The Small, Powerful Hex Beam
2001 I first learned of the hex beam developed by Mike Traffie of
Traffie Technologies. I studied
the design, then found a newly formed Hex
Beam Yahoo group dedicated to this antenna.
many weeks I collected all the bits and pieces needed to construct
my own hex beam. As I did not have a ready source of fiberglass
spreaders, I chose to use short pieces of narrow garden-stake bamboo
fastened into longer lengths (10') using standard hose or "gear"
clamps. It worked just fine, although the installation was not what
anyone would consider permanent.
you will find lots info and anecdotes -- there's an introductory
section, the construction section, and closing thoughts. Hope this
helps someone build a hex, or decide to buy one of Mike Traffie's
commercial, ready-to-go models that will work properly right out
of the box.
I built it, I was convinced this is the best antenna for its size,
weight, visual impact, cost, and installation requirements. The
spider beam with three interlaced full-size monoband yagis, may
outperform the hex, but it has fiberglass arms that are each 16.5
feet long (that's a 32-foot boom). The hex has a smaller footprint
and works well.
In 10 Easy Steps (and Several Not-So-Easy Ones)
March 2002 I started planning the construction of a five-band hex-
style beam. Thanks to homebrew inspiration from VK2DPD, DL7IO, AA5HP
and others, and Mike Traffie's outstanding concept and pioneering
work, I managed to cobble together all the parts and ended up with
something that radiated nicely from just a few feet above the roof.
is a home-made five-band antenna made from bits of bamboo, some
hose clamps, a few wires, and lots of hours of puzzling, building
and -- at last -- huge satisfaction.
note that I consider this a "hex-style" antenna. I don't
want to call it a "Hexbeam" as it is a pale imitation
of Mike Traffie's real antenna.
was bitten by the contesting bug in 2002. G5RV antennas are great
for casual operating, but they don't put you in the top half for
many contests. I wanted something very cheap with at least a little
gain that can be generally pointed at stations but doesn't need
a tower (one day, I tell myself). The hex-style antenna met those
Be assured that this antenna CAN be built and WILL work.
It is often quieter than my trapped vertical and my low G5RV at
28 feet. It definitely has gain on all upper HF bands, and is quite
directional. Front-to-back rejection on my homebrew version is OK,
but I'm more interested in forward gain than QRM rejection at this
QTH. I figure if I have to worry much about QRM off the back, I'm
lucky to have it, hi.
in the hex's direction on 20M are often markedly stronger than on
my G5RV, and readability is much better thanks to the lower noise.
Sure to Get Me In Trouble With Experts
After the antenna was on its mast, (Canadian Thanksgiving
Day, October 15, 2002), with the 20M element at about 25 feet above
ground, I worked SM2CEW and we actually had a CW ragchew in the
middle of the afternoon -- the first time in years that I have managed
that with a DX station on 20M (me: 579, him: a very solid 599 --
yet Peter was, generously, S-5 with the G5RV). I also worked East
Malaysia on 20M. Got him with my first call, before the rotator
was plugged in. Down in the mud on the G5RV, but he was peaking
S-9 on the Hex.
installation, the log looked like this:
RX kHz Call RST S RST R QTH
====== ======= ====== ===== ===== ======================
14042.6 CW 9M6AAC 599 599 East Malaysia
14-Oct 14026.4 CW SM2CEW 579 599 Lulea,
Sweden 100w hex
15-Oct 18073.0 CW FO0PT 559 559 Moorea
16-Oct 14024.4 CW J75EA 599 599 Dominica
16-Oct 21023.2 CW FO0PT 559 599 Moorea
hex 50w 1st call
try the antenna in real-time. Unscripted. Let me run to the rig
and see what I can work on 20M right now (10:20 p.m. local, Oct
16, 2002). Be back in a sec....
