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[Articles Home]  [Add Article]  

Homebrewing Radio Gear Today

Duane Grotophorst (N9DG) on February 12, 2005
View comments about this article!

I frequently see comments posted to eHam and other discussion areas about the decline of the homebrewing of gear by hams today as compared to years ago. One of the main reasons given by many for this apparent decline is the difficulty of soldering today's components to circuit boards. Let's face it soldering a multi-hundred pin IC to a circuit board is not for the faint of heart and to really do right does require some rather sophisticated equipment that a typical hobbyist simply won't want to spend the money for. So because of that much of the homebrewing being done today is confined to relatively simple circuit designs using leaded components. Kit building also seems to be in a similar state of affairs with some notable exceptions.

A way to get past the notion that homebrewing is no longer feasible is to consider that homebrewing today is increasingly becoming a "board level" endeavor and that there is an ever decreasing need for discrete component level fabrication. Is this really that much of a leap from the way that homebrewing was being done in years past? Especially when you consider that from the 1930's or so through today very few people actually fabricated their own vacuum tubes, capacitors, resistors, diodes, or any of the various other components? But yet at some point in radio history people did have to build ALL of these discrete components for themselves. This was especially true during the very early days of radio when you had no choice but to make your own components like resistors and capacitors, or even in some cases vacuum tubes. But yet when these components became commercially available I don't think all that many homebrewers back then threw up their hands in frustration and proclaimed that they couldn't build anything anymore because the technology had past them by. Instead they just adapted to this newer but higher level of homebrewing; in fact I'm sure that they were quite happy with the idea that they no longer had to waste their time and energy designing and making all those basic components for every project that they tackled. They could just get on with the task of building their receivers, transmitters, and other assorted station equipment with these new, very convenient, and economical components that they could just buy and use with little hassle.

Well the way I see it we still have that same situation today. You can still do a lot of homebrewing, but now it is by using more prefabricated boards along with software and fewer discrete components than in the past. In fact to build a receiver today using the board level approach there is now even less need for soldering than in the past. For example if you want to build a receiver just buy a local oscillator source (a regular signal generator will do), then a mixer board (especially one that provides I/Q outputs). Add some RF band pass filtering (which can be bought or kit built). Connect these pieces together and then feed that audio frequency range baseband I/Q signal from that mixer to a computer with a decent sound card (since the PC and sound card are also essentially just "board level" components themselves). Next download some free software that can do all of the demodulation for CW, SSB, and AM with essentially infinitely variable IF filtering bandwidths including passband tuning, notch filtering, and noise reduction. When it is all put together you will have just built a software-defined radio that performs quite good.

In addition to the pre-assembled boards that are available there are also some kits that can be built to provide these board level modules. By combining the prefabricated boards with the other kits that are available for VFOs/Synthesizers, mixers, audio amplifiers, bandpass filters etc. from different sources you too can build just about anything. If your strong suit is software development then you can focus more of your ongoing energies there. Or if you are better at optimizing the boards and modules themselves then focus on that and just use the software that the software gurus crank out. If both groups freely exchange their experiences with each other then everybody wins.

If you are not inclined to build an entire RX then perhaps you should consider doing a no holes and easily reversible mod to an existing radio. For example a modification where you convert an older analog only design into a DSP IF radio. You can use the same I/Q mixer with the same PC/soundcard and software as in the previous example to build a DSP IF stage running at the IF frequency of the original design. Your mod will only be providing the final IF filtering and demodulation etc. in this case. The key difference being that the older radio will be providing the tuning, RF band pass filtering, and the first stage or two of mixing instead of you having to source those circuits or boards yourself. This too can provide some very interesting results that in some cases can rival the higher end radios of today. This assumes of course that the radio you start with has good front-end RF performance to begin with. After all a DSP IF radio can only be as good as the analog design that precedes the DSP IF itself. This is the kind of receiver modification experiment that you too can do to prove it for yourself. And I also think that you will find that many of the older analog radio's performance limitations in terms of recovered audio fidelity is actually in the stages after the first mixer and IF filter.

So no, I don't buy the argument that the ability to homebrew today is dead. It is however different in certain ways than in years past, but it is still alive and well if you approach it with a somewhat different mindset about what it is that you are actually trying to do. Some searching on the web will reveal all kinds of activities in homebrewing being done at or near the board level. If more hams were to pursue board level home brewing then I'm sure that we would see even more prefabricated boards being made available than there are now.

Member Comments:
This article has expired. No more comments may be added.
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by KD7EZE on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Interesting article. Homebrewing is still done in my shack, on a regular basis. And as for prefab boards, baloney, I have always and still today etch my own boards. C'mon people, designing and etching boards is EASY. Copying and etching boards from magazine articles is just as simple. The equipment necessary for board building is still readily available and inexpensive. I'll agree that using surface mount components is not for the average builder, but leaded components are still available for any project.

Homebrewing dead? Not at my house! :)

 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by W1RKW on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Homebrewing is alive and well in the small but active AM arena. For those who want to try something a little different pay a visit to http://www.classeradio.com . Plenty of info here for building a solid state near legal limit efficient class E AM transmitter. The Class E Radio Forum exists at http://classe.monkeypuppet.com . There's also http://www.amfone.net where both solid state and hollow state information and discussions exist. A wealth of homebrewing information also exists at http://www.amwindow.org . There are many more homebrewing sites on the net to other aspects of the radio hobby. It takes some digging but they are out there.

I'm currently homebrewing a transmitter using a pair of 813's modulated by a pair of 813's. Still got a ways to go but it's shaping up.
Bob
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by K0BG on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
You're going to get a lot of responses from folks who do a lot of home brewing, and a few flames (there always is). Most people will read some or all of the article and never respond because they're in the scared category.

