Last Modified: September 7, 2014
Contents: Basics; Caveats; Coil Adjustment; Why 40 Ohms;
Any SWR less than 1.6:1 is good.
This article describes a specific procedure to adjust a shunt matching coil to assure that the input SWR will remain relatively low (≤ 1.6:1) over the operating range of an 80 through 10 meter, remotely-controlled, HF mobile antenna (see Odds & Ends for additional information on matching 160 meter antennas). It also requires an antenna analyzer like the MFJ-259B shown at right. Whatever antenna analyzer is used, it must have an X and R readout. The SWR readout must be ignored, and not relied on until the coil is adjusted properly!
The procedure assumes that the lowest X value readout (may not be exactly zero!) is the actual resonant frequency. Since we're dealing with a less than a laboratory-grade instrument, the lowest X value shown may not be the exact resonate point. However, in this case it is close enough. To make sure we get the best (lowest?) value, a few caveats are in order.
The most accurate readings will always occur when the coax cable between the antenna and the analyzer is as short as practical. But, if this fact requires you to stand close to the antenna, the readout will probably be incorrect. Just remember, long lengths of coax will require more time to get the shunt coil adjustment set correctly.
Adjustments should not be made while parked atop reenforced driveways, around well-treed properties, or under overhead power lines. All of these factors effect the analyzer's readout. Further, the coil should be installed as clear of surrounding sheet metal as possible, not enclosed in any material, even plastic (especially gray PVC!)! Remember, when matching coils are mounted close to mounting brackets, vehicle sheet metal, enclosed in any material other than air, their performance and linearity will suffer! This may require relocating factory-supplied coils, or winding your own as outlined in this article.
The number of turns may also vary. The coil at left has 9 turns, is 1 inch inside diameter, and wound with #14 Thermalese® (enameled) wire. The one on the right is 7 turns, and .75 inches in diameter. The requisite number of turns, depends on the quality of the antenna, the mounting location and style, and the amount of ground losses present.
You can also use building wire for the coil, but it is a little harder to work with. In actual use, the turns are spaced a little further apart than shown, to adjust the coil's inductance. The coil needs to be about 1 uH, but in the real world, the value may be between .5 uH and 1.5 uH depending on the actual input impedance of the antenna in question, at resonance.
By the way, the coils shown were wound using a sparkplug socket wrench as a form. Whatever you use as a form, for best results, the finished coil should be between .75 to 1.25 inches ID.
The following adjustment procedure assumes you have a properly wound RF choke(s) on the motor leads (right photo), and the reed switch leads if used. The choke(s) must be mounted as close to the base of the antenna as possible, and not inside the vehicle! Remember, any wiring before the choke is part of the antenna, and will radiate.
An improperly wound and/or installed choke, will also affect the input impedance of the antenna. To circumvent this possibility, the choke and control wires to the antenna should be removed before any measurements are made.
Once the coil adjustment is completed, if reattaching the control wires and choke, changes the input impedance, no matter how small the change is, the choke is inadequate! For more information on winding the requisite choke, read the Antenna Controller, and the How To Wind A Choke articles.
If you do the following coil adjustment procedure correctly, you will be rewarded with a relatively low SWR (< 1.6:1) at any resonant point the antenna (80 through 10) can be tuned to. The coil will not need further adjustment unless you change the antenna's length, add a cap hat, or perhaps relocate the antenna.
The photos show the readout of a screwdriver antenna, on 40 meters, without any matching, and after the shunt coil was installed and adjusted (left and right respectively). Results on 80 meters will be similar.
If the impedance of your unmatched antenna measures close to those shown in the right photo, chances are the overall losses are great enough that you don't need any input matching. If that is the case, you need a better antenna, better mounting, or both!
As noted, the number of turns may vary from 7 to 10 turns. The actual number needed depends on a lot of factors; the actual input impedance of the antenna, the size of wire, the overall length of the coil, its diameter, and whether it is insulated or not. The dimensions suggested (≈1 inch long, ≈1 inch in diameter, and 7 to 9 turns) will suffice 98% of the time.
