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Author Topic: I built an Elecraft K1!  (Read 10945 times)
GILGSN
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Posts: 207




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« on: June 11, 2012, 08:48:43 AM »

It's alive! After three hair-pulling days, the radio finally works. I received the box on Thursday night; no time then to start, but I got to it after my daily work session on Friday. Late that night, I had completed the filter board, one of the three circuit boards.

I don't understand the fear about winding toroids. I find it very easy and relaxing; it hurts much less than it sounds. All you have to do is count how many times you thread a wire through a ferrite core. How easier can it be? Then, you burn the enamel off the leads with a lighter, clean them up with your snipping tool, and solder.. I was very exited that night about the project. I thought it would be a walk in the park.. Not quite..

The front panel was next. The only difficulty there was soldering the LCD display. Attaching the wires to the ten-turn potentiometer also required some dexterity. About wires.. There are very few in the K1 kit: The potentiometer lead wires, speaker wire, and one coax jumper on the back of the board, that's it. Everything else is connectors. I like that. Soldering wires is always a pain in the butt.

The RF board was the biggest and longest one to build. It took me from around 10-am on Saturday to about 2:30-am on Sunday to complete it! And it didn't work! In retrospect, I should have only completed the receiver part that day, leaving the transmitter for Sunday. When tired, your brain plays tricks on you, and you make mistakes. Everything went fine with the receiver. I heard static when I turned the K1 on, no smoke. After tuning the receiver and plugging-in a long wire, I was listening to CW on both bands. I was exhausted, but proceeded with the transmitter side. It was 9-pm already, eleven hours of looking at tiny components, placing and soldering them.. Then came the time to test voltages on the RF board. Nothing on U8! S##t! Excuse my French.. That wasn't good. I nevertheless plugged-in the filter board to test power output. Nothing.. Followed about an hour of tinkering, swearing, manual-reading, head scratching shenanigans, of which I remember almost nothing (I had been working on it for 15 hours straight). I rewound the bi-filar transformer, reheated solder pads both on the filter and RF boards, zilch! Then I gave up, and decided to complete the build for the heck of it, and call Elecraft in the morning. Yet, after putting the speaker in and closing the box, I tried again. Power on 40m! Not on 20.. Ah.. Back to it (2-am).. I think I transmitted without a dummy load and no antenna a couple times by the way, I was so tired. Anyway, I have no idea what did it, but after countless little troubleshooting steps, and more tuning of the filter board, I finally got output power on both bands. I packed it up and went to bed with a headache and slight twitching..

Comes Sunday morning, I had a working K1! The only peculiar thing left to investigate is some power fluctuation.. If I set the maximum output to 2 Watts, the watt meter shows 2W at first, but then slowly climbs to 2.8. I am guessing that the final transistor produces more gain as it warms up.. I even produced about 10W tuning the filter board before the output suddenly dropped! Weird.. After tuning the filter board on receive, things are a bit more stable, still with quite a power increase as transmit time increases.. It shouldn't occur producing CW though, as this was transmitting a continuous tone in tuning mode. We'll see..

I spent Sunday evening listening to CW outside, with a wire strung horizontally (20ft maybe) about five feet from the ground; the worst possible antenna. Still, it was easy to pick-up signals. I even heard a guy saying he was on a sailboat, and retired three years ago (I have a Morse decoder app on my iPod!). I am getting a PAR end-fed dipole today; I can't wait to plug that in.

The Elecraft K1 kit is of very high quality; much better than any other kit I have seen so far (five). Everything fits perfectly, nothing was missing. I even had much needed left-over screws (I spilled them all on the garage floor).. The box looks great, and the way the circuit boards are positioned and fastened is brilliant. I will order the automatic antenna tuner and add it in soon. For now though, I need to finish learning code, then I'll go for the General Ham license. The K1 was the right choice, at the right price. You get a lot for your money. It might not seem so when you buy the kit, but after building it, I find it very affordable.

To anyone contemplating building one, go for it! Build a couple kits first, like a Small-Wonder-Labs Rock-Mite, and a SOTA tuner from qrpkits.cm, and you'll be well on your way. Moreover, you can test the Elecraft receiver with the Rock-Mite! Get 50ft. of wire from Home Depot for the SOTA tuner, and you'll be all set. Follow the manual EXACTLY. Don't skip ahead, read every line! Double-check everything. Most importantly, don't do what I did. That was stupid. Take your time. If you feel tired or stressed, stop, rest, and don't get back to it until much later. I was very lucky that I didn't fry anything. Not to mention the stress and lack of sleep.. Not a healthy way to spend a week-end..

