Category Archives: QRPers

Reverend George Dobbs G3RJV Silent Key

We’ve lost an iconic man in the world of QRP: the Reverend George Dobbs G3RJV.

(Source: ARRL News)

The founder of the GQRP Club and Amateur Radio author the Rev. George Dobbs, G3RJV, of Littleborough, England, died on March 11. He was 75. Dobbs was reported to have been in ill health for some time and had been living in a care facility, where his condition deteriorated quite rapidly over the past few days. He was the honorary secretary of the GQRP Club (G5LOW), which he founded in 1974 to cater to those interested in low-power Amateur Radio communication. Dobbs served as the editor for the club’s quarterly, SPRAT. Dobbs was the author of QRP Basics, The International QRP Collection (co-authored with Steve Telenius-Lowe, 9M6DXX), and Making a Transistor Radio. He was a frequent Hamvention® attendee, and in 2015, he received the Hamvention “Technical Excellence Award.” — Thanks to Lee Boulineau, KX4TT

Scott’s Elecraft KX3 Go-Box

[Note: this article was originally posted on my shortwave radio blog, The SWLing Post.]

Many thanks to Scott (AK5SD) who shares the following photos and bill of materials for his custom Elecraft KX3 go-box:


IMG_0531 IMG_0534

IMG_0532 IMG_0535 IMG_0537 IMG_0536

Bill of materials

The panel was custom laser cut by Front Panel Express. I have the CAD
file and I’m willing to share it with anyone who wants to reproduce my effort.

Amazon.com
Case B&W Type 1000 Outdoor Case with SI Foam
You won’t use the foam, so you can buy the version without it if you can find it cheaper.

Battery Anker Astro Pro2 20000mAh Multi-Voltage (5V 12V 16V 19V)
Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank
Avoid look alike batteries and the next generation model from Anker. The newer Anker
battery is only capable of delivering 1.5A from the 12V supply. Two look alike batteries
I tried did not have the auto-off feature that the Anker does.

Vetco.net
ACC2 and I/Q Jacks 2 x 2.5mm Stereo Jack Panel Mount (PH-666J-B)
Phone, Key, and ACC1 3 x 3.5mm Stereo Jack Panel Mount (High Quality) (PH-504KB)
Mic Jack 1 x 3.5mm 4 Conductor Jack Panel Mount (PH-70-088B)
12V IN and CHG IN 2 x 2.1mm DC Power Panel Mount Jack (PH-2112)
12V OUT 1 x 2.5mm DC Power Panel Mount Jack (PH-2512)

You also need plugs and wire for interconnects. I bought some 2.5mm (CES-11-5502)
and 3.5mm (PH-44-468 for stereo, PH-44-470 for 4-conductor) audio cables with right
angle plugs and just cut them to use for the signal lines going to the KX3. I did the same
thing for the 2.5mm (PH-TC250) and 2.1mm (PH-TC210) power cables. A couple of
caveats are in order. The Phone, Key, and ACC1 interconnects require low profile
right angle connectors. The cables I listed above won’t work. Vetco part number
VUPN10338 will work. The power cables I’ve listed above use 24 gauge wire. This
is a little light, but the runs are small so I think it is OK. You can use higher gauge
cables if you can find a source.

USBfirewire.com
USB OUT USB 2.0 Right Angle Extension Cable (RR-AAR04P-20G)

Digikey.com
L Brackets 8 x Bracket Rt Ang Mount 4-40 Steel (612K-ND)
These L brackets are used to mount the KX3 to the panel and the panel to the case.
For mounting the KX3, I use a little piece of stick on felt on the bracket to protect the
KX3’s cabinet from damage. Replace the KX3’s screws with #4-40 Thread Size, 1/4”
Length Steel Pan Head Machine Screw, Black Oxide Finish (see below). For the panel
mounting, use #6-32 Thread Size, 3/16” Length self tapping sheet metal screw. You
may need to cut the tip off in order to not puncture the outside of the case.

RG316 BNC Male Angle to BNC Female SM Bulkhead Coaxial RF Pigtail Cable (6”)
This is not the original interconnect I used for connecting the KX3’s antenna output to
the panel. However, I think it is a better option for new designs. The caveat is that you
will need to verify the hole in the panel matches the bulkhead connector on this cable.
There will be a little loop in the cable when you are done, but that is fine.

Micrfasteners.com
Screws for Sound Card 2 x FMSP2510 – M 2.5 x .45 x 10mm
Screws for KX3 Bracket Mount 4 x MSPPK0404 – 4-40 x 1/4
Screws for Countersunk Panel Holes 8 x FMPPK0403 – 4-40 x 3/16
Screws for USB Connector *** 2 x FMPPK0406 – 4-40 x 3/8

I’m pretty sure these are the right length for the USB connector. I am doing it from memory.

Amazon.com or eBay.com
Soundmatters foxL DASH A Wireless Bluetooth Soundbar (OPTIONAL)

Sonoma Wire Works GJ2USB GuitarJack 2 USB Portable Audio Interface (OPTIONAL)
(Make sure you get the USB model, not the 30-pin model.)

