Why solder wires?

Discussion in '101 Display Basics' started by Keither, Dec 1, 2016.

  1. Keither

    Keither New Elf

    Joined:
    Nov 24, 2016
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    RI, USA
    Hey there!
    I am a complete sequencing newb, although I do have a background as a DJ and a good understanding of stage design and show lighting. This forum has been a godsend of information for me and I thank everyone involved. I am writing a pixel light show for the main stage at The Nightmare Before Christmas, an annual rave party I produce in RI, USA. This doesn't pertain to my question, it's just my first post here and I figured I'd introduce myself somehow.


    That being said, I was wondering why the golden standard for wire connections is to solder and heat shrink. I am an electrician, and I am accustomed to using wire nuts for all of my connections. Soldering seems antiquated and overkill for simple wire connections.
    My show will be indoors for this event, but I will be using the lights for my own yard, as well as other indoor and outdoor events. For this one, I am going to be using basic wire nuts.
    As for waterproofing, why wouldn't you just use wire nuts, and rubber tape, then vinyl tape the joint? Another option would be waterproof wire nuts, which is a newer (3 or 4 years old) product. They are designed to be used outdoors even underground for things like landscape lighting. I would still at least vinyl tape the wire nuts to prevent any accidents though.
    Soldering seems so permanent, and a lot of work for non permanent connections. I would like to be able to break down my elements and use the lights for other projects/configurations, and with a soldered heat shrunk connection, you would have to cut out that section of wire. With wire nuts, you could just unwrap the tape and untwist the wire nuts, and the wire in most cases would be reusable down to the stripped end.
    Maybe I'm missing something, but I feel like wire nuts, especially waterproof ones would be a much easier and just as secure of an install.
    Any insight would be greatly appreciated.


    Here is a link to a video of a past Nightmare Before Christmas rave I produced, in case you were curious as to where I am installing a show for a night. https://vimeo.com/55988506
     
  2. djgra79

    djgra79 Senior Elf

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2011
    Messages:
    643
    Likes Received:
    62
    Location:
    Cranbourne West
    Find Me On:
    Hi Keither, welcome to the fun*!!
    Others will have their own reasons for soldering but my own personal 2c is I very rarely solder. We mostly all use waterproof plugs/pigtails to connect our elements to power & data cables to then connect to PSU & controllers. This way it is a matter of just unplugging the elements and wrapping up the cables for easy storage during the off season. I guess if you use the same wiring standard throughout your display the cables can be used across different areas as needed.
    I only twist connect the wires in all my connectors & cables, then heat shrink the join, and then another heat shrink over the top to mate it weatherproof. It also ensures my connection stays tight and worse case if I need to repair or make adjustments, I just cut the shrink off and untwist the wires, saving me time & energy un-soldering and re-soldering everything.


    Cheers, Graham


    *actually, madhouse :)
     
  3. cjd

    cjd New Elf

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2012
    Messages:
    42
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Gosford, Australia
    Find Me On:
    Cost is also a concern - although a wire nut is fairly cheap it is nowhere near as cheap as solder/heatshrink ;)
     
  4. elnino

    elnino Full Time Elf

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2014
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    0
    Also consider that where you would be using twist connectors as a sparky, you're installing them in 'fixed' installations, not moving/mobile ones.


    It might all be fine this year but after a year in the shed and moving it all around, you're likely to have problems and it will be time consuming to diagnose and fault find. Spend the time now, solder and double heatshrink and save time later but also invest in waterproof connectors/pigtails to keep it easier for packup/storage.
     
  5. marmalade

    marmalade cats & pixels

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2015
    Messages:
    155
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    newcastle
    imagine doing this with 6 core cable :D


    If you are spending time reconfiguring light and wiring connections repeatedly, you really just need more lights :)
     
  6. scamper

    scamper Senior Elf

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2014
    Messages:
    734
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    collie
    Find Me On:
    Another thing to consider is when you are twisting higher voltage and /or current wires together, you can have a little loss and no problem.
    When you are trying to twist data wires together, you could have a poor connection and induce artefacts that upset the data and give you some weird effects.
    I also have some twisted together cables, but only the larger power cables that are for power injection. At the injection point however, I have waterproof plugs and sockets soldered on.
     
  7. OP
    OP
    Keither

    Keither New Elf

    Joined:
    Nov 24, 2016
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    RI, USA
    Thanks for the insight.
    As for needing more lights, yeah lol but we agreed on a $500 Xmas light budget. When I decided to go 100% smart pixels, I accidentally tripled the budget. It is a project I am going to add to and use for multiple installs, so eventually ;)


    As for data loss, I don't really see that if you make a good connection, I have spliced Cat5 numerous times with no issues. Essentially the set screw on the controller is the same kind of connection as a wire nut splice IMO. Eventually I will move towards a more secure and stable connection, but considering my event is on December 10, and I get my lights and controllers in the mail on Friday, I am going to give wire nuts a go and see how it works.


    Any way, I'll update here with any progress and the quality of the connections once I hook it all up.
     
