Last month we talked about transceivers and G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) avoidance. This month we get into the basics of station construction, the Hamshack. So, where to start? As a new Ham, we have a club, an Elmer(s) (mentor), the rig(s), and antenna(s), now the fun really begins. IN the planning phase, we need to talk about feedline, power supplies, entrance points, watt/SWR meters, connectors, grounding, lightning protection, mounting hardware, RF Exposure, and much more. We also must talk about space and ergonomics.
So, let’s start with the space. Hamshacks come in all shapes and sizes, from go boxes in a corner of the room to occupying entire outbuildings and basements and everything in between. You should also perform an RF Exposure assessment of your location before making a final decision on your shack location, see this month’s “Ask and Elmer’ feature as this is now required for all Amateur Stations. Ideally, a hamshack will be on an exterior wall of the 1st floor or basement of your home. Unfortunately, not an option for all amateurs, so compromises must be made. You must determine the best place for your shack. It should have enough room for you to be comfortable and to house all of your current and future equipment. Your shack should also be a quiet area where the ambient and RF noise level is low and located so you will not disturb others within your household. Once you have your space selected, evaluate the space for power outlets, lighting, and computer connections (wired or wireless). The area should be well lit and should have sufficient power to run your equipment. Power consumption can be a problem with a shared 15 or 20amp 120v circuit. It is best to make sure you have one or two dedicated circuits in you shack, although not always possible. If you are considering as some point getting a linear amplifier a 220v, 20amp circuit would be warranted. A good internet connection is a must these days, as Ham Radio further integrates with computers. Let’s talk about grounding and protecting your shack. You should have as short a ground path as possible from your shack to the common grounding point. All equipment in your shack should be grounded to a single point and then a single ground conductor to your outdoor grounding system. A busbar or copper pipe across the back of your station is ideal for the common grounding point. The ground conductor could be copper (solid or stranded) wire, wire copper strap or tinned copper braid. I prefer copper strap, the wider the better. An 8ft driven ground rod near the shack is best and it should be connected to the electrical ground rod of your residence at the entrance panel or meter. One the best articles I have read concerning grounding for amateur stations is from Flex Radio. Solid advice can be found in this link https://helpdesk.flexradio.com/hc/en-us/articles/204779159-Grounding-Systems-in-the-Ham-Shack-Paradigms-Facts-and-Fallacies.
You should have a disconnecting point outside your hamshack, as well as, lightning protection. You want to minimize the opportunity for static buildup or nearby strike energy coming into your shack or residence. The disconnect point can be as simple as a location where you can unscrew the feedline from the antenna before it enters your shack. Other methods include a relay that shunts your feedlines to your grounding system. I would suggest that you have 2 points to disconnect, depending on your antenna situation. At my QTH, I have an outdoor rated DX Engineering enclosure where all my antennas’ feedlines terminate. This enclosure houses the lightning arrestors. In my opinion, Morgan Manufacturing and Alpha Delta arrestors are probably the best on the market for amateur use. The backplate of the enclosure is connected to an 8ft ground rod (interconnected with my entire ground system). At that enclosure I can disconnect the feedlines manually, if I am going to be away for a few days or longer. The feedlines then continue to another outdoor enclosure on the outside of my residence. In that enclosure, I use a Paradan Radio remote disconnector, this is my second disconnect point for the system. If you recall in the last edition of the Transmitter newsletter, I shared a project to build the switch box to control the disconnector.
Feedlines are immensely important to your station; purchase the best you can afford. For most of us RG8X is fine when running short runs and 100watts or less on HF. Just remember the higher the frequency and the longer the length of your feedline the greater the losses are in the cables. For VHF/UHF and even 6 meters I would really consider using LMR400 or a larger diameter cable for feedlines. QSL.net has a fantastic calculator to give you losses in your coax; https://www.qsl.net/co8tw/Coax_Calculator.htm . That calculator can be an eyeopener, when you see how much of your power is lost due to SWR and coax type at different frequencies. Also, as you are planning for your feedlines, it is a good idea to leave a slack loop. Maybe another 5 -10 feet of extra cable in your run, just in case you have to make a repair or need to change the location of the connection point slightly.
Along with feedlines good connectors are a must, as is proper installation and protection from the elements. The last thing you want to do is buy good coax and destroy it trying to put on inferior connectors, melting the dielectric or having water migrate into the cable. You pay a bit more for good connectors from places like DX engineering but they are so worth it. The DXE NextGen, Times Microwave and Amphenol brands have never failed for me. Use good tape for waterproofing, 3M – Scotch 22, 33, 70 and 88 are primarily what I use.
