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Author Topic: QRP and can't solder...  (Read 7397 times)
KF7GTU
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Posts: 36




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« on: January 13, 2012, 08:29:01 AM »

Hi folks... Smiley

Well, I have a pretty kettle of fish here. Hahahaha... I have a difficult time holding my hands steady. Yes, I am fairly young, and no, I have not done anything to encourage this either by what I have smoked (which is nothing) or drank (which is usually just ice water). Smiley

Regardless, I am interested in QRP operation. Specifically, I am very interested in portable DX type operation. Up to this point I have yet to acquire my General license but will be doing so in the next VE sessions locally. I want to have a QRP setup that includes at least 2 bands (maybe 40m and 10m?) and I hope for 2 modes, CW/SSB or maybe CW/AM? To this point, I know 3-5 words per minute CW (and yes, those are short words!). I am sure my CW will improve with time and experience, but I would still enjoy having some phone capability.

It would be very important for me to throw everything into a small sling pack or similar bag (grocery sack size) and just go play with it, from the kitchen table to a coastal hill top. I shoot photographs and would love to fit everything in the same bag if possible.

Low power, DXing, low cost, portability are all important to me. I find a few kits out there to put together yourself meeting some of these desires. Sadly, I can only solder in a dire pinch, at least a joint or two if there is enough room, but I just can't keep steady enough to keep from destroying things. I would like to know if anyone has any ideas for equipment. I know that low cost is a relative term, but I would be very happy to find something under $500, as would the YL. Smiley

I don't need a lot of power or fancy features. Just a dial or two, some switches for control and the ability to talk mainly phone at first as I build my CW.

Take care, have a great day...

Jason
Bandon, Oregon
KF7GTU
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KB2FCV
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« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2012, 09:22:59 AM »

Hi Jason,
It's nice to see that you are interested in QRP operation. I wasn't completely sure if you wanted to put a kit together or not.

Off hand I don't know of any small / less expensive kits that offer both 40m and 10m and phone/cw. Two larger kits I know of that do are more expensive are the Elecraft K2 and KX3 (not out yet but they are taking orders), but those are out of the range you want to spend. The KX3 does not require soldering also, it's more of an assembly process of plugging boards together, screwing stuff together, putting knobs on, etc. Direct from elecraft they both fall outside the price range.

There are some kits that get you somewhat close to what you are looking for. Elecraft has the KX1 or the K1 that are CW only, but are entirely self-contained (antenna tuner, battery, etc). They both can be had with two or four bands for right at or below the $500 price. I just finished a KX1 a few weeks ago. If you'd like to try building something smaller to begin with, try out a Rockmite. It's a self-contained single-band single-frequency CW rig and it costs about 30 bucks. You're starting out smaller, but you can try out kit building to see if you're ready to tackle something bigger.

Finding kits that do both CW and SSB are a bit harder but they are out there. The one I know of that would fall down in your price range is all surface mount (http://www.sdr-cube.com/).

If you don't really want to build a kit, there is always ebay / classifieds. You might be able to pick up a K2 at a good price. It's a little heavier than some of the smaller stuff but you can most likely find one with the SSB module and they already do 80-10m. My friend sold one a few months ago that was fully loaded for about $600 so you might be able to find a good deal out there. Again, it's a little bulkier but it would probably fit in a backpack.
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KF7GTU
Member

Posts: 36




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« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2012, 03:11:19 PM »

Hi Jason,
It's nice to see that you are interested in QRP operation. I wasn't completely sure if you wanted to put a kit together or not.

Off hand I don't know of any small / less expensive kits that offer both 40m and 10m and phone/cw. Two larger kits I know of that do are more expensive are the Elecraft K2 and KX3 (not out yet but they are taking orders), but those are out of the range you want to spend. The KX3 does not require soldering also, it's more of an assembly process of plugging boards together, screwing stuff together, putting knobs on, etc. Direct from elecraft they both fall outside the price range.

There are some kits that get you somewhat close to what you are looking for. Elecraft has the KX1 or the K1 that are CW only, but are entirely self-contained (antenna tuner, battery, etc). They both can be had with two or four bands for right at or below the $500 price. I just finished a KX1 a few weeks ago. If you'd like to try building something smaller to begin with, try out a Rockmite. It's a self-contained single-band single-frequency CW rig and it costs about 30 bucks. You're starting out smaller, but you can try out kit building to see if you're ready to tackle something bigger.

