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Tutorial: How to sleeve your ribbon cables (IDE, Floppy, XFI Front panel, etc.)

Nov 22, 2007
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This is a tutorial to turn this:

Into this:


Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's get started!

Here is what you will need:

  • Ribbon Cable (Duh!)
  • Ruler (or other measuring device)
  • Scissors
  • Hobby or Utility Knife
  • 1/2 Inch Sleeving (smaller sleeving is doable, but is more challenging)
  • Two Zip-ties (the smaller the better, the ones pictured are a bit large for this mod)
  • 3/4 Inch 2:1 Heat Shrink Tubing (or 1 Inch 3:1 Heat Shrink Tubing <-- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! Check CableOrganizer.com for a great selection.)
  • Heat Gun (not pictured) (or other method of activating the heat shrink)

1/2 Inch Sleeving

3/4 Inch Heat Shrink Tubing

I recommend CableOrganizer.com for both the sleeving and the heat shrink tubing. They have an impressive selection, fast shipping, and competitive pricing. As for sleeving, I prefer fray-resistant sleeving, especially for a project like this. It is easier to work with and provides a finished product that is much more professional than some of the cheaper sleeving out there. The only problem is that they only have it in black. If someone knows of a source for fray-resistant in other colors, please post up a link.

Also, investing in the 1 inch 3:1 heat shrink tubing will make this project MUCH easier for you. I know 3/4" 2:1 heat shrink is commonly available and you CAN do this project with it, put it is a hassle and you have to be patient and persistent to slide it over the end plug.

First Step:

Separate the wires. For IDE cables you will only need to separate in groups of 3 or 4 wires at a time. Other cables (such as floppy drive cables) can be separated to individual wires or groups of 2. This is the first of two steps than can potentially ruin your cable. SO TAKE YOUR TIME!! Also, BE CAREFUL TO NOT CUT YOURSELF!!

You will want to use the tip of your knife. Count out the desired number of wires to group and gently press the tip of the knife into the groove. You only want to poke the tip of the knife through. DO NOT USE THE KNIFE TO SLICE DOWN THE CABLE! Once the knife pokes through and you have a slit about 1/4" to 1/2" long, put the knife down and tear along the slit to lengthen it. You only want to tear it about 2-3" for now.

The trick here is to get a 'feel' of how much pressure it takes to poke through the cable. As you develop a "feel' for it you will be able to easily tell when are applying too much pressure, which is the best indication that you are not properly set in the groove and might be about to strip or cut a conductor.

Notice how my slits kind of stagger down the cable. This is useful in case you accidentally exposed the conductor when you made your cut. If the conductor is exposed you can usually finesse the cut over a bit to get a good clean slit going. Moving down the cable a bit ensures that if you accidentally expose another conductor... well, hopefully the exposed segments will be at different locations on the cable and will not cause any issues. If you are unlucky enough to cause multiple exposed conductors that have a high risk of contacting each other then you are most like done and the cable is ruined, unless you can find a creative way to patch it.

Ok, so hopefully this is what you will end up with:

What a mess! You have to make the cable as ugly as it can possibly be before you can make it as neat as it can possibly be. :rolleyes:

So on to the next step:

If you are using 1/2" sleeving then you should be able to simply measure the length of the cable that you want sleeved and cut a piece to that exact length. If you are choosing to go with 3/8" or 1/4" sleeving you will need to cut your piece several inches longer to compensate for the 'expanded' final state of the sleeving. I have used 1/4" sleeving do to this in the past and I have to admit it was significantly more troublesome to get a nice final product, but the benefit was that the sleeving was nice and tight when done.

So, we will cut our piece to exact measurement:

The next step is to manipulate the end (plug) of the cable so that it is in line with the wires. Like so:

Now you should be able to easily slip your sleeving onto the cable. (Note: Smaller sleeving will make this part more difficult, especially 1/4" sleeving... not fun!)

Moving along... now our sleeving is all the way on.

As you can see, the cut-to-length piece of 1/2" sleeving looks to be just about right. We'll still have to trip a bit later, but it is looking pretty good so far.

On to the next step:

Now it is time for the real fun to begin!! Let's slide our heat shrink onto the cable the same way we did the sleeving. You will need to cut two pieces of heat shrink each about 2" long. If you are using 3/4" 2:1 heat shrink (normal stuff found at Radio Shack, True Value, Online Computer Store, etc.) then this part is going to probably have you swearing at me before you are done. If you took my advice from earlier and pre-ordered some 1" 3:1 heat shrink... well, this part will be extremely easy for you.

