Homebrew 1/2 Wavelength 2m J-Pole Antenna Build – Part 1 of 2

Building my +5 Staff of Summoning

My Nagoya whip apparently does not cut it with my Baofeng UV-5R. I’m not even sure I’m hitting the repeater, though it’s on a mountain that I can see across the river. I have no elmer to really help me figure it out.

Plus I bought the cheap radio all the more experienced hams told me not to. The Baofeng. One of the “non-compliant Chinese” radios, which a Toronto area radio shop told me they do not carry any accessories for. So many sources told me not to buy this, but I effectively tuned them out. And now I’m not able to tune anybody in to talk.

Okay, I got lost in my own metaphor there. I can hear others talking, but all my attempts to raise somebody, whether on simplex, repeater or on a net check-in have failed. I’m shy, but I’ve put myself out there again and again with no response (okay, except once in a dream, but that’s another story…).

I’m not ready to plop down money on a new transceiver though. And WI5HER claims that it’s “all about the antenna”. Don’t get me wrong, other people seem to have adequate success with their Baofengs. May depend on environment and proximity and density of other users. But where I’m trying to ‘work’ the airwaves, it’s not doing it with the little Nagoya (which is already bigger than the rubber duck it comes with).

So one of the major next steps that is affordable for people in my situation: you have a Baofeng and it’s not seemingly strong enough to reach other people, is to buy or build a J-Pole antenna for 2m.

If you’re not in the club already, two meters is the wave-length of the frequency band we know as 144-148 mHz FM. In the commercial radio spectrum in the US and Canada at least we listen between around 80-108 mHz FM. We usually call that just like 100.3 FM, but the true measurement is megahertz, or as they used to call it back in like the 50s and before (I don’t know when it changed tbh) “megacycles.” 1 hertz is one cycle per second. 1 megahertz is one million times that. Whatever that even means. Here’s a good diagram to help you sort it out in your head.

Anyway the model I followed was basically this guy:

And I even emailed him with questions and he was kind enough to answer (though someone else later gave a reason to do something different).

The measurements I used were based off this j pole calculator.

Best technical explanation I’ve seen of what’s happening (without being too dense) is this video:

I like that there is kind of a trombone quality about these antennas.

https://i1.wp.com/www.kanstul.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/TROMBONE-1606.jpg?w=700

I don’t think it’s accidental if we break both these devices down to what they’re doing: enabling the user to transmit a signal at a particular wavelength. One in audio (Hz) and one in radio (mHz). You can explore these feelings more on Wikipedia’s trombone page if you’re so inclined.

Also check out the J-Pole Antenna site. He has a guide for especially Baofengers about using external antennas on your radio, the why and more importantly the how. The guy’s in the US and makes and ships finished versions of what I’ve built below of much higher quality than what I will embark herein to show you now. I submit with humility, knowing the quality of my soldering is quite “shitty”, but this is my first time working with these materials (copper, flux, solder) and these tools really – mainly a blowtorch used in this way.

Best way to get good at something is to experiment, iterate, ask questions, try it out. Then you can do it better later. Sometimes you can succeed on a first try though too.

Jury’s still out on that for me, as I’m awaiting my coaxial cable which will let me mount and link the antenna to the radio.

This is after completing the cutting and soldering of the copper 1/2″ pipe to the measurements on the j-pole calculator.

I never cut copper pipe before. I bought a little $5 pipe cutter, which worked but crappily. This video was useful for general principle:

I also experienced a bug in my process because I bought two wrong parts: over-sized end caps, and an elbow which was 1/2″ on one end, but not on the other. So I bought a straight coupler and used that to join the small end of the elbow to the short arm (1/4 wavelength). There was no issue with that–the two arms are straight and parallel.

 

 

 

I tried to rotate this image, but oh well. This is the copper tubing attached with u-bolts to a stick of wood I will use as a mast and attach to the outer peak of my shed. It’s definitely starting to look like some kind of wizard LARP staff, which I really like.

Maybe I will get a costume to go with it.

https://i0.wp.com/images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41Vryv3yTUL._SL500_.jpg?w=700&ssl=1

Or maybe I can reserve that for when I actually get good at this.

Here is my electrical connection. I bought the SO-239 connector from Durham Radio, outside Toronto (online). Unlike the radio store that told me they don’t deal with my ‘non-compliant’ Chinese radio, Durham actually – you know – sold me radio parts. Go figure!

