Making an inexpensive antenna for digital TV with coat hangers

Update: After experimenting I designed a much simpler antenna that works just as good so check out the later post:

Easy to make simple Digital TV antenna

As you probably know the US is changing the way television is broadcast from analog to digital on Feb 17, 2009*. (dtvanswers.com)

This means if you watch TV with over the air analog signals – with an antenna on the roof or rabbit ears – on an old analog TV, you’ll need to get a converter box ($40 coupon link info at dtv2009.gov) and likely a new antenna.

You will need a better antenna if you are too far away from the transmitting towers or have obstructions. There are already reports of people that could receive analog signals OK but could not get an adequate digital signal. This will cause a lot of unhappy viewers.
(link for antennas and distance from transmitter info, antennaweb.org)
(antennas and digital TV link at fcc.org)

You can buy digital antennas for indoor or outdoor use, for example Channel Master is a popular brand. (Channel Master antenna web site)

There are a lot of reports that indoor amplified antennas don’t work well. The RCA one I tried** didn’t get any TV stations.

You can make your own digital antenna!

There are numerous posts on the Internet about how to make your own digital antenna.

The best instructions and video I have found are at the Make site, makezine.com
YouTube has some videos also (link 1 link 2)

Using these guidelines I made a good working antenna for less than $10 that pulled in 19 channels.


Yes it is ugly but it works.

Here is how I did it- parts list, tools required and steps:

Parts list:
– 1 board 1 1/2″ x 1/2″ x 4 feet
– 4 wire coat hangers
– 10 #8 x 3/4″ wood screws
– 10 #8 washers
– 2 2′ pieces of wire, I used insulated electric cord wire used for 120v
– matching transformer 300 ohm lugs to 75 ohm cable
– coax cable to connect antenna to TV converter box or TV digital tuner
– optional bracket pieces – another coat hanger segment, another screw and washer

Tools needed:
– drill to make pilot holes for screws
– drill bits for pilot holes – 1/8″ for soft wood or 9/64″ for hard wood
– ruler
– pencil
– screwdriver to drive #8 screws
– knife to strip wires
– wire cutters (diagonal cutters)
– pliers
– sandpaper or a knife to remove paint from coat hangers at contact points
– sandpaper or file to remove sharp edges at ends of coat hanger pieces
– safety goggles

Steps:
1 Cut coat hangers open and bend straight. Cut into 14″ segments***. I got two segments out of each coat hanger.
2 Remove the paint or lacquer from the center of the 14″ segments with a knife or sandpaper. I found a knife was easier. For safety smooth the ends of the segments.
3 Bend the 14″ segments in the middle into a V shape with the ends 3″ apart.
4 Mark where the holes will be on the board. Note the holes are spaced 5 3/4″ apart moving down the board. Between rows 2 and 3 drill 2 holes for the transformer connection midway (2 7/8″) See picture.

5 Drill 10 pilot holes for the screws.
6 Strip about 1″ of the insulation off the ends of the 2 electric cord wires that will connect the 8 coat hanger segments.
7 Starting with the top 2 holes, use a screw and washer to trap the coat hanger element, wrap the bare electric cord wires around the screw between the coat hanger and board and screw down snug.
8 Attach the remaining 6 coat hanger segments, note these details: The electric cord wires connections swap sides between rows 1 and 2, 3 and 4 but not rows 2 and 3. The transformer connects to the 2 screws between rows 2 and 3. Remember to strip the electric cord wire and wrap it around the screw before securing. See picture.

9 Use a segment of coax cable to connect the transformer on your antenna to your TV converter box or TV digital tuner.
10 Optional: Make a bracket to hold the transformer. The bracket held the transformer away from the antenna wires and slightly improved my reception. Here is how I did it.

11 Adjust the position of the antenna for best signal. Use the converter box’s signal strength function. Watch TV. Congratulation on your new home made antenna!

Here is a digital broadcast of a Kings basketball game:

Some people have added a square of metal, aluminum foil, or metal bars (ie a cooling rack) behind the antenna elements as reflectors to increase the signal. My experiments with aluminum foil produced variable results.

The bracket was my idea and does improve my reception slightly.

This document updated 1-27-2009

* subject to delay
** RCA Amplified HDTV Antenna ANT525
*** Make used 16″ lengths

8 Replies to “Making an inexpensive antenna for digital TV with coat hangers”

  1. the white cable that is connected to the transformation,is the other end of it connected directly to the television or to another electronic appliance before being connected to the television ?

  2. Could I substitute the short nails with the big heads for screws? It seems like that might work. I mean, the big head of the nail seems like it could have the same effect as the screw? What do you think? I ask, because I don’t have a drill and live in a remote area(about as rural as it comes) and we don’t know our neighbors well enough to ask for paper let alone an electric drill.

  3. Yes, I believe you can improvise with nails. The screws and washers are only to physically attach the v shape elements to the board. Screws are nice because you can tighten them down. Nails may become loose and let the v shape elements slip down. Experiment.
    You might also try the simpler antenna I mention at the top of the post that looks like a square.
    Good luck and good reception!

  4. Thank you for your quick response and thanks for confirming. You were concerned about the nails coming loose. Once the nails go through the board in the position that you want(on top of the wires/clothes hanger/etc), you just bend the nails into place on the non-wired side of the board. Then, they are as tight as if screwed in(if not tighter). You’d have trouble getting them out with a crowbar–if you even could then. There are some downsides to using nails, though: 1. they are messier–forcing more care. 2. I must choose a nail with the biggest head while also having the skinniest needle(the wider the needle the greater the chance that the board splits). Thanks for confirming that they should work!

  5. Hopefully, this is the last question: I’ve cut open the 120 V electrical cord before and they resemble the old brown(color on the outside) antenna wire when the antenna wire is opened up(copper and stringier than chicken hair on the inside). Is that what you are talking about using? If not, what should I get?

  6. I think just about any wire would work to connect the elements. Electric power cord wire, speaker wire, door bell wire, “hook-up wire,” most any wire. Solid or stranded OK. Insulated is good because it avoids shorting where it crosses over or accidentally touches other metals.
    I don’t know why I suggested 120v electric cord wire, seems odd in retrospect. Now I would recommend some solid core, insulated hook-up type wire as the easiest. Solid core means one conductor and comes in various thicknesses measured as “gauge.” Anything 12 to 22 gauge would work, like the thickness of a large or small paper clip. Here is a picture of a spool of hook-up wire as an example. https://www.xump.com/Science/Hook-Up-Wire-Spool-Red.cfm You could even salvage usable wire from an old electric device. Good luck with the project.

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