took less than five minutes to find and work FO0PT on 14.044 at
0524Z. That's Moorea, French Polynesia, on three bands in two days
with he hex. We were only 559 both ways this time, but made it work
-- first call as he changed from simplex to QRX up 1. The hex was
only about 1 S-unit over the G5RV for that QSO, which is only a
"so what?" if you don't care about S-units.
did lots of quick A-B comparisons between the Hex and the low G5RV
(doublet, 102 feet). Depending on where the Hex is pointed, I saw
a full 4 S-units (from S-3 to S-7 or more) difference in favour
of the hex. Some signals all but disappear when switching from the
Hex to the doublet. And, honestly, some signals are better on the
doublet (can't turn it, though).
may only be a compromise two-element beam, but it really is a dramatic
improvement over all the other wire antennas I have built. It's
not always exhibited, but when the conditions favor this antenna
it is stronger than I thought it would or should be, even at my
below-optimum height of 25 feet at the 20M element.
let's get into the construction effort....
actually ended up building three "beta" versions of the
antenna, before the present version. The cost of the latest one
was (in Canadian dollars):
$24 for the bamboo spreaders (12 x $2)
$18 for hose ("gear") clamps
(3/4" for wire points,
1 1/2" for spreader joints)
$ 3 for the hub
(pre-cut 1 1/2-foot circle of 1"
$10 for the U-bolts in hub
$ 2 for the 4-foot center pole
1/2" schedule 40 PVC)
$24 for a spool of wire (16-guage speaker wire)
$ 8 for a 400' spool of nylon mason's line
$ 5 for brass screws and nuts
of the above was or can be purchased from Home Depot. In truth,
I spent around $150 on parts, including now-discarded materials
for all the failed versions of the antenna.
I Tried But Discarded
I tried using 1/2-inch PVC pipe and short sections of dowel to stiffen
the PVC for the first few feet, but when tension was applied these
spreaders tended to form "S" bends.
"bend tested" some 10-foot pieces of dowel at the hardware
store when no one was looking. They made a bit of a crackling sound
at about two feet of arc. I purchased the two I tested (see the
previous paragraph), but I didn't want to spend $7 each for six
of them only to have them snap when I strung the wires.
I tried using six-foot lengths of thin bamboo stakes -- the "green"
painted type from a garden center. Strapped together with hose clamps,
these spreaders worked a bit but were still a bit too flexible and
tended to arc too much to get the right shape.
the PVC with the thin bamboo didn't work at all, so I started over.
finally went to much stiffer five and a half-foot lengths of yellow
bamboo -- approximately 1/2-inch diameter or slightly larger --
and joined with hose clamps where four or five inches overlapped.
I worried that spreaders just 10 feet long would be too short, but
I ended up cutting a foot off them anyway, after the wires were
antenna goes together fairly quickly once the parts are on hand.
I know I reinvented the wheel several times, and learned some tricks
that I want to pass on to others. The construction details are a
very long bit of text, but I know I would have appreciated a step-by-step
tutorial when I started out.
Coated the plywood hub with a couple of layers of polyurethane (I
used a spray type). I should have painted the thing as the finish
I used was not very good, and the plywood has started to warp a
bit after only a few months in the sun and rain. Next time I will
use several coats of paint instead.
holes for the U-bolts along the six 60-degree radius lines around
the hub. Two holes per U-bolt, and two U-bolts per radius line.
I couldn't find a protractor or my adjustable set-square anywhere,
so I downloaded a graphic of a protractor from the Internet, printed
it out and used that to make my angles. It's good to be a ham :)
the center hole -- in my case 1 1/2-inch diameter to fit the pipe
I am using. One of my big unrecorded expenses was for a hole-saw
drill bit, as I didn't have one on hand. If you don't, ask your
neighbor if he has one -- at $8 to $20 they are very expensive,
considering you may only ever need it for this one hole. After buying
one, I found out my father-in-law had an entire set of hole saws.
I have now permanently borrowed that set, hi hi.
installed the U-bolts.
