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Not Your Typical Mobile Mount

William Ohlrich (KD8QAE) on October 24, 2012
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Not your typical mobile radio mount

A custom fabricated fiberglass mount

††††††††††††††† A common problem facing mobile ham radio operators of today, is where to mount that modern radio, in your modern car, and not have your wife call you spaceman, or refer to your car as Medusa every time she gets in. Weíre all familiar with the suction cups, cup holder mounts, arms, braces, flex arms, vent mounts, bean bags, and the ever popular 3M double sided tape, sheet metal screws, and Velcro so many of us have resorted to using in the past. These mounts, while most serve their purpose, walk a thin line between being functionally ham sexy, and something a little better than that. The problem is they all look like add-ons. Iím very particular, I like things to gel, I donít like holes in my dashboard, I donít like wires strewn all over the place, I like the buttons within close range, and I donít mind building things to make that happen.

††††††††††††††† When I set out to mount my new Kenwood in my truck I had considered all the options mentioned above. Some were better than others, but none were very appealing. Did I mention Iím particular? My eyes kept coming back to this HUGE cubby hole I had in the middle of my console. It was at the right height where I could rest my arm and reach all the controls, plus it was enough out of the way I could tuck the radio head in there somehow and make it look decent, but how? As I continued to ponder, I broke my own rule, I brought out the roll of Velcro and stuck it somewhere.

††††††††††††††† Sure it was functional, and out of the way, but lacked that professional, custom look I wanted. I started my search on the net. ďcustom Ham Mounts.Ē While bringing some results, most of them consisted of pig roasts with custom smoker grills, and a small number of antenna mounts. There were some pictures of mobile installs, some done better than others, but most if not all utilized the mounts we had spoken about earlier. Once again not quite what I had in mind. At some point I had been playing on YouTube and came across how toís for custom speaker cabinets made of fiberglass. This was more what I was looking to do. After some videos, and more brainstorming, I had settled on my plan of attack.

††††††††††††††† My first plan was to get some foam from the local craft store. Shape, glue and mold this foam into a shape I liked, then fiberglass over top of it to make it durable. Sounds easy in theory right? Well after some messing around molding the foam into shape, I began the resin and glass. Letís just say donít try this particular technique. The glass mat, and resin are hard to work with, and take all the detail and defined shape out of the foam as you slowly build a durable layer on top. No realistic amount of sanding will ever get the definition back and make this a suitable final product. Fail. †Back to the drawing board.

††††††††††††††† I thought back to another technique I had seen, this involved the use of a wooden frame, and fleece stretched over it. The fleece was then ďpaintedĒ with fiberglass resin to create the hard shell of the part you're making. At the time, this seemed like so much extra work. Wood, fleece, resinÖ. I should have started with this and just done it right from the beginning.

††††††††††††††† A quick trip to the hardware store and I was ready to begin. The first step is a wood frame. The frame only needs to shape the important parts, the baseplate, the area where the radio head will be framed, and the angle of the head. The area where the faceplate will be mounted is basically just a box with a back on it. Itís then epoxied onto the base with a few pieces of scrap wood Ďtooth picksí to hold the angle I wanted the head at. A few tips at this stage:

1.†††††† Fabric is going to cover all of this. It doesnít have to be pretty. You're only making a frame for the important parts, size, general shape, angles, and how it will be mounted. Not pictured here is a few strips of wood on the bottom that will prevent the whole thing from sliding around once set in the cubby.

2.†††††† Think about wire routing at this point. Where will the wires be brought in? where will adapters for cat5 cables and such be hidden. After the above picture was taken I drilled a large hole in the middle of the rectangle frame, and also a hole in the base plate large enough to pass a cat5 cable and a barrel connector to connect the head control and mic cables through.

3.†††††† If the surface where you will be placing this is curved, there are techniques readily available on YouTube to custom mold a baseplate to match these curves. Basically it involves laying plastic over the surface you wish to mold(dash, cup holder etc.) then using something that can be shaped and held in place, cardboard or heavy weight paper works well, while itís held into place OVER THE PLASTIC applying a coat of resin. Keeping in mind resin is NASTY stuff, and this is being done inside your car, lay down way more plastic than you think you could ever need. Resin cannot be removed from seats and carpet. Once the resin is cured, the baseplate now molded in the contour of your dash can be removed and reinforced with glass mat, and more resin. You can then build your frame on top of that to you're liking.

