Icrontic, as well as its owners, staff, authors, and affiliates, are in no way responsible for your actions associated with this guide. Follow its advice or ideas at your own risk.
Introduction: Why I Need a Tower
Have you ever faced a real challenge whose only solution most people would consider too crazy or difficult? In this article you will learn about one of the most challenging personal projects I’ve done, and it was all in the name of Internet access. The goal was simple: throw away 56k and upgrade to high-speed internet. Sound easy? Think again.
I live in a small town with a population under 2,000. I was stuck with a 56k modem for nine years because no other option is available in my town. However, I learned of a new service provider that could allow me to get between 250 and 320 k/s. It sounded great!
Well, the situation was more complicated. The provider informed me they put a transmitting tower in my town approximately one kilometre from my house, but there could be absolutely no interference between the transmitting tower and my house. Herein lay the problem: there was a very large church less than 30 meters from my house, and so the signal had no way to reach me. I should have forgotten about it at that point, but I’m not that kind of person. Not after 9 years of waiting, and not when everyone around me, just far enough away from the church, would have it.
Eventually, I came up with a plan. I would build a sixty-plus foot tower so I could intercept the signal! Well, that’s a simple thing to say, but it’s another story to really to do it. This is the story of how one man got the Internet access he craved, and how others can follow in his footsteps (just in case you ever need to build a sixty-foot tower in your backyard).
Step 1: Selecting a location
There are many things you need to consider before erecting a giant tower, of course. You need to determine if you have enough space. You also need to choose a location that will allow you to use less than 200 feet of wiring to reach your computer, or it could affect the transfer rate. Because of this, placing it closer to your house is preferable. Ideally, it should be placed next to a wall, so you don’t need to dig a trench to run cables underground from the tower to your home. It should be a place where you don’t have to go or look very often (for example, don’t put it one meter from your swimming pool or near where you like to sit in the sun).
For me, the best place was behind the post office (we own the property and rent part of the building to the government). It was close to the house, and almost nobody goes there. I also took some precaution to be sure it would be able to reach the signal (I recommend calling your ISP to locate the transmitting tower if you’re not certain where it is). The location is just beyond the side of the church’s bell-tower and aligned with the transmitting tower. Perfect.
Step 2: Finding a tower
Well, if you want to have a tower, you need to find one. Buying a new tower is not a good idea, since there are plenty of used ones. In my case, I was in need of a tower that was at least 50′, which would cost around $1,000 USD for a new one.
The way I searched was pretty simple. I spread the word around town that I was looking for one, and I drove around to see if there was a house with an old TV tower or something like that. If a 30′ tower would be enough for you, go to a small town and look for TV tower. If you find one that looks to be in good shape, just go knock on the door and ask if you can buy it. At least 90% of people don’t use them anymore, so it’s a good place to start!
I searched for a week without any good results. I found several, but they were in bad shape and not higher than 40′. Then my father called me and said, “I found one, and a big one!”
My father works in a cement shop, and he realised that at the back of the courtyard there was a big tower that was once used as an ‘internal communication device’. I made a call, and, since my father worked for them for 30 years, I got the tower for only $100 CND. A tower like this is priced at about $1,400 CND for a new one!
I had the tower, but not in my backyard. It was time to take this baby home!
Step 3: Going home (part one)
My first real challenge was that the base of the tower was at least four feet underground. I did the only thing I could: dig! It took me about 4-5 hours to dig it out and clear the path to the base. If you go searching for a tower, look for a tower with a clean base, as it will save you both time and strength.
Even after the path to the base was clean, I couldn’t just unscrew the base and take this all-in-one 60-foot tower home on my back. The idea of unscrewing the 10 sections of the tower one by one and trying to not fall while climbing up and down with the sections was not something I would consider a good time. Then, after turning in circles and considering what to do, in the shop’s courtyard I noticed a truck equipped with a small crane on the back.
I spoke with my father and then with the driver of the truck. The driver was willing to help me after his job for $30 CND. I unscrewed the tower at the middle section, and we used the crane to lower the upper section on the ground. Then, I unscrewed the four other sections one by one and then unscrewed the upper section while it was safely on the ground. It saved me time and probably quite a bit of pain. It was a well spent $30 CND!
The base section of the tower was solidly anchored directly in cement with no bolt or screw. I decided to cut each leg of the tower with a blowtorch, because breaking down the cement base to remove the leg would be too long and difficult. I put a nylon wire around the base of the tower to guide as I cut so I would hit the same place on each leg. I think I did a pretty decent job!
