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How can one pass (speaker) cables through walls from the floor to the ceiling. I am assuming that drilling a small hole at the top, dropping the cable I want to pass through and catching it at the bottom will not work because the wire being dropped would encounter a cross-beam?

Are there techniques to accomplish this? I am in California, so I basically have a house made of cardboard (no bricks) but what I assume is drywall.

Any tips are appreciated

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Have you verified that you have fire blocking installed? Use a stud finder to check. Blocking shouldn't be needed if you've only got 8' ceilings. –  BMitch Sep 7 '12 at 1:46
    
I'm in Cal with a single story ranch and I have blocking, at least in my external walls. Knock with your fist up and down the wall, and you can hear the sound change in the middle if you have it. –  dbracey Sep 7 '12 at 16:07

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

There are a variety of methods of fishing wires through walls. The most crude being brute force with some cable types. Coax can often easily be pushed down walls.

The most common way to fish cable is a fish tape:

Fish tape

This is a flexible steel or fiberglass line that is wound up. You extract it by holding the reel and pushing the handle. To wrap it back up, you do the opposite motion.

In some cases (most often in drop ceilings) you can use rods to pass the cable around:

Rods

If it is a short distance, the cheapest and easiest thing to use is a metal coat hanger.

With all methods, you feed it from one area to another and then pull the wire back out. It doesn't usually matter what direction you go, but you will find that with some routes, approaching it from one direction is easier than the other. If the route doesn't match up with how you are feeding the wire (ie: it is coming from one side, but for whatever reason you need to fish from the other), you can pull a temporary line (nylon string) through with the fish tape, and then pull the wire back through with the temporary line.

Plan your routes well using a stud finder and other visual hints. If you are lucky you will only need two holes. In some tough scenarios you might need to cut another hole to allow you to pull the wire through.

A flexible drill bit can also be useful:

Flexible bit

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You are probably right that there are cross beams in modern stick construction houses covered in drywall. These are firebreaks meant to reduce a chimney effect that could hasten the spread of fire.

There are several options to address the issue. Remember that speakers are very low voltage wires and do not present an electrical hazard.

  1. Surface mount - There is cable that is in the form of ribbon that can be glued on the wall and painted over (after feathering the edges with taping compound).
  2. Notch mount - Find the cross brace. Cut a notch in the drywall and then into the face of the cross stud. Drop the wire from the ceiling hole to the top of the cross brace. Press the wire into the notch. Drop the wire from the bottom of the cross brace to the floor hole.
  3. Flexible drill - There are various long shaft flexible drill bits that can be threaded through a smallish hole in the lower or upper sections to drill through the cross brace (or through a sill or top plate) to feed the hole through.
  4. Access hole - You could cut a moderate hole (an inch or two across) above the cross brace, drill on an angle through the cross brace, and then fish the wire to the floor hole. You might need another moderate hole below the brace to catch the wire for feeding down.

In all of these cases except #1, you need to patch the holes with mesh drywall tape and taping compound after the wire is in place.

SUPPLEMENT: If the wall is exterior, there may be (should be) insulation betweent the studs. This will complicate the fishing a bit and generally favors a larger access hole.

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If there is fire blocking, then any holes you put it in should be sealed with fire resistant caulk. I'd recommend a larger access hole above the blocking, from stud to stud, since you'll have to mud, tape, and paint anyway. Then you can drill the hole, catch the wire from above, feed it through, and caulk without too much difficulty. –  BMitch Sep 7 '12 at 2:06
    
Good point. Version 4 could allow you to do that if the hole is a bit bigger. –  bib Sep 7 '12 at 2:09

Professional installers have long drill bits, and stud finders.

The cross brace you're speaking is generally called a fireblock, and it may not be present in all stud cavities.

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