DIY projects can be fun and rewarding, or they can be complete nightmares. Having the right tools for the job help ensure that a project doesn’t turn into a terrible time. Here are some tools you’ll probably need to run your own Ethernet cables.
A Bit About Safety
Ethernet cabling — usually CAT 5e, CAT 6, or CAT 6a in April 2022 — isn’t high voltage, and shouldn’t be attached anything that can push a lot of current, either. That means it isn’t really dangerous in and of itself, if used as-intended.
That said, there are some precautions you should always take while working around the AC power lines in your home, or putting holes in the structural components of your house, including when you’re installing Ethernet cables.
Always shut off power at the breaker box. If you’re running an Ethernet line through the wall from Room A to B, be absolutely sure that the breakers for both rooms are off.
To be completely sure, grab a lamp, and verify that the power to the rooms is actually off by plugging it into the outlets in the room.
Flip the lights in the room to the “On” position as well, and make sure none of them work. Lights, fans, and other things like that are often run on separate electrical lines from the outlets on your walls.
All Ethernet cables should be placed as far from the AC power lines in your house as is reasonably possible. The National Electric Code (NEC) requires unshielded Ethernet cables be a minimum of 8 inches away from any AC wiring. Follow this rule even for shielded cable — it won’t do you any harm.
AC electricity produces a magnetic field that can interfere with the signals running along your Ethernet cable, or even induce harmful voltages in the Ethernet cable.
Be sure to make the hole in your stud (or other framing member) only as big as it needs to be to accommodate the wires you’re running. Don’t make a hole larger with a diameter larger than 40% of the width of the framing member. If you need to route multiple wires, make multiple holes that are vertically separated by at least a few inches. Try to put the hole in the middle of the stud — if you put it too close to an edge, a screw or nail could easily pierce your Ethernet cable.
And, as always, wear eye protection.
Ethernet Cable Anatomy
All Ethernet cables are made up of 8 wires (four pairs) that are color-coded. They are: Orange and white/orange, blue and white/blue, brown and white/brown, and green and white/green.
Each colored pair is twisted together to help reduce noise and interference, which helps ensure that you get the maximum performance possible. Some Ethernet cables include a special shielding that sits between the plastic sheathing, usually called the jacket, and the twisted pairs inside to further reduce interference.
A Drill and the Right Bits
Ethernet cabling can be installed in conduit, raceway, or directly through the studs in your walls. One tool you’ll definitely need — irrespective of how you install it — is a good drill. You can get any drill (not an Impact Driver!) you want, but you can’t go wrong with DeWalt or Milwaukee. Their top-of-the-line tools do command a premium price—but, like with most high-end tools, they’ll last for a very long time if you take care of them.
Through the Studs
You’ll need a drill with a reasonable amount of horsepower (literally) if you want to easily bore through a bunch of studs. The flexibility of a wireless drill is also great in this situation — having to contend with a cord can be annoying.
You’ll need the rights bits, too. Auger bits and spade (paddle) bits are popular choices for this, but some people use hole saws as well. Spade bits will be less expensive, but they tend to produce messier holes and they’re a bit harder to keep straight. Auger bits will stay straight more easily, and they almost always produce neater holes.
Note: If you go shopping for auger bits, make sure you get the kind designed for wood, not for soil. They have the same name but are completely different.
If you’re installing raceway, conduit, or doing anything else, you’ll probably need a few different phillips and flat head bits. You don’t really need anything special, though. This set from Dewalt will work. Any set you can buy at your local hardware store will work just fine, too.
You need to be able to cut your Ethernet cables to the correct length. Most every crimping tool will have a pair of cutters that will go through Ethernet cables without a problem. A dedicated pair of wire cutters are well worth it if you’re going to take on other home improvement projects in the future, however.
There a number of high-quality cutting pliers available, but the J2000-48s from Klein Tools are great for general-purpose cutting tasks. They’ll go right through any kind of wire you need to cut in your average DIY project.
