If you are into Fox hunting or RDF (Radio Direction Finding) then HomingIn.com is a must visit website as it’s full of information. Even though the website appears to have been last updated in 1998, it’s updated often and I would say that it’s the “Go to” site for anything RDF.
Even though I have yet to participate in any type of Radio Direction Finding (RDF) event, I find myself buying and building stuff for it. This time I decided to build an offset (active) attenuator as I think it’s a must need for RDF. When I was testing out my 3EL tape measure Yagi, I placed a transmitter on my property and tried to find it with a Yagi and found that it was near impossible to pinpoint the source as my radio was showing full scale and dead full quieting no matter where I went.
Since I’ve been reading a lot about fox hunting, I knew I needed an attenuator. However there are different kinds of attenuators that you can make or buy commercially. I wasn’t sure what to get at the time. I narrowed it down to the offset attenuator and the step attenuator. I went with the offset attenuator because it appears to be cheaper, easy to make and better than a step attenuator.
The attenuator that I went with was found on HomingIn.com’s Website. The article was writen by Joel Moell (K0OV) and explained in detail about the attenuator. What the offset attenuator does is “Offset” the received signal by 4MHz using a diode, oscillator and some other passive components. You are now listening to the signal away from it’s transmitting frequency. Your antenna and radio is no longer being overloaded and you’ll be able to get even closer to the signal.
It appears to be quite easy to build, even for me! So I went with it. The parts that are listen in the article are a little outdated
Here is an updated list of parts that I purchased. I usually use Mouser for components but I wasn’t satisfied with their shipping to the North East so I used Digi-Key with better results
CAP CER 470PF 2KV 10% RADIAL
CAP CER 4700PF 50V 10% RADIAL
RES 2.2K OHM 1/4W 5% CARBON FILM
RES 4.7K OHM 1/4W 5% CARBON FILM
DIODE SMALL SIG 100V 200MA DO35
OSC 4.0000 MHZ FULL SIZE
BNC FRONT MT RECEPT SHORT
5K Audio Tape Pot
Radio Shack / Instore
Radio Shack / Instore
Total project cost: Approx $8.00-$18 USD
Making Sure Everything Works
Before putting it on any type of board I wanted to make sure that It works. I never really messed around with making electronic devices from a pile of parts. I put the entire project onto a breadboard following the schematic as close as possible
Here it is being tested out on the breadboard It went together pretty easy. I used a voltage meter to make sure the correct voltage is coming out of the LM7805 regulator. I was seeing around 5V
Here is a video of it in action
Now that I know it works, it’s time to transfer the design to a more permanent home. I wanted to compact it as short as possible to get it to fit into a small PVC box. Since I had a PVC box I wanted the board to go into, I measured a piece of perf board and cut it up
After cutting the board, I laid out all the components and attached all the wiring I could from underneath the board
Here its with most of the stuff attached.
Here is the Top view of the board. I had to use some jumpers (red and green wires) to get some of the components to make contact.
The black wires you see leading away from the board are for power and the adjustable resistor. I tried to test it out at this point to make sure it works before adding the coax and other things but It turned out not to be worth doing. But I did check the circuit wiring a couple times to make sure.
Getting it jammed into the small box was going to be difficult. I knew right away that I wouldn’t be able to fit the 9V battery and the circuit board into the same compartment without using a larger box.
Here is the PVC junction box with the circuit board, switch, POT and cabled jammed into it. I had to have shave some of the flange off on the cover as the Pot is almost the same size as the Inside dimension of the box.
To solve the battery issue, I fabricated a small aluminum box that can hold a 9V battery. I drilled a small hole in the side of the PVC case to route the power cable through. In the above picture you can also see the on/off switch and adjustable pot. I mounted the switch sideways to avoid any accidental switching even though it’s still possible.
