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[Articles Home]  [Add Article]  

Let's Build Something!

Edward P. Swynar (VE3CUI) on November 16, 2016
View comments about this article!

So, You Want To Try Your Hand At Homebrewing...

A lot of Hams to-day lament the fact that the fine old art and science of “...rolling your own” -- i.e. homebrewing -- is either dead now, or slowly approaching (if it is not already there) a fateful “point of no return” ...and at least on the surface of it, those same Amateur radio operators are, sadly, quite correct in that dire assessment.

Gone are those halcyon days when one could simply stroll into some local parts emporium in your home town's downtown core, to pick and choose at your leisure, exactly those components needed for the latest and the greatest creation taking place on the shack work bench. Even the mail order houses seem to have diminished in number -- and the surplus retailers may be counted upon the fingers of but one hand to-day. Remember those great catalogues from “Lafayette Radio,” “Bursteen-Applebee,” and “World Radio Laboratories,” to name but a very few? How about the “North American Electronics, Ltd.” surplus emporium in Montreal? And all those catalogues and flyers that each would mail to you, just for the asking -- they all made for simply great reading (and dreaming!) whenever the bands were flat, way back when...

However, the parts supply houses from days of yore are not the only things missing from whatever vestige of homebrewing might still exist in 2016: Sadly, there simply are no longer any more icons such as Lew McCoy (W1ICP), or Bill Orr (W6SAI) beckoning us anymore from the pages of QST, or CQ magazine, grasping newbies by the hand and guiding these would-be homebrewers through all the intricacies involved in building a piece of electronic gear “...from scratch” ...and do not deceive yourself here, there are intricacies involved.

But in the final analysis, the entire process is akin to an effort like painting a room, i.e. It is “...90% preparation, 10% application.”

The Basics 101...

If you were building a house, say, wouldn't you consider it to be prudent on your part to use a blue-print to guide you, step by step, in the home's construction? It is quite inconceivable to even imagine somebody commencing building, based strictly upon “...by gosh and by golly” alone! Building a piece of electronic hardware is no different. I cannot stress enough the vital importance of you doing all your “ground work” -- dotting each “i,” crossing every “t” -- before drilling so much as even one single hole into the chassis that you might be planning to use in your project.

Having said that, bear with me as I might add here -- with no intention of boasting whatsoever -- that I do, indeed, practice what I preach. In my 45+ years as an Amateur radio operator, I have built, at the minimum and totally from “scratch,” two superheterodyne receivers, a regenerative receiver, three RF power amplifiers (one at the kilowatt input level), a high-powered AM class-B plate modulator, five transmitters (of varying complexity), innumerable station adjunct “add-ons,” three antenna tuners, and too many power supplies to even begin mentioning, Whatever the complexity of each item may been, one thing was a constant: I knew, well before each unit was standing fully-assembled before me and ready for trouble-shooting, exactly how it would appear in its final incantation, and what it might take to make it a truly functional addition to my shack.

I personally favor point-to-point “hollow state” construction here, although I have delved in smaller, less complex solid-state projects with the likes of printed circuit boards. But do not hold that against me: it is my hope that you might find at least a few of my suggestions worthy of application to whatever state of technology might personally interest you. Our “ends” may differ, but surely the “means” of our getting there will not be dis- similar.

Step One: What Do I Want To Build, Exactly?

Well, that is entirely up to you, of course -- but hopefully the electronic apple of your eye that you are thinking of tackling is not something as complex as a full-bore, multi-stage superhet receiver! At least not at this early formative start, anyway. Let us say, for the sake of example, that you have settled upon the construction of a small outboard antenna tuner (or, “transmatch”) for your station: so, what exactly do you do in order to get started?

The absolute very first thing that must be done is to gather together all of the individual discreet components that will be required in your project. Until each and every last piece might be on hand, there is really little point in progressing any further, is there? “You cannot appreciate where you are going, without first taking stock of where you are, now.”

And from what sources will you locate all of these required components? An ample junk box is certainly a good start. Then there are always the many Hamfest and fleamarkets for you to scout for those parts still remaining on your “shopping list.” Of course, you can always put the touch on your local Ham buddies: most guys will gladly just give away parts that may be stashed in their hoard, free/gratis, just as long as they might know that they are going to serve a good cause in a good home. Failing these options, there are always a multitude of on-line opportunities -- eBay, Hamnet.com, Ontario Swap Shop, etc. etc. etc. -- where you can locate almost anything that you might require (and hopefully at the right price, too).

