I found two books and neither had the diagram. Only I found two separate diagrams that did not work.

The setup:

  • Box 1 with 3 wire runs to box 2.
  • Box 2 has 2 wire power in, 2 wire to light and 3 wire to box 1

Both diagrams show Power (Black) to 3 wire (black), connected to common black screw in box 1 switch.

Power in Neutral (white) to light neutral (white/silver screw)

Box 2 switch Common black screw to Light (black/ brass screw)

Where they differ is in the Red and White from the 3 wire. One shows reds on left, whites on right; both switches. The other shows Red left box 2, red right box 1; white right box 2, white left box 1.

Both configurations trip the breaker.

I have checked ground connections, lines with multimeter, 3 separate switches, Checked tension and for micro holes/pinching, and checked the light. The issue seems to be with the 3 way wiring.

I'm at a loss.

This is the diagram of what i tried, the other diagram was the same with the red and white in the far right box swapped... that didn't work either.

This Isn't working

  • Can you post photos of the insides of your boxes? Nov 26, 2018 at 23:54
  • I can not at this time, at fathers shop and I wont be back there for a few days. He may be able to send me couple pictures tomorrow.
    – beast
    Nov 27, 2018 at 0:10
  • 3
    @BillWeckel: The diagram is correct, if those switches are drawn with the common terminal at the upper left. - Unfortunately some switches are made with the common terminal across from the travelers, i.e.at the lower right in this drawing. Nov 27, 2018 at 2:38
  • Actually, now that I've looked at the diagram again, it is correct... They're using the white wire from the 12/3 as a traveler... @A.I.Breveleri I deleted my previous comment. I looked at the diagram a little closer the second time. Unfortunately, I posted my new comment only seconds after yours...
    – BillWeckel
    Nov 27, 2018 at 2:38
  • 3
    Please don't edit the title with [Answered]. Instead, post an answer that indicates what the problem was or accept one of the other answers.
    – Machavity
    Dec 3, 2018 at 15:11

5 Answers 5


You'll lose your mind dealing with all the red black white business. Get a 5-pack of colored electrical tape and start marking wires for their actual function. Always mark wires the same at both ends. Here is what's really happening in a 3-way.

enter image description here

First, the two traveler wires get marked yellow. There is no need to tell them from each other. So in the /3 cable, tape the black and white wires with yellow tape. That'll leave red, which is a preferential color for switched-hot.

On the black and white cable up to the lamp, mark both ends of the black wire with red tape, since it is switched hot. Mark the lamp's black lead red also.

The hard part is behind us. Now we wrap up.

On both 3-way switches, the yellow wires go on the brass screws.

On the near 3-way, the supply wire (black) goes onto the black common screw. (It's almost like someone color coded it, lol).

On the far 3-way, you have no choice: 1 wire 1 screw. Done.

All the wires that remain are white and red. Nut them by color: white to white, red to red.

Golly, that was easy! Or rather, we made it easy with our thinking cap and some colored tape.

  • Isn't that the same as show in the diagram with the exception being connecting power in the close switch rather than box with only 3 wire? Are you also saying that travelers need not both be left or both be right?
    – beast
    Nov 27, 2018 at 14:59
  • @beast yeah, you could do it that way too mark the red and white "yellow" and land the lamp switched-hot on the common screw. Six of one, half dozen of the other, though I like mine slightly more because it removes always-hot from the right switch, and thus the temptation to extend that circuit onward by bootlegging ground. My thesis is more about "mark with colors, don't lose your mind". Nov 27, 2018 at 16:46
  • so the travelers are interchangeable? both ends could be connected to either location?
    – beast
    Nov 27, 2018 at 16:51
  • @beast yes, if you swap travelers, it does nothing important. Edited. It changes switch phase, which is only a problem if you have OCD. Sue me... I like "both switches down" to be "off", so if it's not, I either swap travelers or just flip the switch over in the box. Nov 27, 2018 at 16:56
  • Marking like this solves the problem I fully agree.+
    – Ed Beal
    Nov 28, 2018 at 0:08

The answer was the roof sheeters and my father (by side stapling the wire instead of top) messed it up:

electrical wire shorted by roofing nails

All answers given and even the initial diagram are right, Harper's is the easiest to understand.

  • 1
    Your father did it correctly. The roofer screwed up. Wiring only needs a guard plate if it will be within 1-3/4" of the finish surface which means, running it down the center of 2x4s is correct. People sticking things in surfaces are expected to use fasteners <= 1-3/4", or be responsible for the consequences. If they needed that much adhesion they needed screws not longer nails. Nov 29, 2022 at 0:21

Here's the best diagram I can come up with without doing a Google search... Hopefully you can understand it... 3 way switch diagram

Since your incoming power and switch leg are in the same box we have to send power to the farthest switch ( switch #2 ), which we do with the white wire from the 12/3. This will energize the travelers, the black and red wires from the 12/3. We then attach the black wire from the fixture to the black screw on switch #1. Wire nut the white wire from your incoming power to the white wire running to the fixture. Circuit complete. Obviously, make sure your ground wires are wire nutted as well...

  • OK, so this is again basically what i did, i just kept my black black and marked both ends of white with black tape. Has to be a faulty switch then?
    – beast
    Nov 27, 2018 at 15:05
  • It's a possibility. It's hard for me to say it's the switch without me physically putting eyes on the circuit wiring. Someone else may be willing to confirm your suspicions tho... Pics of your boxes would definitely help.
    – BillWeckel
    Nov 27, 2018 at 15:14
  • Yeah, ill get my father to send some as soon as he can. That failing i go out again thur or fri. i mean i checked and rechecked the wireing, i am certain it is as the diagram i posted shows... so if thats corect its not the wiring
    – beast
    Nov 27, 2018 at 15:33

Start with a good generic drawing like in the Harper Answer. Then imagine each wire is a stretchable elastic. Move each device around to where you want it, while maintaining the integrity of the "elastics."
Then re-draw the drawing as wires in each cable. Add your junction boxes and grounds. Now you have a working drawing


For what it’s worth, I just relocated power from one switch in the three way to the other.

Just had to re identify some white neutrals and land the new hot wires. Hope that helps

  • Please note that this site does not run as a discussion forum, its question and answers. And this is not ananswer. Nov 22, 2023 at 23:52

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