If there’s one instrument that hams and other radio enthusiasts covet, it’s the venerable Bird 43 Thruline wattmeter. The useful RF tool has barely changed in the nearly 70 years since it was first introduced, and they’re built like a tank. This makes Bird meters highly desirable, and therefore quite expensive either brand new or on the swap-meet circuit.
But radio amateurs are nothing if not resourceful, and building a homebrew version of the Bird wattmeter (in Portuguese; Google translate tool at the bottom of the page) as Brazilian ham [Luciano Sturaro (PY2BBS)] did is a good way to get your hands on one. Granted, [Luciano] had a head start: a spare line set, which is the important bit from a Bird wattmeter. The machined metal part is in effect an air-insulated section of coaxial cable that the RF signal passes through on its way from transmitter to antenna. A “slug” is inserted into the cavity in the line set to sense the RF and couple it to the meter electronics; the slug can be rotated to measure RF traveling in either direction, allowing the user to determine how much RF is getting reflected by the antenna system.
[Luciano]’s version of the meter is faithful to the sturdy construction of the original, with a solid steel case that mimics its classic lines — the case even sports the same color scheme and stout leather carry handle. There are some changes to the electronics, and the meter movement itself is different from the original, but all in all, the “Buzz 50” looks fantastic. We especially love the detailed nameplate as an homage to Bird.
The thing about Bird — and Bird-like — meters is that the slugs are like potato chips; you can’t have just one. Curious as to how these slugs work? Check out this slug repair project.
At DC and low frequency, we can pretend wires are perfect conductors. At radio frequencies, though, there are many effects that you need to take into account for wires and cables. One of these is characteristic impedance. If you have a marked cable, you can look it up on the Internet, of course. But what if you don’t know what kind of wire it is? With help from [The Offset Volt], you can measure it as he shows in the video below.
This is one of those things that used to take exotic test equipment like an LCR bridge, but these days meters that measure inductance and capacitance are commonplace. The trick is simple: measure the capacitance and then short one end of the cable and measure the inductance.
Radio may be dead in terms of delivering entertainment, but it’s times like these when the original social network comes into its own. Being able to tune in stations from across the planet to get fresh perspectives on a global event can even be a life saver. You’ll need a good antenna to do that, which is where this homebrew loop antenna for the shortwave radio bands shines.
To be honest, pretty much any chunk of wire will do as an antenna for most shortwave receivers. But not everyone lives somewhere where it’s possible to string up a hundred meters of wire and get a good ground connection, which could make a passive loop antenna like this a good choice. Plus, loops tend to cancel the electrical noise that’s so part of life today, which can make it easier to pull in weak, distant stations.
[Thomas]’s design is based on a length of coaxial cable, which should be stiff enough to give the loop some stability, like a low-loss RG-8 or RG-213. The coax braid and dielectric are exposed at the midpoint of the cable to create a feed point, while the shield and center conductor at the other ends are cross-connected. A 1:1 transformer is wound on a toroid core to connect to the feedpoint; [Thomas] calls it a balun but we tend to think it’s more of an unun, since both the antenna and feedline are unbalanced. He reports good results from the loop across the shortwave band.
The shortwave and ham bands are a treasure trove of information and entertainment just waiting to be explored. Check them out — you might learn something, and you might even stumble across spies doing their thing.
You can say one thing for [Derek]’s amateur radio ambitions — he certainly jumps in with both feet. While most hams never even attempt to “shoot the Moon”, he’s building out an Earth-Moon-Earth, or EME, setup which requires this little beauty: a homebrew quarter-wave hardline RF divider, and he’s sharing the build with us.
For background, EME is a propagation technique using our natural satellite as a passive communications satellite. Powerful, directional signals can bounce off the Moon and back down to Earth, potentially putting your signal in range of anyone who has a view of the Moon at that moment. The loss over the approximately 770,000-km path length is substantial, enough so that receiving stations generally use arrays of high-gain Yagi antennas.