This is optional if you want a built-in sound card interface for a waterfall display using iSDR. Make sure to eliminate the holes in the upper left corner of the panel if you are not installing. You will also need 2.5mm x 10mm screws to mount this to the bottom of the panel (see below).

bhi Compact In-Line Noise Eliminating Module (OPTIONAL)

In my opinion, the KX3’s noise reduction is totally ineffective for SSB communications. This external noise reducing DSP is one solution, albeit an expensive one, to that problem. It is only for SSB, not CW or digital modes. It is also available from GAP Antenna Products.

IMG_0530


Scott: you have done a beautiful job here and have spared no expense to make a wonderfully-engineered and rugged go-box. No doubt, you’re ready to take your KX3 to the field and enjoy world-class performance on a moment’s notice. 

Though I’ve never used them personally, I’ve noticed others who have taken advantage of the Front Panel Express engraving service–certainly makes for a polished and professional front panel.

Again, many thanks for not only sharing your photos, but also your bill of materials which will make it much easier for others to draw inspiration from your design!

AK5SD_QSL_Card

Speaking of designs, when I looked up Scott on QRZ.com, I noticed that he also sports a QSL card (above) designed by my good friend, Jeff Murray (K1NSS). Obviously, Scott is a man with good taste!

Adam’s Yaesu FT-817ND Go Kit

Adam (KJ6HOT) writes:

“Just wanted to pass on a link to a few videos I put
together in case you’d like to share them, especially the Yaesu
FT-817ND kit I put together.”

Adam has also posted some SOTA activation videos where he uses his go kit (click here to watch).  I’m amazed that Adam manages to fit so much in that small box. Certainly a handy kit for hiking to a SOTA activation!

Thanks for sharing, Adam! I’ll add this link to our Going Portable page. If you have a portable set-up you would like to share, please contact me.

Author interview: Dennis Blanchard’s (K1YPP) “Three Hundred Zeroes: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail”

Dennis Blanchard (K1YPP) at Four Days In May 2012

This year, at the Four Days in May (FDiM) Dayton QRP gathering, I had the pleasure of meeting Dennis Blanchard (K1YPP) and his wife, Jane, as Blanchard signed copies of his book, Three Hundred Zeroes: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail. I had previously heard about Blanchard’s book, and it was great meeting the author in person.  Both he and his wife were most friendly, and I instantly felt a connection–after all, he is a fellow QRPer!

As a result of this meeting, I recently decided to purchased a copy of Three Hundred Zeroes on my Kindle eBook reader. Though I’ve always been a fan of turning pages on a traditional book, the eReader does afford one instant gratification, as you can order it on-the-go and start reading immediately.  And that’s exactly what I did…

The result? I’m very glad I took the time to read Blanchard’s Three Hundred Zeros.  Though I don’t like to spend much time away from my young family at present, I’ve always thought it would be a wonderful challenge and adventure to through-hike the AT (Appalachian Trail); reading this book was a vicarious opportunity to do so. Indeed, my favorite trail, the BT–the Bartram Trail, which follows the path of early American naturalist and explorer William Bartram–which I hike when I can, and whose NC chapter I’ve served as a board member for nearly 10 years now, parallels the AT at different points.  So the temptation to hike (and QRP, of course) continues.

“This photo was taken in NJ. Shortly after I took these photos, and walked down the trail about a 100 feet, a bear came over to check the table to see if I had left anything.” (Photo: K1YPP)

Blanchard’s book gives me hope. Three Hundred Zeroes is a well-documented, informative, and–despite his truly serious heart condition–often humorous journal-style account of his successful thru-hike of this 2176 mile trail. His writing style is very informal and likeable, focusing on the many personal interactions that make the trail hiker’s experience unique, and interweaving his day-to-day accounts with trail lore and history.

In contrast with the arduous journey Bill Bryson describes his well-known (and hilarious) book, A Walk in the Woods, in Three Hundred Zeros Blanchard calmly and routinely deals with misadventures and hair-raising encounters with wildlife, rolling with the punches and somehow emerging unscathed. He describes the journey as “long stretches of boredom, punctuated by brief moments of excitement” in the lively and unpredictable form of bears, mice, snakes, and even other hikers, to some degree. Blanchard was obviously a great hiking companion, thus rarely hiked alone–no doubt, other hikers sought his company.

A closeup of Dennis’ AT Sprint 3A taked at Four Days in May (Click to enlarge)

With QRP in mind, I had a few questions for Blanchard after reading his book.  He has kindly taken the time to respond to QRPer‘s questions, as follows.

QRPer:  I always thought that the AT would be a lonely place, but your book certainly changed my mind. Were there many stretches of trail where you were completely alone while trekking or camping at night?

Blanchard: There were times when I was alone for extended periods. However, “alone” is a relative term. Throughout the day I would encounter other hikers going in the other direction, or people that were slower or faster than I. In 180 days on the trail, I think I had three nights when I camped alone.

