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Author Topic: Starting At Amateur Extra  (Read 15894 times)
KB1WSY
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« on: March 05, 2012, 11:21:23 AM »

I recently entered this hobby at General (took Tech and General tests in one sitting). However, am not on the air yet and that won't happen for a few months because I'm building all the equipment myself plus learning Morse code -- the equipment will be CW only, for the time being (and perhaps for ever, if I have enough fun with CW!). I have some questions, and before I perhaps get criticized for failing to do enough research before posting, please note that I *have* tried to become informed on these topics but find the explanations in the ARRL literature etc. a bit confusing.

I am considering jumping straight to Amateur Extra, i.e. taking the Extra exam before actually getting on the air. I have a general familiarity with the difficulty level of that test and am cautiously optimistic that I could pass it on the first try, after some detailed studying/preparation. Questions:

(a) Will this result in an obligatory change of callsign, from a 3-character suffix to a 2-character suffix? This alone seems a good enough reason to jump to Extra before going on the air, to avoid having to change in midstream later, after having all my QLS cards printed and so on.

(2) If I jump to Extra and go on the air, I may have a callsign that identifies me as Extra but I will be behaving like a novice. I have a beginner's level of CW, being at 15wpm (theoretically) but have never tried to copy through heavy QRM and don't yet have a detailed knowledge of the Q-codes and "shorthand" that CW operators use. I will need a fair amount of help and understanding from other operators for the first few weeks. But won't they find that really strange if I am identifiable (from my call) as an "Extra"? Might it even be interpreted as pretentious to enter the hobby as an Extra without "paying my dues" on the air first? Or is this something that happens all the time?

(3) For a *CW* operators, are the exclusive Extra HF band segments really valuable? On at least four of the HF bands the bottom 25 kHz is for Extras only (and is a CW preserve by custom). I'm rather assuming this is fairly priceless spectrum and therefore another reason to vault straight to Extra. Correct?

TNX ES 73 DE Martin
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KG4NEL
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« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2012, 11:44:45 AM »

1) You don't have to change your call sign if you don't want to. I kept the one I had as a Tech. But if you're not a fan of yours now, go for it.

2) Some might, but I wouldn't worry about those people. There are weirdos out there that look down upon you if H.P. Maxim himself didn't sign your license, but by and large the groaning seems to be a lot worse on forums than it is on the air - look at it this way, with the Extra you'll have more bandwidth to avoid them Cheesy

I'm not a CW op yet, so I can't answer your third question directly Smiley From a phone perspective, it has been useful having the bottom sections of the subband.
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N2EY
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« Reply #2 on: March 05, 2012, 12:49:14 PM »

(a) Will this result in an obligatory change of callsign, from a 3-character suffix to a 2-character suffix? This alone seems a good enough reason to jump to Extra before going on the air, to avoid having to change in midstream later, after having all my QLS cards printed and so on.

No. You can have a new sequentially-issued call, or a vanity call, if you ask for it.

(2) If I jump to Extra and go on the air, I may have a callsign that identifies me as Extra but I will be behaving like a novice. I have a beginner's level of CW, being at 15wpm (theoretically) but have never tried to copy through heavy QRM and don't yet have a detailed knowledge of the Q-codes and "shorthand" that CW operators use. I will need a fair amount of help and understanding from other operators for the first few weeks. But won't they find that really strange if I am identifiable (from my call) as an "Extra"? Might it even be interpreted as pretentious to enter the hobby as an Extra without "paying my dues" on the air first? Or is this something that happens all the time?

Since the mid-1970s there have been new hams who started with Extra. No big deal. And there are plenty of hams with many years' experience who are newcomers to various aspects of ham radio.

There is a very easy way to avoid a "Novice Accent", however. Spend some time listening to the bands, and how most amateurs operate, what a normal QSO sounds like, etc. Have a list of common Q signals and abbreviations. Practice off-the-air. It's not all that hard.


(3) For a *CW* operators, are the exclusive Extra HF band segments really valuable? On at least four of the HF bands the bottom 25 kHz is for Extras only (and is a CW preserve by custom). I'm rather assuming this is fairly priceless spectrum and therefore another reason to vault straight to Extra. Correct?

