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Old 11-04-2007, 12:45 AM   #1
trscott OP
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Splicing Wires

I have gotten so much excellent help from others around here, I thought I would offer this tidbit. I know it isn't much, but I've been doing electrical work all my life and learned this from an old radio pioneer (my dad). Many people prefer crimped wire connections, but I personally much prefer a good soldered splice with double heat shrink. This splice is electrically and mechanically close to perfect. It will take up very little more space than the original wire, and will never give you any trouble.

I just finished a lot of electrical work on my BMW R1100GS, and a friend's 2007 R1200GS, and as I was showing my friend how to do this properly, he suggested I ought to do a quick tutorial on it. So here you go. I hope someone finds it useful.

Begin by stripping the insulation on each of the wires you want to splice. Strip the insulation back equal to about seven diameters of the bare wire. This length isn't critical, a bit more will allow more wraps, and any less will make it hard to get enough wraps, but seven diameters seems to work pretty well. This wire is about 0.050" diameter, so I have stripped back about 0.350" of insulation.


Then, assuming a stranded wire, twist the strands together tightly.



When you have stripped the insulation and twisted the strands together on each end, cut two pieces of heat shrink tubing. One short piece just longer than the stripped insulation length, and another piece a bit longer. Use tubing large enough that it will easily slide over finished splice. I typically slide one piece on each end. It is important to try to push them back away from the splice while soldering so they don't get overheated and shrink before you've got them in place (see an example of this in a later photo). Somehow it is very easy to forget to put the heatshrink on before splicing; I can't tell you how many times I've done this over the years, so don't forget this step.


Now here's the fun part: You begin by holding the two wire ends in your fingertips to form an X as show here. The wires should cross about one fourth of the way from the end of the insulation to the end of the wire, with three quarters of each wire end extending past the cross.


Then you begin by bending one wire tip around the other wire as shown here. You just push it over with one finger tip.


Then you use your thumb to continue to wrap this wire tip around the other wire as shown here.


Then you do the same thing on the other side with the second wire tip


When you have first twisted the two wire tips around the mating wire, there may be one or two loose strands, and the wraps won't be very tight, but each wire tip should be wrapped at least one full turn around the other wire. The splice will be kind of lumpy and crooked at this stage, but the important thing is that the each wire end is wrapped around the other wire.


Next, take a pair of needle nose pliers and place the tip of the jaws on one end of the splice so the jaws cover about one third of the splice. With gentle pressure on the jaws, the pliers can be loosely slipped over the wrapped strands applying just enough friction that the jaws will tighten the twisted strands.


By holding the pliers as shown here you can use a twist of your wrist to gently wipe the strands on one end of the splice to tighten their wrap.


By repeating this a couple of times more, you can get most of the strands to wrap tightly around the joining wire.


Then repeat this process of tightening the wrapped strands on the other half of the splice, twisting the pliers in the opposite direction. The pictures don't show it well enough, but you will want to pinch your finger tips onto the half of the splice you are not twisting with the pliers so that twisting one half doesn't un-twist the other half. While you pinch one side, you run the needle nose plier jaws around the other half to tighten the splice. It will help to practice this process a few times, but with just a bit of practice you can do this pretty easily. The goal is to end up with a splice that is mechanically strong before you solder.

Once the ends are twisted tightly, you can retwist them between your fingers just to wipe down any loose strands that are still flying.

At this point the two wires which started as a cross, will still be spliced together, but the two halves of the splice don't quite line up. The splice looks kind of lumpy. Now you can use the root of the jaws of the needle nose pliers to gently square up the splice. The idea here is not to squeeze them flat, but just press gently, rotate the jaws a quarter turn or so and press again, and repeat this several more times until the splice is straightened and roughly the profile of the insulated diameter of the wire. You are not trying to twist the strands at this point, just squeezing the profile of the splice gently to straighten it.


