This is one of our most popular compression tools, the InstallMates Lock and Seal Universal Compression Tool. It’s a favorite of professional installers because it’s compact, light, and works with a variety of different connectors. Obviously, it has something to do with making cables, I think that’s pretty clear. What might not be clear to the average person is that it’s the most critical piece of the cable-making puzzle, aside from the technician who does the work.
Before compression connectors, there were crimped connectors. They look like this:
The crimped connector was the standard way of putting ends on cables until about 20 years ago. The connector was held to the end of the cable by friction between the cable and the connector. A properly made crimped connection is actually just as good as the modern connections made today, but it’s a lot harder to get them right, which is why compression connectors became more common.
This is a compression connector, before it’s put on a cable. The goal of a compression connector is to make it easy for a tech to create a weather-resistant seal between the connector and the cable, while preserving all the electrical connections needed for good signal transmission. Compression connectors are complex little pieces of engineering with inner clamps, seals, and contacts, plus all the proper holes so cable can fit perfectly. The best part of them is that they easily slip onto the cable in the correct position.
That’s where the compression tool comes in. A compression tool will take the connector and systematically press the back toward the front, keeping the front from moving, until all the parts are tight up against each other. You could do the same thing with a pair of pliers but it wouldn’t be as precise. It really does have to be precise in order for everything to work properly. If the front of the connector moves, the whole cable won’t work right.
When that compression connector is pressed together just right, everything presses against everything so well that the connector won’t move and it will resist water coming into the connection. Water is the enemy of connections like this, because it causes corrosion and because if it freeze within the connector, the connector will loosen and signal will be lost.
If you have any interest at all in making your own cables, you’ll need a good compression tool. Solid Signal has a lot of different ones to choose from, so how do you know which to choose? As with most things, you’ll get a better quality tool if you pay more. If you’re planning on making just a few cables, you’ll find that the least expensive tool will do just fine. The more expensive ones will let you go faster once you’ve practiced with them and will last for years even when used every day. If you’re an installer you need that, but as a DIYer you probably don’t. I would suggest choosing a tool that can be used with several different kinds of connectors, so you can take advantage of low pricing on connectors when you see it.
If you’re interested in a good tutorial on how to make your own cables, here’s one I did a few years ago that still holds up.