After many years of my wife resisting the addition of a ham radio antenna on the side of our house (I have a nice 7-band off-center fed dipole in the woods), she finally relented. Since I didn’t want to disturb the thin veneer of domestic tranquility by installing a garish monstrosity, I decided to alter my bright white Diamond X50 antenna with the most upscale dressing such that any style-consious wife would be sure to adore: leaf-pattern camouflage!
Being the homebrew-centric type of guy that I am, I went to my local home improvement warehouse of savings and bought four of the most earthy colors I could find, all in satin because glossy antennas are garish. The cans I grabbed were all Rust-oleum 2X Ultra-Cover Painter’s Touch with exotic color names like Canyon Black, Warm Caramel, Hunt Club Green, and Espresso. For those of you who are aggravated just reading those names, likely due to your having grown up when men were men and we didn’t go around painting things “warm caramel”, I grabbed four cans of matte spray paint in Black, Olive Drab, Light and Dark Brown. I’d also like to point out that I’ve been all around the world and I’ve never seen a black canyon.
Chromatic nomenclature aside, if you decide to mimic my project, look for paint that is non-metallic. We’re only trying to affect how the antenna behaves in the visible light spectrum, so it’s probably best to leave materials out that could affect the radio spectrum.
The more observant amateur radio enthusiasts among you may have noticed two long metal objects in the first pic, and not just the one aforementioned Diamond X-50 antenna. Indeed, the longer piece is a 1.25″ OD eight-foot galvanized pole that I’ll be using as a mast. Attached to the left side of this very nice pole is the mounting system for the Diamond antenna.
Would you believe that I mail-ordered that antenna mast online? Not only that, but UPS delivered it as-is with a shipping label taped right to it. That makes me wonder how long of a pole I could order without angering my carrier. Further investigation is required.
Naturally I needed to paint both the mast and the antenna, as well as all of the mounting hardware. I decided to mask off the cap and the radials because it just seemed wrong to paint those.
The first step I took was to paint the mast and mounting gear green. This is not a fine-motor-skill activity, and there’s nothing to be careful about here. The grass would grow out of its dye job and I’d just mow it later anyway, but if your sensitive about such things throw down a tarp or lay it on your car or something. Actually, you probably shouldn’t do that unless you have a matte green car that resembles the storied green of a hunt club.
The hardest part of this project is waiting for the paint to dry. Also, painting in the grass means you’ll have grass stuck to your mast and grass-shaped outlines when you pull those off. Relax – this is going up in the air where no one will see such details, and as you’ll soon see, we’re looking to have non-uniform patterns anyway.
Next, I used some dark brown espresso-flavored paint (I didn’t taste it – I just assumed) and just randomly threw some on the pole. Looking up at some real-life trees I didn’t really see much brown, but there were some branches so a light touch made sense. I also decided to pull some boxes out of the trash to pick the mast up off of the grass, which I probably should have done in the first place. Yes, as much as I said not to worry about it, pulling the grass off of the wet paint drove me crazy. It’s also much easier to roll the mast over when it’s on boxes like this.
After more agonizing dry time, the fun finally began. I went to find a branch or some leaves, preferably not too big but not too small, either. I put the branch I found on the mast and sprayed it with the blackness of a canyon from a can. The leaves should be right on the mast – if they’re too far away, then the outline of the leaves won’t be sharply defined.
If you replicate my work, don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect. Remember, this camouflage is not necessarily about recreating the shape of the leaves, but rather breaking up the shape of the poles. This technique will break up the straight lines of the mast by using a psuedo-random distribution of colors found in the background. Since the background is trees and leaves, generic leaf shapes do the job just fine.
“But what about winter?”, I can hear you asking. That’s why there’s a fair amount of black and brown, too. Don’t get too scientific (believe me, I know how difficult that can be!). The goal is to be less obvious than the bright white antenna on the bright shiny pole.
Once you’ve had your fun with the mast, and remember that you’ll have to flip the mast over a couple of times to get it all, repeat the process with the antenna itself.
Again, I masked off the tip and the base of the antenna where the radials attach, but I didn’t have a technical reason for this aside from it didn’t feel right. I’m funny that way sometimes. If you’ve got a reason for or against painting the cap, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Really, though, you can’t see it from any appreciable distance, so it certainly doesn’t hurt leaving it unpainted.
With everything done, I let it all dry overnight. The next day I took it out and put it all together for some test pictures. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised at just how well it worked. Just go ahead and zoom into that picture to the right. I guarantee that the average person would never notice that if they were standing 20 feet away from it in the woods, let alone notice it from the road in their car!
As a mater of fact, mounted on the house, the antenna is practically invisible from the road. Sadly, though, I did make some miscalculations, or as my dad might have said, I didn’t think it all the way through.
First, the camouflaged mast would have been great if it ended up being mounted in the middle of the woods. It didn’t dawn on me that the majority of the mast would actually be up against the house where a woodland type of camouflage would actually accentuates the shape of the mast! Hell, given the color of my house I’d probably have been better off leaving the galvanized steel unpainted. Next time I’ll probably paint it the color of the house or leave it alone.
Not only that, but I was so excited to get my masterpiece mounted that the day the mounts arrived I ran out with the ladder and bolted the entire thing to the side of the house. It wasn’t until I got down to admire my handiwork and take some pictures that I realized that I didn’t paint the mounts! Once again, I am the dumbest smart guy I know.
Oh, and I won’t go in to the gory and painful details, but let’s just say that I’m well justified in my hatred of ladders. Do yourself a favor and be careful any time you’re on a ladder. I’m no fireman and neither are you, unless of course you are, in which case good job and carry on.
The good news is that the mast is not visible from the road and given the position of our house, is not even visible by us unless we’re working in the back of the house. By the way, the antenna is mounted close to the chimney because that’s where it needs to be in order to be out of reach of the power lines. Antennas and power lines are a bad combination in case they didn’t cover that on the ham radio license exam.
Perhaps the dumbest part of my project is my typical impatience. The day after I mounted the antenna I had three different contractors visit in order to give me estimates for new siding and a new roof which means it will all need to come down and be remounted, possibly incurring additional cost or effort on my part. Did I mention that I hate ladders?
Actually, I’ll probably remount the entire assembly one or two feet higher and replace the eight-foot mast with a ten-foot mast. Hell, I may even stack them since it would be a shame to waste an eight-foot mast, though I’d prefer to keep guy-lines out of the equation. The problem now is that we’re going with a different color for the house. Maybe I just need to convince my wife that Satin Hunt Club Green is a great color for siding.
Update: As you can see from the pics, we did have the roof and siding redone, and they look fantastic. With the antenna down, I properly painted the mounting brackets, then added an amplified GPS antenna and camouflaged that as well. I then guided the siding guys to mounted it up higher since they weren’t afraid of ladders. They did a great job! You can also see that the camouflage works great with the leaves gone from the trees.