So once again you need to get your plug arranged so that it is in-line with the wires. For those of you using 2:1 heat shrink, do yourself a favor and take your time this time around. Get the wires as neat and compact as possible. The smaller of a 'bulge' you have here, the easier the heat shrink will slide on.

Tip: Before you start, push your sleeving about half way down the cable and use a twisty tie to temporarily secure it out of your way. It'll save you from fraying the end as you work with the sleeving. (tape or a zip tie will work as well, just be careful to not shred the sleeving when you take it off.) I didn't do this at first so as to illustrate how the sleeving will be in the way as the heat shrink is worked onto the cable.

Now it's obvious right from the get-go that this ASUS cable isn't going to cooperate:

If you have a cable like this don't fret. Just use a screwdriver (or in my case, the back edge of the hobby knife) to work that retaining clip off:


I'm not sure if other manufacturer have the same style clip, but if so then chances are there is an elegant way to remove it. If you can't remove it then you will most definitely need 1" 3:1 heat shrink.

So continuing with the heat shrink installation:


This is the part where I make angels cry...

*@#er &*%ing

Close to 10 minutes later:

Persistence and patience!!! Just keep sliding your fingers along the heat shrink in the direction you want it to go. Whats nice about the plug is that you can look at the pin holes and see that you are indeed making progress each time you slide your fingers along it.

One down, one more to go:

Smoothing the wires out made a huge difference this time around. I got the second piece worked on in only about 3 or 4 mins. Also, notice how having the sleeving secured further up the cable conveniently keeps it out of the way (and less prone to fraying).

Now I'd like to show you a little trick to further help keep from fraying your sleeving. Take the first piece of heat shrink you slid on and tuck it into the piece you put on second. Look closely at the picture. You don't want the sleeving do catch the 'lip' of the second heat shrink piece as you slide it through:

Time to terminate one side of the sleeving:

Now, before you do this, you really want to take some time to massage all the wires into a nice neat cluster. The middle wires on each plug (both ends) need to have a bit of a fold in them. Keep in mind that you took a flat cable and bunched all the wires together. You are loosing a bit of length on the outside wires because of this while the middle wires haven't really changed. To get the cleanest, neatest final product possible, you need to spend some time getting the wires equal in length.

I am deliberately going to NOT do this so you can see how just jumping the gun and terminating one side before working with the wires will cause one side of the cable to look a bit more messed up than the other. I'll point it out a few pictures down.

Now, if you are happy with how your wires are bundled, take your second zip-tie and snug it down close to the end you just terminated.

Slide the zip-tie towards the other end of the cable. As you do this massage the wires nice and tight ahead of the zip-tie. You may need to tighten the zip-tie another click or two as you do this. This method will not only help further compact your wires, but will also tighten and compress the sleeving as you slide.

If you need to trim any excess sleeving, now is the time to do it.

WARNING!! Trimming excess sleeving is the second time that you run a significant risk of ruining your cable if you don't take your time and pay close attention to your work. I highly recommend just giving the excess sleeving a 'haircut' rather than trying to shove your scissors into the material and cut all the excess off in a line around the wiring. Trying to cut a line is an awfully easy way to accidentally cut one of the wires. Do I sound as if I'm speaking from experience here? ;) Trust me, just trim off little bits at a time like a barber would snip off little bits of hair from the tip. Who cares if it takes longer and makes a bigger mess. You're at the end of the mod... don't ruin it now!!!

So, it's time for the final step!!! :rockout:

Slide the last piece of heat shrink into place and heat it up.

Now, take a close look at the bundle of wires at this plug. Scroll up to the earlier photo of the first termination and look at the difference. See how taking a bit of extra time to get the wiring even can make a difference in how the final product looks?

So that's it!! Who said ribbon cables are out?? This makes for one nice looking way to dress them up.

Of course, if you really feel up to it, you could try your hand at sleeving the short section too. I've done it before, but it wasn't fun at all! The same method can be used for it, so there really isn't a point in dragging it out for this tutorial.

Now go sleeve those ugly ribbon cables!!! :toast:
Last edited:
Nov 22, 2008
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believe i will and i have replacement cables BUT i dont have any way to get heat shrinkin sleev :mad: . I already how to do that but never did it and also this is a very detailed tutorial (for newbies :p).
Oct 15, 2006
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Neat tutorial, but rather than go through all that work, I think I'll just buy the $5 rounded IDE cables, if I even need IDE.

This would be useful for themed computer case mods though!

Jan 7, 2008
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Sweet tutorial, i might have to give this a try.