Latest Episode in the Antenna-Wire Cleaning Saga

Here’s a short article I wrote for the Flying Pigs’ Bacon Bits Quarterly (BBQ). The antenna is back up in the air and working quite nicely. I’ve made a bunch of contacts, including two DX QSOs: I1MMR (Italy) and OL32OLP (Czech Republic).

Hams are Cheap

I never thought of myself as especially cheap, but a recent experience has me wondering.

Last January, my 40m dipole came down in an ice storm. A very large branch, weighted down with at least a quarter inch of ice, fell on my poor antenna, actually breaking the 14-ga. FlexWeave wire.

I finally got around to fixing it about a week ago. Being lazy as well as cheap, I figured that I could simply use a short piece of new Flex Weave to splice the broken element. My plan was to sand the FlexWeave to get the tarnish off, make a good mechanical connection, and then solder it all together.

It was a good plan, but it didn’t work. Sanding did make the copper look brighter, and I was able to make a good mechanical connection, but the darn stuff just wouldn’t solder. My guess is that even though sanding took a lot of the oxidation off the wire, it didn’t do a good enough job.

I asked around on a couple of ham radio mailing lists I subscribe to, and got a bunch of suggestions about how to get the wire clean or make the splice:

  1. Use a crimp-on splice.
  2. Overlap the wire and use two small split bolt (Burndy) connectors.
  3. Knot the wire and use a wire nut to ensure an electrical connection.
  4. Soak the ends to be soldered in a mild acid, such as muratic acid.
  5. Look for a product called Tins Tighter used for soldering brass radiators at a NAPA auto parts store.
  6. Soak the ends in a solution of vinegar and salt.
  7. Use liquid flux before soldering.
  8. Heat portion of wire to be cleaned with a small torch. Extinguish torch. Plunge wire into rubbing alcohol. Do this in a well ventilated area as some of the alcohol will vaporize when the hot wire comes in contact with it.

I was leery of using the crimp-on splice. I don’t think a simple crimp splice is mechanically strong enough. I like the idea of using the Burndy split-bolt connectors, but I had already started the soldering process, so I bagged that idea. Using muratic acid or liquid flux, which is probably just a mild acid solution, seemed like it would work, but perhaps weaken the wire. We’re always being warned against using acid flux after all.

So, I opted for making a solution of vinegar and salt. I had the materials on hand, and while it is an acidic solution, I reasoned that if it’s weak enough to be edible, it probably won’t weaken the wire too much. I tried this yesterday, and while it seemed to work, it certainly was no panacea. The wire did seem more willing to accept the solder, and my ohmmeter does show a good electrical connection, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the result. Even so, I hauled the antenna back up in the air.

If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of an antenna is in the operating. That being the case, my repair is a success. The first two stations I called came right back to me, one giving me a 589 report, the other a 599.

I don’t know how long the splice is going to last, but when it fails again, I’ll have plenty of other things to try.

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