Installing Coax Cable – The Complete Guide
People installing coax cable can be found in a very large variety applications, the odds of your home having coax is pretty high. In our day to day life we use coax purely to transfer information, and occasionally power in specific use cases. This information being transferred comes in many forms, internet, television, various radio types (CB Radios aka AM frequencies, FM , etc.). Often times when you get new television service at home of any kind, new coax will be installed. It’s the black cable running to your TV, internet modem, or satellite box.
We cover a bunch of cable type information, vs quality here, in this installing coax cable guide we’ll go more into the do it yourself information. The really short version is, satellite providers generally install fairly high quality cable. This isn’t because they’re generous and want to offer you good stuff, it’s because they need it. Satellites work with minimal signal being received, so the less they lose in line the better. So if you plan on working with satellite, be sure to check cable types.
Shorter runs for cable allows you to purchase much cheaper cable, as long as it works. The general household doesn’t need too much more than 50ft of cable to run the length of the home. You can often find really cheap cables on Amazon here. If you need higher quality cables you may need to search harder, but these cover the basics, and have reviews to see if it fits your situation.
Coaxial Cable Fittings:
Coaxial cable has been around long enough to have multiple types of end fittings. As demands have increased they have adapted over time. Today we have three normal types of fitting, screw on, crimp, and compression. Each one serves a purpose and has their own pro’s and con’s with each type of connector.
Screw on connectors are the easiest to install, you strip the wire back, then screw on the connector. However they are also the least reliable, and lose the most signal through the connector. I have used these before purely because I had some in the junk drawl and was waiting on better connectors. They worked fine as my temporary solution, they would also work well if for some odd reason you needed to change ends a lot.
The crimp style fitting is what I had always known, I had seen it installed many times and thought it was the main option. It offers better quality than the screw on, more security so to speak since it’s physically smashed onto the wire and can’t fall off like a screw on can. I would consider this the minimum someone should use for a long term install, or one where signal is important. You will need some sort of tool to install this, it could be anything from a dedicated tool, to a pair of pliers if you’re good.
In recent years cable and satellite companies have had to move away from this type of connector though. Not because it’s a bad connector really, but because they need a more reliable connector for newer situations. Unlike the screw on type, in most situations a crimped fitting must be cut off. Then you will need to redo the cable end entirely, hopefully you don’t need to ever cut it though.
The best fittings on the market right now are compression, they are physically compressed onto the cable. Once it’s on there, the only way to remove is to cut it. If you put the fitting on wrong, you have to cut it and redo it, you lose a fitting and maybe two inches of cable, so not a massive deal, unless it’s your last fitting. Hopefully this guide will avoid you doing it wrong, I will go over some very important portions that I never knew before. This should completely eliminate wasting connectors.
They offer great protection against the ends coming off, low signal loss, and many come in a waterproof variety. Outdoor use would be great for these one’s for install near the outside satellite dish, telephone pole, and TV antenna. You’ll also need a specific tool for this fitting vs mildly optional tools for the other two. It’s important to note, that while this is “the best” type of fitting, it doesn’t mean you have to get this type. All fittings will work for many applications, but for the miniscule cost you get serious reliability on these vs the others.
As with any install, you’re gonna need some tools, some are required, others you can compromise. Keep in mind though that a compromise will cost you time, but many people do without issue.
RG6 Crimp Tool
The crimper tool has two forms, a standard “crimp” where it basically smashes the fitting onto the cable, and the newer more reliable compression fitting style. This install will cover compression fittings, and I would advise using those for reliability. The downside to compression is you must buy a tool, with the older style crimp fittings you could use about anything to smash it on in a pinch.
I use this one, with these fittings (not all tools work with certain fittings for some reason). You can buy the fittings in various size packs, ten should be a good start, but you can buy 50 plus if need be. It will vary according to your own requirements obviously, so estimate your required amount of connectors first.
Side cuts or some sort of wire cutting tool, most people have these in their basic home tool kits. These will be used multiple times to cut cable ends.
You could in theory use a knife for this, but I prefer to use a tool designed to cut the sheathing off the cable. They make specific cutters for RG6 etc. I ended up using one designed for CAT 5 internet cable, but I had to manually ensure I cut it right. A proper one would be something like this one.
Optional & Situational:
If you plan on removing wall plates to connect cable in, you’re going to need a screwdriver to remove them generally. An electric drill works also as long as you can get into the area which is normally not an issue.
Electric Drill with Drilling bit or Hole Saw:
If you have zero holes leading into your home for installing coax cable, you may need to drill a hole. Without hiring an outside contractor (or getting way to in depth in this guide) most people just drill straight through their floor. I recommend doing it near the location of your TV, booster, modem, wherever you’re running it to. If you decide to drill, make sure you check below the home roughly where the drill will exit under the home, to avoid hitting pipes etc.
I also recommend drilling from inside the home, down through the floor. This allows you to hit your target market for sure, if you drill up from under the house, you may hit the wrong spot. Trust me, you don’t want to hit the wrong spot when drilling holes in your floor. It will save you a lot of headaches, it’s good to leave the drill in the floor once you punch through also. When you go under the house you’ll know exactly where the hole is because the drill bit will be showing. It’s good to have a two man operation for this.
You don’t “need” fish tape, the purpose is to run it through the hole, then tie your new cable onto it, then pull it up into the house. Fish tape is a metal wire designed to pull cable through new holes, you can use nearly anything in its place. I have used pre-existing cable to pull new through (tape them together good), clothes hangers of the metal variety, etc. fish tape is really only required for a new cable, on a very long run through floors, walls, or conduit. If you’re just going a few feet through the floor, you can use alternative methods.