A lot of projects (like my mobile remote control console) are basically old-type construction and don't require a lot of special tools. Unfortunately, the tools is does require (drill press, hand tools, soldering iron, etc.) are foreign to today's amateur newcomers. In essence, we played with tools, they played with computer games. This is just one of the problems why home brewing has waned.

Alan, KØBG
www.k0bg.com
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by W5GD on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I agree totally. Homebrewing is still alive today, just in a slightly different form. I'm trying to build up a satellite station and much of the equipment must be home-built. I'm actively looking for beam designs and a rotor controller that would allow computer tracking. I want to build all this stuff even though most of it is available commercially. To me, two thirds of the fun of ham radio is in building a station. Operating comes in second.

 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by ALEX_NS6Y on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
What about Manhattan, "Dead bug" and "Ugly" construction? Those methods if done right work as well or better than having a PCB made up, and changes can be made on the fly - or on the dead bug?

A lot of those look like rats' nests but then you read about the builder taking said rats' nest and taking it along the Appalacian Trail camping and QRP'ing etc and it working fine. And these construction methods can be neat too, the "Manhattan" style name comes from how circuits built this way tend to resemble a neat city skyline.

Circuit boards are good for production, these methods are good for invention, and that's what homebrewing is all about!
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by KG6AMW on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Back in the 60's I got into kit building a little bit by assembling an AM radio from Knightkit using deadbug construction style . Since that was some 40 odd years ago I've lost my touch. A good way to build up skills (soldering, component ID, etc. ) for homebrewing is to put together some simple electronic kits. I currently working on an AM/FM Radio Kit and Training Course from Elenco (http://www.elenco.com/). The project is includes the circuit board and many components and assembly is broken down into 9 courses to learn the various parts of an AM and FM radio and includes a 56 page pamphlet. A good way to learn the basics.

KG6AMW
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by IZ1GKK on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
My idea of homebrewing is a little different. I have no time and sources to build any complex gear. However I do buy old rigs on ebay. Well, in most cases they are presented as "mint, collectors conditions" and so on, and in most cases they are not. This means that I have to study them, find the service manuals and spend hours to fix and realign them. I think this is a different way to be a homebrewer, but it is still something like that. Presently I am struggling with an old "best ever" Yaesu FT-902DM which was sold me on ebay by a well known fellow who alway claims that his RTX are the "best ever", "from its own collection", "mint" and so on... Well, when I got it, it had the counter and PLL faulty, leaking capacitors, and it was completely misaligned. Presently I fixed 50% of the problems and I am still scratching my head to fix the others. In this way I am learning many things and I am very happy to use the gear that I was able to fix. On the other hand, I get mad when I think of the money stolen from my wallet by rascals who claim "mint, from my own collections, best ever..."
Just my one cent contribution to the discussion.
73
 
Homebrewing Dentron Amplifier GLA1000 conversion  
by W4XKE on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I’m currently accumulating the parts needed to convert my Dentron GLA1000 B amplifier to use the single Russian GI7B(T) transmitting tube. The old TV sweep tubes now cost upwards of $200 for a matched set of four, whereas I just purchased six (6) Russian GI7B(T) tubes for $53 including shipping. According to information provided by previous experimenters
( http://wb5cys.tripod.com/id142.htm )
( http://www2.wcoil.com/~tlee/GI7B%20Amp/Conversion%20Manual.pdf )
who have performed this conversion, a company called Far Circuits produce prefabricated boards for a great many projects, including the Dentron amplifier conversion boards.
( http://www.farcircuits.net/index.htm )
The main problem in any homebrew project is acquiring the components necessary to populate the boards. It would be great if there were a single source for buying all the electrical parts so you could reach the minimum order requirement and pay a single shipping and handling fee. Right now, I am trying to find a supplier of the six (6) 150 Mfd, 450 V electrolytic capacitors. My plan is to try to get some company to sell me the six parts (not six thousand) and then sell me as many of the other parts as they might be able to provide. This is an incredible task! From there, I hope to track down and buy the remaining components on the parts list. This may require me to meet many other “minimum order requirements” and pay multiple shipping and handling costs from several other companies. To comply with the minimum order requirements, I will probably buy a lot of stuff that I really would not otherwise buy, just to be able to get the parts that I need for my project.
Several local hams have looked at my project plans and have exclaimed, “Why don’t you just buy a used Ameritron? You’re going to have a lot more money invested in this conversion, not to mention all the time and work involved.” I’m sure they are right… but I like to build things myself, which means that I can also repair them myself.
One way that I plan to control my costs is to acquire parts for three conversion projects at once. Instead of buying one transmitting tube and a spare, I bought six of them. When I buy the electrolytics, I will buy not six, but eighteen of them. In other words, I intend to build my conversion and also collect enough parts for two more conversions. Hopefully, I can sell these to someone else to recover part of my expenses and also spare a couple of fellows the grief that I am presently going through in finding parts. My only concern in doing this is the one of a legal aspect. Since this is for the conversion of an amplifier, I will need to figure out if I would get in trouble for selling a “conversion kit” to another ham. (?)
In summary, homebrewing is grievous, dangerous, costly, time consuming and has legal ramifications! But on the other hand it is also educational, satisfying, fun and it strokes one’s ego with a bit of pride in a finished piece of work. If anyone has a lead on some electrolytics with a low minimum order requirement, would you let me know. TNX OM, I APPRECIATE U, Johnny W4XKE
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by WIRELESS on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Home brew equipment has never been as popular as hams like to think. Over 40 years I knew only 2 hams that actually built, debugged, and used homemade items. Most builders never finish what they start or never used what they more or less finished. This has always been true. If you scan Qst mag over 60 years you will find the same 5 or 10 hams doing all the building articles within a time span. I think a number of hams build something simple and then stop.
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by WA2JJH on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
MIKEY LIKES IT!