“2007-Damascus, VA was where I operated Field Day in 2007. It was shortly after this that I left the trail for the heart surgery.” (Photo: K1YPP)

QRPer: What was your favorite stretch of trail?

Blanchard: That’s difficult to answer…The trail is so varied and weather can change one’s views of any section. For me, it was a coin toss between the New Hampshire White Mountains and the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine. The remoteness of both areas was just so spectacular. Of course the high altitudes made for great antenna opportunities as well.

QRPer: Did you bring a radio to listen to local AM/FM or shortwave?

Blanchard: For most of the hike, I carried a Yaesu VX-1R 2/440 handi-talkie. I think I used it about three times on two-meters. In a few situations, such as up in the White Mountains, I used the VX-1R to tune in NOAA for weather news. It also has AM/FM and on a few very rare occasions, I tuned into local stations for news. Would I carry it again? I don’t know. It is wise to have something for emergencies, and the radio wasn’t too big or heavy, but it was extra weight.

QRPer:  Specifically, what ham gear did you take with you? Do you have a photo?

Blanchard:As noted in the book, I did carry a home-brewed 80/40 meter CW rig for the first 600 miles. For the rest of the hike I carried Steve Weber’s ATS-3A. The radio was powered by six Energizer disposable lithiums, in a home-brewed battery pack. The pack could also charge my cell phone and power the 2-meter VX-1R radio. I used a 51 foot random wire for the antenna and some counterpoise wire, usually about 15 feet. Altogether, the gear weighed around two pounds.

QRPer: If you were to do the hike again, would you take the same equipment?

Blanchard: I’m not certain I would carry the VX-1R again. I didn’t use it much and it is extra weight. However, the NOAA weather, and 2-meter capability could prove extremely useful in an emergency.

QRPer:What was it like coming back off the trail once you completed it? Any especially notable things about how you perceived the world around you? Did it change you? Any culture shock?

Blanchard: The only real “culture shock” was riding in automobiles. Everything seemed to move so quickly. I much more enjoy walking and biking now. I would be happy if I never had to drive again.

“KD2VX, Kathy, was the trail angel that helped out with my hike up in New Hampshire. She is a QRP fan.” (Photo: K1YPP)

QRPer: How many other hams did you meet on the AT who were either through-hiking the AT, or hiking sections?

Blanchard: Since we [hikers] don’t wear being a “ham” on our sleeve[s], I can’t really say how many hams I encountered. The few that I was aware of were mostly section hiking. One benefit of setting up my QRP station along the way was public visibility for ham radio. On a number of occasions I inspired my fellow hikers to look into ham radio when they returned home. I’ve even had a few readers of the book write me to tell me they went off and got a ham license based on inspiration from the book.

QRPer: If any other QRPers are inspired by your story, and are thinking about hiking the entire AT, how much money should they budget for such an adventure? Based on what I read, there are a number of budgetary considerations for shuttles, food, gear, and the like.

“Duncannon, PA was were I operated Field Day. The station table was a few rocks I moved around.” (Photo: K1YPP)

Blanchard: The answer to this question depends on how many “creature comforts” one wishes. Hiking as I did, with stops along the way about every 5-10 days, can cost about $1-$3 a mile. Those on a tight budget could do it for much less, and those that enjoy getting to hotels and eating in fancier places could spend more. Most of the shuttles were really not that expensive, at least those that cater specifically to hikers. The hostels are a real bargain, compared to standard hotels, but one may have to tolerate annoyances, such as snoring and people coming and going at unusual hours. If you’re a light sleeper, this could be an issue.

QRPer: On zero days [based on your descriptions] it seems like hikers simply stuff themselves with food. I’m really curious what you typically ate on the trail?

K1YPP’s 2008 Field Day “table” in Duncannon, PA (Click to enlarge, Photo: K1YPP)

Blanchard:The short answer is: I ate everything. I’m not fussy, and don’t have any diet limitations. If someone is diabetic, or vegetarian, it is still possible to undertake such a hike, it just might require more preparation. My typical day was a few Pop Tarts first thing in the morning, or hot oatmeal on cold days, followed by an on-trail mid-morning snack, such as a Snickers Bars or trail mix.

Lunch was usually something that didn’t need cooking. Roll-up tortillas, or bagels with peanut butter won out most of the time. In the colder weather, bagels and cream cheese was a favorite. Gatorade powder mix, or hot chocolate in cold weather, was my favorite drink for lunch.

The evening meal was usually a pasta-based affair, or couscous. I really preferred the couscous; it is very light to carry, needs very little energy to cook, and is loaded with nutrients. I would usually stir in some dried vegetables with it, or dried meat. As a side I would carry a dried sausage, such as pepperoni, which could also serve as a snack for lunch. I usually carried some desert items as well, such as cookies or dried fruit. Of course energy bars would supplement all of this along the way. Many hikers preferred candy bars, but I tried to avoid them in the warmer weather since they melt.

Overall, even though the diet sounds bland, it wasn’t bad. Of course, whenever we hit a town, I would stuff on everything in sight. I actually did eat well, but couldn’t find enough calories to maintain my weight. I ended up losing 35 pounds at the end of the hike and looked like a refugee.