With a little practice, the splice can look about like this before soldering. Handle it gently at this point so you don't undo your careful work, but it is actually surprisingly strong for just a couple of turns. The most common problem in soldered joints is allowing movement of the soldered parts before the solder freezes. One purpose of this splice is that when you solder the wires, they are so tightly twisted together that the two wire ends cannot be wiggled while the solder freezes, insuring a high quality solder joint.


In preparation to solder the splice, put a small amount of solder on the tip of the iron. This helps the iron to transfer its heat into the wires. Solder will flow where the heat is, and we want the solder to flow into the wire strands, so the important thing is to heat the splice, not the solder.



Next place the "wetted" soldering iron tip in contact with one side of the splice and a second or two later place the solder in contact with the opposite side of the splice. Let the soldering iron tip heat the splice and the heated splice will melt the solder.


As the splice continues to heat up, you can sort of "paint" the solder against the splice to help spread the solder to the whole splice. The solder is actually a hollow tube with a cleaning agent inside (known as "rosin core solder"). This rosin core melts at a slightly lower temperature than the solder and will flow into the joint to help clean oxidation off the wire strands and allow the solder to flow evenly.

*** Remember, except for the initial wetting of the tip, you don't melt the solder against the iron, but you heat the spliced wires with the iron, and you melt the solder against the spliced wires. Imagine that the solder is trying to flow toward the source of the heat (the iron tip) and you are putting the splice in the way so the solder has to flow through the wires to get to the iron. In this way, surface tension and wicking action will help the solder spread throughout the joint.


When you've finished, you will have an excellent soldered splice that is electrically and mechanically every bit as good as a continuous wire.


I have inadvertently illustrated another mistake to avoid here. For the benefit of the camera, I was holding the iron and solder against the splice longer than I would normally, so as you can see, the wires go hot enough that the heat shrink began to shrink. You don't want to let this happen. For this reason it is very helpful to push the heatshrink as far down the wires as you can away from the soldering, and apply the soldering heat quickly. It is better to use a good hot iron quickly than an iron that is barely hot enough that takes a long time to heat the splice. Fatter wires need a bigger iron.

Next, slide the shorter piece of heat shrink onto the splice. This piece should be just slightly longer than the bare soldered splice. Before applying the heat shrink make sure there are no sharp points or wire strand tips sticking out that might puncture the heat shrink. If there are, you can use the root of the pliers jaws to gently blunt this tip so that it will not puncture the insulation.


After shrinking the sleeving, it will look something like this.


Then slide the longer piece of heat shrink over the first piece, centered with about equal overlap on both ends. This photo shows the second piece next to the joint before putting it in place for shrinking.


After shrinking the second piece of heat shrink in place, you'll have a very rugged splice which has enough insulation to stand up against the vibration and wear from heavy use for many miles of on or offroad riding. It is also strain relieved at the ends of the splice which would otherwise represent stress concentrations and could break from repeated bending.


I will be putting up a long posting over in GSPOT to document the electrical mods I did on my BMW R1100GS, and as you will see there, I used quite a few of these splices on some very critical circuits. The last thing you ever want is to have to track down an intermittent electrical connection or a wire that shorts to the chassis or another circuit.

Cheers!
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trscott screwed with this post 11-04-2007 at 01:44 AM
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Old 11-04-2007, 01:13 AM   #2
motu
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Excellent! - now,can you show a pictorial of this technique behind a motorcycle headlamp or upside down under a car dash?
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Old 11-04-2007, 01:35 AM   #3
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real life?

Quote:
Originally Posted by motu
Excellent! - now,can you show a pictorial of this technique behind a motorcycle headlamp or upside down under a car dash?
Well it isn't so hard to make the splice in those tight spaces, I've done quite a fiew in exactly those places, but getting room for the camera, photographer's hands, and some light do not lend themselves to very clear pictures.

A small pair of needle nose pliers are a big help when you're trying to work in tight spaces. Probably more important though is to practice a few times on some loose wires so you get a feel for it and can almost do it by feel.

Actually these photos are not as clear as I would like, a few are not as sharp as they should be, but my son was taking the pictures for me and its hard to get the camera to focus that close.

