Building a New Shack?

Richards K8JHR, origninally posted this to the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list. I thought it was so good that I asked if I could post it here. Now, if only my shack had all these features……..Dan

Here are a couple of considerations to ponder when building a new shack.

  1. HAVE PLENTY OF AC OUTLETS. Run an extra line if you can, to dedicate to just ham gear. Run a 22ov line if you think you will run a linear amp. Most can run on 110v AC, but nearly all will coast along and run cooler on 220v AC.
  2. Have a big desk top. Lots of guys use narrow desks. I have two 30″ x 72″ desk shells with some drawer units under each, and lots of leg  room under both. I would prefer a 36″ deep desk top and will do that next time. Loads of guys use counter top that is only 24 inches deep, which leaves you NO room to write or have separate notepaper or other important stuff, like you code key, a desk top PTT switch, or a mug of beer.
    Plan ahead for where you are going to put your computer – and monitor - especially if you need to locate the transceiver away from the monitor to avoid unwanted stray EMI/RFI and electrical hash some LED and plasma monitors emit.
    Plan space for computer speakers, radio speakers, and other jazz like that.
  3. Plan ahead for LOTS of wires, cables, and connectors. My desk shells are both 6 inches from the wall, leaving room for patch cables, power cables, switches, connectors, and the like.
  4. Include some heavy-duty shelves. I built shelves on the walls, above the desk, and used heavy shelf brackets, which are attached to the studs in the walls, and can hold something like 500 lbs each, and I set the shelves on the brackets, about 1.5 inches away from the wall so I can pass cables and connectors up behind the shelves to the rear of any gear I place on the shelves. This allows the wires to be hidden behind the stuff on the shelves, yet I can easily deploy the cables between the various equipment.
  5. Take notice that ham gear is often HEAVY. I see so many photos of shacks where the shelves are sagging terribly – often to a point where one might worry they might give way and fail.
  6. Plan ahead for adding more gear, and other useful stuff, like large notebooks which can hold the instruction and user manuals, copies of adverts, service manuals, and also hold copies of articles you might collect along the way. Plan space for the rather large, and heavy, ARRL Handbook, ARRL Antenna Book, and other books and guides you might purchase along the way.
  7. Buy a really good, substantial, large swivel desk chair. Don’t get one of those wimpy little secretary task chairs they sell for $69 at Staples Depot Max. When in practice, I bought my secretary a super high quality, comfortable Herman Miller desk chair. I will never understand why so many other professionals load up their secretaries with work, but buy them a crappy, cheap, uncomfortable, chair to camp on all day. These days you can get a fairly decent executive type desk chair at Staples Depot Max for between $125 and $200 - and it is worth it. Why sit anywhere for any extended time in a crappy chair? But so many hams do just that, if you see photos of their shacks, you see $10,000 in radios and related gear, but a crappy old $5 chair they got at a flea market. Dumb – take good care of yourself.
  8. Locate your shack as close to the ground as possible – both physical earth ground, like what we know as dirt, and also electrical ground, like what the electrician calls ground, so you can tie (bond) your shack ground system to the domestic electrical system ground, what is called “single point bonding.” That is a whole topic for later… but plan ahead for this.
  9. Think about whether or not you are left0handed or righ- handed… where the window is… how you are going to lay out the radios… tuner, linear amp, code key, and even where you will hang your headset or head phones, and even plan where the microphone and PTT switch will go. Lets see… 2 meter rig… HF transceiver… you operate the tuner with your left or right hand… think about this as you proceed.
  10. Build shelf-risers that give you more vertical space. I have multiple levels of gear on the desk top. This allows me more gear in a vertical space. Plan for these things as you proceed, and maybe you get some help from a handy and well-equipped neighbor or friend if you don’t have this type of shop equipment, yourself. I make all sorts of wood stuff  for the local rabble. One of the local guys has a tool and die shop, and can make me custom metal stuff, but mostly he has told me how to do stuff myself, but the point is to tap into these local resources as you develop your shack.
