Ham radio 40-meter dipole: your first antenna

Okay, as I noted before, my first antenna wasn’t a dipole. But I’ve worked with lots of new hams, and a dipole is cheap, quick, and easy to construct. But, you say, dipoles are only single-band. Yep, and I recommend the 40m band.

Why 40? For several reasons:

  • The antenna isn’t really all that long, just 66 feet
  • The band is often open in the evening
  • Unlike 80m, which is full of nets, 40m is more open and you can call CQ and hope to get an answer
  • If you want to play with digital modes (such as radio-teletype or PSK-31), there’s a fair amount of activity
  • If you want to try out your Morse code, there’s a spot on the band where people use slow code.

So, what does a 40m dipole consist of? Well, 66 feet of wire, split in the middle. You can use pretty much anything for wire as long as it’s a good conductor. I don’t recommend house-wiring type wire because that’s soft-drawn copper and will stretch, but if that’s what you’ve got, by all means use it. Radio Shack sells bare stranded copper wire made specially for antennas, but it’s a bit pricey. You can use either insulated or not—it doesn’t matter.

An insulator goes at each end and in the middle—electric fence insulators work fine and are dirt cheap. To each insulator you’ll tie rope to hold up your antenna.

The RF feed point of a dipole is in the middle, so there’s 33 feet of wire on each side. Yes, this is a balanced antenna, and coax is unbalanced, but I still recommend you solder the coax directly to the antenna. The shield goes to one wire and the center conductor to the other. This is a tried and true method and it works. You’ll want to cover this well with electrical tape and also make sure that the coax doesn’t hang by the soldered connections, but rather by something physically tied to the center insulator.

There are two ways to mount the antenna. The first is to get each end up as high in the air as you can so that the antenna is a straight line (it’ll droop a bit in the middle). This is the standard configuration. The second is to get the center of the antenna up as high as you can and pull the ends out as far as you can get them. This creates an inverted V configuration. Either works.

Safety comes first in either case. Make sure the antenna is high enough in the air no one will run into it. Further, if you use bare wire (which is fine, by the way), the ends of the antenna is where the high voltage is, so keep these up and out of reach! And do not go even close to electric utility lines—getting to close creates noise anyway. Sadly, hams have been killed ignoring this guidance.

How long should the coax be? The standard answer is “as long as it needs to be to reach the transceiver!” And you can take that literally. There are no restrictions. And on 40 meters (7.1 to 7.3 MHz), coax line losses are so low that they aren’t worth bothering with. What kind of coax? I happen to be particular to RG-8X, but RG-58 works too. The stuff you get at Radio Shack kind of skimps on the braid coverage, but will work.

Put a drip loop where the antenna enters your house. Slamming a window on the coax is not a good idea as coax really doesn’t like to be squeezed. I bring my coax through a vent into the crawl space, then I pull back the carpet and drill a hole near my desk. I push the coax up through this. Pushing the carpet back keeps cold air from coming up through the hole. Make sure you have enough slack that you’ll be able to move your transceiver around easily.

Now is the time to solder the connector, usually a PL-259, to the end of the coax so you can connect this to your transceiver. Don’t scrimp on the connector—get the silver ones like these at Ham Radio Outlet—order several as you’ll end up using them! And make sure to order the reducer—RG-8X and RG-58 take different reducers. You’ll want to make that connection where you can reach it easily, as you’ll want to disconnect the coax when thunderstorms are near. In fact, during the summer, I leave my antennas disconnected unless I’m actually operating, and I don’t operate during thunderstorms! Yes, I’ve had lightning hit an antenna and yes I had to repair some damage.

And that’s all there is to it! This is a great first antenna! Your next step, after getting some air time, will be to insert some traps in that dipole so you can use it on 20-meters. Oh…you can use the 40-meter dipole on 15-meters without modification.

Do you need an antenna tuner? Nope. The antenna is close enough. If you happen to have a tuner, then by all means use it. In another post I’ll talk about trimming up that antenna so it has a low SWR, but with a simple 66-foot antenna, you’ll be close.

This entry was posted in Ham Radio blog entries and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Ham radio 40-meter dipole: your first antenna

  1. walt says:

    Thanks Dave. I will keep looking around for some rig. No hurry.

  2. Dave says:

    Hi Walt, nearly every HF rig these days covers all bands from 160m to 10m and sometimes 6m. I don’t recommend used equipment for new hams, but if budget limitations make used equipment your only option, then I recommend that you consult experts in your local ham radio club. Buying used equipment online can be a pig in a poke (you don’t know what you’re getting). Tube type equipment is popular among some hams, and certainly these old rigs can be made to work. But almost always some restoration is required; this is an art in itself. The least expensive new rig out there is the Icom IC-718 for $599.95 at HRO as of this writing. Next is the Alinco DX-SR9T/E, although QST didn’t give it a glowing review. HRO carries it for $679.95. The next most inexpensive rig, the Yaesu FT-450, is available at HRO for $749.95. Note that all three require an external 12vdc power supply.See my video on station setup at this link. Be aware that the rig itself is only part of the expense of putting up a station. You must consider the power source, cabling, antenna, etc.

