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Foundations of Amateur Radio #164:

from Onno VK6FLAB on July 28, 2018
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Heated Elements and Circuit Boards

Recently I had a conversation with a group of amateurs, ranging in experience from newbie to salty, from purchase to build, from buy to scrounge, in other words, the whole range.

One person in the group asked about how to get started with soldering. Their first harmonic had just been granted a license and they wanted to encourage the new amateur to build something, anything. That in turn started a whole conversation about the how, where, why and what of the way of the heated element and its application to a circuit board.

In 2012, almost exactly two years after obtaining my amateur license I purchased an electronics kit. The kit was sold by my local electronics store and was intended to become a High Precision LC Meter. The electronics store packages together many of the schematics that are published in Australia's Silicon Chip Magazine and in this instance, it also came with a lovely case, build instructions and a review from someone who had built the kit, John, VK3FJBX.

The whole thing cost me $90 at the time and as far as I was concerned, that was a bargain. These days I might have considered it a little high, but the end result was an LC Meter that does what I need and works as described.

The process of building the contraption was not complex, in fact, I think the single surprise was the need to purchase a Component Leg Bending Tool, a fancy name for a $2 tapered block of plastic with little indents that you can use to bend the legs of a resistor so they match the holes of the circuit board.

As projects go, this one was a success. I bought it, I built it, I put it together, powered it up and the black smoke stayed inside the components and the meter displayed numbers that matched up with what the label on the component I was testing said.

That in an of itself is a story of success. I can point at several other kits sitting in a box, still as bags of components, never assembled, lost interest, got distracted, too hard, not viable, missing bits, whatever the excuse, gathering dust until magically one day they'll be needed for when the apocalypse is here, or the garage explodes from too much stuff and I'm forced to donate it to the world.

As my life experience increases, my hands are becoming less steady. I now have a magnifying lamp, not enough clamps and less patience for silliness, so, my kit building is at an all- time-low.

Mind you, it's not that I've stopped building or experimenting, instead I'm writing software, investigating new and exciting tools, like a random online circuit simulator I came across during the week. I did want to tell you what it's called, but it's down at the moment and I don't know if it was hugged to death by well meaning amateurs who came to visit.

Search with your tool of choice for "Electronic Circuit Simulator in the Browser" and you'll be spoilt for choice. In addition to several browser based simulators around, there are also offline applications you can download and run, even tools you can spend actual money on. All told, several options for learning how to build a circuit, how various things work together, including showing simulated oscilloscope traces, so you can see what your latest contraption actually does.

The art of building, the skill of soldering, the pursuit of design is hampered by one thing, and one thing only. Your ability to get out and start.

So, what are you waiting for?

I'm Onno VK6FLAB

To listen to the podcast, visit the website: and scroll to the bottom for the latest episode. You can also use your podcast tool of choice and search for my callsign, VK6FLAB, or you can read the book, look for my callsign on your local Amazon store, or visit my author page:

If you'd like to participate in discussion about the podcast or about amateur radio, you can visit the Facebook group:

Feel free to get in touch directly via email:, or follow on twitter: @vk6flab (

If you'd like to join the weekly net for new and returning amateurs, check out the details at, the net runs every week on Saturday, from 00:00 to 01:00 UTC on Echolink, IRLP, AllStar Link and 2m FM via various repeaters.

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