How to Properly Manage Your Cables


This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Cable Management

In Part 1 of this series, I outlined the importance of cable management and the things you’ll need to ensure that you have a professional looking desk. So now what? Now we dig into the actual process of cable management.

So how do you do this?

The reality, after watching hours of YouTube videos is, everyone’s setup is different. So what works for one person won’t work for another. I’m in the middle of doing this exact thing on two desks in my apartment (along with the shelves that have my cable box, router, modem, and other electronics). I’ll outline the steps that I’m taking, and explain why I’m doing them. As always, your mileage may vary.

Step 1: Clear everything off of the desk. I mean down to the bare metal/wood/glass. The reasons should be somewhat obvious, but here goes. First, this will ensure that you have plenty of room for setting everything up. Second, it gives you a chance to throw stuff away that you’re not using (or don’t need). And third, it allows you to perform step 2 relatively easily.

Step 2: Clean the desk. Use a vacuum to get the dirt and dust bunnies off. Then use furniture polish or some other cleaner to actually clean up the desk. Again, the reasons should be somewhat obvious. First, the adhesives that you use to mount your cables with will stick better. And second, when you’re done the desk will look that much better.

Along with cleaning the desk, vacuum the floor under and around it too. You’re going to be crawling and laying down there. So you want it clean. Plus if you drop something, it’ll be easier to locate.

Step 3: Lay out the equipment (minus any wires) where you want it. Don’t permanently mount any power strips at this time. This helps you to visualize the final layout of everything. And it shows you where every cable starts and ends. As for the power strips, you might find out that some of your cords won’t reach. So you’re better off mounting those later on, once you have the cables routed. This doesn’t mean you can’t get a general idea where you want it though. You don’t want the wires attached to the equipment because this step is just to see where the main pieces are going.

Step 4: Get under the desk and behind if necessary. This is the point where you’re going to start visualizing how the cables will run. The things that will determine how you route the cables are whether you can hide them under or behind the desk, whether you want the cables completely hidden, or just organized, if you’re able (and want) to drill into the desk to hide the cables more efficiently, and what types of mounting hardware you’ll need.

Step 5: Start with one device and get its wires plugged in. So I’m assuming here that you’re routing everything to a computer. Either start with the closest device to the computer, or furthest away. It doesn’t matter. But pick one, and plug its wires into it. Once they’re plugged in, route them how you visualized, and make sure they’ll make it to the computer (or where the power strips will be located). If so, put small Xs at various points where you’ll mount the hardware. Don’t mount anything yet though. Repeat this for the next device, leaving the cables hanging loosely in the general location that they’ll end up. As you’re routing each device, you want to try and keep the cables on the X’s that you placed, whenever possible. If you can’t, then place X’s for that cable as well.

A suggestion here: Either use different colors for the X’s or put them in different shapes for each separate cable. This way, when you start mounting the cables, you know what mounting hardware belongs to each cable. You might want to take a picture of the underside and back of the desk with just the X’s showing before mounting hardware. That way you’re able to see the route (kind of like a wiring diagram or map). Also, try to avoid having cables jump over other cables in your route. If you can’t avoid this, then if you have one or two cables that cross over a larger number, mount those last. This way, if you have to pull a cable out, you’re only having to unbundle a couple of cables to do it.

I’ll mention this in Step 7 also, but it’s worth noting here. If you have any extra cable, you’ll want to plan for it now. Power cables can be tightly looped, but data and audio/video cables should have longer “S” shaped loops. If you’re running the data cables through a J-Channel, it’s not as much of a concern, since they’ll all be hidden away anyhow.

Step 6: Start mounting the hardware. You’ve got your X’s. Now you’ll want to mount the actual channel or cable holders. Now the trick here is this: If you have a point where a lot of cables are running along the same group of X’s, you want to make sure that your mounting hardware can hold them all. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s something you have to consciously think about. The little “cable clips” will only hold one power cable, and maybe a couple of USB cables (if they’re tiny). So if you have a lot of cables, you might want to use J-Channel, or you’ll have to run a few cable clips side-by-side. In that case, you need to make sure you can open and close them (which means you might have to space them out a bit).

This is also the point where you’ll mount things like USB hubs and Card readers. You should have held them up and set the cable routes up already. But mount them without the cables at this point. You’ll deal with the cables in the next step. And this is the time where you’ll mount your power strips too. Since you should know where all of the power cables will end up by this point. This is also the point where you’ll mount your adapters. You could probably mount them in the cable step also. If you do it here, leave the cables hanging down. You’ll plug them into the devices when it’s time to mount the cables for that specific device.

Step 7: Start routing the cables in the mounting hardware. The first part of this is to label each cable at both ends. That way you know what you’re working on, and in the future, you’ll know what each cable is (especially when it comes to power cords). Pick a device, and work your way to the computer. Then go to the next device in line, and work your way to the computer again. Continue on until everything is mounted. When you’re done, start using the velcro ties to group cables together between the mounting hardware. Plug cords into the power strips and UPS systems.

Some things to keep in mind here when it comes to extra cable. Power cables can be looped tightly. Data cables (and to an extent audio/video cables) shouldn’t be. They should be in longer loops. This is meant to limit any interference through EMI/EMF. Depending on how you handled this in your routing, you might have to let the excess hang until it’s time to mount it. Or you may have to mount it right away if it’s under other cables.

Step 8: Power your devices up, and make sure everything is working. Troubleshoot as necessary.

Step 9: Sit back, and enjoy your handiwork. If it’s really impressive, take pictures of your desk and upload them to YouTube (and/or submit them to YouTube shows like “Pimp My Desk”). When you’re ready, move on to the next desk or your entertainment center. You’ve already got a taste for this, so why don’t you manage all of your cables? In the end, it makes your setup look that much better–even if it doesn’t really improve on performance at all.

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