Actually it is not a new idea, but a forgotten one!


TEN TEC had the POWERMITE MODULES. If assembled all the modules together, you got yourself one decent 1-2W
QRP rig. This is back in the dayd of Harrison Radio on Barkly street.

They had a RX mixers, L.O.'s tht doubled as your CW TX oscillator. A power amp. It just followed the L.O.!

The RX was DIRECT CONVERSION. The second best to superhet.

Actually it is similar superhet except your IF are audio frequencies! OP amps and active filters gave the RX its decent sensitivity and OK selectivity.

Of course there was a noise blanker option. All sorts of boards. Your rig could be simple or deluxe!

I think ELEKRAFT is close. One can buy the CW/SSB 12W rig basic, then add their boards or yours!

I agree with you that this is a decent way to get people into homebrewing.

Just fer kicks I build the worlds simpliest CW rig.

Kit is $15. The manual is filled with errors. You spend hours trouble shooting and moding. HOWEVER IS NOT THAT A GOOD WAY TO LEARN?

Modules that would be good. A complete front end.
RX BP filter(s). Mixer/L.O., 1 stage of IF
SSB/CW BFO-DEMOD, P.A. LPF/BPF/ATU MODULE, DDS VFO.

Hey Ten Tec you got your start with modules, and you have ELEKRAFT to compete with!
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by WA2JJH on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
My worst homebrew was an ADELCO memory IAMBIC keyer.
2 PC board, about 30 TTL chips.

Took a few hours to build. Took days to trouble shoot all the bad solder joints and chips that blew.

Imagine my shock when the CUTIS single chip keyer came out weeks later for $39. Arrgg$%^&**()&&%!

Many have also expressed that they would love to build a QRP rig and work the world from a park or wherever.

One piece of advice. Yes, you can work the world with 5W of SEA-DUBBYA. The 1-5 W TX's are a piece of cake to build.
Here is what ruins the "pastoral" experience. Many will the build a cheap direct conversion RX kit.
There are many great direct conversion RX kits

The K1, KX-1 have excellent RX's.
Many will build a cheaper RX. The one that is also a TX has the worlds worst direct conversion RX. It has little more sensitivity than a kids CB wakie talkie.

A cheapo shortwave superhet consumer RX will not cut it either.

Please make sure you build a sensitive and stable VFO
RX. There are a few scanners that cover amatuer/SW well
enough to have that nice experience.

One idea I HAS WAS TO BUILD A TX inside my $500 Drake R-8 RCVR.

Please study the reviews of these QRP transceivers.
Make sure the RX is decent.
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by NA4IT on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Homebrewing is what a ham does on a stormy night...or when he needs a new gadget!

My latest home brews have been a Differential "T" Tuner for 10-160M and some home made air variable capacitors.

Building is fun. Also, sometimes, a good CAD drawing program and a schematic program are good for planning.
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by LNXAUTHOR on February 12, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
- interesting points raised in the article...

- however, homebrewing is quite alive and well in the many circuits generous hams have published on-line...

- don't agree that SMD/SMT work is impossible, and there are a number of kits using these diminuitive components... for a capable, sophisticated rig smaller than a KX1 and that has more bands at 1/4 the cost, see KD1JV's AT Sprint 3 at http://www.qsl.net/kd1jv/ATS3.HTM

- such projects are not impossible and only require a steady hand and some patience (a fine-tip pencil iron is recommended)

- software radios also promise 'digital homebrewing'...

- it's possible that 10-15 years from now (maybe even sooner), through-hole components will no longer be available, so get ready for an SMD world!

- the great news is that older circuits can be built using newer technology, so the designs will live on - in smaller, lighter, and more energy form...

Long live homebrewing and kit building!
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by KC8NSA on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Has anybody compiled a list of websites and URLs's that lists the available kits, components and tools?
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by AE1X on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
> Many will build a cheaper RX. The one that is also a > TX has the worlds worst direct conversion RX. It has > little more sensitivity than a kids CB wakie talkie.

I would assume that you are talking about the Pixie2 or the Tiny Tornado. You are essentially correct that the Rx in this design is not too good. The problem here is that it does work. With patience and some skill, contacts can be made and this is the reason for the success of this design.

Who are you to scorn such designs? Many of our forefathers in this hobby used crystal detectors with relatively high power to make their early efforts pay off.

I have a Pixie2 with modifications to make it a Tiny Tornado. My version operates on 10.116Mhz. with 150mW of output. I have one QSO confirmed with the Pixie2 configuration. They do work.

The design of these rigs is an old concept. The transmitter is a solid state MOPA design (Master Oscillator Power Amplifier). This design was the basis of many a NOVICE transceiver. The receiver is no more than a simple diode detectory. Why is this a problem? I don't think so. It is a poor design compared to those great designs of today, but I will state it again: it works!

Rather than place this desing in scorn, we should be recognizing that it is a design in the long tradition of hobby. It is a minimal design that works and could be employed to save lives.

Homebrewing does appear to be alive and well. Look at the new records reported on successive weeks in the milliMeter bands. These rigs could only be homebrew. Thre are no commerical uses being made of the frequencies the guys used for these communications records.

Let's celebrate homebrewing and promote it rather than hold some designs up to scorn.

Ken
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by KB1GMX on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I'm an avid homebrewer, I've been building my own starting in the 60's as a kid using pine boards. Since then I've gone the full route from fine pitch PCB to deadbug. I've been deadbugging circuits since I first tried it in '70. I do RF, audio and digital.

For those large pinout chips,I don't use them. I have enough stuff that 40 pin or less through hole DIP to keep me going for a while. Though I do use surface mount for fast or newer designs. For some things if a commercial PCB is available I'll purchase it for simplcity or to just save time. Though I admit, I deadbug a lot of hardware as its rugged, fast assembly and inexpensive.

