of Wrapping Video Cables

That solution is known as “the over/under method” and is one of the first things you should know how to do when getting into any type of film or video production.

It is one of the best skills you can learn on a set — especially if you can do it fast. Monitor cables get notoriously long (sometimes 100+ feet) and need to be coiled quickly to make moving onto the next scene a breeze.

I was a live sound mixer for my high school’s choir program when I learned to over/under cables. At the end of every show, we had parent volunteers help us clean up and many times I told them to leave the cables after watching so many dads coil a $20 Shure mic cable like it was an extension cord they picked up at Home Depot.

There were so many cables that I threw in the trash as a result of this.

So, why do you have to coil cables in a specific way?

Because each cable has a natural curve and bend to it and to do anything other than coil it along this bend is to dramatically shorten the lifespan of the cable.

Essentially you need to coil with the cable and not against it. That’s why you will be slapped hard on the wrist for trying to wrap cable by running it along your arm and elbows like a piece of rope.

Learning how to over/under a cable is best taught in person with your hands physically on a cable, but the next best thing is this video tutorial from ShopTalk Productions:

Admittedly, the video tutorial is a bit… awkward, but the over/under technique is explained with clarity and it was one of the best videos I found on YouTube.

How Using Over/Under Helps You On Set

The video above talks about the main reason for over/under — to preserve cable longevity — but there are other distinct advantages for coiling cable this way. In particular, you will find that by using over/under, you help yourself in these three areas:

1. Safety

Something briefly mentioned in the video is “payout,” which is when you toss the cable and it uncoils itself. If you do not wrap the cable in the correct way, the payout will have tons of loops and knots in it. On the contrary, a properly wrapped cable will fall flat.

Using over/under is the best way to ensure your “payout” doesn’t cause any safety hazards.

Loops and knots are easy for people to get their feet stuck in and trip over, especially on highly populated sets. Though your ideal situation would not be running the cable through the middle of the set, there are times where you have to set up video village with the cable running through a high traffic area. In this case, a flat lying cable helps to minimize accidents.

2. Speed

Another advantage of a properly wrapped cable is a quick payout. You could stand near the camera, toss the cable to the monitor, and another crew member could quickly plug in to video village.

If you have gotten the cable tangled, however, you will throw out the cable and then waste time trying to get rid of all the loops and knots.

3. Storage

If you try and coil a video cable without doing over/under, chances are that it won’t lay flat and it won’t be easy to stack on other cables. This makes it tough to transport and store on camera carts, in ditty bags, or nearby video village.

It will also, as mentioned above, decrease the lifespan of the cable. When you are leaving these cables overnight on carts, in cases, or in a truck, you want them to lay in their natural position so they remain usable.

When you utilize the over/under technique, you’re making sure you can store the cables compactly and without damaging their internal design.

What Are Your Tricks?

The over/under method is the proper way to wrap and coil video cables. It is also used by the sound department with their XLR microphone cables.

The technique may seem confusing at first, but once you grasp how to twist the cable to go where you want it, you’ll never forget. Then you’ll save time on set while also becoming less frustrated with tangled cables.

I want to turn this article over to you now: what sort of tips and tricks have you picked up while dealing with long cables? How do you teach others how to over/under? And what sort of horror stories do you have about tangled cables? Let me know in the comments!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=7717548 Lawrence Marshall

    I first learned to over-under when I worked for a local Sports Broadcasting Company in Toledo, OH as a cameraman.  We’d have 100 yard triax cables, so needless to say, wrapping those bad boys was #1 on my list of “wait, how do I do this??”  They get so heavy you have to put them on the ground and wrap ‘em, which is a tad different than holding it in your hand, but the same principles apply.

