Many thanks to Steve (KM4FLF/VA3FLF) for sharing the following guest post:
A Great Homebrew Vertical Antenna
by Steve (KM4FLF/VA3FLF)
Last spring, I was going through my many boxes of ham “stuff” looking for items to sell at our club tail gate sale. I came across a couple of Hustler SM Series Resonators (20 /40 Meters) that I had acquired. I am not sure where I obtained them, but I decided they were keepers. That decision turned out to be the first step in a year long process that has given me an awesome homebrew vertical antenna.
After doing a little research I found the resonators and accessories at most of the online ham dealers. They are used primarily as mobile and marine antennas. I had seen where a ham had used these on a ground stake as a portable antenna as well. I ordered a Hustler MO1 mast which is 54 inches tall and thought I would attempt to make a portable POTA antenna.
I had a couple of small aluminum plates that I drilled out a few holes. I cut out a notch to put a SO-239 Stud Mount on the plate as my antenna base. I now had a ground plate, connector, and antenna with resonator. By putting a stake in the bottom of the plate, I was able to get the antenna to stand up. The Hustler resonators have a hex screw for tuning that can be loosened. The antenna can be adjusted for resonance by lengthening or shortening the radiator length. After adjusting the radiator my SWR was still horrible on the two bands.
I had some 14-gauge wire laying around and attached it to the plate using carriage bolts and nuts for my ground radials. I didn’t think about the length of the wires at this point but went with three or four lines around 20 to 30 ft. I was able to use my vertical a few times with moderate success. My SWR on 20 and 40 Meters was around 2:0 to 1 at best. It was bulky and very delicate. Sometimes screwing in or unscrewing the MO1 the SO239 would slide off the edge of the aluminum plate. I put away my contraption for the winter and decided to move on to something else.
Until 2016, I had never purchased a commercial field antenna; I built all the ones I had ever used.
These days, I take a number of commercial antennas to the field and use them in my real-time videos and I really enjoy deploying and using them. My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) reminded me, though, that I hadn’t actually used a homebrew antenna in ages. He was right!
You see, while I believe commercial field antennas can be incredibly durable and compact, it’s important to note that antennas are one of the easiest components of an amateur radio system to build yourself. They require only the most simple of tools and are very affordable. And the best part? They can perform as well as those that are available commercially.
I also get a great deal of pleasure out of building things.
A simple goal
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I often set a little goal that runs in the back of my mind for each park or summit activation I make.
On Monday, June 14, 2021, I made a simple goal: buy my antenna wire en route to Lake James State Park, build the antenna on site, and complete a valid Parks On The Air (POTA) activation.
A very simple antenna
I also decided to employ my Xiegu X5105 since 1.) it’s one of the most affordable general coverage QRP transceivers I own and 2.) it has a built-in antenna tuner (ATU).
One of the cool things about having an ATU is that, if it has the matching range, you can allow it to do the “heavy lifting” in terms of matching impedance.
Although I’d never put the X5105 to the test, I suspected its internal ATU would have the matching range to forgo building a 4:1 or 9:1 transformer and simply pair it directly with a random wire.
All I would need was a 28.5 foot length of wire for a radiator, at least a 17 foot length for a counterpoise, and a BNC to binding post adapter.
The antenna would benefit from multiple 17′ counterpoises, but I really wanted to keep this setup dead simple to prove that anyone can build an effective field antenna with a very minimum amount of components.
Even though I have plenty of wire lying around the house to build this simple antenna, I wanted to pretend I had none to prove that any wire would work.
And to add just a wee bit more challenge, I also limited myself to shopping for antenna wire between my home and the park without making a serious detour from my route. That really limited my options because there isn’t much in terms of commercial areas between me and Lake James State Park.
As I left the QTH, I decided that the best spot to shop was a Walmart in Marion, NC. It would only be a four minute round-trip detour at most. I had a hunch that Walmart would even have speaker wire which would be ideal for this application.
In my head, I imagined I would have at least three or four choices in speaker wire (various gauges and lengths), but turns out I had a difficult time finding some at Walmart. We live in such a Bluetooth world, I suppose there isn’t much demand for it these days. A store associate helped me find the only speaker wire they had which was basically a 100 foot roll of the “premium” stuff for $17 US.
While I would like to have paid a fraction of that, in the end it’s not a bad price because once you separate the two conductors, you have double the amount of wire: 200 feet.
Although the frugal guy in me cringed, I bit the bullet and purchased their speaker wire. To be clear, though, I could have found another source of wire in that Walmart, but I preferred speaker wire for this application. And $17 to (hopefully!) prove a point? That’s a deal! 🙂
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
Once I arrived on site, I found a picnic site I’d used before with some tall trees around it.
Here’s how I prepared the antenna:
First, I cut 28.5 feet of the speaker wire from the roll and split the paired wires so that I’d have two full 28.5 foot lengths.
Next, I stripped the ends of the wire and attached banana jacks I found in my junk drawer. Although these aren’t necessary as the binding post adapter can pair directly with the wire, I though it might make for a cleaner install. In the end, though, I wasn’t pleased with the connection to the radiator, so dispensed with one of the banana jacks on site, and later dispensed with the other one as well. The connection is actually stronger without the banana jacks.
I then deployed the 28.5 radiator with my arborist throw line, and laid the other 28.5 half on the ground (the ground of this antenna would pair with the black binding post, the radiator with the red post). I only needed 17 feet of counterpoise, but once it couples with the ground, I don’t think any extra length makes a difference (although less than 17 feet likely would).
The antenna was essentially set up as a vertical random wire with one counterpoise.
I then plugged the BNC binding post adapter into the rig, hit the ATU button, and was on the air.
