tips - shortcuts - ideas
YOU might try for your shack
Here are some ideas that I picked up along the way that I thought I would share with you. Perhaps you might want to use some of these at your station. Many of these ideas can be seen in pictures or articles elsewhere on this website if you look for them, but I collected the ideas here to help you think of other uses you might make of them.
· Use a ‘hot glue gun’ to put a ‘bead’ of glue anywhere that you need non-skid pads/bumpers such as on the bottom of your CW key base, small equipment, project boxes, etc. It works great. Make sure you let it completely ‘set up’ or cure before you use the item. This stuff makes nice non-skid feet!
· Rubber ‘shelf liner’ cut to size and placed under a CW key base makes an excellent non-skid surface for your key/bug/paddle and it also makes key ‘clicking’ quieter when it is in use. The liners come in a multitude of colors and can be used as a movable non-stick mat, or it can be tacked in place with a hot glue gun.
· 'Laminate floor samples’ make great CW key bases, equipment stands, bases for project boxes, and bases for all manner of small projects in the Shack. These samples can be purchased in the flooring section of Lowes’, Home Depot ,your local flooring store, and other home improvement stores. These samples/boards cost from .25 to .99 cents and come highly finished in many colors and finishes that look great in the Shack. Most come with a rubberized backing.
· Ever need just a few special QSL cards for activities like Field Day, special club events, trips to the lake, camping, etc? Do you move around often due to work or your job, and find it necessary to change your QTH or mailing address? Such needs can cause regular printed QSL cards go to waste because their printed information gets out of date before most cards are ever used. A solution to this is to use a picture postcard or have a really nice QSL card printed (front side only) or without an address, without info blocks, and without a report form on the back. Then use an Avery 8164 label in your computer/printer to make your own custom B/W or color report format with current address, rig, QSL info, etc. You can type all the QSO info into this label, or you can make it so you can fill-in-the-blanks with a pen when needed. Stick this label on the back of your card when you want to send a QSL out and use an envelope to mail it. You can change or update the info anytime necessary and you will always have a high quality, custom QSL card without worry of waste or obsolescence of expensive QSL cards.
· You can get a line over or through a tall tree to string up an antenna by using an inexpensive sling shot, medium lead sinker, and a fishing reel ($5, $1, and $7 respectfully at Wal-Mart) to launch the line where needed. After it goes over/through the tree, tie a Dacron or nylon 'trot' line (green or black) to the sinker end and reel it back through the tree. Then tie the line to your antenna and pull ‘er up! Be sure and tie off the end of the support line to the tree before you start pulling on it just in case you drop the line and it goes back through the tree! The black or olive green color of the support line makes it really hard to see. ‘Parachute cord’, A.K.A. ‘550 Cord’ is exceptionally strong, long lasting and good buys can be found on eBay.
· Need antenna wire? Copper wire costs a fortune these days (~$20 for 100') , so consider using ‘Aluminum Electric Fence Wire’ instead. This is hard drawn aluminum wire is light weight, very easy to work with, very (very) strong, very durable, very stealthy, and costs about $23 for ¼ mile (1320 ft!) spool of wire. That makes a LOT of antennas or a several really BIG ones. True, aluminum can be harder to solder, but there are some easy techniques to do this, or you can do what I do and just use nuts, bolts, and lock washers to secure the connections, and about every 12-18 months, let the antenna down to check and clean the contacts. This wire works really well, but be sure and wear work gloves and safety goggles as hard drawn solid wire can easily stick you. Pick up this wire at any farm supply store such as Tractor Supply, etc.
· Do you have one or more small QRP rigs that has no internal speaker, and is so weak that it won't drive an external speaker? These rigs require earphones to deliver the sound. To let others hear what you hear, consider using iPod-MP3 plug-in ‘powered’ speakers for your QRP rigs. There are various designs available for $10-$20 (or more) on eBay. Most are rechargeable from any USB port, simply plug in for use, and ones I have tried are great for QRP CW use. Their size is only 3” x 2” (some are even smaller!) and this fits perfectly with any QRP sized set up. (Start your eBay search with speakers called “Music Angel USB Speakers”. These speakers sound great, look nice, come in a number of colors, and cost about $10.)