Well, Dennis–all I can say is that I hope you’ve gained back some of those lost pounds, continue to be in good heart-health, and are able to enjoy a little QRP on your forthcoming hikes.  Thanks very much for taking the time to answer our questions; we wish you the very best!

You can purchase Dennis’ book from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble and visit his website at threehundredzeroes.com.

A QRP Family Holiday on Prince Edward Island, Canada

K4SWL portable VY2!

This year, during our family’s summer holiday, I’m enjoying the hospitality of Prince Edward Island, Canada (hence, the lack of recent posts on QRPer).  This is our family’s second visit to the maritime island, and each time we’ve been  fortunate to stay at the same off-the-grid cabin on the eastern coast, less than twenty meters from the water.

Of course, staying in an off-grid cabin comes with its radio challenges—namely, supplying power—but also comes with one supreme advantage:  no noise from the typical electrical devices that plague most of our homes. What’s more, this cabin sits on 60 acres, so not even a neighbor’s home appliances disturb my RX ears.

On our previous visit, I brought my (then) Yaesu FT-817, a 9aH gel cell, Micro M+ charge controller, 10W Solarex PV panel, some 300 ohm window line, loads of 22 AWG wire and an LDG ATU.  Unfortunately, I found I had very little time for radio, and propagation was dismal. Indeed, it was during that trip that I discovered my FT-817’s finals had blown, so part of the time I was transmitting less than QRPpppp levels.

This year, since I knew the site well, I came better prepared.

My full 2012 setup consists of the following:

  • An Elecraft K2/10
  • An Elecraft KX1 (4 band w/built-in ATU)
  • Elecraft T1 ATU
  • LDG 4:1 Balun
  • One 35 aH gel cell
  • Two 9.5 aH gel cells
  • Two PowerFilm Solar foldable 5 W PV panels
  • My radio toolbox with various connectors, crimpers, cutters, wires, caps, multi-tester, etc.
  • Enough wire and 300 ohm antenna line to make a couple of wire antennas

So…how’s it all working out? Brilliantly!

In the past few years I’ve done a lot of QRP CW—mainly rag-chews with some buddies on the lower bands. I’ve done less QRP SSB phone. When I first arrived at the cabin and began the process of unpacking, I couldn’t find the jumper cable to attach to my Vibroplex single-lever paddle (the paddle being a Dayton 2012 find, by the way). So, I plugged in a microphone and tuned to the phone portion of the 17 meter band.

Talk about radio fun!

I’ve once again re-discovered the joy of operating QRP SSB. It’s challenging to make those DX contacts and to transmit a long call sign (“VY2 portable K4SWL”) across the ether,  but occasionally the propagation gods smile upon you, and you’re able to participate in a good rag-chew or quick DX with a 57 to 59 signal report.

Being 20 meters from the salt water is a bonus I don’t usually enjoy in my US hermitage. Due to its excellent propagation characteristics, despite my lower power set-up, I have easily worked stations from Russia to North Africa, from  the Caribbean to Japan.   I am thoroughly reveling in it, and the process has re-connected me with my ham radio roots.

As Gunter, VA3GA, told me in a recent Canadian rag-chew, “ham radio holidays give you a chance to explore areas of the hobby you don’t normally think to enjoy.”

So true, Gunter. That’s what I love about ham radio in general– the hobby is so broad, you constantly discover and re-discover favorite elements about it.

Vlado’s challenge: home-brewed QRP DXCC

Vlado (N3CZ)

My good friend, Vladimir (Vlado) Karamitrov (N3CZ/ZS6MG) is someone who likes to challenge himself. Perhaps this is why he’s such an accomplished DXer and contester.

Recently, at his QTH, he showed me one of his latest projects: a home brewed QRP transceiver. Vlado wasn’t content to simply build his own high-performance transceiver; no, he needed a built-in challenge.

Here is the story of his QRP radio, that he built mostly from junk parts, in his own words:


N3CZ's QRP rig front face

Challenge for all of us ….”Built your own radio”

By N3CZ / ZS6MG, Vladimir Karamitrov, 114 Russet Ln. Asheville, NC 28803 USA

Building your own radio is a challenge on its own. Using it to work DXCC is another challenge, probably less difficult. But combining the two brings a new spark and joy in our hobby. Isn’t ham radio about radios?

The purpose of this article is not to argue the need for building but to give ideas to those who have the time, like a new challenge and open up for ideas of building their own radios.

There are many different aspects to look into this. One is to build a radio from a kit. A search online will provide a list of manufacturers who offer these kits from basic thru intermediate to advanced designs.

The other approach is to build it your self. Yes, from scratch. Well, why not? Remember, time is what is needed most and of course some money and/or spare parts or junk parts. Time is not what I have available a lot, money is always on the agenda but having spare parts and stuff lying around your garage is another good resource.

N3CZ's workbench

So I decided to put something together. No time –means I can’t spend a lot on making this new rig look like a factory made, I have to use dead-bug design techniques and other easy methods to “glue” everything together. Available time is only after work and weekends and that is not much.

