Subject: So You Want To Be A Builder, Huh? (Update of What Kit To Build) Part 1

Date: Thu, 8 Aug 2002 23:52:49 -0700

From: "Doug Hendricks" <>

To: "Low Power Amateur Radio Discussion" <qrp-l@Lehigh.EDU>

A few years ago, I wrote a series of articles for a talk that I gave at Hamcom in Dallas. In it, I talked about what kit to build, and why. Got a lot of nice comments on it, and it is probably still on the web somewhere. A lot of time has gone by since then, and the series needs updating, so here it goes. By the way, this is gonna be long, it is gonna be my opinion, but I will support my opinions with reasons, hopefully valid. Now what makes me think that I am qualified to write about this subject? Well, I have built over 100 kits in the last ten years, have managed every NorCal Kit Project (thousands of kits), and have advised several other clubs and companies about kits. I don't know everything, and I am certainly not the world's authority, but I do have some real life experience.

When I was in grade school, I read the library copy of Boy's Life religiously. Every month, I would drool over the ads for the Ham Radio receivers. I even went so far as to write Hallicrafters and ask what a receiver cost. When they told me $48.00, it might as well have been 48 Million, because there was no way that I had that kind of money as a 10 year old kid growing up in Kansas. I had no idea what the ARRL was, there were no hams in my hometown, and it was just a dream. Then when I was a sophomore in high school, our science teacher took us on a field trip to a ham's house in the next town. Wow, I could not believe all the stuff he had out in his garage. It was piled floor to ceiling with equipment, and it all glowed in the dark in 1964. I asked him how to become a ham, and he was not very friendly, said that you had to take FCC tests from the government, follow all kinds of rules, etc. He did say that he built most of his equipment from old military surplus and tv sets. Hey!! That was my ticket. I would build my own stuff. That night and many nights after, I dreamed of being a ham and building my equipment.

I finally got my ham ticket in 1976, that means that I could officially be a member of QCWA now, grin. But I didn't build any of my equipment, I bought it second hand. I was on the air, made 499 qso's as a novice, but didn't feel like a real ham because I had not built my equipment. I wanted to be like the guy I met in high school and build my own station. I am sure that many of you who have never built anything and lurk on this list can identify with me. Stay with me, and I may be able to help you.

I have been very lucky to have met and known some wonderful builders in my time as a QRPer. Dave Fifield, Dave Meacham, Derry Spittle, Ed Burke, Vern Wright, Wayne Burdick, Eric Swartz, Jim Kortge, JayBob Bromley, Keith Newman, Chuck Adams, Dave Benson, Dennis Foster, Mike Gipe, Paul Maciel, Dan Tayloe, John Liebenrood, Wayne McFee, Paul Harden, George Heron, Joe Everhart, Mike Fitzsimmon, and many others. They all have one thing in common. Do you know what that is? They all learned how to build by building. None of them was a master builder out of the box. They had to put in their time and make their mistakes. But they did it. They built everything that they could. Some of those guys I mentioned are EE's. Some aren't. One is a dentist, another worked in the auto industry and several are just average Joe type of guys. Anyone who can learn how to solder, read and follow directions, learn how to understand a schematic, and identify parts can become an excellent builder. But it takes practice. Chuck Adams told me once that education costs. You will pay for it one way or another. He is 100% right. I know guys that have never built anything and start with a K2. Do I recommend that?? NO WAY. But it has been done. No, I don't recommend building the K2 or K1 as a first kit, they came quite a way down the road, but they do come. What I do recommend is that you start with a good soldering iron, some good solder, read on the web about good soldering techniques, and practice with some resistors because they are cheap, grin.

My method involves a gradual learning curve. You start with simple projects that don't cost an arm or a leg, and you learn on the inexpensive kits. (That means you will make your first mistakes on them). The next installment of this article will cover a couple of easy kits, that are cheap, fun to build, and they will work!!

72, Doug, KI6DS