Breaking Connections: Terminating Wires

Oct. 2, 2014
While soldering is often the best method for terminating connections, there is single solution. The technician has to use his best judgment in each case. Craftsmanship is the most essential component in wire installation and splicing

Electronic security practitioners have probably been exposed to several different approaches to terminating wires, which is as essential to the project as is installing the cabling.

Specifying and running cabling was covered in the September 2014 issue of Locksmith Ledger. Read at  Running wires is an art in itself, and will be discussed in future issues of The Locksmith Ledger.

The best way to make connections is an on-going debate. Options include:

  • Screw-down Terminal Strip (connector block)
  • Twist-on wire nuts
  • Crimp connectors
  • Insulation displacement (blocks, strips)
  • Soldering

Screw-down terminal strips are very common in electrical and electronic equipment. Terminal strips are a comparatively large form factor, especially as technology continues to shrink the size of devices. The conventional terminal strip utilizes the ‘cold weld’ where pressure between the wire and terminal is applied by tightening a screw. The exact configuration of the terminal and the screw varies depending upon the number of wires, the wire gauge and conductor type the terminal is designed to accommodate.

Twist-on wire nuts are the bane of electronics. Although they are included as a part of the installation kit with many devices, they are frowned upon by most experienced technicians.

Twist-on wire nuts used by electricians are different from the all plastic type common to low voltage. Wire nuts used by electricians have spring wire inside them which wrap around the conductors, metal to metal.

Crimp connectors (including b-connectors and hi-hats) use cold-weld technique to fuse the wires together with the metal sleeve of the connector. Some types specify not requiring that the wires be stripped before crimping. B-connectors are available in two types, those with anti-oxidant gel in them and those without the anti-oxidant gel. The ones without the gel are a little less expensive, but should only be used in environments where the splice will never be exposed humidity, moisture or other foreign substances. The gel forms a seal that protects the wires.

Heat shrink tubing is specially formulated to slip over a splice, then heated so it shrinks and tightly encapsulated the splice offering physical as well as environmental protection the connection. Shrink sleeving can be used directly over a soldered connection.

Insulation displacement terminals came to security courtesy of telcom and later on networking. Punchdown blocks are standard fare for a wide variety of infrastructure, as well as RJ-45 blocks and plugs.

An insulation-displacement connector is an electrical connector designed to be connected to the conductor(s) of an insulated wire or cable by a connection process which forces sharpened blade on the connector through the insulation on the wire, making it unnecessary to strip the wire of insulation first. A properly made connection cold-welds the terminal to the wire creating a gas-tight connection.

Soldering, Is It Worth It?

I saved the best for last. Being pretty much old school when it comes to installing systems that will work properly for extended periods of time, and having been performing soldering for many years, I am very proficient at it and also a proponent of soldering.

In electronics, soldering is used to connect wires and also assemble printed circuit boards.

Soldering involves fusing conductors together with a metallic substance (solder) which originally was lead-based. It was actually a combination of Tin and Lead. Typically the ratio was 60 percent Tin / 40 percent Lead. A lower temperature version of 63 percent Tin, 37 percent lead was also used. The more tin in the solder, the stronger it is. The more Lead in the solder, the lower its melting point will be. Since electronic components are sensitive to heat, lower temperature solder is often preferred where the solder is not being used primarily for its structural strength but for its electrical conductivity properties. Lead has a low melting point so it can be readily applied to form a conductive joint around wires.

Soldering also used to be the way plumbing was installed. Now that copper pipe has been superseded by non-metallic pipe such as PVC, soldering is not used as much.

Besides being labor intensive, requiring special tools and a relatively high degree of skill to do, soldering took a big hit when lead made it to the top of America’s Most Feared Substances ‑ lead in paint, lead in gas, lead in plumbing, lead in the fish, lead in bullets that kill innocent victims.

Solder is now made from other metals which are not lead. I prefer lead but do not want to be a soldering outlaw so I use the non-lead type.