What kind a circuit and design to use? This was really the main question, because the answer will dictate what approach to take. First rule is check what parts and components you have available. There is something you have to remember here — when you go to a hamfest always bring some “junk” back home. You never know what you going to need. We all know this rule don’t we? Also don’t forget what your buddies have collected over the years, they will be able to help you with some of the missing parts if you need.

One of my passions is building my own equipment. Starting from antennas, to control boxes to switch them, pre-amps for the low bands and from time to time build a small QRP rig. Other interests are DX and Contesting, so while putting this radio together I cannot wait to hook it up to my antenna. This is where a little patience is required and I had almost none, hi. But I knew, bands are down for now, I have worked almost everything that was there to work, so will do this one little different and try to slow down a bit.

With my projects everything starts with the box. Few boxes I changed until the right one was in my hand. Next was to find a properly sized knob for the VFO. I then realized that it will take little more time to build all the components so I decided to use my $$ budget and get my self a nice DDS VFO. There are few different ones available online and for around $80. I got a nice programmable one with dual VFO’s and memories, with settable IF offset etc. This seemed to be the perfect fit for the project.

Transmitter

I thought I had all I need to start working on this project, but…..I wasn’t really sure about it yet. While looking for the “start” button and to actually take off with this project, I had yet to find that “trigger” that ignites the spark inside me, so I can say to myself, “yes I am ready, let’s just do this.”

You know the feeling – you feel a bit lazy at the beginning until that moment when that spark gets you. It’s like when you have to mow the lawn, and then you think, “no, it can wait another week, don’t feel like doing it now.” Well, I found my spark – it was not in the box, it was in the tuning knob that I got from a colleague also a ham and one who builds little QRP’s. I was actually explaining to him what I was planning to do, but not sure yet of the concept and how to handle certain parts of the circuit. While discussing all of this, he said he had some parts that he would bring for me and see if I could use some. He did not mention about any knobs, but when I saw them I knew I had what I was missing and now it iss the time to start working on this.

Transmitter PA

Now that I have the heart and the body, and the knob, I did some study of a number of different circuits published in ham radio literature including ARRL’s handbook and many online QRP resources. The goal was to build a simple radio easily reproducible, with reasonably good specifications so you can use it daily. Selection of IF frequency was the next and I decided on using 4MHz as I had access to a pile of some computer xtals of 4.032MHz.

Transmitter keying circuit and low pass filter

Junk stock provided the following:

  • Double balanced mixer SBL-1,
  • some 2N5109’s, J310 FET’s,
  • a few IF amps MC1350,
  • some toroids and
  • wire

I was ready to take on my own challenge – build it and work 100 countries with it!

Associated pictures with this article represent certain stages of the building process. As you can see I picked up an easy method for putting all together. I liked this approach for a simple reason that I can go step by step, keep adding components and test each stage as I move forward. There was no need for making PCB…who needs a PCB. In the old days, radios were built on a chassis and components hanging in the air and radio worked.

RX/TX antenna relay

On the other hand there was that perfection starring at me and making me feel a bit guilty, but I had no time to waste but hurry and build this radio in the short time I had available to me. Because you know what, the bands will just open up again, and then I had to do my other part – the DXing, hi so I may not be able to get this done.

I actually put the receiver in a working shape in one afternoon. I had the front end bandpass filter , double balanced mixed, post mixer amp, xtal filter, IF stage and audio section. All tested and worked first time. I spend the rest of the evening listening on 20m. Nothing much there but I found few stations up the band. There were few UA0’s as well. I managed to pick them up but signals were tiny. I decided to check my main radio and compare. I see now…signals were stronger, much stronger, S9 + on my TS850. So I checked few things and found few problems with my initial design: I had to amplify the input signal and my LO signal was too low to produce satisfactory mixing with SBL1. I used a J310 FET transistor for my front end pre-amp, and used single NPN transistor to boost the output of the DDS oscillator to appropriate level.

The receiver

I was ready to fire this thing and …wow, what a difference. I could still hear the UA0’s calling CQ and working others, and the signals were just incredible. Next obstacle was the Xtal filter. I had choose computer xtals that were somewhat matched in frequency, but the filter was way too narrow. I started experimenting with the capacitors around it and found a good medium that showed some good response on the signal quality and bandwidth.

Received signals now sounded “almost” like my ‘850. But I wasn’t happy yet. I was missing some “dynamics” in the signal. It was just a plain CW signal and nothing more to it. Next few days I experimented with an AGC circuit and variable bandwidth for the Xtal filter. After number of changes, I came up with a solid audio AGC circuit and S-Meter. That made a whole lot of difference. Everything was still sitting on the bench, loosely connected together and I was listening up and down the band. There were more stations now…hmm the bands must be opening up or something?

Receiver (left) & Transmitter (right)

For the xtals filter I ended up replacing the fixed caps with varicap diodes which I pulled out from an old TV tuner found at one of the local hamfests. You know that feeling when you can actually adjust xtal filter bandwidth. That is what was missing. I spend hours listening and trying to get into motion for my next step. I was simply amazed what I could pick up with the receiver and how I was able to select different signals, some of them very weak.

