Communication is the backbone of our society. However, convenience has made many folks unable to function where in places where there is no cell phone reception. Today we'll be tackling that problem by building a radio go box that:
• Houses 3 radios and accessories
• Provides protection from sun, dirt, moisture and physical shock
• Acts as a charging station using a single wall adapter to charge all three radios
• Easy and convent to transport and store
• May even provide protection to the radios from an EMP
This setup will be great for camping, road trips and family activities.
Note: These radio are still fairly limited in performance. While you should have much better results with these than with store bought two-way radios, they are still kind of low power. Also, ensure you have all the proper licences to fully and legally enjoy these radios.
Step 1: Gather Supplies
For this project you will need:
• 50 cal ammo can (I prefer the side opening ones for this project)
• Wood block more or less 2" x 8" x 1/2"
• 1 female 5.5mm x 2.1mm DC power jack
• 3 male 5.5mm x 2.1mm DC power jack pigtails
• 3 radios (I used Baofeng UV-82's, read more about radios in the next step)
• UV-82 USB programming cable
• Pouch about 9" by 4" (You can buy it or make one like I did)
• Saw to cut masonite
• Something to drill holes
• Wood glue
• Large post-it notes
• Soldering iron
• Hot glue gun
• Computer to program radios
Step 2: A Word About Radios
Radios can be useful and fun tools. In recent years the market has been flooded with new, cheap Chinese manufactured radios. Buyer beware, you get what you pay for. You can't buy a $35 radio and expect it to perform like a $300 one. However, it hurts less when a $30 radio disappears.
The radios I selected for this project have the ability to transmit on a number of different bands and radio services. It is your responsibility to operate these radios in a legal manner.
I've played with a number of different radios and these seem to be the best bang for the buck. They are solidly built, can operate on frequencies between 136-174mhz and 400-520mhz and can transmit with 1 or 5 watts of power (most store bought two way radios operate at 1/2 to 2 watts). In step 6 we'll program the radio using a computer.
This radio can monitor two frequencies at once, but only receive one at a time. One interesting feature is 2 push to talk (PTT) buttons, allowing to you broadcast on two different frequencies at will without additional button presses.
You may also wish to outfit your radios with a better antenna. I purchased Nagoya 701's for mine.
Radio bands and frequencies
Here is a brief rundown of the different radio bands and services these radio can operate on, including links to the FCC site for the full description of each.
• Amateur or ham radio - This is a powerful and versatile radio service that requires a license to operate. I very strongly recommend you do not transmit on ham frequencies without a license. A ham license is easy to get and for this project you will only need the lowest level license, called a technician. Find a local amateur radio club to learn more about how to get on the air.
• Multiple Use Radio Service MURS - This service is not as commonly used. It does not require a license and allows for transmissions up to 2 watts. It only offers a few channels for use. FCC page on MURS
• General Mobile Radio Service GMRS - This service requires a license, though I've never heard of any enforcement of the requirement. GMRS can operate up to 5 watts on 23 channels. Many store bought radios transmit on these frequencies. FCC page on GMRS
• Family Radio Service FRS - This service requires no license and is specifically crippled to limit communications to about 1/2 mile. Transmissions are limited ti 1/2 a watt. This is what almost all store bought two way radios are. FCC page on FRS
Step 3: Build the Charger Platform and Wiring Harness
The main part of this project is a false bottom build to sit in the bottom of the ammo can. This gives enough room to run wires and provides some protection from EMP by insulating the radios from the ammo can, creating a rudimentary Faraday cage. More information on protecting electronics from EMP.
- Cut the false bottom - Measure the length and width of your ammo can and cut a piece of Masonite slightly small than those dimensions. You may need to round the corners a bit to get it to fit.
- Glue the wooden block to the center of the false bottom - Following the directions for your wood glue of choice to glue the block to one side of the false bottom.
- Solder the male jacks to the female - While you wait for the wood glue to dry, grab your soldering iron and build the wiring harness.
- Bend the tabs for the center post (positive) and side (negative) out perpendicular to the jack
- Clip off the grounding tab
- Solder the three red leads to the center post tab
- Solder the three black leads to the side tab
Note: I did not include photos of the first two step. If you cannot figure these two steps out without photos, instructables may not be the best website for you. ;)
Step 4: Layout, Drill Holes and Assemble the False Bottom
Let's finish the false bottom and get it ready for installation.
- Lay out the interior of your box - Make a template of the three radio chargers by tracing the charger, with plug attached, and cut them out. Use these templates to figure out there you want to put you chargers.
- Mark and drill three holes for male jacks - After laying out your chargers, mark and drill the holes to run the jacks through the false bottom to the chargers. Remember to leave enough room for the jack and it's over-mold. The size of these is not too important, as long as the jack can be pushed through it.
- Mark and drill one hole for female jack - Finally, decide where you want to put the female jack. Mark it and drill the hole. This hole needs to be just barely big enough to push the jack through.
- Attach the wiring harness and chargers - Fire up your glue gun!
- Attach the female jack with its supplied lock washer and nut.
- Use your glue gun to attach the three radio chargers to the false bottom.
- Run the male jacks out each of the three holes and plug them into the chargers.
- Secure the extra wiring with daps of hot glue.
- Insulate the solder points of the female jack with hot glue.
Step 5: Final Assembly
Let's finish this up.
- Glue the false bottom to the bottom of the the ammo can - Use the hot glue for this.
- Glue the pouch to the inside wall of the ammo can - Use the hot glue for this, also.
- Assemble radios and accessories - Detach the antennas from the radios and set the radios in their charger. Place the antennas and ear mics in the pouch.
Everything should be firmly in place and ready for an adventure!
Step 6: Programming the UV-82
The final step to this project is programming the radios. Programming can be done on the radio itself (though you can't enter channel names), with the Baofeng software (which I never got to work) or with the excellent and free open source radio programming software CHIRP.
I programmed all three of my radios the same (with the exception of the power on messages).
For your convenience I have linked to the latest version of CHIRP and to an image of the UV-82 with the MURS, GMRS, FRS, ham and NOAA weather frequencies programmed.
Beyond these frequencies, I also programmed some local ham repeaters and the sheriff and fire department frequencies. If you program official frequencies, you can disable the transmit function by setting 'Duplex' to Off in CHIRP (See the weather frequencies for an example).
If you can't upload my radio image to your radio, download from the radio and just copy and paste all the frequencies.
Now get out there, have an adventure and keep in communication.