A Punch Down Tool
Most Ethernet wall panels will have multiple sockets, or jacks. Each socket is connected to the Ethernet cable running in or on your wall by pushing each colored wire into a small groove with tiny metal blades inside. The metal blades slice through the insulation around the wire, and the blade is “punched down” into direct contact with the conductor in the wire. The blade itself is connected to the pins in the Ethernet jack. Then when you plug an Ethernet cable — like from your computer or TV — into the jack, the signal travels from the pin in the jack, to the blade, and then into the Ethernet cable in your wall.
You don’t really need to buy a special punch down tool if you’re only doing one or two sockets. Most of the kits you buy at your local big-box hardware store will include a plastic punch down tool that will get the job done. You can even use your fingers or a small flathead screwdriver if you’ve got steady hands and are careful.
It is a different story if you plan on doing a whole bunch of them. Doing a dozen sockets means punching down and trimming about 100 tiny little wires — it is already tedious work, and doing it without the right tool makes it way worse. A good punch down tool will easily push the wire into place and trim the excess wire off the end, so you don’t have to do it with a razor or knife.
Klein manufactures a screwdriver, the VCV001-081, that can take multiple bits, including a punch down tool. It also has Phillips and flat-head attachments that match the standard screw sizes you’ll find in household electrical boxes and plates.
A Crimp Tool
If you’re putting Ethernet cabling into your home, you’ll need to have a router somewhere, and you might want to plug the Ethernet cables directly in the router rather than ending your run in a panel and then running patch cables between the wall panel and your router.
RJ45 plugs (the plug you’re familiar with on Ethernet cables) come in two basic variants: pass-through and non-pass-through, and which you use determines what kind of crimp tool you need.
When you attach a normal RJ45 connector to CAT cable, you need to trim the jacket back to expose the right amount of length wire so the twisted pairs can seat fully in the connector, while retaining enough of the jacket so that the connector can clamp down on the jacket when crimped. It is fairly easy to mess up, and getting the twisted pairs to go into the connector evenly takes some practice to do reliably.
Pass-through connectors make everything about that process a bit easier. You don’t need to worry about getting the jacket cut back to exactly the right length, and you don’t have to worry about making sure your wires go in perfectly straight — as long as they make it through the end of the plug, you can gently pull on them so they’re all even.
There are crimper tools specifically designed to work with pass-through connectors. The major difference between a pass-through crimper and a regular crimper is the addition of a blade to trim the excess wire off the end of the RJ45.
You can use a regular crimping tool with a pass-through RJ45 plug, but you’ll need to trim the extra wire off. You can do that with a razor or a very fine pair of flush cutters. On the other hand, every pass-through crimping tool is fully compatible with non-pass-through RJ45 connectors.
You will need a set of screwdrivers if you don’t have some already. The faceplates of the Ethernet panel usually attach with a small flathead screw, and some of the boxes (the things that attach inside of the wall) use screws to clamp into place.
If you’re looking to buy something top of the line, Wera and Wiha are consistently ranked among the best you can buy. The good news is that — as long as you take care of them — they’ll probably last for the rest of your life. The downside is that they do command a premium price point.
Those options might be overkill if you don’t plan on a lot of DIY projects in the future. Realistically, any set of screwdrivers from your local hardware store will work just fine for this project.
There are screwdrivers that have interchangeable bits. Some of these, like the one we recommend from Klein, even have the Ethernet punch down tool built into them. If you have no other use for screwdrivers besides installing Ethernet panels, just get the all-in-one tool.
A razor might seem like an odd addition to this list, but they can be handy. Most crimping tools also include a special stripping tool to remove the jacket from the Ethernet cable and expose the twisted pairs. Unfortunately, they don’t usually work very well — it is extremely easy to cut too deep and nick the twisted pair underneath.