Cheers!
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Old 11-04-2007, 04:09 AM   #4
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Nice technique.

I definitely agree on the solder vs. mechanical connection, though I sometimes use a crimp on less critical connections. My laziness.

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Old 11-04-2007, 08:07 AM   #5
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Nicely done.

For stranded wire, though, rather than twist the strands of each cut end into a nice solid wire (before joining, twisting the two, and soldering), I've sort of spread out the individual strands ... to make the wire end look like it's having a bad hair day ... and then plugged one messy end into the other messy end ... and then twisted.

Does that make sense?

In other words, I allow the strands to fray out into a reverse cone (think feather duster), then mesh them together with the other feather duster, intertwining individual strands. Then I twist the mess down as a single butt joint. It keeps the connection very slender, and ... once soldered ... costs nothing in integrity.

Also, don't forget: if you're soldering both wires on paired wires, stagger the joints so that -- when you shrink 'em, tape 'em, and loom 'em, you won't have a big, fat snake-ate-a-mouse thing going on.

Good stuff.
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Old 11-04-2007, 12:15 PM   #6
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Nicely done pictorial!
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Old 11-05-2007, 07:17 PM   #7
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Very helpful, thanks! I've been messing up connections for years with my soldering iron. Great tips.

Any ideas for connecting wires of different sizes? Example: my GPS power cable came from Garmin with 22ga or 24ga wire. It's really tiny. The power and ground wires I'd run on the bike were all 14ga, if I recall. I crimped them with a butt connector, but it was a pain. The small wire wouldn't stay, and it took several tries.

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Old 11-05-2007, 07:32 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie Z
Very helpful, thanks! I've been messing up connections for years with my soldering iron. Great tips.

Any ideas for connecting wires of different sizes? Example: my GPS power cable came from Garmin with 22ga or 24ga wire. It's really tiny. The power and ground wires I'd run on the bike were all 14ga, if I recall. I crimped them with a butt connector, but it was a pain. The small wire wouldn't stay, and it took several tries.

Jamie
Perfect question! I was just trying to figure out the same issue. I'm getting ready to hardwire my 2610, and the Garmin harness wires are tiny. I was looking for some type of in-in tap connector that would allow me to connect to a 14 ga wire I have running to the stebel horn relay. Any ideas on connecting two wires of greatly different diameter??
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Old 11-05-2007, 07:56 PM   #9
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i use NBeener style too. i fan the strands out before i wrap them around each other.

also, i consider where the splice is going to lay. the solder forms a hard lump and i dont want the wire strands to flex right at the splice. fer nstance: if the splice is going to be right where the wire passes the steering neck, i tend to cut out a section of wire placing a splice up in the headlight and another splice back along the frame. i try to stabilize/immobilize the splices with zip-ties. crimp connections need to be stabilized for the same reasons.

recently, i read that copper wire had some sort of anti-oxident appied to it during manufacture. the article went on to say that soldering removed the protection such that the wire would fail sooner than if a crimp connection was made. no mention was made about how the soldered splice was protected. i suspect that shrink tubing would be more than adequate protection for our purposes.
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Old 11-05-2007, 11:04 PM   #10
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more splicing...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie Z
Very helpful, thanks! I've been messing up connections for years with my soldering iron. Great tips.

Any ideas for connecting wires of different sizes? Example: my GPS power cable came from Garmin with 22ga or 24ga wire. It's really tiny. The power and ground wires I'd run on the bike were all 14ga, if I recall. I crimped them with a butt connector, but it was a pain. The small wire wouldn't stay, and it took several tries.

Jamie
There are several ways to do this. If you are dealing with stranded wires, one way is to do the same splice with just some of the strands of the larger wire. Use the technique illustrated above and wrap the small wire around all of the larger wire, but only wrap a few strands of the larger wire around the smaller. You will probably want to cut the smaller wire long enough to wrap a couple full turns around the larger wire. Wrap the smaller wire around the larger first, and then just wrap a few strands of the larger wire around the smaller wire, and cut the other strands of the fatter wire. In this case, I woiuld be careful to use plenty of heatshrink so you strain relieve it very well, because the small wire coming off of the larger is going to represent a stress concentration point which will break more easily from flexing because all the flexing will tend to be at the first flexible part of the smaller wire. But with proper strain relieving with some extra heatshrink to spread out the strain it should be fine.