Step Two: So I Have All The Parts -- Now What?

This is the stage where you tip your hat to the actual aesthetics of your project -- its eye appeal to the end user (that's you!), how you want it to actually look when complete. With a pencil and paper, draw what you ideally envision the front (and rear) panel to look like...the location of the knobs for the various controls, the placement of the meter (if any), the toggle switches that your unit might use, and so forth.

Will the components behind the front panel all fit back there, to reflect well on the outside of it? Is there room for everything, including the full and free unencumbered rotation of any variable capacitors with the rotators in “full up” position? You can verify this, having the actual physical components right there, before you. Line them up, as you might envision them to be in their final installed positions: do they meld together well, without their shaft(s) intruding in any way upon the placement of another part that just might be directly before it, and in the way? Maybe the enclosure that you originally had in mind will reveal itself to have been obviously too small, or perhaps way too large: can you get your hands on just the right sized chassis/enclosure to accommodate everything? Maybe you don't mind the extra space, because it may come in handy later on if/when you might wish to add some extra refinements to your design. What about the actual spacing of the control knobs up front? Is it pleasing to the eye, or are their placements such that maybe all of the control knobs will be unceremoniously “scrunched together” in one corner? What about potential internal issues with stages electronically interacting in any undesirable way, due to your front panel layout?

In the chassis/enclosure department, always regard what you need as being something that will accommodate the placement of all of your parts in an effective manner: do not necessarily arrange the parts just to fit the chassis/enclosure, and make compromises as to proper functionality that way. Let the dog wag the tail -- and not the other way around!

And Now For The Paperwork

So -- you have all of the parts that your project needs, and have a suitably-sized chassis/enclosure in which to assemble everything together, and to house it somehow. Now can you start all of the drilling and soldering to make your newest addition to the shack a reality?

Most assuredly NOT! This is when you have to sit yourself down and seriously decide precisely where everything will go, how the parts will be oriented, what holes have to be drilled, the routing of any wires, and all that miscellaneous “...other stuff” that you just take for granted in your commercial gear. Did it ever occur to you that at some time during the design and manufacturing of your store- purchased rig, somebody, somewhere, somehow, had to take pause and lay-out in as much detail as practical, the actual construction of it? One cannot rely upon any “happy endings” that might result from any “leaps of faith” made in the design of radio gear: it is all methodical, and logical. Ditto your proposed transmatch project...

First thing to do is to secure another large sheet of paper, and a pencil and pen: recalling the rough placement of all of the parts that you established earlier in narrowing- down the chassis size of your project and formulating a pleasing front panel arrangement of knobs and switches, actually draw each component onto the sheet, from (A) an under-chassis view, as well as (B) an atop-the-chassis view, keeping in mind the entire time, again, just how you want the outside of your “rig” to look. This will serve as a guide to you in ascertaining which orientation of each part might make the most sense. Do this with each and every component, including any tie lugs, and separate soldering lugs, that will be required. Mark the main “immovable” parts -- tube sockets (if any), SO-239 connectors, etc. - - with ink, in pen. Draw the associated wiring and discreet parts in erasable pencil. And no, there is no extra credit here for whatever latent abilities you may possess as an artist: this all just a means to an end, and nothing more.

Draw every wire that you envision will be required of you in order to join everything properly and effectively in pencil, too: no guess work here! Play around with each placement, on paper, and correct as necessary (hence the penciling-in of discreet parts). Keep a photocopied schematic diagram of the completed circuit at your side, referring to it constantly -- and circle each component part on that same schematic after you have drawn it onto your rough-copy lay-out, to ensure that no part might have been inadvertently missed by you.

Doing this exercise is hardly frivolous: it enables you to see well in advance what orientation of a tube socket is best for the operation of the circuit before the commencement of any drilling -- it shows you the best routing of a critical wire so as to avoid any possible unnecessary and harmful feedback -- it tells you in advance that a hole is required for the installation of a tie bar soldering strip, or solder lug, and where to drill it -- and so on and so on. Do not bypass this all-critical stage of your project: it will save you a lot of “gotchas!” and surprises later, after you are committed to the drilling/filing/cutting/etc. of any metal. One additional note: if your project does, indeed, have parts placed both above and below any chassis, take another piece of paper and place it atop the first: now, trace -- but in dashed lines -- those large fixed parts (air variable capacitors, transformers, and the like) that you see through the paper. These are the areas that you will have to avoid in doing any work above them -- no drilling, no holes, no mounting of large components -- because of what might be immediately below the chassis surface. So, keep those areas clear, as will be highlighted on this, your top- chassis sketch.