Getting feedlines into your shack can be difficult and unsightly. The fact you are going to be drilling large holes in a floor or wall to get cables into your shack can unnerving and may cause some discord in the home. I would suggest if you are entering through a wall or floor to use some sort of enclosure to protect that opening, not only from weather but from unwanted critters, vermin, varmints, etc. If you entering through a window or soffit there are plenty of commercial or homebrew entrance panels that can make the installation look professional. MFJ and KF7P Metal Werks will give you some idea of what is available on the market. https://mfjenterprises.com/products/mfj-4603 ; https://www.kf7p.com/KF7P/EntrancePanels.html. Your journey into this hobby has just begun, so plan ahead, you may grow an antenna farm on your property, so make the entrance larger than your current needs. Another quick tip, the drip loop is your friend when connecting into boxes or structures. It is a small bend in the cable to allows water to have a drip off point before entering the enclosure or structure.
We have a few other pieces of equipment to talk about, again your budget is your budget and just buy the best you can afford. Regarding power supplies, I am a fan of power supply units with a higher output capablility versus multiple smaller output units. I currently have 2 power supplies running in the shack one 50 amp and one 60 amp. The reason being, I have 3 uhf/vhf radios, 12v led lighting, a small VHF linear amp, 2 lighted SWR/power meters, as well as two 100-watt HF rigs in the shack. I could in theory run all that equipment on one of those supplies. That said, they run cooler and I have power to spare as I add new equipment down the road. I prefer linear supplies over switching supplies. While we are discussing power supplies and distribution, Anderson Power Pole connections are highly recommended for all your power connections. Plan on using a DC power distribution strip to minimize the connections to the power supply and to provided added fusible protection for your equipment.
Ok we have the RF Exposure assessment done, the space for the shack is selected, we have our plan for feedlines, grounding, lightning protection, and our entrance point. Let’s get inside and start to set things up. A large desk, table or work surface is a must, bigger is truly better. I would recommend a 30 to 36” deep surface, most ham gear will be 13 to 15” deep. A deep work surface will provide space in front of the gear for writing implements, keyboard(s), code key(s), refreshments etc. Plan for more equipment in the future, as your station will grow. I can tell you one of the best decisions I made was the use of vertical risers. I used laminated 15” wide shelving material to build vertical shelves that sit on my desktop. It gives me space to stack equipment vertically and maximizes the horizontal space required for my station. Just make sure to use material that is thick enough and enough support to hold the weight. If the budget it tight check out your local Habitat Re-store or similar locations that have repurposed materials, you can find all kinds of tables, shelving, etc. that can be acquired at minimal costs.
Leave yourself space behind the desk to run interconnections, power cables and audio cables. You can have the desk off the wall, on casters, or sliders as I do in my shack. I can pull my desk away from the wall to get behind it easily with the sliding pads under the legs. Wire and cable management will also become a key as your shack expands. Using some sort of cable duct or rings will make your life considerable easier later down the road. Another huge tip, LABELING!!!!!! Label all of you cables and feedlines, each end and if you feel so inclined in the middle of the run. There are so many inexpensive wirewrap labeling solutions out there, it is almost crazy not to label your cables. Heck even a roll of white electrical tape and a sharpie marker will work. You will thank me the first time you are trying to chase down a coax, audio, USB or power connection behind the desk and you have 30 black wires and cables of various sizes and have no clue which it is.
Ergonomics play a huge role in hamshack design, you are going to be spending quite a bit of time in your shack operating, best to make it as comfortable as possible. Carefully layout your gear, and consider how you will operate, are you right-handed or left-handed. Locate the gear you will use most often in the easiest to access space. One tip I received early on from a friend in the professional broadcast business was to locate things like the power supply, battery back-up, power distribution (conditioning) strips and audio equipment on a set of shelves (or rack in my case) below the desk, keeping those less often used pieces of equipment off the prime real estate of the desktop.
Keeping with the ergonomics, do not underestimate the importance of a good chair for the operating position. Again, you will be spending quite a bit of time in that seat. A high-back chair that is conformable and can roll and swivel is a must. A good place to start is with office or gaming chairs. I recently purchased a gaming chair that was recommended by another Ham and I am quite pleased with it.
Aside from what has been discussed so far, there are a multitude of other items and equipment to consider adding to your shack. A closet or storage shelves would be a real bonus for the shack. I would also consider a good pair of audio monitors and headphones. A real nicety to have is a 24-hour clock or dual time zone clock, maybe a Geochron or Ham Clock. Having the UTC and local time available at a glance is great and makes for easy logging. Maybe a minifridge for refreshments, just make sure it will not affect your available power and is RF quiet. Maybe add a couch for relaxing or additional chairs for friends. A corkboard for QSL cards, maps and other thigs to display. Make sure you have wall space to proudly display for the Awards you will earn. A lighted call sign display is really cool too. A quick internet search for images of hamshacks or callsign searches on QRZ will give you hours of inspiration. There are so many eye-candy images out there. It is amazing what can be done in a hamshack. It is your space so have fun with it!!!
Until next month… Stay Passionate about Ham Radio… 73