As for the "fanned out strands" method. I am not a fan of that approach (no pun intended) because I don't believe it is as strong pre-soldering, which makes it less effective. The goal is to have a strong mechanical joint before soldering. This insures that there is no movement during soldering, which can cause a "cold" solder joint which is electrically inferior. It also tends to leave more air space with a less dense pack. I think the approach I have illustrated above consistently results in a minimum diameter joint with a uniform profile which tends to minimize the risk of pressure cold-flowing of the insulation which can lead to a short circuit after a lot of wear.

The technique I've shown is actually a simplified version of what is known as a "lineman's splice." A full lineman's splice is very similar but you strip a section more like 12 diameters long, lay the wires side by side overlapping, and then peel out one strand and wrap that strand beginning from the middle to the end. You wrap the strands one strand at a time, alternating sides. Wrap one strand, then peel off the next strand and wrap it, then the next, and so on. (I can do some pics of this if anyone is interested.) This is probably the very best splice ever invented, but it takes more overlap, and is a somewhat slower and rather tedious process.

The splice I've shown above is basically a full lineman's splice for solid (un-stranded) wires. By twisting the strands together first, you can treat stranded wires like solid wires. With practice, the abreviated lineman's splice illustrated above can be done very quickly and and works very well. If you want more mechanical strength, strip a longer section and use more wraps.

A full lineman's splice is VERY strong. Originally designed for suspended lines under tension.

Sorry for so many words with no pics, I will do some pics if someone wants them.

Cheers!
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Old 11-05-2007, 11:46 PM   #11
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Crimp vs Soldered...

Quote:
Originally Posted by ibafran
recently, i read that copper wire had some sort of anti-oxident appied to it during manufacture. the article went on to say that soldering removed the protection such that the wire would fail sooner than if a crimp connection was made. no mention was made about how the soldered splice was protected. i suspect that shrink tubing would be more than adequate protection for our purposes.
A well soldered splice as illustrated has solder "plating" covering the copper, so I really don't think oxidation is a serious concern.

The biggest problem with crimped connections is that they are very difficult to verify. If a crimp is done with enough pressure to accomplish a pressure weld, it will make a very good joint, but with too little pressure the joint will not be "gas-tight" and with some oxidation and time it will fail. With a bit too much pressure you can weaken the wire, smashing it until it is almost cut, which also may fail later due to the stress concentration formed at the edge of the crimp. In a production environment every crimp is done thousands of times, each one exactly the same, and a random sample can be destructively tested to verify proper crimp compression. In a one-off environment like we're talking about working on our bikes, a good soldered joint is far more reliable. When I do crimp something like a connector pin, I then solder it also just to be sure the joint will be as reliable as I can make it.

The most important reason crimped connections have become standard practice in industry is that they are ideal for automated machinery. Soldering is much more difficult for a machine to do as well as a trained technician, but a machine can make repeatable crimps far more accurately than a technician with a hand tool.

The best use for a butt splice in any vehicle is to carry a few in a toolkit as an expedient field repair. They take up very little space and could come in handy someday.
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Old 11-06-2007, 12:10 AM   #12
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Another factor to consider is to melt some of the solder into each of the wires where they enter the splice. This has a couple of additional advantages and one disadvantage.

The advantages are it tends to 'seal' the insulation to the outside of the wire. This can be helpful where there is a chance of moisture/corrosion which can spread into the wires. Another advantage is it tends to move the 'weak' spot of the slice away from where the bulk of the splice stops and the stranded wires start. This can add some strength to the splice in some conditions.

The disadvantage is it makes the splice longer and stiffer overall.

Depending on where and what the splice is being used for will determine if this is a 'good' thing to do or not.

