Do You Need a Punch Down Tool to Terminate an Ethernet Jack?

One of the most common tools used for terminating Ethernet cables is the punch down tool. Often when a person is working with Ethernet they only need to attach a few jacks to complete their project and it can feel a bit excessive to purchase a specialized tool that may never be used again for a single quick job. Because of this, I often get the question of if you really need a punch down tool to to terminate an Ethernet jack.

While a punch down tool is really the best way to get perfect terminations consistently there are a couple of alternatives that one might consider, especially if he or she only needs to terminate a small number of locations. These alternatives are using small installation tools that are sometimes included with Ethernet jacks or using an included dust cover and a pair of channel lock pliers to push the conductors into the pins of the jack.

What is a Punch Down Tool?

Before I go into the methods that you can use to terminate a cable without using a punch down tool I think that it is important to understand what exactly the tool is and why it really is the best option for the task at hand.

At first glance you may think that the tool does nothing more then fit between the pins of an Ethernet jack and allow you to push a wire into place between them. In reality a decent punch down tool does far more then that. When the tool is used a strong spring inside of the tool compresses as it is pushed into place and then, in a single moment; the spring is released, the tool head snaps downward, the wire is driven down into the termination with hammering force, and the excess wire is automatically trimmed down, perfectly flush, by a sharp edge on the tool head. Tool learn how to terminate using a punch down tool take a look at this article on how to terminate an Ethernet jack.

While a tool like this one is not necessary to get a good consistent result great care must be taken to ensure that you are seating the wire firmly enough into the connector and trimming it well. This is absolutely possible and I have done it more then a hand full of times in a pinch but it is more difficult to get a consistent result and takes much longer to do.

Here is my personal pick of my favorite punch down tool. I have personally purchased, and worn out, many of this exact tool over the years. I have found that it last longer then most and snaps plenty hard enough to get good terminations and nice clean cuts.

Keep reading to learn about some of the alternatives that can be used in place of this tool.

Using Included Installation Tools

Perhaps the most obvious way to terminate an Ethernet jack without using a punch down tool is by using the tool that is sometimes included with jacks. The head of these small tools look, at first glance, a lot like a punch down tool. However, they are almost always made of soft plastic and are completely missing the actuating components and the cutting edge.

If your jacks did not come with a tool like this, there are plenty of cheap options out there that will work in much the same way. Not only can you find tools similar to those that are included with jacks, but there are many cheap options for punch down tools that purport to work in the same way as the one that I recommended above. Unfortunately these inexpensive options are almost always made of cheap materials that do not last and have a much weaker spring that leads to a snapping action that simply does not get the job done. Personally, I find that tools that do not snap hard enough are more difficult to get a consistent result with then tools that do not snap at all. Because of this, I recommend that if price is a major concern, punch down tools should be avoided completely and a manual tool like one of these should be chosen instead.

The first option here, is what I would consider a minimum viable option. It is not much better then what often comes free with jacks and can be used to get the job done and absolutely nothing more. If you are looking for a good budget option that is somewhere in the middle between “barley working at all” and “the best tool for the job,” the second tool here might be just the ticket for you. It is built by a company that I trust to provide quality products, is made of good solid materials that will last a long time, is much larger and easier to use then the extreme budget option, and even has a cutting edge that is almost serviceable with some practice. I had an employee a few years ago who exclusively used this screw driver style tool and she swore that she was faster with it then even the best of full featured punch down tools. Though I could never really get the hang of it myself.

Because of the omissions of a spring and often a cutting edge. When using these more inexpensive alternatives, or an included tool, all of the force needed to push the wire into place must be exerted by hand and the wire will need to be trimmed back with a knife after the tool has been used. The end result is a termination that can perform just as well as one put together with a quality punch down tool but there is no question that this method is a far more fiddley experience with more room for error.

To terminate a cable with one of the above tools simply prepare the the termination in the same way that you would when using a punch down tool using this guide and come back to this article when you have gotten to step number four and five.

Next, carefully press each wire down into its termination. The most common problem that can happen at this stage is that the wire does not get set all of the way down into the termination. I find that the best way to ensure that the wire seats down all the way is to gently rock the tool back and forth a few degrees after I think that it has been set all of the way down

If you are on using a tool with a blade, trim back the wires as close to flush with the side of the jack as possible (a very sharp knife helps with this.) If the ends off the wires are too long they can cause a failure known as cross talk, or even short out against each other or nearby metallic objects, so it really is important that you use a knife rather then simply snipping them back with snips.

Inspect the termination to make sure that everything seated well during the termination process and nothing moved back out of place during the trimming. Finally, install the dust cover and you should be left with a fully functional Ethernet termination.

Terminating Using the Included Dust Cover

While using included, or inexpensively available, termination tools that do not have a spring can work work with any Ethernet jack, terminating with a dust cover is only something that can be done with some brands of jacks. This is a technique that I only employ if I can find it stated right on the packaging that it is a supported function of the dust cover. It is not an uncommon feature but the differences between a jack that can be used in this way and one that does not go far enough down into the jack are not always obvious when you look at them. So it is important to check that it will work with your jack before relying on this method.

To terminate an Ethernet cable using the dust cover instead of a punch down tool simply follow the steps in this termination guide and come back to this article when you have gotten to steps four and five.

After all of the wires are firmly set in place as far down as you can get them with your fingers you can set the dust cover over the termination and gently squeeze it into place. Go slow here and be careful not to squeeze too hard. Any wire that gets pinched against anything except its termination pins could get damaged and you would need to cut it back and start over, so take your time to be sure everything stays in place as you apply the force with your fingers

Inspect to make sure that all of your wires are still in the places that they need to be and that the dust cover is going on nice and strait. If everything is not lined up well the dust cover can be ruined when more pressure is applied with the pliers. Readjust as necessary.

If everything looks good, squeeze the dust cap down with the channel lock pliers. Do not use normal pliers as the force that they apply is not level and can bend or miss align the delicate plastic pieces in the dust cover. When completing this step you may need to go part of the way down and then adjust the pliers to a different spot on the dust cover if it is not compressing evenly. The picture below shows what my termination looked like after one squeeze. You can see that the orange wires are terminated well but the greens are not all the way into place. In this example I had to reposition further back and squeeze again to get everything nice and even. You will know that you have finished this step after the dust cover is level and does not move any more under firm pressure.

Next, carefully remove the dust cover and trim back the wires. These should be cut as close to flush with the side of the jack as possible. A very sharp knife helps with this. If the ends off the wires are too long they can cause a failure known as cross talk, or even short out against each other or nearby metallic objects, so it really is important that you trim the wires all of the way back instead of just using snips or side cutters here.

Insure that none of the wires popped out while being trimmed. If something moved while you were removing the dust cover or when it was being trimmed you can try to gently replace it. Often the wire will terminate fine even if something fell out at this stage and needed to be replaced but if the termination does not go back together well or if you have problems with the finished cable this is the first place to look when troubleshooting.

Inspect the termination to make sure that everything is lined up properly and the wires are all fully seated and well trimmed. If everything looks good you can reinstall the dust cap and you should be left with a fully functioning Ethernet cable.


If you take your time and carefully inspect all of your work after it is finished, both of these methods can lead to terminations that will provide solid and consistent network performance for years to come. If, however, you will be terminating a large number of cables, or you really need every termination to be as close to perfect as possible on the first try, I strongly recommend you invest in the proper tool to get the job done.