I went back and forth between my main radio and this little receiver that was sitting in front of me, still in pieces. “Not much difference is it?”–I was thinking to myself. I actually ended up spending hours in this year’s CQ WPX CW contest and only listening on my new receiver. I was able to pick every signal I wanted, even thru some heavy pile ups. It passed the test! Now I wanted to call these all these stations, so it was time for me to start thinking about the transmitter part.

Receiver front end and mixer

This was nother challenge. I tried one circuit and it worked. Straight forward a TX mixer, bandpass filter, couple stages amplification, low pass filter to the antenna. But I could not get the output power I wanted. I was getting something like 1 W barely making it to 2W. I figured out the reason. It was the transistors I used. Each stage must have enough gain to drive the next one. My final transistor was capable of producing an easy 10 watts out, but I was lacking drive power. I checked the complete circuit and components I had available on hand then decided to make few changes. Remember: the goal was to use what was available and not to go and spend any extra money. I ended up adding extra amplification after the TX mixer. Yep! That was it. That is what I was missing. I was now getting an easy 8W out. I couldn’t wait to hook up the antenna. I had no antenna switching circuit yet, so I hooked up my 3 element SteppIR on the little transmitter and used my vertical antenna on the main radio. Nothing easier than this. I was able to hear my transmitted signal and, at the same time, I could listen on frequency. First call and into UR land…559, “not bad,” I though. I then moved up the band and found a French station ending up a QSO, so I called him and worked him too. I got 579 for my signal. This was getting exciting. I ended up working 10 different countries that evening, mostly Europeans.

I spent the next week or so working on the box and figuring out how to implement the mechanical part of this project and get everything together. I tried using the little radio on 2 different bands (20 and 17M) with excellent results. These have been my main bands this year after they stabilized somewhat and we have them open after work until late. This is the perfect time for experimenting.

Receiver bandpass filter

Final touches can be seen on the rest of the pictures displayed here. I actually used this rig in the IARU CW contest for a while as well as in few QSO party’s on 20m, all with great success. The crown of everything was still to come.

It was getting close to the end of ST0R operation and I had them worked with my main station and KW into antenna on every possible band and mode I could hear them, but that one evening I was listening to their easy going pile-up on 20m working NA stations. The pile-up wasn’t that big and I was thinking,
“should I try this little rig and see if maybe somehow they will hear me?” I wasn’t sure this was going to work, but I hooked up my memory keyer and started pushing the button to send my callsign out. I did this for almost 2 hours. Yes, there was nothing else to do, while I was reading a magazine, I just used the preprogrammed call sign and kept sending it over and over.

Top view of N3CZ's QRP transceiver

Then I heard Lynn W4NL working ST0R with his QRP rig…NO WAY! What is he doing differently then me? And I am going crazy and about to give up, but….I was careful enough to check what frequency was W4NL transmitting so I tune up a little higher then he was. At the same time I received email from Lynn saying he worked ST0R QRP! Yes, I know I heard you Lynn…so I pressed few more time on the keyer. Guess what? It took couple more calls and there he was….smiling at me ST0R called me N3CZ 599 BK. There must have been another CZ I thought, so I send my call, then 599 and then my call again. Sure enough he came back with N3CZ TU. That was it! I did it! I just worked ST0R–a new country in a pile-up with my little homemade radio. I had them worked already on 20 CW , so what if it was a dupe? I knew I did it with my little radio and that was good enough for me. This is where I actually stopped and realized that I have accomplished my challenge. At least I have made it to a milestone, a major milestone. At that time I had well over 60 DXCC countries worked with the little radio, and it was barely 2 and a half months since I started working on this project.

I found this encouraging and I would challenge those readers who are thinking about a similar endeavor to not think twice–just do it!  Order yourself a kit at least and put it together. The reward cannot be described here or told by anyone. You have to feel it on your own. Put a challenge for yourself. Make a goal to work 10 states maybe or 10 DXCC countries, or 100. It doesn’t really matter. What matters most is that you give this hobby of ours another chance. A chance that makes it different from any other hobby on this beautiful planet we live on. What better can it be than communicating with others over a the vast emptiness of the space around us and bounce few signals now and then of the ionosphere?

“DX RULES” as my good friend Bill N2WB from Florida say.

N3CZ's QRP rig front face

I say “HAM RADIO RULES!” nourish it with everyday ideas, build your own stuff, don’t just buy that new radio and antenna, ready assembled and waiting for you to simply push few buttons and “work that rare DX”. There are many aspects of this hobby and like with anything in life we have to find it on our own. Sometimes we get help from another ham, sometimes a complete stranger to us, but with the same ideas.