Let The Drilling And Painting Begin!

Are you comfortable now with the overall lay-out of your project's individual parts? Is every single component and connection accounted for? Good: that means that it is time for the metal work required to properly secure them.

My “work shop” here consists of absolutely nothing more than a table, a small bench vice, an electric drill, tin snips, needle-nosed pliers, a hacksaw, a smattering of small hand tools, and a limited variety of both flat and round files. Nothing esoteric or exotic at all here -- just apply a bit of patience and the proverbial “...Armstrong” (!) technique, and you'll be fine. Carefully mark the exact locations of final mounting holes that might be required under you air variable capacitors (they are all different, too, it seems), and your transformers. If you use tubes, a set of Greenlee punchers are invaluable (but expensive!) for the holes required for sockets -- but if they're unavailable, just drill a circle with small holes bordering the penciled-in outer diameter of the socket, punch it out, and start “...filing to size” with various round files. That same technique works with meter openings, too. Carefully gauge the exit point on the front panel for any shaft extension by first properly securing the part atop the chassis, and circling where the shaft might come into contact on the inside of the panel with a pencil, by carefully butting a shaft extension against the end of the component shaft -- but remember to secure the front panel to the chassis first, in order to exactly duplicate “final finished assembly.”

Are you done and satisfied with all the drilling, filing, and de-burring? Good. Now sand everything with a medium/light grade sandpaper, in order to make it paint- ready, but to also remove any scratches that have left their mark on the metal. I use an old Makita-brand rotary palm sander here. Once everything is satin-smooth, I wash the metal with ordinary liquid dishwasher detergent, rinse it thoroughly, and let it completely dry. Next I spray a light coat of aluminum/galvanized primer onto the metal, allowing it dry at room temperature for at least a day. This type of primer is an absolute must for aluminum: the use of ordinary metal primer will only result in your final top coat peeling away with most every bump and label removal that your finished project will encounter, and detract from its appearance.

The final single top coat is then applied. I have come to favor a gloss back finish for the front face of my 1929- style retro rigs (as well as my more modern ones), and a flat black finish for the chassis...or I might just leave the chassis alone, and appreciate the natural aluminum finish of it. Motorcycle shops used to all retail a black crackle finish spray paint: this imparts an ideal “retro look” to many projects that might find favor with you, too. The decision, of course, is all yours to make -- whatever might please you the most, “goes.”

One final point while discussing paint. On occasion, I have wanted to ensure that my final top coat is, indeed, dry, and not still in the process of “curing,” thus making it susceptible to possible scratches and mars while I am attaching parts to it: at moments like these, I will wait until my XYL is not home(!), and then place my day-old air-dried metal panel(s) onto the middle rack of the kitchen oven pre-set to about 200-degrees F, or so, for around 30 minutes. It is amazing how a supposedly “dry” panel can emit such a lot of fumes from its surface, while “speed-curing” in this way...but it does, so user beware, and maybe remember to open-up the kitchen window well in advance of your wife's return home from wherever she may be!

At Long Last: The Short Strokes!

If you have sustained interest in your project to have lasted this long into it, I congratulate you: you have successfully completed the prescribed “...90% preparation” part of the equation -- now comes the time for the “...10% application” portion!

With all the major components, sockets, meters, etc. already bolted/secured onto your chassis/enclosure, take out that preliminary sketch again, and get your soldering iron and needle nosed pliers ready...start soldering each adjoining component, and every inter-connecting wire that you have drawn into place, remembering religiously to highlight each part and each wire link on your sketch with a colored highlighter marker. Again, only by exercising such care, will you have greatly diminished the possibility of wiring anything incorrectly, or forgetting a component.

With everything safely, securely, and correctly in its place, take a moment to sit back and just look at what you have created: it is a thing of unique beauty, is it not...? This is the time that you can leisurely enhance its innate good looks, by selecting and acquiring, through whatever means may be at your disposal, attractive, appropriately- sized knobs for the shaft ends extending past the front face, and thinking about how you might wish to label the various controls. I prefer the 1/4” tall plastic “peel-and- stick” letters and numbers that may be found, reasonably priced, in most any stationary store: they are easily applied with the end of either an X-acto knife, or a small screw driver. They can be readily positioned into place, and then pressed onto the panel firmly with your finger, lending a professional-looking and permanent enhancement to your pride and joy.