It's valuable in that there's less QRM and it's where the DX hangs out.

But the most important thing is to spend time listening to the actual band(s) and mode(s) you will use.

What are you building?

73 de Jim, N2EY
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KB1WSY
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« Reply #3 on: March 05, 2012, 02:09:46 PM »

Hi Jim,

I have indeed begun listening to actual QSOs but because I am a coupla weeks away from getting the full Morse character set (Koch method) it won't be until then that I manage to copy on-air stuff. The Koch method is a bit strange because even during the learning process you can copy, quite well and quite fast, but only the letters/characters that you have learned so far! The only "cheat" to my "all homebrew" equipment philosophy is that I bought a Ramsey 20m receiver kit that I am built just to listen to actual QSOs. When I get "on the air" it will be with a totally homebrew tube receiver.

Thankyou for your encouragement, yes indeed I anticipate spending quite a long time (several months) being a de-facto "SWL" copying other people's QSOs because the all-tube homebrew project is very time consuming -- and fun. I am building, in this order:

(1) The RS-3 three-tube regenerative superhet from QST (1963). A couple of days ago I rounded up the remaining needed components for this, now I just have to get going with the metalwork, with the first order of business being obtaining access to a drill press. Plus rounding up some test equipment, which is will be mainly from the tube era too (RF signal generator, grid-dip meter, VOM).

(2) I am not very optimistic about the RS-3 being usable for modern-day QSOs, even CW-only QSOs, so I have a parallel project. I purchased a beat-up BC-453 and have rounded up most of the parts for a ham converter (80m/40m/30m). I think you were among those who followed the separate thread I started on this. My initial plan was much more ambitious, but I have now decided to follow the advice kindly given, which is to keep it simple and avoid trying to use this setup on the higher bands (20m and up) because of likely image response problems. I am, however, hoping that the BC-453 and homebrew converter combination will be good enough as a receiver for basic CW QSOs on the lower bands. I also want to use the BC-453 converter as a "test bed" for all sorts of receiver ideas, in a modular fashion. My long term goal is to build a really nice, sophisticated receiver but all-tube.

(3) The "Simple Two-Tube Transmitter" (80m/40m) from "How To Become a Radio Amateur" (ARRL 1968) which has a 10W input so presumably about a 5W output, squarely in the QRP category. This is a book my parents gave me as an 11-year-old in that year, but I never got around to building the TX at the time! It's a 6C4 and 5763 lineup, which was recently revived and republished (in QST I think). For nostalgia's sake I am likely to build this strictly to the original plans and layout with only one change, namely adding the 30m band. I have a couple of dozen CW-segment crystals for the 80m and 40m bands, which I purchased from a kind ham who was disposing of his "old" equipment, but I need to start finding the other parts. (Not very hard, transmitters are a much easier proposition than receivers.)

(4) Add a VFO. This is a bit of a challenge  because of the difficulty of getting adequate stability if you build it all yourself and insist on tubes with no modern solid state synthesis technology. I don't yet have any metalworking equipment and would need to put together a fairly thick, rigid box. There are many pointers to this in the old ARRL pubs that I have.

I am not sure whether I enjoy the "scavenger hunt" aspect of "vintage" homebrew in the 21st Century! It isn't much fun at the moment because it's just a pile of components, although having some of them in their original packaging is kind of neat. The solid state kits I have recently built (a code oscillator and the Ramsey 20m receiver) were kinda boring and fiddly, even with the big magnifying lampand other shiny new tools that I am using. But they are a pleasure to use, once assembled, and they worked first off, unlike the kits I built as a child (when I was in too much of a hurry!). Trouble is that it is quite hard to understand how they work, on the detailed level. I understand the overall principles, but don't really know how the 7-transistor, ant-sized op-amp chip works on an internal level. It's a literal "black box" and I don't like that.

73 DE Martin


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N2EY
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« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2012, 03:12:21 PM »

I have indeed begun listening to actual QSOs but because I am a coupla weeks away from getting the full Morse character set (Koch method) it won't be until then that I manage to copy on-air stuff.

Not true - you can still listen to on the air stuff, and just ignore the characters you don't recognize.