[Insider tip: you didn’t hear it from me, but they *might* even sell you an Android TV box, which is sketchy af but I like it! Netflix Canada subscribers, you feel my pain!]

Yes, I know my welds are ugly af, but again, first time so cut me some slack. They are sealed, which is mainly what’s important to me rn. On the feedpoint connection, I used electrical solder which I got from the hardware store rather than the plumbing solder I used everywhere else.

Oh, if you don’t know how to solder onto copper, you should take a look at least at this video. It’s really not complicated:

But I guess you can’t pull it off with just a soldering iron, cause you need to actually get the copper really hot (and apply flux first) or else your solder won’t ever really bond. I know because I tried to connect the stripped piece of copper wire I picked up after an electrician did a small wiring job at our house to the back of the SO-239 aka UHF female jack.

Anyway so I did eventually use the torch on it and that worked.

But there’s a pretty big “gotcha” here in this process, because it’s highly likely that you will melt the plastic inner on the UHF female. You can sorta see it poorly in the photo above, the white part is partially melted.

Once I get my coax, I will see how well the PL-259 seats into that. Worst case scenario (I hope) is I heat up a knife and cut out the melt that interferes – if any.

If I had it to do all over again, I would get a smaller or hand-held or ‘micro’ torch and use something which I could more easily control. I already had one like this, a sort of fat big propane canister with a simple control at top. It’s fine for general use, but for a controlled application of heat like this, something smaller would definitely be in order.

Oh well, I will take my lumps as part of the learning process.

Now, in the J-Pole build video above, he uses a flat copper plate to connect his UHF female to the copper pipe. It was non-obvious to me IRL where/how I could acquire such a flat piece of copper.

So what I did ultimately was flatten down one of the too-big copper end caps I had bought with a hammer and very small anvil that I have. Then I used a corded drill, a lot of patience and a little swearing to drill and bore out larger and larger an adequately sized hole to pass the UHF female jack through and connect the nut on it.

I know my results are crappy looking, but I’m proud regardless for a first try. You always encounter problems in building something totally new with new materials and tools, and it’s all about how you improvise in the moment to achieve at least an approximation of your desired end-goal.

As far as I can tell, this will probably do the job. I did a decent job of staying in line with the measurements the J-Pole calculator gave me. I tuned mine for 146 mHz which is right in the middle of the 2m band. Unfortunately, I don’t yet have an SWR meter – though I found that Durham sells an MFJ (MJF?) that works on 2m for around $60 so I will probably pick that up one day. It’s too expensive to buy into all this radio equipment at once before I even know what I’m doing.

A hobby is all about developing an interest into a mild side-obsession. That takes both time and repeated effort and can’t be just bought into all at once.

I would guess that with everything (excluding the cost of tools, coax and the SMA female to UHF female jumper I had to buy for the Baofeng), the J-Pole antenna build I did probably cost me around $20-25, including the mounting hardware. I didn’t keep exact track.

I ordered about 35 ft of RG58 coax, even though I saw some people say RG8U would be better. I honestly don’t know the difference yet, so this is the price of learning. Maybe I make an imperfect prototype. Worse things could happen. Like doing nothing or giving up completely. Cost me about $35 plus shipping.

SMA female to UHF female from Durham Radio outside Toronto, Canada cost me just under $20 plus shipping, but now I have a radio store that will allow me to indulge my cheap Chinese technology desires – even to my own detriment.

But as I see it, how could a learning experience like this be bad?

Unless, once I get it all mounted, wired and connected up people still can’t hear me.

Then we’ll have a problem.

Even if that happens though, I’ll probably still be left with a perfectly serviceable 2m antenna which I can use with a better radio once I finally decide to throw my Baofeng out the window.

Post script:

For every trash-talking ham out there who will tell you not to buy a Baofeng, most of them are talking from experience because they almost all have one. So take that for whatever it’s worth. In technology, ubiquity counts for a hell of a lot. So if you feel compelled to buy one, don’t let someone stop you if it’s your path to learning more.

I passed my amateur radio exam!

Okay, so it’s my second test, actually. My first was technician class in US (though I never did anything with it and my interest languished for years), and a couple of days ago finally passed my Basic Qualification in Canada (or as I call it the BQ – though maybe no one else uses that abbreviation).

