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I am trying to piece together what I'd need for a small hobby project. I'd like to build something that is basically the equivalent to a home made avalanche beacon finder. Avalanche beacons transmit at 457 kHz and from the bit of research I've done it seems a ferrite rod antenna is the first piece I need. While I am pretty technical, hardware and especially radio are completely new to me.

So specific questions:

  1. If I get a ferrite rod from here -> http://www.stormwise.com/page26.htm do I want the 125u ferrite or the 2000u ferrite? They seem to both cover the frequency I need.
  2. Everything I find on the net involves building an antenna for AM frequency radios. I only need it for one frequency and it is below AM, right?
  3. Given 2) How do I know how much wire to wrap? It seems like it's almost trial and error and I haven't been able to find any good resources for such calculations.
  4. If it is trial and error, once I have my ferrite rod wrapped in wire, how do I quickly test it? Do I need an oscilloscope or some other piece of equipment? I have an avalanche beacon I can set to transmit, but I guess my question is how do I know my antenna designed to pick it up?
  5. Any resources for this sort of stuff will be useful. I'm having a hard time tracking down an info and I think that's because I just don't know what search terms to use.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Point 4 is almost a separate question — "how do I test reception" whereas the rest is "how do I design an antenna". You might be better off asking it separately, as a good answer for one is not necessarily a good answer for the other. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Reid Dec 30 '12 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Non functional contemporary ear-bud headphones often have what is poor-mans Litz wire. You can take all the long conductors and parallel them for maximum strands, or keep the colours separate if you need to join and make a longer length. \$\endgroup\$ – KalleMP Apr 24 '18 at 21:57
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You asked a bunch of questions that are really too broad taken together, so I'll just answer what seems to be the underlying question about how to make a tuned ferrite rod antenna.

Basically a ferrite rod antenna is a resonant L-C circuit. The ferrite rod and the coil wrapped around it form the inductor, and you connect a deliberate capacitor accross it. The Q can be fairly high since it is limited only by the resistance in the inductor coil and any losses in the ferrite. Make sure to get ferrite rated to a frequency well beyond the one you want it to resonate at. At 457 kHz that won't be a problem.

The resonant frequency of a L-C circuit is:

  F = 1 / 2π sqrt(LC)

When L is in henries and C in farads, then F will be in hertz. Of course you can rearrange this to get any of F, L, or C from the other two. For example, to find the inductance to resonate at 457 kHz with a 10 nF capacitor, you need

  L = 1 / (2πF)² C = 12.1 µH

Since your frequency is fixed, by solving for just one L-C pair, you can easily get others. For example, if you wanted 10x the inductance, you'd have to use 1/10 of the capacitance, or 1 nF and 121 µH.

The best way to get the right inductance is by experimentation. Yes you could in theory get the data for the ferrite rod and do a bunch of calculations to determine the number of turns, but it will be easier to simply try something, see where you're at, and adjust iteratively until you get the desired resonant frequency. From the numbers above, a capacitor in the 1-10 nF range should work well, as 12-120 µH is doable. I'd probably aim for something in the 50-100 µH range. Do the math, get a suitable capacitor, and start winding. Capacitors aren't usually that accurate, so start with the final cap and adjust the inductor until you get the desired resonant frequency with that cap.

I don't know how big your ferrite rod is, but as a wild guess, start with around 50 turns of magnet wire and see where you're at. Something like 28 gauge enamel coated wire will probably be about right.

There are various ways to find the resonant frequency. I'd probably start with a function generator, resistor, and scope. Feed the L-C tank circuit (your inductor with the cap accross it in parallel) from the function generator thru a resistor, and look at the voltage accross the L-C on the scope. There will be a sharp amplitude peak at the resonant frequency, and it will be nearly 0 elsewhere. Sweep the frequency by adjusting the function generator dial to find the peak, then see what the frequency is. I would have the scope tell me the frequency instead of trusting the function generator dial. Those are notoriously inaccurate, unless you have a precision calibrated frequency generator.

If the resonant frequency is too high, add more turns. If too low, take a few off. Iterate until you get it just right. Once you do, put some hot glue or epoxy on the windings to keep them from moving around.

Now you have a sensitive magnetic antenna tuned to the frequency of interest. The rest is a amplifier followed by a detector, but that's too much to get into for this question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Since its a LC tank, wouldn't only 1 frequency be resonant, and hence only 1 station picked up, so that if you want a different station you'd have to change the number of loops in the antenna and the cap. value? And I was also wondering whether even though only 1 frequency is resonant, would it still be the case that other freq. are picked up from the air, but only face higher impedence? Last question: can L value be reduced by placing another inductor in parallel (while only the antenna inductor picking any significant signal from the air)? Thanks kindly for your help.. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Dec 8 '18 at 10:37
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I've built up a few long wave receivers for airport beacons here in Australia. They usually operate between 200 and 450 Khz, so they might be within the ball park of what you are looking for in terms of the L/C component of your receiver. Most simple receivers of this type are based on the MK484 or TA 7642 IC's, used in order to replace the ZN414 IC.