So there is a debate between soldering and the other technologies, and it is hardly a level playing field. Does it seem to you that things aren’t as reliable as they used to be? Could less soldering and more crimping be a contributing factor?

All the insulation displacement technologies were developed by the Telco industry post World War II, and of course the manufacturing of most solderless blocks and connectors has been sent offshore. The Telcom industry has statistics that wireless connectors take half as long to install as other methods. Does that factor in call-backs and ghosts in the machine (unexplained, unscheduled and irreparable problems)?

Soldering Basics

There are some basics to soldering as it applies to electronics. Let’s look at a few of them:

Be sure the wires are solder-able. Be sure they are copper, silver or tin or plated. Electronics uses low temperature solder and tools compared to other soldering applications. Iron, stainless steel, steel, and aluminum cannot be soldered.

Be sure the wire is clean, meaning not tarnished, oxidized or enameled (painted with insulation). Electronic solder usually has a rosin core, which is flux, the chemical that reacts to the heat of the soldering tool to clean the area of the wire to be soldered.

In plumbing, they use a separate flux, and it is not resin but acid. Acid flux is not good for electronics as it corrodes the wires, circuit boards and components.

You can also burnish the wires with sandpaper or an abrasive. The cleaner the wire, the easier and better it will absorb the solder.

You have sufficient heat: The following factors which will determine what is sufficient for a particular project.

The number of wires and their gauge being soldered: More wires and larger gauge conductors absorb more heat and therefore require a larger soldering device.

The environment in which you are soldering: Wind and air temperature are significant issues to address, especially if these factors are cooling the work area (or numbing your fingers so you can’t feel them) (BTDT)*

The size and type of soldering tool you are using: The soldering gun was once popular. Soldering pencils are also handy. Soldering tools that use line voltage are not that suited for field installation work, in the exact same way that line cord operated hand tools don’t make it either. There are exceptions to every rule, but I’ve transitioned away from line cords for drills and soldering tools.

Since a small torch is a logical progression to achieve higher heat than a soldering tip, and a flame is not really feasible from battery power, I’ve defaulted to butane fueled soldering. A small torch also can also serve and a heat gun if used judiciously. Heat guns are used for shrink sleeving.

Excessive heat: While having sufficient heat is essential to achieve a good soldered connection, excessive heat or not having control of the heat can wreak havoc on a project by damaging associated components, or the insulation on the wires being soldered. Generally speaking electronic components can be damaged by excessive heat during soldering. Not melting the insulation is important so that the possibility of a conductor shorting out (touching) another wire is minimized.

When insulation is damaged, it becomes susceptible to moisture. Moisture can be defined as water or condensation. Water ‘creeps up’ insulation (capillary action) and has a chemical reaction with wire, especially copper. The reaction may place a barrier of contamination between the conductive surfaces, or may corrode and weaken the conductors. Wires or connection points sitting in water or constantly exposed to moisture will also corrode, reacting to not only the water but the minerals present in the water.

Albert Einstein’s first scientific paper was on capillary action. When soldering stranded wire, as opposed to solid wire, capillary action occurs when the melted solder move up the wire under the insulation. Two bad things happen. The wire, once subtle and easy to bend, becomes rigid, and the wire’s insulation melts a little and a gap then exists between the conductor and the wire where water may someday enter.

A good physical connection is desirable when joining conductors in a solder connection. The physical connection takes the stress off the solder, and also holds the wires still while the soldering connection is created. Although solder melts and re solidifies rapidly, movement of the wires while the solder is transitioning from the liquefied form back to the solid form will result in the solder crystallizing and producing a cold solder joint. A cold solder joint will not conduct electricity and is not physically strong. A remarkable large percentage of electronic circuit board failures are due to deterioration of cold solder joints to where electrical conductivity is eventually lost.