  3. walt bowlby says:

    Wanted: a real cheap rig I can get on 40 meters CW with. Can be an old Tube type. I am on a very tight budget!! I passed my Extra Class exam on first try last year. It was easy! (Navy electronics background helped!). I have been off the HF bands for years. anxious to get back into Morse. Maybe later SSB. Thanks for any help.
    PS: I am looking at Craigslist and Ebay too.

    walt, wa9neu
    Cave in Rock Il

  4. Dave says:

    Hi Dale, there is only one size SO-239 that I know of. I usually solder the coax directly to the antenna. An example is in my first Ask Dave video at https://youtu.be/ts2nkCDIS4s. Instead, if you wish, you can bring connecting wires from the insulator down to an SO-239 and solder that. Be sure to add strain relief so the weight of the cable will not be borne entirely by the SO-239.

  5. Dale Hackney says:

    With this great I found I’m ready to try a 40m dipole. I ordered so239 came today and 10, 12 or 14 ga will not fit into the so239 to soder. Must be junk as coax won’t even go in it to soder so239 is just too smal. What is the proper size so239 do I need for 10 or 12 guage? 73s
    km4htd. Dale in Kentucky

  6. Dave says:

    Hi Ranjit, The ARRL publishes the Antenna Handbook, though it’s rather expensive. If you search the Internet, you’ll find articles about beam antennas and how to construct them. 73, Dave, KEØOG

  7. Ranjit Fernando says:

    I am from Sri Lanka. Thank you very much for the nice technical article with some safety advice too. After obtaining my license some years back, I was operating only on VHF. Here there are no Ham Radio equipment traders. So only now that I started my HF. I really appreciate your article. Have you published any simple HF Beam article we could build at home? If so please send me a copy.
    Best regards,

  8. Dave says:

    Try the ARRL Handbook or the ARRL Antenna book for construction details. Or, you can get pre-built trapped dipoles from MFJ and others.

  9. Rick says:

    Good info. Can you tell me about the traps for 20M or where to learn about them?
    Tnx es 73 ND3B

  10. Andy Nelson says:

    Great intro to antenna building. I have had an expensive multi band vertical in the past but it was a hassle keeping it in repair during snowy winters here in the Idaho mountains. Good old dipoles work fine, are cheap to build, and are maintenance free if the trees they are suspended from don’t fall down (have had that experience).

    I enjoyed looking at your multiple motorcycle trail maps. I have ridden many of them on an Ossa Pioneer and Husqvarna when visiting Colorado on vacations from Kansas City. Your article brought back many memories. Idaho is more dusty and the trails rougher, with none of the big peaks over 14,000 like yours. But as they say, there’s no such thing as a bad day on a motorcycle.


    Andy W5BYO

  11. Bob Cook says:

    Thanks for you input. I had not thought about the noise aspect on leaking of the high voltage lines.

  12. Dave says:

    Hard to say – it depends on how well the high voltage wires are maintained. Perpendicular is good. Of course, the further the antenna is from the HV wires the better. If you have absolutely dreadful noise on all bands, contact the utility – the noise is a sign that they’re losing power because of arcing or maintenance issues.

  13. Bob Cook says:

    I have high voltage wires about 150 from the 40 meter antenna I plan to put up. It will be at perpendicular to the high voltage wires. Do you think this will be a problem?

  14. Richard Jubinville says:

    Thanks for info Dave. I always close off the ends of any conduit, we have those critters here also and they love to find homes in small places as Fall approaches ,even in carburetors of snow blowers.

  15. dave says:

    No gotchas, but keep rodents out of the pipe. Sometimes they like to chew on coax. Note that a lot of coax is rated for direct burial. Be sure the coax isn’t nicked or water can leak in and ruin the coax.

  16. Richard Jubinville says:

    I am new to Radio Amateur, just got my General Class in April, no transmitter yet, but looking at Yaesu, Kenwood and ICOM to see what I can afford in an all bander. Your article was one of the best that I have found on the internet, short, sweet and right to the point and answered all my questions about a 40 meter dipole without reading a novel!! My antenna will be about 50 feet from the entry to my house and therefore will run underground via sched 40 3″ pipe to allow for future wires. If you know of any “gotchas” with underground running of coax, I am all ears Dave.
    73, Dick/KA1VEI

  17. Nice article…straight to the point and easy to follow. I got my Technician license in 2002, quit after a couple of years of 2 meter repeaters and not being able to get past the code part. Just got back in, passed my General class test and wanted a good easy antenna to hook-up my Swan 700cx that a good friend of mine gave to me. Look like this is where I will start.
    73 Joe/KD7SKV

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *