Overview

What in the devil is a ham shack - a store room for cured pork? No, not really - but it is a place where hams hangout.

The origins of the term "ham" have never actually been established. However, in the earliest days telegraphy the term was used by landline telegraphers to describe an operator that lacked skills, or was "ham fisted".

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As amateur radio took root, the term was used negatively by serious experimenters. QST magazine, in 1916, suggested that an amateur operator working on long distance message passing could avoid interference by sending "...on Thursday nights, when the children and spark coil 'hams' are tucked up in bed".

Regardless of its origins,the term stuck and is endeared today, throughout the world as describing a licensed radio amateur. The shack side of it comes from the use of a shed or shack, outside and away from the main house, where the noise and perceived threat of snapping snd sparking of early spark-gap transmitters reserved the tranquility and perceived safety of the main house.

Creating Your Shack

Today, the operating setup of an amateur station is simple to contain and often an asset to the home. Any empty room or dedicate space may be fashioned into a first class shack with a little patience and planning.

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Three major factors to consider before you begin are accessable power outlets, how you intend to run antenna feedlines into the shack and lighting.

Power

For those new to the hobby, the primary and initially only concern will be the provision of 110/120 VAC outlets. While most rooms today are fitted with multiple outlets, this is not always the case. Older homes and or rooms intended for limited use may only have one available outlet. If you're gifted with outlets, fine. But if you find only a single outlet, you can still make it work quite well.

Rewiring additional outlets would seem logical in that instance, but utilizing heavier surge proteced power strips with three prong plugs may actually be preferred, due the the relatively low power demand and the presence of surge protected sockets. Unless your power demands are unusually large, or the wiring in your home is otherwise questionable, even a single socket with heavy extensions should work fine. Save the 220 VAC run for your linear, at some point down the line.

Lighting

Shack Lighting

For those new to ham radio, lighting may not seem like much of a concern, often thinking that a simple overhead light will work fine. However, the more time you spend in the shack, the more important lighting will become. And, in addition to providing illumination and a comfortable operating ambiance, todays modern lighting, due to its proximity, has the possibility of creating unwelcome radio interference - far beyond that of kids and pets.

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Virtually everyone is aware of the lighting requirements necessary to meet their visual capabilities and consequently will choose lighting that provides the necessary amount of light. However, greatly exceeding that may well contribute to operating fatigue.

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In the alternative, slightly exceeding ones requirement will provide ample light without causing the fatigue associated with an over lit operating station.

LED Lighting

One of the problems associated with energy saving lighting alternatives, i.e. florescent and particularly LED lighting is the potential for radio frequency interference or RFI. As regards the LED, the problem is largely due to the fact that the LED power supply is switching at some rate to turn the supplied AC voltage into a DC voltage. Achieving this results in a circuit with lots of inductance, which produces an electric field around the circuit. In many cases the body of the lamp is plastic, which does not block transmission of the field. As a result, the field can interfere with HF radio reception.

Since LED lighting today offers a wide array of color and temperature variations, its desirability is often preferred and with due care in the selection of bulbs and fixtures can be nicely integrated into the lighting scheme of a ham shack.

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To simplify the process, and to further explain the ups and downs of LED lighting, you are encouraged to explore LEDBENCHMARK.COM which also provides information on various manufacturers.

» LEDBENCHMARK FAQ Click Here


Antenna Feeds

While the presence of windows often greatly reduces the challenge of running coaxial feedline into the shack. When a window is present, any number of methods can be incorporated, from creating a wooden or acrylic block for the sliding window to come in contact with and then simply using coaxial feedthroughs, to doing the same but obtaining a shortened window to ensure the top/side seal.

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If the shack is to be situated in a room without windows but that have an outside wall, feeding coax into the shack may be as simple as installing commercial nylon cable feed-thru fittings

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that will permit cable to be run directly from the exterior of the home to the interior of the shack.

