A follow-up to Good wire for wire antenna?

I'm QRT at present - thanks to fooling around with just a couple of diodes and PVC capacitors instead of a well-regulated supply. The antenna I used earlier was a mono-bander inverted-vee for 20M. I may be able to get a 40M inverted-vee, possibly even a 40M dipole on the premises but the lower bands are out of the question ... which is where I'd like to try out sometime.

I'm toying with the idea of an end-fed catenary held aloft. Perhaps a weather balloon, or two may provide the necessary lift capacity. A relative rigid wire such as the SWG16/14/12 might puncture the balloon though, and prove a difficult lift to boot. The rig I used (on loan from an elmer) is capable of 20W. On the 160 though I'd like to try no more than 5W.

To the best of my knowledge there is no restriction on gauge hereabouts (VU), as there may be in other parts of the world.

Given the constraints

  • QRP
  • Antenna wire flexibility

Assuming the antenna may be reasonably matched

What guage wire can I use without the wire itself giving up the ghost on Tx?

  • $\begingroup$ I don't have a full answer, but you'll want to consider skin effect. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Nov 7, 2013 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ I've done some balloon photography, and now that I have my ham license would love to try lofting an antenna too — but I would caution you, at least with how helium prices have increased in the US, that keeping your antenna aloft could be a large expense. Even with a good quality chloroprene balloon, you probably won't get much more than a week per fill, and of course even less time if you must deflate the balloon to move it by vehicle (although that isn't always necessary in my experience ;-) A light gauge wire also serving as tether could yield a reasonably small balloon though— worth trying! $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2015 at 5:27

2 Answers 2


You can make the wire as thin as you want. There are two non-obvious things to point out:

Firstly, as you make it thinner, resistive losses go up. You could make a worst-case calculation of the resistive losses by assuming the current is at a maximum everywhere in the antenna. If you put 20W into a 50Ω antenna, the current will be:

$$ \begin{align} I^2 R &= P \\ I^2 (50\Omega) &= 20\text{W} \\ I^2 &= \frac{20\text{W}}{50\Omega} \\ I &= \sqrt{\frac{20\text{W}}{50\Omega}} \\ I &\approx 632\text{mA} \end{align}$$

That should give you some idea of the kind of conductor you need. Of course, this is the current only at the point where the impedance is 50Ω; if we are talking about a center-fed dipole, the impedance approaches infinity at the ends, and consequently the voltage approaches infinity, and the current approaches zero. Consequently, your resistive losses will be lower than what this suggests, but it's a simple calculation that will give you a rough idea.

Another way to approach it: the antenna efficiency, if we assume there are no losses but resistive losses can be defined as:

$$ \text{efficiency} = \frac{R_\text{radiation}}{R_\text{radiation}+R_\text{conductor}} $$

If the resistance you add with your thin wire isn't significant compared to the radiation resistance, then you aren't significantly impacting the antenna's efficiency.

The other concern is this: some materials (namely iron) exhibit magnetic hysteresis, which represents another significant loss at RF. This rules out most steel cables, though you may find a stainless steel cable that works. Finding data on the magnetic properties of a cable at the hardware store will be difficult, however, so it might be simplest to avoid all steel.

  • $\begingroup$ I totally agree. When covering the Yukon 800 boat race in Alaska I twice went out to Ruby, 350 miles from base at Fairbanks & the 75 Meter antenna fit on a pocket size spool, made of magnet wire. It worked, even in trees. We had to have relay stations along the way relay to help as boats crossed our OP during all times of day. Ran a Triton IV on a car battery for the 48 hours we needed to be out there. (and had to wear bee netting so the mosquitoes didn't drain us) Once the antenna was up we were happy. And Phil shows the math about efficiency. $\endgroup$
    – SDsolar
    Apr 11, 2018 at 2:51

The "rule of thumb" for keeping the skin effect at bay is to use conductors that have a diameter greater the twice 3-5 skin depths. Twice the depth because if you can envision the wire having RF current develop a tapered current density from the surface inwards to the center, you go half way in and half way out, 2x. So for 1-skin depth in copper of 1.37 mils at 3.5 MHz, 3-5 skin depths is 4-6.8 mils. Doubling 6.8 (to be conservative) you get 14 mils diameter. That diameter is 27AWG wire.

For 7 MHz, the skin depth is 0.97 mils. 3-5 skin depths is 2.9-4.9 mils, and doubled, that is 10 mils, giving 30AWG wire.

  • $\begingroup$ Good info. Care to add any rules of thumb about multi-strand wire? $\endgroup$
    – SDsolar
    Apr 11, 2018 at 2:56

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