My feeling is build, build anything you care to and use any technique that's available to you and suitable for the project. Experiment, failure is annoying but, if you figure out why your ahead. Building is generally about learning. Practice the art, deadbuged hardware has been built to have a beauty and function that even the best PCB may not allow. Do not succumb to the idea that it's too complicated, many times it's simpler than it may appear. Also don't fall into the trap of comples is always better. Better is subjective and should be balanced agains the actual needs. The ability to build and use our projects on their air seperates ham radio from all other services (I include those hardy part15 lowfer souls).

Allison
KB1GMX
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by KA3TKZ on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
This article is wonderful. I wish you were not so concerned about soldering. I was self taught from 10 years old. Every soldering class from the military to civilian life I have breezed through. Do not be afraid, just do it and learn. I have many cerification for soldering, solder inspection, evan wire lacing and cable making. This is easy stuff and anybody and I mean anybody can do it. Find an elmer, maybe one can help you. I am a professional solderer by trade and I encourage all reading to just try solering and learn from the mistakes, that is what I did. Good luck to all and may God bless you.


Whitney
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by W5ESE on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
> Home brew equipment has never been as popular
> as hams like to think. Over 40 years I knew only
> 2 hams that actually built, debugged, and used
> homemade items. Most builders never finish what
> they start or never used what they more or less
> finished. This has always been true.

I kind of think this is baloney. I built my
Novice transmitter as a 15 year old kid from
an old Handbook design, and knew (and worked
on the air) several others who had done the
same. This was in 1976.

I think in some respects, homebrewing has never
been better, cheaper, or easier. Prior to the
solid state era, receivers were evaluated on how
many active devices (tubes) they had, and that
was a pretty good measure of how complex, well
performing, and expensive they would be.
Transistors are so cheap, you can include alot
of them at a nickel each or so. The most scarce
items to come by now seem to be toroids cores or
variable capacitors, though pots and varicaps are
often used to make up for the scarcity of the
latter.

There are some EXCELLENT board kits available that
are fun to build and work quite well.

One I don't hesitate to recommend is the
Ten-Tec TKIT 1056 Direct Conversion Receiver kit.
This one uses a Zener Diode to regulate the bias
applied to the varactor and it's frequency is
very stable. It also has an active filter to
adjust the bandwidth, bandset and bandspread
tuning for smooth tuning, and RF and AF Gain
controls. The board kit is reasonable at 32
bucks! (The kit is described at:
http://www.tentec.com/rcvrkit.htm
)

Want a simple companion transmitter? Look at the
'Little Joe' at Dan's Small Parts and Kits.
(Go to http://www.danssmallpartsandkits.net/
and search for 'Little Joe'). 20 bucks for a
little transmitter kit.

Need crystals for the transmitter? Check out:

http://www.expandedspectrumsystems.com/prod4.html

and

http://www.af4k.com/qrp_crystals.htm

C'mon; there's no excuse for hams nowdays to not
do some more building at the component level.

I also agree with the fellow above who posted
defending the Pixie II and Tiny Tornado. I built
a Pixie II for 80 meters, and have made several
contacts with it; my best DX is from central
Texas to the Florida panhandle. This is a $10
transceiver board kit. Okay, I accept that I'm
not going to win Sweepstakes with it. But
I do get a satisfying feeling after putting
something simple like that together and then
completing some QSOs with it on the air. This
satisfaction and pride that I suspect those who
only use store-bought stuff probably don't
experience, though I think many would find that
it would add significantly to their enjoyment of
Amateur Radio. (The Pixie II is described at
http://www.qrpp-i.com/pixie2.htm).

Other amateur radio kits are from

Elecraft - http://www.elecraft.com/

Wilderness Radio -
http://www.fix.net/~jparker/wild.html

Small Wonder Labs - http://www.smallwonderlabs.com/

Down East Microwave - V/UHF transverter kits and amps
http://www.downeastmicrowave.com/

Kanga USA - http://www.bright.net/~kanga/kanga/

American QRP Club -
http://www.amqrp.org/kits/kits.html

Emtech - ant tuners and xcvr board kits
http://emtech.steadynet.com/

Oak Hills Research - http://www.ohr.com

Ten-Tec
http://www.tentec.com/Xcvrkit.htm (transceivers)
http://www.tentec.com/Xvertkit.HTM (VHF transverters)

Have fun es 73!
Scott W5ESE
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by K1CJS on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I don't think homebrewing is as dead as some think. Granted, the transceivers are getting more and more complicated, and anyone who wants one with some bells and whistles is certainly better off buying than trying to build one. The only exception to this are the QRP kits.

There are many more items used by todays hams than transceivers. There are plans and kits for just about anything else found in todays ham shack--like digital clocks, antenna analyzers and SWR meters, power supplies, interconnection electronics between transceivers and other electronics such as computers, packet modems, GPS units.......and the list goes on and on.

Also, how about antennas? (The infamous fan dipole, for one. :-)) Indeed there are many more things that are homebrewed than just the radios we use.

Homebrewing is not dead, not by a long shot!
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by AA4PB on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Over 40 years I knew only 2 hams that actually built, debugged, and used homemade items
--------------------------------------------------
Obviously you are hanging out with the wrong crowd :-) In my 40+ years as a ham I've known plenty of home brewers. Check out the QRP meetings at Dayton. If you include kits as home brew then check with Elecraft to see how many kits they've sold. Since we are going back 40 years, how many Heathkits do you think were sold over the years?
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by WA1RNE on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I too believe that Homebrewing is alive and well today. I hope that companies like Elecraft, TenTec and others will continue to offer good quality amateur equipment in kit form for a long time to come.

