Building a Grounding System – Part 1

I have a simple confession to make: in my 25 years as an Amateur radio operator, I’ve never had a dedicated ham shack. No radio battle station, no rat’s nest of antenna feed lines and mic cables, and no real need for a permanent grounding setup.

Every station setup I’ve had over the years was temporary or completely portable. This status quo all changed earlier this summer, when I decided to build my first permanent ham radio shack and wanted to start from the ground up so to speak.

H. Ward Silver’s ARRL book on Grounding and Bonding was very thorough yet still practical enough for me to follow with some additional tips from members of the Amateur Radio Mentoring Group.

Rough Planning Phase

My first step was deciding to place a Rohn 34′ retractable mast bracketed and guyed on the far side of the shed. From there, I took a series of measurements to plan the number and approximate placement of the ground rods I’d need, along with the length of #4AWG solid copper wire required for bonding them together.

The drawing shows seven rods, but after measuring again and marking everything out with flags, it ended up being twelve 5/8″ eight foot rods spaced every 16 feet and buried in an 18″ deep trench. The copper clad steel rods were readily available at the nearby box store.

Getting to Work

Before digging, call 811 and have them locate your utility lines. I ended up having to use a private locator service to mark the path and depth of the utility power line from their distribution point to the breaker panel at the front of the house.

Nothing like a few hours of manual labor each night

A small breaker with a ground rod attachment would have made quick work sinking those ground rods. No such luck to be had, the local box shops had the breaker, but not the necessary attachment. Fence post driver, 3lb. hammer, and 8lb. sledge hammer plus more physical labor each evening!

I didn’t get any photos of the cadweld one-shot bonding process, but here’s a video from KF7P that shows exactly what I did to bond #4AWG solid copper wire between the rods all the way to my electrical breaker box.

Only one of my bonds didn’t hold and that was probably my fault for not ensuring good contact of the wires the entire time. I didn’t want to hacksaw off the top of the ground rod and retry to weld (with copper wire slack), so I just used a clamp (which is what I was trying to avoid).

In the next part, I’ll go through my approach for conduit, entry panel, and RF grounding!

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