Introduction: Cheap WiFi Range Extender

I have built and used similar signal extenders for my radio frequency projects on numerous occasions to great effect. Typically I use these for point to point communication between some rather devious devices, my spy foam gun turret for instance being one of the lesser of these evils. As such this is easily adaptable to WiFi use.

I shall try to be as descriptive as possible with this build for those that have never done it before can follow along.

Please comment with what you think of my Instructable, suggestions for me to consider, and various idea's you think I should try. Thank You!

Step 1: Step 1: Gather Your Materials

Step 1: Gather your materials

For cost and ease of build I'm using items typically found around the house or easily acquired from your local family dollar/dollar general chain store using only a budget of 3 dollars, of which 1.50 went to a delicious Dr. Pepper (oops!) leaving me with only 1.50 left for the build. Thankfully most of these items you already have around the house gathering dust from long since forgotten projects, or picked up from the side of a road after a major hurricane had passed through.

Bought Supplies:
Family Dollar Stainless steel Mesh Sink Strainer: 1.07

Free Supplies:
Used Belkin USB WiFi stick Hurricane Ike reclaimed
Picture frame wire
Cardboard scrap from mesh package

Dremel with cut-off wheel attachment
Wire cutters
Needle nose pliers
Surgical tape/duct tape

Optional items:
Camo Paint Flat army green

These are the materials I have to work with... Well at least it's not a straw, a rubber band, and a paperclip...

Step 2: Step 2: the Annoying Step…

Step 2: The annoying step...

Note on WiFi range extending "dishes": Typically most of these 'kitchen strainer' type of wifi dishes you see around are in some cases absolute messes, and others works of inspiration. Some thought goes into them and but on more then one occasion you've the messy versions with fualts such as seeing the link's ground out on the strainer itself as the fine mesh is left touching the USB connecter or the USB fob is simply shoved into a hole and left like that, with no thought on positioning, nor angle of the USB fob itself. So this leaves me with planning this step carefully, as each strainer is different in materials. Typically most strainers are made from normal steel mesh in a bowl shape, which leaves it more difficult for placing an antenna to act as a pass through. As the antenna has nothing but a round shape to rest on it is unstable and prone to movement. Where as sink strainers almost always have a flat base at the bottom of the bowl giving a nice stable base to rest on once it's all assembled.

Planning the Dish: As I have chosen a simple and easily found item made from stainless steel with a tighter weave then normal fine mesh I have to plan the cut based on the size constraints of the bottom on the strainer. This means I have to some basic math is in order, namely finding the center of the bottom base and measure outward to find out exactly how much space total I'll have for the base of the fob to rest on. (See pictures if that flew right past you there) Currently the base of the strainer leaves me with a tiny amount of space for the USB fob exactly 2mm total before it hit's the bowl of the strainer.

The fob itself is as seen in Step 1 is larger then the full depth of the strainer, had I opted for a custom skinning of my USB fob would otherwise not be an issue. (As such it does make for some interesting wonderings on it's effectiveness but will pass over these for now till the end of the instructable.)

Using your Duct tape, tape both the inside, and outside of the lowest part of the strainer, leaving plenty of room to trace the fob upon once the center of the fob has been determined. Use a pencil or flat end of your sharpie to press the tape in fully giving the outline of the bottom dimple of the strainer. This will make it easier to trace and draw on, also it will make it easier to keep metal fragments from flying when you make your cuts. Once you have made your determination on where to place the fob inside of the strainer, and have drawn the outline of the fob, going from the center of the fob trace in your USB pass through, making certain that you make it at least. 1mm larger then the actually Base USB port itself. Proceed to next step.

Step 3: Step 3: Cutting Your Port…

Step 3: Cutting your port...

Using your Dremel assuming you have a cut off wheel attachment for it (Or if no Dremel using a pair of wire cutters can be substituted making the build longer but having more control of it.) carefully cut from the center line into the mesh basically sectioning the area of where the USB will go, You'll have a total of five cuts in all here, the center, the sides, and the top and bottom of where the USB will pass through to open the area up. If you made the cuts correctly you should have an opening 1.5mm larger then the USB port itself giving just enough room for it to move inside easily with the cut area. Remove the bottom exterior tape, you'll notice that you have loose mesh wires and ends that stick out toward the USB port. This is where the needle nosed pliers and wire cutters come in handy, using your needle nosed pliers bend back any loose ends and clamp them down into the mesh, loose wires to large to bend in should be snipped cleanly off if possible. If done correctly you'll now posses an opening roughly 1.5-2mm larger then the USB port, giving able room for the USB port to wiggly around easily.

Once this is done, it's time to cut 2 cardboard blanks for the bottom interior and exterior of the dish. Ideally you'll want it to be of the exact size of the base. If not the fob will tilt more then you would wish it to, if you cannot make a blank of the exact interior diameter you can substitute it with one made using a quarter for the blank. Do not worry about the USB not passing through as you'll see the why of this shortly enough. Once these are cut it's time to look at the USB's mounting base, as this is a Belkin model the USB mount is easily removed from it's base for the next step.

