One of the easiest ways you can impact your display (and save some money) is to make your own extension cords. The problem with store-bought extension cords is that they never come in exactly the length you want, they only have a few outlets (most of which are at the end), and some of them are orange! Blech!
The solution is to make your own, and it’s not as difficult as you may imagine. You don’t need to have an ounce of electrical know how (Lord knows, Ryan doesn’t have any!) to make this project work for you. We use items from Action Lighting, but they all work essentially the same way.
There are two types of wire; SPT1 and SPT2 (sometimes called lamp cord or zip cord). SPT1 can carry a load of 7amps and SPT2 can carry a load of 10amps. The plugs you use are called Zip Plugs or Vampire Plugs (they’re called Vampire Plugs because they “bite” into the wire to create the connection). Make sure you get the size plug to match the wire, otherwise you will have problems either getting them on the wire (if they’re too big) or not staying on (if they’re too small).
For our demo, we’re going to make a 6 foot long cord with an outlet on the end, and another 3 feet from the end. Above we have one Male SPT2 plug, two Female SPT2 plugs, and three caps.
Cut your wire the length you need it cut to (make sure to measure, measure, measure). DON’T Strip the Wire. Note that one side of the wire is Ribbed, the other is smooth.
Snip your wire into two sides (below left), about 1/8 inch down. Careful not to expose the wire. You can bend the wire ends if you want to, but many people do not do that step.
Your wire should look like the wire on the right. Splitting it is important so that wire contact isn’t made. Contact could result in a fire hazard or melt your vampire plug.
Above is a female Vampire Plug. While it is hard to see, on the left side it says “Ribbed”. That shows you where the ribbed wire goes.
This is looking down at the top of the female plug. The teeth on the top are on the right side, teeth on the bottom are on the left.
The ribbed wire is on the left, marked “Ribbed”. Push the ends down into the area under my index finger. Notice the little plastic divider in there? That keeps the wire from connecting, provided you have split the wire.
In this picture you can see that the ribbed side of the wire is clearly in the side marked ribbed. If you did this correctly the wire should be snug and should not need to be held in place.
Now use your thumb and bend the wire down onto the teeth. Push it into place. Your wire is now connected to the plug. Even if it comes out while placing the cap on, the connection will still be good once you cap it.
You can slide the cap on now, which will hold the wire to the teeth in the plug. The connection should be snug. In fact, it may be very hard to push the cap on. If that’s the case, go to the next step.
Set a pair of vice grips to the size of your set up wire, plug, and cap. Squeeze gently…and presto! You have a female plug attached to the wire with the cap tightly in place. This method is extremely effective if you have a bunch of plugs and wires to make.
Here’s your final female plug:
Below we’ll explain how to add female plugs to the wire wherever you want them to be for your display.
The male plug on the opposite end is done the same way. Make sure you line up the ribbed side correctly, as the male plugs are not marked as “Ribbed”.
One end of the female plugs is already “cut away” to allow for the wire to pass through. When adding these inline on a custom cord, you easily place them because female plugs are marked as “ribbed”. What you do have to do is cut away the other end of the plug. We use a wire cutter to score the plug.
Then, we use a saw blade and cut into the end of the plug (carefully) along the score marks. Cut down about 1/4″ and then snip the plastic out of the side. Other people use a small drill bit or even a hot soldering iron to do this as well, although we have never done that before. Ryan has used this method to make over 100 female inline plugs and never had an issue.
A female plug inline without the cap (left) and with the cap on (right).
You can write on the top of the cap with a silver Sharpie so you know what to plug into the plug. Other people use Ptouch labels as well.
Our project is done! We now have a 10 foot cord with a female plug 3 feet down from the end (you may notice that the opening paragraph said we would be making a 6 foot cord and now we have a 10 foot cord. How is that possible? It’s a bit of Christmas magic provided by my friend Roger Dearing!). You can use these methods to make as many cords as you want, as long as you want, with as many plugs as you want.
Enjoy! Have Fun!