    I use inexpensive, but attractive materials, such as vinyl covered per-fabricated shelving boards. They come in wood-grain finishes that match the color of my desk shells. Sometimes, I make shelf risers out of pine or white wood, and then stain the wood to match the desk and shelving. This wood is inexpensive, easy to work with, and takes stain well., compared with the usual hardwoods, such as oak or maple. But you should use what works for you. The point is, to plan ahead and maximize the available space – my shelf risers pretty much double the number of radios and accessories I can put on the desk.
  11. Get the wife involved. Not only will she have good ideas on how to lay out your gear, but she may have suggestions you will not realize on your own. My wife does that and sometimes she saves me from making a short-sighted move. In any case, this will get her invested in the shack-building process, and she will be more supportive and enthusiastic about your ham shack if she has a hand in assembling it. My young bride surprised me with new curtains – she found some nice, heavy, masculine material with colors that accented the silver, black, and bronze colors you see on ham gear.
  12. Plan for good lighting. Nothing worse than working in the dark.
  13. Put a long multiple-plug-power strip on the wall behind the desk, at about, or just slightly below the height of the desk top – typically 29-30 inches up from the floor. You won’t believe how many power cables, wall warts, and etc. you need to plug in to complete the shack. Do this before installing the desk, etc.
  14. Plan for multiple antenna cables entering the house. Do this before you assemble our desk and lay out the equipment on it. Some guys use MFJ and similar window coax pass through boards – which bring coax and other antenna cables into the shack from outdoors. I don’t use them because they do not allow a way for my windows to seal in the middle when closed down on the pass through boards – but you may have different windows that admit of better security and weather sealing. Some guys use 6 or 8 inch long bulk head connectors that allow you to bring in coax leads. Others use various other means of passing cables through walls, including PVC pipe of various diameters. Be sure to use a curved coupling or two, so to allow you to make a drip loop. You want the cable to turn up, and run up for a couple of inches, before turning horizontal and coming through the wall… which allows rain to drop off the low portion of the loop, and not run into the PVC pass through. (I hope this is clear enough… hard to say in words this late at night…) Still other guys use a remotely located and remotely controlled switch, with a single coax cable into the shack, to minimize the number of cable they need to pass through the exterior wall of the house.
    In any case, the point is to PLAN AHEAD for these things, so as to minimize surprises, disappointment, and waste.
  15. Plan for a big clock that shows Zulu or UTC time. I have a smaller alarm clock on my desk, right under my computer screen, but you might like a larger clock of some kind, but in any case, plan for a separate clock for world time, as hams live on Zulu time, and not local time.
  16. Get a bulletin board or leave some space for putting up various wall paper, such as Worked All Whatever Awards, Band Plan Charts, Tuner and Amp Setting Charts, Colored US Section Map, repeater frequency charts, and photos you will surely collect over time.
  17. Include the following amenities:
    • bathroom – preferably full bath with a shower
    • walk in storage closet
    • hallway placing the shack, bathroom, and storage closet down the hall, away from the family rec room
    • refrigerator with ice maker
    • coffee maker
    • microwave oven
    • separate supply of coffee mugs, beer mugs, etc. for you and your ham friends
    • a couple of chairs for friends, wife, kids, grandkids, etc. Don’t be a hermit !
    • a lighted call sign as well as a call sign coffee mug… or two… cannot have too many of these in the shack.
    • a sufficient supply of beer, bourbon, and snacks and sundry comestibles for snacking and refreshing you and your friends as you don’t wanna be undernourished or become dehydrated during a long QSO or, especially, during a big contest…. ;-)

Scour the web for images of other ham shacks, and see which ones you like, and which you don’t, noting the reasons therefore. See what other guys are doing. You will be surprised at how many really cool shacks there are, and also how many really messy, inconvenient, awkward shacks there are. It takes all kinds, but, surely some of them will appeal to you and you will get some good ideas from doing this.

This is just MY take… your mileage may differ.