The Center Pipe Bolts
Drilled holes in the center pipe for the element bolts. I used a
carpenter's square to draw lines 1 1/2 inches apart on one side
of the pole for the driver element bolts, and a row of holes on
the other side for the reflector bolts. I used exact measurements
from DL7IO's PDF file.
a long piece of 14-guage common house wire, I fished the brass bolts
down the tube into the holes... for the five-bander, this is 15
bolts. Took me nearly two hours to get them all in, and tightened
up with one nut each. Make an eye-hole in one end of the house wire,
slip the bolt into it and push it down the pipe till it pops into
the hole you want. Then carefully thread on a nut. Once the nut
is on a few turns, you can give the wire a good tug to release the
bolt. Viola! Now just tighten the nut all the way, and glue it so
it won't come loose.
secure the nut, I used a big drop of "Krazy" glue, making
sure the glue flowed over the brass nut, and onto the PVC tube around
the nut. The nuts are very well secured to the bolts and the PVC
pipe so far using this trick. If I ever have to remove the bolts,
I am sure a wrench will easily break the glue's grip.
Assembling the Hub
I pushed the center pipe into the middle 1 1/2-inch hole
in the hub, then used some scrap bits of angle-iron (from a curtain
rod kit, I think) as brackets to secure the pipe in the hole. These
brackets were screwed into the plywood hub and the side of the PVC
pipe to form a nice 90-degree angle.
builders have used 300-ohm line to connect all the driven element
bolts. I made up a harness of insulated 14-gauge automotive hookup
wire (from my junk box). Measuring my distances against the center
pipe's brass bolts, I formed a loop in the wire for the 20m connection,
and used solder to "tin" the loop and make it sturdy.
This loop would go over the bolt and be fastened by a nut.
I measured to the 17m bolt and made another loop, tinned it, and
so on for each band. Then I did it again for the bolts on the other
side of each band's driven element. Later, I used plastic tie-wraps
to pull these wires close together between the bolt pairs. Why pull
them together? Search me. It just looked prettier. And I suppose
it lowered the impedance of the wire pair but I don't know what
effect, if any, that has had on the antenna.
picked up 12 (plus two spares) five and a half foot long bamboo
rods from the local hardware store. These are yellow bamboo, with
butt ends just over half an inch thick, and tip ends just under
half an inch thick. I allowed one piece of bamboo to overlap the
other by five inches or so, and clamped the overlapping sections
together with steel hose clamps. If they sound like they're cracking
as you tighten the clamps, try stuffing the overlapping bamboo with
short lengths of thinner bamboo or other handy filler material.
the spreaders on the hub with the thickest ends of the bamboo touching
the PVC center post. Tighten the U-bolts. Now it's starting to look
a bit like the expert versions of the hex beam. You, sir, are a
genius. And you will tell your wife this several times before the
elation wears off and you have to start stringing wires.
Starting the Bendy Part of the Job
This is the trickiest part of the entire operation. Before stringing
wire, you need to string the nylon or Dacron twine that will connect
two of your spreaders across the antenna from tip-to-center-to-tip.
This sets up your basic "hex" geometry.
knew from reading other reports that the basic 20m element leg length
is around 9 feet 3 inches on a side. I cut a nylon cord 18 feet
8 inches -- that includes 2 extra inches for the center post's diameter.
NOTE: the cord is even a few inches longer than this to allow room
to tie a loop knot in each end.
one end of this cord near the end of one spreader, then string it
to the 20M bolt of the center pipe, then across to the opposing
will know you have the correct points on the spreaders when both
these spreader arms bend up and the nylon cord forms a flat, perfectly
level line from one arm to the 20M bolt to the other arm. Ideally,
this first cord would pass through a hole drilled in the center
post at the level of the 20M bolts.