Finding kits that do both CW and SSB are a bit harder but they are out there. The one I know of that would fall down in your price range is all surface mount (http://www.sdr-cube.com/).

If you don't really want to build a kit, there is always ebay / classifieds. You might be able to pick up a K2 at a good price. It's a little heavier than some of the smaller stuff but you can most likely find one with the SSB module and they already do 80-10m. My friend sold one a few months ago that was fully loaded for about $600 so you might be able to find a good deal out there. Again, it's a little bulkier but it would probably fit in a backpack.

Excellent advice... Thanks! Yes, I'd LIKE to do the solder together kit, but fear that my hands will just make the whole experience both too stressful and a financial disaster. I have a hard time keeping my hands steady enough to work with about a half inch of clearance between components.

I did find the KX1 and that might be the way to go. If it can be assembled without the necessity of soldering, then I might just save up my money for that unit. I know the Elecraft name is well known and I have seen some YouTube videos about the KX1. I am pretty excited about it, now just to talk the YL into it! Smiley

Thanks again...

Jason
Bandon, Oregon
KF7GTU
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N9AOP
Member

Posts: 152




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« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2012, 05:02:07 PM »

Jason,
You have a couple of options.  TenTec distributes YOU-KITS in the USA.  They offer a 4 band qrp rig for $300.  Also, Elecraft has a list of builders that will put one of their kits together for you.  I don't know the price for that service so you will have to check out their web site.  There is a plus and minus to both options.  TenTec warrantees the YOU-KIT 4 bander for a year but if you have issues, they just replace the unit.  I don't know if they will service the product after a year since they didn't build it but I do know that Elecraft will service any of their products or the builders on their list will also do this.
Hope this helps.
Art, N9AOP
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W5FYI
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Posts: 1046




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« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2012, 06:13:46 PM »

Sorry to hear about your shaking; have you looked into vitamins or supplements for help? I recently discovered that as I age, I'm not getting enough vitamin B12 in my diet. B12 helps the body to produce melatonin, which helps relieve nervousness. I would think, too, that if you can hold a camera steady, you could do the same with a soldering iron--with a little practice.

Be that as it may, a couple of kits you may want to look at are the Juma (http://www.nikkemedia.fi/juma-trx2/) and the MMR40 (http://www.qrpkits.com/mmr40.html), and I think either company can help put you in touch with a builder who can assemble them for you. The MMR40 has the builder's manual posted online, so you can gauge for yourself if it is beyond your capabilities. Otherwise, have someone build you an Elecraft or look for one of the Yaesu, Icom or Kenwood field-friendly rigs.

Good luck with the upgrade.
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KF7GTU
Member

Posts: 36




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« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2012, 12:05:40 AM »

Sorry to hear about your shaking; have you looked into vitamins or supplements for help? I recently discovered that as I age, I'm not getting enough vitamin B12 in my diet. B12 helps the body to produce melatonin, which helps relieve nervousness. I would think, too, that if you can hold a camera steady, you could do the same with a soldering iron--with a little practice.

Be that as it may, a couple of kits you may want to look at are the Juma (http://www.nikkemedia.fi/juma-trx2/) and the MMR40 (http://www.qrpkits.com/mmr40.html), and I think either company can help put you in touch with a builder who can assemble them for you. The MMR40 has the builder's manual posted online, so you can gauge for yourself if it is beyond your capabilities. Otherwise, have someone build you an Elecraft or look for one of the Yaesu, Icom or Kenwood field-friendly rigs.

Good luck with the upgrade.

Hi!

Yes, it has only been the last couple of camera purchases that have really allowed me to shoot in nearly any condition. In the past, I have had trouble with indoor shooting or low light situations. With higher ISO settings, in camera stabilization, etc., I can now shoot in a wider variety of opportunities. Sadly, I still have the occasional blurred image at 100% size. However, since I shoot mainly fine art landscapes, I am mainly outside in fair weather. Plus, a tripod and timed shutter release (or remote release) are a God-send for people like me.

Thank you for the ideas on the kits. I hadn't have considered the kit companies having the ability to provide an assembler for me. I'll definitely look into that!

Jason
Bandon, Oregon
KF7GTU

P.S.-- I don't FEEL nervous, but will look into the B-12 suggestion, I have not tried to address it with any actual specific supplements.
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AC5UP
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Posts: 3928




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« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2012, 03:40:26 PM »

What we call "Vitamin B" is actually a group of similar nutrients. You can buy specific varieties of B if you know exactly what you want, or you can get the B Complex super mix with all the popular varieties. Think of that as the shotgun approach to make sure you get at least one flavor that can do you some good. I've found that B will improve my energy level and helps me stay positive in my outlook... Whenever I get a little too moody a capsule of B usually straightens me out in an hour or two and I always buy the B Complex combo version.