THIS is the time for you to take a much-needed deep breath, and a sigh of relief: you have actually elevated yourself to full membership status within the exalted ranks (well, in some circles, anyway!) of that time- honored fraternity in Amateur radio, “...THE HOMEBREWER” ...! Take a well-deserved bow: believe me when I tell you that there is absolutely NOTHING in Ham radio that might come even close to that feeling of pride and accomplishment that one can only from using a piece of homemade gear in one's shack that was crafted by your very own two hands and initiative -- NOTHING!

If you've followed all these guidelines religiously, you will probably find that you have not missed the drilling of even one single hole that might be required in your final project...and no doubt the final assembly will require only the most rudimentary of trouble-shooting efforts on your part in order to make it fully functional, and a day to day active part of your Ham station. You may even have picked-up a thing, or two, about the application of electronic theory to the real world. But perhaps best of all? WHATEVER you may have built from scratch, it is, and forever will be, “...your baby”: so, use it, enjoy it, and by all means, show it off -- but most of all, come to appreciate what its execution has no doubt bestowed upon you along your journey: how to be creative, precise, inventive, resourceful, and more knowledgeable about this wonderful hobby that you have chosen to call you own...

In short, “Welcome to TRUE 'Amateur radio,' OM!” Have fun!

~73!~ de Edward “Eddy” Swynar (VE3CUI -- VE3XZ)

PS: Feel free to email me if I might assist you in some way along your journey through this wonderful facet of Ham radio, at trenear3773@gmail.com

Member Comments:
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Let's Build Something!  
by VK4FFAB on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Awesome post. I agree 100%. Get building. My solder iron gets used more than my radio.
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by NA4IT on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I had the best time and learned a lot building an antenna tuner. You can find the story of it at http://www.qsl.net/na4it/tuner/tuner.html
 
Let's Build Something!  
by KB2DHG on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I miss the kits that used to be out there. Also there were so many simple projects that were easy to build using tubes and plug in crystals. QST should print some old projects from their archives. Like a tube transmitter or a simple receiver.

 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by KD7YVV on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
There is a QST archive online at the ARRL website.
Being mostly blind (thank God not totally) it would
be near impossible to build a project using the
rice sized surface mount components in use today.
I do remember when you could hold a resistor in your
hand and actually read the color code off of it.
As I said in the comments on the death of the elmer
article, today's world has become hostile to the
elmer, and now, also for the home brewer.
TV's radios, cellphones, all sorts of electronics
are recycled. Gone are the days of finding an old
TV on the curb and scrounging it for parts.
Still, we generate so much electronic waste it isn't
funny. I was watching a youtube video on what happens
to old cellphones. It was fascinating. Huge pallets
of old cellphones headed out of country to be recycled.
I think the show was Modern Marvels.
Yes, there are kits out there, and they can be fun
to build but if you think about it, hams were into
recycling before it became mainstream.

 
catalogs end with ".com" now  
by KD0REQ on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Mouser, Digi-Key, Newark, All Electronics, Dan's Small Parts... some have weighty tomes to mail, but it's all online now, along with links to the manufacturer's spec sheets. not all is lost. I've had good luck generally with "ships China Post" parts, as well (some have been bitten on expensive RF stuff, I'd go RF Parts in the US.) the surplus outfits are Fair Radio, Nebraska Surplus Sales, Leeds Radio, and old tubes are still out there to buy. it's not over yet!
 
RE: catalogs end with ".com" now  
by W3TTT on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
"...Gone are those halcyon days when one could simply stroll into some local parts emporium..."

There must be hundreds of Chinese cheap parts retailers on eBay.com now. Deep discounts. Just right for this cheap ham (me). Many are small packet post paid.

I love to homebrew my radios. However, I am not up to that described level of design and development, I just throw it all together.

W3TTT
 
Let's Build Something!  
by KK5JY on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Excellent -- a *positive* radio article on eHam! :-)

As prior comments have pointed out, there are many inexpensive ways to get exactly the parts you need. I use Mouser, Digikey, Sparkfun, AdaFruit, and so on. Many offer budget shipping and some offer free shipping for large orders.

I like the SchemeIt tool on Digikey which allows me to quickly draw up a schematic of a circuit, which I can then share with others if I want a 2nd opinion. The tool also allows you to build a Bill of Materials from your schematic, and save the diagram and parts lists for later use. Mouser's economy shipping gets to me in a day. The other vendors I listed are more for microcontrollers and such, but they have some good deals on more common components.

