You can make a surprisingly good digital TV antenna out of a piece of unused coax cable. While not suitable for pulling in distant signals, inside a metro area, this homemade antenna you can make in 15 minutes pulls in dozens of HDTV channels.
You can make a simple TV antenna by stripping off the last six inches of insulation off a standard coax TV cable, folding back the shielding, and leaving six inches of bare copper wire. Where I live, 10 miles from the St. Louis city limit, this simple antenna pulls in 40 channels. If you live outside a major city, you’re better off with a Gray-Hoverman design.
What you’ll need
This DTV antenna requires very little in the way of tools or materials. You’ll need the following:
- Standard coax TV cable, at least 1 foot long
- Diagonal cutters
- Needle-nose pliers (optional)
- Utility knife
- Electrical tape or 3/8-inch heat-shrink tubing
- Rubber gloves or work gloves
- Hair dryer if using heat shrink tubing
And that’s literally it. It’s best if the knife has a new or relatively new blade in it, as you’re going to be carving some plastic. I use heat shrink tubing because it’s easier and the results look better, but you can use electrical tape.
Surprisingly I didn’t have any unused coax cables laying around, but I found a couple at thrift stores. I paid $1 for one and $2 for the other. If a cable is two feet long, you can cut it in half and make two antennas out of it.
Cutting the coax cable
If you’re cord cutting, you literally could cut the cord from your cable or satellite service and make an antenna from it.
I don’t know the minimum length of cable to use, but I can tell you the ones I made are about 1.5 feet long and work well. If you want a short, unobtrusive antenna, feel free to experiment. Most coax cables you’re likely to find are a good 3 feet long, if not longer, so you can probably make two antennas out of a cable.
Cut the cable in half using your diagonal cutters, or if your cable is really short, just cut the end off. Coax cable is tough, so it may take 3-4 cuts with your diagonal cutters to get through it. Leave the connector on one end, as that’s going to plug or screw into the TV’s antenna connector.
Stripping back the insulation and shielding
Measure six inches from the end, then cut the insulation with your utility knife. You’ll need to cut all the way around, so expect it to take at least four passes. And remember what you learned in scouts: Cut away from you, not toward yourself. I find it easiest to slice through the cable, then pull on it a bit to make sure I got through the insulation, then rotate the cable about 90 degrees and repeat.
Once you cut all the way through the insulation, you should be able to pull the end off in one piece. Discard that piece; you won’t be using it for anything.
Underneath, you’ll see a lot of braided insulation. You may want to put the gloves on at this point. Some cables are made with some really sticky adhesive. On others it’s mild. If the insulation is super tacky to the touch, you’ll want to put on the gloves.
At this point you’ll can pull the braided shielding back. Just pull it back out of the way for now; we’ll make it look neat later. It will fray a little at the edge as you pull it back, but that’s OK.
Stripping back the plastic core
Now the hard part: the metalized plastic core. There’s no really good way to do it. Basically you have to hold the cable over a trash can and carve away the plastic core with your utility knife. If you angle it just right, you might be able to cut a long slice almost the full six-inch length. Other times you’ll be lucky to get a one-inch chunk. Just work very carefully and cut away from you, carving down to the copper. When you get the surface facing you down to bare copper, rotate the cable about 45 degrees and repeat. It takes me about four passes to get all the way down to bare copper all around.
Insulating the shielding to finish up the coax cable TV antenna
We’re almost done. Cut a length of 3/8-inch heat shrink tubing, long enough to cover the braided shielding with a little extra on each side. I find about 7 inches does the job. Stretch the shielding tight over the insulation, then slide the tubing over the copper end and onto the shielding, leaving an overlap of about a quarter-inch on the copper side. Shrink the tubing with a hair dryer on high heat.
If you don’t have heat shrink tubing, wrap the braid with electrical tape. Pull the braid tight, then wrap it tightly with electrical tape starting at the end nearest the connector, and spiraling your way up toward the copper.
For safety, I suggest you glue a bead onto the end of the copper cable to keep it from poking someone.
Using your coax cable TV antenna
Using your coax cable TV antenna is simple, just like any commercially produced antenna. Screw it into the antenna input on your TV, then use your TV remote to access your TV’s menu. Set it to antenna or over-the-air, then perform a channel search. In my case, depending on where I am in the house, I can pick up anywhere from 38 to 51 channels. It performs about as well as most $6 antennas, yet better than some. I made one to replace a $6 antenna that worked poorly and liked it so much I made two more.
I get more consistent results with a Gray-Hoverman antenna, as in, I can get 51 channels anywhere in the house with one. But this antenna is simpler and cheaper to make and takes up less space. Between a halfway decent antenna and judicious use of Roku boxes, I have no need for cable.