How to Use Anti Static Wrist Straps

Anti static wrist wraps are not your everyday computer building tool. It does not come packaged with a motherboard or a computer case. I tried buying one from computer stores, they either don’t know what it is or they are not selling it.

I first saw an actual anti static wrist wrap when I was setting up enterprise level switches on a data rack. They come packaged with the switches and can neatly attach to the metal data rack.

Stating the obvious, yes I was a rockstar data center engineer back in the day.

Stating the next obvious thing, the anti static wrist straps are packaged together with a thousand dollar equipment and not on a hundred dollar equipment. It doesn’t mean that the enterprise switch is a such a wussy hardware that it requires all the protection it can get.

It simply means that static electricity is a real danger to electronic hardware. The manufacturers are not going to cheap out on a few dollars if it means protecting a thousand dollar equipment.

What is static electricity

Without being too scientific, static electricity is the buildup of electric charges on a material. An electrical charge can build up through frictional contact between two materials that are both insulators.

It is a common occurrence in everyday life. I’m sure that you experienced mild electric shocks from common objects around you.

Friction between materials causes electrons to be transferred from one object to another. This imbalance of electrons causes objects to be at different electrical potentials.

When one electron charged object comes into contact with an uncharged object, electrons flow from the charged object to the uncharged object very rapidly. This transfer of electrons can generate very high current flows and heat for a very short period of time.

Common causes of static electricity build up is when you walk on a carpeted floor, when you continuously rub your arms on a table top or when you rub your hand on your mouse pad.

Contact with clothes, carpets and furniture made of synthetic materials can easily build up static electricity particularly in very dry weather conditions.

Static Electricity Shocks

Static electricity shocks occur whenever the voltage differs between you and the thing you touch. So when you have enough static electric buildup and you touch a conductive material like a door knob, the electricity will flow from you to the door knob.

Normally accompanied a popping sound and a slight electric shock. You better not be carrying anything fragile when this happens.

Now, imagine instead of a door knob, you discharge this static electricity on  your new and shiny graphics card. Shocking computer components with static electricity can potentially cause serious damage to the delicate electronics inside it.

What is an anti-static wrist strap

The anti-static wrist strap is just one of many anti-static devices or equipment used technicians and engineers when handling electronics. It’s very common to find them at sensitive environments like a laboratory or a data center.

anti-static wrist strap

Aside from a wrist strap, there are anti-static bags, mat, clothes and shoes. Among all these, the most common one is the anti-static bag, a silver bag that serves as packaging for computer components like motherboards and GPUs.

The value of an anti-static wrist strap is its continuous prevention of static electricity. Even if you discharge static electricity prior to holding any equipment, each motion afterwards can lead to another buildup. The conductive threads on the wrist strap continuously balances your static electricity by discharging excess charges to a grounded conductor. Thus, anti-static wrist straps are also referred to as an electrostatic discharge (ESD) equipment.

Is anti-static devices really that important?

To gauge the importance of anti-static devices, we must first see the dangers of an uncontrolled static discharge. Under most conditions, a static discharge needs to be about 3500 Volts for us to feel it. It should be at about 4000 Volts to see a spark in a dark room.

About 5000 Volts for the discharge to heard as a crackle. Most of you have felt, seen and heard a static electric discharge so it is a fairly common occurrence. Now you know that 3000 to 5000 volts passes from you everytime you experience a static discharge.

 use an anti static wrist strap

Electronic components like motherboards, hard disks, memory sticks and  processors can be damaged by much lower voltages. These components can be damaged or stressed by voltages as low as 10 to 50 volts. Damage done by electric discharge may not seem obvious due to absence of physical damage. You can’t really fry a chip to a crisp by touching it your fingers unless you're a Sith Lord.

There are instances when components will be damaged enough to be rendered “dead”. But even when components do not suffer a gruesome and instant kill from your electronic discharge, irreversible damage was done.

That damage is referred to as latent damage which manifests itself as a degradation of performance. After suffering a static discharge, these “walking dead” components would function normally for a time before the damage worsens and eventually lead to hardware failure.