That’s where [Derek]’s hardline build comes in. The divider acts as an impedance transformer and matches two 50-ohm antennas in parallel with the 50-ohm load expected by the transceiver. He built his from extruded aluminum tubing as the outer shield, with a center conductor of brass tubing and air dielectric. He walks through all the calculations; stock size tubing was good enough to get into the ballpark for the correct impedance over a quarter-wavelength section of hardline at the desired 432-MHz, which is in the middle of the 70-cm amateur band. Sadly, though, a scan of the finished product with a NanoVNA revealed that the divider is resonant much further up the band, for reasons unknown.
[Derek] is still diagnosing, and we’ll be keen to see what he comes up with, but for now, at least we’ve learned a bit about homebrew hardlines and EME. Want a bit more information on Moon bounce? We’ve got you covered.
We once saw an interview test for C programmers that showed a structure with a few integer, floating point, and pointer fields. The question: How big is this structure? The correct answer was either “It depends,” or “sizeof(struct x).” The same could be said of the question “What is the speed of light?” The flip answer is 186,282 miles per second, or 299,792,458 metres per second. However, a better answer is “It depends on what it is traveling in.” [KB9VBR] discusses how different transmission lines have different velocity factors and what that means when making RF measurements. A cable with a 0.6 velocity factor sees radio signals move at 60% of that 186,282 number.
This might seem like pedantry, but the velocity factor makes a difference because it changes the actual measurements of such things as dipole legs and coax stubs. The guys make a makeshift time domain reflectometer using a signal generator and an oscilloscope.
[Mare] has a visual guide and simple instructions for making DIY mini helical 868 MHz antennas for LoRa applications. 868 MHz is a license-free band in Europe, and this method yields a perfectly serviceable antenna that’s useful where space is constrained.
The process is simple and well-documented, but as usual with antenna design it requires attention to detail. Wire for the antenna is silver-plated copper, salvaged from the core of RG214U coaxial cable. After straightening, the wire is wound tightly around a 5 mm core. 7 turns are each carefully spaced 2 mm apart. After that, it’s just a matter of measuring and bending the end for soldering to the wireless device in question. [Mare] has used this method for wireless LoRa sensors in space-constrained designs, and it also has the benefit of lowering part costs since it can be made and tested in-house.
Antennas have of course been made from far stranger things than salvaged wire; one of our favorites is this Yagi antenna made from segments of measuring tape.
He recently had to distribute Ethernet through a building, and there are a few ways to do that. You can use regular ‘ol twisted pair, or fiber, but in this case running new cables wasn’t possible. WiFi would be the next obvious choice, the distance was just a bit too far for ‘regular’ WiFi links. Ethernet over power lines was an option, but there are amateur radio operators in the house, and they put out a bunch of interference and noise. The solution was to mis-use existing 75 Ohm satellite TV coax that was just sitting around.
The correct way to do this would be to use a standard DOCSIS modem and become your own cable Internet provider. The equipment to do this is expensive, and if you’re already considering running WiFI over coax, you’re too deep down the rabbit hole to spend real money. Instead, [Tobias] simply made a few u.FL to F-connector adapters from u.FL to SMA, then SMA to F-connector adapters.
There are some problems with this plan. WiFi is 50 Ohms, TV coax cable is 75 Ohms. Only one MIMO channel will be available meaning the maximum theoretical bandwidth will be 433 Mbps. WiFi is also at much higher frequencies than what coax is designed for.
With two WiFi antenna to coax adapters, [Tobias] simply connected the coax directly to a router set up to bridge Ethernet over WiFi. The entire thing worked, although testing showed it was only getting about 60 Mbps of throughput. That’s not bad for something that was cobbled together out of old parts and unused wiring. Is it surprising that this worked? No, not really, but you’ve probably never seen anyone actually do it. Here’s the proof it does work, and if you’re ever in a bind, this is how you make WiFi wired.