Step 4: Step: 4: USB Pass Through…

Step: 4: USB pass through&

Taking your USB blanks both of roughly the same size if you used a quarter to make the blank you'll need to tape them together loosely so that you can pull them apart for the install. Once the blanks are tapped together using your sharpie or a pen, set the USB from the base atop of one and trace around it. This will be your guide for cutting the blanks to fit your USB base into. Cut the USB outline out through both blanks, making sure to cut short of the line, namely stay on the inside of the line this will make for a tighter fit of the base mount. Once this is done, remove the tape and fit the interior and exterior USB blanks into the dish. (Here's where I differ from my instructions for you. As I had miss-cut the base wrong, because I had only scissors *Someone took my Exacto knife* to cut it with I had to change the set-up slightly for it to work for me) When your done test placing the blanks, you've two options one is placing a layer of tape both inside and outside of the dish and fit the blanks over before gluing or ideally using an epoxy to glue the blanks together using the tape as a binder to hold it all together which is best for this project. Or lacking epoxy/glue you may do as I have done and tape the blanks to the inside and outside of the dish slipping thinly cut strips of tape through the holes to pinch any potentially loose and or missed wires away from the pass through. You'll have to use thin cut strips of tape either way to make a nice clean sleeve for the USB base to be slipped through and rest upon.

Step 5: Step 5: Test Mounting Your Wifi Stick

Step 5: Test mounting your wifi stick

Once your epoxy has dried or if you've gone the tape route as I had you'll be here now. Taking your wifi stick, and dropping it into your dish depending on the route you've taken you're fob should either be resting perfectly level or at a small angle if you went pure tape. If you went pure tape you'll need to make a wire level for the fob. If you went the epoxy route and it's resting level you can go to the next step for creating a base.

Tape Route: Using your picture frame wire, or equivalent you'll need to make a stable wire to both center the stick and keep it centered on your base. This is a must if it's resting at an angle and not resting true on the base. You will need to cut two lengths from your wire 1 measuring from the center to one inch past the rim of the dish, and another measuring 2 inches past the rim of the dish on either side in order to create a loop. If you feel the need you may cut a third length of wire using the center out to 1 inch past the rim if you need some extra stability for your fob.

Using your longest piece of wire slip it through one side of the rim and twist it into place, with your fob in the dish loop that wire around it, making sure you keep your fob centered inside the dish, before tying the end of the wire off on the other side of the dish's rim. This will keep the fob from moving side to side, now for up and down movement using the smaller length of wire loop and twist tie it onto the wire surrounding the fob itself then pulling the wire to the top of the dish this will keep up and down movement to a minimum if you need extra stability you can do the same for the other side of the fob. When your finished your fob should remain stationary no mater the angle it's at but can be easily removed from the base when needed.

Additionally if you desire to paint your dish, now would be the time to do so before going to the next step...

Step 6: Step 6: Final Mounting and Buttoning Up of Your Wifi Dish

Step 6: Final mounting and buttoning up of your Wifi Dish

If you're at this step then your ready to mount your wifi fob into your dish.

Taking your base USB connector slip it into the dish carefully from the top being mindful not to hit your stability wires if you have them. Slip the USB all the way through till the lip of the base USB connector sits just inside of your base. Now using tape or an epoxy affix the base connector to the bottom of your dish letting it dry before mounting your wifi fob into it's new home. Now if you don't want a permitted mounting of your wifi into the dish, then use tape to affix the base USB so that you may remove it later to reuse it in your original base. You dish main body is now complete, now for the feet to stand on. If you've left over lengths of picture wire, you can make the base to rest your dish on which is up to you to design as you may have other wants such as mounting the dish into a cantenna style housing, using cheaply available dryer exhaust tubing.

Step 7: Step Zero: Conclusions... Thoughts...

Step Zero Conclusions...

Admittedly I was unsure of the signal quality of the wifi dish compared to my use of it as a RF point to point communication link. But considering I have a weak/limited signal typically upon my WiFi network base from the beginning I was more or less praying for a stronger signal. In testing this dish I've received full bar reception from a known wifi source three blocks away, and using a wifi detector I've managed to keep a strong signal detection from up to 5 blocks away (roughly 500 feet) from my dish. Though farther distances are possible, but not without a large surface area of dish, namely a cooking strainer size, or for a even larger area coverage I could always build an actual dish using various instructables, or plans found over the internet. I'm rather pleased with my small project so far, though my belkin does need some repair as it was recovered from flood debris after hurricane Ike (much like most of my current parts, and Air Stream trailer I've lived in for the past few months till I was moved into this old house Monday).

Thoughts on the Belkin Wireless G USB:
Though damaged due to flooding from a Hurricane the Belkin seems to be somewhat of a survivor like myself. I admit it would be easier to use a new device for this project but I am quite partial to this little wayward survivor though and do have a future project lined up for it to increase it's range and power beyond the newer G+ models. With some research I've found that this particular WiFi fob can be upgraded to use a Mimo setup by creating a populated wifi antenna pcb board, and the addition antenna connector on the belkin board itself. Though it would only increase it to a 2 antenna Mimo setup instead of the more common 3 antenna set-up found on most wifi cards, and routers, and would require a firmware update but all and all it would increase the quality and overall area of reception for the network connections. If you desire to know about this upgrade I will be posting an instructable on it in due time once funds are available. (aka when I've a job again)