In the mean time, I am a happy, proud builder and owner of an Elecraft K1. The satisfaction of building something that complex with your own hands is priceless..
« Last Edit: June 11, 2012, 09:03:59 AM by GILGSN » Logged
AD6KA
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Posts: 2238




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« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2012, 04:38:16 PM »

Congratulations on your successful build!
What bands did you build it for?
I have built several K1's and K2's and they
are a blast to build, and customer support
is outstanding, the gold standard of the industry.

Quote
The RF board was the biggest and longest one to build. It took me from around 10-am on Saturday to about 2:30-am on Sunday to complete it!

Not a criticism but just curious....
Why the rush and late night sessions?
Did you have a completion deadline or just "get into it"?
I like to build in 1 or 2 hour increments and
then take a long break, or call it a day.
Lessens chance for builder errors and stetches
out the fun!   Grin

You will enjoy the K1. Not only is a great performer
but it's FUN to use.  Do you plan on adding
any options like the ATU or internal battery pack?
Personally when I operated mine portable I would
just take along a 5Ah or 7Ah gel cell. But I never
hiked more than 5 miles or so with those. Now if I
were hiking the Appalachian Trail, my choice would be different!  Roll Eyes
73, Ken  AD6KA
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STAYVERTICAL
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Posts: 875




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« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2012, 04:41:50 PM »

Congratulations, and nice to see you so excited.
You should have lots of fun and qso's with the K1.
I don't have one, but used a friends, and it is a great little rig, particularly the receiver.

Although I can do without the burnt fingers I usually get while kit building, these are soon forgotten when I admire my work on completion.
There is something very satisfying about making things - I guess it is a guy thing left over from chipping bits of flint off a rock face or something (hi).

Well, back to restoring an old wooden bow.

Have lot's of fun,

73 - Rob
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GILGSN
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Posts: 207




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« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2012, 06:50:43 PM »

Hello,

I built it for 20/40m. I was so impatient to see it work that I just couldn't stop! Next time I will do 2 hours at a time.. Maybe I'll build another, with four bands, and keep the first one as a backup. But I'm getting ahead of myself here, just learning CW.. I plan on adding the ATU, not sure about the noise blanker, and not the internal battery pack. I stopped by Batteries Plus today and got a 12v/2.9Ah gel-cell battery, which is the perfect size ('ll post photos on my site..).

When I first tried the K1 receiver with my short wire, I didn't get much... Today I received my PAR End-Fed dipole, and what a difference!

I will enjoy that K1! Now I need to finish learning CW, which I am struggling with.. I had to slow down to 10wpm with the Koch method to be able to write fast enough.. The problem is, if I think, I get behind.. I need to make my mind blank and just write what I hear... Of course, I invariably go "Huh, was that a ..." and then I'm two letters behind! It will take some time. HAving the K1 now sure is motivating!

Thanks for all your comments :-)

Gil.

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LA9XSA
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Posts: 376




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« Reply #4 on: June 12, 2012, 02:01:28 PM »

Hi Gil.

I sometimes go into a "trance-like" state when I'm engrossed by some work, usually programming or document writing, so I can recognize that "keep going" feeling. But as I get more tired, the task has to be progressively simpler and mechanical or I make mistakes or fall asleep. Heh.

If you're looking for an all-mode all-band rig that's even more trail friendly check out the KX-3; it draws less current than the FT-817 does and has more receiver features. (Don't get me wrong I like the FT-817ND too).
« Last Edit: June 12, 2012, 02:03:54 PM by LA9XSA » Logged
GILGSN
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Posts: 207




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« Reply #5 on: June 12, 2012, 02:11:09 PM »

Hi, sure, I'd love a KX3, but that's more than three time more than a K1... Even the FT-817ND is $679.. More than twice. I wish Elecraft made a single band SSB rig in the K1 case. That would sell like hotcakes. I like the MFJ-94xx line, but a digital display would look good, and the K1 box.. You could build it yourself too..
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LA9XSA
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Posts: 376




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« Reply #6 on: June 12, 2012, 02:51:52 PM »

Well yeah it's expensive. Since you already have the K1 perhaps an HT or mobile radio with VHF and 6 meters would be good to round out your station?
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AK7V
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Posts: 251




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« Reply #7 on: June 12, 2012, 05:22:34 PM »

I loved my K1.  It had the ATU, noise blanker, and was built for 40, 30, 20, and 15 meters.  I built it, enjoyed it for a year or so, and then sold it for more than I paid for the kit. Smiley

I used an external battery and just a couple lengths of wire for the antenna.  The ATU was very good.

