Wire Your Home for Ethernet

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Run the Cables

This angle is looking up at the ceiling in the center of my house, showing how you'll have to drill through each board that obstructs your path.
With the path cleared, run the cables through your house. Organize the spools--preferably you have two of them--so that they're upright and the cable can come out easily. For multiple spools of wire, place the end of the second cable a few inches below the first, and wrap electrical tape around it, thereby bundling them together. Repeat this process with additional cables if needed.

Label everything as best as you can; doing this will save time later. Wrap a certain color of tape around the end of each wire, number it, or identify it in whatever way works for you. Do the same with the box that it spools out of.

Gently pull the cables through your walls. While the cables are resilient, excess crimping and bending can damage them. If you have a helper available, position that person at the spools, so they can guard against snags and kinks as the cable unspools. As you pull out multiple cables, tape them together every 4 feet or so to help keep them untangled.

You can buy cable ties that are designed for in-wall mounting, but I just nailed all-purpose Velcro ties to studs, and wrapped them around the cables.
Leave a couple feet of slack at the outlet end; you can cut that back later. Before you trim the ends at the spools, label the cables once again.

After running all of the cabling, attach everything within the walls. For this purpose, I nailed a Velcro cable tie to the stud, and wrapped it around the bundles. Keep the cables neat and taut, especially if you're attaching sheetrock around them. You don't want the cables to be pinched.

Wire It Up

Noext you need to wire the cables. Let's start with the ethernet keystone jacks. Cut the excess slack back to about 1 foot (but keep your labeling system intact).

Trim away the hanging piece of outer jacket that you created by tearing from a slight notch at the end of the cable.
Strip about an inch of the outer jacket off of the cable. Make a slight notch in the remaining jacket, and tear another inch off, without using any additional tools. If your cables have a pull-string inside, that can help. Trim off that hanging piece of jacket. Your objective is to reveal an un-nicked length of cable. (Look closely at where you first stripped the jacket, and you'll probably see that you grazed at least one of the ethernet wires.)

The wires are all pushed into the slots. The punch-down tool will hammer them all the way in.
Untwist the pairs of ethernet wire, and bend them into straight lengths. I like to hold the base in one hand while firmly pulling with the other, sliding the second hand over the length of wire.

Push the wires into your ethernet keystone jack to match the color-coordinated pattern marked on it. I used the T568B color scheme, which is designed for residential installations. Move the jacketed part of the cable as far into the jack as possible.

The punch-down tool in action, inserting the wires deeply into their slots.
Set the keystone jack on a solid surface, and push the wires into place with a 110 punch-down tool. It'll crunch down in much the same way that a stapler does. Some punch-down tools have a cutting edge; if yours does, make sure that it faces out. Otherwise, trim the excess wires, and put caps on the jack as provided. My jacks also included a small zip tie to keep the ethernet cable snug.

If your labeling system has survived this long, you can connect the other ends to your patch port in the network closet. This ethernet box includes the interface for these loose wires and connects to its own built-in jack for each cable; at that point, you'll run patch cables to the rest of your networking hardware.

This is my assortment of three spools of ethernet cable and one coaxial for cable TV. They're situated around a hole in my attic, leading down inside a wall.
The wiring process on that end is about the same as for the individual keystone jacks. If you can't identify all of the wires--as happened to me--you might want to start by connecting that end to an ethernet plug, test the circuit, and rewire it wherever you want to put the patch panel.

You can buy an ethernet tester for about $25, but I decided to save a few dollars by making my own, which essentially involved wiring LED circuits to loop through pairs of wires. If each ethernet plug is connected correctly, the four LEDs light up. If any one of the wire pairs is faulty, the corresponding LED won't light up.

After everything is working, patch your walls, touch up the paint, and connect your network. You can turn excess cable--and scraps--into patch cables, so you won't waste any parts. Need help getting your computers to play nicely on your new network? Check out "Set Up Your Home Network, Windows 7 Edition."

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