HOWTO over-under cable-coiling for less tangles and longer-lived wires


You can laugh all ya want buster, but apparently a lot of people don’t get this.


Yep. I’ve worked in the audio field, on stage and in studio, for over 15 years and that’s how 90% of us do it. If you flick the twists all the way to the end, the cable will “learn” itself into being easily coiled for the rest of its long life.

The main time we use the ‘over under’ method is for stage snakes and thick lighting cables, where we’re not coiling into our hand, but onto the ground.

For the most part, ‘circular’ and ‘over under’ are personal choices, but ‘around the elbow’ is a fire-able offense.


Yeah I never use that electricians’ method (it does seem to be widespread, my electrician friends tell me), it’s just too weird and floppy. The result is too large. I s-wrap all our long electric extension cords. That small, tangle-free self-spooling coil on the ground works best for me, controversy or no.

I learned s-wrapping as a pre-production and production volunteer working for indie films. Only two Very Big Deals from the cameramen I worked with: s-wrapping, and the “gravity sucks” axiom. The latter was an absolute, because those camera tripods with expensive hydraulic heads were never ever to be left standing up, unless there was a camera and a person standing next to the tripod (which had sandbags at the legs, usually). All idle tripods were to be stored on the ground, with a big lint-free pad under the head (top) and with the control handles as close to flush to the legs as possible.

Oh and one more absolute: no unfastened toolboxes on location or set. All toolboxes were at minimum to have one if not both compression hasps fastened. Nothing like grabbing the handle at the top of the box and having the important and expensive contents scatter out everywhere.


Brings back memories of my days producing video in college. I KNEW I was a certified grade A audio-video ace when I had my over - under technique down.


This is the correct answer. I have also worked in pro audio for the last 14 years or so and it really depends on the cable. In my experience every company is different and you have to do what that company does or you will really screw the pooch…


I work with very spirited kids as a music teacher. Whoever wants to use or rather continue to use the rehearsing room without a teacher or child care worker supervising, has to follow the technique.

It works pretty well, and the kids are really good at spotting cables that are not properly coiled.

A few weeks ago I asked one of them why she wouldn’t try to throw an instrument cable. Her answer: Because I didn’t coil it up myself. That cheered me up quite a bit: Lesson learned.


The one I was taught was: both hasps fastened = everything is in the box. One hasp fastened = stuff is out of the box. This way you can tell at a glance if it’s safe to load the box back into the van.


Not sure how useful the method in the video is for cable, but it’s a handy way to make thin cord strong enough to use as a tow/recovery rope. The slight stretchiness helps it resist shock loads too.


I’ve used this method for years and have no kinks in my cables. The s-wrap pull through method works very well.


Hey thanks for this! Excellent tip. Clearly I have much yet to learn.

I have two new waterproof Dewalt tool boxes that I like and use a lot:
(the gasket really does keep the water out), but those darn things have only one hasp and it closes with gravity. I usually try to leave them wide open when in use. Lately I have taken to writing their contents on the outside black plastic, using a white grease pencil. These are big enough to put several socket sets racks (y’know, those cheap unmagnetized ones on slides/rails) plus the drivers and wrenches.


If a rope, hose or cable has a “lay” to it, you have to coil it with the lay or you’ll damage it. Some types of rope come from the maker with a lay already set, some get that way from repeated storage.

If it has no lay to it, over-and-under works great and keeps it from getting one. I use the technique for a thick garden hose which is 250 feet long (actually three hoses linked). I haven’t found any other way to coil the thing quickly without kinking it.

The size and type of rope/wire/cable also determines the coil size. I have a double-double block and tackle strung with 200 feet of 3/4 inch manila, and I have to coil it with at least eight-foot loops or it’s pretty much unmanageable for one person. I usually do ten foot loops, bind it at the center, and drape it over my shoulder so that the blocks and loop ends are just off the ground. I usually use a 100’ length of 1" manila to tie off the becket of the head block, and if I coil that in similarly large loops I can put it over my other shoulder and (carefully!) walk the whole monster back to the barn for storage in one trip. If I put my foot through a loop or don’t notice something sticking up from the ground hilarity ensues, though. In the barn there’s a couple of big hooks up near the ridge and I put a 12’ ladder between them, so I can go up or down the ladder (carefully!) with the ropes on each shoulder.


Around the elbow can be used for some purposes. It’s very fast.

For example, if you are coiling less than 50 feet of 3/8 sisal or nylon, you can go around the elbow, and after you’ve got it all wound you slip it off your forearm, grab the elbow-end of the loop with your free hand, and give it a twist so that it collapses into a nice round coil with a diameter half the length of your forearm. Use the bitter end to bind the coil and toss it in the rope bag!

It’s not a good technique for large ropes or large quantities or rope, though. Too easily tangled when you next get it out of the bag.


Hehe, “around the elbow, past the thumb, look out arse, a kick here comes”.


Also known as “flip coiling”; a websearch for that will find many other tutorials and a couple of slight (equivalent) variations.

If the coil has a lay, start by running it out straight and untwisted so there is no lay. Then flip-coil.


Not talking about rope. Talking about cables, which are easily damaged by that method. Try paying attention please.


I did a Trick of the Trade comic for MAKE that shows this a little while back. Simple and effective!


That’s a bit rude. Read definition number one of cable from any good dictionary, and you will find that the term’s been used for rope since the 13th century or earlier.

And I specifically said rope in the post you’re objecting to because I agree around-the-elbow is inappropriate for electrical wiring - although some of what I’ve said elsewhere about coiling cable does apply (for example, some electrical wire cables actually do have a lay to them).

Gotta go, work to do.


It is surprising how proper maintenance and attention too a simple manual task maintains lasting and properly functioning equipment.

A proper coiling method not only avoids tangles, it reduces loss of cohesion of the copper braids. Once they get mashed and forced open in spots, intermittent electrical signals are prone too occur. Most PA noise distortion are often caused by poor handling of cables resulting in frayed ends of connectors or compaction of signal lines.


Ironically, one of the things you are paying for in expensive audio cables is shielding that can take some abuse. The thing that makes those cables last so long, though, is that you treat them properly because they cost so much. I wonder if there is a term for that.



Not laughing…I was amazed at how obvious your explanation was as soon as I read it, and felt dumb that I hadn’t ever figured it out for myself.