So I will go from being KB3SZG to being VA2SFX. US call signs (I think) begin with K or W whereas Canadian begin with V and my province (QC) begins with either VE or VA. I heard from my examiner that VE is more “prestigious” among the old established hams, but I don’t care about that and would rather be “New Wave.” Anyway.

If only I could hear my repeater now… It was easy to find for days until I was ready to check into my net for the first time and now it seems to be missing. There is so much to learn and understand…

Test scheduled

Since Industry Canada was not very welcoming about having me out to their place to take the exam, I scheduled my Basic Qualification (BQ) for next week with one of the volunteer accredited examiners here at the local radio club. I still have to pay $20 but that fee goes to the radio club instead, which seems more worthy anyway.

My Baofeng speaker mic, a longer Nagoya antenna and another mag mount antenna for the car arrived today (amazon.ca) but the mailman left a note at the door instead of delivering them for some reason. I didn’t go pick them up from the drop-off point though yet because I don’t have the actual radio on hand, so it seems sort of pointless, to as wi5her suggested, stand there with the antenna in one hand, the mic in the other and call CQ over OpenQNL. But then again, maybe not.

Bogus questions in Canadian Basic Qualification Exam

I’m really frustrated by this type of question in the Canadian amateur radio Basic Qualification exam:

The correct answer, regarding third party traffic is D: that the countries have authorized such communications.

Choice B to me seems more logical, because there must be a place or register where those countries have given their consent or authorization. If it’s not registered with the ITU, where or how do countries give their authorization? To whom? More practically: how does an amateur radio operator look this up, since other questions in the bank deal with this as well?

I’m going it alone with my test study, so am bookmarking this as something to look into in more detail on my own later.

UPDATE:

The above is even more confusing in light of this question:

So what you’re telling me is that countries register with the ITU when they object to ham traffic overall, but when they consent to third party traffic it’s just an “authorization” given out non-specifically, not to the ITU? That doesn’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps I will have to write to the ITU for clarification.

UPDATE 2:

Again, how am I supposed to determine this?

Q Codes: QNL

The QN Signals are Morse code operating signals that were introduced for Amateur radio net operation in 1939 on the Michigan QMN Net to lighten the burdens of net control operators.

Source

Same source:

Although these codes are within the Aeronautical Code signals range (QAA–QNZ) and thus conflict with official international Q signals beginning with QN, the ARRL informally queried FCC’s legal branch about the conflict. The opinion then of the FCC was that “no difficulty was forseen as long as we continued to use them only in amateur nets.”

I’ve never used these codes. I’ve never transmitted on the air. I have an American Technician class amateur radio license and am almost done studying for Canadian Basic qualification.

On Wikipedia source, linked above, there is a section: ARRL QN Signals For CW Net Use.

QNL as a CW abbreviation is listed as:

A notice to a named station that the frequency that the station is transmitting on is lower than the Net’s nominal frequency. c.f. QNH.

QNH, meanwhile:

A notice to a named station that the frequency that the station is transmitting on is higher than the Net’s nominal frequency. c.f. QNL.

H seems to be representing High and L, Low.

I’ve been trying to decipher how the Q codes overall work. Here’s a good operational list of Q codes. QN subset not listed there. Only QR, QS and QT.

I’m assuming three letter codes are a function of telegraphy codes and have seen docs online placing the origin and popularity of various forms of telegraphy codes between (approx.) 1880’s – 1920’s.

It seems like there are just so many different overlapping sets of codes, decisions, agreements, organizing bodies, etc. It’s mind-boggling to try and untangle all of it.

I’ve only caught in the wild locally an amateur radio net (once) using a repeater I think about 2 hours drive away. I’m not sure how to find their schedules or frequencies. I am scanning with SDR, learning on my own. It’s like the internet but it’s not. It’s its own thing, for sure.

Excerpt from an ARRL document on QN Signs:

I’d like to learn more about nets. And untangle all these codes and abbreviations. It’s a compelling puzzle I’m engaging in for the sheer puzzle of it all.

