A FREE antenna to watch FREE HDTV

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Build this easy yet effective HDTV antenna - from cardboard!

If you have an HDTV set, you're looking for the best way to get your local network TV channels. This is something you DO NOT have to pay your cable TV provider for, because crisp, clear digital high-definition signals are available for free from your local TV stations - all you need is the right antenna.

An HDTV antenna, however, can be expensive - $40 to as much as $70 for a good indoor model. Until now! You're going to see some of the best HDTV antenna designs ever offered, which are also the least expensive, because you can make them yourself - from cardboard and aluminum foil!

A secret you won't hear from an antenna maker: The TV signals themselves don't care what the antenna is made from... as long as the correct arrangement of electrical conductors is present. In our antennas, that's aluminum foil.

You may find this hard to believe, but an antenna made from cardboard and aluminum foil can be just as effective and powerful as any other antenna, regardless of cost or construction materials.

I have taken some of the best antenna designs I could find and modified, experimented, built and rebuilt them until I had the best performing HDTV antennas I have ever tested. they just happen to be made out of cardboard. As you will see, these antennas can be very attractive and artistic. Most people will not even recognize them as TV antennas.

First, our Log-Periodic HD TV antenna. This one is super easy to make. If you want a more powerful antenna than this one, look also at our Dual Bowtie antenna design page.

Before starting, click on our PDF pattern below and carefully print out the pattern.

IMPORTANT: This is the pattern you need to cut from paper

Pattern for the Log Periodic cardboard antenna
Click the link above, which should open the pattern in your Adobe reader or similar PDF reader.

Materials

Baluns designed for flat twin-lead wiring or round 75-ohm wiresChoose good sturdy cardboard or other material for these projects. Cardboard is actually one of the best choices for antennas because it is very light, and will offer virtually no interference with the passage of the TV signal. Corrugated carboard is great (it's very airy), and Foamcor is a good choice, too (and very sturdy.) You can find Foamcor in lots of different colors at your local office supply store. Corrugated cardboard is not as pretty, but it can be dressed up with paint, felt markers, or construction paper. Plastic should also work fine, though I haven't done specific testing. I don't recommend wood (unless very thin) since it will impede the TV signal slightly.

You'll also need glue. Anything that works on wood/paper, like Gorilla Glue or Elmer's wood glue, should be fine.

Any aluminum foil will work. You'll find it easier to work with thick, heavy-duty foil.

Go ahead and be creative with the construction if you want to. Pay attention to the placement and spacing of the foil, since this is what does the work of receiving the TV signal. Every other part of the design can be expanded, contracted, colored, decorated, or augmented (with non-conductive materials) to customize the antennas to your surroundings.

If you want to use one of these antennas outside, you can modify the basic designs but use sturdier metal. Home improvement stores sell sheet aluminum that is light enough to cut with shears or tin snips. The bowties and reflector (backing) on the Dual Bowtie antenna should ideally be made of a porous metallic material like metallic window screen, chicken wire, or pulled metal when used outside so it doesn't catch the wind.

To connect the antenna to your receiver, you will need some wire and an adapter, called a "balun" (the word means balanced-to-unbalanced.) For HDTV, your receiver almost certainly has a 75-ohm unbalanced connection. Antennas, including these designs, are usually 300 ohms balanced. So there are two approaches to achieving the right type of connection, and two types of balun:

The first way is to connect 300-ohm twin-lead wire (flat wire) to the antenna, and add a balun at the end of the wire that connects to your TV.

The second way is to connect the balun directly to the antenna, and run 75-ohm coax (round wire) from the antenna to the TV. Both approaches work fine.

Get your balun and wire from our links after the article - or buy these locally. Bring the pictures above, so you'll spot what you need. You can find antenna baluns (also called TV matching transformers) and wire at places like Home Depot, Radio Shack, eBay auctions, and even department stores and dollar stores (check the dollar stores first - some stores charge way too much!)

Usage and Placement

Most of the HDTV broadcasts are in the UHF TV band, so our Log Periodic indoor antenna has been optimized for these channels. Of course, the antenna can also receive standard TV broadcasts on this band.

You will find that this is a good general-purpose UHF-band antenna that is well suited for urban areas with strong TV signals. It is less directional than our other HDTV antenna design, so it shouldn't need to be as accurately-aimed or carefully positioned. Simpler construction also means that you can use thinner cardboard, if you desire.

