Bradley Gawthrop Loves Wiring and so Should You

Wiring is one of those things that we’ve all had to do on a project, but probably didn’t give a lot of thought to. It’s often the last thing that happens during the build, and almost certainly doesn’t get approached with any kind of foresight. You look at the components you need to connect, dig through the parts bins until you find something that looks like it should fit, and tack it in with a blob of solder and perhaps some hot glue if you’re feeling really fancy. We’re all guilty of it from time to time, but Bradley Gawthrop is here to tell you there’s a better way.

If you’re hoping his talk from the 2017 Hackaday Superconference contains “One crazy trick” for turning your normal rat’s nest of wiring into a harness worthy of the Space Shuttle, sorry to disappoint. Bradley acknowledges it takes some extra planning and a couple specialized tools, but the end results speak for themselves. While his talk is a must-watch for anyone looking to master the arcane arts of electron corralling, his post-talk chat with Elliot Williams after the break is a great primer for the how and why of everyone’s least favorite part of building their own hardware.

Bradley will be at Supercon again this year. It’s one anecdote for the concentration of awesome people you find at the event. We’re now just two seeks away so go get your ticket and then join us after the break for the interview.

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Bradley Gawthrop: What You Need To Know About Wiring

Wiring — as in plugging wires together and crimping connectors, not the Arduino IDE thingy — is an incredibly deep subject. We all know the lineman’s splice is the best way to solder two wires together, and NASA’s guide to cables and connectors is required reading around these parts. However, there’s a lot that can be said about connectors and cabling, and one of the best people to explain it all is Bradley Gawthrop. He spent the last ten years building pipe organs, and with that comes tens of thousands of relays, solenoids, switches, and valves. All of these parts are connected by thousands of miles of wire, and are arguably as complex as an old-school telephone exchange. If there’s someone you need to talk to about connecting hundreds of thousands of parts together, Bradley is your guy.

Bradley starts his Hackaday Superconference talk with a discussion of the modern prototyping process. We’re pretty far away from dozens of chips sitting around a breadboard with data and address lines these days, and now any sort of prototype is basically a development board with a constellation of modules studded around the perimeter. The best solution for connectors is right angle headers, not only for the reason that the wires stay flat, but also because right angle connectors allow you to probe each and every wire coming out of a board.

Of course, when it comes to wiring, it’s helpful to talk about the wire itself. Instead of having an entire warehouse of wire in every color, gauge, and insulation material hanging above his workshop, Bradley only needs a few options. Right now, he’s only dealing with three gauges of wire — small, medium, and large, or 24, 18, and 12 AWG. That’s one wire for small signals, one wire for a bit of current, and one wire for supply amounts of current. Not only does this cut down on workshop inventory, it also means Bradley only needs three sizes of crimpers and connectors. When it comes to strand count, solid core wire is highly underrated. Not only is it easier to strip and crimp, it can also support its own weight. That’s important, because it means connectors don’t have to bear the weight of the entire cable run.

If you’re looking for the minimal required toolset for running cables and crimping connectors, Bradley has a great little shopping list on his website. The best strippers he’s ever found come from Wiha, but they’ve been EOL’d by the manufacturer. Knipex makes some good strippers, though. You don’t need to spend big money on ferrule crimpers, and some cheapies from BangGood are good enough. Bradley has standardized on Molex SL and Molex KK interconnects, and wire can be sourced easily if you have Amazon Prime.

While the subject matter for Bradley’s talk sounds easy to overlook, connecting parts together in an assembly is a critical skill in itself. We’re glad Bradley could share his experience with us at the Hackaday Superconference.