Soldering on circuit boards is not typically an installation process, although the technician may have to occasionally perform them. Circuit boards will have components soldered to them, or have interconnecting wires attached by solder. You may need to replace a defective component on a circuit board. The basic process involves removing the solder from where the component is soldered to the circuit board by melting the solder then sucking it away with a specialized vacuum tool; wicking it with special desoldering wick, of by tapping (hitting) the circuit board while the solder is hot so it dislodges from the junctions. Circuit boards are made of a non-metallic thin substrate that has copper plating on one or both sides. The copper is etched in manufacturing to define the circuit paths between each component on the circuit board to create the actual circuit. Circuit board construction has really evolved in the last few decades, to where many components are so small they simply stick on the surface of the board rather than have component leads passing thru the board. These miniature boards may be just too delicate for the ham handed technician with sweat in his eye wielding a 200 W soldering gun.

The conventional PCG (printed circuit board) has holes and delicate copper lands and plated through holes which can survive component replacement if the work is performed skillfully.

Since the circuit board is sensitive to heat, every effort must be made to not damage it with excessive heat or physical force on the component being removed.  

It is not uncommon for wires to be laid onto the circuit board and soldered into place without a physical connection. This makes these wires easier to remove and replace but also means that the stress placed on the soldered connection be kept to minimum with strain relief such as wire ties or cable clamps.

For many applications, soldering is the preferred means to connect wires. Soldering melts a metal (solder) which melts at a relatively low temperature (as compared to copper). Soldering is how electronic components are attached to circuit boards in all types of equipment.

When you solder a connection between two wires, the two wires are heated to the melting point of the solder, the solder is applied to the junction, and the solder flows into the joint physically joining the wires. Solder is also a conductor, so the solder enhances the flow of electrons in the circuit. A properly done soldering connection is also air and moisture tight, so oxidation between the wires, which would impair the connection over a period of time, is eliminated.

Soldering used to be the preferred way to join wires and install alarms equipment, but it is time consuming, and other technologies such as data and telecom brought other processes to security installers, and there is less soldering occurring in the field than 20 or 30 years ago.

One issue with soldering was how solder flows up a stranded wire from the junction, losing the flexibility of the wire and rendering it a solid conductor. Excessive heat during the soldering process also damages the electrical insulation on the wire. Soldering used to require a soldering tool that you had to plug into line voltage. Line operated tools don’t make it for many types of installation, like alarms and access control, or where there are no ‘gozintas’ (the term occasionally used in New York City to describe an electrical outlet.)

Battery powered soldering tools are okay but they always seemed to run out of battery before you ran out of things to solder. A poorly heated soldering connection, (referred to as a cold soldering joint, is bad news as it performs intermittently and ultimately fails.

So my own choice for soldering on installations, and more or less everywhere, has been butane-powered tools. An added advantage of butane soldering tools is that they are cordless, and therefore the likely hot of some sort of static or electrical discharge onto the equipment is mitigated.


I’ve had a couple of ULTRATORCHs for several years. They are well made out of metal and last.

The butane soldering tools available at home centers are generally glorified plastic cigarette lighters that never seem to survive long enough to be used a second time. (I’ve actually done a lot of soldering with one of those cheapo lighters, gut it is not recommended)

The thought that a plastic butane soldering tool is leaking somewhere in the van is not a comforting feeling. I do not want to turn into a fireball hurling through the Midtown Tunnel.

Often I’ll run two at once ‑ one for soldering a connection and another for applying heat shrink sleeving around the completed solder connection. If you are installing wired hinges for your projects, you probably are familiar with soldering those extremely small and delicate leads.

MASTER APPLIANCE manufactures industrial grade heat tools that make the job easier. The ULTRATORCH is a Professional quality, butane-powered, soldering iron, flameless heat tool and butane torch. It is sold in a few configurations:

UT-100 Ultratorch Kit. Includes Ultratorch, 70-01-02 soldering tip, 70-01-52 hot air tip, 70-01-55 shrink attachment, 70-07TU torch ejector, 70-07SU tip ejector, 70-35 spanner wrench, sponge, tool holder and metal case

UT-100-TC     Ultratorch Professional Kit. Includes Ultratorch, 70-01-01, 70-01-02, 70-01-05 soldering tips, 70-01-52 hot air tip, 70-01-55 shrink attachment, 70-01-16 hot knife, 70-07TU torch ejector, 70-07SU tip ejector, coil of 60/40 solder, 70-35 spanner wrench, sponge, tool holder, cap, 5" wire cutter, 5" needle nose pliers and plastic case


Dimensions: 9.5" L (242 mm)

Equivalent to Electric Iron: 20 to 80 Watt

Approx. Operating Time: 120 min.