The Koch method is a bit strange because even during the learning process you can copy, quite well and quite fast, but only the letters/characters that you have learned so far!

The reason Koch method works is that you don't try to learn too much at once. But that doesn't mean you can't listen to real code on the air!

Back in 1966-67 when I learned Morse, I did so by listening to hams on the air and picking out the letters I knew. At first I only got a few - then more, then even more. It was a form of Koch method, but of course not as good as the real thing.

The only "cheat" to my "all homebrew" equipment philosophy is that I bought a Ramsey 20m receiver kit that I am built just to listen to actual QSOs. When I get "on the air" it will be with a totally homebrew tube receiver.

Thankyou for your encouragement, yes indeed I anticipate spending quite a long time (several months) being a de-facto "SWL" copying other people's QSOs because the all-tube homebrew project is very time consuming -- and fun. I am building, in this order:

(1) The RS-3 three-tube regenerative superhet from QST (1963). A couple of days ago I rounded up the remaining needed components for this, now I just have to get going with the metalwork, with the first order of business being obtaining access to a drill press. Plus rounding up some test equipment, which is will be mainly from the tube era too (RF signal generator, grid-dip meter, VOM).

I would not build the RS-3 -  at least not at first.

(2) I am not very optimistic about the RS-3 being usable for modern-day QSOs, even CW-only QSOs, so I have a parallel project. I purchased a beat-up BC-453 and have rounded up most of the parts for a ham converter (80m/40m/30m). I think you were among those who followed the separate thread I started on this. My initial plan was much more ambitious, but I have now decided to follow the advice kindly given, which is to keep it simple and avoid trying to use this setup on the higher bands (20m and up) because of likely image response problems. I am, however, hoping that the BC-453 and homebrew converter combination will be good enough as a receiver for basic CW QSOs on the lower bands. I also want to use the BC-453 converter as a "test bed" for all sorts of receiver ideas, in a modular fashion. My long term goal is to build a really nice, sophisticated receiver but all-tube.

I strongly suggest that you pursue the BC-453 project first. It will provide a better beginning, and you can always build the RS-3 later.

The trick in homebrewing is to start with something simple, and break it into small projects. The BC-453 setup is perfect for this: you start with a power supply, then get the BC-453 working, then build a simple converter. Each part can be improved later, as better ideas and parts become available.

(3) The "Simple Two-Tube Transmitter" (80m/40m) from "How To Become a Radio Amateur" (ARRL 1968) which has a 10W input so presumably about a 5W output, squarely in the QRP category. This is a book my parents gave me as an 11-year-old in that year, but I never got around to building the TX at the time! It's a 6C4 and 5763 lineup, which was recently revived and republished (in QST I think). For nostalgia's sake I am likely to build this strictly to the original plans and layout with only one change, namely adding the 30m band. I have a couple of dozen CW-segment crystals for the 80m and 40m bands, which I purchased from a kind ham who was disposing of his "old" equipment, but I need to start finding the other parts. (Not very hard, transmitters are a much easier proposition than receivers.)

IIRC, that's a W1TS design. It is pretty good for a 1968 Novice transmitter, but has some serious limitations. You might consider a different design, particularly if you are still looking for parts.

That little tx was designed when Novices had to use crystal control, by law - and their band segments weren't harmonically related. So it used 80 meter crystals on 80 and 40 meter crystals on 40. There is no provision for adding a VFO nor higher bands. The only way it could work on 30 meters is if you had 30 meter crystals, which aren't too common. There are better designs which aren't much more complex.

(4) Add a VFO. This is a bit of a challenge  because of the difficulty of getting adequate stability if you build it all yourself and insist on tubes with no modern solid state synthesis technology. I don't yet have any metalworking equipment and would need to put together a fairly thick, rigid box. There are many pointers to this in the old ARRL pubs that I have.

There's a much easier way. And it uses tubes!

Look around for an old ARC-5 transmitter - BC-696, BC-457, BC-458, BC-459 or similar. Doesn't have to be complete; in fact, better to get one that's a bit hacked up and beyond restoration. A BC-457 can often be had for cheap because it doesn't cover any ham bands.

