How To: Terminating a Keystone Jack Onto Cat6A Direct Burial Unshielded Ethernet

How To: Terminating a Keystone Jack Onto Cat6A Direct Burial Unshielded Ethernet

Written by Don Schultz, trueCABLE Senior Technical Advisor, Fluke Networks Copper/Fiber CCTT, BICSI INST1, INSTC, INSTF Certified

In the second part of this four part series, we will cover termination of keystone jacks to Cat6A unshielded direct burial Ethernet cable. Keystone jacks are the most common way of terminating solid copper Ethernet structured cabling systems. Essentially, keystones provide female ports on both ends of the cable run (also known as drop). From there, a factory pre-terminated patch cord is used to connect up powered devices like switches, computers, cameras, Wi-Fi access points, and more.

How does this look conceptually? Please take a look at Calculating Ethernet Cable Overall Channel Length for Success. Here is a quick diagram of the concept if you don’t have time to read the full blog:

calculating overall channel length


Here is what a typical punch down style keystone jack looks like:


picture of rj45 keystone jack

Cat6A Unshielded Punch Down Keystone


The advantages of keystone jacks are numerous, and here is why they are the preferred choice for terminating your solid copper Ethernet cable:

  • Category rated for your cable (they come in Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6A from trueCABLE)
  • Helps impedance match connection hardware and patch cords
  • Not super sensitive to “fitment”, and this greatly reduces problems with improper and faulty connections
  • Uses a IDC or Insulation Displacement Contact way of termination that is much more durable and positive than 8P8C (aka RJ45) modular plugs
  • Much faster and easier to terminate than 8P8C (aka RJ45) modular plugs
  • Makes for a clean and professional looking installation

Unshielded keystone jacks come in two major variations:

  • Punch down (usually 110 style, requiring some kind of 110 punch tool)
  • Tool-less (not actually tool-less, but won’t require a 110 punch tool)

Tool-less keystone jacks have equivalent performance to punch down style, but the punch down style makes it easier to extract maximum performance from your cable due to the design. Which one you use will come down to personal preference and budget. Typically, a large installation will benefit from the use of the 110 punch down style keystone jacks since they will cost less in quantity. You can see more in Toolless Keystone Jacks vs Punch Down Keystone Jacks: What's the Difference?

Considering we are talking about Cat6A which operates at 500MHz when pushed to 10Gbps, proper and effective termination is absolutely essential to reliability. Therefore we will go over the correct way to terminate Cat6A unshielded punch down keystones onto trueCABLE’s Cat6A Unshielded Direct Burial Ethernet Cable.

Here is a video demonstration of the process. Please watch the video and come back here for detailed photos! Sometimes you cannot get the super close up shots of essential details in a video.



Now for those of you who would like detailed photos and call-outs we have that too! Here is the process up close with additional details and advice. We will go over:

  • Required tools and optional tools
  • Keystone jack anatomy and tips
  • Cable preparation
  • Termination
  • Keystone jack installation
  • Common questions and answers

Required Tools

There are a few tools you will absolutely need to terminate your Cat6A unshielded punch down keystone. 


tools to terminate an ethernet cable

For cable stripping and preparation...


Keystone jack termination tools (either / or):


trueIMPACT and trueTERM keystone jack termination tools

Either of these tools will work


Keystone Jack Anatomy and Tips


side view of ethernet keystone jack
sideview of keystone ethernet jack

Both sides of the jack housing, showing off the T568A and B color code schemes


highlighted areas on an ethernet keystone jack for reference

Pointed IDC towers, outlined in red, which allow for conductor pair separation. You can also just make out the actual metal contacts at the bottom of the IDC slots.


  • The pointed IDC (insulation-displacement contact) towers make getting tight terminations easy, without the need to untwist the pair (not always, though)
  • The ANSI/TIA 568 defined maximum conductor pair untwist is 0.50”. This means to remain in specification, the distance from the last twist in the pair to the point of electrical contact cannot exceed 0.50”.