The OP describes his process for building a device that is soup-to-nuts. No doubt his radios and amplifiers are nearly production quality when they are finished, with a nice enclosure, labels, etc. And I think that is great. However, don't underestimate prototyping, especially for people who are new to building circuits. Many circuits can be prototyped on a breadboard, and there's nothing wrong with having boards and wires strung out on a bench (in an orderly manner, of course) so that you can see the components, and use a meter or scope to interact with the different pieces. Your first build of a device doesn't have to go into an enclosure. You can build two or three (or more) "ugly prototypes" before you settle on the details that you want to put into your first enclosure. I have many constructed circuits laying around that were proof-of-concept circuits that I never intended to put into an enclosure or use on-air. But I soldered them together anyway so that I could learn about an IC or a signal processing technique or whatever. There is nothing wrong with such an approach.

Don't forget software homebrewing. Much of the build-from-scratch work I see hams doing today is with software, whether it is for sound card modes, or uC-based embedded panadapters, or whatever. I try to make my projects such that they have the minimum circuitry needed to interface with the computer or uC, and then the rest is done in software. Software/firmware work isn't for everybody, but it is a very flexible option for experimentation. I can prototype a half-dozen designs in software in the time I can build one circuit of intermediate size. Unfortunately, certain IC parts are becoming somewhat difficult to find, such as PLLs, demodulators, balanced modulators, etc. Those that are available are increasingly SMT parts. So it only makes sense for us to use embedded computers to emulate these functions. Many common tasks are described in tutorials on sites like instructables.com, or Sparkfun or Adafruit. The uC home-brew community outside of ham radio is enormous, and hams can learn a great deal from other hobbyists. Many of the uC projects on my own website started by learning techniques from sites like these. They are great non-ham Elmers.

On that note, once you have created something, share your work if you can, even if it's just a prototype. Once you have something that works, use that to Elmer other hams that you know, or post your work online. I enjoy hearing from hams from all over the world who write to comment on project I have published, or to ask how to adapt my work to fit their own projects. We can learn from each other, no matter how small the projects might be.

Having enjoyed several years of casual contesting, I find that I now enjoy homebrew just as much if not more, and like one previous comment said, I spend more time on building than I do on the air.

Build on. ;-)
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by SWMAN on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I really enjoyed building some of the Ramsey kits that they sold, some were just very simple kits but just a lot of fun. To bad they went out of business. I also built several Heath Kits several years ago. Miss them also.
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by ONAIR on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Love building old radio stuff!! The website AmericanRadioHistory.com has most of the old electronics magazines from the '50s and '60s, with loads of plans for electronic projects!! :)
 
Let's Build Something!  
by K1FPV on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I still love building many things! I remember getting a QSL from the FCC back in 1963 with the 6DQ6 transmitter I built as a novice from an old TV set. It was from the project in the handbook by Lew McCoy for a 1 tube oscillator/transmitter. Believe it or not, I still have it and have use it on "Straight Key Night" every New Years!
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by AC7CW on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I'm sure that my early efforts at building radios were laughable to an expert but I didn't know that. I enjoyed it all. Some of them even worked...
 
Let's Build Something!  
by KI7AAR on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I'm all for home brewing of many different things. My problem which is likely shared by many is an demanding job and a lot of travel. There just isn't time for all the projects that I would like to build. I often end up buying commercial products just because I know it will take years to find the time to build some of the things that I "need" in the shack. Right now I've limited my ham construction projects to antennas, baluns and just getting the shack configured right.

To be fair, I also build and fly RC aircraft and this can be time consuming as well. Then there's fly fishing, river rafting, mountain biking and my sports car that runs a year on a tank of gas. So many things to do and so little time...

I'd love to see more construction articles though. It's great encouragement and hopefully health will allow me to spend more time building in my golden years that aren't so far away.
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by ZS5WC on November 16, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Amen Brother!..
Great Article--real ham radio at it's best!..
I became a ham in 2000. In 2001 I designed and built a 40m home brew transceiver.
First time I checked into a net with it, all the PCB's were lying on a desk with long interconnecting wires.
I was heard and I got good reports!..Better feeling than that is hard to get.
Some areas of it has improved / morphed over the years-and it is actually still working!.
I am told however that is sounds better than my $3000 rig-not sure If I am happy about that..

73 de William
ZS4L / ZS5WC
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by G4AON on November 17, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
It's hard to explain to the "non building" majority of hams I work on the air, just how much more satisfying it is to use your scratch built gear.

