Inexpensive wide-range variable capacitor?

I need to be able to vary the capacitance of tuning capacitor for a [huge] ferrite antenna from 3 pF to 0.3 uF -- a range of five orders of magnitude.

It does not appear that there is an air variable cap that can do the job, at least one smaller than my house.

I was thinking of using 18 or so fixed caps each with an SPST switch to include or exclude each one, with the first being 3pF, the second being 6pF, the third being 12pf, etc. -- like a binary number. Then I could set any capacitance in the range to within 3 pF.

Since SPST switches are around 70 cents, I was instead going to use a

18-pin strip double pin pin-header strip ($2.04 at Mouser) and 18 shunts (15 cents per) to switch each cap.

Is there a better way of doing this?

Ken (to reply via email remove "zz" from address)

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I was hoping by now some bright spark would have thrown in a clever standard solution. This need must come up many times but for the life in me I can't figure an easy arrangement down at the bottom end. The binary idea will work down to say 100pF but beyond that the stray C's become significant circuit components. There's maybe 2pF across each link when open and a variable amount of distributed pF to ground (dependant on component sizing). Say a total of 50pF with all links open. It looks like 5 or 6, small graded capacitors, need switching in series-parallel *before* the main binary elements, just to handle say the

3pF to 50pF area. Even if the low end is simplified using a standard 10pF to 350pF variable cap there would still need to be some kind of preamble switched network (unless someone's already been there and dunnitright :-). regards john
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john jardine

Rethink the concept.

You are talking about a massive capacitor, or you've misread something.

Decide that you don't need that range.

Decide that you can make do with multiple antennas.

The problem is that you have too much of a minimum to maximum frequency range. YOu don't state frequency range, but at the upper end that loopstick is likely not going to be very efficient, and stray capacitance will be significant.

But then you also want it to go low in frequency, and for the inductance that's suitable, sort of, for the upper frequency, you have to swamp it with a lot of capacitance for the low frequency end. Raise the inducatance, and the capacitor won't be so unwieldy, but of course you lose the top end.

Form follows function, but you've only told us what you think you need, rather than what you are trying to do. More solutions can come from knowing the end game.

Traditionally, one would start with a decent variable capacitor, and then put fixed capacitors in parallel to get lower ranges. It cuts the tuning range per segment, though this is important because tuning the range in a single swoop of a really large variable capacitor would mean tuning becomes a problem.

If you don't need full range, then you don't even need a bunch of fixed capacitors, just some for the specific frequency ranges.

But likely the best solution is to go to two or more antennas. There likely is a point where it makes sense to do that, even apart from the unwieldy "variable capacitor".


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Michael Black

Very well. I have modified an HF receiver so that it can receive VLF and LF and even ELF down as low as 1kHz.

I am looking for an antenna that will fit in a small space that will receive 9kHz to 55kHz signals (VLF & LF) and feed them to a radio expecing a 50 ohm impedance antenna.

I decided on a ferrite loop, using a VFR-12C Stormwise ferrite, See:

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Now I am trying to decide what number of turns, whether to use taps, what additional components, etc.

One design calls for 500 turns, no taps, one cap in parallel with the loop for tuning and a second in series (10% of the first one) to couple with the radio. I like this arrangement and would use the "binary box" to set almost any capacitance in a six-orders-of-magnitude range.

Ken (to reply via email remove "zz" from address)

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