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Call ‘m whatever you like — zip strips, zip ties, plastic strips ,or cable ties — but not since the opposable thumb has mankind come up with anything more useful for holding crap together.  Duct tape comes close, but could duct tape hold up to the stress of holding a license plate on a trailer or ‘cuffing thousands of underage drinkers at spring break?  Hell, no.

If you’re one of the five people left on the Earth that hasn’t used a zip tie, let me explain them: They’re flexible plastic strips with a boxed tab on one end and a ridged tab.  Draw one end through the other and once you hear clicking, you’re locked up. Pull the tab until tight, then clip off the end (if you so desire) and you’re done. The whole action can take less than 3 seconds.

We can’t count how many times these have saved the day or made life easier.  If you need it bound together — without sticky substances involved — then zip ties could be the answer.  Couple that with fact you can get a huge assortment of them for a few bucks, and there really isn’t a reason not to have some around; take our word for it, you’ll find a use for them almost as soon as you get them home.

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10 Responses to Finds: Zip Ties

  1. Adam Sampson says:

    While I wouldn’t be without a couple of bunches of regular cable ties in my toolbox, I also like to have a handful of releasable cable ties around for bundling up cables and similar jobs. These seem to be somewhat rarer — they’re like regular cable ties, but larger, and have a tab on the loop that you can push to release the lock, making them reusable. I’m often surprised by people who haven’t encountered them before (at least in the UK).

  2. Myself says:

    The T&B releasable ties are a royal pain. If you pull them any more than snug, the torque on the head works against the release mechanism, and you need needle-nose to operate it. I use them occasionally, but I always keep a cutter handy in case I can’t release the tie.

    Speaking of cutters, if you’re leaving ty-raps (my usual term, the T&B brand name) in place for long, you’re probably cutting off the tails, and you’re probably leaving sharp barbs unless you’re using real flush-cuts. These look just like regular dikes, except the cutting edges have a single beveled side, rather than the double bevel which keeps the cut some distance from the surface. My favorite flush-cuts came from Radio Shack almost a decade ago, and of course they’re discontinued. Xcelite makes some fine small tools, and their flush-cuts are standard for trimming component leads in electronic assembly, but they’re not quite beefy enough for repeated use on large ty-raps. (I’ve destroyed a few pair trying!) Specialized.net carries a few decent ones, though they don’t list the brand.

    In lieu of releasable ties, I really prefer Velcro-style hook-and-loop straps. You can get the precut ones with the square ring in the end, which can pull pretty tight and are very reliable but only work around specific bundle sizes, or you can get the double-sided stuff that you cut to length, look for “onewrap” or “rip-wrap” brands.

    As for zip ties themselves, look for the ones with a metal pawl in the head rather than molded plastic. They hold a lot stronger, and they adjust smoothly rather than in distinct increments. They don’t make that distinctive “zip” noise when you’re pulling them tight, either.

    There are some crazy things you can do with nylon ties if you have lots of time on your hands. I don’t have any pictures handy, but next time I’m doing a workmanship demo, I’ll take some and post them.

  3. Nick Carter says:

    They are wonderful for babyproofing too!

  4. Rick says:

    Thanks Nick – that’s prob the single biggest tip I’ve found on Toolmonger – and I’ve found lots.

    I’m about to start babyproofing my house for my 9 month old who is on the verge of taking her first steps.
    I had begun looking at those clips for cabinet doors, etc. But it seems silly to spend so much for something that’s only going to be used for a short time. At the price of zip ties I can use them and cut them whenever I need to get into a cabinet (most of the ones within her reach are infrequently used anyway) and put a new one when I’m done. I actually have a box of like 1000 zip ties in different colors and sizes at home. I think they cost me like $2.99 or something insanely inexpensive.

  5. “They don’t make that distinctive “zip” noise when you’re pulling them tight, either.”

    What, is that like “silent velcro”? (inside joke for anyone who has seen the film “Garden State”)

  6. Porthos says:

    “Call ‘m whatever you like” indeed! My wife grew up the daughter of a cop and has always called these “riot cuffs”. 🙂

  7. Nick Carter says:

    Rick, I show the use of the zip ties on our woodstove (when not in use as a stove)
    http://mechanicalphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/05/diy-babyproofing.html

    They are undefeated by both boys, zip ties are pretty impossible for toddlers to undo…

  8. Tom says:

    A while back a guy came into a local hardware store looking for “non-adhesive tape” we figured it might be teflon tape or something, but it turned out that he meant zip-ties.

  9. Randy says:

    They also make these in all stainless steel, for higher temperature or more permanent applications. I bought some at Harbor Freight last week. The nylon cracks after a couple of years in the sun.

  10. Myself says:

    UV exposure (or ionizing radiation) will make nylon brittle. Don’t expect the natural colored ones, or the neon-tinted ones, to last long in sunlight.

    The black ones are supposedly UV-stabilized, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that cheaper brands use inferior dyes that don’t provide the same protection as the for-corporate-budgets-only brands. And even the good ones still get brittle at very low temperatures.

    I’ve seen the steel ones advertised for extreme temperatures, direct sunlight, and radioactive environments. Perhaps I should pick some up for the lab. 😉

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