It has never been easier to build gear, thanks in the main to the internet and particularly eBay. Parts are very cheap and plentiful, especially if you go the surface mount route. Printed circuit boards are easy and cheap to make using heat transfer paper and a laser printer, followed by etching in the usual manner.

The old problem of crystals, tuning dials and stable VFOs has been largely overcome with low cost synthesizer kits, those using the Si570 device are particularly good and have a low parts count too.

Some of us even post details of our projects on the web for others to copy!

73 Dave, http://www.qsl.net/g4aon/
 
Let's Build Something!  
by KE4ZHN on November 17, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Great article. I enjoy tinkering now and then with amplifiers or fixing rigs if I can. Whats really sad is, we have extra class hams that can't even build a simple dipole. they go out and buy a pre-made one for $250 because they can't solder a couple of wires together.
 
Let's Build Something!  
by K3STX on November 17, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
The most fun I have had in Ham radio since I started in 1978 was my recent decision to scrounge up parts and built little 2 tube transmitters, receivers, and power supplies. The parts are readily available, simple plans from QST's from the 1950s are everywhere, and it sure makes each QSO that much more fun using something you built from scratch with your own plans.

paul
 
Let's Build Something!  
by AF7EC on November 17, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Edward, thank you so much for your article!

As an amateur radio operator with very little in the budget for radio equipment, I have taken a real interest in homebrewing. I have scavaged parts from non-functional TVs, stereos and more so that I have a bigger parts collection. It is true that the surplus electronics stores are nearly non-existent compared to the past, so we have to scavenge where we can.

I look forward to the day when 3D printing gets to the point where we can print our own components. As far-fetched as that might sound, some are experimenting with a new kind of non-semiconductor technology that mimics vacuum tubes / valves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDllfr4udlU Just think, printing components we need for our radio project instead of hunting down parts on eBay, Mouser, etc.

The homebrew days of old are nearly gone, but I don't think they'll ever die completely. Instead, I think things will shift to high-tech and ingenious designs that are fun and exciting. :-D

God bless and 73!

Will B
AF7EC
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by K6CRC on November 17, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Great article!
A good start could be a simple EndFed wire antenna.
http://www.earchi.org/proj_homebrew.html
In one project, you cut/drill a bit, wind a toroid, solder, and test. You can use cheap electrical wire, an outdoor outlet box, and some stainless steel nuts and bolts. You can even by the kit, which makes much more sense for someone starting out.
It will not let you work the world on one watt, but it is a useful portable antenna for field day of for restricted living areas. Plus, it is a good way to understand the dynamics of ham antennas.
If you have programming skills and are familiar with embedded software, the world opens up significantly. Cheap processor boards and free software tools are there.
If you like to make things, subscribe to Popular Mechanic magazine. Very cheap, like all magazines, they are almost giving them away to keep reader numbers up. That is the only way they can attract advertisers.
 
Homebrewing --- Redux  
by VE3CUI on November 17, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I am so very, VERY pleased & touched by the fact that this meagre posting of mine has evoked the many positive comments & platitudes from my Amateur radio peers around the globe that it has…!

It all suggests --- to ME, at any rate --- that the noble old tradition of Hams is far, far from dead --- specifically, our age-old labelling as being a close-knit brotherhood comprised of "…tinkerers, and experimenters."

It makes me so very proud to be involved in this hobby --- and I hope that a few of the tidbits that I've accrued from my 45 years of experience, & tried to pass-on here, might inspire even just ONE reader to "give it a go," and experience the very same elation & satisfaction that one can only get whenever you first fire-up a homebrewed creation --- and exclaim aloud for all the world to hear, "EUREKA…! It WORKS…!!!"

Good luck to one & all --- you are NOT, obviously, alone in your joy...
 
Let's Build Something!  
by AA4LR on November 17, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
While the halcyon days of the local parts emporium may be gone, there are lots of different outlets for parts that deliver very quickly -- especially compared to the "halcyon" days where a parts order might take six to twelve weeks!

I tend to order my parts from mouser.com or digikey.com or sometimes ordering on Amazon.com. (You'd be surprised at the variety of electronic parts available there) There are lots of internet outlets that may have the parts you need.

And, yes, it is a different world than when I got started in the early 1970s, where we often took defunct electronic equipment and stripped it down to bare parts.

And while I agree (and too often learned the hard way) that building a quality piece of equipment requires a lot of planning, that shouldn't discourage the new builder from building something simple that doesn't require hours of arduous analysis with pencil and paper to squeeze into an enclosure.