However, going by past and present posts about the subject, it’s apparent that many hams don't like to or won't bother with homebrewing.

Why? Some view Amateur Radio as a hobby or "past-time" like computers and the Internet. You can buy a computer and do a number of things with it, like browse the web, send email, create
Web pages, pay your taxes, etc., etc. To do these things, you certainly don't need the skills required to build one or know how to replace a hard drive.

The obvious difference is, one hobby requires a license, the other does not.

The times have also changed and over the years, Amateur Radio has seen a shift in focus in many ways:

Desktop/Laptop computers and the Internet (of today) didn’t exist 30-40 years ago;

Kits are still available and are being built, but not like 30-40 years ago when Heathkits were all the rage;

Most equipment and accessories are available from retailers at a very reasonable price. Years ago, many equipment manufacturers could be categorized by level of performance; i.e. Heathkit was good, Drake was superior and Collins was considered “Ultimate’. (I know, not everyone will share this exact sentiment but most did.) Along with those categories went Low and High cost, respectively. Most of the kits were in the low-medium cost range.

Today, you get great or “Superior” performance for an affordable price, and stellar or “Ultimate” performance at a significantly higher price.

Technology has influence homebrewing tremendously. Without SMT pc board manufacturing, microprocessors, DAC’s, Special Function and SOC chips and advances in RF Power devices, today’s rigs would offer the same performance as they did 30 years ago.

For me, homebrewing has been sort of “built-in” because of my interest in electronics at a young age. However, not everyone is “built” this way, nor do they feel comfortable “managing electrons. But they can still enjoy the fun of radio communication.

Although Amateur Radio has evolved and has been influenced tremendously by advances in technology, the good news is, homebrewing is still alive, is still available even commercially and is still one of the most enjoyable facets of HR…..

73, Chris

 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by K9DI on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Hi, While the author makes a very valid point for homebrewing by those with good eyesight, there is a group of hams who are excluded from most homebrewing projects due to lack of sight. Other than making my observation I like most of what the author said.

Vy 73
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by W1DUD on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Can I use my wide tip Radio Shack 40 watt soldering iron? "73" THE DUD
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by AA4PB on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Yes, there are a number of physical ailments that would interferre with one home brewing or even building kits. There are also some things that can help with poor eyesight, like a magnifying lamp.

I'm not down on anyone who doesn't homebrew for whatever reason, including just not enjoying that part of ham radio. I just don't believe that home brewing is dead.
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by N5YPJ on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I haven't built any kits, but have homebrewed many gadgets as needed - like remote antenna swiches, UPSs, power strips, antennas, etc. Really enjoy fabricating my own things, and have learned to scrounge our local "recycling" (junk) yard for parts. No doubt nowadays I couldn't build an xcvr of the quality available off the shelf, especially with the demise of Heath but shack accesories are fun. Wish there was more project ideas on line.
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by ALEX_NS6Y on February 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Wash your mouth, N5YPJ!

Elecraft stuff is BETTER than all but the most expensive built rigs, and if you read the reviews here you'll find that people have found other kit rigs perform as well or better than their built rigs, in side by side tests.

No, a Pixie is not going to outperform a Ten-Tec Orion.

But, there are some REALLY good kit rigs out there, and as (I feel) we're just entering the golden age of kitbuilding, there will only be more.

with built stuff from overseas, you're paying for shine, bells'n'whistles, and a cute female voice that announces your frequency changes in some of those rigs lol! You're not necessarily paying for a better radio.
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by OZ8AGB on February 14, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
It was the homebrewing part that triggered me to get a licence. Since then I found that operating is also a big challenge. Great hobby.
I'm doing DXing with my K2 (not homebrew but home built), my homebrew PA and homebrew wire antenna. Next project is an automatic ATU (Club project not the KAT100).

73 de
Michael
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by WA2JJH on February 14, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
The K2 is excellent. No conversion, single conversion RX that has the same sensitivity as a Ts-850sat.

Very low companant count. It does lend it self to do your own mods. There is a 150KC output if you want to add another IF.

My only complaint was the choice of transistor they used in the RF pre-amp. Yes I am designing my own.

OK the PICKLE(PIXIE). Unfortunitly a few companies are making $10 knock offs that simple DO NOT WORK!

The rx is not a simple diode detector. The Pixie is a very simple direct conversion. The L.O. is the Xtal OSC used for the transmitter. The diode is a crude mixer, then the 386 is your audio amp for RX. The TX filter gives you some pre-selection for the RX

The RX freq is the same as the TX. So one should put in a small cap across the xtal to get a CW off set tone.

I got 3 on ebay. All 3 did not work. No TX either.
Oh yes the diode did demodulate the 50KW AM broadcast transmitter. The LM-386 then aplified the demoded AM.

I would love to noodle around with a working Pixie.
I saw a few mods one must add to get the L.o and the incoming RF to mix. The product is audio rather than an IF frequency.

The audio is then amplified by the audio amp chip.
I guess since I could not get the xtal osc to work, no direct conversion RX.
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by WA2JJH on February 14, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
To the dude that said....'HOW DARE YOU MOCK THE PIXIE'
Dude..check your passport. It says U.S.A.
Have you heard about the 1st amendment, or are you one of the people making the knockoffs that have the mis-wired PC boards!

I did not knock your PIXIE. I simply made a point that there are better kits for a first time QRP op. to build and use!

I know the design very well. I am sure when you get one that works, it works as well as 2 transistors, diode, and an LM-386 will work!

However do not dare to censor me! A first time QRPer will not have a great experience with a pixie period!

IMO, get a QRP rig with 500mw out or more. Make sure the direct conversion RX uses a balanced diode ring mixer and not count on the non linearities of a SINGLE DIODE!
Also an active OP-AMP stage after the mixer, will ive you a decent RX.

