NICE AND EASY: What is “messenger” wire?

There’s one consistent thing about the world of home theater and entertainment wiring. It’s amazing how there’s always something more to learn. Just when you think that you’ve amassed a truly encyclopedic knowledge of cables, home theater, and the whole geeky lot, there’s something else that creeps up that you didn’t know. Perhaps today you woke up not knowing what “messenger” wire was, or perhaps you thought it maybe had something to do with a telegram. (Pause while younger readers google “telegram.”) As the really young say, “I was today years old when I learned…”

Messenger wire

Messenger wire is a second cable that’s bonded to regular cable like the image above. It doesn’t carry any signal and is just there to add strength and rigidity to a cable. That extra strength could be needed to keep a cable from sagging when run through the air or make it easier to fish over long distances in commercial installations. Essentially messenger wire provides the backbone so that the cable carrying signal isn’t strained. This is important because coaxial cable is a lot more delicate than you would think.

Where is messenger wire used?

You’ll actually see messenger wire used on telephone poles a lot, but you are a DIY’er would probably use it to avoid burying the cable because of local ordinances.  Or because let’s be honest, you just don’t want to bury it. If you are going to string wires up in the air, using messenger wire is a pretty good idea. Cables with messenger wire bonded to them are going to hold up longer in virtually any case where the cable could sag under its own weight.

It’s hard to find messenger wire because it really is a special purpose item. For the most part you’ll only see it in 1,000-foot spools. You wouldn’t use messenger wire for short cables. There’s simply not enough weight there to have it make a difference.

Can you use messenger wire as a ground wire?

Excellent question. I can see why you’d think that would work. You should never use messenger wire for grounding. It’s not likely to be solid copper. It won’t carry the high electrical load that a ground wire needs to. If you do want to have a ground wire bonded to the cable, Solid Signal sells that as well, but the messenger wire itself isn’t designed to carry current. It’s better to use ground wire for grounding and messenger wire for support. Now, a cable with ground wire attached is going to be stronger than one without, and often times the ground wire adds enough support that it can be used without additional messenger wire. Good thing too, because cables with both ground and messenger wires are very hard to come by.

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About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.