Half the fun of building for me is to just figure out what works. I've had a number of projects that didn't quite work out the way I planned, but they were disassembled and became the fodder for other successful projects.

Some circuits never leave the workbench. Others live on in nice packages. There's no sense in architecting a fancy enclosure for a circuit that isn't gonna work anyway....
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by W1RKW on November 17, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
I built an 813 AM transmitter. Started that in the late 1990s and finished it back in 2010. Took my time with a mothball or 2 thrown in.

Now, I'm in the middle of a 4x 813 linear amp project. Started it last year. Just do a little bit of it when I have time. There's no rush.

Next AM project is to adapt a modified Retro 75 to a 4-250.

Homebrewing is alive and well.
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by VK5GI on November 17, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Yep. Home brewing IS alive and well. Ok, you can't go into the neighbourhood store for components, but e-Bay is a wondourous thing! Apart from kits, which do help keep h/b alive and well, modules from China are a god-send for the experimenter, ebay and other sites have replaced the real stores. All my gear is h/b apart from a venerable Icom IC-701. Don't know how long I can keep going, tho' as my eyesight sure isn't what it used to be.
 
Let's Build Something!  
by K5UJ on November 18, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
It pays to spend a long long time on layout and allow plenty of time for the project to simmer. Don't just place the parts on the chassis, mark spots and start drilling or punching.

Go to hamfests and start buying up old QSTs and handbooks from before around 1955. Old articles in QST by Lew McCoy, Bob Denniston, and others on basic building and parts layout. Heavy parts go to the front near the panel. And so on. A small drill press is a wonderful thing to have especially if it can be slowed down to 200 rpm or less. Now you can make panel holes with hole saws.

Time spend acquiring tools like a variety of punches pays off. I have found punches at hamfests. There are shop textbooks that are available that can teach basic sheet metal work. Old handbooks like the Jones Radio west coast handbook that eventually became Bill Orr have chapters on shop tools and methods.

Study other nice looking homebrew jobs and learn. Observe placement and ask questions if the builder is there. A lot of nice homebrew is what's NOT visible like goofs.

In the old days shop class was a part of school. I don't know if it still is or not.
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by W8QZ on November 18, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
While building stuff can be very satisfying and educational - my problem is (if it's very complicated) I frequently can't get the blasted thing to work! Case in point - I did the 'poor man's SDR' (using the DVB-T USB dongle) that was in QST a couple years ago. Got mine to work, eventually.
A friend tried the same thing - could not get his to operate. There's so many possible computer issues that can arise (USB drivers, DLL versions, software incompatibility etc., ad nauseum)
Maybe it'd be better to try the 'hollow state' kind of projects? No software required!
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by N4KC on November 18, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Building, whether from scratch, from printed plans and instructions, or kits, is a wonderful and fulfilling aspect of our hobby. Thanks, VE3CUI, for reminding us. But it is only one potential area of exploration and there may be absolutely no interest in that sort of thing for many of us. And that is fine, too! To each his own and one of the wonderful things about our hobby is that there is something for most of us and we don't necessarily have to love what gets someone else excited.

For those who decry the lack of construction articles being published in print and online, look only to the QST archives where every project ever offered in the history of the League is there for the taking (and printing, enlarging, etc.), and absolutely free if you are an ARRL member.

One or two kit-makers goes belly up? No problem! There are plenty more, enough so you could build one a week for years and not run out. Google--that search engine thingy at www.google.com--can show you more kits than you could ever hope to build and use.

And okay, Radio Shack is a mere shadow of its former self and there are few (if any) of the traditional neighborhood parts stores left. But if you really want to find components, they are easily located and cheaply bought using that newfangled "internet."

Seems if you guys who claim nobody builds stuff anymore would get off this web site and build something, there would be a homebrew boom!

73,

Don N4KC
www.donkeith.com www.n4kc.com

 
Let's Build Something!  
by N3EVL on November 18, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article! I agree that building your own equipment is a facet of the hobby that is fun and rewarding.

Some things I have noticed since I got into homebrewing:

1. There are some great elmers out there who are more than willing to help you with your project. I recently got involved in building an HF 1KW Solid State amp and working with a group of local hams involved in the same project (we're each building one) is a great way to go. The designers of this amp have also been very helpful and are willing to answer all sorts of questions.
2. Even if you don't have someone in your neighborhood to help, the internet is a great resource - something that wasn't an option in the past. Sharing progress with your elmers or fellow builders - especially photos - can be a great time saver and get you past that sticking point.
3. Don't be afraid to jump into some Surface Mount construction - maybe not ideal for your first soldering experience but not as difficult as you might think. I use a pair of magnifying eye glasses such as can be obtained at the local supermarket. I recall mine are perhaps 2.5x these make all the difference when working with small items. A fine tipped iron helps too.
4. There are still kits available e.g. for making your own test equipment - so these are a good start since they generally come with the parts and instructions etc.