All I can say is that I’m incredibly impressed with the X5105 internal battery. This was my fourth activation from one initial charge on May 16. The battery lasted for 20 minutes, taking me well beyond the 10 contacts needed to validate this park. I’ll now consider taking the X5105 on a multiple SOTA summit run!
Even thought the heat was intense and the humidity even more intense, I decided to take in a 2 mile hike post-activation. I snapped a few shots along the way.
I’ll plan to add more counterpoises to the speaker wire antenna as I know this will only help efficiency.
In addition, I’ll plan to build even more antennas with this roll of speaker wire. If you have some suggestions, feel free to comment!
Andy’s article caused me (yes, I blame him) to wax nostalgic about the popular FT-817 transceiver. You see, I owned one of the first production models of the FT-817 in 2001 when I lived in the UK.
At the time, there was nothing like it on the market: a very portable and efficient HF, VHF, UHF, multi-mode general coverage QRP transceiver…all for $670 US.
In 2001? Yeah, Yaesu knocked it out of the ballpark!
In fact, they knocked it out of the ballpark so hard, the radio is still in production two decades later and in demand under the model FT-818.
I sold my FT-817 in 2008 to raise funds for the purchase of an Elecraft KX1, if memory serves. My reasoning? The one thing I disliked about my FT-817 was its tiny front-facing display. When combined with the embedded menus and lack of controls, it could get frustrating at home and in the field.
When I told Andy about my ‘817ND purchase, he asked if I’d like to help him test the FT-817 Buddy board versions. How could I refuse?
Andy sent me a prototype of his Version 2 Buddy board which arrived in late November. I had to source out a few bits (an Arduino board, Nokia display, and multi-conductor CAT cable). Andy kindly pre-populated all of the SMD components so I only needed to solder the Arduino board and configure/solder the cable. I did take a lot of care preparing and soldering the cable, making sure there was no unintentional short between the voltage and ground conductors.
Overall, I found the construction and programming pretty straight-forward. It helped that Andy did a remote session with me during the programming process (thanks, OM!). Andy is doing an amazing job with the documentation.
I do love how the board makes it easier to read the frequency and have direct access to important functions without digging through embedded menus. While there’s nothing stopping you from changing the program to suit you, Andy’s done a brilliant job with this since he’s an experienced FT-817 user.
The Nokia display is very well backlit, high contrast, and easy very to read.
“Resistance is futile”
I mentioned on Twitter that, with the backlight on, the FT-817 Buddy makes my ‘817ND look like it was recently assimilated by The Borg.
Don’t tell any Star Trek captains, but I’m good with that.
Andy has a rev3 board in the works and it sports something that will be a game-changer for me in the field: K1EL’s keyer chip!
A compact 10 watts, easy to build, general coverage SSB/CW transceiver for HF bands
Homebrewers have traditionally avoided making multiband transceivers as they can get extremely complex and difficult to make. There have been some remarkable successes in the past, the CDG2000 (designed by Colin Horrabin G3SBI, Dave Roberts G8KBB and George Fare G3OGQ)is one such design. The SDR route as followed by several designs offer some simplification at the cost of bringing digital signal processing and a PC into the signal path.
On the other hand, many of the homebrewers do need a general coverage transceiver on the bench as well as as a base transceiver for bands beyond the HF. I ended up buying an FT-817ND that has been a reliable old warhorse for years. Two years ago, I attempted a high performance, multi-band architecture with the Minima transceiver. The KISS mixer of the Minima, though a very respectable receiver front-end, had serious leakage of the local oscillator that led that design to be abandoned as a full transceiver. Over months, I have realized that the need for a general coverage HF transceiver was wide-spread among the homebrewers. Most of us end up buying one.
While achieving a competition grade performance from a multiband homebrew is a complex task as evidenced by the works like that of HBR2000 by VE7CA, it is not at all difficult to achieve a more modest design goal with far lesser complexity. The uBITX shoots to fulfill such a need. It is a compact, single board design that covers the entire HF range with a few minor trade-offs. This rig has been in regular use on forty and twenty meters for a few months at VU2ESE. It satisfies for regular work, a few trips to the field as well.
A key challenge for multiband transceivers has been to realize a local oscillator system with such wide range. Silicon Labs has now produced a series of well performing oscillators that solve this challenge trivially : You connect the oscillator chip over a pair of I2C lines and it is done. The Si5351a is one such a part that provides 3 programmable oscillator outputs in a small 10 pin TSSOP package. We will exploit this chip to build the multiband transceiver.
Having exclusively used homebrew transceivers all the time, I get very confused whenever I need to use a commercial radio. There are too many switches, modes and knobs to twirl around. The uBITX use an Arduino to simplify the front panel while retaining all the functionality in a simple menu system that works with the tuning knob and a single â€˜function’ button. The rig supports two VFOs, RIT, calibration, CW semi break-in, meter indicator, etc. In future, more software can be added to implement keyer, SWR display, etc.
For some reason, I began to wonder if it would be possible to build a QRP CW transmitter using the electronic components salvaged from this derelict lamp.
Indeed, I’m pleased to report that a perfectly serviceable transmitter may be constructed! The only additional components required were the quartz crystal, and four of the five components needed for the output lowpass filter. The resulting transmitter produces up to 1.5 watts on 80m.
Michael, thanks for creating such a cool, simple, little QRP project. I’m ready to (carefully) tear into an old CFL bulb and give it a try!
I think this homebrew key by Laurent Dumas (F8BBL) is simply amazing. It’s portable, easy to make from spare parts lying about the house and can serve you well if you’re in a pinch. (Sorry, I just can’t use this pun enough).
Admittedly, I think there would be some serious operator fatigue if you tried to use this key in a contest. But for emergencies–it certainly fits the bill!