Thanks to Dave K4SV, Phil W9IXX, Lynn W4NL and Carl N4AA who insisted on getting this article done [originally for The DX Magazine]. And all the stations who logged N3CZ/QRP. That was me who called you with this little homebuilt-junk parts radio. Drop me a note if you find this interesting and inspiring, because that was my intention anyway. By the way, I am already gathering parts for my next project. This time it really started with a nice box, but we’ll see. I don’t see that spark yet. I will let you know how it goes.

Until then,
73 & CU on the bands.
TU de N3CZ / ZS6MG / Z35C
Vlado

And thank you, Vlado, for sharing this article for QRPer.com readers! To contact Vlado, grab his email from QRZ.com.

If you have a home-brew QRP project that you would like to share with QRPer.com readers, simply contact us or comment!

Thoughts on the Elecraft KX1 and comparing with the Ten-Tec HB1B

My Elecraft KX1

I’ve been meaning to write a post about my Elecraft KX1, because, of all of the rigs I own, it’s the most-often-used, thus the clear favorite in my stable. But:  this morning, I read John Harper’s (AE5X) excellent assessment of the Elecraft KX1 vs. the Ten-Tec HB1B. He provides some significant numbers to consider when comparing these two lightweight CW-only QRP rigs, and makes a great case for elevating the newcomer HB1B over the KX1–at least, for some readers.

I’ve had my Elecraft KX1 for over three years, and, in all honesty, absolutely love it.  But, let’s face it: if I didn’t have one, if I had never touched nor used one, I would be seriously tempted by the HB1B–for its price, for the fact that Ten-Tec sells it (I’m a long-time Sevierville radio fan), and for the fact that it’s not a kit. Oh, yeah:  and because it works very well.

However, having used the KX1 for so long, I know that the HB1B (at least in its current state) could not replace my KX1. But before I explain why, I would like to make some strong points in favor of the HB1B.

YouKits HB1B Four Band QRP Transceiver
The Ten-Tec HB1B

The Ten-Tec HB1B

At least on paper, the HB1B has better filtering, a better display, and generally speaking, more bells and whistles than the KX1. Best of all, it comes fully assembled.

Why is this last point an advantage–? For a number of talented QRPers reading this, building the kit is the best part!  I know, I get it…And to tell the truth, I want to be like you kit-builders out there!  But I am only now getting into kit building, and building my confidence in kit-building.  I’m sure there are many others out there like me. For these QRPers, please note: the KX1 is not a beginner’s kit. I did not build mine. When I bought my KX1, I purchased it from a KX1 beta tester and professional engineer. The soldering and overall build quality are top-shelf.

Moreover, no matter how great an Elecraft radio is, it’s only as good as the person who built it. If the builder does sloppy work, your rig’s longevity and performance may suffer. Since you’ll likely be taking the KX1 with you everywhere, and it’ll experience a fair amount of movement (aka, hard knocks), this is especially important.

If, like me, you’re not prepared to take on building a KX1, fear not!–you should simply purchase from someone who knows their stuff: Elecraft can suggest some builders (including the amazing Don Wilhelm, W3FPR) or you can simply purchased a used KX1 fully-assembled. Or, you can simply purchase the fully-assembled HB1B.

So, why do I not find the HB1B enticing?

Yes, the Ten-Tec HB1B comes ready to roll. Still, could it replace my KX1?  I don’t think so. Two HB1B deal-breakers for me:

  1. As AE5X mentions, there is no internal antenna tuner option.
  2. There is no way (at least, on this version) to attach paddles directly to the rig.

Portability + Simplicity = QRP Fun

Why are these features so important? Well, my KX1 has an ATU, four bands, and an attachable paddle. One of my favorite things to do with my KX1 is, while traveling, to pull it out of its Pelican case, toss a 28′ wire into a tree, and lay a ground wire. As I stand there, I can hold the KX1, tune the antenna (easily 40M and up, with the internal ATU) and work stations my favorite way: while standing up.  I can also (if I like) sit for a moment, then jump up again, walk a bit, and generally move freely–just not possible with sit-on-a-table units.

My Elecraft KX1 fits nicely inside the Pelican 1060 case. There's even room to fit an external Whiterock paddle.

Additionally, everything I need fits inside a Pelican 1060 case. The Kx1 itself is an all-in-one unit–nothing external to attach, unless I want to. Oh, and I can also operate the KX1 with gloves on in below-zero conditions.

Anywhere QRP

Why would I want to operate standing up? Fact is, where I go, I’m only operating for thirty minutes or so, and in places where there’s no convenient spot to settle down or get too comfortable. In many cases, I’m operating on a whim–when I can grab a few minutes in a busy itinerary, or on a hike or day trip. With the Kx1, this is remarkably easy to do. I can have my KX1 on the air in four minutes or less, in most cases–and that includes the time to hang a wire–!  Packing up is also quick. This kind of operation feels as free as flying a kite.  Spontaneity at its best.

Part of that functional synergy comes from the fact that there are no additional components to hook up (i.e., no external tuner, external paddles). With the HB1B, I would be forced to either build a set-up, so that I could stand and hold the transceiver, tuner and paddles, or I’d have to…sit down.