As for the tuned circuit, athe better the quality of components used, the better your results will be. AM and below are generally pretty noist bands in terms of hum, hash and other unresolvable signals. If you can, obtain a tuner cap that uses ceramic insulators rather than paxilon or other not so good materials. Ceramic is to tuner caps what glass is to high voltage cables - it prevents signals leaking to earth, and signal loss is something that you don't need.

So, a good tuner cap of say 500 to 600 pF per gang, and if it is 2 or 3 gang, even better - you will use less wire. With a lerge value cap and a good ferrite rod (the longer and thicker the better) try winding around 120 turns onto the rod. Use litz wire if you can get it.

This can be scavenged from defunct antenna coils or old disused IF transformers - more than enough for a 120 turn coil can be retrieved froma 2 bobbin IF metal can device, but you'll have to be careful about loosening the outer layers, as they are often held intact by a brownish coloured glue.

This glue can wreck the first two or so layers if you're too rough in handling it, so use a scalpel or a hobby knife to scrape the dried old glue away - gently, and retrieve as much wire as you need.

Good ferrite rods can also be rescued from old AM receiversw - just remove the rod and its supports, and remove the existing coil and replace it with the one you need to wind. Alternatively, use the coil that is on the rod, and simply use two or three tuning capacitor gangs wired together, to get the capacitance low enough for the 457Khz f0 that you need to receive at.

Avoid cheap polyvaricon (plastic) tuner caps and cheap, short ferrite rods, as you end result may be sdisappointing if you decide to use them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for Litz wire and salvaging from AM radios for prototypes. \$\endgroup\$ – KalleMP Apr 24 '18 at 21:52
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Pursuing an advanced project, designing a receiver from scratch, A) without knowledge, B) without equipment, C) without prior experience? Be careful, since major failure at first projects can steer students away from electronics entirely.

Go and build lots of beginner projects first. To succeed at the avalanche receiver, you should already have built simple transmitters/receivers as kits or online projects with schematics, and already know the answers to your questions.

If you really insist on tackling advanced projects, instead do circuit-mods: alter a commercial AM radio, or find an online project/schematic which comes close to your needs (such as VLF radio receivers for hearing "whistlers" etc.

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Just go get one tuning capacitor valued around 300 pf and one stick of ferrite rod long enough to put 200 turn of enamled copper wire on,dont forget tape underneath.

Sometimes I use tinned stranded insulated copperwire from those big old tv sets,this stuff is gold for making coils without all the fuss, basically last forever too. anyways it's good to experiment yourself and jump in and have a go. You don't need to be a rocket scientist for nasa to make a little old radio the tuning cap and the coil alone will make a very good tunned circuit, no need to add any other bits to it except your radio mk48


I made a similar radio some time ago mainly to receive beacons etc. I just wound enameled copper wire around a long ferrite rod I got from old valve radio set. I wound about 200 turns then unwound ten at a time to see what I could pick up,got a few beacons,mainly ones that may be used in case of emergency.

I would suggest you get a tuner cap from an old valve radio as they work a lot better for radio stuff to receive longwave its basically just a normal am radio with a very long coil, there was an excellent diagram of one in a back issue of silicon chip it used a mk484 ic and had a two out put transistors as a complimentary pair setup. I think was bc 337 or similar basically a pnp transistor and an npn transistor. I have been able to find that diagram on the net since but I guess someone would have it.

I played with all sorts of radios some time ago and made quiet a few from the net and put my own touches to them,the longwave one from silicon chip was a really good design and so simple to make. The mk484 is very effective and pulls in stations from far and wide, but it seems these days there are so many diagrams on the net that just don't work at all, basically time wasters, there are a hell of a lot on here.

It never used to be like this before,ofcourse you did get the odd thingo that didn't work but now on the net its like nothing works, books are a better choice now not so many mistakes in those but they are still there.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This would be much easier to read if broken into sentences. \$\endgroup\$ – David Sep 30 '14 at 5:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hey lorraine I tried to make some sense of this stream of words, please consider some further edit. \$\endgroup\$ – clabacchio Oct 1 '14 at 7:45
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A much better way to experiment with a ferrite rod and coil to find the proper inductance for a particular frequency would be to wind a large coil on the ferrite with 28 to 30 AWG enamelled magnet wire and after having secured both ends with glue, take an emory board or fine sandpaper and bare the entire length of one side of the coil down to the clean copper. From this you can find the exact spot that corresponds with the right frequency you need. If you have an LCR meter it makes this much easier as you can find the right inductance by touching the appropriate part with your probe. Coils are linear so if the total inductance is 300 microhenries, half way down will be 150 etc.

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