Shack Construction – Part 1/4 (Planning And Framing)

Our Temporary Station

Our Temporary Ham Shack

After becoming licensed in 2010/2011, AB1OC and AB1QB set up a “temporary” HF station in our second-floor home office. In retrospect, this was a good idea because it gave us a chance to use some of our HF equipment and learn what we really wanted to do with a more permanent station. Our temporary station did have a number of problems that eventually motivated us to build a more permanent “shack”. These included:

  • The second-floor location required a 20+ ft connection to the ground which created RF problems in the temporary shack
  • The room did not have adequate electrical power or cooling to allow full operation of our station in a comfortable environment
  • We did not have a good way to disconnect and ground our antennas during electrical storms
  • We only had room for one operating position which became a problem as we both got more involved in HAM radio

I plan to cover the design and construction of our new ham shack in a series of four posts. This first post will cover the planning and framing aspects of the project.

Late in 2011, we began to make plans for a more permanent station in the basement of our house. Our goals for our new ham shack design included:

  • Building a state-of-the-art multi-op station with separate positions that would allow both of us to operate at the same time
  • Adequate power and cooling to allow the use of legal limit amplifiers in a comfortable environment
  • Good lighting and ergonomics to support extended operating sessions including multi-day contests
  • A well-executed antenna switching and station ground system to provide better lightning protection and RF grounds for our station
  • Provision for full automation of our station’s antenna switching and human interfaces to support more automated sharing of our antenna farm in a multi-SO2R configuration
  • Addition of weak-signal VHF/UHF systems to our station
  • A permanent area for electronics construction and troubleshooting (we are both Electrical Engineers and are interested in the “home brewing” side of Amateur Radio)
  • An A/V area to allow us to take advantage of our existing Whole House Entertainment System
  • Adequate storage for all of our Amateur Radio items

The first step in the project was to secure a building permit to finish a room in our basement and clean out and seal the area prior to construction. Our basement is dry year-round so we could finish the shack area without water problems. As an extra precaution, we also installed underground drain lines on all of our rain spoutings that surround the shack area in our basement to ensure that we would not have water problems in the future.

Rain Drainage

Rain Drainage

With our building permit in hand, we translated our ham shack design to draw up detailed plans for the room’s framing, electrical system, and HVAC system, as well as plans for the finish elements such as the operating desk and cabinetry. The ARRL Amateur Radio Handbook is a good source of ideas and information for developing plans for a shack. We also put considerable time into planning the design of the shack’s grounding systems and cable entry. It’s important to think carefully about the final layout of the shack at this stage of the project and to carefully think through ergonomic issues like the location, height, and layout of the operating desk and associated seating and lighting.

Plans for our New Ham Shack Design

Plans For Our New Shack

In addition, we did careful heat dissipation calculations to determine the HVAC requirements for the room as well as electrical power planning to determine the total electrical capacity, circuit count, and individual circuit load requirements. We have been fortunate to work with several very good carpentry, electrical, and HVAC contractors on other remodeling projects that we have done around our home and these folks were very helpful in developing our plans for our new shack. Our contractors also handled some of the work to complete the project. We worked with Jim and Bob Bourassa ( on many of the carpentry aspects of our project. Brian Fessenden (, our electrician, helped us to plan and install the electrical and generator systems. Absolute Mechanical Systems, our HVAC contractor helped us with the HVAC systems in our Shack, and Brian Veillette ( handled the excavation and landscaping elements outside the shack.

With all of our plans done, we were ready to begin construction. We ordered all of the lumber needed for the framing and got our tools together.

Lumber for Framing

Lumber For Framing

One of the most useful tools at the framing stage of a project like this is a good set of laser levels. These tools help to get all of the walls and other aspects of the framing square, plumb, and level. Some time spent to get everything right at this stage makes the drywall, flooring, ceiling, and finish carpentry aspects go much more smoothly and ensures a good overall result.

Laser Levels

Laser Levels

The framing of our shack was a bit of a challenge due to several non-conventional aspects of our room and the plans for it. The following picture shows the nearly completed framing looking into the room. The back wall was thicker than standard to allow for the installation of 2″ PVC conduits to route coax and control cables inside this wall to the planned operating positions. The framed-out area on the back wall is a recess for a Geochron-lighted grey-line map. We also opted to finish the area around the outside window with a sloping window sill to maximize the natural light into the room.

Ham Shack Design - Shack Framing

Shack Framing (View Into The Room)

The picture below is a view of the framing from inside the shack. The stairs and the wall next to it also presented some challenges. The original width of the stairs did not allow the new wall to line up properly with the finished wall in the stairwell above the shack. To solve this problem, I had to remove the stair riser and narrow the stairs by about 1/2″. There also was a  column in the location of this wall to support the beam and floor above the shack so we had to temporarily support the wall with jack columns and build a load-bearing wall under this area. Finally, the overhead support beam and a series of HVAC ducts, and other lines between the beam and the front wall had the potential to create a low ceiling. Some careful attention to the framing in this area created a ceiling that was no lower than the bottom of the existing beam which allowed plenty of ceiling-to-floor clearance. These are all pretty standard framing construction problems and a good basement remodeling book will explain how to do these steps if they are needed.

Shack Framing 2

Shack Framing (View From Inside The Room)

We also opted to build an area outside the shack to mount a dedicated electrical breaker panel for the room as well as to provide a place to mount our planned antenna switching matrix. This was done by building a simple 2×4 frame on the wall and covering it with a piece of plywood. We call this “Node 1” as it is the second panel of this type in our basement. Node 0 holds our home Data and A/V network.

Ham Shack Design - Moutning for antenna switching and station equipment

Node 1

We installed a pair of bookshelves in this area to hold all of our Amateur Radio-related books and manuals. Our local Staples store supplied the shelves.

The next step of our shack construction project will be the electrical and HVAC rough-in. This will be the subject of our next post.

Are you interested in learning more about our ham shack design and construction? Here are some links with more information:

– Fred, AB1OC

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