Even after all that, I still wasn’t ready to give up.
Step 4: The base
When I hit the base while digging, I saw that the base of the tower was screwed into a large block of cement. I did a little research at this point and found something interesting. To have a solid based tower, you need to have a cement base running at least four feet into the ground. If you live in an area with cold winters and snow, you need six feet to be safe. This is because freezing and thawing will slowly move your block of cement and wiggle it out of the ground over time. So, if you plan to keep the tower for more than two years, you’d better go with six feet.
A six foot-deep base is a lot of cement! If you plan to build a tower, it will probably be here that you sink the largest amount of money.
As I mentioned, my father works in a cement shop, creating things like cement piping. They also make cement sections that look like pieces of a cement tube, 1 meter in diameter and maybe 3 feet long. Sometimes, these parts do not pass quality tests and get scrapped. I bought two of these for $25 CND each. I then used them as a container to fill with cement, which is a lot easier than digging a hole and building a wooden cage to receive the cement.
Everyday at the shop they have a small amount of cement that goes to scrap. I asked my father to take the extra cement and put it in my cement tubes. It didn’t cost me a single dollar!
Before it was filled though, I needed a plan to stabilize the tower on the block of cement. I talked with my father and had an idea. My plan was to cut a foot off each leg of the tower, make a steel triangular plate, and then weld three new legs onto which I’ll weld the base of the tower.
I also thought of something very useful to fix the plate on the cement block. I bought a long, grooved, metal rod which I cut into three pieces. I made a wooden pattern to mark where the holes in the plate would line up and placed it on the top of the cement as it was drying. I then pushed the three rods through the wooden pattern into the semi-dry cement to a depth of three feet to be as solid as possible.
Why did I use those rods? So I would be able to fix the plate on the top of the cement with two big steel bolts on each rod (one over and one under the plate). Not only that, but it will be adjustable since I will be able to fiddle with the bolts. This way, even if I weld the base of the tower on the plate and find it is not completely balanced, I could play with the bolts on each rod to change the slope of the tower.
If you are planning to build a tower like this you’ll need a welding kit. I created the cement block at the shop because it was more convenient since I was gathering a little amount of cement each day, not all in one shot. You could try to find a cement shop that makes cement sections like mine, or use a basic wooden cage and fill it up with cement. No magic here. I used something like 14,000 pounds of cement to create the 6 feet high base. To get a quantity of cement like that you’ll need a lot of cement powder, sand, and crushed rock. It could easily cost you $500 CND! For the rod and the bolts you should be OK with less than $50 CND. The hardest part is finding someone who sells them.
Step 5: The steel plate
To make the steel plate I found a piece of old galvanized steel in the shop’s courtyard. It was well hidden under a bunch of planks, but I guess it was my lucky day. Another freebie!
I put my wooden pattern on the plate and used a blowtorch to make the holes and cut the steel plate into a triangular form. As you should assume, the flame of a blowtorch is a LOT hotter than even a Prescott CPU – proceed with caution! You could lose a hand without even noticing it, so be very careful with that thing.
In the image you can see a black circle, which is where I made the hole in the wooden pattern. The blue lines are where I should weld the steel legs to fix the base on the plate. I also decided to make three holes in each steel part (to use as legs) and on the base of the tower to be able to use bolts and assure the strength of the base.
If you don’t have a blowtorch, you might try to bore it with a steel mesh if you have very powerful drill equipment. I prefer a big ol’ torch.
I must admit I didn’t do the welding job myself; my dad can do a better job. However, I watched during the process and it’s not terribly hard. Just be sure to weld each part enough to be sure there’s no weakness. If you don’t want to watch a 60′ tower fall on your house or car, be careful on this step.
Step 6: The facade
I began to think that this thing could look like new if I gave it a fresh coat of paint.
I used an air-buffing tool (once again, at my father’s shop – I did it on week-end time) to remove some of the dust and rust on the steel plate and all over the tower. To do this you’ll need a powerful air-compressor and the buffing tool. I don’t really know where you could find one, but it isn’t critical. You could try finding a specialized equipment store and rent one.
The buffing process took me more than eight hours! After that, I used aluminium (silver) paint to coat the tower, and black paint for the steel plate and the three legs. I put each section vertically on wooden planks and used a stepladder to paint the top of each sections (each section is eight and a half feet high).
