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Author Topic: Several Newbie Questions  (Read 4255 times)

Posts: 2

« on: March 14, 2008, 09:41:48 AM »

I have been a Tech for 5 years.  I am interested in getting into QRP, but I do not have a very large budget. I am currently studying for my Genreal and in the process of learning morse using the G4FON Koch Trainer software. I'd like to take advantage of the CW bands open to Techs.

Here is my situation and my questions ...

Home QTH is in FM19cc, in a low spot and screened to the west by the Blue Ridge Mountains, approximately 4 miles west and 1,200' higher in elevation than the house. The house is only one level, so an attic antenna is only going to be about 20-feet off the ground.

I do have the option of lobbing a long-wire into some rather high trees behind the house.  Unfortunately, the back yard is 10 to 15 feet lower than the front yard; so it would take a 20-25 foot tower just to equal the height of the chimney. But there is a tree about 80-100 feet behind the house with limbs that are about 50-feet above my roof line.

I would be operating not only at home, but also while traveling. Travel for me entails everything from wilderness backpacking to worldwide business travel, and everything in between.

QUESTION 1 - Band:

15m or 40m?

My first radio will be single band.  I was leaning toward 40m due to its popularity (more apt to make contact) but on 15m, I don't need as long an antenna and, more importantly, it doesn't have to be as high off the ground.

Comments, suggestions and recommendations please.

QUESTION 2 - Radio:

I'm leaning toward the OHR 100A with the optional keyer.  An Elecraft K-1 with ATU would be a nice project for the future, but I don't want to spend that much money for my first radio; plus I'd rather warm up my rusty kit-building skills on a less expensiver radio. (I have a little kit-building experience, but have not built anything in 20 years. I also worked on radios and TVs in high school and college, but that was 30 years ago.)  I've ordered a $40 Ramsey receiver to hone my soldering skills.

Any and all suggestions are welcome ... particularly if you have personal experience building the radio you are recommending.


Straight key or paddle?

I'm leaning toward a single-lever paddle. I would think a straight key would ingrain the code better from the standpoint of learning to send, but the paddle would be more practical for backpacking, mobile, travel use, etc.

Any comments on what to start with? (Remember also to think budget!) Any comments on the mini-paddles such as those offered by BullDog, Whiterook or others?

QUESTION 4 - Antenna

The first antenna will undoubtedly be a straightwire.  After that ... does anyone have any recommendations for their favorite portable antenna and/or vertical?

Thanks in advance for any and all feedback.


Posts: 14455

« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2008, 05:43:51 PM »

QUESTION 1 - Band:
40M is open to somewhere most of the time, especially on CW. 15M is a good daytime DX band when the suspots improve. Right now I'd say 40M. I've had some pretty good luck with shortened 40M antennas (sometimes only 15 foot high) and 5W on CW.

For wire antennas, think "dipole". Verticals and end-fed wires require a good counterpoise if you want to keep the feed line from radiating. Unless you have the counterpoise, you are much better off with a simple center-fed dipole (balun preferred but usually not required).

QUESTION 2 - Radio:
Have you looked at the Wilderness Sierra? With plug in band modules you can have single band now and add more later. No personal experience with it as I've had Elecraft in recent years.

With a good built-in keyer you are probably better off with a small paddle. Just avoid sending faster than you can copy. Your sending will not be good unless you can copy what you are sending.

Bob  AA4PB
Garrisonville, VA

Posts: 1421


« Reply #2 on: March 15, 2008, 05:45:19 AM »

First, a simple antenna:  A 40 m dipole will also make a nice 15 m antenna.  Higher is better.

I have several rigs that will operate at QRP levels. All have reasonable transmitters.  What distinguishes one from the other is receiver performance.  Get the best receiver you can afford!  I recommend that you stay away from a direct-conversion receiver for a first rig.  The OHR100A is a superhet and offers good performance for the money.  Another good kit in the same price range is the TenTec 1340.

Which band?  If your stuck on a single band, 40 m is probably the better choice until we get some more progress through this solar cycle.

Posts: 550


« Reply #3 on: March 15, 2008, 11:40:51 AM »

QUESTION 1 - Band:

I agree with the others that 40m is a better
choice. At this point in the sunspot cycle,
it's not unusual for me to tune across the 15m CW
subband and here nothing. Just starting out, you
need to make alot of contacts to get practice, as
well as have fun. 40m is a much better choice.

If your backpacking trips are like mine, you
mostly will operate in the evening, after making
camp, having supper, cleaning dishes, etc. 40m
will still be open at that time. It's hard to
beat 40m for backpacking. 30m is probably my
second choice for that application.

QUESTION 2 - Radio:

>  I've ordered a $40 Ramsey receiver to hone
> my soldering skills.


For honing your soldering skills the Ramsey kit
will be "okay". But it's a terrible receiver.

I wish you had ordered a Ten-Tec TKIT 1056 DC
receiver instead. For about the same money, it's
a 'real' receiver with excellent performance.

The transceiver you're considering has an
excellent reputation (though I don't have
personal experience building it). I would
categorize the OHR 100A as a good "second
QRP transceiver kit". It has a high component
count, with RIT, it's alignment could be
tricky. It's receive current consumption,
80 mA, is a little bit high for backpacking,
though not too bad.

