The Amateur Amateur: Cleaning the Shack (and lessons learned thereof)

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
July 2015

KB0H and shop-vac

A question for the Shop-Vac: Can you handle this job?

This is a story about cleaning my shack, interspersed with facts that I discovered.

  • Your shack will need cleaning.

  • No one else will do it for you.

It wasn't the notion of "spring cleaning" that got me to drag a vacuum cleaner down to my shack. I'd been quite willing to make an occasional swipe at my computer screen with a rag, or take a deep breath and then blow the less-entrenched dust off of my transceiver. No, what motivated me was after crawling around on the floor to plug in a cable, I got up and discovered that my pants had changed color.

Dust tends to blend-in when it settles on the concrete floor of my basement. And there was a lot of it.

  • It will take a lot longer than you imagined.

  • Cables will get in your way.

Cleaning a shack (mine, at least) is not easy. In fact, I don't think it's even possible. If it were just a simple matter of vacuuming or wiping or dusting I think I could do it. Oh, it might take me a very long time to get motivated, but I could do it.

The real problem is that it sounds simple, "clean the shack", but in reality it is "clean everything in the shack", plural, as opposed to singular. If you happen to have a shack then you're no doubt aware that's an awful lot of plural.

  • Things on shelves will fall on you during the cleaning process.

  • You will stop frequently to reminisce or ponder some half-finished project.

I quickly realized that this was not a straightforward cleaning job. It was a major project. I had to sit down and think about this. But sitting down usually means that I wind up taking a nap, so the project got delayed a bit.

Later (after I woke up) I started making a list. I'm very good a making lists. Much more so than actually doing anything that's on them. But hey! It was a start.

KB0H and mini-vac

But which nozzle is the right one?

  • You have a lot more stuff than you ever imagined.

  • As the job progresses your cleaning technique will become sloppier and sloppier.

The list, quite depressingly, got longer and longer. Worse, it started branching off in different directions. You see, there was no one way that I could clean the shack, such as using a rag and a can of Pledge, or just using a fire hose. This was going to require several techniques... dusting, vacuuming, carefully wiping with a static-free cloth...

Pretty soon my list had turned into something that was beginning to look like a wiring diagram. Unfortunately, I'm not very adept at following wiring diagrams. Surely there had to be an easier way.

  • While cleaning, you will make many mental notes regarding things that need to be done in your shack.

  • You will forget most of them.

Wanting to spend as little time as possible on this cleaning project, I wondered how much I could accomplish just by vacuuming. Well, certainly the floor. And if I changed the nozzle, perhaps some of the bulkier items.

And gosh, I almost forgot. My sister had given me a small vacuum cleaner designed for computers! Ha ha! This job had suddenly become a cinch!

  • At least one piece of equipment will have dead bugs in it.

  • Or perhaps something worse.

Only, it wasn't. Even vacuuming the floor was a more intricate task than I'd foreseen. First, there were a great many objects on the floor, each of which had to be moved (or ignored). And second, there were... the cables. Oh, the cables. The endless, tangled, malignant cables.

There just ain't no way to clean cables, so don't even try. Don't even get near them. Let the dust and dirt accumulate and bury them, then they can't attack you.

  • At some point you will exclaim, "I wondered where that had disappeared to!"

  • For some reason every button and knob in the shack will be sticky.

My mini-vac didn't fare much better. It had about 700 nozzle attachments, but they boiled down to two main types: Those with brushes on the end and those without. The ones with brushes on the end were good for smearing dust around but not removing it. The ones without brushes tended to have pretty good suction, but could only pick up dust one centimeter at a time. (They were, however, great at cleaning computer keyboards.)

  • You will come across at least one item that you cannot identify at all.

  • The amount of dust you encounter will truly stagger you.
KB0H and dusters

None of them works!

If you watch a lot of television you will see a variety of products that are so good at removing dust that you only have to make one gentle swipe and your entire house is suddenly clean.

Forget it. I have many of these products. I have yet to find one, a single one, that actually picks up dust. I have the micro-fiber ones. I have the electrostatic ones. I probably have the homeopathic one as well. All they do is spread the dust around. I've come to the conclusion that they use specially trained dust in those TV commercials. My dust doesn't respond at all.

  • You'll find some piece of equipment that is completely incompatible with everything else being used today.

  • You will keep it anyway.

Well, the shack cleaning did not go well. Not even being able to dust adequately was totally disheartening. Doing something even more difficult seemed like it would be an exercise in futility. I decided to give up, and perhaps look at that "wiring diagram" again.

Or better still, wait for a dusting product that actually works to be invented.

  • The cleaning job will take much longer than it should because you'll keep stopping to play with something.

  • For one brief moment, you will actually consider opening a radio museum.

E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

Back to The Amateur Amateur home page Back to Past Columns page Dreamhost advert