Pete, N3EVL
 
Let's Build Something!  
by K3UIM on November 18, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Terrific! I started doing radio repair in about 1947. When I hit 17 the army recruiter convinced mom that after mandatory Basic Training I would be assigned to a permanent posting somewhere. Then I could apply for any schooling I'd want. Radio Repair, in my case. So, she signed papers allowing me to enter the service.
What he neglected to mention was, "if and when there was an opening." (Consequently, I drove an M19 tank.)
Your comment took me back to my home-brewing days in ham radio from 1962 through 1998. Those were the days of TV scrounging, a GDO, 10 pounds each of resistors, "condensers", tube sockets, lots of different sizes of enameled wire, a good soldering iron, a pile of 73, CQ, Ham Radio Magazines, several Radio Supply catalogues, and lots of patience. Dawgies!! I loved those days! There never seemed to be enough hours in the day, what with having to go to work, obey the wife's housekeeping demands, etc. LOL
Thank you for letting me relive the 60's, 70's and 80's again for a few minutes!
Charlie
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by VE6ND on November 19, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Problem is there are no tubes out there any more and most projects are solid state. While it is nice to see the days of yore it is not practical to build these kits.
Personally, my kits have either been homebrew or from articles and replacing the old data with new.

Glenn, VE6ND
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by W6EM on November 19, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
By no means am I a home brew champion. But, I still tinker from time to time. One source that has not been mentioned so far is Far Circuits. www.Farcircuits.net
Fred has many PC boards and some kits for sale. The boards are from projects from the ARRL Handbook, QST, QEX, CQ, 73 and Ham Radio magazines. Almost all use through-hole components. His prices are reasonable and his catalog extensive.

I’m not a fan of SMT, and often look for ways to make “ugly” or even PCB kluge projects using through-hole parts. Recently, I came across a line of in-line “surfboard” adaptors that are straight-line boards to which one can mount SMT devices which then will have pins on the bottom for inserting into a perf board. While they sound useful for some projects, the lead lengths look a tad long for RF applications.

There are some eBay sellers who sell various mini-boards with pads for SMT devices and small holes for inserting wires to in effect create through-hole, leaded components out of SMT ones. My interest was piqued in that leaded dual-gate MOSFETs are almost impossible to find anymore and their prices very high. Using one of those pads to attach an SMT device and then add leads will solve the problem for me at least.

Happy experimenting to all.

73

Lee
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by K6CRC on November 21, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
'By no means am I a home brew champion. But, I still tinker from time to time. One source that has not been mentioned so far is Far Circuits. www.Farcircuits.net '

I am sure FAR is a friend of the hobby, but beware. The boards I have bought through them were cheap. Traces peel up easily, material was really marginal.
If you are just starting out, buy two for a project. In my case, the first board didn't survive a very careful unsoldering and replacement of a component.
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by AA4PB on November 23, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Note that component mounting holes in FAR Circuit's boards are NOT plated through. If there are circuit runs to a component on both sides of the board then you must solder the component on both sides of the board.
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by K8AI on November 29, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
W3TTT hit the nail on the head. The availability of a huge assortment of cheap parts out of China via Ebay has made these days, as Don, W6JL has said, "the golden age of ham radio homebrewing."
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by K3UIM on December 4, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Speaking of "parts" from China, I'm going to be starting from scratch after almost 20 years away from the smoking soldering pencil and consequentially have practically nothing in a junk box to be building. Does anyone know of a VFO kit I'll be able to use on a 40 Meter QRP Pixie if and when I get it assembled? Things certainly have changed in the last 21 years!! LOL
Charlie
Yes, I do almost cry remembering the home-brewing equipment I had back then and gave away. sigh
 
RE: Let's Build Something!  
by K8AI on December 8, 2016 Mail this to a friend!
Charlie, Chris, ZL1CVD has a nice controller for those ebay DDS modules that works great. He was selling the unpopulated boards and programmed uC's on ebay. Much cheaper than the others out there.

https://sites.google.com/site/zl1cvd/dds-v8
 
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