At this point youíre happy with all of the above. Itís time to lay fabric. The material of choice for this seems to be fleece. It can be stretched and thus all the wrinkles removed, it also has some girth to it. This makes for a stronger shell later on. †I cheated, and used what I had around, an old tee shirt. The shirt worked well enough and to this day has not cracked even after over a year of use in my mobile. Stretch the fabric as tight as you can, removing any wrinkles as you go. Any wrinkles will later need to be covered with Bondo, and sanded out if you wish to have a smooth finished piece. The fabric will be the final shape, so make it look as you want. Secure with staples around any points or lines you wish to have shown off in the final product. As you can see in the photo below I wanted a bit of a flat spot on both the front and rear of the base plate for a more custom molded look.

Once you apply resin, the wood and fabric will essentially become one piece. Thereís no need to secure the cloth to the opening where the radio will be mounted. It will be cut out later, and sanded smooth. Now the fun part, Resin. Run to your local hardware store and get a gallon of resin. I estimate a small project like this actually took less than a quart to fully coat and saturate the cloth, but the local Home Depot only sells gallons. Better luck locating smaller quantities can be found at local boating stores such as West Marine. A note of caution, FIBERGLASS RESIN IS NASTY STUFF. Work outdoors and in a well ventilated area. Wear gloves, and a respirator. They arenít very expensive at your local home store. I have seen people work with this stuff with only a fan running for fresh air, attempt that human trick at your own risk. Saturate the cloth while the resin is fresh and easy to work with. Youíll have around 10 minutes working time after the hardener is added to the resin to ďpaintĒ the cloth and saturate it. After that time youíll notice the resin will start to become thick. The smoother this application is, the less filling with Bondo, and sanding later you will have to do.

Once your resin has hardened, you can give a quick sanding to smooth out any air bubbles that may have formed during the curing process. Iíve been told that a heat gun can be used while the resin is still wet to remove any air bubbles, I have not tried this trick myself. Hardener in the resin helps cures through a partially exothermic reaction, heat from a hot air gun will speed curing. †If you're very lucky you may be able to sand in several grits to get the finish smooth enough for paint, or a filling primer. In most cases a thin coat of Bondo will be needed to fill any voids, such as the impressions formed by the staples. Take your time here, just like body work, the smoother the surface is the better the final product will look. Self leveling primers may hide some scratches, paint wonít wide anything. Use varying grits of sand paper and a backing pad, or block when applicable.

From here itís on to finishing, primer and paint. Use what works, and more importantly what matches your interior, I nothing much more to add to that. I used Velcro on the rear of the radio head, and a piece within the rectangle to secure the radio to the new mount. My wires for the control and the mic enter from the bottom and hook into a couple of barrel type connectors for CAT5 lines epoxied on the underside. From there I can plug my mic easily into the bottom, as well as the stock cable from Kenwood used to plug the head directly into the radio body. On Kenwoods V71 itís a proprietary cable of CAT5 on one side, and a weird almost RJ11 on the other, this solution works for me, and was cheaper than purchasing the separation kit just for the cable. As a final step I applied some thin strips of the soft side Velcro to the bottom on the mount around the perimeter to prevent any kind of scratching or marring to the surface of my dash. Install, plugin and enjoy.

Questions and comments appreciated. 73 N8DOA

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Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by NJ3U on October 24, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Great job - professional looking results.

I'm looking at how to best use the slot in my F150 2005 Truck - it's either that spot or build out a riser type of mount for the space between the front seat and the dash.
Thanks for writing the article and including great photos to show the project progressing.
RE: Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by N1DVJ on October 24, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I like the article!

I was actually going to write one about putting my radio in my Mustang, so I was looking into defining the wiring, which was really the only thing missing.

With CAT5, or 8-wire, commonly RJ45, MOST, but not all, cables are 'straight through' and commonly called 'data cables'. If you have a coupler, it is USUALLY 'straight through'. What that means is that you can just take a cable and a coupler, connect them, and you have an 'extension cord'.