I am lazy, I just tied a loop in the middle and hooked it onto the
20M reflector bolt.
put a hose clamp near each spreader tip and looped the cord around
these clamps, allowing me to move the connection up or down until
the line was level with the 20M bolts on the center pipe.
was pleased to see that the spreader arms had a very nice, even
curve. The bamboo arms were working just fine so far. Proudly, I
informed my wife that she was married to a genius. Then promptly
scalded myself with the soldering iron.
All right, I wasn't entirely truthful in the previous section. I
didn't want to scare anyone away. THIS is the trickiest part of
the entire operation. Read the whole thing before taking action.
again, I used element lengths as described in DL7IO's excellent
PDF tutorial. Because I was using speaker wire, which has a clear
plastic insulation, I knew my wires would be too long, but cut them
to DL7IO's lengths anyway.
soldered eyelet connectors to the ends of each wire.
connecting the first set of elements -- the 20m wires. Attach each
wire's eyelet connector to the appropriate (20M) center-post bolt
and secure them with nuts.
the center pipe, the wire goes to it's nearest spreader tip, then
to the tip of the adjacent spreader. When they're all in place,
you will have two "W" shapes -- the reflected W beam.
hose clamps for 20M should be at the same point on each spreader
as the hose clamps for your initial across-the-span nylon cord.
I installed these hose clamps, I used short pieces of plastic tubing
(junk box stuff I didn't even know I had) and tie-wrapped them to
the hose clamps. The element wire goes through the tubing to reduce
the sharp bend at the spreader connection points.
all the 20M wires in place, you can start pulling together the ends
of the reflector and ends of the driven elements. Try to keep the
spacing at about 8 to 10 inches, to start. I have used VK2DPD's
trick of soldering a brass washer to the wire, about two feet from
each end and tying a nylon cord from one washer to the other leaving
the wire free to trim as necessary. I had to trim about eight inches
off the original driven element length, and the same off the reflector,
to get resonance.
DL7IO PDF file has exact spacing for the wire tips. I haven't been
able to duplicate them all properly.
Here's how I should have done things in the first place, and how
I made the final adjustments:
all elements for all bands. Tension the 20M band by itself, at whatever
wire length you have.
the 20M driven element close to its resonant length (I had to go
by SWR), make sure the reflector is 5 percent longer, and tie nylon
cord between the tips, using the spacing recommended by DL7IO. Once
this is done, tension the wire to the spreaders again and allow
the element lengths to dictate the correct position of the hose
clamps on the spreaders, keeping the elements level across the feedpoint
at the center post.
this "master" curve geometry established, repeat the process
for each of the other bands. For simplicity, I wasn't too concerned
about the interaction of one band on the others, just tuning and
stringing up each band as I went. If the curve geometry is all right,
wires for each band should naturally find their own spot on the
spreaders, keeping level with their feedpoint bolts. Mine seemed
to be pretty close, but not perfectly level in every case.
Feeding This Baby
Once the wires were all strung and tensioned, I skipped the standard
PL259 connector at the top. Instead, I soldered eyelets to my coax
center and shield and slipped them onto the 20M feeder bolts, feeding
the entire antenna from that top point. This isn't entirely weather-safe,
but it's quicker than doing it right.
made a coax RF choke by making six turns of coax just four inches
in diameter. A larger diameter (five or six inches) would be lot
better, though. I ran the coax down the side of the pipe, between
the driven and reflector bolts, using tie-wraps to secure it at
top and bottom.
have run about 70 feet of RG58 to the rig. It's small coax, but
the only long cable I have on hand.
was overeager trimming the 20M wires, and they were too short at
first so I soldered more wire back on. Most of the other elements
are a bit long and were resonant below the bands when on the ground,
but the antenna appears to be extremely widebanded [Resonance went
up a bit with the antenna up on the mast, and all is fine]. My rig
is an FT-920 with on-board tuner. So far, I haven't had to use the
tuner with the hex, except on 10M. The SWR is that good.