The trick is to use the ARC-5 transmitter as a VFO. The tuning range can be changed by adjusting the padder and adding a fixed capacitor across the VFO tank circuit. The components are very high quality and the metalwork is done for you.

You do not need a drill press to build tube stuff. In fact, you only need a relatively small tool kit. The old Handbooks are a good reference, but even better is the first edition of "Understanding Amateur Radio".

Here's a list:

Essentials:

Screwdrivers (large and small)
Adjustable wrench (6 or 8 inch)
Diagonal cutting pliers
Longnose pliers
Slipjoint pliers (aka "gas pliers")
Soldering iron (60 or 100 watt) and/or gun. Iron is better but requires more care.
Drill with bits to clear 4-40, 6-32, 8-32 and 10-24 screws. 1/4 inch and 3/8 inch bits if you can find them.
Taper reamer
Flat file, coarse, with handle
Round file, coarse, with handle
Combination square
Center punch
Ball-peen hammer
Compass (for drawing circles)
Hacksaw with blades
Bench vise
Nibbling tool
Allen wrenches

Nice to have:

Nutdrivers
Socket punches for tube sockets

I am not sure whether I enjoy the "scavenger hunt" aspect of "vintage" homebrew in the 21st Century! It isn't much fun at the moment because it's just a pile of components, although having some of them in their original packaging is kind of neat. The solid state kits I have recently built (a code oscillator and the Ramsey 20m receiver) were kinda boring and fiddly, even with the big magnifying lampand other shiny new tools that I am using. But they are a pleasure to use, once assembled, and they worked first off, unlike the kits I built as a child (when I was in too much of a hurry!). Trouble is that it is quite hard to understand how they work, on the detailed level. I understand the overall principles, but don't really know how the 7-transistor, ant-sized op-amp chip works on an internal level. It's a literal "black box" and I don't like that.

The hunt is part of the game. Always has been.

There are two extremes to homebrewing:

1) Copy an existing design using the exact parts called for. This can require searching high and low, and paying amazing prices.

2) Design around what you have or can get easily/cheaply.

There's a lot of room between those extremes.

---

You may sometimes wish that you'd been born earlier, and been a ham in, say, the late 1950s and early 1960s when surplus and radio parts stores were everywhere and you could just order anything from Allied, Newark, Lafayette, etc.

In some ways it was a great time - there were lots of suppliers and things like old tube-type TV sets and AM BC radios could be had for the asking, or pulled off the trash.

But in other ways it was harder than today. Information was hard to get; there was no internet where you could download schematics, tube data, original manuals of WW2 gear, etc. No websites, no downloads of old QSTs for members, no forums like this one. Sure, there were Elmers, but you were at the mercy of their knowledge, time and interest.

And everything was amazingly expensive if bought new. The old prices only look cheap today because of inflation; once you adjust for that, ham radio was a really expensive game.

Some years back I took a basic 50 watt Novice transmitter article from a 1960 QST and priced out all the parts from my 1959 Newark catalog. The total was surprising - it cost more to buy the parts than a new Heathkit DX-20 kit!

73 de Jim, N2EY
 
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KB1WSY
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« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2012, 04:08:03 AM »

>>you can still listen to on the air stuff, and just ignore the characters you don't recognize.<<

Actually I've already started doing this, but it's tough going so far. This is mainly because the only RX I have is the Ramsey HR-20 20m kit I built (based on the SA-602 chip) fed with a long wire strung up to a tree, and all the CW I am finding "up there" is faster than 15wpm. I already have 20 characters (including 18 letters of the alphabet) but copying fast CW through heavy QRM and QSB is a challenge (although I am getting some of the callsigns even though they are way faster than 15wpm)! But fun. Using the Ramsey, I find that 20m only seems to be open in the mid/late afternoon here in the Boston area. During the rest of the day and at night, zilch. During the hours when the band is open, am getting reasonable reception of high powered SSB rigs (for instance during the phone contest last weekend) but in the CW band portion it is slim pickings with a lot of whistles at fixed intervals. Not totally sure where the whistles emanate. The HR-20 is a DC receiver. I presume it could be mixing with some strong BC stations in my area. Unfortunately one of them is right on top of most of the CW that I am hearing.