JJ
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Old 11-06-2007, 12:24 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnjen
Another factor to consider is to melt some of the solder into each of the wires where they enter the splice. This has a couple of additional advantages and one disadvantage.

The advantages are it tends to 'seal' the insulation to the outside of the wire. This can be helpful where there is a chance of moisture/corrosion which can spread into the wires. Another advantage is it tends to move the 'weak' spot of the slice away from where the bulk of the splice stops and the stranded wires start. This can add some strength to the splice in some conditions.

The disadvantage is it makes the splice longer and stiffer overall.

Depending on where and what the splice is being used for will determine if this is a 'good' thing to do or not.

JJ
I agree completely with this. I have done both depending on the situation.

Another good tip above about staggering the splices of adjacent wires in a bundle.
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Old 11-06-2007, 05:27 AM   #14
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I would also reccommend some paste flux applied to the wire before soldering. It really helps the solder flow and adhere properly. We do soldered connections every day in my line of work and flux makes the job a lot easier, even compared to fluxcore solder.
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Old 11-06-2007, 09:54 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by josjor
I would also reccommend some paste flux applied to the wire before soldering. It really helps the solder flow and adhere properly. We do soldered connections every day in my line of work and flux makes the job a lot easier, even compared to fluxcore solder.
This is not generally required with very clean new wire, or even newly stripped wire, but anytime you are trying to solder to anything that has some oxidation, as josjor says, some additional flux is extremely helpful. I like to use liquid flux -- available in small bottles with a brush in the lid --rather than paste, because I can brush it on cold and it flows into the strands. Once you apply heat with the iron, the paste will flow also, but the liquid can wick into the strands when cold. Once you apply heat the flux begins to boil away.

In the case of severe oxidation, the added flux will change an almost impossible soldering situation to one that flows as easily as brand new clean surfaces. The other thing that can be very helpful -- either in lieu of, or in addition to flux -- is to use some fine steel wool to scrub off the oxidation. I have soldered on bare antenna wires (copper-clad steel wire) which have been suspended out in the weather for years, with a quick steel wool scrub then apply some flux and solder normally. Flux has the advantage over steel wool that it can flow in between strands, and into the small nooks and crannies of say a connector terminal sleeve.

By the way, this is another advantage of soldering over crimping. When solder flows smoothly, you know it is getting a good gas-tight connection. With a crimp, you can crimp onto an oxidized wire, or using a crimp sleeve that has some oxidation in it, and not realize that your connection is compromised. It might measure low resistance at first and then degrade over time with susbeqent continued oxidation. With soldering, the solder either flows smoothly or it doesn't. Once you know what you're looking for, you know immediately whether you've got a good connection.

Flux can also be added to a joint in a re-heating after an attempt to solder which didn't appear to flow well enough. Perhaps you tried to solder an old crimp connector that has been in your parts box for awhile and you didn't realize how oxidized it was internally. You heat it and apply the solder and it just seems to ball up on the surface. The solder is melting, but not flowing. Continuing to heat it and shove solder into the joint may only serve to begin melting the nearby plastic insulation and creating even more oxidation on the heated metal (might also spontaneously generate shouted expletives of an offensive nature, depending on one's self control, and threshold of offense). Just go get your flux, touch the flux brush to the joint (or smear some of the paste), and re-heat the joint. You should find that the solder suddenly magically flows almost perfectly.

All of this said, I would reiterate that additional flux should not be needed with clean un-oxidized metal surfaces under normal conditions. The only downsides to using flux is the cost and the fact that the residue from the flux is hygroscopic (it absorbs moisture from the air), and may lead to extra corrosion in some cases. You can remove the excess flux after soldering with any good solvent which will not harm the plastics. Even isopropyl alchohol can remove it with a bit of rubbing with a Q-tip, brush, or rag. In high sensitivity electronics, like circuit boards with sensitive analog electronics, the flux must be removed in order to prevent signal degradation when the flux absorbs moisture. In the case of a 12V wire splice which will be double insulated as we've been discussing here, it is probably not necessary to remove the flux, although I often do just because it looks nicer.
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