This Packable Ham Radio Antenna Is Made From Nothing But Tape

On today’s episode of “Will It Antenna?”, [Ben Eadie (VE6SFX)] designs and tests an antenna made entirely of tape, and spoiler alert — it works pretty well.

By way of background, the basic design [Ben] uses here is known as a J-pole, a popular “my first antenna” design for amateur radio operators looking to go beyond the stock whip antenna that comes with that cheap handy-talkie you just can’t resist buying as soon as you get your license. Usually, though, hams will build their J-poles from rigid materials, copper water pipe being a typical choice. Copper has the advantage of being easily sourced, and also results in a self-supporting, weather-resistant antenna that’s easy to mount outdoors. However, copper is getting to be egregiously expensive, and a couple of meters of water pipe isn’t exactly amenable to portable operation, if that’s your jam.

To solve those problems, [Ben] decided to keep his copper use to a minimum with a roll of copper foil tape. He doesn’t provide any specs on the tape, but it looks like it’s about 6 mm (1/4″) wide and judging by a quick Amazon search, probably goes for about $10 a roll. He starts the build with a couple of strips of plain old duck tape — we’ve already had the “duck vs. duct” argument — laid out with the sticky sides together. The copper foil is applied to the duck tape backing using dimensions from any of the J-pole calculators available online. Dimensions are critical to getting good performance from a J-pole, and this is where [Ben]’s tape design shines. Element too long? No problem, just peel up a bit and tear some off. Did you go too far and make an element too short? Easy — just stick on an extension piece of foil. Tuning the location of the feedline connection was a snap, too, with movable terminals held in place with magnets.

Once everything was tuned up, [Ben] soldered down the feed points and covered the foil with a protective layer of duck tape. The antenna performed swimmingly, and aside from costing almost nothing to build, it weighs very little, rolls up to fit in a pack for field operations, and can easily be hoisted into a tree for better coverage. Looks like we’ll be putting in an order for some copper tape and building one of these too.

40 thoughts on “This Packable Ham Radio Antenna Is Made From Nothing But Tape

    1. It is both actually the origins come from the sail cloth called ‘duck’ it was originally made from. But later it was indeed used on ducts. Regardless we can all be right on this one :)

      1. One of origin story for duck tape is that it was used to keep ammunition boxes water tight/resistant aka water on a duck. The same program said that Duct tape is the aluminium foil tape used to seal leaks in ducting since the woven cloth tape is not heat resistant enough.

  1. Yes it was 1/4″ wide foil tape. However given that you can literally tape one strip over the other you could get 1/8″ and tape one strip beside and slightly overlapping on the other to create the 1/4″ width for more bandwidth. You can literally tape bandwidth onto your antenna. its kinda crazy.

  2. Lots of hams have put tape J-Poles like this on the glass of a window for a more permanent application.

    By the way, there is nothing really special about tape. If you’re going to tape a conductor to some other backing, there’s no reason why it can’t be just wire … and if you want a wider conductor to get slightly better bandwidth, removing the braided shield from some coax would work fine.

    1. Copper foil is rather special:
      It’s very cheap
      It’s an efficient use of copper for RF
      It doesn’t have PVC insulation which is either lossy or has strong dielectric effects
      You can stick it straight onto things.
      Did I mention it’s cheap?

      1. I don’t know if the long flat strip might perform closer to the way a thicker wire would, but there’s cheaper wires than tape. Aluminum fence wire is one example – it’s thin and not quite so conductive, but $5 will buy you 250ft of wire that won’t corrode and will tolerate significant tension. It could be braided, if it came to that. Of course, you have to tightly wind it to get to the same size as a coil of tape.
        Magnet wire is an insulated copper option; it wouldn’t be as cheap except that you may salvage significant quantities from transformers. The primary of a microwave transformer would be both long and thick enough, I imagine.

    1. The steel in a tape measure has 30x the resistivity of copper, and 10% the skin depth., so 300x the loss.

      Yeah, sure it will kinda work, but not as well as copper or aluminium.

      Heck, even the SWR might be better and the bandwidth wider. That’s the nature of dummy loads.

  3. I’ve have thought a long time ago of 1/4 inch copper tape on plastic tarp in the form of a multi-element Yagi. I have the foil but never tried it out. Burrito beam, with beans. To go!
    When it comes to TV and FM a indoor decorative “kite” near the ceiling can pull in stations 60 miles away or more full time. For ham use it’d have to be on a wall for vertical polarization.
    Even the copper tape dries out and comes loose by itself eventually, but just about every other brand and type of tape I’ve seen becomes goo on a strip with messy results or it dries up and turns to dust.
    Field Day have at it. Next year it’s stuck to bottom of what it’s in. Silicone and cloth may be worth a try.

  4. Nice! I like the fact that you can tune it in. All the sim tools on Earth can’t get the exact dimensions of the antenna exactly right. The VSWR can’t be fooled. By being able to custom tune the antenna, you can make it near perfect. Now you can roll it up, and keep ir ready for when you need to Xmit, or Rx out in the field.

    1. I agree – excepting that the VSWR can definitely be fooled; if you accidentally couple into lossy nearby objects while testing you’ll throw off the reading and see a better match than you’d get in a different location. Can also get a wrong tune that way, although usually it’s acceptable since it naturally must be within normal variation.

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