>>I would not build the RS-3 ... I strongly suggest that you pursue the BC-453 project first. It will provide a better beginning, and you can always build the RS-3 later... The trick in homebrewing is to start with something simple, and break it into small projects.<<

That is good advice and mirrors the way my thoughts had been going. Apart from anything else, I think the BC-453/converter combo would be a better receiver anyway, at least for 80/40. Don't yet have a full parts set for the BC-453 option though ... it is all going to take quite a lot of time. Am waiting for some hamfests in hopes of picking up some more parts. So far, been relying mostly on specialists Web suppliers and it is a very slow process if you want to avoid paying ridiculous prices. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the breadth of a supplier's stocklist, and that supplier's degree of organization and e-commerce skills. Buying from the best stocked stores can take weeks for a single order, because it takes them a while to figure out whether they have the required item in stock. If they don't have it in stock, there is another round of emails to find equivalent or near-equivalent parts.Patience does pay off though, both in terms of finding the right items and getting them at reasonable prices. I am frequently substituting parts and sometimes re-designing to fit what is available, but even then it is a lengthy saga.

>>IIRC, that's a W1TS design. It is pretty good for a 1968 Novice transmitter, but has some serious limitations. You might consider a different design, particularly if you are still looking for parts.<<

I am not firmly committed yet. Have been obtaining the parts for the two receiver projects but have barely started on the TX side, in fact I have only a very good collection of 80m/40m crystals. I have looked over the numerous QST/ARRL designs for novice projects and also of course the higher powered TX designs. So, still thinking it over. I think it was you who posted, in another forum here, your ideas for the "dream station" using 1960s homebrew technology and I have been thinking it over.

>>Look around for an old ARC-5 transmitter (for the VFO).<

Yes I have been thinking about that too and may go that route. Alternatively, I also have a surplus BC-746 tuning unit and a circuit that uses the guts of this little military gizmo for a ham VFO -- the design comes from "104 Ham Radio Projects" by Bert Simon (W2UUN) published in 1968, which is a fun book.

In terms of other books, I already have: the ARRL manual for 1963, plus "Understanding Amateur Radio" from the 1960s and "How to Become a Radio Amateur" from 1968, and numerous QST articles downloaded from the ARRL archive, which is where I found the design for the RS-3 and numerous other homebrew projects.

Thank you for your tool list, which brings the 50-year-old ARRL list up to date! The "drilling holes in aluminum" thread has been invaluable too.

I know what you mean about the "spectrum" between building stuff entirely to published plans, and designing it all yourself. I have to start somewhere, and I am hoping that if I begin with simple projects, I will learn a lot more about radio design than if I tried something "too hard" for my level. I have an overall understanding of how RF tube circuits work but there's nothing like practical experience.

I was involved in ham radio (but never quite got a license) in England in the late 1960s and built a certain amount of gear back then. I remember, like you, that it was expensive if you used new parts. Instead, I gutted TV sets, although this had its own frustrations and was never quite as easy as the handbooks made it out to be. I love the way they always said, "select (list exotic part here) from your junkbox"! I had a pretty impressive "junkbox" but much of its contents lived up to the name even in terms of ham radio relevance!

I remember that I built the Heathkit HR-10B (in 1970) and it didn't work. Sent it back to Heathkit, they re-soldered a lot of "cold" joints and re-aligned the (supposedly already factory aligned) front end and it then worked fine. Even then it wasn't exactly a hot receiver and that experience is part of the reason why I am now focusing heavily on receivers, starting with simple stuff and hopefully progressing to something really nice. This time around, I have a lot more patience and a much deeper motivation to understand how it all works.

Thank you very much for your advice, very useful. This is a long term project and planning things in advance is one of the keys to getting it right.

73 de Martin, KB1WSY
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W5DQ
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« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2012, 11:36:41 AM »

...... Plus rounding up some test equipment, which is will be mainly from the tube era too (RF signal generator, grid-dip meter, VOM). .........


Martin,

I have an old (and I think still working - have to check it out to be sure) Heathkit VTVM. It was with other test gear I got from my father's shack after he passed over the log. I have no need for it so contact me off forum (email is listed in QRZ.COM under my call) and we can talk turkey Smiley if you're interested.