· Need a small VHF/UHF mobile rig for local work, but you don’t want to mount a ‘big’ rig in your car to take up room or tempt thieves to break in to steal it? Here is one way do it…
o Start with a ‘cup holder adjustable mount’ for an iPhone or other cell phone. Put this in one of your car’s cup holders of your choice. ($10 or less on eBay).
o Get an inexpensive VHF/UHF HT such as a UV-5RE and place it in the cup holder (The 5 watt, 2 band UV-5RE is about $53 new on eBay and comes with drop in charger and a number of extras such as an over the ear speaker-mic headset and this model has VOX built in that might be good for mobile hands free use).
o Add a hand-held speaker-mic ($9).
o Add a 12-vdc battery eliminator to replace the HT’s battery pack for mobile use ($12).
o Get a lightweight Nagoya NA-UT108 dual-band mobile antenna (or equivalent) that uses a tiny, but very strong magnetic base and thin wire for the whip. This antenna is an easy on/easy off/easy storage and very stealthy. This model matches the UV-5RE antenna base which has a male SMA connector on the radio, not on the antenna. (~$13 shipped on eBay)
This set up gives you a 5-watt, dual band, mobile unit that can hit most local area repeaters. It can be quickly removed from the car and used as an HT when needed. The radio can be programmed with all NOAA weather channels for monitoring the weather when you travel as well letting you listen to some fire, police and aviation frequencies. The radio, battery eliminator, mic, and antenna can quickly be removed and stored out of sight at any time to lessen possible car break-ins or to just keep it out of the sun when parked. When needed, it is easy and quick to set up again. Total package cost for radio, antenna, accessories and antenna new is less than $100. If you need more power, pick up a 35 watt 2m amp and you have a nice powerful mobile that has dual use capability.
· Need some insulators for your wire antenna project? Make them out of PVC pipe scraps, or get a 5’ long PVC pipe from your Home Improvement store to cut as needed. Strong, sturdy, and a good insulator, a 1” diameter 3" to 4” long piece of PVC can be drilled to make good antenna wire insulators. Use a rat-tail file to smooth off sharp edges in the holes where the antenna wire could rub and break. You can paint the insulators brown or black with PVC paint (only) to make it stealthier. (Note: Use only white PVC, not the colored PVC when making insulators.)
· Do you have a bazillion passwords for all the password only access programs on your computer or the internet? Keep them in a small pocket notebook on your desk for easy access, and keep a backup copy on an inexpensive small zip drive to carry with you when traveling. Be sure and password protect the zip drive access too!
· If you have need for a really stealthy antenna for QRP use, consider making your antenna out of very thin 'magnet' wire. Available at Radio Shack, you can get a 3-pack of magnet wire consisting of 40' of 22 gage, 75' of 26 gage, and 200' of 30 gage magnet wire for about $9. The wire is clear enamel coated and must be cleaned well before you can solder to it. You can use heavy black, brown, or dark green 'coat buttons' for antenna insulators and feed the antenna with small size 52 ohm coax cable to make a workable dipole or other style wire antenna for any band. (You can also get the needed wire by unwinding it from an old audio transformer, but the Radio Shack wire is much easier to work with. Cut the wire a little longer than you think you need it for the design frequency of your choice and trim down as needed. (The very small diameter wire seems to throw off the formula calculations just a bit.) Support the coax from a tree or pole so its weight will not pull on the wire. Magnet wire will stretch rather easily under tension and of course it is not as strong as larger diameter wire so it will break quite easily. These antennas are best used for short term installations, inside use, or places where no strain will be put on them. For extra strength, you can use strong fishing line (70 lb test or so) to run with the magnet wire to use as strength support, or you can use 'trot line' as a support, but there goes your stealth. The fishing line will help it stay more stealthy, while providing additional strength if needed. Use heat shrink tubing or hot glue spaced out along the line to hold the wire and line together, or twist the line and wire together. The main thing this antenna wire will do is give you an operational antenna that is very stealthy. It is so thin that you cannot see it unless you are standing right next to it! (Birds won't see it either and can sometimes fly right into it! Now that is really stealthy!) This wire is fun to experiment with for dipoles, loops, etc. (NOTE: Small current capable wire like this is fine for QRP, but I personally would not recommended it for high power needs.)