If you need maximum power, our other antenna, the Dual Bowtie design , is for you. This design can handily outperform other indoor antennas on the market selling for as much as $70. Construction is more complicated, but you still only need to cut out a half-dozen cardboard pieces.

Sometimes, especially in a home with aluminum siding, you may not be able to acquire an adequate HDTV signal indoors. But you still have a couple of options. The first is to mount your antenna in the attic, away from the influence of your aluminum siding, and from there run a cable down to your HD receiver. The second is to put the antenna near a window, or even outside of the window. Of course, this is not ordinarily something you want to do with a cardboard antenna, but with the addition of some extra cardboard bracing, and enclosing the antenna in a large plastic bag, plus devising a sturdy mount - the antenna should be able to survive this way for quite a while. And if a big hurricane blows it away, what have you lost? Just a few pennies in materials!

Building the Log-Periodic HDTV Antenna

MaterialsThis one is super simple. You will build it in just six steps. Here's all you need:

-Four squares of cardboard: Two 11x8 and two 8x8

-Aluminum foil

-Cable, either 75-ohm coaxial, or 300-ohm twin-lead

-A balun (see the Materials section above)

Tools Needed

Tools Needed-Scissors and a pen knife/boxcutter

-Felt pen

-Ruler or measuring tape

-Glue

-Tape

-Stapler - or nuts/bolts (see directions below.)

STEP 1

1) -Locate the pattern for the Log-Periodic antenna.

Using scissors or pen knife, carefully cut the pattern from the paper along the lines.

STEP 2

-Trace the pattern twice onto aluminum foil using a felt-tip pen. It is a good idea to tape it down while you do this, but attach just a tiny corner of tape to the foil, otherwise you'll have trouble loosening it.

-Carefully cut out your patterns (you'll need two, exactly alike) from the foil.

STEP 3

-Measure to find the exact center across your piece of cardboard.

Draw a line there where the 'trunk' of the foil 'tree' will go. Glue the patterns to the two 8x11 squares of cardboard. Try running a line of glue up the center line you just drew, and lay the foil there. Then run glue under each 'branch', and press down. Position carefully (with the 'trunk' of the 'tree' centered on your line), and press on the foil to smooth. Both squares should look the same, with the foil placed exactly the same way.

STEP 4

-Connect your cable and balun wiring to the small end of the foil patterns.

If connecting 300-ohm flat twin-lead, separate the wires and strip about 3/4" of the insulation off, then staple the exposed part of the wires to the shorter end of the patterns, one wire to each cardboard square. Your square-type push-on balun is screwed to the opposite end of this wire.

If connecting a tubular 75-ohm balun directly to the antenna, either staple the wires or alternatively, drill or punch a small hole and install a small screw, washers and bolt to the small tab at the short end of each foil pattern. This will be used to attach the wires after assembly. (The drawback of screws is that they can never be tightened down hard on cardboard.)

STEP 5

-Arrange the two squares of carboard with foil patterns into a wedge shape, and glue the 8x8 cardboard squares onto the sides to hold the wedge in shape.

The short ends of the patterns (the wired end) are at the narrow end of the wedge. The wedge should form about a 45 to 55 degree angle (the exact angle is not critical.) The foil patterns can face inward (at each other) or outward (away from each other.) Don't mix! At the narrow end of the wedge, the two pieces of cardboard should wind up about 1/2 inch apart. If your foil patterns are arranged facing outward, the sheets can be even closer at the narrow end. It may be useful to tape the pieces together first, and then apply glue when you've got it right.

STEP 6

Finished Log Periodic indoor antenna-If you haven't connected your balun/wires yet, do so now. It's done!

Connect your cardboard Log-Periodic antenna to your receiver and test it. Experiment with the placement and rotation of your antenna until you find a good orientation to leave it in. Generally, the small end of the wedge should be pointed toward the TV station you want to receive.

Congratulations! You have just built one of the easiest and most effective indoor HDTV antennas available anywhere!

Want to make another, even more powerful antenna? Look at our Dual Bowtie HDTV antenna .

Parts for your antenna

There's just a couple inexpensive parts to find, which you can look for locally, or buy here from Amazon.

You'll need a Balun and a cable to connect wires to your antenna. The square push-on type Balun is used with the 300-ohm flat antenna wire. The tubular type balun is used with 75-ohm round antenna cable.

So you can do it the flat wire way, or the round wire way. The 75-ohm (round) wire is better for long runs of cable. The flat type wiring is better for making shorter cables.

