Sep 10, 2023

A Variable Capacitor For Not A Lot

There's one component which used to be ubiquitous in every experimenter's junk box, but nowadays unless you happen to be a radio amateur the chances are you may not have seen one in a long time, if ever. We’re talking of course about the air-dielectric variable capacitor, the tuning element for millions of radio receivers back in the day but now long ago replaced by much flimsier polymer-dielectric parts. There's still a need for variable capacitors though, in particular a high-voltage variant for use in magnetic loop antennas. It's something that [Ben] had a need for, which he solved with a clever combination of PCB material and 3D printing.

While the variable capacitors of yore invariably used intersecting vanes on a rotor, this one has two large parallel plates that intersect as one is moved over the other with a lead screw. It's cheap and effective, and best of all, the files to make it can be downloaded from Thingiverse. He claims a 34pF-164pF capacitance range, which, looking at the size of the plates we find to be believable (and which is a useful range for most HF applications). We like this solution, and believe it makes more sense than being scalped for an older example at a radio rally.

This isn't the first variable capacitor we’ve shown you, though some previous examples have been more conventional.