One common adjustment failing is the I'll break it syndrome. Some folks are just too shy about elongating the coil enough to get a decent match. If you're one of these, remember this; all the coil is, is a small piece of enameled wire, anyone can (re)wind in a few moments. It isn't magical, and it isn't critical in any respect. It may indeed end up looking like a funky corkscrew by the time you're through with the adjustment, but that fact alone won't affect the end results. By the way, any motor or alternator rewinding shop will have enough scrap laying around to wind hundreds of coils; a 3 foot length is plenty. Size really isn't important either, but #14 and #12 are the easiest to work with.
There is one important consideration when using an antenna analyzer, and that is broadcast interference (BCI). If you live near an AM or FM broadcast station, or close to a commercial installation, you should check to make sure you do not have BCI. In the case of the MFJ-259B, that's easy to do. With the MFJ-259B connected to your antenna, push the mode switch until the frequency counter displays. If the SWR meter significantly deflects, you probably have BCI. MFJ does sell an optional BCI filter unit for the 259B which eliminates the problem.
In the following steps, it may not be possible to get the X value to equal zero (or very close to it). There are several reasons why this may occur, including the basic accuracy of the instrument in use. Or, you might be adjusting the analyzer to the lowest SWR rather than the lowest X value. Or, the coax between the analyzer and the antenna is too long. It should be less than 18 inches. Or, you might have BC interference as noted above.
Do yourself a favor, and explicitly follow the adjustment procedure herein. If you do not, here is what will happen: You will not achieve a low SWR over your antenna's band width; You will have antenna controller malfunctions and/or intermittent operation; And, you will become frustrated, no end!
Move the antenna to the 80 meter band. The actual frequency is unimportant. Remove the control leads, and choke as outlined above. Adjust the frequency on the analyzer until the X=Ø, or as close to zero as you can. If you've adjusted the antenna analyzer to the lowest SWR, rather than X=Ø, you've already made a mistake!
Read the R value (not the SWR!). If it is less than 40 ohms, stretch out the coil slightly (1/4 inch at a time!). Readjust the analyzer's frequency so X=Ø once again. If the R value is lower than the first try, squeeze the coil together slightly (1/4 inch at a time!), and try again. Repeat the process until the R reading is about 40 ohms when X=Ø =, or as close to it as you can. This process could take several tries, and must be completed before moving to 40 meters.
After you've adjusted the coil on 80 meters, move the antenna to the 40 meter band. The actual frequency isn't important. Remove the control leads, and choke as outlined above. Adjust the analyzer's frequency until X=Ø, or as close to it you can get (not the SWR!). Read the R value. In most cases, it will be about the same spot as it was on 80 meters. If it is not, it may be necessary to compromise between the two bands. This may require multiple measurements on both bands. If you hit is right the first time, consider yourself lucky!
As the case may be; if you can't stretch the coil apart enough to find a match, take off a turn or two. If you can't collapse it enough, add a turn or two. The requisite number of turns for a one inch diameter coil, will vary between 7 and 9, and the overall length between 1 and 2 inches (.5 uH to 1.5 uH).
Once you've completed the 80 and 40 meter adjustments, move the antenna to the 20 meter band. The actual frequency isn't important. Remove the control leads, and choke as outlined above. Adjust the frequency on the analyzer until X=Ø, or as close to it as you can. Read the R value (not the SWR!). It will usually be closer to 50 ohms than either 80 or 40 meters, and may actually be slightly higher than 50 ohms. You can check the rest of the bands if you desire, but they'll usually read very close to the 20 meter R value.
If a compromise can't be reached between 80 and 40, or the R reading for 20 meters (and above) is far removed for 50 ohms when X≈Ø, then chances are there is an inadequate ground plane under the antenna (#1 cause), or there is too much shunt capacitance between the antenna (particularly the coil), and the body of the vehicle, or both! The solutions are obvious.
Why 40 Ohms?
Someone is bound to ask; why set the shunt matching coil for 40 ohms rather than 50 ohms? Basically, it is a compromise. If you use 50 ohms, you'll find the match on 17 and 15 will be over 80 ohms (>1.7:1 SWR) in most cases. The reason is related to the reactance of the shunt coil (including its distributed capacitance), as the frequency changes. Distributed capacitance is also the reason small, closely spaced coils don't work too well in this application, especially when they're mounted inside the antenna's mounting bracket.