Foundations of Amateur Radio #174:
October 6, 2018
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Random bits of wire ...
One topic that is longer than all other
topics combined is that of antennas.
Designing, planning, sourcing, building,
tuning, using, you name it, all of this is
regular fare in the day of a radio amateur.
I've discussed the topic here regularly and
no doubt I'll revisit that when the mood or
necessity takes me.
One topic that is rarely discussed is that of
About six months ago I moved house. I've been
rebuilding my shack, doing all manner of
fancy shuffling of gear and yesterday I
finally got to the point of getting some HF
activity happening. During that process I
went through boxes and boxes of stuff, with
coax, connectors, wire, nuts, bolts, heat
shrink and all the other necessities of being
a member of an experimental hobby like ours.
One box contained wire. You know the adage,
only two types of wire required in our hobby,
cheap wire or free wire with a preference for
free. This box was stuffed with wire. Bits
with connectors, bits wound around spools,
bits in zip-loc bags with labels, bits of
random length - lots of bits of random
There was even an abortive attempt at
labelling dipoles for various bands on the
outside of a couple of zip-loc bags, but no
idea if the bit of wire in the bag was
actually ever tested and resonant on whatever
band was on the label, so who knows, they
might have just been cut long waiting for
another day and another set of experiments
I needed around 50 meters of hook-up wire for
my HF antenna experiment and it occurred to
me when I was hunting through my box that I
couldn't look at a spool and tell you how
much wire there was. I did a dodgy
measurement of one bit, put it on the kitchen
scales and determined that another spool was
heavier, so it was likely longer, but without
bringing in my calculator, doing extra
measurements and doing some head scratching
there was no way that I was going to get to
the point of knowing how much actual wire was
on that spool.
In the end I made do with the dodgy piece,
soldered some joins, that's a whole other
adventure, involving a gas-powered soldering
iron and a flame, the flame won, as well as
several other breaks and fixes.
While I was in the process of putting up my
new antenna experiment it occurred to me that
part of the process of experimentation, even
of shack maintenance should be the
I have bits of terminated coax, some of it 20
meters long, some longer, some shorter. How
much longer, and how much shorter you ask? No
idea. But wouldn't it be great if I could put
my hands on a piece of kit that I needed that
was the length that I expected and not 10
meters over length, or 1 meter short.
In my audio kit, I have started labelling
patch leads with their functions, using key-
ring tags. I don't expect that to work for
plain wire, but it should be a good solution
for coax. I could use cable tie labels, but
past experience with those leaves the text
fading on the label. I've experimented with a
printed label with clear heat shrink, but for
reasons best known to chemists, the clear
heat shrink becomes yellow in short order
leaving the label unreadable.
I've heard of people using electrical tape
with colour coding, perhaps one ring for
every 5 meters of length, but they seem to
come undone in the dust when you go camping.
One thing I do know is that this is a
recurring problem for me. This is the first
time I've actually stopped to talk about it
and perhaps it means that I'll get a little
closer to a solution.
I'd love to hear what you do to deal with
this and how you keep track of the countless
different lengths of wire, coax and rope
that's lying around your shack.
I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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