If you’ve worked on arcade cabinets for any length of time, you’ve probably found one or more exposed bare wires just floating around inside of a game. It seems like the wires inside arcade cabinets can almost come apart at random but we know that there are a variety of factors that can contribute to this condition. Unfortunately, wires that are in this state can cause a range of problems including damage to the other parts inside the cabinet among other issues. This is why it is imperative to immediately repair these exposed bare wires any time you find them. In this post, we will discuss some different procedures you can use to repair broken, cut, or damaged wires inside of your arcade cabinet so that you can prevent accidental shorts and ensure the proper functionality of your game.
Repairing Broken, Cut, Or Damaged Wires
A disconnected wires can come in various forms. It might be a “clean” cut where the bare wire is not exposed on the ends. It’s also possible that both ends could be exposed if they were pulled out of a connector or came undone by some other means. Regardless of how the disconnection occurred, you will need to strip both ends in order to reconnect them in most cases. This is why we highly recommend reviewing our post on Methods For Stripping A Wire. This post demonstrates the different types of wire strippers available and discusses the best pair to use for your particular situation. This information will be very helpful as we move forward in this article so please be sure that you familiarize yourself with that content before continuing.
The first procedure that you can use to repair broken, cut, or damaged wires is the electrical tape method. As you may have guessed, this method involves using electrical tape to hold the wire connection together. Here are the steps: 1) strip the ends of the wires to expose about an inch of the bare wire, 2) place the ends of the wires parallel to each other, 3) twist the ends together, 4) and wrap the wires with electrical tape. Some of the benefits of this method are that it is extremely fast and doesn’t require a lot of tools to accomplish it. Unfortunately, this method does not make a very strong connection so it’s possible that the wires could come apart again. With that said, we like to use this as a way to test our connections before using one of the more permanent procedures that we will be discussing later in this article. Please note that it is very important to get good quality electrical tape if you are going to be using this method. The lower priced electrical tape sometimes has a hard time sticking to the wires which will increase the possibility of another wire disconnection. Like Tim says in the video, “Don’t cheap out on the electrical tape!”
This next procedure is very similar to the electrical tape method except that it uses a different means to connect the wires together. The wire nut method involves using a wire nut to establish the wire connection as it’s name implies. Just like the electrical tape method, you want to start by: 1) stripping the ends of the wires to expose about an inch of the bare wire, 2) placing the ends of the wires parallel to each other, 3) and twisting the ends together. It is when we get to this part that the difference between two methods becomes clear. Instead of wrapping the wires with electrical tape, you want to: 4) place a wire nut on the wires 5) and twist the wire nut in the same direction that you twisted the wires together initially. We like twist in a clockwise fashion but either way is fine as long as you are consistent. Again, this method is very quick just like we discussed with the electrical tape method. The biggest difference is that you need to have a wire nut that matches the correct gauge (or size) of the wires that you are trying to connect. Wire nuts are very commonly used in home wiring projects like ceiling fans, lighting fixtures, etc. You must remember, however, that these items are typically not designed to move around like arcade games are and, as such, we still consider this a temporary connection method in most cases.
Now, the next procedure we will be discussing is a bit different from the previous two. We call this one the butt connector method and, as you can probably guess, it involves the use of a butt connector to connect the wires together. You will also need a crimper of some sort to squeeze the butt connector on the wire. Most of the wire strippers that we discuss in our post on Methods For Stripping A Wire have the crimping feature built in but you will need to purchase a separate crimper if yours does not. Unlike the electrical tape and wire nut methods, the butt connector method does not require you to twist the wires together. Basically you just: 1) strip the ends of the wires to expose about an inch of the bare wire as we did in the previous two methods, 2) place one of the wires into the butt connector and squeeze it until the wire is secure, 3) and repeat this step for the second wire. This method can be a bit slower than the previously discussed methods but it also makes a stronger connection which makes up for the extra time. We also like this method as it creates an inline connection which allows the direction of the wire to continue as if the wire break never occurred.
The forth procedure we will be discussing takes the most tools and the most time but also gives you the most professional look once it is completed. The solder and heat shrink method requires a soldering iron, some solder, a piece of heat shrink, and a heat gun. Just like the other procedures we have discussed, our first step is to 1) strip the ends of the wires to expose about an inch of the bare wire. While the first step is the same, these next steps are much different. In order to continue with this procedure, you must: 2) cut a piece of heat shrink and slide it over one of the wires, 3) twist the wires together using the overlap method (similar to a piece of rope), 4) put some solder over the exposed wires, 5) move the piece of heat shrink over the soldered area, 6) and use the heat gun to seal the heat shrink to the wire. If you are unfamiliar with how to twist the wires together, we highly recommend checking out The Book: A Guide To Electronic Game Operation And Servicing by Atari which is freely available on the web in PDF form. Please see our post on Recommended Books For Electronics Repair for links to this book and other resources. While this method does take longer than any of other methods that we have discussed, it makes a nice inline connection and looks very professional once it is completed.
The final procedure that we will be discussing is fairly new and basically consists of a combination of the previous two methods. The heat shrink butt connector, or solder and seal, method requires a special connector that’s similar to a standard butt connector with some very specific differences. The connector has 2 “rings,” one near each end, which are color coded to indicate the gauge (or size) wire that is compatible with the connector. These rings also contract when heat is applied to them to help tighten the connection. The middle of the connector features a metal “ring” that basically solders the wires together when it is heated up. In order to accomplish this connection, start by 1) stripping the ends of the wires to expose about an inch of the bare wire. Your next step is to 2) slide the connector on one of the wires. At this point, you can choose to either 3) twist or butt the two wires together and 4) move the connector over the place where the two wires meet. If you decide to twist, we still recommend the overlap method as we discussed earlier. We have also just pushed the two wires together using this method and the results were still fairly good. The last step is to 5) use the heat gun to shrink the connector, plastic color rings, and metal ring to the wire. You will probably need to crank your heat gun up to the highest setting in order for the metal ring to melt. Once it does though, your wires should make a very strong connection. While we still recommend the solder and heat shrink method in most cases, this procedure is faster and creates a connection that’s pretty much just as strong. It is definitely one of our favorites when it comes to working on games on location.
Leaving exposed wires floating around in your arcade cabinet is never a good idea. Wires in this condition can cause a multitude of problems if they are not taken care of in a timely fashion. Always be on the lookout for broken, cut, or damaged wires and reconnect them using one of the procedures that we discussed in this article whenever possible. Doing so will save you a lot of trouble and frustration in the future. Please leave any questions or suggestions in the comments section below.