Ties that Bind: All about Cable Ties
Many names, many uses
Cable ties go by many names. They’re also known as hose ties, wire ties, mouse belts, zap straps, or by the brand name Ty-Rap, although you’re most likely to know them as zip ties. They’re also more infamous as plasticuffs, disposable restraints used by law enforcement.
They can be used in homes, offices, and the automobile, marine, manufacturing, and electronics industries. As the name “cable ties” implies, they’re most often used for supporting and holding cables, wires, and other objects in place. but can be used for a lot more than just fastening cables.
One of the more fascinating uses of cable ties are in surgery. They can be used to prevent blood loss during removal of parts of a kidney during laparoscopic surgery, as well as to close up the sternum, or chest bone, after any kind of surgery that’s required cracking it in order to open the rib cage.
Cable ties vs. heat shrink tubing
Obviously, you can’t use heat shrink tubing to close up after chest surgery or keep a kidney from bleeding out, but when it comes to fastening cables and wires together, what are the differences between the two?
A big one is that you can’t use heat shrink to attach cables and wires to something that doesn’t have open ends.
For example, if you’re running a cable bunch along an existing pipe that enters and leaves a space through the walls, you can’t slip heat shrink onto that, but you can slip cable ties around it.
And nothing says you can’t use the two together by cable-tying a shrink-wrapped set of wires to a pipe or other fixture. In fact, if you’re attaching electrical cables to a metal pipe of any kind, you’ll need to first heat shrink the wires in well-insulated tubing. In the early days of home electricity, uninsulated cables and metal pipes meeting often led to death by electrocution, and nothing was grounded.
Cable ties are also great for attaching things in general. For example, it’s ideal for putting privacy fabric up on temporary chain-length construction fences or for attaching canvas or other protective material to scaffolding.
As with anything else, the choice on whether to use heat shrink tubing or cable ties will depend entirely on your specific project and needs.
A brief history of cable ties
The invention of cable ties was inspired by a visit to a Boeing aircraft factory in the 1950s by Maurus C. Logan, who was an engineer working for Thomas & Betts, an American electrical and communication component design and manufacturing firm.
At the factory, Logan saw that the process of yoking together cables for wiring up the planes was difficult and complicated. It involved thousands of feet of wires which had to be hand-tied together with braided nylon cord coated in wax. Because the knots had to be tightly tied individually, it wreaked havoc on the workers’ hands, leading to the development of thick callouses on their fingers.
Logan’s invention was designed to solve that problem and speed up the process by allowing the workers to quickly and tightly wrap the cable together. The first cable ties were sold in 1958 under the brand name Ty-Rap, which is still available to this day.
Cable ties eventually branched out from the aircraft industry, and there’s probably at least one holding something together in your house right this very moment. There are definitely a few keeping parts of your car together.
Cable ties have been made of many materials over the years. The first ones were made of steel and came in two parts. This was eventually replaced with single-piece nylon which allowed for various colors, with black being intended for outdoor use due to its natural UV resistance.
Other materials include polypropylene (PE) which is resistant to a number of chemicals, like acids, polyhydric alcohols, and salts, as well as UV radiation; low-density polyethylene (LDPE), which is more flexible and resistant to acids, alcohols, bases and esters; and stainless steel, which has high tensile strength and can resist temperatures up to 1000°F (538°C).
Let’s take a look at two of the available materials.
A tale of two types
Nylon cable ties are the most common kind available. They come in many colors, are flexible, and have a low threading force, meaning that you don’t need a special tool or machine to fasten them tightly.
They come in tensile strengths from 18 to 250 pounds (8.2 to 113.4 kilograms), which is the force necessary to break the loop once it’s locked. They come in varying lengths which depend largely on tensile strength, with the shortest length starting at 4 inches (102 mm) and largest ending at 60 inches (1.5 meters).
They’re easy to remove, either by cutting with scissors or by using a small screwdriver or other tool to lift the pawl so you can slide the ratchet backwards and out of the head.
There is a second version of nylon cable tie available called a Low Profile nylon cable tie. In a normal cable tie, the leftover end is left sticking out perpendicular to the loop, which can leave sharp edges that need to be trimmed.
Low Profile ties lock the end of the cable parallel to the loop, leaving nothing to stick out. They’re ideal for use in playgrounds or other areas where child safety is a concern.
They’re available in a variety of bright neon colors in 7 and 14 inch (18 to 36 cm) lengths, and 50 or 120 pound (22.7 to 54.4 kilogram) tensile strengths.
If you need something a little more resistant and less colorful than nylon, try Tefzel© chemical resistant cable ties. These are RoHS Compliant, and made out of ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE). They’re weather and UV resistant, and can withstand a continuous use temperature of 302°F (150°C).
Although weaker than nylon, Tefzel is highly resistant to concentrated acids, such as hydrofluoric and sulfuric acid. It’s unaffected by high humidity. It can resist radiation up to 100 megarad (1,000,000 gray). It’s fire resistance rating is UL 94V-0.
Due to its chemical composition, Tefzel is only available in aqua blue.
Ties that bind
In addition to the uses mentioned above, cable ties have some great household hacks, including things like making packing luggage more efficient, child-proofing cabinets, and giving your boots some extra traction for hiking. And if you’re the more pragmatic sort, they also have many uses for urban survival.
If you want to find even more ways to utilize them, just google “novel uses for cable ties.”
Or you can always use them to bind cable, and Buy Heat Shrink has ties for every use.