A razor, however, is a lot easier to carefully control. You can very gently cut part of the way through the jacket of the Ethernet cable and then pull it off. You can also cut the wire to the precise length you want, which might make it easier to get them into an RJ45 connector or the slots on a wall socket.
Single Edge Razor Blade
A simple, no-frills, single edged razor. It’ll go through the jacket of an Ethernet cable (or any other wire) without an issue.
Fishing Rods, Fishing Tape, and Pulling Ethernet Cable
Unfortunately, it is difficult to say specifically what tools will be necessary to actually get the wire into place. If you’re working with a gutted room or a completely gutted house, then you might not need anything at all — you can probably just use your hands, though a fishing rod (sometimes called a pull or push rod) would be extremely useful if you’re going between floors.
If you’re working with completely finished walls that are filled with insulation, and you’re not running ethernet through conduit, you will definitely need a fishing rod. A fishing rod is a narrow piece of fiberglass (or other non-conductive, flexible material) that you can use to force Ethernet cable up or down a wall, or across a ceiling, even if you’re pushing through insulation. Fishing rods come in different lengths, and you can also get them with different levels of flexibility.
If you have no idea what kind you need, this mid-flex 25-foot fishing rod manufactured by Klein is a good all-around option.
Tip: Some fishing rods glow in the dark. It sounds a bit silly, but being able to see it while you’re peering into a small hole in the wall can be extremely useful. If you don’t get the rod we recommended, you should still try to get one that glows.
Fishing tape is useful if you need to move Ethernet cable through existing conduit or raceway, large empty spaces (line in an attic, above the insulation, or in an interior wall), or even through loose insulation. You will probably have more trouble forcing it through insulation than a fishing rod, but fishing tape is also a lot more flexible. For example, fishing tape is probably going to be easier to use than a fishing rod if you have to get wire around a corner.
This 25-foot fishing tool from Klein is great for most home projects, and the tapered tip makes a noticeable difference when using the tool — it snags significantly less.
If you might ever replace the Ethernet cable you’re installing, or add another line between the same places, you absolutely need to leave pull line in place. It’ll save you a ton of time later.
A pull line is exactly what it sounds like — you use it to pull new or additional Ethernet cables where you’ve already run one cable. Attach the pull line to the first Ethernet cable you put through, and then tie it off at the box, out of the way. If you have room, you can make the line twice as long as the cable’s run; that way, when you need to move a new line, you can just pull the pull line back and forth without having to worry about losing an end in a wall!
Any string will do, but ideally you want to use something that won’t mold, rot, snag, or rip easily. You can use heavy fishing line in a pinch, but there are plenty of specialty products available from manufacturers like Klein or Southwire.
Klein Tools 56325 Fish Rod Set
An excellent general purpose rod for fishing wire through walls and ceilings. It is long enough for almost any DIY Ethernet cabling job, and isn’t too stiff.
You should label all of the Ethernet cables, or at least label them by panel or room. It isn’t strictly necessary, but it’ll save you time if you ever need to troubleshoot. Something basic like these colored adhesive tags would work fine.
Most residential applications don’t involve enough cables to warrant a cable comb, but it is still good to try and be organized. If nothing else, keeping your cables tied together while pushing or pulling them through holes in studs will prevent you from driving yourself crazy. You can secure cables together most any way you want, but there are three popular options: lacing tape, zip ties, and velcro straps.
It doesn’t really matter which you use, it just comes down to personal preference. Zip ties are the easiest to use, but they’re prone to snagging when you pull them through holes. Lacing tape is the most difficult to use, but will pull more easily. Velcro is extremely easy to put on and take off if you need to adjust something later, but tends to snag if you’re pulling a whole bundle of cable.
Velcro Straps (3/4 inch wide)
The Velcro Straps are 3/4s of an inch wide. They present a happy middle ground as Ethernet fasteners go, and they can also be used to help contain the rat’s nest behind your TV or PC.