B will also turn your urine a bright yellow so don't freak when that happens. Think of it as an indication the pill is working...........  Wink
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Never change a password on a Friday                
KQ6Q
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Posts: 991




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« Reply #7 on: January 17, 2012, 10:27:56 AM »

An Icom 703 will get you all HF bands, phone and CW, for a bit more than a 2-4 band CW kit, and the antenna tuner is built in. You will need some decent antennas - for 40 and up, you can make a dipole out of tape measures - rig up the center connection, reel out each side to 234/Fmhz - in Oregon, you should have no shortage of trees to hang antennas from!
CW will get you a lot more contacts than phone for a given power level and antenna.
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KE9PP
Member

Posts: 11




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« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2012, 12:06:28 PM »

I can offer you an alternative suggestion that has not been in the prior replies.  The MFJ 9410 and 9440 with the optional CW adapters.  I picked my two (9440 and 9420) up used from a "Flea-bay" seller for around $175 each and continue to be amazed by the great performance.  They are both SSB/CW QRP radios and you can probably obtain the two of them (9440 and 9410) for far less than the $500 you mentioned.  Please look them up in the reviews here on eham.net.  My review of the 9420 is the one where I worked Southern Asiatic Russia near Kazakhstan and Mongolia one evening on SSB with only 5 watts.  They are  small, fun to use and, if you replace the incandescent lamp with an LED, can run off of SLA battery power for hours upon hours at a time.  BTW, the antenna here is only a 1/2 size G5RV a 15' high.
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KJ6HZ
Member

Posts: 16




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« Reply #9 on: January 17, 2012, 10:00:35 PM »

My advice would be to look for a used Yaesu FT-817 in the $350-400 price range.  That will work all modes and bands up to 440 MHz (except 60m & 220 MHz).  You would have enough money left for a tuner, CW paddle and homebrew wire antennas.  You can even do digital modes while you are working on your CW skills.  Current draw is a bit high for long portable trips but still not bad for such a capable little rig.  See all the YouTube videos of guys going portable with them.

The extra power (20W) of the discontinued SGC2020 may make it a good used candidate as well.  I am always leery of recomending a new HF ham start out with QRP if they don't know CW well.  This may be the wrong forum to say it, but QRP SSB combined with typical beginner mistakes or tiny antennas can lead to a poor first HF experience for some folks.

If you would like to try a kit, the Small Wonder Series of monoband CW transceivers are great little rigs for around $25 each. They are very portable and low current and use through hole parts for ease of soldering.  I doubt you could screw it up beyond repair, but if you did, the cost would be low.  Accessories are also good candidates for a first kit.  Maybe the Elecraft tuner?

Lastly, get a mentor or join a local club if possible.  A little help from an old timer, maybe at their station, can really help you get off to a good start.

Good luck and 73,
John KJ6HZ
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KF7GTU
Member

Posts: 36




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« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2012, 08:17:25 AM »

What we call "Vitamin B" is actually a group of similar nutrients. You can buy specific varieties of B if you know exactly what you want, or you can get the B Complex super mix with all the popular varieties. Think of that as the shotgun approach to make sure you get at least one flavor that can do you some good. I've found that B will improve my energy level and helps me stay positive in my outlook... Whenever I get a little too moody a capsule of B usually straightens me out in an hour or two and I always buy the B Complex combo version.

B will also turn your urine a bright yellow so don't freak when that happens. Think of it as an indication the pill is working...........  Wink

Thanks! I'll take a look and I really thank you for the tip off on the color change. Smiley
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KF7GTU
Member

Posts: 36




Ignore
« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2012, 08:19:23 AM »

An Icom 703 will get you all HF bands, phone and CW, for a bit more than a 2-4 band CW kit, and the antenna tuner is built in. You will need some decent antennas - for 40 and up, you can make a dipole out of tape measures - rig up the center connection, reel out each side to 234/Fmhz - in Oregon, you should have no shortage of trees to hang antennas from!
CW will get you a lot more contacts than phone for a given power level and antenna.

