Hunter and I were handed the cable schedule, equipment list, and house plan that told us what went where in our sample "home." The documents determine the type of outlet box to be mounted in each location, the cables to be pulled to each box (and their approximate lengths), and which connectors go on the ends of each cable. Our cable schedule took up about a page, but you can imagine how many wires get pulled in a full installation. At the end of 3 days, the completed "job" would encompass elements of telephone and Internet/data wiring, multiroom audio and video distribution, and security.
We also got a stern warning about taking care of our documents - it's considered poor form to leave your clipboard on the floor, or to fail to check off your sheets as you complete work. Again, it's all about being professional and avoiding mistakes. "If I have to send you out again because you installed something the wrong way the first time, you are a liability to me," Greg reminded us.
I found the lab really cool and loved working there. Every booth is equipped with all the tools needed to get through the project. Besides a power drill/driver, a quick poke through the toolbox revealed a bunch of hand tools I'd never seen: specialized wire strippers, crimpers, compression tools (for fitting connectors), drill bits, cable tie-downs, label makers, wire punch-down tools, and other gadgets. Having struggled in the past to strip coax with whatever was nearby (including my teeth), it was pretty sweet to zip a little plastic doodad three times around a tough cable end and have both the shield and conductor perfectly prepped for a compression-fit RCA plug in less than 10 seconds. Voilà!
Each booth also had a stack of gear donated by manufacturers: in-wall and ceiling speakers and in-wall volume controls (Niles and Russound), just so we hacks could practice fumbling speaker brackets and mis-wiring connectors. Each station also had an industry-standard 19-inch wide equipment rack (Middle Atlantic) so we could practice mounting an A/V receiver (Sherwood) and a DVD player (Marantz).
For our lab debut, we were assigned the initial step in any install: "roughing out," which is simply tagging each place you'll have a wall-mounted connector, volume control, or speaker, then mounting the correct plastic electrical box or bracket for each application. Hunter and I managed to mistake two different types of boxes we had to swap later, break a few screws while mounting speaker brackets (let the cussing begin!), and get nailed for having documents on the floor when Grayson unexpectedly poked his head in. All in all, though, a pretty good day at the office.
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