If it were me, I would try a bit simpler
transceiver kit at first. There are less
complicated, lighter weight choices available
that draw substantially less current when
receiving, and that might be a better fit
both as your first transceiver and your
backpacking rig. As funds become available,
and as you gain experience, consider an
OHR 100A later.

A few I would consider to get started with:

Small Wonder Labs SW+ (my first transceiver

Wilderness Radio SST (haven't built this one)

MFJ Cub (I built one of these for 15m)

The MFJ Cub for 40m is also available bundled with
a QRP book from the ARRL.


Normally, I recommend starting with a straight
key. Even the Ameco K-4 works fine for $17.95

A straight key can be hard to use when
backpacking, though others have done it.
I use the Whiterook MK-44 paddles when I
backpack, and like them fine.

QUESTION 4 - Antenna

An end fed wire will require a tuner.

Simple success at first counts for a lot.

I would go with a coax-fed dipole to get
started; both for backpacking and at home.

For your backpacking antenna, the dipole
itself can be made from 26 gauge wire to
reduce weight. I used a 35mm film cannister
for the center insulator of my backpacking
antenna. A plastic pill bottle would work
just as well. I would skip the balun on
the backpacking antenna. For the transmission
line, RG-174 coax is lightweight, though
lossy. Keep the length reasonably short,
maybe 30', to reduce losses and keep the
weight down.

Hope this helps


Posts: 2

« Reply #4 on: March 15, 2008, 04:35:31 PM »

Thanks for all the great advice.  I'll definitely be going with 40m.  Anyone else with comments, keep 'em coming.

To W5ESE: Thanks for the receiver recommendation.  As fate would have it, Ramsey made some type of error in processing my order, so I canceled it with the intention of re-submiting the order once I got cancellation confirmation.  I will now go with the TenTec instead.  I had looked at their site, but somehow missed this one.



Posts: 186

« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2008, 11:29:48 PM »

Good advice from contributors...and your own.

The 40 meter dipole, excellent. and when the "spots" appear you will have 15 meters, a great DX band.

I would prefer a rig having multiple band possibilities. OHR has a great multi-band five-watter cw kit. I've read positive reports here on the e-ham review section. A lot of happy owners. But, I don't think it is considered a beginners project. If you do run into problems, for a fee they can correct construction errors.  If you find you have some extra bucks, there are FT-817 rigs for sale used. Nice rig if you have the eyesight to read the small display. Just don't ask more of it than it is able to deliver. That leads to problems.

Boy, everyone has their own ideas on keys or keyers. I would start with a key, if only to get the "historic" feel of early wirelss operation. Good training too. When I used a keyer it was the Vibroplex single paddle, not iambic. Very neat keyer, looks like a sawed-off Vibroplex bug. They can be found on e-bay, but no sense buying one used if you are only going to save a couple bucks.

I have a couple small MFJ tuners which are portable and handle QRP very well. You never know when you might need a little help matching your wire.

Good luck in your choices and enjoy it all.


Posts: 550


« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2008, 02:36:09 PM »

> I will now go with the TenTec instead. I had
> looked at their site, but somehow missed this
> one.

Very good. You won't regret it.

Just a thought; if you build the 1056 for 80
meters, and a transceiver kit for 40 meters
(for backpacking and travelling), you could
build a transmitter for 80 meters and use it
with the 1056. Then you'd have setups for 2

80 meters is mostly a night time/winter band,
and isn't as dependent on lots of sunspots
as 15 meters is. 80m antennas are a bit big
for backpacking, though.

There are 80m transmitter kits from Vectronics,, and Dan's Small Parts and Kits. And
plans to "roll your own" in books like 'W1FB's
QRP Notebook'.

In fact, I see Dan's has a closeout special
on the 'Cubic Incher' transmitter for 80m
or 40m for $12:

Hope you have fun with these.


Posts: 1

« Reply #7 on: March 19, 2008, 02:58:00 AM »

Hello Scott

yes Ramsey kits are 20 years behind the times
have had parts quality control probs

simple starter kits see
oh the NorCal marker generator kit
or their keyer kit

ive made a few TenTec kits
like them
made the any band DC receiver a few years ago
straightforward and easy to build
not much of a receiver
but fun / usefull radio

the OHR 100 is a good rig
its not a easy kit to build
but if you can solder and follow directions
you should be ok

see ARCI web site
look up links
go to kits you can see what is out there

most of the kits are well designed
there are darnd few clinkers

have build some Small Wonder kits
but don't like the SW xceiver
its ok but ive build better
( read more expensive and harder to build kits )
realy love my Small Wonder DSW
but its not beeing sold anymore

well the way the sunspot cycle is now
and for a new op
i think 40 is the way to go

antennas your good to go
hb tuner to any old wire antenna

please see old handbooks
if you got trees you are on your way

any old hunk of wire in a tree
will work
and you can learn by doing
just please please do not waste you money
on store bought so called qrp antennas
they are a big waste of money