I took me another 7-8 hours for the paint job and I gave it 2 days to dry (one probably would have been enough).
Step 7: The hole
While it was drying, it was time to prepare the ground at home. I called a friend of mine that works for a construction company. He came to my house with a backhoe, dug a hole seven feet deep, and loaded the resulting pile of sand and clay on a truck. It took 15 minutes and cost me $80 CND, which was a pretty good deal I think!
You could try to dig it manually, but a seven foot deep hole would probably take more than to days, which is an awesome waste of time. And, if you have a lot of clay in the way like I did, you can just forget it because you’ll never reach seven feet manually. I think it was money well spent. It could cost you around $150 CND for the same job if you don’t have a connection.
Step 8: Going home (part two)
The next day we went to the shop and used a big CAT forklift to take the 14,000 pound cement tube home. My father drives it and it was a weekend, so it cost me nothing (keep that quiet, ok?)
At home we used a water pump (slightly larger than one used for water cooling a PC, heh) to empty all the water from the hole. I think there was a water vein nearby because the hole almost completely filled with water in 12 hours. My father had one so it was not a problem.
Next we put the cement tube in the hole and used a shovel to fill in around it, making it full, tight, and clean. Now it was time to take the tower home. I used my dad’s V8 Toyota Tundra and took it in two trips.
I also took this opportunity to replace a few screws and bolts in the tower. The rest were in good shape. This cost me about $15 CND. If you try to build a tower, you may want to consider doing the same if you see some that are in bad shape.
Seeing the pieces lined up on the ground was impressive; it took up the length of my backyard! It may be tempting to bolt it together at this point, but that would only make the first step far more difficult: getting it vertical. I called back the guy with the crane. He came by after work and got it upright in 15 minutes! It was another $30 CND, but I saved a lot of time and trouble here.
If you’re installing a tower, you may not need a crane since your tower will probably be less tall and heavy than mine. You could just bolt every section while climbing and have a friend or two help you during the process.
The last step was to buy a 6′ grounding rod and install it near the base. This is essential if you don’t want lightning to choose your new metal structure as its target.
Everything was now ready. It was time to call the ISP for installation.
Step 7: ISP Installation
Two days after my call they came to my house with 180 feet of wire. They normally charge $99 CND for the installation with only 110 feet of wire included, but did not charge me for additional wire. That was my one and only rebate.
In 30 minutes everything was done and I was ready to try this thing out! My first thought was to download the latest version of Winamp, which I downloaded at 255 k/s – less than five seconds! I was so happy; I think this was one of the most beautiful days of my life!
The last thing I did was to install a heavy-duty cable to reinforce the wire from the tower to the wall. In Quebec, we know about snow and ice in winter and I don’t want that wire to be severed by anything.
So what does it take to build your own wireless reception tower?
- Lots of determination
- Lots of cement
- Structure to pour the base (e.g. cement tubing, wooden cage, etc.)
- Welding kit
- Steel plate
- Long, threaded steel rod (about 12 feet to make three smaller rods of four feet)
- Buffering tools
The rest of the equipment I used is not essential since you may not need them.
- About 14,000 pounds of cement
- About $404 CND (including ISP installation)
- Days and days of work
Getting high speed internet was the most challenging experience in my life. Now that I have it you can’t even imagine how much I appreciate it! I’m pretty proud of this achievement. Some may think I’m crazy, and maybe I am… but when I want something THAT much, if there’s a way to got it, I just can’t turn back. I gave all I’ve got to this project, using every connection and workaround I could to achieve a complete success.
I was pretty lucky and found several ways to accelerate the process while cutting costs. If you plan to build a tower like this, you should be ready to go. I wish you a similar amount of luck, or it could hurt you in the wallet.
I’ve been using this service for quite some time without any problem. Rain and storms do not affect the speed in any way I could notice. I found it is indeed a reliable alternative for those who knows they won’t have other internet services available for the next five years.
The only drawback is that with this type of service the ISP usually won’t guarantee in any way the speed you will reach, as it depends on many things. They say it could go to as fast as 320 k/s, but I’ve not reached a rate higher than 300 k/s yet. It’s more than enough though; it is WAY more than my old rate of at best 5 k/s!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article. If one day you’re faced with a big challenge, just tell yourself that if you REALY WANT to do it, nothing can stop you! Determination is the most useful tool to achieve success!