This project illustrates how to install an “Old Work” Low Voltage Mounting Bracket for a RJ-45 Ethernet jack network connection.
“Old work” means it’s designed for cutting a new hole and fastened by swing clamps that grab the back of the wall panel. Low voltage mounting brackets are suitable for telephone, cable TV, home theater speaker & video, Cat5e/Cat6 Ethernet, home security and other wiring applications that typically operate at 30 volts or less – all that’s need is a different face plate and connectors. The open back of the low voltage mounting bracket makes it easy to reach in and pull through the low voltage cables and wires.
The low voltage mounting bracket must not be used for 120 volt electrical cables and receptacles because it is unsafe and violates the National Electrical Code (NEC) and local Building Codes. 120 volt residential wiring always requires an electrical box.
Old Work Low Voltage Mounting Bracket
This photo compares an old work PVC low voltage mounting bracket (green) to a PVC electrical box (white) as viewed from the back. The color of the PVC plastic is not important and varies with the manufacturer; blue, gray, black and orange colors are also common. The swing clamps – also called “speed clips” – are cleverly designed to automatically rotate away from the box to grab the back of the wall panel when the screw is tightened, pulling the clamp against the back of the wall to secure the box.
The old work electrical box (white) has built-in cable clamps as shown in the photo below. The clamps are very stiff and designed to secure 120 volt NM-B 14 or 12 gauge electrical cable used in residential home wiring. However, the plastic clamps are too strong and will pinch and displace the thin 24 gauge twisted pair wires in Cat5e/Cat6 Ethernet cable, potentially reducing performance and bandwidth. It’s OK to use the white electrical box for Ethernet wiring, but you’ll need to bend open or just break off the built-in cable clamps first. For easier wiring pulling and less fuss, the green low voltage mounting bracket is a better choice for low voltage wiring applications.
You can buy old work brackets and boxes for less than $2 at most home improvement stores – look in the electrical supply section.
Old Work Low Voltage Mount Bracket Installation
Mark the Bracket Position
The old work low voltage mount bracket will be installed in a drywall panel for the new Ethernet jack between the 2×4 wall studs where I had already dropped a new section of Cat5e cable down from the attic. It was easy to locate the jack between the studs, using a ceiling light fixture as common reference for measurements in the attic and the office. I disassembled my combination square to use the bubble level because I was working in a tight space under the desk cabinets.
Hold the face of the bracket against the wall and verify it’s level:
The mounting bracket has four small reference holes at each corner to mark the position of the bracket for cutting the hole. Make pen or pencil mark in each of the four corners. (My finger and thumb are covering up the left side the reference holes.) Take care not to move the bracket while marking the position on the wall.
The metal ruler taken from the combination square is used to mark the outline of the mounting bracket on the wall by connecting corner reference dots:
Progress thus far – now I’m ready to saw the hole in the drywall for the old work mount bracket:
Cut the Hole in the Drywall
I used my Stanley FatMax® Jabsaw (also known as a keyhole saw) to cut the hole for the old work bracket. The sharp tip of the jab saw punches through the drywall with steady pressure while working the handle up and down to punch through. If you have wood paneling or other hard wall material, drill two pilot holes inside opposite corners to get the saw blade started. The edge of the pilot holes should just touch the red box outline.
The Stanley FatMax® jab saw is designed to cut on the push and pull stroke. I sawed on the push stroke for two reasons:
- To minimize the dust by letting it fall inside the wall cavity.
- For a smoother cut with less tearing of the paper face of the drywall.
Hole sawn in the drywall for the old work mount bracket:
Notice there are a few minor paper tears on the back face of the drywall, but the front face is undamaged by sawing on the “push” stroke.
Install the Old Work Mount Bracket
Insert the old work mount bracket into the hole and check it with the bubble level. The bracket was slightly high on the left side, which I quickly fixed by shaving a little off the left bottom of the hole with the jab saw. I reinserted the mount bracket and verified it was now level.
I reached inside the hole and pulled through the Cat5e Ethernet cable which I had previously dropped down from the attic.
The old work bracket is fastened to the wall by turning the mounting screw to draw the swing clamp against the back of the drywall. The swing clip automatically aligns itself against the corner guide rail as the screw is tightened. Tighten both screws to fasten the two clamps.
The only trick here is do not over tighten the clamp screw – if you do, it will crush the drywall. Tighten the screw until the swing clamp is snug against the back of the drywall and the bracket face is seated flush against the wall. Should you happen to get carried away and crush the drywall, remove the bracket and rotate it 180 degrees so the clamps are in the opposite corners on undamaged drywall.
RJ-45 Ethernet Jack Installation
The RJ-45 Ethernet jack is punched down as illustrated in this tutorial. Next the 4-port face plate and blank inserts are installed. I used a 4-port face plate for future expansion.
At this point, I always test the new RJ-45 jack by connecting it with an Ethernet patch cable to my laptop and running an Internet speed test to be certain the jack is punched down correctly. If there’s a problem, I snip off the cable and punch down a new jack.
The back of the Ethernet jack faceplate is embossed with the word “Top”; insert the RJ-45 jack so the “Cat 5e” stamped on the face matches the faceplate “Top” (or Up) orientation and snap in the keystone jack. Do the same for the blank inserts.
Attach the Ethernet jack faceplate to the old work mount bracket with the two screws:
Home Theater Cable and Wiring
The low voltage mounting bracket accepts a wide variety of face plates and connectors is great for organizing home theater wiring. Instead of punching down an Ethernet RJ-45 jack as illustrated above, there are HDMI snap-in jacks available for a professional HDTV installation. See the Home Theater & Cable Plates, HDMI Inserts by Datacomm Electronics for recessed low voltage media plates, ideas and installation manuals. You can find these items at Amazon.com.
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