broken el-wire

topic posted Wed, July 11, 2007 - 11:24 AM by  P∑ñGuïñ
What do you do when el-wire breaks 1/2 way through the wire?

What's the best way to playaproof it? and rainproof?
Is there anyway to hippy/raver proof it?

merrf.....some of my stuff is broken....merrrf..merrf :(
posted by:
  • Re: broken el-wire

    Wed, July 11, 2007 - 12:48 PM
    >>What do you do when el-wire breaks 1/2 way through the wire?
    You replace it, cut it at the break and use the pieces for something you will have to replace soon anyway because EL wire is inherently fragile.

    >>What's the best way to playaproof it?
    Make all your connections really strong, reinforce with hot glue and heat shrink tube. Use connectors and bring extras of everything.

    >>and rainproof?
    Seal the ends with glue or heat shrink. When you finish the end pull the core out of the casing, trim the hair wires 1 cm, trim the core 5 mm and pull the casing back over, then squirt glue in the empty end.

    >>Is there anyway to hippy/raver proof it?
    Put it out of their reach. Or attach it to something rigid that they can't break. Or stick it in a clear/translucent plastic tube for a bit of extra protection.
  • Re: broken el-wire

    Wed, July 11, 2007 - 12:58 PM
    I'm assuming you're talking about a short part way through the wire, rather than an actual complete physical cut of the wire. This is caused by the wire being repeatedly flexed in one place....tight attachment to clothing at the elbows and knees for example would cause this. Also holding one end in each hand, and dancing energetically will also cause this....very fast in fact.

    As for what to do know....if there seems to be only the one break....(probably it will light up to the break, and possibly light intermittently beyond the break. you can trim from about .5" - 1" on either side of the break, both sides will hopefully light up now (the side beyond the break will need to be re-soldered of course (I'd use a speaker wire jumper if this is a costume, as it will be a repeated issue) In any should take the time to try and figure out why it broke, so you can try to mitigate it otherwise it will just break again.

    if it's been much abused, as in the case of the hand holding/dancing scenario, there are likely to be multiple breaks, in which case anything beyond the first break may be a lost cause.....though depending on the situation it might be worth trying.

    as far as rain and playa long as your solder joint is sealed and covered with heat shrink tubing, or hot melt glue AND heat shrink if you wanna be bomb proof. the tail end of the wire should also be treated with a daub of hot melt glue to prevent moisture from seeping in.

    Oh, and one other little tip....if there's a mysterious short where the whole wire isn't lighting, first step is to trim 1/4" in from the tail end....that'll often solve the problem.

    as for hippy/raver proofing it? don't let them play with yer stuff =) or just make sure they understand that it's fragile and waving it above your head is a quick way to break it.

    hope this helps!!

    • Re: broken el-wire

      Wed, July 11, 2007 - 9:44 PM
      I have strands of EL wire zip tied to my bike frame and basket, and it's generally pretty reliable except for one problem. I recently had two of the strands stop working. The problem is that when I carry my bike on my car, the bike rack clamp pinches the wire against the bike frame, causing a short at the pinch. I was able to find the shorts by wiggling the wires in the suspected area, and then cutting the wire just "upstream" of the break.

      I'm going to redo the whole bike before BM, and this time I'm going to leave a big gap on the top tube so the bike rack clamp doesn't crush anything.
      • Re: broken el-wire

        Thu, July 12, 2007 - 2:01 AM
        yep...that's the way to do might try doing a jumper at the gap using stranded speaker should be more durable, because it's stranded, though depending how 'rough' the rack clamping action is it might still eventually fail.
        • Re: broken el-wire

          Thu, July 12, 2007 - 9:28 AM
          "el-wire eventually fails" what i've been told by many people. :(

          1 of my wired skirts failed right at the connection point to the driver....easy fix, just cut a bit off an re-solder.

          another one failed 1/2 way through :( and another got snapped in two by a participant :(
          I'll try the speaker wire jumps...and see if they work to fix them, but i wish it wasn't so fragile.

          for burning man i'm going to make some LED rope lights out of speaker wire....they seem more durable.

          • Re: broken el-wire

            Thu, July 12, 2007 - 9:45 AM
            I had to do an emergency repair this last weekend. Fortunately my break was right near the solder joint so I didn't have to lose a bunch of wire. But making the repair with no proper tools is no fun at all. But my turtle was resurected just in time for the show.
            • Re: broken el-wire

              Thu, July 12, 2007 - 10:13 AM

              I once did a field repair with a lighter and some gum. hehe.

              If you're leaving the wire loose, use the 5mm diameter stuff, it'll resist bending better.
              Otherwise, avoid joints (which will bend repeatedly on the same location) and areas you'll be sitting on.
          • Re: broken el-wire

            Thu, July 12, 2007 - 10:26 AM
            "el-wire eventually fails" what i've been told by many people. :(

            I think to say that is unfair to the wire. if it is left alone, and not abused, it will not fail....after thousands of hours it will be half as bright as it was new, but it will still be lit. The "failure" is due to the abuse we are subjecting it to. Now, the thicker gauges of wire are more resistant to said abuse, and steps can be taken to minimize the abuse, like running the cool neon through clear tubing, such as aquarium tubing.

   long as there is any repeated flexing in the design, that abuse will eventually cause a break in the wire. But that's not the fault of the wire itself. We're just stretching the limits of the wire's abilities.
            • Re: broken el-wire

              Thu, July 12, 2007 - 9:15 PM
              I agree. Left in place, the wire will last until it gets too dim to be interesting, just like the President.