Here is the fully assembled antenna. The PVC junction box is also used to mount the grip handle. This way most of the weight is sitting on top of my hand instead of out on the boom. I also didn’t want to put any kind of electronics/metal between the reflector and driven element. Not sure if it would make a difference but I think it’s better off this way
I learned a lot while making this attenuator. The circuit was simple enough to where I can understand what is going on.
If I were to build another one, I would make some changes to make it even better. The big problem is that the coax runs from the driven element straight into the attenuator from inside the PVC. This doesn’t allow me to swap out antennas. What I would do is put a BNC connector sticking out of the PVC box and have the coax come out the boom to make the connection. I could just make an attenuator that is seperate from the antenna but that is just another bulky piece of equipment to carry around. I wouldn’t want to attach it directly to the radio because I think it would put strain on the connector that is in the radio.
You also can’t TX using this antenna. If you do, you can kiss the diode and possibly other parts goodbye. I would try to install some kind of switch that would allow me to TX but I’ll just carry an extra antenna or extra radio for now.
After seeing a lot of articles written about making a three element Yagi using PVC and a tape measure, I was interested but not excited about it. That was until I made a QSO with K1MAZ (Nick) while he was doing a SOTA Activation. I decided to try to make contact with Nick on VHF as it was spotted on the SOTA website. Nick was on top of Burley Hill in Union CT which is about 30mi from my QTH. He tried using his stock antenna on his Yaesu Handheld but it’s just a little too far out of range. I knew someone was trying to get in but there was no copy. A couple of minutes later I hear him again, but it sounded like he was in front of my house. He was S9+ and very clear audio. After meeting up with him I asked what antenna he used and he said that he was using his Tape Measure Yagi. I was somewhat amazed that it worked that well.
Now I want to make this antenna. It appears to be real easy to make and requires only hand tools. I ended going with a mixture of three designs
The first design I went with was from WB2HOL which appears to the origin of this particular antenna. It’s designed to be a RDF (Radio Direction Finding) antenna. It could also be used in portable operations like SOTA or Field Day. I obtained all the dimensions needed from his website. http://theleggios.net/wb2hol/projects/rdf/tape_bm.htm
I got the boom design from the Camden County Radio Society’s website which is slightly different from WB2HOL. It replaced the tee used by the director with another cross tee and added a 5″ stub. I have no particular reason why I went with this book design. I just liked it and it avoids adding a different part even though it’s no big deal.
Is the choke/balun needed? I’m not experienced enough to give you a yes or no answer. I decided to use it because it wasn’t going to cost me anything to do it. If it didn’t work our or was causing an issue then I can just simply un-wind it.
I am not going to go into detail about making the beam as it’s already done for you in the those articles that I linked to above.
However I will provide a detailed blueprint that is a little better than what I’ve seen out there.
Please use all safety cautions while working with tools and parts!
I tried as best as possible to get the exact dimensions of the PVC caps and cross tees but I found that the dimensions vary between manufacturers. That will explain the 0.060″ (1.5mm) differnce in element spacing as noted on the print.
Along with the instructions on the blueprint, I would like to share some of my personal experiences when it comes to building and using the antenna.
Working with PVC Tubing
I didn’t have a PVC cutter as I rarely do PVC work. I also didn’t have a vice or clamp setup to use a regular saw or sawzall with. I ended up using a tubing cutter that is normally used on copper tubing for plumbing. It worked but it wasn’t pretty. It pushed the PVC to form a flange or lip around the entire diameter of the tube. I had to use a sander to remove the burr/lip.
PVC Cut into lengths
I also decided NOT to use PVC primer and cement. The parts fit together so tight that I didn’t even bother using it.
Antenna Boom Dry Fit – PVC was so tight fitting that I didn’t bother using glue
Tape Measure Sharpness
The tape measure is somewhat sharp along the long edge. It’s not razor sharp but it’s sharp. Cutting the tape measure creates a real sharp edge. You can combat this by either wrapping the exposed edge with electrical tape or cutting a chamfer (corner) or both. I’m going to use a product call “Plasti-Dip) and coat the tips of each element with it.