Cable Preparation

stripping the ethernet cable using a tool

Start by stripping off about 2” of cable jacket. You want to score it, not cut through it. 


popping open the cable jacket

Then, pop open the jacket by bending a couple of times at the score.


the inner workings to the ethernet cable

Rip cord, PE tape, and water block tape - all will need to be removed


cutting the wings to ethernet cable

Removing all dielectric wraps, exposing the conductor pairs


exclamation point pro tip

Once the dielectric tapes are removed, this is a good time to check for nicked conductors if you think you may have nicked one. Don’t underestimate the importance of checking for conductor nicks at the jacket edge!

If you accidentally nicked a conductor, you will need to start over. See What Does a Bad Termination Look Like? for pictures of what to look out for. We have one last step for cable preparation, which is to put the conductors into a star pattern and then remove the center spline.


Conductors in a star pattern. The spline has to come off.

Conductors in a star pattern. The spline has to come off.


cutting the spline on ethernet cable to take out

Cut the spline on each wing, on a downward angle


twisting spline to remove it

Twist spline to remove it


Keystone Jack Termination

Now it is time to seat the conductor pairs into the keystone jack. You will need to decide between the T568A and T568B color code schemes. One is not better than the other. The main thing is to pick one and stay with it throughout the installation.


ethernet cable showcase next to keystone jack

Orient the conductor pairs so they line up with the chosen T568A or B color code scheme. We are using T568B for this demonstration.


icon for pro tip

Your life will be a lot easier if you untwist the rear pairs fully and seat them first (essentially this will hold the cable in place). Best practice is to use the rear pairs to make sure the cable jacket is flush with the rear of the keystone jack housing prior to working on the forward pairs.


showing what not to do when terminating a an ethernet cable with a keystone jack

Do not place any part of the cable jacket into the jack housing channel. Doing so will make proper termination difficult or impossible.


icon for pro tip

Sometimes using the pointed IDC cones to separate the pair is not possible due to tight conductor twists on the pair. In that case simply untwist the conductor down to the appropriate IDC wire slots. If the wires do not line up exactly with the required slots, you can untwist the conductor pair one additional time.

icon for pro tip Do NOT add a half-twist or knuckle the conductor trying to get an unrealistically tight termination. It won’t help performance and could actually unbalance the transmission characteristics of the cable.
laying the connectors inside the keystone jack
Conductor pairs threaded into IDC slots

Now that the conductors have been pre-threaded into their slots, it is time to push the conductors down fully and flush cut off the excess conductor wire. This is known as termination. For the keystone jack punch down process, you have two options.

Using the trueCABLE EZ Termination Tool (best option):

The EZ termination tool makes this simple. Place the pre-threaded jack in the tool, and operate the handle. All conductors should be seated and cut in one operation.

The EZ termination tool makes this simple. Place the pre-threaded jack in the tool, and operate the handle. All conductors should be seated and cut in one operation.

The EZ termination tool makes this simple. Place the pre-threaded jack in the tool, and operate the handle. All conductors should be seated and cut in one operation.


Alternative method (110 impact tool):

For 110 tool impact punch down, punch all eight wires fully into their IDC slots

For 110 tool impact punch down, punch all eight wires fully into their IDC slots


  • Our punch down keystone jacks only accept 110 tool blades
  • The cutting edge of the blade should be outside the jack housing 
  • Punch downward straight and level as possible for best results
  • A second punch may be required to fully seat and/or flush cut the conductor
  • Set the impact tool to “HI” since we are seating 23AWG conductors 


Inspect your work. The conductors should be fully seated in the IDC slots and flush cut off.

Inspect your work. The conductors should be fully seated in the IDC slots and flush cut off.


Snap on the IDC cap and done! All ready to insert into a wall plate or keystone jack patch panel

Snap on the IDC cap and done! All ready to insert into a wall plate or keystone jack patch panel


Keystone Jack Installation

This blog would be incomplete unless you have a good idea of where the keystones get installed! In order to follow proper Cat6A cable installation best practices, especially with Cat6A unshielded Ethernet cable, you will want a 3D staggered keystone patch panel at the “head end” of your installation. Why is that important? See How To: trueCABLE 3D Stagger Unshielded 24 Port 1U Toolless Patch Panel for a lot of detail and best practices. For the remote outlet ends simply use keystone wall plates.

