Improvise With Electronic Components

by John Williams, MSEE

(reprinted from Rebel #28)

I realize some of you who don't know Jack diddly about electronics have never been inside of an electronics parts house. NEVER LIMIT YOURSELF TO THOSE PRODUCTS AND EXPERIENCES YOU ARE FAMILIAR WITH! One should at least occasionally browse thru electronics, electrical, plumbing, automotive, hardware, hobby, etc. stores for the sole purpose of thinking up improvised uses (as well as the designed-for use) of these products. I make a point of doing this and literally save my family and Consumertronics Co. $ Thousands per year just on the savings of doing-it-myself in cheaper, more effective and efficient ways. I also keep a look out for such items in garage sales and flea markets.

I am listing here three very outstanding products found in electronics stores that have countless non-electronic uses and are absolute musts in your survival cache:


Cable ties are nylon strips 1" to about 2' long and 1/16" to about 1/2" wide. They are normally used to permanently secure bundles of wires and cables. They have serrations on one side and a slot on one end containing a slanted piece of metal or plastic. You insert the cable tie's tail end into the slot, pulling it thru, thus reducing the loop's diameter. The metal or plastic slanted piece ratchets on the serrations to provide a very strong grip that can only be broken by cutting the tie. Some non-electronic uses, to:

1. Bundle multiple items of virtually any description that you can find a large enough cable tie to encompass, such as matches, ammo, tools, parts, etc.

2. Secure one item to another when normal mechanical attachment is not practical. For example, cable ties can be used to secure a scope to a rifle or parts of an improvised weapon, etc.

3. Bundle single items into compact and/or easily handled items, such as clothes items, etc.

4. Keep related or paired items together, such as shoes socks, gun parts, etc.

5. Seal containers by securing lids, and secure items. They can be used as latches to keep animals away from supplies or in cages.

6. To provide a tourniquet, and to secure splints.

7. Provide handcuffs. The strength of 1/4" wide cable tie exceeds that of a very strong man to break.

8. Replace other types of clamps, such as hose clamps used in vehicles, etc.


Essentially, cable wrap is nylon string embedded with wax (for preservation). It is very strong and long lasting, and is generally used to secure bundles of wire or cable. It comes in spools of various thicknesses and lengths. String is absolutely essential in any survival chest for uses too numerous to mention. This is the best string you can have and is certainly worth the cost for survival.


I consider heat shrink tubing to be the greatest invention since sex, integrated circuits, and silicon rubber cement. Heat shrink tubing is a plastic tubing or "spaghetti" of special formulation. When it is exposed to heat, its diameter shrinks by as much as 50% (longitudinal shrinkage is less than 5%). It is normally used to mechanically secure wires to connectors and wires to wires. Once shrunk, it is very, very tough, durable, resilient, impervious to degradation and long lasting. Once shrunk, it conforms to the shape of the object placed inside of it, resulting in a very snug, airtight fit, but one that does not glue to the object. To remove heat shrink tubing, you simply slice it off with a razor or sharp knife. Heat shrink tubing comes in various lengths from about 3" to 4' pieces; common diameters range from 1/32" to about 4". Here is one of the most impressive uses I have found of heat shrink tubing:

New, quality eyeglass frames are very expensive. I have a pair with gold plated metal. The earpiece metal is embedded in a clear plastic. The clear plastic of both earpieces began to crack, allowing sweat to rust the embedded metal. I repeatedly and thoroughly leaned these weak areas and applied, one after the other, various cements, including: Epoxy, acrylic, silicon rubber, super- bond, plastic solvent, and vinyl cements. All failed to hold within one week after cure. I finally got the idea of slipping over the frames pieces of heat shrink tubing. I applied heat from a heat gun (looks like a hair drier but produces greater heat; hair driers will work but are slower), VERY CAREFULLY, to shrink the tubing over the frames. That was two years ago! I still wear these eyeglasses every day without the slightest deterioration in tubing or frame. In fact, the frames are now more comfortable and look very snazzy to boot! One suggestion, warm some beach sand in a pot (the sand should be clean and dry). Lower the earpieces into the sand and slowly straighten them out, to permit greater ease in slipping on the heat shrink tubing. After you have the tubing on, and have applied the heat gun to shrink it, slowly and carefully bend back the earpieces while still warm.

Another suggestion, use a piece of heat shrink tubing 1/2" longer than the frames; then use a razor or X- Acto knife to trim excess heat shrink tubing after shrinking.

In addition to its electronic applications, heat shrink tubing can be used to:

1. Provide thermal and/or electrical insulation to tools, handles, and other exposed metal or hardwood items.

2. Secure mechanical parts that cannot be reasonably secured mechanically or adhesively.

3. Protect surfaces from air, water, alkaline, acid, dirt, grease, oil, solvents, other coatings, abrasion, fire microbes, etc. It provides better protection than any other coating I know of and is ideal for important, small items.

4. Prevent fragile items from being broken or scratched when densely packed.

As far as I can tell, heat shrink tubing is totally inert. It can be used in skin contact applications (see my example), and medical applications such as a splint (wrap body part in gauze first and apply heat gently). One final thing, since the above products come in various sizes, it is suggested that you pick a diverse selection and buy in quantity because of their tremendous usefulnesses. Also, on heat shrink tubing, there is available a heat shrink type electrical tape that is really super for items too large or irregularly shaped to use heat shrink tubing and for items that complete encasement (no open ends) is requires. All these items should be available in any large electronics parts house in your area.

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