Wire Antenna Winder – A 3:1 Geared Carpenter’s Chalk Reel is Perfect

wire antenna winder

This is a standard chalk reel used by carpenters, roofers, and other trades. A chalk reel makes an excellent wire antenna winder for outdoor ham radio operators. It’s got a 3:1 gear ratio so it winds back the thin wire very fast. CLICK THE IMAGE NOW to have one delivered to your home. Copyright 2017 Tim Carter – W3ATB

Wire Antenna Winder – Works Well With Thin Wire

I first discovered a wire antenna winder when talking with a fellow ham Hanz Busch, W1JSB back in 2014. Hanz told me how he had a standard chalk reel that contained a wire antenna.

How clever I thought.

I’m the AsktheBuilder.com guy and prior to that worked as a custom builder and remodeler for decades. You can imagine how many chalk reels or chalk boxes have been in my tool belts!

Wire Antenna Winder Works Fast

Years ago chalk reels took lots of turns to get the string back into the box. New chalk reels are geared so the string is sucked back into the winder like a kid slurps spaghetti into his mouth at the dinner table.

My Irwin Speedline chalk reel has a 3:1 gear ratio that allows me to retrieve 60 feet of 26-gauge Teflon coated stranded wire back into the box in three or four seconds. This chalk reel is made from plastic and it’s very lightweight. CLICK or TAP HERE to order the same wire I used.

How Much Wire Will the Reel Hold?

I loaded 60 feet of the thin wire onto the spool inside the reel and still had leftover room on the spool. I estimate you can load about 100 feet of wire onto the spool. If you attempt to put more on, there’s a good chance some of it may not stay in between the sides of the spool.

Look at the photo below showing the excess space on the spool.

Other brands of reels may have a larger internal spool allowing you to load more wire.

Why is the Gearing Important?

You’ll appreciate the gearing speed if you need to break down your outdoor radio station in cold or threatening weather. I saw about 18 months ago that Steve Galchutt, WG0AT, built one so he could scamper down from his SOTA activations when the storm clouds rolled in on top of his Colorado peaks.

wire antenna winder

Here’s the inside of the chalk reel. I loaded about 60 feet of wire to mine. You can see that the inner spool is just about full. I’m sure you can get 100 feet of 26-gauge teflon-coated wire on it, but not much more. Copyright 2017 Tim Carter

What Kind of SWR do you get?

I’m able to achieve a 1:1 SWR with the antenna when I pair it up with my Elecraft KX2 and KX3. Both have the factory-installed Elecraft tuner.

Here’s the list of radios I use outdoors:

  • Elecraft KX3
  • Elecraft KX2
  • HB-1B
  • MFJ 20M Cub
  • and other assorted QRP radios

I discovered you can get a perfect 1:1 SWR match with the Elecraft tuners if the total wire length is 29 feet.

Related Links:

Mendocino Woodlands POTA Activation Using 29-foot Wire Antenna

29-Foot Wire On Top of Mt. Washington

Jumper Cable + Antenna = 29 Feet

Keep in mind that the total length of the antenna extends from the tip of the antenna down to the unun or banana plug you might use. My jumper cable is 3-feet long so I removed insulation from the 26-gauge wire at 26 feet from the end of the wire where I soldered a loop to the chalk reel hook. 26 + 3 = 29

wire antenna winder

Here’s the wire antenna winder in action. The 26-gauge teflon-coated wire extends up 26 feet into a tree. A 3-foot jumper cable is clipped to a bare section of the wire and to a 9:1 unun sitting on the ground. Copyright 2017 Tim Carter


wire antenna winder

This small loop of micro cord allows me to attach the wire antenna winder to a carabiner that’s hangs from a loop from my North Face day pack that I take on my outdoor adventures. It’s important to realize clipping it to my backpack ensures it won’t swing around if it’s windy. In addition, you need strain relief so the antenna doesn’t get disconnected. Copyright 2017 Tim Carter

wire antenna winder

The blue arrow points to a 4 mm section of the wire where I removed the plastic insulation. The alligator clip connects here. Copyright 2017 Tim Carter

All things considered, the chalk reel adds just a tiny amount of weight to your backpack, but the advantage of retracting the wire fast and keeping it clean is a big advantage.


16 thoughts on “Wire Antenna Winder – A 3:1 Geared Carpenter’s Chalk Reel is Perfect

  1. I take it you disassembled the winder and took out the string and replaced it with the wire? Or did you just pull all the string out and attach your wire to the string? And thank you, love this idea!

    Thanks, de Bob, KE0ZZT

      • Tim,

        My reel arrived yesterday, so I loaded about 60′ of 22ga PolyStealth onto it. I notched the insulation at 27′ since my jumper is 2′. Strung it off the deck rail at about a 45° angle, and it worked great! Made contacts in CA, AL and MS on it last evening. Thank you for the awesome idea!!

        I am curious though….. the extra wire that is wound up immediately after where the alligator clip attaches; does that act like a choke, and therefore does not act as part of the antenna?

        Thanks again, 73! Bob, KE0ZZT

  2. Wow, voice from the past! Just in the past three days, your name came up with Dan Murray. He and I are on a one-week hiking adventure in southern Utah. I was doing HF radio yesterday from Cedar Breaks National Monument.

    I can see why you’re attracted to DMR. For me, I’m deep into QRP outdoor radio. I’m also starting to enjoy some contesting to help get my CW speed up.

    I think you’d really enjoy HF. What a thrill to connect with someone thousands of miles away using the power of a nightlight.

    Hope all is well with you Theresa, and your daughter. Her name escapes me!

  3. Pingback: Cheap HF Antenna | W3ATB

  4. I see my call didn’t come out correctly Paul Detroit Michigan AA8ozI really like your qrp antenna Winder truck real that’s cool I got to make one I’ll probably order a couple and today. I fly a 1946 ercoupe have a 3-wheel motorcycle and just purchased a Saturn Sky convertible Roadster.

  5. Very nice! Looks like a popular match box on the ground, I think I have one of those. I like the idea and will probably give it a try one day. 26 guage is the heaviest you can use?

    • The 26 gauge wire thickness matches the diameter of the string that came with the reel. I don’t feel there’s any advantage to using a thicker wire. Your mileage may vary – if you decide to go with 24 or 22-gauge, report back how it worked for you. TNX

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