I am sure you made a few contacts. However across the street does not thrill me! HI-HI!
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by G3RZP on February 14, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Re poor eyesight and home brewing......A G4 I know complains that he has a problem putting PL259s on, as he tends to burn his fingers. He's been blind since being wounded at Arnhem.....His neighbours get worried when he climbs on the roof stringing a new antenna up, too.

73

Peter G3RZP
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by AC0H on February 14, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
The K2/100 I just built hasn't got a single surface mount component in it. It's all discrete components. The biggest of the IC's is 40 pins and is socketed.

Its actually very gratifying to know I built it with my own two hands and that my K2/100 has a better receiver than rigs costing 2-10X it's price.

It was a sorry day when Heathkit, read Zenith, decided to get out of the Ham Radio business. There's also a paradigm shift going on in Ham Radio. A growing minority of opertators out there now are appliance operators. Most of them haven't even looked at the block diagram of the rig they run. A sizable proportion of those "AO's" wouldn't know what they were looking at anyhow.
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by AC0H on February 14, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
<<"The K2 is excellent. No conversion, single conversion RX that has the same sensitivity as a Ts-850sat">>

If you mean minimum descernable signal the K2 is better than all but two rigs ever tested by the ARRL. The $3500 Orion and the $10K IC-7800.
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by W5ESE on February 14, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
WA2JJH
------

I agree that the Pixie is not the best candidate
for getting started with kit building and QRP. It
takes at least a few mods to get it to work at all.

That's why I suggested the Ten-Tec TKIT DC
Receiver.

The mods listed here helped me alot with my 80
meter Pixie 2:

http://www.qsl.net/la3za/QRPp.html

This fellow's web site shows what the Pixie is
really good for; an extremely simple, very cheap
platform for "piddling" with circuits and
learning as you go.

Here's another example of a fellow that
illustrates this very well:

http://www.zianet.com/dhassall/PIXIE.html

> I am sure you made a few contacts. However across
> the street does not thrill me! HI-HI!

Texas to Florida with 1/2 watt using an 80
meter Pixie isn't bad. Not exactly DX, but
it's more than across the street. :)

73
Scott W5ESE
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by WA2JJH on February 14, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
No, I did not mean that all! Most K2 owners and the ARRLs test lab will say the k2's rx favors well with yor $2000 dollar rigs.


NOT BETTER THAN A 7800 OR ORION. It did beat the Orion
on IMD. In fact the K2'S SPECS ARE THOSE OF A COMMERCIAL RIG. -50db down on spurs.
THE 7800 AND ORIEN WERE SMART ENOUGH TO USE ROOFING FILTERS.
The K2 WILL OUTPERFORM MOST 800-2000 RIGS, that were stupid enough to use two DSP IF's. Also the K2 does not have to upconvert the HF spectrum for mixing. Ultra low noise floor is the result

True, my K2 is put to shame by my TR-7 and R-7A.It is put to shame by modifed Drack c lines that have cw filters in both IF's.


THE rX IN THE k2 WILL PERFORM MUCH BETTER THAN ANY RIG THAT IS USING a dual stage DSP design. They simply cannot get a software algorythm that has an 8 pole xtal filter resonse curve.

CHECK THE COMPARISON SHEETS YOUR SELF.
The entire scope of as that if you are going to use QRP. Make sure you have a decent RX. No,it does not have to be as good as the one in your main rig.

I do admit the PIXIE is a good example of what can be done with an absolute minimum parts count. I was amazed that it was direct conversion.

However can you really recommend a pixie for a newbie? It is hard enough for a newbie. Have a max power of 200mw and an RX that is novel, but will have a very hard time making contacts.

Yes, I admit I was flippant with that QSO across the street DX.

I built a tuna - tin 2 bACK IN 1977. I DID work a friend across the street! a



I am sure your 200mw TX make 500 mile hops regulary.
I JUST DO NOT WANT TO SEE NEW QRPers give up because they do not have a decent antenna, or an RX not that much better tahn a PIXIE-2

secret

K2 has ham band only
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by WA2JJH on February 14, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
After reading the very fine artical again, I think I found an answer. An answer that is my opinion.

Homebrewing is alive and well. Like ham radio, it is not so much in the public spot light.

Lets take RADIO SHACK and the famous TUNA TIN 2. The TT-2 was a QRP 80 or 40M QRP transmitter that appeared in QST back in the late 1970's(1976 or so????)

The TT-2 was a simple 1/2 watt output xtal controlled
The designer decided to save on the aluminum mini box!
Instead made the board roundish. You then could mount this little gem in an empty and well cleaned kitty cat food can. I am sure some of them really stunk hi-hi.

EVERY SINGLE PART WAS AVAILABLE AT ANY RADIO SHACK!!
I do mean everything! There was a PC board pattern(you could have perf boarded it. HF freqs, no big deal)

OK, the XTAL you had to get else where. RS was not selling 3.58 color burst xtals back then.

I did buy a nice alumunimum mini-box and 2n3866's for double the output power of the original. Radio Shack still sells Ferric Chloride for etching the copper off the blank PC board.

So that was a major scene that is simply gone. Gone are the days were teenagers would get to know the manager of a Radio Shack or Lafayette Radio Electronics
in thier part of town.

The RS or LRE was the kneiborhood store for us science fair winning geeks! Hams and CBers even got along!
Thoses stores was where you would hang out.
Other electronic dudes were on the scene too. We had Popular Electronics and Radio Electronics.

There was a nice mix of people. Muscians buying parts for thier fried Marshall stack amps. We build some of the very first OP-AMP projects(741).

Building elecronics from scratch was NOT UNIQUE TO ONLY HAMS. All sorts of people were buying PARTS at RADIO shack. Keept lots of kid out of trouble too!

