Recycling Wires For Breadboarding

It is easy to take things for granted, but if you work with students, you realize that even something as simple as a breadboard needs explanation. [0033mer] recently shared a tip about how he wires both solderless breadboards and prototype boards on the cheap. Instead of buying special wires, he salvages riser cables often found in scrap from demolished buildings. These often have 200 or so thin solid wires inside. You take them apart, and, as he put it, if you have 15 feet of the stuff, that will last you the rest of your life. We hope you live longer than that, but still.

One advantage to doing this is you don’t feel bad about cutting the wires exactly to length which makes for neat boards. He has a tiny stripper that make it easy to remove the insulation during installation.

Of course, you’ve probably been salvaging wires from many sources for years. Still, this is a good reminder that you really don’t need to buy that pack of breadboard jumpers from Amazon. Not only will it cost more, the ones with the little tips are not amenable to being cut to size.

We’ve done something similar for years, but we prefer thermal strippers. If you want your entire breadboard from scratch, search through some old magazines.

36 thoughts on “Recycling Wires For Breadboarding

    1. How can that be neater? The point was to trim everything to exactly the needed length. Using the repurposed junk one wouldn’t feel bad about doing all that cutting.

  1. I have never bought such wires. My brother gave me some cables from when the LATCC in West Drayton equipment was being installed.

    In the early 70s :)

    The insulation is still perfectly plastic.

  2. Yes! If you find the right kind of cable (usually the trunking to an old PBX) your bundle of umpteen 22AWG solid copper wires even comes as a bundle of color-matched twisted pairs (e.g. red w/ blue stripe twisted with blue w/ red stripe) which is often useful for stuff like CAN. I pulled a couple meters of just such a cable with a gnarly-looking big-brother-of-centronics connector at one end which I’ve still not even half used up for jumper wires in both breadboard and soldered proto board uses.

    1. same. it wasn’t free but when i needed ~200ft of it for my house, buying a 1000ft roll was the easy thing to do. when i want something thicker, i have a bunch of short lengths of 12awg copper from wiring the house for electric too :)

    2. That’s how I built my lifetime supply of breadboard wire.
      A couple hints:
      Solid core wire is great for breadboard use, but don’t throw away more flexible network cables with stranded wires as they’re still excellent for other uses (board to board interconnects to name one), and certainly much much better than most crap the usual sellers from far east sell online. Avoid cheap wires, chances are that they’re made of copper coated aluminium or iron and they will exhibit much higher resistance, hence much lower performance, aside being less durable.

  3. Great stuff…
    Unlike so many other sources of wire I’ve found, this stuff also:
    * solders nicely, the insulation doesn’t pull-back.
    * strips nicely, the insulation doesn’t stretch, nor stay stuck to the wire, a small nick and pull is all you need
    * comes in a ton of colors, as well as striped with other colors (great for keeping power, data lines, address, control, and clock recognizeable at a glance!)
    * is thinner than most hookup wire used in breadboards, so doesn’t deform the spring-contacts
    * (routing, as he showed, is great, too…)

    Interesting idea about 10in lengths and pencil holders.
    I was wondering where I could find more of this stuff, I got mine from a buddy.

  4. That german stripper is tiny… efficient, I guess, just squeeze and pull and it pops right off. I probably wouldn’t pick that one because of the low maximum thickness that will fit. I guess there’s probably not as much need to buy a stripper if you’ve got a thicker wire though. If it’s regular wiring at home, just make sure the insulation’s already scored and as long as you don’t go for too much length you can just put a pair of jaws around it, squeeze, and twist, and walk away happy. But if you are going to go for a stripper, I guess I agree it would be nice to use a hot one even if it costs more. Like you said in the other article, you’re paying for results, no nicks or problems.

    These refuse to work on enameled wire though, and I am used to the discoloration and roughness that I need to deal with after stripping with a flame… and of course the smell isn’t the best. Is that just one of the things everybody deals with, or is there a better option for that kind of wire?