Gas Tank Capacity: 1 fl. oz. (28 cc)

Approx. Hot Air Tip Temp.: 1292° F (600° C)

Net Weight: 3.7 oz. (90 g)

Approx. Torch Tip Temp. 2372° F (1260° C)

Solder Tip Temp.: 392° F to 932° F (200° C to 500° C)

Recommended Fuel: Master Ultratane® Butane, Shipped Empty


Triple function: soldering iron, flameless heat tool and brazing torch

Lighter in weight than competitive models, making it easy to hold and use over extended periods of time

Butane-powered, cordless and completely portable, ready-to-use in 30 seconds

Adjustable temperature control

Hot air temperature up to 1202°F/650°C, perfect for Solderseal™ environmental "heat and seal" connectors

Torch temperature up to 2372°F/1260°C

Sturdy metal tank holds enough fuel for up to 2 hours of operation

UL & GS/TUV Listed for user safety

Optional accessories available and interchangeable between UT-100 & UT100Si

Use to pinpoint heat, remove surface mount components, repair vinyl, shrink heat shrink tubing, solder and desolder, spot dry, torch materials and more

Master Appliance is located in a modern manufacturing facility in Racine, Wisconsin. They introduced the first industrial quality heat gun to the worldwide marketplace in 1958.  In 1985, they introduced the first butane powered soldering iron/heat tools to the North American marketplace.  Their heat tools are used for drying, heating, welding, shrinking, soldering, desoldering and for many other applications where heat is the need.

For more information, contact Master Appliance Corp., 2420 18th St. Racine, Wisconsin 53403. Phone: 262-633-7791. Toll Free: 800-558-9413. Fax: 262-633-9745. Web Site:

Grabbit™ Telescoping Pole

Before you get to splice the wires, you need to get them installed. Labor Saving Devices has been manufacturing specialized installation tools for decades. The Grabbit is used for pulling wire above dropped ceilings and in attics. This tool will cut down on the number tiles you will have to move and trips up and down the ladder. This especially helpful when you are installing in occupied spaces where it is best to cause as little commotion and drop as little debris possible into the workspace.

Grabbit™ mini compact 10’ telescoping pole, Part# 82-110, is constructed of non-conductive, lightweight, shockproof, friction locking telescoping fiberglass designed for both residential and commercial installations. It is a  more compact, light-duty version of the Grabbit™ 12 and Grabbit™ 18 foot telescoping poles

Length Closed: 22“

Length Extended 10‘

Snap on LED Light

Z-Tip™ (the inner V of the Z-Tip) has a double knife edge designed to grab the wire insulation without cutting the actual metal wire, while the outer V (without knife edge) is designed to push a wire loop  

The GRABBIT™ MINI COMPACT 10’ TELESCOPING POLE PART# 82-110 is a  more compact, light-duty version of the company’s Grabbit™ 12 and Grabbit™ 18 foot telescoping poles

For more information, contact Labor Saving Devices, 5678 Eudora St., Commerce City, CO 80022-3809. Telephone: 800-648-4714 or 303-287-2121. Fax: 303-287-9044. E-mail: [email protected]. Web site:


Pulling wire down walls and in door frames, for example to install electric locking devices, is at best difficult, and at worst, all too often impossible. This device is the next best thing to X-ray vision, enabling the installer to peek inside a wall or in a door frame to determine if there is hope to get a wire through before he starts drilling and pulling.