Gene W5DQ
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Gene W5DQ
Ridgecrest, CA - DM15dp
www.radioroom.org
NR0U
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« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2012, 06:58:31 AM »

Hi Martin,

You should hear plenty of slow <15wpm cw this weekend during the SKCC WES(Week End Sprint).  Check skccgroup.com for more.  On your HR-20, you will hear lots of activity between 14.047 and
14.060.  The straight key group does not send perfect code, so that will challenge you a bit, but you should be OK with the speeds...  This is the perfect weekend to listen!!    Hope you hear me!!

73,
K0URN
Lance
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K8GU
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« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2012, 08:40:39 AM »

Thanks for researching before asking!  The questions you ask have a bit more open-ended answers than any printed material can provide.  So, ask away.

I didn't make my first HF QSO until I was an Advanced class licensee.  Nobody cared.  Since the present licensing structure does not require proficiency in anything, more and more hams start at Extra.  No big deal.

If you want a short callsign, get a short callsign.  I changed a lot when I was shifting through the license classes.  Another option is to keep your present callsign until you are able to snag a nice one through the vanity system if you are concerned about QSL cards, etc.  Really, QSL cards are an inexpensive part of the hobby and no particularly difficult to obtain.  As you get deeper into the hobby, people may recognize you by callsign before name, so it can be disruptive to your relationships more than anything!

N2EY has given you fabulous homebrewing advice.  Some of his suggestions are also mirrored in the "Construction Techniques" chapter of every ARRL Handbook printed since at least the 1980s.  It wouldn't hurt to pick a copy up somewhere.  You can do a lot with basic tools.  And, do be sure to start small and simple.

Are the Extra segments valuable?  It depends on what you want to do.  If you're interested in rag-chewing, making slower-speed QSOs, and experimenting with your homebrew rigs, the General segments are fine 95% of the time.  If you want to work DX, operate contests, and rag-chew at higher speeds, you will find the Extra segments open up a lot to you.  Some of that segregation has relaxed with the change in licensing requirements, but it's still mostly true.
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N2EY
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« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2012, 10:25:16 AM »

Quick response - more to follow:

In terms of other books, I already have: the ARRL manual for 1963, plus "Understanding Amateur Radio" from the 1960s and "How to Become a Radio Amateur" from 1968, and numerous QST articles downloaded from the ARRL archive, which is where I found the design for the RS-3 and numerous other homebrew projects.

QST archive is a goldmine - the trick is to know where to dig. There are a LOT of good articles, and even stuff from the 1930s is good.


Thank you for your tool list, which brings the 50-year-old ARRL list up to date!

Actually the list is pretty much the same as in "UAR" or a 50s-60s Handbook. Couple of things to add:

Quadrille graph paper
Rubber cement
Soldering aid
Cold chisel

The graph paper and rubber cement are useful in chassis and panel work. What you do is to cover the chassis/sheet metal with graph paper using the rubber cement. Careful alignment makes layout a lot easier, you can write on the paper with pencil, and the chassis is protected from scratches. You punch and drill right through it. Then, when the drilling and such are complete and you're ready to mount the parts, just peel off the paper.

73 de Jim, N2EY
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KB1WSY
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« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2012, 04:44:23 AM »

An update on the difficult reception with my Ramsey HR-20 kit. I wasn't expecting miracles, but even so the performance on this little single-band 20m set (with a long-wire antenna about 10 meters long and a ground connection to the nearest radiator) is disappointing. It is very hard to copy any QSOs, even the strong SSB signals; I have logged only about a half dozen "listening" entries in my logbook, nearly all of them fairly local SSB phone, in several hours of listening. Almost all of this has been in the mid-afternoon or early evening local time, the band seems to be "closed" the rest of the time. This is even after paying a lot of attention to proper alignment. However I discovered yesterday that it is being strongly affected by the Internet cable modem that is in the same room, a few feet away. If I turn off the modem, the annoying whistles at regular intervals largely disappear (phew) although the XYL and YL (teenage daughter) understandably complain when their lifeline is turned off. However, at the same time the signal strength of the ham stations drops considerably -- they are both easier to copy (no whistle) but also harder to copy (much quieter or completely silent even when I peak the RF and AF gain). Apparently the Ramsey is coupling with the Internet cabling (incoming coax and perhaps also the Ethernet cabling to the rest of the house) and getting some kind of signal boost, and the boost is stronger when the router is turned on. I will now lengthen the incoming cable company coax and move the router to a different room, plus work on improving the antenna which is strung up to a tree outside. Anyway I am looking forward to the CW sprint starting at 0000UTC today, this will be the acid test of the Ramsey. Can't wait 'til I have a better receiver built! (This thread has wandered way off topic but I guess that's OK.)