              The fundamental reliability issue with EL wire is that the internal filaments are pretty fragile - you can only bend them a few times before breaking. This is why it's helpful to have the EL wire attached to something more rigid to provide it supports. It's hard to make a really well-supported solder cnnection. I put two concentric layers of shrink wrap tubing on my solder joints, and that seems to help a lot.
              • Re: broken el-wire

                Fri, July 13, 2007 - 2:48 AM
       additional layer of heat shrink....never thought of that one....I just shoot some hot melt glue into it and then shrink it down.....I'll have to try the double heat shrink method and see how it goes

                sounds like it would work...and be less messy too!
              • Re: broken el-wire

                Fri, July 13, 2007 - 6:32 AM
                I like using the marine shrink wrap, it has some goop in it that seals it up nicely.

                My problem is my el's bound to bend and get sat on :( waah....guess i have to design it better :P
                • Re: broken el-wire

                  Fri, July 13, 2007 - 7:20 AM
                  Yeah, I use two pieces of adhesive shrink wrap, and a slightly different soldering method that uses copper desoldering wick bent in half (instead of that crappy copper tape wrapped around).
                  There's a rough picture of what the connection looks like here:

                  Putting the smaller shrink wrap over the smaller wires and using the wick makes a very sturdy connection.
                  I haven't had any el-wire fail at the connection point since I started using that method.
                  Let me know if any of that doesn't make sense and I can spell it out a little more.

                  The outer shrink wrap is 3mm 3:1 (from
                  the inner is 4-2 gauge (from home depot)
                  the desoldering wick is .075"

                  RO - for my clothing I try to stick to designs that fit nicely on the back of a jacket, they tend to survive abuse pretty well that way. Some examples:
                  • This is the maximum depth. Additional responses will not be threaded.

                    Re: broken el-wire

                    Fri, July 13, 2007 - 7:23 AM
                    and oh yeah, if you aren't using a proper spring loaded wire stripper, drop the $12 and get one.

                    Once I started using it instead of the regular kind the fine el-wire filaments stopped breaking off at the slightest touch.

                    ok.... enough of answering questions nobody has really asked.... sorry :)
                  • This is the maximum depth. Additional responses will not be threaded.

                    Re: broken el-wire

                    Fri, July 13, 2007 - 7:47 AM
                    I like your use of the copper desoldering wick, what a fantastic method. I HATE working with the crappy copper tape, it's such a hassle.
                    I'm going to run out this weekend and get some!

                    I have to remember to put the shrink wrap on before I solder....and make it a mantra when soldering!
                    (instead of forgetting, and using electrical tape...then shrink wrap)

                    :) Thank you Dustin!

                    • Re: broken el-wire

                      Fri, July 13, 2007 - 8:10 AM
                      Yeah, the wick is great. I twist the two small filamants together, soak half the desoldering wick in solder (it just sucks it up), then fold the filaments back onto the wick with the soldering iron tip. Very easy. Slide the small shrink wrap over it and the sucker isn't going anywhere.

                      I sometimes forget to put the shrink wrap on too... very annoying.
                      • Unsu...

                        Re: broken el-wire

                        Wed, August 8, 2007 - 11:23 AM
                        Great tip on the wick - I just ran out of copper tape and the replacement tape I bough sucks, so I'm gonna try your method... one question though about slack - do you leave slack for the lead wire, or for the filaments?

                        Also, does the wick soak up too much for there to be a solid connection with both the filaments and the lead wire? I'm assuming the filaments are soldered onto the wick surface, not just touching and being scrunched down by the shrink wrap.
                        • Re: broken el-wire

                          Thu, August 9, 2007 - 8:39 AM
                          I'm not exactly sure what you're asking about slack.

                          The wick will only suck up so much solder - then it sort of pools on top. I pre-load the wick, then bend the two filaments onto that pool which liquifies when you touch it. Pull away the soldering iron and it solidifies nicely.

                          Look at the picture I posted a link to above -- that gives you a good idea of how it all fits together.

                          PM me if you want...
                          • Re: broken el-wire

                            Thu, August 9, 2007 - 8:43 AM
                            I think the references to 'slack' in the solder joint is the technique of making sure that the core wire is where the stress is when the two ends are pulled, since that core wire is far stronger than the hair wires.

                    • Re: broken el-wire

                      Fri, July 13, 2007 - 9:54 AM
                      hmm....desoldering braid....hadn't thought about that....interesting

                      secret tip for the day......the guys at Cool Neon who do all the custom soldering for the orders that come in, no longer use the copper tape for the majority of their joints....they just twist the hair wires onto the lead, solder and go.....(the tape was really only meant to give the hair wires something to grab to, and make it easier) dropping out that step pays em some time, cause they're paid by the joint.

                      • Re: broken el-wire

                        Fri, July 13, 2007 - 10:19 AM
                        I don't use any foil at all just solder them directly to the conductors. Its a lot simpler and faster and doesn't seem to affect the joint strength (the foil tape doesn't really hold much).

                        Who doesn't forget the shrink wrap from time to time, I hate it when it happens!
                      • Re: broken el-wire

                        Fri, July 13, 2007 - 10:26 AM
                        OMG!! screw the foil tape and the desoldering stuff....i'm going directly to the source!!
                        • Re: broken el-wire

                          Fri, July 13, 2007 - 11:49 AM
                          soldering directly to the lead works well as long as the lead is properly secured somehow, so it doesn't yank out the filaments.
                          • Re: broken el-wire

                            Fri, July 13, 2007 - 12:12 PM
                            I usually leave a bit of slack in the lead. That way if the lead does get tugged a little harder than desired, it can give a bit before transfering the force to the solder joints. Its all held in place by shrink wrap.

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