USB Cables can be purchased for like $2. Here’s how to make your own for way more than that!
Friends, family, and random internet strangers, I hope you’re all having a lovely Spring so far. I apologize for my hiatus, but I’m back now, and I’m doing crazy things like making my own USB cables. Some people may think, “But Aleks, why would you make your own USB cables when you can buy them super cheap, and not have to do any work?!” I honestly have no idea how to answer that question. To be honest, I decided to make my own cables just so I can say I did, and that’s about it! If you want to customize the look and colors of your cables, then making them yourself can be a great way to do that.
How do USB cables work?
USB, as most people are aware, is a type of connector and digital communication specification that’s used for the transfer of both power and data between electronic devices. This is done using a 4 conductor wire, as can be seen above. The wire used in USB cables has 2 conductors for power (red & black), and one twisted pair of 2 conductors (green & white) for data. The twisting of the data conductors helps to reduce the amount of electrical interference able to make it through. Just like most lower voltage electronics, USB is susceptible to electrical noise, such as that caused by cell phones, fluorescent lights, WiFi, etc… 4 conductor wire also has shielding around the entire set of wires to further prevent electrical noise. This is seen above in the form of a foil wrap, as well as a shield wire run on the outside of the foil.
Making a cable can be a little tricky, since everything is kind of small, and wire has a memory and wants to bend certain ways more than others, but I’ll walk you through the whole process from the top. First, a parts list!
- Cable Parts:
- 28 AWG Stranded 4 Conductor Wire
- USB Cable ends (USB A, Micro USB, USB C, USB B, etc…)
- 550 Para-cord
- 3/8″ Heat and Shrink Tubing (3:1 shrink ratio)
- GX16 – 5 Conductor Aviation Connectors (optional)
- Soldering Iron + Supplies
- Wire Strippers
- Screwdrivers (for Aviation Connectors)
Why use aviation connectors?
A lot of people have never seen aviation connectors before, and probably have no idea why you’d use one on a USB cable. It can actually come in handy if you know you’ll use the cable for different purposes that have different connectors. For example, I can have a cable made that goes from regular USB-A (the kind like on flash drives) to and aviation connector, then I can have other cables that go from aviation connector to whatever USB I want on the other end, whether micro-USB, USB-C, or any others.
How to Make a USB Cable:
- Measure out your 4 conductor wire to the desired length of your cable plus about an inch or two, if you want some room to make mistakes like I do. Cut a piece of your 550 para-cord with the core removed to about 6-12 inches longer than your cable piece. It’s better to have too much than too little.
- Once cut, slide the para-cord over the cable. This can take some practice, and definitely will take some patience. Once it’s on and centered, pull the ends back to give yourself a few inches of the wire to work with.
- Strip about 1 cm of the shielding off the end of the wire. Carefully pull the shielding back, and remove the foil if your wire has it. If you want to use an aviation connector, then wind the shielding into a 5th conductor. If you won’t be using an aviation connector, then just leave the shielding loose.
- Before continuing any further, take 2 pieces of heat and shrink tubing long enough to cover your USB connectors and a little bit of the cable, and slide them onto the middle of your wire over your para-cord. If you don’t put it on before putting ends on, you may not be able to get it on, leaving you to un-solder and start over.
- The USB connectors you’ll have purchased will have a pin-out that you’ll need to find and be cautious of. Follow the pin-out and solder your connectors onto both ends of your wire, making sure to get everything soldered right the first time.
- If you’re using an aviation connector, then solder those onto your 2 pieces of cable matching the colors of your wire to the numbers on the connector itself. If you mess this up, you could have some serious issues when trying to use the cable. I tend to like to wire the wires in this order:
1) Black (Power -)
2) Green (Data +)
3) White (Data -)
4) Red (Power +)
5) Shielding (the shield you wrapped into a stranded lead earlier)
- Before doing anything with heat-shrink tubing, test your cable. You’ll certainly regret it if your cable doesn’t work and you put on the heat shrink tubing.
- Once you have your USB cable ends (and aviation connectors) soldered on, put the heat-shrink tubing over the ends of your connectors, and your cable is done. Be careful not to melt your para-cord when shrinking the tubing.
What did I make cables for?
I primarily decided to make my own cables so I could have cables for my keyboards that match the color scheme I’m aiming for. You can see my blue and yellow cable here, and I made it to match my desk-mat. It give the whole setup a more refined look, in my opinion.