Instead of looking to score drugs, people looked to score all the parts need at the number of RS's and LRE's. We all would share what we were doing with the stores manager. MIKE...you say you need 2 10K resistors
that rf choke and some 2N3866's.......Sorry Mikey, try me in a few days!! The Stock truck is over due.

Hey Mikey, my friends Radio Shack has them now! Let me know how that transmitter your building is coming along.
Bring it in, I want to hear it on that demo shortwave
wave radio.
ALL SORTA people are still homebrewing. They still are!











 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by KC9EQC on February 14, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Just finished building a Picokeyer kit from www.hamgadgets.com wow, what a neat little kit. It took me about 45 min to build and worked perfectly the first time it was fired up. I got this because I have a Small wonder labs SW+40 ordered and I knew I would need a keyer to compliment that kit. This thing is small too, I am going to put it in a mini altoids tin and try it out with my TS-570.

This was a great kit to help me get ready to build the SW+ when it gets here.

I have also built a Rascal GLK interface for digital modes and it was also a fun kit to build.

Kit building is a good way for me to learn more about electronics and it is also a more affordible way to add to the shack.

73 de Jon
KC9EQC
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by W5ESE on February 15, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
> I got this because I have a Small wonder
> labs SW+40 ordered and I knew I would need
> a keyer to compliment that kit.

You'll really enjoy the SW+. I built the one
for 40m, too. It's a great kit that performs
very well.

There's a Yahoo! discussion group devoted to
the Small Wonder series QRP kits at:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SWkits/

I built a TiCK3 keyer kit from Embedded
Research to go with mine (now sold through
Kanga USA), and also an Emtech ZM-2 antenna
tuner.

I use mine regularly in the ARSQRP Spartan
Sprints.

Join us when you get yours done; see the
details at:

http://arsqrp.com/ars/pages/spartan_sprints/ss_rules_new.html

73
Scott W5ESE
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by KB2FCV on February 15, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I find it's a joy to build your own equipment. I am by no means a designer of circuits, but I do enjoy the building aspect. It is great to see something that you spent time building come to life (although sometimes not on the first try). I have built and used something as simple as 1 or 2 tube 'glowbugs' built on simple pine boards to sophisticated kits such as the Elecraft K2. Each were enjoyable in their own way. The 'glowbugs' took time to scrounge for all the parts, figure out mounting methods, finding power, etc. The elecraft was a nice relaxing project with very well documented instructions and great technical support from elecraft and hams. I think kit building / homebrewing is alive and well in the amateur radio community and will always be a part of it.
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by KD4FOV on February 15, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I've been a Ham for 12 years and have seen MANY homebrew projects on the air. Wireless; there are people with abilities, not just you.
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by PE1NPG on February 17, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
What is wrong with the dead bug methode. Gives a lot more flexiblity on experimenting. When done experimenting put it in a box, good looks and 100% working equipment.73 de Jean-Pierre.
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by W4CBL on February 17, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I homebrew all my antennas and all of my own accessories; including a switching PS and a tuner.

I'll buy tranceivers, but I like to homebrew the rest when possible.
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by WN2A on February 19, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Great Article! Homebrewing is one facet of our hobby that can benefit us , no matter what mode we use. Sure , it has changed over the years, but the variety
of parts available has increased, and proof of this
is that you can still HB using vintage tubes or IC's.
Consider that writing software for a PC or firmware for a DSP chip a form of HB.
There is no such thing as "obsolete' technology.

WN2A
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by GM1SXX on May 10, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
As leaded components become less common, the keen constructor has to find other ways to keep building equipment.

Surface Mount Devices (SMD) seem to be the way forward and I can assure you, they are not difficult to use provided you go for the larger sized components. Common component sizes in general use include parts in the 0603. 0805 & 1206 series.

For hobby use, I'd suggest the use of 1206 size parts. They are easily handled and soldered and are amenable to use in DIY PCB's and 'copper island' type construction. Many parts houses stock 1206 size components and here in the UK I found several sources of 'development kits' of common value resistors and ceramic capacitors in useful quantities (100 of each value and refills available) at very acceptable prices.

In the UK, Farnell and CPC both stock a wide range of SMD parts, both active and passive and will happily sell in small quantities.

I use a mixture of dead bug and copper island construction methods using both leaded and SMD parts, often in the same circuit.
1206 SMD components are not much smaller than many of the small wire ended resistors I use and I didn't find any problem in adapting to them. With copper island construction the 1206 parts can straddle adjacent pads easily and for decoupling capacitors connected to ground, they can simply be leaned over at a 45 degree angle and soldered directly between the ground-plane and copper island pad. Its neat, tidy and effective.

Ideally, SMD should be soldered using a solder with added silver content. I�ve tried some silver loaded solders in the past but have always gone back to standard 60/40 or the newer 99% tin
/ 1% copper solders. I found the fluxing action of the silver loaded solder to be inferior.

If you are optically challenged as I am, an illuminated magnifier is a very worthwhile investment. For handling SMD parts I use a long sharp pair of stainless tweezers but I have been know on occasions to use an ordinary cocktail stick to hold parts while they are being soldered. Either method works well. I like the fact that I can use a mix of dead bug and copper island SMD construction. In general I hate making PCB's, drilling all those holes for leads and sometimes of course also clearance holes on the topside ground-plane.
Call me lazy.... but I LOVE SMD!

Regards,
Al.
GM1SXX
allan_gm1sxx@hotmail.com
For anyone not familiar with copper island construction, it uses standard single sided PCB material onto which are (cyano) glued 6mm diameter circles cut from single sided PCB material. The 'copper island' kit I use also contains DIL pads for various sizes of IC.
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by KE7DYH on May 24, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I have just become a ham, so can't speak to the difficulty of homebrewing ham gear (though I did make a tube FM transmitter of my own design back in 1973 for a pirate radio station).