If you’re running it through the wall and into a nicer looking wall mount, you’ll need a wall plate designed for coax, or customizable with keystone jacks. This requires quite a bit of work for a brand new install, and not in the scope of this guide. If you have a pre-existing coax wall mount you’ll only need a new plate if you old one doesn’t have enough fittings.
If you’re running new cable, or adding more cables to your new or old wall plate, you may need a new keystone jack type if you’re old one isn’t the right size. The odds of you having the right size in a pre-installed plate are pretty high, the only reason to buy more is if your current wall plate doesn’t have enough.
Standard wrench size for RG6 coax is 7/16 they also make a special tool, but a wrench works fine and most people have them. You can also use an adjustable crescent wrench, also a standard tool people own. This tool is optional because you could hand tighten most fittings without issue, it’s good to tighten them with a wrench though to make them secure. If you’re in an odd spot with your connector, then they have what they call an F-Type Connector Tool. Basically a wrench with a specific shape for hard to reach places.
Installing Coax Cable – Planning Your Install
Planning the install is 100% important if you wish to do it in a timely manner with minimal hassle. Count the amount of cable, connectors, wall plates, and keystone jacks so you know what you order. Ensure you have the required or recommended tools for your particular install. I also recommend checking the weather, installing in wet conditions could be bad for everyone.
Measure & Drill
When installing you want to use the least amount of cable that you need. I always get a rough estimate on what I need, then order cable accordingly. I generally get a little extra for obviously reasons, such mishaps with crimps, forgotten runs (wall plate to TV for example). If you have your rough length measured out, I would hold off on cutting anything unless you have a very large amount of excess cable.
If you need to drill holes, I would do that now once you ensure the cable will reach. Drill the hole large enough to run the cable (and any future cable you think you’ll run), but not too big. I have two coax cables running through a one inch hole, which is great for most, but I had another two cables I needed and couldn’t fit so think about this. If you have a wall plate pre-installed you can skip this drilling section, as their should be a small length of cable already ran, probably dangling under the home.
Take your cable and run it to its new, permanent location(s), inside, and outside. Bring it to it’s final mounting points, leave a little extra on each end to give it some room to move if you need to.
Cut to Length:
Once in their final mounting location, and you’re 100% sure you have enough cable, cut any excess of both ends.
It’s time to finally add your compression fitting connectors and connect to your device (TV, Modem, antenna, etc.). When working with compression fitting, use your tools to trim about a half inch of the sheathing off the cable. The sheath is only the very outside rubbery/plastic/composite material layer, it’s oftentimes black. Once it’s opened you’ll see all the inner workings of the cable, mesh wire shielding, tin foil, etc. We want all this to stay on the cable.
Once the outside sheath is off, we need to peel back the mesh shielding, just bending it back onto the black sheath works. Ensure you’re careful when doing this, as the wires can poke you, I sometimes use any objects besides my hand to move them down.
The next step is to cut about half of the exposed wire clear down to the center copper wire. So you’ll have just the center wire exposed, then half way down you’ll see all the other shielding.
Now is when we try to put on the compression connector, ensure the cable near your end is as straight as possible. Then take your fitting and shove it onto the cable end, covering up the mesh shielding we bent back earlier. Your exposed copper wire should come clear to the top of your fitting. This part will screw into your TV etc. if it seems too long and is protruding out of the connector, you can snip it flush with your fittings top.
If the fitting isn’t going on after several tries with moderate force, your cable probably isn’t straight. You can try to straighten it out better, try a new fitting, or cut and redo everything at the fitting.
Once you have it looking like the picture we have below, it’s safe to bring out your compression tool, just slide the fitting into the tool, then squeeze it all the way down. You can see the fitting compress itself generally, once it’s on, give it a few good tugs, it shouldn’t move.
Keystone Jacks & Wall Plates:
If you went the Wall Plate route, then read on, if not, skip ahead. They make wall plates with built in coax jacks and some other varieties. My personal favorite though is the wall plate with customizable Keystone jacks. A keystone wall plate allows you to add any jacks you need. These can be coax, phone, internet, and specialty connectors. In this guide, you would need to get an F-type keystone jack. That will allow your cable to hook into it from the outside, then another cable from it to your device. They snap into place and don’t require any special tools, gold vs other plated types is up to you, gold doesn’t corrode over time, but the odds of that being an issue are mild unless it’s in a bad environment.
Once the ends are on you’re safe to connect everything, and try out your new cable, it should work without issue. If it doesn’t you can troubleshoot with a cable tester, or other alternative methods such as trying another device etc.
Final Thoughts on Installing Coax Cable:
The process overall is easy, it involves a lot of crawling, sitting, and standing, possibly climbing. A little bit of planning, and the right tools. Every install is different, and some installs have multiple devices running off a single incoming cable. The more devices hooked up to a single cable (via splitters) the more signal that is ultimately lost in the cable. Homes today have multiple TV’s etc. inside of them, and many you will need to adjust accordingly if the cable runs get really long.
The install can be as easy, or advanced as you like, I have even seen people run a cable through a window sill over drilling holes. This creates a big air leak, and let’s all kinds of weather in, but at that time it worked. So from running through windows, floors, to walls you have many choices. Many of the tools mentioned are normal hand tools most households have and don’t need to purchase solely for this project. When tightening down your fittings on the back of the TV, or antenna etc. they need to be snug, but not extremely tight. Sometimes the only thing holding your connector into your TV is some solder joints and they could break. Considering the fittings being hand tight works most of the time I wouldn’t worry about them being loose, vs being over tightened.