telegraph keys
now this is the hard part
telegraph key one op loves
is the same key another op can not stand

thing is a telegraph key is simply a tool
for sending morse code
so a champ can use any sort of junk
and sound good
but you and I
using a junk/cheap key is a pain
sure you can build a wood boat using junk tools
do you want to
is there a club
do you know any local ham ops
so you can play with their keys

also keys i use in the field / back pack camping
are not the same keys i use at home

i can live with a kick around key in the field
am not about to live with a junk key at home
also my favorite keys are too dam heavy
for back packing

for backpacking i use whiterook paddles
at home for a straight key i use a German mil surplus Junker
and a few bugs along with a Schurr Profi II

you might want to ask the key question
on yahoo user group " brasspounder "

also see there is a listing
of a new cw/morse code BB

yours truly


Posts: 1

« Reply #8 on: March 19, 2008, 03:01:24 AM »

oh ps i have a bulldog key
i can not stand it
hate it

straight key
a good straight key is wonderful
a bad straight key is a pain to use

in the field i never use a straight key
never could find a small key i could stand

but there are lots of nice small paddles
that i have no probs using
when siting on the ground

dit dit

Posts: 550


« Reply #9 on: March 19, 2008, 07:05:49 AM »

Hi Mac,

> ive made a few TenTec kits
> like them
> made the any band DC receiver a few years ago
> straightforward and easy to build
> not much of a receiver
> but fun / usefull radio

It has the limitation that most direct
conversion receivers do (you hear a signal
both sides of zero beat), but otherwise, I
think it's as good as most superhets. The
built-in active filter helps alot, and the
coarse/fine tuning and separate RF gain control
provide flexibility and easy operation in an
inexpensive receiver. Mounted in a good, stiff,
enclosure, I've never had a problem with

> the OHR 100 is a good rig
> its not a easy kit to build
> but if you can solder and follow directions
> you should be ok

That's my impression.

I've built 3 of the Ten-Tec TKIT 1300 series
transceivers. I didn't recommend them because I
think they're comparable in difficulty to the
OHR 100A or Wilderness Radio Norcal 40A. Better
choices for a "second" transceiver kit instead
of a "first" transceiver kit.

Warren might do fine with them, but there's a
big step between a DC receiver and a OHR 100A
or TT 1300 series rig. The other choices I
mentioned also weigh less and draw less



Posts: 104

« Reply #10 on: March 20, 2008, 10:35:26 AM »

Warren---I've built the OHR 100-A, the Ten TEc 1340, and the Wilderness NC 40A---all neat radios.
For ease-of-building, I'd say the OHR 100-A and the Wilderness NC 40A are my choice---with the Ten Tec 1340 not far behind, but more of a challenge on account of its higher parts count and the 'closeness' of the parts.
Be aware that the alignment procedure for the OHR rig is a 'challenge'---as many have reported.  The write-up is poorly done, in my opinion---too much congested text, not enough paragraphs---and generally not 'up to scratch' compared to the others.
The instruction-manual for the NC 40---in terms of layout and clarity beats the others.
I hope that helps.

Posts: 25

« Reply #11 on: March 25, 2008, 12:03:38 PM »

Glad to see you trying different aspects of the hobby. As for Bands, I would go with either 40 or 20. Those are both good QRP bands. As for the radio, have you looked at Small Wonder Labs. Their SW+ is a very nice rig.
I wish you the best and hope to see you on the air.

73 de ka7ple

Posts: 198

« Reply #12 on: March 25, 2008, 06:23:51 PM »

For the price, the SWL SW+ is a killer little radio, a much better deal (I think) than either the OHR or the Ten Tec, and quite usable as well. Match it up with the Pico keyer and almost any paddle and you'll have a nice little setup.

You might want to consider 30 meters, the band has been going way long these days... I've been working Europe quite easily with 5 watts, and you won't have to compete with those pesky rtty, or the noisy Canadian phone guys on 40 meters.

A simple dipole cut to length (no tuner needed) will do the trick. With HF it seems that height over local ground is more important the height over average terrain.

Have fun, hope to c u out there in the ether.

73 m/4

Posts: 203

« Reply #13 on: June 07, 2008, 03:07:57 PM »

Congrats on working towards General and getting on HF!
That's REAL ham radio!

I don't mean to rain on your parade, but if I were you I would put off buying a rig and save my money and buy a used multiband 100 watt rig like the Icom 745 or the Kenwood TS-430, both of which you can get for $350.

Starting on HF on QRP at the bottom of the worst sunspot cycle in decades will be hard work and not rewaarding at first. You will have a LOT more fun and many, many more QSO's with the "big rig". Yes, QRP IS fun and IS rewarding, but requires experience and patience sometimes. I started on HF at the bottom of a sunspot cycle with 100w radio and a 60' long wire 5 feet off the roof top of my apartment building. (So no one could see it). Working DX for me was working another STATE, hihi.

If you insist on QRP then go with the Elecraft K1.
Yes, a multiband rig, but boy, what a receiver! And you will learn a lot building it.

Just my $.02 for what it's worth.
Good luck whatever you decide,
73, Ken AD6KA/5R8GQ
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