Wayne’s inspiration for the KX1

Thinking back to a Dayton Hamvention several years ago, I seemed to remember that Wayne Burdick, N6KR (co-founder of Elecraft) was inspired by just this sort of off-the-cuff operation. To confirm this, I asked Wayne, just this morning, if I was on track with that. He offered this very thorough (and insightful) response:

I had been designing portable QRP gear for my own use for many years, including the “Safari 4″ (documented in three issues of QEX magazine in 1990). The Safari-4 was 3x5x7”, but it was fully self-contained, including an attached keyer paddle, internal 1-Ahr gel cell and manual antenna tuner, wattmeter, SWR bridge, and 4-band coverage. But it was too large for backpacking. Later, I designed some far smaller rigs with very good performance for NorCal and Wilderness Radio, including the SST, NC40A, and Sierra.

Then I started Elecraft with Eric, WA6HHQ. After we had success with the K2 and K1, I pitched the idea of a smaller version of the Safari-4 to Eric.

There were two inspirations for this. Back in the 70s, W7ZOI (Wes) created his “Mountaineer”, which was a crystal-controlled 40-m QRP rig that was very simple to use, very small, and self-contained, in that battery and paddles were built in. But it had no VFO, no ATU, a single band, and no frills. Taking what we’d learned in the K2 and K1 designs, I figured we could pack a great radio into this same size using updated technology. It had to cover at least 40 and 20 meters, and the idea was to use latching relays to minimize current drain and simplify band switching. We also used a DDS chip for the VFO–not quite as pure as crystal control, but just as stable, and totally adequate for a portable radio.

The other inspiration was my idea for an attached, but easily removable and mechanically reversible, keyer paddle. This became the KXPD1. I literally woke up at 5 AM with this idea. I realized immediately that this was the enabling technology for a hand-held radio, and I got busy with the design.

Having spent time camping and hiking with other rigs, I also knew that the ATU had to be built in. This allows the use of ad-hoc, wire-in-a-tree antennas, which is the secret to quick setup. It was a challenge creating an ATU that’s just 1 x 5″, but it worked. We spent weeks refining the rig and the ATU to work with typical field antennas, adjusting the component values to cover 40 and 20 meters. When we added the 30-m module, we found that it handled this well, too.

Most of my KX1 operation involves not even sitting down. I literally stop on the trail at a scenic overlook, pull the daypack around and extract the rig, toss a wire into one or two trees, and I’m on the air. I love this kind of operation. I’ve gone so far as to operate while sitting in a tree (an “inverted vertical”–a dangling wire–works amazingly well). Having to futz with add-ons can be fun, too, but it discourages “instant” operation. I like to quote Ade Weiss, W0RSP,  from his book The Joy of QRP: “If there is a place, and you can get to it, you must operate from there.”

You can’t overlook performance and features, either. The KX1 is stable in all operating environments and draws only about 35 mA. It includes a variable-passband crystal filter that can be widened out to copy AM and SSB signals, and can even do cross-mode (transmitting in CW while receiving LSB or USB). It has a full set of frequency memories and CW message buffers. For blind hams (or when you’re too tired to keep your eyes open), the KX1 has a 100% Morse-audio-feedback system. I tested this firmware with my eyes closed, and the result was very well-received by the blind amateur community.

Thanks for the history, and your inspiration, Wayne. Love it!

The KX1's Tuning, RF, AF and Filter knobs are very easy to operate--even with gloves on!

When you hold and operate the KX1, this legacy is all too apparent. Thoroughly thought through–down to a built-in LED lamp for logging–and, without a doubt, the original inspiration for several radios that followed: the HB1B, the MFJ 92XX series, and the Hendricks PFR3.

My guess is that the next generation of HB1B will have some of these clever features.

In the meantime, if you’re in the market for an inexpensive, CW-only, very portable QRP rig, and you’ve no plans to embark upon impromptu operation, the HB1B could be your rig. Based on my experience with Ten-Tec, if they sell it, they’ll give you excellent customer service. That is the beauty of these two choices, both Elecraft and Ten-Tec are excellent companies to do business with.

I only think I’d give up my KX1 for…the new KX3, and I’m not even convinced I’d do that, yet. The KX1 has become my little travel buddy. Time will tell, though. Check back here–if I’m wooed by another QRP radio, I may eat my words.

By the way, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the inspiration to finally write down my thoughts on the KX1 came from John Harper (AE5X) who has an excellent QRP blog that you should certainly add to your favorites!  And thanks, again, to Wayne, both for his response, and for his original ideas that continue to make QRP so liberating.

Catch AA0RQ’s Solar-Powered QRPp beacon

(Photo: AA0RQ)

You might want to let your viewers of your nice web site know that on 10133.56kHz AA0RQ/b is on the air…30mw at night and 100mw during the day and solar powered.

Thanks for the suggestion, Bill!

I would also encourage you to visit the QRZ.com page of William (AA0RQ). There, he describes in good detail, the beacon, how to get a QSL and figure the miles per watt to your QTH. I also enjoyed reading his bio and how he fell in love with low power.

Now I’m off to snag AA0RQ/B!