    1. Those little strippers are excellent for little wires.

      Try a blob of hot solder on an iron for stripping enamel. As long as it’s not special high temp stuff, it does a nice job and tins the wire.

      1. What works for stripping the thin enameled wires in earbuds? I find myself replacing earbud wires a lot, and I have to scrape a fair emount to get them tinned. (Yes, in this household we still have a number of people using wired stuff.)

        1. Usually you can indeed just solder “enameled” wire, but you do need a soldering iron that is hot enough.

          Also, apparently some headphone cable has got stainless steel wires in them. I once saw a wire where a stainless steel wire was wound in a spiral around a plastic core. This is done to increase life expectancy for wire that flexes a lot, as copper is not a very strong metal, and it also work hardens, which reduces it’s fatigue life. Stainless steel can be soldered, but you need special aggressive fluxes to do so.

        2. Use an old iron tip you don’t mind ruining. Put some solder on it. Use the tip to press the enameled wire against a aspirin tablet (acetylsalicylic acid, plain, not buffered), wait until it melts and bubbles, then pull the wire. It should end up stripped and tinned. Do this in a well-ventilated place, don’t breathe the fumes (they sting!), and clean the residue from the wire afterwards.

      2. The strippers shown in the video work well for telephone wire.

        They don’t work so well for smaller sizes. They nick the wire. The smaller with wire, the bigger the problem. With wirewrap wire, those strippers nick the conductor deeply enough that the wire will break after relatively little vibration or wiggling.

        They also nick the strands in stranded wire – you get broken off pieces of the strands.

      1. For actual enameled wire and for litz, the old trick was to put the wire onto a tablet of acetyl salycilic acid (aspirin) and put your soldering iron on top of that. Perhaps use your old iron or tip for tricks like that, idk what it does to the tip.

    2. if it’s fine like earbuds, i tend to solder it off like everyone else. but if it’s a little thicker, especially if it’s solid instead of stranded, then i tend to remove it with an x-acto. i just hold the wire between my thumb and the blade, with the blade oriented as though i was going to slice straight through the wire, and i drag the wire through with some pressure. do it again and again and you can get a good amount of enamel off. enough to have a good chance of soldering it in my experience. not a great thing to do to your blade but say la vee.

  5. AliExpress has dirt cheap breadboard items. Still I’m finding after buying those things to be more mindful before throwing away old electronics. It’s incredible to see how those things are put together.

  6. Salvage and repurposing is one of my favorite aspects of the electronics/radio hobby. I love my yard sale finds and the teardown is always fun and educational. A great lesson in how commercial electronics are designed and manufactured and lots of electronic components as well as mechanical parts and hardware. Building a project from salvaged components and hardware is especially satisfying.
    Jim WB4ILP

  7. What’s old is new! The telco multi-conductor cables are great for breadboarding and still have a ‘lifetime’ supply picked up many, many years ago. However, I had lots of intermittent connections using telco wires with the cheap breadboards. My original 3M breadboards never had connection issues with repeated use, different wire sizes or debris in the holes. Ended up giving away the cheap breadboards ($3) and found new
    replacement 3M breadboards ($24).

  8. These breadboards came out when I was in Purdue and the wire choice then was just to use telephone wire as used inside. Either the old 4 color or the newest 6 in 3 pairs. Lots of that around indoors now unused. I’ve seen reels half full of cat5 sitting around as we move on to faster speeds.

  9. How does one get this salvaged wire? Are we talking about trespassing in demolition sites in the middle of the night and stealing it or what?

    I’ve watched buildings get tore down. They just knocked it all down with a back-hoe then spent days sifting the rubble, also with the back-hoe separating the metals out. I remember one of their piles being cables. The fact they bothered to separate those out telling me they definitely wanted that copper scrap cash. So I doubt they would just hand it over like it was trash.

    Of course.. Before seeing that… I didn’t go there at night and pick anything up when the building was half-demolished thinking “it’s just going to get crushed and landfilled anyway, I might as well have it…” Of course I wouldn’t do that…..

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