  8. ccrowder

    ccrowder New Elf

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2014
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Really for me it comes down to it being outdoors. I need the weatherproofing you get by soldering and heat-shrinking. A wire nut can hold water leading to corrosion or worse a short between wires if they are touch and wet.
     
  9. OP
    OP
    Keither

    Keither New Elf

    Joined:
    Nov 24, 2016
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    RI, USA

    I'm talking about water proof wire nuts. They make them with a rubber gasket and silicone inside. They are meant to be outdoors, underground, etc.
     
  10. ccrowder

    ccrowder New Elf

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2014
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Ah.. in that case it is cost.. For me in US at least stores seem to charge and arm and a leg for the waterproof nuts.
     
  11. Wolfie

    Wolfie Full Time Elf

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2015
    Messages:
    121
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    Find Me On:
    There are a few considerations you might want to roll into your prospectus.

    Cons:
    1. Wire nuts are big and bulky.
    2. Wire nuts are generally 90 to wire travel so produce something that can and will grab and hold onto any other object within 1000' of it.
    3. Wire nuts are not watertight unless you get the expensive silicone filled ones.
    4. Wire nuts take a lot of storage space compared to alternatives.
    5. Wire nuts are pretty visible and not easily hidden.
    6. Wire nuts can come off and the most inopportune moment. (Nothing like hoisting your 20' megatree into place and feeling a wirenut hit you in the head and wonder where it came from).

    Pros:
    1. Fast to apply
    2. No tools past a basic set of wire strippers
    3. Commonly stocked at home stores and hardware stores.
    4. Reusable.
    5. Can be temporary solution

    I don't use them. Well, except in AC boxes.

    In the past I stuck strictly with solder and rolls of glue lined heat shrink. I still use it for the most part. Its cheap. I have the tools. I have the skill. And its a habit. It produces a very weather tight seal because the glue eeks into the divots when soldering multiple round wires together. Non-glue lined heat shrink leaves a small gap there.

    This year I rebuilt my megatree. I had to add 10px to each 50px string to make the 24 60px strings for the tree. The only soldering I did on the tree was to splice the 3 wires at one location (no pigtails, I use a different method of connection to pixels now). I used nothing but self soldering (no-crimp) butt splices. You don't need a soldering iron, no solder, and only a small heat wand. They have a ring of solder inside heat shrink tubing. You seal and solder in a single process. They are fast, easy, and very convenient to do outdoors for emergency repairs. Just bring a small heat source (air gun, wand, torch, etc) and you are good to go.

    This is the tool I used at first. Feel free to laugh all you want. Its $20us. It does heat shrink like a maniac and will melt the solder in the no-crimp butt splices just fine. And, yes, it will also melt SMD solder paste too. It will warm and loosen hot glue as well. And outside, its a nice handwarmer in cold weather (something Aussies don't have issue with at Christmas but folks here in Wisconsin do). So, frankly its a good $20 piece of kit. Pink or not.:
    [​IMG]

    At the bench, I use my SMD air station for heat shrink butt splices. But on the go, this little heat wand is compact enough to fit in a jacket pocket so its handy out in the yard.

    The no-crimp butt splices are more expensive (150 for $30 off ebay) than the wire nuts. But the advantages, for me, outweigh the cost:
    1. produce a completely watertight joint.
    2. single operation of solder and heatshrink in one move
    3. easily carried to the job location
    4. no spools of solder nor solder iron needed
    5. produce an inline splice that is easily hidden
    6. joint does not snag on other wires or objects
    7. rapidly deployed with a single simple tool

    Since I am using no pigtails on my megatree, I consumed about $14us of butt splices (3 wires * 24 strands). And saved hours of soldering and applying heat shrink. I found that with the square tip on my SMD air gun (and the wide tip on the pink air wand), I can easily solder and seal all three wires at the same time in about 15 seconds.
     
  12. fasteddy

    fasteddy I have C.L.A.P Global Moderator Generous Elf

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2010
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    Albion Park NSW
    Find Me On:
    Soldering is more a cost thing here as its cheap and gives a good low resistance connection. Most will solder to put a weatherproof plug on their lights so they can easily remove their lighting. They will also make up custom extension cables and soldering is the best way to keep the cable looking tidy without using larger expensive plugs that you have shown.
    So soldering is the standard but in this hobby there are no rules, members are always trying new methods to help make this hobby cheaper, faster and better. I look forward to your feedback on how you go using these.
     
  13. heathwithnoteeth

    heathwithnoteeth Full Time Elf Generous Elf

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2015
    Messages:
    430
    Likes Received:
    25
    Location:
    sheidow park
    wolfie, i use the same heat tool. i hate traditional shaped ones. Only downside it looks like a pleasure device... ;)
     
    QldKing(Brad) likes this.
  14. Binkles

    Binkles Full Time Elf

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2012
    Messages:
    251
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Baldivis
    Find Me On:

    You would not want to get those confused.....
     
    QldKing(Brad) likes this.
  15. Gilrock

    Gilrock Full Time Elf

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2013
    Messages:
    378
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Tucson, AZ
    Find Me On:
    I switched to heat shrink butt connectors and I'm well over 350 for the last month. They seal well enough I don't even bother with a big heat shrink over the result.
     

Share This Page