You could also add an antenna signal amplifier if desired (but then it's not a cheap antenna anymore.)
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Other Indoor HDTV antennas

Don't feel like making one yourself? That's OK. Here are some ready-to-go indoor HDTV antennas.
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More HDTV antennas from eBay

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The Cardboard Antenna Debate

Can this possibly work? An HD antenna made from cardboard? (Hint, try it out!)

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Wow, I can't believe the picture quality!

snape21 says:

impressive, didnt believe it until i had tried it, never knew that you could receive such good quality from a home made antenna, i always foolishly believed that you had to use high quality materials.

mihgasper says:

Looks like incredible DIY project!

eric says:

I had been researching antennas when I stumbled on this page. I was feeling adventurous and had all the materials to build either this or the bow-tie model laying around my garage. The only thing I could lose was time. I was shocked to find out I got 54 channels crystal clear! I never even tried the more powerful bow-tie model. The funny thing was the card board I used was compliments of Verizon when they sent the boxes to return my two DVRs. This is going to save me thousands! Thanks!

Jeff says:

I did it this weekend and it worked great! Hardest part for me was cutting out the aluminum. Thanks for the How-To!!

Scrabble4cash says:

Made one this morning and it works better than our old antenna. But i guess the old antenna cost like 10 dollars back in the day. Works great for no money :)

You want me to make what? Out of what??

Mike says:

It... actually... worked...
I was scanning the channels and it wasn't finding any than from out of nowhere 1,2,3,5,6... more more more (from INSIDE my basement apartment). I don't have a coax long enough on hand to get it outside, but seeing as I live on LI, once it's outside and facing west (Manhattan) I will be getting more content.

One thing I did do a little different. After grappling with getting the balun attached with staples I caved and used a hot glue gun. As long as the glue doesn't get between the balun leads and the foil, it works great and it's super secure and insulated.

ps. Outside is covered, so no concern about water. It will also be secured from the wind.

apeweek says:

Sean, yes you can use the wiring from an old antenna. You may still need a balun, however.

Sean says:

I have an antenna that looks like the "basic indoor antenna" from amazon in the list above. Can I take that one apart and use the wire for the cardboard antenna?

apeweek says:

DWK - no, you can't change the dimensions because that's how an antenna is "tuned" to the frequencies you ant to receive.

DWK says:

Does size have anything to do with function...meaning could I make it larger, but keep the same proportions, and get any better reception? Also, is there any way to make this directional independent antenna so it does not have to be moved based on transmission direction? Thanks!

 
view all 25 comments

Guestbook Comments

  • pee-atwork May 9, 2012 @ 9:30 pm | delete
    Nothing happened when I plugged this in. I'm using a regular TV (not an HD flat screen) but it's relatively new. Any help would be much appreciated.
  • apeweek May 9, 2012 @ 9:52 pm | delete
    The first thing to do to troubleshoot is to find out if the problem is the antenna or the TV set. So - either plug your new antenna into a friend's TV, or plug a different antenna into your own TV. You'll find out which one is broken.
  • david-benson Mar 16, 2012 @ 7:04 am | delete
    Went to make this but the template pdf link is broken. Even tried through proxy sites.. :(
  • apeweek Mar 16, 2012 @ 10:53 am | delete
    Investigating why this server is down. Try again later, I'll get it fixed.
  • mihgasper Jan 6, 2012 @ 3:23 pm | delete
    Still can't believe it is possible. Thank you!
  • Hip_and_Hot Sep 14, 2011 @ 10:10 am | delete
    Great Job! I Like your ideas on both antennas. Question for you.... Why can't I wrap foil around a styrofoam sphere/ball and then hook the balun and wires up that way? Won't this capture the HD TV signal from all directions???
  • apeweek Sep 14, 2011 @ 2:06 pm | delete
    Antennas can't be shaped any way you wish - the size and shape of the antenna elements are tuned to the frequencies used for TV transmission.

    There are omnidirectional antenna designs, for receiving signals without aiming. The standard whip antenna, for example, which sticks straight up into the air from a portable receiver, is designed to receive from all directions. The tradeoff is that such antennas cannot be made very powerful.
  • LadyCharlie Aug 24, 2011 @ 12:08 pm | delete
    cool information...thanks for sharing!
  • davidcam Aug 22, 2011 @ 10:32 pm | delete
    Great lens.........Awesome

by

apeweek

Author, one book with Simon and Schuster. Worked also in TV production, software development, and music. And yes, I really do all those things I write... more »

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