73 de Martin, KB1WSY
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WX7G
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« Reply #11 on: March 11, 2012, 05:03:23 AM »

The extra class CW portions are extremely valuable if you are a DXer. That is where 99% of CW DX is.
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KB1WSY
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« Reply #12 on: March 11, 2012, 07:56:51 AM »

The past 24 hours have provided, for me, a great demonstration of the complexity and rewards of our hobby -- especially as concerns the fun I get from homebrew projects (albeit, in this case, starting from a Ramsey 20m receiver kit).

I rewired all of our cable Internet installation to move everything at least 10 yards away from the shack. Improvement: a big reduction in noise and whistles but still pretty disappointing reception (the "big rig" SSB signals coming in fine but almost no CW).

Then I pulled the Ramsey out of its factory case, installed it in a larger case and added a fine-tuning control (a 10-turn, 500K pot). Improvement: dramatically easier tuning of all signals, weak and strong, but only once the signal has been found in the first place using the Ramsey's main tuning dial.

Then I modded the Ramsey by changing the capacitor that sets the varactor tuning range, reducing it from 15pf to 4.7pf, giving much better bandspread. The Ramsey's manual says that this set's standard bandspread is 250kHz but before I changed the capacitor it was behaving more like 400kHz or 500kHz, so it's not surprising it was hard to tune in the signals. Improvement: now we are really getting somewhere, signals are much easier to tune though still not exactly a piece of cake. Can now hear lots of CW from the SKCC WES weekend. Many of these are gratifyingly moderate in speed and I can actually copy some of it. Mind you, I can see what K0URN meant when he said some of this CW "is not perfect." Very good practice! But it also shows up that I have a long way to go in terms of copying CW.

Then I made the simplest change of all. I pulled off the Ramsey's original, tiny tuning knob and substituted the biggest knob I could find in my junkbox that would fit on the panel without bumping into anything else. Tuning is now substantially easier!

Now, because I reduced the bandspread of the Ramsey substantially, there is a problem that needs to be fixed: my lovely fine tuning control, which is a 10-turn 500K pot, needs to be swapped out to a larger resistance value. It now takes several turns of the knob to make any appreciable change in the pitch of a CW signal or the intelligibility of SSB phone. The task is never done!

Plus, the antenna needs to be improved. I covet the neighbor's tree (it is only about 6 inches inside his property) so maybe I'll give him a call. Currently have only a long wire (about 10m long) that is not far above the ground -- about 3 meters. I am assuming that if I can pull a longer wire, say about 15m, to the top of a tree it will be both more omnidirectional and, because of the added height, give me a stronger signal.

Overall observation: in some ways working with solid state gear is really easy from a mechanical point of view. Drilling holes in the new plastic case was a piece of cake using my Ryobi hand-held drill. I still don't much enjoy the overall process because everything is so tiny and the magnifying glass is essential. Tube homebrew, here I come!

73 de KB1WSY and many thanks for all the advice!!!
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W5ESE
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« Reply #13 on: March 12, 2012, 11:23:44 AM »

Sounds like you're having a ball.

If you have an interest in building a better solid state direct conversion receiver, consider trying the Ten-Tec 1056 receiver board kit. It works very well, and at a nice price.
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NR0U
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« Reply #14 on: March 12, 2012, 01:23:03 PM »

Good job Martin.  Glad you were able to hear some of the WES from the SKCC gang.  You now have 2 weeks until the SKS event with SKCC.  More on their page.

gl es 73
K0URN
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