measured SWR across each band, but here are the readings for the
areas I'm most likely to centre on:
18.080 Mhz 1.7:1
21.050 Mhz 1.4:1
24.910 Mhz 1.5:1
28.070 Mhz 2.1:1
28.500 Mhz 2.8:1
Turning Things Around
had an ear to the ground to find a cheap used TV rotator, but after
a couple of months had not found one. I was ready to buy one for
$139, as advertised by Radio Shack. To my pleasant surprise, I got
brand-new one at Radio Shack for $52 -- seems "Radio Shack"
is clearing out of a lot of their radio stuff. In future, I guess
they'll just be "Shack."
scavenged 100 feet of rotator cable from my father-in-law, who moved
from an old satellite system to the newer DSS stuff (so not rotating
needed). The Archer rotator went up and turns things just fine,
although we'll have to see what the first windstorm does.
mast system is two 10-foot sections of chain-link fence top rail,
plus a couple of feet of thick-wall PVC stub mast between the rotator
and antenna. I drilled a hole and bolted through the "swaged"
join of the two metal mast pipes to stiffen the connection in the
middle, but it is still a bit rickety for comfort. Will add a splint
of some sort around this join to strengthen it.
mast foot is on top of a three-foot-high concrete retaining wall
near the house. The pipe is strapped to the lower part of the house's
gable-end at about 15 feet high. Our lot is tiered from the back
of the house down to the front, so half of the antenna is always
about 25 feet above ground level, while the other half is about
three feet closer to ground.
It On the Roof
you do not have an extension ladder, you should get one. A month
ago, I borrowed one from my father-in-law. To do this, I said something
like, “The house needs painting. Can I borrow your ladder?”
Seeing as the house badly needs painting, he provided the ladder.
the house still badly needs painting. This is because I had this
antenna thing sitting in the driveway and there was no sense painting
till that was up in the air.
had a ladder handy, a few weeks ago I put up a mast made of three
sections of steel fence rail -- 30 feet in the air to support one
end of a half-length 40M-to-10M G5RV. (My 102’ G5 is between
two maple trees at the back of the lot).
antenna-raising day, I took out one section of the mast, so the
rotator was installed at 20 feet. This is actually 23 feet over
ground for half of the antenna, as the mast stands on top of a concrete
retaining wall between the elevated back lawn and the driveway.
The rotator is about five feet above the roof (I think that may
be too much unguyed height for the fence-rail pole, but we’ll
put up one section of pole with the rotator bolted on top, letting
it all hang in the bracket bolted to the lower end of one gable.
Once the antenna was installed, I would push the bottom section
of pole into the top section and push it all the way up to full
trick was: how do you get a 20-foot diameter antenna up onto the
roof? The answer, I thought, was to get the lovely XYL to hand it
up to me when I was half-way up the ladder, then carry it the rest
of the way. This worked OK, but once I had the antenna sitting on
the roof, I didn’t have enough leverage to actually raise
it the extra six inches to plop it into the waiting rotator.
naturally, I dropped the antenna from the roof on my first attempt
at putting it up on a Friday evening. Just couldn’t quite
control it as I was lifting it into the rotator, and over it went.
The XYL helped save it until a good neighbor (hearing my cry of
“Oh darn*! It’s falling!”) came running to take
it from her.
Some words have been changed to protect the innocent.
the 20M wires snagged on top of a wooden fence, preventing the antenna
from hitting the ground. I really thought the antenna would be busted
to pieces, but I soon discovered that it was just fine. The XYL
was all right, too, “and thanks for asking so quickly,”
she added as I examined the antenna again.
told her I was badly shaken by the incident. It was all I could
do to work the Oceania CW contest, the NA RTTY Sprint and the PA
QSO Party over the next two days using the lowly G5RV, mulling over
a better way to get the hex antenna safely into place.
took until Monday morning to get the courage to climb the ladder
again. From around the corner of the house, where the ground is
three feet closer to the eaves, it took just five minutes to hoist
the antenna, using a rope slung over the top of the extension ladder
this time, and get it into the rotator.