· Do you need a heavy weighted base for a key or paddle you are making? Take a Sardine can/tin or similar sized tin and wash/dry it well. Place it on a Bar-B-Q grill and drop lead fishing weights, lead tire balancing weights, or other lead items in the tin. Turn on the grill and carefully melt the lead to fill the tin about half way. Make the lead base as thick or thin as you desire...about 3/8" will do nicely. When the lead is fully melted, turn off the grill, carefully remove the impurities that have floated to the surface of the lead and then let the lead cool and solidify. Once this is done, carefully remove the tin from the grill and remove the lead from the can/tin. This makes your heavy lead base. Mark and drill holes for mounting your key. Using rubber gloves to handle the lead, lightly sandpaper or file the lead base to smooth the edges and spray paint if desired. Avoid breathing the lead you sand or file from the base. When the base is formed to suit you, paint it, add rubber feet, non-skid shelf paper, or hot glue gun beads (as mentioned above) to the bottom, and you have a heavy base you can drill holes into to mount your key or paddles. (Idea courtesy of W5WQQ)
· Need a fixed point-to-point yagi to hit a repeater or another station? You can build a 3, 4, or 5 element VHF/UHF yagi out of small diameter PVC tubing and wire. Draw your yagi design on paper to see how much tubing you need, and list how much tubing you will need to construct your PVC yagi. After assembling the parts, notch the elements and use PVC glue to stick all the parts together. (Make sure you measure and glue properly as you cannot take it apart once its glued together even for a few seconds.) Obviously, the PVC itself is not an actual antenna when assembled, it is simply the support frame. Using copper wire or aluminum ground wire, cut and tape the antenna to the top of the PVC frame. Bingo! You now have an easy to make, low cost, lightweight yagi to use for hitting repeaters, point to point communication, satellite antennas, or ???. You can stack these for more gain and use any lightweight TV rotor to turn them. Seal all open ends and joints with tape, hot glue or putty to avoid water collecting and freezing in the winter which will snap the PVC easily. Sealing ends and joints also keep wasps and bugs out. You can make a very long boom, high gain yagi and suspend it inside your attic from the rafters for distant point to point communication. This long boom idea doesn't work very well outside when exposed to wind and weather, since the PVC isn't strong enough to support a long boom design without failing.
· You can make a neat hand held transmit/Push-To-Talk (PTT) switch for a headset/mic such as the Heil BM-10 out of any small plastic medicine bottle or other suitable small plastic bottle. You will need two miniature switches for this. One switch is a simple SPST On/Off push button or small toggle on/off switch and the other is momentary push button On/Off switch. You can mount the switches any way you think in comfortable for your use. I chose to put a medium sized push button switch on the side of the bottle for trigger finger access and momentary PTT use. I put the push button on/off switch on the top of the bottle for one finger control. This allows me to lock the transceiver in transmit so I can talk without holding a button down. (This switch is optional and you can just install the PTT button or even a 'rocker' switch on the side or top if you prefer.) Of course, the control wire runs through a hole in the bottom of the plastic bottle and connects to the rigs PTT circuit. (Tip: Target Pharmacy makes some neat square shaped 'Red' plastic bottles that look nice and feel good in the hand. Ask for a small size pill bottle and if you are a customer, they will likely give you one.)
· A handy gadget for the Shack is a simple Digital Cooking Alarm Timer like the 2.5" x 2" timer made by by "Oneida" It is great for counting down time to your next schedule, counting time on an eBay bid you are watching to come up, timing how long a QSO lasts, helping you remember to pick up the XYL on time (!) or remember any number of other such tasks.
· If you are like me, as you assemble and collect more items of equipment, you may find that you have forgotten exactly how you you hooked something up! To meet this "Now just how did I do that?" need, get a 2" or 3" RED 3-ring notebook binder and label it "(Your Call) Station Manual". I put 3 hole punched loose leaf paper in mine with drawings of how my 8 radios, 4 antenna tuners, various SWR/Power meters, and 3 multi-tap switchable coax antenna selectors are all connected. I include any notes of interest or tips on how I did something in the manual as well.
I also included in my "Station Manual' photocopies of my license, select pages from radio manuals on several radios so I can look up how to do special operations when needed, a world-wide DXCC call sign prefix list, special log sheets for QRP awards that I am working on, QSL Bureau (Incoming/Outgoing) info, Ham addresses, links, emails, equipment serial numbers, etc. You can also include other items like local area repeaters, callsigns/names, beacon frequencies, net frequencies, notes on all of these you might want to make along with similar items that I find useful and handy to have for easy access. Shortwave stations, spy station, military, maritime, frequencies of interest are noted and...well, you get the idea. Make your "Station Manual" to contain whatever you think would be great for your station use. Have fun!
