Subject: So You Want to be a Builder, Huh? Part 2
Date: Fri, 9 Aug 2002 21:37:14 -0700
From: "Doug Hendricks" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Low Power Amateur Radio Discussion" <qrp-l@Lehigh.EDU>
This is the second in a series of articles on how to become a successful builder of ham radio equipment. The opinions are my own, and just that. What I say is not gospel, nor the final answer, but it is based on my experience as a builder, teacher, qrper and guy who likes to grin and have fun. I am writing the series to share with my fellow hams. Enjoy.
I have 3 favorite kits that I think are super values, fun and easy to build, and the best part is that they are cheap. Before you build, you will need some tools. They include a good 15 - 25 watt soldering iron, with a small, but not tiny tip. It's even better to buy one that can take interchangeable tips. You don't need a $100 soldering station to learn on!! Just a good quality iron. You will need a good pair of side cutters, needle nose, and chain nose pliers. I like to use 2% silver solder with a water soluble resin flux. DO NOT USE ACID CORE SOLDER!!! That stuff is for plumbers. And you will need some solder wick or a desoldering hand pump deal from Radio Shack. When you have all of that stuff, you are ready to get started.
The first kit you should build is the VE3DNL Marker Generator from the Fort Smith QRP Group. You can order one for $12 postage paid from Jay Bromley, 9505 Bryn Mawr Cr., Ft. Smith, AR 72908. The Marker Generator can be seen at: http://www.fix.net/~jparker/norcal/marker/marker.htm. Check it out. The kit is simple, 7 parts to solder and comes with all needed parts, a beautiful silk-screened solder masked board, and a comprehensive assembly manual. Don't let the simplicity of this baby fool you. You will be building a quality, useful piece of test gear that you will use many, many times in your future building career. What does a Marker Generator do? Well, as the name implies, it generates markers, so that you can use it to calibrate a dial, use it as a simple signal generator to peak a receiver, and several other uses. Believe me, you will use it. But the best part of this kit as a beginning is that it only has 7 parts. I am a science teacher, and one thing every scientist knows is that if something doesn't work, you look at the parts for causes. Letís say that you build a marker generator, plug it in to a 9V battery and listen for it on your receiver. Nothing. Nada. Now what do you do? Well, you start going through it part by part. My first step would be to check every solder joint. Is everything soldered? If not, you better solder it. But don't worry, you only have 33 solder joints to check. Takes just a few seconds. Make sure every solder joint is bright and shiny. If not, reheat and add a dab more solder, making sure the joint liquefies before you take away the heat. Ok, you do that, check it out and it doesn't work. My next step would be to make sure that I had put every part in the right place. Now this not only involves putting it in the right holes, but the right way. There is a right and a wrong way to mount the chip. And there is a right and a wrong way to mount the diode. The manual will explain how, but each part has a mark that is used to orientate the part, it is an important step, and one that you will need to master to become a successful builder. You only have 7 parts to check, not hundreds that you would have in the K2. The bottom line is that the VE3DNL Marker Generator was chosen because it is useful, cheap, only has 7 parts, and is almost impossible to not build successfully.
Now do you see why we start simple and build up to complex. Letís say the absolute worst case scenario happens. You cannot solder, you cannot build (which I seriously doubt), how much are you out if you bought a VE3DNL? Just $12. What if you bought a several hundred dollar kit to find that out??? Not a fun thing to explain to your wife. But I know that you will be successful in building the VE3DNL, it is almost impossible to mess up. But if you can't possibly get it to work, you get on qrp-l, swallow ahem your pride, and ask for help. Guess what? Guys like Jim Duffey, Dave Fifield, Mike Gipe and others just like them will step forward and help you. QRPers are a friendly bunch, and they love to help other QRPers.
Ok, we got the VE3DNL working, what next? Well, we're gonna spend $15 this time and build a piece of ham radio history, the famous Tuna Tin 2, that was designed originally by Doug DeMaw, and updated by Dave Meacham, W6EMD. The Tuna Tin originally used parts that were all available from Radio Shack. But sadly, a couple of those parts are extinct. Mr. Meacham came to the rescue and figured out how to build the kit using modern easily available parts. The Fort Smith QRP Group, Jay Bromley and the boys, also sell this kit. You don't have to chase down any parts, because the kit comes with a board, all board mounted parts, and a manual. All that you have to do is provide an empty tuna can or cat food can, some connectors, and you can build a transmitter!! Whoa, now we are talking real ham radio. Yes, you can build a transmitter with about 300 mW of power for your own shack, and the best part is that it only costs $15 delivered!!!!!!!! Again you order this from Jay Bromley at the address above. Send him $15 for the kit, US funds, check or money order made out to Jay Bromley, not Fort Smith QRP Group. It helps a bunch if you enclose a self addressed mailing label. When you build the Tuna Tin, you will get to do a couple of new things. One, you will learn how to wind toroids. Don't despair, it is very simple, and two you get to solder parts that are not on the circuit board. Again, very easily done. This may be the most popular QRP rig ever kitted. Thousands have been built. It is easy to build, fun, and will always draw comments from your friends when they see a tuna can with a radio transmitter built in. You can see a Tuna Tin 2 kit at www.norcalqrp.org Just scroll down the page and you will see it.
Simple kit #3 is another piece of test gear, and it comes from the Arizona ScQRPions and Bob Hightower. It is the ScQRPion Stinger Singer, and is a Frequency Counter for $20!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, you read it right, Twenty Bucks!! Dan Tayloe, N7VE, designed this little jewel that fits in an Altoids tin, and the secret is a small chip called a PIC that is programmed to read a frequency and then give the output in audio via Morse Code. This kit again, has all the parts included, and has 17 parts, plus a beautiful circuit board that was laid out by Dave Fifield for the ScQRPions. The Arizona group of QRPers are great people, and they are very similar to the Ft. Smith group in size and both groups host an outstanding QRP Forum that you will want to attend. In fact, when you buy the kits that I am talking about you will be supporting those forums. It is a good cause. You can see a picture and get ordering details on the ScQRPion Stinger at: http://www.extremezone.com/~nk7m/cwafc.htm and you can also specify whether you want slow or fast speed chips. The slow chip runs at 10 - 15 wpm, the fast 18 - 27. What do you do with the Stinger Singer after it is built. You use it as a frequency readout for that rig that doesn't have a readout on it. You check oscillators to see how stable they are and where they are oscillating, use it to determine what frequency crystals are, use it to match crystals, in short, you use it for anything that you would use any other frequency counter for, and the best part is that it doesn't cost $100 plus. It is $20 and you get the fun, pleasure and satisfaction of building it yourself.
Do you have to build all three kits? No but I strongly suggest that you do. You will be building separate skills with each kit, and you will be gaining some confidence in your abilities as you go. Get out the checkbook, order the kits and get that solder flowing. As my good friend, Steve Weber, KD1JV likes to say, Melt Solder. The next installment will cover our first transceiver kit. 72, Doug