Monday, October 6, 2008

Foiling the dreaded zip-tie

So I was in a jam this weekend. I needed to remove some wire in the new rack. When it was installed, the colo people used plastic zip ties instead of velcro ties, I'm sure to save money.

I didn't have scissors or wire cutters, so I had to figure out a way to beat the zip tie. I thought about it, looked around for possible tools, couldn't find anything, so I sat and brainstormed about how I could beat it. I came up with the answer, and now I can open pretty much every zip tie (that I've tried so far) without scissors.

The key is to know how zip ties work. Essentially, one side of the plastic strip is smooth, and the other has teeth molded into it. In the square ring that you pull the strip through, there's a small piece of plastic down at an angle so that, when the plastic teeth are pulled one way, they slide right through, and when they're pulled against the grain, it catches and stops. It's much easier to show you a drawing of how it works:

Pull the plastic strip through, and it tightens the hold, because the tooth slides across the ridges.

Pull the other way, and the teeth catch, stopping the movement. To release the catch, all you need is a paper clip with one of the arms bent straight:

Push the paperclip in from the side you want to be able to pull towards, and fish it around until you find the tooth that's keeping it in place. Push forward on the tooth to lower it, while wedging the paperclip against the plastic strip and pulling to try to loosen the tie. Once you get it, it's pretty easy to keep the paperclip in place to open the whole loop, and release the end.

You might have already known this, and if so, I apologize for wasting so much time on it, but I was amazed that it worked, and it made me really, really happy to be able to get my cables loose without wire cutters.