However, I have a few comments and suggestions about home construction of electronics.

I've heard a number of people complain that SMD (surface mount device) components will mean the death of homebrewing. To the contrary, I've found that homebrewing your own SMD boards is easier than using DIPs and through-hole parts, because there's much less drilling involved! Additionally, if you use double-sided board stock with a single-sided board, you have a built-in ground plane available under the whole board.

Here's what I do for my one-off and prototype boards:

First, I use Eagle PCB to design the boards. This powerful program is available for free (though the free version is limited to 2 layers and 160x80mm boards). Or you can get the "non-profit" version for $150, which allows bigger boards and 4 layers.

Then, I print the artwork out (mirrored) on my cheap laser printer onto "direct-transfer paper" which I buy from Digi-Key. The manufacturer's web site describes this process quite well:

http://www.pulsar.gs/1_PCB/a_Pages/3_Direct_Etch/3b_The_15min_PCB/The_15min_PCB.html

I have also used glossy ink jet photo paper, which works but not as well as the commercial paper.

To save on the toner transfer paper, I first print out the pattern on a regular piece of paper, cut a piece of transfer paper big enough to cover the PC board foil area, then use Avery laser printer label pieces to attach the transfer paper to the regular paper over the printed pattern. Then I run the paper through the printer again to print the foil pattern on the treated side of the transfer paper.

I attach the paper to the board using more pieces of laser printer labels (this is important for registration of the second side if you're making a double-sided board). Because of this, I can use very small pieces of the toner transfer paper, which saves money.

I then use heat to transfer the toner from the paper to the cleaned pre-clad PC board blank. I used to use a regular clothes iron, but found that I got better results from a cheap laminator. Still, an iron works quite well if you're careful.

Then I slip the board (which has the paper stuck to it) into a bowl of warm water until the paper floats off. I wipe and dry the board.

I then use their green heat transfer film (TRF) to improve the performance of the resist when I'm doing fine-pitch boards. This step is optional, but you get better results.

When doing double-sided boards, I cover the side not being etched with "Contact paper", the vinyl coated self-adhesive stuff used for shelf liners, etc.

Then I do a normal etch using ferric chloride. I have made myself an etch tank using a Rubbermaid container, aquarium heater, and aquarium pump and bubbler.

However, on the Pulsar.gs site they describe a technique that is faster, uses much less etchant and equipment: just use a bit of sponge to keep the etchant (you have to use FeCl) moving.

http://www.pulsar.gs/1_PCB/a_Pages/5_Support/4b_Tips_Tricks/Tips_Tricks.html

If you're doing a double sided board, then you repeat the procedure on the other side after drilling a few holes for registration (add these to your PC board artwork on both sides so you can line the pattern up).

Attaching the SMD components to your new board requires a few tools that you might not have. I use a 4x magnifier lamp for most of my SMD work (though I have to admit to also having splurged on a Bausch and Lomb 40x stereo zoom microscope on eBay).

Handling components is easier with a fine-point forceps; if you can find the type that is normally closed it makes it easier.

I have made a simple jig for holding components on the board while soldering: a piece of wood with a hole drilled in its top. Into this hole I put a bit of bent wire, so the other end is in contact with the board. This end can then hold components down on the board while I solder them. This was an idea that I got from Mike Cowlishaw.

Here's a description of a similar but more elaborate jig:
http://www.psnw.com/~kd7s/smdhd.html

You will need a fine-point soldering iron. I invested $150 or so in a used Metcal soldering station on eBay, but any fine-point temperature controlled iron (like the Weller WES51) should do fine.

For rework (not that I ever make mistakes!), I use the special Metcal tips that contact all the leads of the part being removed. But you can use solder braid, and use a thin piece of steel wire under the part to help remove all the leads at once. Or you can use the alloy called ChipQuik that makes it possible to remove parts at very low temperatures when mixed with solder.

Also see:

A brief introduction to prototyping with Surface Mount Technology (SMT)
by Luke Enriquez, VK3EM
http://www.geocities.com/vk3em/smtguide/websmt.html

Some good tips on PC boards and SMT techniques
http://www.solarbotics.net/library/techniques/buildpcb_trnsfr.html
http://www.solarbotics.net/library/techniques/smt.html

Using blu-tack (or similar) adhesive to hold down multi-pin ICs while soldering:
(I prefer the wood jig)
http://www.blackboxcamera.com/STV5730A/SmartSoldering.htm
 
Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by WR8Y on November 16, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
If you think that homebrewing is dead, go visit a QRP club!

Listening on 30 and 40 CW, I have heard (even worked) a few guys using homebrewed gear. One guy's signal was a little chirpy, not too bad, and I learned why: he was a kid using a transmitter he had built. I did'nt get what he was using as a receiver, as he was QRP and got covered by QRN. But I DID hear him say he'd had a hard time making the oscillator oscillate.

I'd also like to add that I have PROUDLY never bought an HF antenna - any antenna used at home was fabricated by myself (or by my elmer - but that was 29 years ago.)

Mark
WR8Y
 
RE: Homebrewing Radio Gear Today  
by W2JEM on December 11, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Homebrew is not dead...it's not even sick! However, when we choose not to challenge ourselves any longer, then it WILL die. Like everything else in life, it's constantly changing, evolving. Nothing stays the same! You're all here now reading about how each other has learned to be creative and overcome the challenges - to change with and adapt to the new technologies. This is one of the many unique traits that make a ham a ham! If it wasn't for that drive to overcome these kinds of challenges, we would probably not even have radio. So challenge yourselves and stop listening to nonsense! It's the reason you originally got into this hobby anyway, isn't it...to not have to listen to nonsense? :0)
 
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