How to Set up a Ham Radio Shack

- details and points to note, hints and tips about how to set up amateur radio stations or ham radio shacks.

Setting up an Amateur Radio Station Includes:
How to set up amateur radio shack     Buying best HF gear     Buying best VHF/UHF equipment     Linear amplifier     How to buy kits     Buying used equipment - a guide     Choosing & buying the best antenna    

Most people who are interested in amateur (ham) radio and short wave listening will want to set up their own station to be able to participate in the hobby. In the early days of radio, these rooms were called radio shacks, and this term has stuck, and is used today for a room where the ham radio equipment is contained.

There is a tremendous variety in what different people may require for their ham radio shack / amateur radio station. For some it may just consist of a radio receiver which can be easily placed in a convenient corner of a room. For other people with more equipment, more space will be needed, and there may also be a need for wall maps and other charts.

The ham radio shack need not be a complete room, although for many people this is the ideal solution. There are many ways of setting aside some space for the radio equipment. A little ingenuity can enable areas of the house that were previously unused to be converted into quite luxurious shacks. To achieve this it is first necessary to look at some of the basic requirements, and then see what areas could be converted. A variety of areas can be considered, spare rooms, loft spaces or attics, cupboards large and small, spaces in the garage, garden sheds and a whole host more can provide ideal locations for the ham radio station. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and by applying a little thought it is often possible to make each one into a good home for the radio equipment.

A typical amateur radio shack

... a typical amateur radio shack may include a variety of equipment....

Requirements for ham radio shacks

When setting up ham radio shacks / amateur radio stations, it will be necessary to set aside some room for the equipment. Dating back from the early days of radio, a ships radio room or an amateur radio station is called a radio shack and the term has remained.

A typical amateur radio shack may include a variety of equipment including transmitters, receivers, and a number of ancillary items. Some shacks may be small and they can be neat, containing a small amount of equipment so that they can fit in a cupboard or in the corner of a room. Other people may want to set aside a room for their ham radio equipment.

With a little thought and ingenuity, it is possible to make many areas of the house into an excellent ham radio shack. Even garden sheds have been successfully used. Wherever the amateur radio shack is located, it is worth remembering a few points:

  • There must be adequate provision for mains power
  • There must be suitable access for the antenna feeders
  • It should not get too cold in winder or too hot in summer
  • Particularly if the amateur radio shack is located outside the main house, there should be sufficient security to prevent any equipment being stolen
  • It must be easy and convenient to operate the station in its location - some stations located in a small corner of a room may be difficult to use.
  • It may be necessary to include good provision for constructing equipment

By thinking through these and any other relevant points, it is possible to choose a convenient location for the amateur radio shack, and plan for it to be easy to operate the equipment from. In this way the hobby of amateur radio can provide the maximum please and enjoyment.

Electrical wiring for the ham radio shack

When planning and constructing the ham radio shack, care should be taken in planning both the mains wiring and the lighting. As far as the mains wiring is concerned it is necessary to install sufficient sockets to supply the equipment that is currently in use as well as allowing some expansion for the future. The multi-way mains connector blocks that are available in D-I-Y stores provide an ideal solution and can be mounted under the back of the table. In this way cables can be routed neatly out of the way. However it is necessary to remember to allow sufficient space behind the table surface to enable cables with their connectors to be passed up and down. If there is insufficient space then the connector may have to be removed from the cable to pass it down to the mains socket and then reconnected.

When installing electrical wiring for an amateur radio station, it is always necessary to put safety at the top of the agenda. Bearing in mind that there may be plenty of equipment in the shack it is necessary to ensure that circuits are not overloaded. Wiring regulations should be consulted for the relevant country. It is also worth considering installing a circuit breaker. Often cut-outs can be included that trip when any earth current or imbalance in line and neutral lines is detected. Again consult the regulations for what is appropriate. In addition to this, it can be convenient to have a single switch to isolate the station and turn off all the equipment when the station is not in use.

