Lost Knowledge: Cable Lacing

Lost Knowledge: Cable Lacing

The Lost Knowledge column explores the possible technology of the future in the forgotten ideas of the past (and those just slightly off to the side). Wwe look at retro-tech, “lost” technology, and the make-do, improvised “street tech” of village artisans and tradespeople from around the globe. “Lost Knowledge” was also the theme of Make: Volume 17

One of the cool things about doing this column is discovering lost technologies myself, things I knew nothing about before poking about the virtual attics and basements of cyberspace, looking for things to write about. For instance, I knew nothing about stick chart navigation before covering it here. And I’d certainly seen timbrel vaulting before, but didn’t know that’s what it was called, or how it worked.


We got such a great response to my last column on wire-wrapping (which was awhile ago, thanks to a most unwelcomed medical absence). There were site comments, emails, tweets, and Flickr photo pointers of people fondly, or not so fondly, remembering this disappearing art of circuit assembly. Several people mentioned cable lacing and that I should do a column on that next. I had no idea what cable lacing was, but one of the commenters pointed me to the Wikipedia page and another to Impulselabs’ amazing photos on Flickr. Impulselabs describes the practice very succinctly:


The bundling is done with a technique called “cable lacing”. A series of knots and stitches from a continuous piece of wax impregnated cotton or twine are used to bundle cables together. It takes some practice, but it’ll outperform zipties in that it won’t crush the insulative jackets on wiring and that it’s not going to shift axially on you if it’s loose. Likewise, my bundles have a rectangular cross section. Zipties can’t conform and keep bundle shapes other than ellipses.

Cable lacing was cable management technique before zipties, used in the telecom industry, aerospace, marine applications, and elsewhere. The thin cord used is traditionally a waxed linen. Modern materials used today in flat “lacing tape” include nylon, polyester, and Nomex. There are different methods of lacing, such as the common marline hitch, seen here:


Here’s an illustration from an old ARRL Amateur Radio Handbook, showing the marline hitch:


This one is another common lacing method, the “NASA-style” spot tie. Not nearly as elegant as a marline, but I guess it gets the job done:


Here’s a page from “Workmanship and Design Practices for Electronic Equipment,” showing different lacing and tying methods.

And here’s a how-to on the Historic Naval Ships Association website.

There’s not much more out there on the practice. If you do a search, you will find some images on various discussion boards of computer modders and others trying their hand at cable lacing the wiring inside of their computers and between the gear of their home media centers. It’s nice to see that at least some folks are keeping the art alive.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at garstipsandtools.com.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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