Boy, I really like the look of that rig and wish I could find one used! Too bad they don't make them any longer...
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KF7GTU
Member

Posts: 36




Ignore
« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2012, 08:20:25 AM »

I can offer you an alternative suggestion that has not been in the prior replies.  The MFJ 9410 and 9440 with the optional CW adapters.  I picked my two (9440 and 9420) up used from a "Flea-bay" seller for around $175 each and continue to be amazed by the great performance.  They are both SSB/CW QRP radios and you can probably obtain the two of them (9440 and 9410) for far less than the $500 you mentioned.  Please look them up in the reviews here on eham.net.  My review of the 9420 is the one where I worked Southern Asiatic Russia near Kazakhstan and Mongolia one evening on SSB with only 5 watts.  They are  small, fun to use and, if you replace the incandescent lamp with an LED, can run off of SLA battery power for hours upon hours at a time.  BTW, the antenna here is only a 1/2 size G5RV a 15' high.

And, I responded to your direct email on this, thank you again. EXCELLENT information... Cheesy

Jason
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KF7GTU
Member

Posts: 36




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« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2012, 08:22:13 AM »

My advice would be to look for a used Yaesu FT-817 in the $350-400 price range.  That will work all modes and bands up to 440 MHz (except 60m & 220 MHz).  You would have enough money left for a tuner, CW paddle and homebrew wire antennas.  You can even do digital modes while you are working on your CW skills.  Current draw is a bit high for long portable trips but still not bad for such a capable little rig.  See all the YouTube videos of guys going portable with them.

The extra power (20W) of the discontinued SGC2020 may make it a good used candidate as well.  I am always leery of recomending a new HF ham start out with QRP if they don't know CW well.  This may be the wrong forum to say it, but QRP SSB combined with typical beginner mistakes or tiny antennas can lead to a poor first HF experience for some folks.

If you would like to try a kit, the Small Wonder Series of monoband CW transceivers are great little rigs for around $25 each. They are very portable and low current and use through hole parts for ease of soldering.  I doubt you could screw it up beyond repair, but if you did, the cost would be low.  Accessories are also good candidates for a first kit.  Maybe the Elecraft tuner?

Lastly, get a mentor or join a local club if possible.  A little help from an old timer, maybe at their station, can really help you get off to a good start.

Good luck and 73,
John KJ6HZ


Thank you John, I have been looking into this and I appreciate the tips. I hope to hear you on out there some time, I have been working on my Code Quick. Smiley

Jason
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W8IJN
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Posts: 3


WWW

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« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2012, 10:35:03 AM »

Jason,

I've been fighting with shaky mitts for about ten or so years now. Took all the fun out of fixin' stuff, let alone building stuff. So far I've managed exactly one successful SMD solder job and consider that one to be my last. Thru-hole boards &c I'm still pretty good at, but I use a board frame/vise doodad & sometimes have to use both hands on the iron to keep it pointed the right way.

Toroids are a whole other story. It takes me plenty time to weave & thread my way through a toroid and I've pretty much resigned myself to working on nothing under T-44 size.

Simple fact of life, so the medicos tell me. Essential tremor. If it's so damn essential why doesn't everyone have it, right?

Other than SMD & tiny parts, I blunder on ahead all the same. Magnifying glass, jeweler's loupe (yeah, eyesight is on the list of dwindling cognitive resources), two hands on the iron & very big handles on very precise tools. It's all the more pleasurable to know that whatever I do manage to build, once it's up and running, proves that I'm still a tool user, even if the tools and the digits don't get along so well.

Somebody once recommended I find something else to do. Yeah, right. I have my father's hand-set type print shop in the garage, I like building boxes & bookcases & bits & pieces of tortured lumber for my office/shack/whatever. And I got into radio 'cause I could do it myself. Don't see a need to try anything else, being as how I have enough already. I just don't give up. I'll stop building -- or trying to build -- when the family has to run intervention to remove the soldering iron from my tremulous paws.

Until that point, I'll be glad for what I get and have fun with what I have. And send really slow CW.

73

Nils R. B. Young
W8IJN
 . . . by the way, I have a FT817ND. It was a gift from my son, thus a keeper. The buttons are tiny & close together & the display is a bit undersize for my peepers. Even a IC703 would be a tight fit (based on my experience with my IC706). There's something to be said for lots of tiny boards in a big box with space between the buttons, knobs, switches & lights. If I get really tempermental, I turn down the power on my IC713 (which I think is a perfectly marvelous HF rig, especially for blunderbuss fumblers like myself).
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