Either of the forgoing are preferable, however not every ham is so blessed, particularly if the room is an on the interior lacking any outside walls. There is no magic bullet here. A cable path, from the exterior of the home, overhead or under-floor, to a corner of the room will need to be established. From there the most practical method is to install and fix in place flexible 2 or 3 inch vinyl or rubber tubing through which to feed coaxial cables into the shack. The fitting to the outside should be securely attached and sealed with a silicone sealant to prevent water, insects or rodent access.

Operating Desk/Console

Planning and Thought

From the start, you will want to plan something with a large desk surface. You'll want to avoid anything less than 24" deep and preferably something more on the order of 30", since most transceivers will likely consume around 16".

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» AB4BJ Desk Project Click Here


The width will be important, as well, with the average transceiver taking up around 16-18" by itself. If computerized logging will be employed, space for that will need to be planned. One thing to consider, is building a sturdy desk with the width you can manage, and then planning for a shelf system to house accessory gear.

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By doing a little research using the link we provided as well as others under the heading "ham radio desk" you'll find all kind of plans and information. The inventiveness is both amazing and extremely helpful.

The idea is to stay within your budget and plan ahead.

One final note - most big box hardware stores have countertop sections at very reasonable prices. As a general rule, those without a splash board look and work great, provided they are properly supported. Also, make certain that you can fit your legs under the desk when in the operating position. You will find this a true bonus when spending hours chasing that elusive DX.

Outfitting the Shack

Outfitting your shack with equipment and reference material will be the fun part. Think about where you wish to place you're your fundamental rig and work out from there. Placing a tilt on the rig tends to make the dials easier to see and knobs easier to access. If you're using an antenna tuner, that should be placed nearby. While a desk mic is convenient, it does take up room on the operating desk and can often be boom mounted with excellent results, permitting room for notes, logging and a key for use with A1 (cw) transmissions - but plan ahead for likely equipment expansion.

If you plan to use computerized logging, you may want to consider a tray drawer, for the keyboard and mouse, immediately under the desktop. Maybe plan a short shelf for the computer monitor and be sure to allot space for the operating system. I would personally recommend against the use of a laptop, unless you're married to them- A dedicated cabinet type CPU will be far easier to use and require less connecting and reconnecting to make various configurations work properly.

Unless you're committed to low power operation, considering space for an amplifier my be helpful, although the size require for a Kilowatt is far less than it was not so many years ago. While I don't advocate the use of high power initially, in time you will definitely find situations in which a boost will make the difference.

You will require some means of monitoring antenna health. Consequently, think about an swr/power meter located within your immediate vision. And don't forget the headphones. Keep them within easy access and at the ready - you will use them.

A few other items that may prove helpful; a 24 hour clock, a map of North America and or the world, with states and countries designated, shelving for books and a place to store periodicals, and a telephone if there is a landline into the shack. Additionally, since the FCC prefers that the license for your primary station be prominently displayed, why not frame it an hang it in a place obvious to those visiting your amateur station.

Finally, hams often attempt to decorate their walls with QSL cards they've received. While this may seem a neat thing to do, we would advise against it. First, if you need the cards for an award, you will want them in immediately accessible and in pristine condition; second QSL cards respond poorly to changes in relative humidity and unless you plan to mount them in a press type frame, you will not likely appreciate the look in a year or two.

Your Shack is Your Window

Make your primary station your own - providing comfort in the realm of an awaiting opportunity for discovery. The more comfortable it is, the more you'll enjoy the time required to listen and listen to root out those rare DX, design and test new antennas, or even better, answer the CQ of other hams anxious to meet and become acquainted with amateurs that share in the love of this great endeavor. Your shack then becomes a unique window to a world shared by those attracted to the science and mystery of radio.

Visit with Other Hams

Whether its members of a club, other hams you've met, or other hams on the air, feel free to discuss your plans and any changes you may anticipate. It is likely they have dealt with the same issues and may have suggestions that you may find helpful. Also, please feel free to email me, or catch me on the air. I probably won't have the answer but would more than willing to help you find one.