This compact hand-held periscope viewer/flashlight, Part # Part # 55-415, enables you to see inside dark and confined wall cavities or ceilings through any ¾” access hole

Made of durable ABS plastic 

Black in color w/ handy pocket clip that can easily fit into your pocket

Save valuable time by avoiding that mystery obstruction inside the wall

This tool offers ease of use and versatility for a very reasonable price

A more Compact / Newer version of our Wall-Eye™ or part # 55-400

For more information, contact Labor Saving Devices, 5678 Eudora St., Commerce City, CO 80022-3809. Telephone: 800-648-4714 or 303-287-2121. Fax: 303-287-9044. E-mail: [email protected]. Web site:

B Connectors

In my frame of reference, B connectors were used by Telcom with small gauge solid wire, and the security industry adopted them. Although some say stripping the wires is not necessary, I do think I’ve EVER used these without first stripping the wires first.

Although insulation displacement is sort of an industry standard, it is a leap of faith many old schoolers hesitate to take especially with non-network wiring. There is basically no choice where punch down blocks and RJ-45 connectors and jacks are concerned, but with wire splices and wire nuts, there is the option of stripping.

I also always use the gel filled ones for all installations, as an added protection for those tiny little electrons trying to find their way home. By not requiring that you break out the soldering equipment, they reduce costs and labor. Gel filled versions will not corrode.

These features ensure the continued operation of the security, safety and communications systems in which they are frequently used.

Dolphin Super B Connectors

Dolphin Super B Connectors provide the industry’s most reliable connection with their unique design and tine structure. They are super-sized to accept more and larger wires than non-supersized B connectors.


• DC-4141 Ratchet Full Cycle Crimping Tool

• DC-500F Hand Tool


4-wires: #24 AWG, #22 AWG (insulated)

3-wires: #20 AWG, #18 AWG (insulated)

 #16 AWG (stripped)


• Moisture Resistant Barrier

• Non-Curing Sealant

• Will Not Leak Out When Crimped

• Will Not Corrode

• Withstands Temperature Range of -60°F to 475°F

For more information, contact Dolphin Components Corp., 1405 Poinsettia Drive, Delray Beach, FL 33444. Telephone 800-858-6869. Fax: 888-274-2774. Web site:

Tane B Connectors

Tane Alarm Products is another source for B connectors, both dry and silicon-filled.


Outer Shell: Plastic Type - Heat Shrink Tubing

Metal Housing: Brass

Inner Sleeve: Beryllium Copper plated with Bright Nickel

Contact Resistance: 10 milliohms initial

Dielectric: 1000 V

Strength of Joint: 9 lbs.

For more information, contact Tane Alarm Products, 906 Jericho Turnpike, New Hyde Park, NY 11040. Telephone: 800-852-5050 or 516-328-3351. Fax: 516-326-9125. Web Site: E-mail: [email protected]

Elk Yellow Jackets

The ELK-900-2 “Yellow Jackets” premium quality “B” connectors are manufactured from the finest materials. They feature insulation piercing internal teeth, soft brass (easy to squeeze) crimp, a durable protective outer covering. These wire splices have been used in the telecommunications industry for many years. They provide a solid dependable splice in wires ranging from 18 to 30 gauge.

Features include:

• Easy to Squeeze Soft Brass Crimp.

• Insulation Piercing Internal Teeth.

• Durable Protective Outer Covering.

• 18 to 30 Gauge Wire Range.

• Dielectric: 1000 Volts.

• Built-in Test Point.

• Bright Yellow Color.

• Handy Zip Lock Bags.

• Packaged in Reusable Poly Storage Box

• Non-hardening Gel Moisture Barrier.

• Forms a Corrosion Resistant Splice.

For more information, contact Elk Products,  P.O. Box 100, Hildebran, NC 28637. Telephone: 800-797-9355 or 828-397-4200. Fax: 828-397-4415. Web site: E-mail: [email protected]

So we have looked at several ways to terminate wires in search of the best one. The answer is there is single solution. The technician has to use his best judgment in each case.

I would not be totally truthful if I said I soldered everything. You really can’t solder network connections, and for many situations soldering just doesn’t make it.

Craftsmanship is the most essential component in wire installation & splicing.