If you just go to Wal-Mart or Radio Shack and buy a generic 'ethernet' cable, it is almost certainly a straight-through data cable. The same goes for the coupler.

With 6-wire, or 'telephone' style RJ (modular) connectors, the majority of cables are reversing. That is, they are pins 1-6 on one and, and 6-1 on the other. With 'flat' cable this is accomplised by putting the tab of the RJ connector on the same side of the cable. When you buy a coupler at places like Wal-Mart or Radio Shack, it is more than likely reversing. This isn't bad, because if you take a reversing cable and put a reversing coupler on the end, you are back to where you started and have an 'extension cord'.


With 8-wire there ARE reversing cables out there, but they are not that common. There's also a THIRD type, called 'crossover'. You can get couplers as reversing, but they are rare, and I've never seen a crossover coupler, but I was told they exists. (Crossover cables are used to tie two ethernet devices to one another directly. Crossover couplers are used to tie two devices directly together with two standard data cables). Electronic stores also routinely carry the crossover cables, but they are almost certainly marked as 'crossover' on the package, and usually on the cable as well. They are sold to directly connect hubs and switches to other hubs and switches that don't have a 'crossover' jack. (The crossover jack is why you see 6 jacks on a 5-way switch. One channel will be wired normally, but be duplicated at a crossover jack. You can't use both at the same time. It allows you to use nothing but straight cables for your interconnects)

With 6-wire there are 'data' cables and couplers out there. Much more common than reversing 8-wire. Data versions of the 6-wire modular stuff is used for some PBX and other 'data phone systems'.

When using generic cables for interconnecting ham equipment that uses the same RJ or modular connector, always make sure of what you are getting!
RE: Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by K4KRW on October 24, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Very nice! Thanks for posting the article.
Richard - K4KRW
RE: Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by KH6AQ on October 24, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
What timing! I was just getting ready to build a wooden think to hold the radio and keyer paddle in my car. Your article is giving me ideas.
RE: Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by N1DVJ on October 24, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
It IS a neat article.

Also, don't rule out putting a 'cylinder' on the bottom of whatever kind of mount you decide to make. Then the 'cylinder' can drop into the drink holder in most consoles...
Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by KA4NMA on October 24, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article and a good looking job. Your comment about your wife calling you spaceman brings back memories. My ex wife called me spaceboy and I liked it.

Randy ka4nma
Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by N8NSN on October 24, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
High five !
Nice job.
Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by K9CTB on October 25, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
As a ham with absolutely no talent, you have reminded me that I do in fact have *one* talent: I have a great talent for appreciating people who actually have, well, talent. What an excellent job you did!!

Thanks for a great post!

RE: Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by K9MHZ on October 25, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Great advice on protecting your skin and lungs from the resins. This is especially a big deal for people who do a lot of car and boat repairs, as well as those who build composite airplanes. Apparently, what happens is that your body has a limit for total exposure, and when that's reached, it goes into zombie mode if any further exposure occurs, and that's for life and doesn't go away. Nasty stuff, but protection is easy.

(Disclaimer....only what I've read/been told, mileages vary, blah, blah).
RE: Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by W4WXT on October 26, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I'm rightttttt up there with K9CTB lol. That is one of the most user friendly pro builds I think I've seen for a "simple" mobile mount! I see mass production in your future for guys like me who can barely read a tape measure! Awesome install. Thank you for sharing. God bless. 73's bobby, KS9LBW
RE: Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by N2MG on October 26, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Where's the "Like" button? ;-)
Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by W0CBF on October 26, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Nice looking job and very professional. Ever thought about starting a business doing custom radio installation? If you do remember that I am in line holding ticket #1.

Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by WD9FUM on October 26, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by VE6FGN on October 26, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
very nice- thank you for sharing!!!
RE: Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by N0PSH on October 27, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I've got ticket #2
Not Your Typical Mobile Mount  
by NA8Y on October 28, 2012 Mail this to a friend!
I've seen this live. I tried to convince him to get one of those remote gooseneck mounts but this came out better. Good job on writing this out for others to give it a whirl.

73 Bill and cya on the repeaters

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