Like this, what does it all mean, the Aeronautical Codes:

First defined in ICAO publication “Doc 6100-COM/504/1” in 1948 and in “ICAO Procedures for Air Navigation Services, Abbreviations and Codes (PAN a S-ABC)” [Doc8400-4] (4th edition 1989), the majority of the Q codes have slipped out of common use; for example today reports such as QAU (“I am about to jettison fuel”) and QAZ (“I am flying in a storm”) would be voice or computerized transmissions.

Computerized transmissions.

Q Codes page on Wikipedia.

“Q” has no official meaning, but it is sometimes assigned with a word with mnemonic value, such as “Queen’s” (e.g. QFE = Queen’s Field Elevation), “Query”, “Question”, or “reQuest”.

I like this idea that “Q has no official meaning” but that it’s probably a question, query, inquiry or request of some kind.

QN is probably kind of like “Query Net” then I gues… though I haven’t found any document confirmation that in Q codes, N = Net. (Labeling as Assumption for now)

Quasi-natural language?

QNL is used outside of radio to mean, occasionally, Quasi-natural language. References seem to abound for natural language programming, bots, conversational UI, etc. In some sense, that starts to feel similar to procedural words or prowords in radio:

Procedure words or prowords are words or phrases limited to radio telephone procedure used to facilitate communication by conveying information in a condensed standard verbal format.

I imagine QNL as a kind of clipped procedural language subset (superset?) used for specific kinds of transactional communication. Like the Q codes as a whole themselves, or radio prowords.

Something something, performative speech acts.

Wikipedia, Performativity:

… the capacity of speech and communication not simply to communicate but rather to act or consummate an action, or to construct and perform an identity. A common example is the act of saying “I pronounce you man and wife” by a licensed minister before two people who are prepared to wed (or “I do” by one of those people upon being asked whether they take their partner in marriage). An umpire calling a strike, a judge pronouncing a verdict, or a union boss declaring a strike are all examples of performative speech.

Follow The Spectrum: Origins of the ATC

We remember it like it was yesterday… 

Caught the BARF train downtown—just like any other morning — to the offices of the widely-regarded innovation powerhouse, Early Clues, LLC, (a not-for-non-profit startup) where we all interned together.

The door was unlocked, which was odd. JANICE usually had to buzz us in due to security issues in the neighborhood. But today it swung open with nary a creak, revealing the first of many shocks which came to be multiplied in the coming days: an all but empty office.

A couple of mostly empty boxes with grungy cables and an office chair with broken wheels were unceremoniously piled in the middle of the room, next to an overturned fern. Had we been robbed?

Suddenly, the door opened behind us, and we wheeled about, expecting one of our C-levels, come to set everything to rights. But it was just some guy wearing a Postmates t-shirt and sunglasses, carrying a branded messenger bag.

“Are you guys, uh — ” he looked at his iPhone for confirmation, “the interns?”

Yes.

“Then, this is for you,” he said, pulling a wrapped package out of his messenger bag and handing it to us.

What could it be? 

The guy just shrugged and left. And we were left to unwrap it, with trembling hands. Why — a handheld radio! Tuned to 146.425 MHz. And a copy of the ARRL Ham Radio Technician Class Handbook, with an inscription inside the cover:

“Follow the spectrum.”

 — Yours, Richard S. Rider, CTO,

73.

And in small letters beneath, a mysterious cipher was scrawled:

openQNL repo: password1234
And on that day the Anthuorian Technology Club was born — or should we say reborn?

Richard S. Rider, as we remember him

Much water has passed under the bridge since that fateful day. Much conjecture, gossip and fake news has unfortunately sprang up in the wake of the now infamous vanishing of the former EC staff. As it has already been discussed ad nauseam in the Tri-Cities Gadgette and other tech press, we won’t dwell on it further here. All we can officially say on the matter, is “No comment at this time.”

Nay, we come together again here to put the past behind us, and to start afresh. We who were once lowly interns are leveling up our RF skills and vow to follow the mandate of the illustrious Founders of our Order. We will take up the mantle left to us and continue with the original core product road-map as best we can, wherever it may take us, though we know not the way.

We still believe in the mythic technology underlying OpenQNL, despite our elmer going SK (“Silent Key”, that is: Kicked The Bucket) and everything else that has happened. For Anthuor is with us, and his antlers are antennas.

Helmoquinth, Anthuor!

Signed,

Tim Boucher (KB3SZG)
Jeremy Puma (KO0PER)
Garrett Kelly (WI5HER)
The Anthuorian Technology Club