(Chamfering the corners and sanding down the points)
Hopefully you will be careful running around with the beam. Doing this will make things just a tad bit safer.
I’d would either dismantle or cut out the bad sections of tape. If you already have a 1″ wide (or bigger) tape measure, I’d suggest buying a new one and cut apart your old one. I’ve notice coating usually wears out within the first couple of feet. My suggestion would be to start cutting the tape up from the oppisiet end.
Soldering the Hairpin and Coax
There is also an issue when it comes to soldering the tape measure. If you have normal flux core solder, you might have a hard time soldering the wires to the tape measure to where it won’t stick. I ended up using a liquid flux that is commonly used in the plumbing/welding industry. It’s an acidic flux that works great.
After grinding away the paint/coating on the tape measure, I put just a teensy drop of flux on the exposed metal of the driven elements. After soldering the hairpin match and coax using a 100W iron, I took it over to the sink and washed off any left over residue that was still on the tape. I’ve been told and I’ve read that using this type of flux is pretty corrosive and will eat away at the metal it was applied to causing a bad connect. So please be careful. After a week of playing around with it, I have not noticed anything.
Running the cable through the boom.
You will notice that I drilled some holes extra holes. I want to run the coax through the center of the boom, have it come out to start the coil and back through. I did that so the cable couldn’t drag across or get snagged in the reflector and to provide a little more security with the coil. It’s not a big deal but I found it to be cleaner than having it zip-tied or taped to the boom.
Cable Through Boom
You can build this antenna for under $20. Since I work in trade where a lot of people accidentally cut off or destroy their tape measures, I have quite the collection of tape measures.
8FT of 1/2″ Schedual 40 PVC Pipe – $3 (Home Depot)
3 PVC Cross Tees 1/2″ – $1.50 Ea ($4.50) (Home Depot)
2 PVC Caps 1/2″ – $0.40 Ea ($0.80) (Home Depot)
6 SS Hose Clamps – $1 Ea ($6.00) (Home Depot)
1 Tape Measure – $3 (Harbor Freight)
Grand Total – Approx $17
If you already have a 1″ wide or bigger tape measure in your tool box, I’d suggest on purchasing a decent tape measure and use your old one for this project. When it comes to using used tape measures, I would make my cuts starting from the other end of the tape. Most used tapes have lots of wear and tear on the first 12″.
Also don’t cheap out and get regular steel and electrical grade PVC conduit. The clamps will rust and the electrical PVC has a thinner wall and will easily flex. It may not happen right away but time will take it’s toll. I know it’s a cheap antenna but it would be more cost effective in the long run.
Well Did it work? I would say so, I don’t have an analyzer to tell you for sure. I hooked up the antenna to a SWR meter (bridge) and was seeing 1.2-1.5 on the meter. I went out in the back yard of my house and I’m sure my neighbors think that I’m training to be a JEDI fighter or something with the way I was waving the antenna around. I ended up hitting a couple of repeaters that I couldn’t normally hit with the stock antenna
Here is a video I made really quick to show it in action
Nothing exciting but it was fun.
Here is the complete setup. I gave myself enough slack on the coax incase I decided to mount the yagi on a tripod.
Here it is with the elements folded up. I would do this before a fox hunt so I can place it in the back of my truck
Here it is folded up for extended storage. I use the clamps that hold on the driven element to secure the tape measure to the boom
Here is a plot of the Yagi using the miniVNA Pro. Testing conditions involved hooking the calibrated analyzer to the end of the feed line and taking multiple readings while holding the antenna in my office. Increasing the gap lowers the center frequency.
Overall it was a really fun build. It didn’t require any type of heavy equipment or tedious work. I have a feeling that running around the woods with a tape measure will end up with crimped or broken tape measure. However it would be much better that running around with 1/4″ (6.35mm) aluminum rod. Replacing the director and reflector would be easy as cutting the tape measure. So fart so good!