· Ever been under the rig table trying to trace down which coax cable goes to what rig or antenna switch or determine which AC cord goes to what item of equipment? It is easy to get confused if you can't see where it goes. Well, here is a simple way to fix that! On each end of the coax cable or AC cord, take a simple blank stringed price tag (they come in colors!) which you can get at Staples or Office Depot and write what each coax/cord is connected to and then and then tie this tag on the cable/cord. These price tags are easy on/easy off and they save a LOT of time and frustration from tracing cables or wondering which cable goes to what rig or device.
· If you have an old radio that works fine, but looks scratched and marred from a lot of use, try painting the case to freshen it up! Its easier than you think. On most rigs you can remove the case in one piece or the top and bottom pieces leaving the front panel. You might want to skip painting the front panel as it can be really hard to do well, plus most of the control labels will be covered up. Clean the case well after sanding down any rusty spots, pick a good canned spray paint, and you are ready to go. Of course, you could paint it the original color (seems like these are mostly black), but why not consider painting it something different that will will still match the front panel. For a military look, go with Olive Drab green or Desert tan. For something wild, consider candy apple red, ENCOMM yellow or emergency orange...well...maybe not orange. Hi Anyway, you get the idea. I painted the case of a well-used (10 years as a mobile rig) Yaesu FT-7 in an Army OD green color, and it came out great. Being retired military, the OD color case made me feel right at home! Give it a shot.
· If you have several keys/bugs/paddles that you like to use on various rigs, you can sometimes get frustrated trying to move your favorite key/bug/paddle plugs from rig to rig since most connections are on the back of the radio. Solve this problem with the "DZE BOX" (Dizzy Box). Using a simple project box and some plugs and jacks, you can make 'key to rig patch panel' to connect any key to any rig quickly and easily right from the operating position without going behind your rig or under the operating desk. See the "PROJECTS" page for info on how to do this!
· When building any project be it a keyer, a "DZE BOX", or a QRP rig, it helps to organize the small parts (nuts, bolts, washers, solder, jacks, plugs, etc.) so they can be identified easily and so they won't slip off the table. You can make an easy parts tray from salad and frozen dinner trays you pick up at the grocery. A clear tray that is cleaned and washed up works great and lets you easily see your parts as needed. Look on the PROJECTS page for more ideas.
· QRP rigs known as Trail Friendly Radios (Ten Tec R4020, Elecraft KX-1, PFR-3A, etc) are super little radios for field and home use. These light weight, highly transportable transceivers are made to lie flat on the ground, on your sleeping bag, or on your lap while in the field. However, for Shack, table or desktop use I wanted to have a small tilt stand that will hold my 4020 upright at a good angle for better viewing and access. Try looking at iPhone and iPad 'holders' available on eBay under "iPhone Stands" or "iPad Stands". These come in one piece units, folding units, multiple colors and some are less than $2 with free shipping!
· Want a nice conversation piece in your shack that looks great, yet is fully operational and really practical? Consider refurbishing a brass CW key from the 1920's or 30's. Take a look on my PROJECT page to see how to do this. The procedure I used is probably not for true collectors of old keys, but for those of us who want to restore a really nice key to enjoy and use in active service, it can be a fun project. It also can save you a lot of money over a new key of equal value.
· Developing a way to bring coax cable, rotor cable, and/or a ground wire through your Shack window can often be an interesting challenge. Using a weather proof 4" wide board standing on its edge in the window with coax connectors and other feed through points drilled through it is a good way to do this. The MFJ-4603 series of window feed through panels seem to be about the best commercial answer on the market for Amateur use. I used a homemade version of this for years and it worked well. The only problem with a homemade panel is often getting it into the window with a tight fit. One way to make it easier to insert this board into your window with a tight fit is to measure the board exactly, and then cut the board in half. Insert the two pieces on either side of the window with one piece higher than the other, and then slide the higher piece down for a tight fit. Place one or two steel straps across the cut on the Shack side of the panel as a patch and then screw these down to lock the two sides together for added security and rigidity.
· If you are like me, you have a number of of those flat telephone extension cables coiled up in your parts boxes. These are most often 4 conductor cords that plug into telephone wall outlets and your corded phones. My wife and I use only our iPhones now, so I was wondering what use I could find for these telephone cords. One use I found was to cut off the connectors and use the flat cord to connect telegraph keys and paddles in the shack. Some of these cords are quite flexible and work well for this use, while others are a big stiff and these I discard. Give this idea a try and see how it works for you.
That's all (for now) ....