21 Things to Do: Set up a shack

21 Things to Do After Getting Your Amateur Radio LicenseSetting up a “shack” is an essential part of the ham radio experience. For most amateurs, their shack is a combination workshop and operating position. Another way to think about it is the place where you can go to get away from the hustle and bustle of every day life and immerse yourself in your ham radio hobby.

How did we come to use the term “radio shack”? Well, according to Rod, AC6V, the first radio shacks were found aboard ships in the early 1900s. He says, “At the time, wireless equipment aboard ships was generally housed above the bridge in a wooden structure that was called the ‘radio shack’”. For many commercial stations, the radio equipment was housed in a shack at the base of the antennas.

An early radio shack can be seen below. This is the shack of amateur radio station 8BNY circa 1922. As you can see, there’s not much in the way of amenities.

Early Radio Shack

This 1922 photo shows the "shack" of amateur radio station 8BNY.

Setting up your own shack
When you set up your own shack, there’s no need to be as ascetic as our forefathers shown above. In fact, I’d advise you to make your shack as comfortable and as convenient as possible. The reason for this is that the more comfortable and convenient it is for you, the more you’ll enjoy it, and the more you’ll want to use it.

The first thing to think about is where in your house, condo, or apartment you will be setting up your shack. Lucky hams have a spare room that they can use for their shacks. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t so lucky. Mine, for example is in my basement. The good thing about that location is that I have plenty of space. The bad thing is that it can get quite cold down there in the winter. All locations are going to have plusses and minuses, so weigh them carefully before getting started.

Richards, K8JHR, is a recently-licensed ham who has given a lot of thought to how to set up a shack. He recently wrote about his experiences and posted the article to the HamRadioHelpGroup, a Yahoo Group for hams looking for help and willing to help. I thought so much of the article, that I published it here on my blog. Here are some of the more important points:

  • Have plenty of AC outlets.
  • Buy a big desk that can accommodate lots of radios and station accessories.
  • Plan ahead for routing LOTS of wires, cables, and connectors. Think about how you’re going to run these cables into and out of your house.
  • Buy a really good, substantial, large swivel desk chair.
  • Locate your shack as close to the ground as possible.
  • Build shelf-risers that give you more vertical space.
  • Include space for bookshelves and maybe a filing cabinet.
  • Make sure your shack is well-lit.
  • Buy a big clock that shows Zulu or UTC time.
  • Get a bulletin board for displaying cool QSL cards, certificates, and for posting the odd note.

Another thing to consider when setting up your shack is how to ground your station. Ben, N2IHK, suggests reading W8JI’s Web page on ground systems (http://www.w8ji.com/ground_systems.htm). Remember, a good RF ground is not the same as the AC power ground!

Another good reference on setting up an amateur radio station is The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications. This book includes a chapter on station layout and accessories. I’ve found that the earlier handbooks are better in this regard than the latest editions. For example, my 1986 edition of the Handbook includes diagrams on how to build an operating desk, including vertical risers. The 2005 edition does not have those plans.

A good shack will make you a better amateur radio operator. You should give it as much thought, or even more, than you give to buying your first radio.

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  1. Elwood Downey, WB0OEW says:

    All good stuff Dan but it’s also worth pointing out for new hams who might not have any space at all to speak of that it’s entirely possible with today’s equipment to hold a very good station in your hand with no desk at all, or maybe just a few square feet of spare desk space. Of course the bull in the china closet is still the antenna, especially on HF.

  2. Good article and excellent blog. I will add this site to the list of ones that I check on a regular basis.

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