Enjoy it!
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AD6KA
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Posts: 2238




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« Reply #8 on: June 13, 2012, 02:14:03 PM »

Quote
.. Maybe I'll build another, with four bands, and keep the first one as a backup.

I think you'd be happier in the lomg run if you saved
up for a K2 instead, and kept your present K1 as a backup
if needed.
OR, sell your present K1 and use the money towards
a K2.

73, Ken  AD6KA
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KB9BVN
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Posts: 116




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« Reply #9 on: June 14, 2012, 09:49:00 AM »

I have a K1, KX-1, and a K2/100 rig at home.  I love the K2 for contesting and home operation, I REALLY love my K1 for taking out to the trail, the woods, the campgrounds.  I like the K1 even more than my KX-1.  My K1 is setup for 17, 20, 30 and 40m and I usually use a PAC 12 portable vertical, or a simple wire dipole.  The ATU will not tune a end fed half wave without first putting a little matcher in line.  End fed impedance is in the range of 4K ohms, so out of the range of the auto tuner.

I use my KX-1 for my mobile operations in the car or truck.  Plug it into the cigarette lighter socket and connect a hamstick and you're off to the races.  Mobile CW should only be done when someone else is driving.  HAHAHA.

Great job on your K1 build out, I love Elecraft products, and Ten Tec as well.   You just can't go wrong with those guys.

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GILGSN
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Posts: 207




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« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2012, 05:06:02 PM »

Hello everyone,

Thanks for the comments. Now that it works, I am very happy with it. I had 40m dead, but it turned out that I was not tuned properly. You really have to try all possible combinations with the inductances on the filter board.. Now I get good sensitivity on both bands and full power output in a dummy load; 7W on 40m, and 6.5 on 20m.

As far as other practical radios, I got an MFJ-9406 on Ebay for cheap, and I have a Yaesu FT-270R 2m handheld. So, I'm starting pretty well equipped.. Not interested in anything I can't carry in a backpack..

When I can manage a CW QSO, then I might get something else. I considered the FT-817ND, even a KX3, if I have the money.. A K2? I don't know.. Not as portable, though I heard it is lightweight.. The MFJ-9420 is tempting too..
I do have an unfinished BitX20 kit, but the lack of a good manual makes it harder than the K1 to complete, especially without testing equipment.

By the Way, building a Rock-Mite was a perfect stepping stone to the K1.

Y'all have a great week-end ;-)
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KF7DS
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Posts: 191




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« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2012, 11:20:04 PM »

Started mine the day before I read your post and i understand how you pushed on.....you really have to be disciplined in terms of not overdoing it and having fatigue set in, because it is so kuch fun.

Don KF7DS
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GILGSN
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Posts: 207




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« Reply #12 on: June 16, 2012, 04:49:45 AM »

Hi Don,

It is a lot of fun!

By the way, about toroids.. I found out the my first method of burning the enamel off the wire with a lighter before stripping the leads didn't work too well. Then I stripped only, using my wire cutters. You have to be very careful not to damage or cut the wire, but once you see copper all around, you're good to go..

Good luck!
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K7MH
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Posts: 339




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« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2012, 01:00:49 PM »

Quote
.. Maybe I'll build another, with four bands, and keep the first one as a backup.

I think you'd be happier in the lomg run if you saved
up for a K2 instead, and kept your present K1 as a backup
if needed.
OR, sell your present K1 and use the money towards
a K2.

73, Ken  AD6KA

I just bought a 4 band board and also the parts to convert my 2 band board to the other 2 bands that I wouldn't use as often.
I wouldn't invest in a second K1, I'd build a K2 instead.

A few toroids are one thing, several is another. They are too repetitious and tediously boring for me to enjoy winding after about two of them!
« Last Edit: June 17, 2012, 01:05:05 PM by K7MH » Logged
AA4PB
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« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2012, 04:36:55 PM »

Elecraft had a guy who would sell you a complete set of prewound toroids for their kits. They may still be available.

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