How to cut and/or extend rope light

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This technique can be used to shorten incandescent rope light, splice two pieces of incandescent rope light together or add a plug to a piece of incandescent rope light.

Cutting Rope Light

Tools needed:

  • Sharp utility knife and/or wire cutter
Incandescent rope light can only be cut in specific places. Look for a section that has two wires like the picture below. The rope light can be cut between the two wires. Cutting it elsewhere usually doesn't work and if it does, you'll likely find that there are fewer bulbs in the section which will cause them to run hotter, probably shortening their effective life. Cut the rope light straight across with a clean cut, either with a good wire cutter or sharp utility knife.
1-cut rope light.jpg
Some rope light manufacturers print a "cut" mark on the rope light itself. This is really handy -- but double check it anyway to make sure the cut mark is in the right place before you actually cut it!

Making a Rope Light Plug

Tools Needed

  • Sharp utility knife and/or wire cutter
  • Needlenose pliers
  • Awl (or make your own)
  • A few 1" brads/small nails
  • Soldering iron (to tin wires)
  • Silicone glue
  • Clear shrink tube (large enough for your rope light)
  • Heat gun or hair dryer
1 - Strip about 3/4" of insulation off the plug wire and separate the two wires a bit. Twist them very tightly so there are no stray wires and tin the entire bare wires using your soldering iron. It's important that the wires are smooth and tightly wound to minimize their size as much as possible. The tinned ends become the connectors and will be inserted into the rope light ends. The
Left: good winding, right: poor winding
10-poor wrap.jpg
Left: good tinning, right: poor winding results in poor tinning. This would be hard to insert into the rope light.
11-poor tinning.jpg
Good tinning example
12-good tinning.jpg
2 - You will need an awl or other sharp, pointed tool to make space for the tinned wires in the rope light end. You can make an awl by driving a finishing nail into a short piece of wood and filing the end sharp like the example below.
2-homemade awl.jpg
3 - Insert the awl into a power wire in end of the rope light, twisting it and gradually enlarging the hole to make it large enough for the tinned wires. Take your time and be careful. It's a good idea to put the rope light into a vise instead of holding it with your hand because if you slip, you'll drive the awl into your hand or arm. And alternate way of doing this is to use a small finishing nail or brad and lightly hammer it into the power wire, and leave it there temporarily. In the photo below, note that the nails driven into the end of the rope light are about the same diameter as the tinned wire. This will make it a bit easier to insert the wires later.
3-tinned wires.jpg
4 - Slip a selection of shrink tube over the rope light and slide it down a bit. It's often easier to do this now than slide the tube on later. Then working with one wire at a time, insert the tinned wires into the holes. The holes you made with the awl or the nails will begin to shrink immediately so you must be quick with this step. You'll probably need the needlenose pliers to grab the wire and push it into the hole. Push it in as far as you can but realize that it probably doesn't have to go in all the way. Check to make sure the wires are not shorted and plug in the lights to make sure they light. If so, unplug them from power before you continue!
4-wires inserted.jpg
5 - Slide the shrink tube up so the joint is about in the middle and inject some silicone glue down near the tinned wires. It's not necessary to fill the space since when you heat the shrink tube, it will compress the glue for you. Then use the heat gun to shrink the tube. Notice that some of the glue may come out -- that's okay. Just wipe the excess off.
5-silicone glued.jpg :: 6-heatshrink.jpg
6 - Straighten the plug wire so it's in line with the rope light and let the glue set overnight.

Splicing Rope Light

If you need to extend rope light by splicing two pieces together, this is a good, clean technique that results in a nearly invisible splice. This splice was made with four small finishing nails and two pieces of heatshrink tube. Cut the rope light as prescribed making sure the cuts are nice and straight. Drive a finishing nail into each power wire in both ends to enlarge the holes, leaving about half the nails sticking out. Cut off the ends of both nails in one of the rope light sections. Slide a piece of shrink tube over each piece of rope light. Quickly remove the two nails that you did NOT cut off and immediately push the two pieces together, pushing the protruding nails from one end into the holes on other end. You will likely have to wiggle the rope light ends to push them together so they're flush. Then slide one of the shrink tubes over the joint and heat it. Let it cool a minute or two, and then slide the second piece of shrink tube over the first and heat it. The two overlapping pieces are necessary for adequate strength.

Creating an "end cap"

Some DIY'ers dunk the open end of rope light into some Plasti-Dip or liquid tape to seal it. It might take a couple dips. Otherwise, you can also use a short section of shrink tube and a little dab of silicone glue to make a rope light end. Just slide the shrink tube over the end, leaving about 1/2" protruding, squirt a small blob of silicone glue inside the shrink tube right against the end of the rope light and use your heat gun to finish it up. Some of the glue may be forced but you can just wipe the excess off and let it set overnight, or if you want a really clean end, let it set first and cut it off neatly with a sharp utility knife.

Painting Rope Light

DupliColor Metalcast or Krylon X-Metals paints are great choices for painting rope light. They're transparent paints so the light can shine through. It usually requires 2 or 3 coats to get the color depth you like, but the paint does not flake off and lasts for years. Available colors are red, blue, yellow, green, purple, orange, smoke and silver. You can spray one color over another to achieve other colors but the more layers you put on, the less light shines through. These paints are generally available at auto parts stores or on-line from various sources. The colors should remain vibrant for 5 years or more, and the paint does not flake-off.