General Purpose Tools

Ty-Rap Zip Ties


Classic, heavy-duty cable ties

I have had a wide range of work duties and hobbies over the years, and in difficult situations nothing has served me better than the judicious application of zip ties. Neat-ifying cables, creating stand-in hinges, holding car parts on for the trip, fastening bike components, acting as primitive locks on hardsided luggage — the uses are endless and well-known.

What is less known is that not all cable ties are created equal. The zip tie was invented by Thomas & Betts for aircraft use and the company has continued making higher-quality zip ties while the market of lesser cable ties has proliferated. The brand is called “Ty-Rap” and there are several types of different lengths, colors, and widths. Thomas & Betts makes the only zip ties I use. Despite their additional expense they are worth the effort to find and use.

The difference is that the T&B ties use a stainless gripper as the ‘ratchet’ mechanism, and there are no serrations on the bottom of the tie surface — it’s completely smooth. The stainless locking head actually digs into the underside of the wrap when threaded, leading to infinite adjustability and tight application (the el-cheapo ties always seem to be one “click” too loose.) They are higher-strength material – probably double or triple the strength of standard ties. They resist melting, and seem to be impervious to the worst chemicals I’ve thrown them into (including lye baths for metal stripping.) They are resistant to abrasions and take a bit of effort to cut through even with a sharp knife. I find that I typically have to wedge a knife blade under the tie, and twist the blade like a tourniquet stick to cut the ties – this also avoids the unpredictable jumping of the blade which is typical of the brute force method of cutting these infernal things once they’re on an object.

This preference for a particular zip tie brand may seem like a minor detail, or a slight difference not worthy of attention. However, I have had cheap cable ties stretch, snap, or lose their ratchet grip at the worst possible times, which I’m sure has cost me more than the delta of price that I would have paid for the better T&B ties. In an ugly but unavoidable hack, I needed to hold a set of horizontal computer rack fans on the door of a 19″ cabinet. I was not working with my own toolset, and was forced to use “typical” zip ties to hold the heavy fans in place. I came back less than a week later, and the ties had stretched to the point where the fans were sagging and rattling horribly against the cabinet door, and would have broken in not too long a time. I replaced them with the T&B Ty-Rap ties and a year later they were as tight as the day I put them on despite the frequent stresses on opening the door.

I have NEVER had a T&B cable tie fail on me under anything less than overwhelming circumstances. They are extremely durable, many of the models are UV-resistant, and the stainless gripper never, ever lets go. A long time ago, after several years and lessons learned using cheaper ties, I have sworn never to use the cheap stuff for anything other than wrapping up cords for storage. The T&B ties are expensive, but worth it. Every year or two I just ignore the price and buy a big bag of them on eBay, and I’ve never regretted it. I find the TY27M to be a good general purpose model, but take a look at the catalog for ideas.

-- John Todd 08/13/08

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