Common Questions and Answers

trueCABLE gets a great deal of questions about keystone jacks, and how to work with them. Below we have selected the most common questions and provided direct answers. We are trying to capture questions precisely as typed into web browser search engines, so the questions below may be technically or grammatically incorrect. We often get questions from novices that may not make sense to our more technical readers, so please accept our apologies in advance!

Can you reuse Cat6 keystone jack?

Absolutely! In fact, Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6A keystone jacks can all be re-terminated up to 20X per the requirements in the standard. Caution, however. If the jack was terminated with Cat6A or Cat6 Ethernet cable using 23AWG conductors, it is a bad idea to switch to another cable using 24AWG conductors. The IDC terminals will have been stretched out too far to spring back fully, which may cause transmission errors.

Are Cat6 and Cat6A keystone the same? and Do you need special jacks for Cat6a?

All keystones have PCBs (printed circuit boards) inside. What defines the performance of the keystone jack is the PCB and therefore you want to pick the correct Category rated keystone for your cable to get the performance you paid for. Although you may have two keystones that appear identical in every way, check the front of the keystone jack to be sure the category is the same or higher than your cable.

What are the differences between T568A and T568B wiring standards?

This is a great question! The difference between T568A and T568B has to do with the green and orange pairs swapped into different spots. Performance-wise, there is no difference between the two. In modern networking, unless you have a contract that specifies which one to use (rare) then pick the one that suits you best. The key is to stick with a single pattern throughout the installation. Don’t mix them because you will have trouble. A lot more information about this, including a head to head performance comparison between T568A and T568B is found in T568a vs T568b: Which To Use.

Can I use a Cat5e or Cat6 keystone jack for Cat6A Ethernet cable?

Yes, but you will end up with Cat5e or Cat6 performance. The entire channel (keystones, solid copper Ethernet cable, and patch cords too) is a system. If you alter just one component of that channel, then you just altered the entire channel and now your channel will operate according to the lowest common denominator. Keystone jacks are backwards compatible, but not forwards compatible.

What are the different types of keystone jacks available for Cat6A Ethernet cable?

Cat6A keystone jacks come in two primary types, which are shielded and unshielded. Further keystone jack types (subtypes) include tool-less Cat6A keystone jacks and 110 punch down Cat6A keystone jacks. For the most part, shielded keystone jacks will be tool-less due to the thicker conductors found in shielded Cat6A Ethernet cable. Tool-less keystone jacks can, typically, accommodate thicker insulated conductors due to their design and it is why you won’t easily locate a 110 punch down shielded Cat6A keystone jack.

How do I test my Cat6A Ethernet cable after termination to ensure proper performance?

This is a thorny question with no easy answers if you are operating on a budget. If you possess something like a Fluke DSX-8000 with copper modules then you are set to go and the answer is easy, but very expensive. If you need to Certify your drops, you have no alternative but to purchase (or rent) an expensive field certification device. For all others, there are ways of testing that will get you the answers you seek for less money. Please see Testing 10 Gigabit Ethernet Over Copper on a Shoestring Budget.

What are the disadvantages of Cat6A cable?

Great question! So many people get enamored with the best of the best they don’t take other factors into account. There are disadvantages associated with Cat6A cable, and those include costs (cable and termination hardware), cable thickness, and ease of installation. When picking a cable for your project, it is important to select the best fit. Sometimes literally! See How to Choose the Right Ethernet Cable.

Does Cat6A need to be grounded?

No, unless it is shielded Cat6A Ethernet cable. If you are installing shielded Cat6A Ethernet cable, it is necessary to bond the cable shield(s) to ground for the cable shield to operate effectively. See Residential Bonding and Grounding of Shielded Ethernet Cable Systems for a detailed way of going about this.

Well, there you have it. A ready to go keystone jack termination and some questions answered. Now you can plug a patch cable into the RJ45 port on the jack and gain a degree of flexibility you may not have had previously.




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