Steps on how to use an anti static wrist strap

Now that we know about the dangers of static discharge, we are now more motivated to get our hands on an anti-static wrist wrap. Using it is fairly easy but the key is using it correctly.

These instructions are based on a generic anti static wrist strap design - a bracelet with metal contacts connected via wires to a small alligator clip.

  • Step 1: Wear the strap with the metal part touching your skin. You can have it worn anywhere in your body but it’s convenient to wear it on your wrist.
  • Step 2: With your computer turned off, connect the alligator clip to an unpainted part of the computer casing. Paint is non-conductive will not allow electric discharge.
  • Step 3: You are now connected to the computer unit therefore the voltage between you and the computer is equalized.

In case you don’t have one

If you don’t have an anti-static wrist strap, it’s quite easy to make with everyday materials. If you are the Do-It-Yourself kind, then this would just be a cupcake project for you.

Here’s a list of materials you would need.

  • 1. A rubber wristband like a baller ID band. You can also use a strip of stretchie garter, just tie or stitch the ends together.
  • 2. A conductive material that you can attach to the wristband or garter. An ordinary kitchen aluminum foil would do the trick. It’s conductive and very easy to wrap the entire wristband or garter with foil. For something more sturdy and permanent. You can also use metal studs that can embed through the material. A small bolt and nut or a metal automatic button would be perfect.
  • 3. If you are using aluminium foil, a double sided tape would be needed for better adhesion to the wristband.
  • 4. A long metal wire. Much better if you have an insulated wire. If you have an old telephone (those big ones with handset receivers) lying around. You can cut out the springy coiled wire and use this as for our project.
  • 5. An small alligator clip that you can buy from any electrical store. But if you want to really be DIY, use one of those black metal binding clips.
  • 6. Optional: a soldering iron or gun. 

Time to build that anti-static wrist strap!

  • 1. Attach the conductive material to your wristband. For aluminum foils, first cover the entire wristband with adhesive. Then cover the entire wristband with aluminum foil. The insides of the wristband will be the one in contact with your skin so be sure that this is sufficiently covered.
  • 2. Metal studs or automatic buttons take a little more effort. Automatic buttons uses a stapler like tool for installing. For metals studs like a nut and bolt, cut a small hole through your wristband to insert the bolt. You can use metal washers to make it more snug and tight.
  • 3. Attach the long metal wire to the conductive material of your wristband. Just tie it around the wristband. If you used a nut and bolt, you can actually tie the wire to the bolt before fitting in the nut.
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    4. On the other end of the wire, attach the alligator clip or metal binding clip. You can use a soldering iron or gun for a more polished connection.

An you are all done! But if this small project is too overwhelming for you. Then hop on the link below and send a little cash to Amazon.

Some additional tips to reduce your static electricity

  • 1. Wear low-static clothes that don't crackle or cling in dry weather. Cotton fabrics work well, like jeans and a plain T-shirt. Avoid wool!
  • 2. Ground yourself right before working on your computer. You can do this by touching a conductive component like the metal pipe on your kitchen sink faucet.
  • 3. Step lightly and don't drag your feet on the floor, specially if you have carpeted floors. Don't swing your arms as you walk so that they rub against your clothes at your side, either. These can lead to charging of static electricity.
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    4. Increasing your room’s relative humidity will decrease the buildup of static charges. You can do this by running a humidifier, boiling a big pot of water on the stove, turning off your air conditioner or heater or waiting until a more humid time of day -- often early morning, late evening or nighttime.
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    5. Clipping your anti-static wrist wrap to your computer’s case will only work if your electrical wirings have grounding. That would be the 3rd or middle prong in the power cable. If your house is not built with electrical grounding then you should attach your anti-static wrist wrap to grounded objects like house water pipes.

Now armed with this knowledge, there no reason for you to fry any of your computer components. Most technicians seems to get by without or not knowing how to use an anti static wrist strap.

However, the seasoned ones know that it’s an important part their technician's tool kit. Since some components cost hundreds of dollars, it is wise to take steps to protect them. it’s a small investment that can potentially save you from damaging an expensive motherboard or graphics card. Just saying, better to be safe than sorry.

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