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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Bringing Order To Chaos



One Ham’s Answer

I readily admit that I have a modest station compared to the local big guns in our club. I have been fortunate to work at some of them over the years including stations at Fred’s VE7IO, John’s VA7XB and Jim’s VE7FO. I’m always amazed at the number of contacts during a session, how a thousand Watts pushes through a pile-up and the variety of countries, some of which I have never even heard on my home station, let alone work them. 

Over the past year or so I have written several articles for the Communicator and the RAC TCA magazine on my efforts to put together a better station. First there was “Refinishing a Tower” in the January 2014 Communicator, then rebuilding a rotor in the December 2014 issue, and my next installment was to be refurbishing a 3-element HF beam… but that’s another chapter, as yet unfinished.

My shack is part of a home office I share with my wife, and is somewhat cramped in comparison to other home stations I have worked. My transceivers have to share desk space with a computer and various other work and hobby related equipment. It became clear some time ago that I had two options… significantly reduce my radio footprint by divesting assets or find a way to bring organization to the clutter. Well, actually it was more like chaos when I worked a contest. Up to three transceivers, a tuner, a power supply, voltage monitor, SWR meter, rotator control box, SignaLink digital interface, audio patch panel and the wires that held it all together, on my desk.  I’d have included a ‘before’ photo but it would be embarrassing.



I was cleaning house last fall and as part of the process listed some stuff on Craigslist that I no longer needed. One of these items was a legal size file rack, the type that rolls around with hanging file folders [photo above]. The thing wouldn’t sell despite a very competitive price, not even a single inquiry. I was about to haul it to the metal salvage when it struck me! I could transform this into a compact rack to hold my Ham gear. A 19-inch rack is a standardized frame or enclosure for mounting multiple equipment modules. Each module has a front panel that is 19 inches (482.6 mm) wide, including edges or ears that protrude on each side which allow the module to be fastened to the rack frame with screws. Equipment designed to be placed in a rack is typically described as rack-mount. The height of the electronic modules is also standardized as multiples of 1.752 inches (44.50 mm) or one rack unit or ‘U’. The industry standard rack cabinet is 42U tall [http://www.rackmountmart.com/html/sPt.htm]. There are usually ads for this stuff, and in used condition, often sells  for the price of the scrap metal. My file rack was 21 inches wide, lots of room. Using the standard 19 inches for the front width I dug out some used blank IT panels from commercial racks that I had been saving. 



I started work on it earlier this month. I pictured my gear accessible from the front and my connections for power, antennas and audio at the side. I removed the casters from the file rack—I could see that sucker rolling off the desk in my excitement during a pile-up! I added some channel aluminum to enclose one side as well. I already had a section of standard rack mounting channel that I mounted on either side of the front opening. 

I should clarify that I was not attempting to create a Grab ‘n Go Kit though the end result looks a bit like the excellent SEPAR kits, as seen in the April Communicator [video at https://youtu.be/E-a0yC--k6Q]. My rack can be lifted by one person but it was meant to stay in one place. I also wanted it to be flexible enough to shift gear around if my inventory changed and be accessible to wiring and the inevitable equipment re-configurations over time.

I cut several pieces of the panels to fit the openings for my transceivers, painted them black and edged them with black automotive door moulding from Canadian Tire. I added a panel mount LED voltmeter and a car 12 volt accessory outlet (I guess we don’t call them cigarette lighters anymore). I have a USB 5 volt plug-in for this outlet that I can use for charging my iPhone or for a USB LED light to softly light the front of the unit at night.

On the side I added a speaker, four PL-259 UHF feed through connectors. My feedlines enter here and I can use a patch panel approach to connect them to the transceiver of choice. I have a PowerPole 12 volt distribution panel which supplies fused protection and powers the gear, and I added two PowerPoles to an external side outlet. I don’t have a use for them yet but I plan for the future J. All wires are bundled and routed to the side and rear of the chassis.

Because I also use the gear while mobile and travelling, I needed an easy method to remove and replace it. The units are held in by heavy duty releasable zip ties which are inexpensive, strong and secure. 

My audio enters and exits through a ProCo PM-148 patch bay. This is another rack mount surplus item and allows me to feed anything that takes a ¼ inch phone plug and connect it to anything else. There are 24 pairs of jacks on the front and a matching 24 pairs on the back of the ProCo. Audio from the devices goes into the rear jacks and I can patch them at the front so that I can hook up multiple headsets, mics or foot switches in any combination. I also added a built-in mobile transceiver speaker to the side as an additional listening option.  I have since added a Xenix 802 2-bus mixer to handle my inputs and output levels after a segment on HamNation that convinced me that it was a needed station accessory.

I have used it for several years now and what a treat! I have sufficient space on my desk for my coffee cup and a snack and all my gear is less than an arms length away. I have ordered a new panel volt meter because I found one on eBay for $6 that does triple duty, adding a clock and thermometer—built-in overheating protection and UTC at a glance! 

So far I haven’t experienced any interference or noise issues but I have a supply of ferrites available should the need arise. I even have some rack space left in the event I need to add another ‘toy’.

Because I had all the parts and connectors already, the only cost was a can of semi-gloss black spray paint. That plus my time; not a bad investment for a functional [and portable] station.

~ John VE7TI




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