try doing this alone, no matter how anxious you are to get the antenna
in the air. Even 20 pounds of ungainly wire and bamboo can be dangerous
if it gets away on you and pulls you down with it.
is exciting to have this homebrew antenna in the air, and having
my first-ever rotatable antenna. Some might think the contraption
is ugly. My good neighbor commented, “you can talk to Mars
on that thing.” A co-worker viewing my “baby”
pictures of the antenna noted, “it looks like an upside down
wife looked up at it and said, “Honey, the house badly needs
it has slightly warped spreaders, and the wires are not totally
symmetrical, and there are other obviously homemade irregularities
-- but to me it is a beautiful thing, close enough to perfect.
The next version will be lighter and more streamlined than this
first one. I will use a metal base-plate (aluminum if I can find
the right sized bit of scrap). I will also try 10-foot-long ¾-inch
PVC spreaders to avoid having to join pieces of bamboo together.
Ideally, I would use fibreglass spreaders, but I can’t afford
the mailorder price just now. I looked for fishing rod blanks, but
they’re expensive and also mailorder from BC. If the PVC doesn’t
work, I’ll go back to bamboo which I know will work.
bamboo and bright copper speaker wire really stands out in the sunlight.
Though the neighbors haven’t said anything yet (they live
above and behind us), I’d rather not intrude on their view
needlessly. I will paint the spreaders, hub, and center post either
mottled gray, or flat black for low visual impact.
know if I’d use speaker wire or common solid house wire next
time -- the speaker wire is pretty heavy with its thick clear vinyl
insulation. Might use the bare ground wire from house wiring instead,
and just paint it. Why hang all that heavy insulation? Hopefully,
the uninsulated wire won’t be as electrically long as the
insulated speaker wire and need less pruning.
Mileage May Vary
In describing my antenna project, I have tried to be very honest
about corners I've cut, and things I would and will do differently.
Maybe one of these days I'll be able to report the final final results,
but I wanted to post as much info as possible for anyone else thinking
of building one of these.
I am pleased with what I've built so far, I think I got lucky with
my element pruning. The results of YOUR hex-style beam will probably
be even better. And my results will only get better as I work on
it or build the next version.
project shows that a hex-style beam can be built using very cheap
materials -- bamboo sticks and plywood. It won't last for years
without frequent care, but it's very sturdy. Twice, wind storms
blew over my lousy test stand (two and a half concrete blocks and
a bit of 6" PVC). Both times, the antenna fell from 14 feet.
The spreaders hit the ground and a fence without a scratch. The
thing weighs 20 pounds or less, and seems to love the wind.
you don't have seven months and two young sons to help build one,
then definitely buy one. Either way, I don't think you will regret
you for reading, and please let us all know how your own project
is going by joining the Hex Beam Group on Yahoo!
A roundup look at the antennas currently in use at the
Rotatable Dipole Project
Using two fiberglass fishing poles (Crappie poles), some wire and
a few feet of TV twinlead, this linear-loaded dipole is less than
40' from tip to tip, cheap and works well for its size.
Wire Vertical Phased Array Project
Simple "from the book" phasing lines, a relay switching
box, and two easy 68' wire verticals with raised radials gives me
a competitive contest signal covering most of the horizon on 80M
Hex Beam Project
Read the construction details for a homebrew hex-style beam. This
is a super performer -- if you want all five upper HF bands, or
don't have the wingspan room for a spider beam or other large-format
Beam Group on Yahoo
A spider beam hot spot. See what other homebrewers
(and spider beam kit builders) are doing to get great signals on
20m, 15m and 10m.
Spider Beam Site
Information about the spider beam from its inventor, Con DF4SA.
See how he has used this outstanding antenna to win CQWW contests
from Portugal. The
spider beam is a serious antenna that, in my opinion, is destined
to be one of the most popular homebrewed tribanders.