The Amateur Amateur: Closed for Reshacking

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
August 6, 2006

Rehabilitating my shack did not take nearly as long as I'd anticipated. Swoosh! Everything went into a cardboard box, and when the box was full, Swoosh! I started a new box.

Last year I wrote an article called Sad Shack. It was about the dismal state of my shack, the problems I foresaw in cleaning and reorganizing it and the realization that the project seemed just too overwhelming to even contemplate. Now, many months later, I am pleased to report that I did indeed do a complete overhaul of my shack.

Ham shack before and after

My shack before and after the cleanup. You may not see much difference, but believe me, my knees can tell. Note that I'm ready just in case something bursts into flames.

The astonishing part was that rehabilitating my shack did not take nearly as long as I had anticipated. While I was cataloging all of the things I needed to do, the list kept growing longer and longer. This made it seem like the job would take an eternity. Many of the individual tasks, however, took only minutes to accomplish.

Clearing off the various shelves and such, for example, went very quickly. Swoosh! Everything went into a cardboard box. And when the box was full, Swoosh! I started a new box. The only time-consuming task was disconnecting things, and the most time consuming part of that was making sure I didn't lose any vital parts (the equipment's, not mine). I didn't, but some nagging odds and ends were left over. They looked kind of important but didn't seem to belong to anything. Still, that troubles me a little.

The impetus for the whole reshacking project was for my transceiver to end up sitting on something possessing two special qualities:

  1. I could use it as a writing surface.

  2. I could get my legs under it.

Gosh, that sounds an awful lot like a desk, doesn't it?

Previously, my radio sat on a storage shelf, and its microphone stand was on a wheeled table originally meant to hold a microwave. Accessing either the radio or the microphone involved a whole lot of bending over, and there was definitely no comfortable way to write down anything.

Worse yet, the microwave table would occasionally decide to roll away from where I was working. I would have to snare it before the microphone cord became taut and recoiled, causing the delicate and somewhat expensive microphone to go crashing to the floor. (Yes, it happened at least once.)

Reorganized shelf space

The shelves, first as "desk" space, then as real storage space.

During the rebuilding of my shack I decided to use the shelves as, well, shelves, instead of as a tabletop. I stacked two twin shelving units together, freeing up some floorspace and returning the units to their original function -- namely, storing things. That was probably the most labor-intensive aspect of the whole project, but it only took about an hour. Well, make that two hours, because I bought a second set of shelves to give my shack some real storage capacity.

The microwave table became the home for my computer printer. I jammed it into a corner where, even if it decides to, it cannot wander far.

As for desk space, it seems that I had a rather ancient but perfectly serviceable table already sitting in the basement. So far it has accommodated my knees and my papers just fine.

Having accomplished my main goal, I moved onto Phase Two, which was to straighten out all the grounding wires.

Every piece of electronic equipment in my shack appears to have a nut or a bolt to which a grounding wire should be attached. Not wanting to tempt fate (nor electrocute myself) I connected wires to each of them. And not surprisingly, that led to a rat's nest of copper wires meandering all over the place. They got tangled with everything and eventually met in one big knot of wire that snaked its way to the nearest cold water pipe.

Grounding rod

My adjustable "grounding bus." I'm kind of proud of this one.

To clean up this mess, I mounted an eight-foot copper rod vertically against the basement wall. I placed the rod as near as possible to the main collection of electronic equipment and connected it to the cold water pipe. I fitted it with several slide-connectors along its length.

Now, when I need to ground a piece of equipment, I run a copper wire directly from it over to the rod, which acts as my grounding bus. Actually, I'm kind of proud of this bit of innovation.

The final objective of the reshacking project was to get the piles of semi-useful junk off of the floor and stored in some meaningful fashion. As I'd mentioned, I'd put in a fair amount of shelving during earlier phases of the project. But as I discovered, any unused horizontal surface soon became a permanent home for some random object, and the space was never used efficiently.

Now I'm going to let you in on an incredible discovery passed on to me by my wife Nancy: Storage bins. They come in all shapes and sizes and they can hold anything. You can buy them at hardware stores, discount stores, the Internet and other suppliers. Here is how they work. Say you have an ancient-but-too-good-to-throw-away 128 kilobyte computer disk. Instead of using an extremely valuable chunk of shelf space, throw the disk into a small storage bin along with the rest of your Paleolithic computer junk. Then you put the storage bin on the shelf.

All of your vintage computer stuff is together in one place and you can stick another bin on top of it. You get to use the same surface area all over again! What a concept! And for those of you who simply must have immediate access to your stored treasures, you can buy storage bins with built-in drawers.

LED keychains all over floor

Key chain LED flashlights all over the floor. Even though they were in plastic wrappers, half of them turned on.

Regular readers of this column are probably thinking that everything seemed to go way too smoothly for one of my projects. Surely something must have gone wrong.

You are absolutely correct.

I was putting away a box of give-away items for our ARES group. It held a bunch of key chains with tiny LED flashlights attached. The box slipped off of the top shelf (okay, I dropped it), and the key chains hit the floor and scattered all over the basement. All right, things like that happen all the time. But this time not only did the key chains scatter to the four corners of the basement, half of the tiny flashlights turned on. I had to scramble to find them all and pick them up before their tiny little batteries expired.

That was the worst thing that happened.

After that I opened my redesigned shack and got back on the air. The desk makes it much easier to operate my transceiver and to log my contacts. My feet no longer get snagged in a tangle of grounding wires. Most everything is now off the floor and stashed in storage bins.

Now, if it just weren't for those mysterious left-over odds and ends . . .

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2006 American Radio Relay League

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