    I was hoping to see a video, it’s essential when learning to wrap.  Explaining it in writing is damn near impossible.  I recommend people learn with XLR cables first, they seem to be great for beginners.  To add to this post, wrapping cables so they look good, clean, and safe is a great way for a PA to look busy on set when there’s not much to do.  Having a clean set of cables is a plus for anyone who walks on to view the action (producers) but be careful, you don’t want to wrap a cable before it’s in its final resting place.  Someone could still be placing it!  That’s why I also recommend that when you coil a cable, you place it on the ground so that if someone were to pull the cable (needing more) it will pull off itself easier from the top, rather than the bottom.  If you put the coil upside down, and someone pulls the cable from the bottom of the coil, it drags the whole coil with it, and gets caught on various things around the set, including feet!  

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Great addition to this post to mention leaving the cable so it uncoils from the top. That is essential or else you end up with a super tangled cable!

  • Cail

    Not sure if the “electrics wind” exists outside Australia but gaffers here insist on over/over cable wraps for their stingers. Usually a hand-waving excuse about not twisting the inner conductors is used to excuse the inevitable twisted mess that results anyway.

    That said, in my theatrical and event work the LX cable were over/undered and never suffered.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Interesting. Here in the Good ol US I’ve had juicers/electricians tell me, “that shit is for sound guys” when I’ve tried to over/under their stingers

      • Jamin

        I just found this article with a google search for ” how to wraparound stinger”. The nature of my search lies in a commercial shoot I did a while back where I was patronized by the 2nd Ac (a peer of mine) because I have always wrapped every cord with the over under tech for 15years. Igot ,y starting front of house event sound mixing and originally learned it then. I really thought my peer, the 2nd Ac was using the situation to try to jockey above me and make me feel incompetent. In 15 years, his pointer wasthe firsttime I hadeverbeen made aware of a difference. Well worth adding to this article.

        • Calmstormproductions

          Stingers are over/over bnc is over under always.

  • http://twitter.com/edmoore Ed Moore

    One of the saddest things I ever saw back in my days in live sound was a brand spanking new 48 way analogue multicore (a REALLY nice one with beautifully made tails and stage box) get completely destroyed by over eager students just yanking at it repeatedly like a tug-of-war when de-rigging. Still have nightmares :)

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      The…horror…the….horrorr…

  • http://www.claymations.tumblr.com/ Jonathan Lopez

    This will come in handy when I am wrapping cord in the future!  Thanks a ton for sharing this because I didn’t know.  I’ve noticed a decrease in performance in some of my audio cables, so this will save some of my future equipment. 

    Keep sharing the tips! :)

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      No problem Jonathan! Glad to help you out — it will definitely add a few months or even years on the lifespan of your cables if you do it correctly.

  • Jonathan54

    Great info! Also FYI: I use very cheap/strong/adjustable/multiple colors and available almost anywhere dog collars to secure the cords/cables

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      I can’t tell if you’re referring to dog collars as actual dog collars or if that is a slang term for cable ties?

      • Darayem626

        I heard this also I think he talking about the actual dog collars and u attach to ur belt.. I might be wrong

  • Darayem626

    This is the first thing my Television Production instructor teach us in college..but I haven’t gone a chance wrap any cable hehe I end up in post been in post for almost 15 years .. but now I’m going back to production as a DIT so I’m glad my teacher taught as this and thanks for writing this article on this subject and this blog.. I’m new to this site but loving it and just book mark it..and a Hello to everyone in here.

    Ty

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thank you! and thanks for coming by. I think you’ll like what you see

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  • aemi

    what kind of cables do you wrap like this? RCA too? Ethernet Cables? S-video? 

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Good question, aemi. Its mostly audio video cables that don’t have too much twist in them. Some consumer grade cables will have a hard, plastic-like bend to the cable. Just wrap the cable in a way that keeps it’s bend natural — you shouldn’t be fighting against it.

      • aemi

        Thank you for taking time and answering me. Excellent blog, I am learning a lot from you, I will implement some of this things at my work. :)

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  • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

    I haven’t seen anyone else use them either. If you get good at over-under, it’s pretty quick and I’d imagine just as fast as a cable reel. Further, if you do it right, you’ll have a tight coil that’s clean and efficient. The problem with a cable reel is that you can’t quickly throw it out and also there are times where you need to lay a bunch of BNC on the floor and let it feed as needed.