Lighting for an amateur radio station

Lighting is another important issue for any ham radio station. The table surface should be well illuminated if the most is to be made of the shack. If one light source is provided from the middle of the room, then the table surface will always be in the shadow of the person using the equipment. This will be a particular problem if any construction is undertaken. The ideal solution is to have an angle lamp that can be used to illuminate the work area in addition to the main room lighting. Alternatively a small strip lamp can be placed under a shelf over the table surface, although a shade will be required to ensure that it does not shine directly in the users eyes. Also remember to adhere to the manufacturers fitting instructions.

An alternative may be an angle lamp that can be used to illuminate any required area. This may be particularly useful if any construction is envisaged as it will be necessary to ensure that the work area is well illuminated.

Buying the equipment

One of the key issues when setting up a ham radio shack is to be able to have the right equipment. There is obviously a balance between cost, performance, and space.

However with a little planning and investigation, it is normally possible to create a very effective radio station within the available budget and space available.

There are several type of equipment that might be needed for the ham radio shack:

  • HF transceivers:   There is a huge variety of HF equipment available. Often HF transceivers cover frequencies from 1.8 MHz up to 50 MHz and thereby cover the bottom end of the VHF spectrum.

    There is a wide range of commercially manufactured equipment available, and this is the route which most radio amateurs take. Building a full specification HF radio transceiver is a major undertaking, and sets can be obtained for a very reasonable cost considering what they contain.
    Read more about . . . . buying HF amateur radio equipment.
  • VHF / UHF equipment:   There are many handheld and mobile VHF / UHF transceivers that are available. Typically they are for FM as much of the operation is mobile and portable and FM works well for this.
    Read more about . . . . buying VHF/UHF amateur radio gear.
  • QRP equipment:   QRP or low power operation provides the opportunity to build one’s own equipment. Being low power, and often more basic, the equipment can often be built and there is a growing band of QRP enthusiasts who enjoy building and operating their own equipment.

    Often operation uses Morse code as this considerably simplifies the equipment, and there are many kits available that can provide an easy way of building the equipment.
  • Station ancillary equipment:   There is a host of equipment that can be used in the radio shack ranging from antenna switches to manage the use of several antennas, to VSWR meters to check the operation of the antennas and power supplies to power the various rigs used.

Equipment layout

The layout of the ham radio equipment on the table is important. The ergonomics of the layout are particularly important if the ham radio station is to be used for long periods of time as occurs when being involved in contests.

It is best to have the main transceiver or receiver in the centre of the table. This makes it easy to rest one's arm on the table and operate the tuning control. This makes for far easier operation over long periods of time. Other large pieces of equipment can be placed either side. A linear amplifier or second receiver could easily be placed here. The microphone can be positioned on the left hand side, leaving the right hand free for writing and taking notes. Similarly the Morse key if used can be positioned on the right hand side of the table. Obviously if anyone is left handed these positions can be reversed.

... an amateur radio shack can be neat and contain a small amount of equipment....

A typical amateur radio shack

There should also be sufficient space on the table for a log book and note pad - the note pad is very useful for making notes whilst the other station is talking, or copying down Morse code.


A major consideration in any ham radio station is that of safety. It is obviously impossible to describe all the features that should be employed here, but just give a flavour of some of the points that might be noted.

One of the main areas in an amateur radio station that ahs an impact on safety is the mains wiring. Points including the inclusion of Residual Current Circuit Breakers (RCCBs) should be considered along with the applicable wiring regulations. All wiring should be done to the highest standards. It should be remembered that others, including children, may enter the ham radio shack / amateur radio station and may not be aware of the dangers. In fact it is best to make the shack as child proof as possible if there is any chance of them entering.

Other precautions include making sure that no hazardous voltages are accessible. Soldering irons should always be kept in a holder, and they are switched off when others are around or they are not in use.

Overall the main action is to have a general awareness of safety. It is unlikely that an accident will occur, but the small chance can be reduced to the absolute minimum by making sure all the safety precautions are observed and any potential hazards are minimised. In this way the hobby can be enjoyed in a relaxing fashion, knowing that any you and any visitors that may enter the shack will not come to any harm.

Check out the Electronics Notes: Essential Ham Radio List.


By putting some thought into the design of a ham radio station it is possible to make the most of it. As many hours will be spent in the ham radio shack, it is worth spending time ensuring that the best use can be made of the available space. In this way, time spent in the amateur radio station will be particularly enjoyable, and the most can be made of the hobby.

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