Tag Archives: Homebrew

Field Report: Let’s build a super simple antenna on-site and activate this park!

Until 2016, I had never purchased a commercial field antenna; I built all the ones I had ever used.

These days, I take a number of commercial antennas to the field and use them in my real-time videos and I really enjoy deploying and using them. My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) reminded me, though, that I hadn’t actually used a homebrew antenna in ages. He was right!

You see, while I believe commercial field antennas can be incredibly durable and compact, it’s important to note that antennas are one of the easiest components of an amateur radio system to build yourself. They require only the most simple of tools and are very affordable. And the best part? They can perform as well as those that are available commercially.

I also get a great deal of pleasure out of building things.

A simple goal

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I often set a little goal that runs in the back of my mind for each park or summit activation I make.

On Monday, June 14, 2021, I made a simple goal: buy my antenna wire en route to Lake James State Park, build the antenna on site, and complete a valid Parks On The Air (POTA) activation.

A very simple antenna

I also decided to employ my Xiegu X5105 since 1.) it’s one of the most affordable general coverage QRP transceivers I own and 2.) it has a built-in antenna tuner (ATU).

One of the cool things about having an ATU is that, if it has the matching range, you can allow it to do the “heavy lifting” in terms of matching impedance.

Although I’d never put the X5105 to the test, I suspected its internal ATU would have the matching range to forgo building a 4:1 or 9:1 transformer and simply pair it directly with a random wire.

All I would need was a 28.5 foot length of wire for a radiator, at least a 17 foot length for a counterpoise, and a BNC to binding post adapter.

The antenna would benefit from multiple 17′ counterpoises, but I really wanted to keep this setup dead simple to prove that anyone can build an effective field antenna with a very minimum amount of components.

Even though I have plenty of wire lying around the house to build this simple antenna, I wanted to pretend I had none to prove that any wire would work.

And to add just a wee bit more challenge, I also limited myself to shopping for antenna wire between my home and the park without making a serious detour from my route. That really limited my options because there isn’t much in terms of commercial areas between me and Lake James State Park.

The wire

As I left the QTH, I decided that the best spot to shop was a Walmart in Marion, NC. It would only be a four minute round-trip detour at most.  I had a hunch that Walmart would even have speaker wire which would be ideal for this application.

In my head, I imagined I would have at least three or four choices in speaker wire (various gauges and lengths), but turns out I had a difficult time finding some at Walmart. We live in such a Bluetooth world, I suppose there isn’t much demand for it these days. A store associate helped me find the only speaker wire they had which was basically a 100 foot roll of the “premium” stuff for $17 US.

While I would like to have paid a fraction of that, in the end it’s not a bad price because once you separate the two conductors, you have double the amount of wire: 200 feet.

Although the frugal guy in me cringed, I bit the bullet and purchased their speaker wire. To be clear, though, I could have found another source of wire in that Walmart, but I preferred speaker wire for this application. And $17 to (hopefully!) prove a point? That’s a deal! 🙂

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

Once I arrived on site, I found a picnic site I’d used before with some tall trees around it.

I cut 28.5 feet of the speaker wire and split the paired wires so that I’d have two full 28.5 foot lengths.

Next, I stripped the ends of the wire and attached banana jacks I found in my junk drawer. Although these aren’t necessary as the binding post adapter can pair directly with the wire, I though it might make for a cleaner install. In the end, though, I wasn’t pleased with the connection to the radiator, so dispensed with one of the banana jacks.

Next, I deployed the 28.5 radiator with my arborist throw line, and laid the other 28.5 half on the ground (the ground of this antenna would pair with the black binding post, the radiator with the red post).  I only needed 17 feet of counterpoise, but once it couples with the ground, I don’t think any extra length makes a difference (although less than 17 feet likely would).

The antenna was essentially set up as a vertical random wire with one counterpoise.

My new speaker wire antenna in all its glory.

Gear:

On The Air

I’ll admit: I was a bit nervous putting this antenna on the air. Although I felt the X5105 ATU *should* match this antenna, I had no idea if it actually would.

Fortunately? It did.

At this point, if you don’t want any spoilers, I suggest you watch my real-time, real-life, no-edit, no-ad, video of the entire activation (including buying and building the antenna!).

Click here to watch the video.

Otherwise, scroll for my activation summary…

I was very pleased that the X5105 found a match on the 40 meter band.

I started calling CQ in CW and validated my activation by logging 10 stations in 13 minutes.

Honestly: it doesn’t get much better than this.

I logged three more stations on 40 meters CW, then moved up to the 30 meter band where the X5105 easily found a match.

I worked one station on 30 meters before heading back down to the 40 meter band to do a little SSB. I logged three SSB stations in five minutes.

Mission accomplished!

In the end, I logged a total of 17 stations including a P2P with K4NYM.

Not bad at all for speaker wire!

After the activation, I tested the X5105 ATU by trying to find matches on other bands–I was able to find great matches from 60 meters to 6 meters. Most impressive!

X5105 battery

You might recall that I attempted to deplete my X5105 internal battery at my last (rather long) activation of Lake Norman State Park.  I wasn’t able to deplete the battery at that activation, but I finally did at this one.

All I can say is that I’m incredibly impressed with the X5105 internal battery.  This was my fourth activation from one initial charge on May 16.  The battery lasted for 20 minutes, taking me well beyond the 10 contacts needed to validate this park. I’ll now consider taking the X5105 on a multiple SOTA summit run!

Short Hike

Even thought the heat was intense and the humidity even more intense, I decided to take in a 2 mile hike post-activation. I snapped a few shots along the way.

This is the Christmas Fern which derives its name from a few characteristics: its resilience to early season snows maintaining a dark green color beyond Christmas, and because folks believe its leaves are shaped like Santa’s boots or even Santa on his sleigh.

Improvements

I’ll plan to add more counterpoises to the speaker wire antenna as I know this will only help efficiency.

In addition, I’ll plan to build even more antennas with this roll of speaker wire. If you have some suggestions, feel free to comment!

Thank you for reading this field report!

Cheers,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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Upgrading my Yaesu FT-817 with G7UHN’s rev2 Buddy board

This article was originally published on the  SWLing Post.
Last August, SWLing Post contributor, Andy (G7UHN), shared his homebrew project with us: a genius companion control display for the venerable Yaesu FT-817 general coverage QRP transceiver.

Andy’s article caused me (yes, I blame him) to wax nostalgic about the popular FT-817 transceiver. You see, I owned one of the first production models of the FT-817 in 2001 when I lived in the UK.

At the time, there was nothing like it on the market: a very portable and efficient HF, VHF, UHF, multi-mode general coverage QRP transceiver…all for $670 US.

In 2001? Yeah, Yaesu knocked it out of the ballpark!

In fact, they knocked it out of the ballpark so hard, the radio is still in production two decades later and in demand under the model FT-818.

I sold my FT-817 in 2008 to raise funds for the purchase of an Elecraft KX1, if memory serves. My reasoning? The one thing I disliked about my FT-817 was its tiny front-facing display. When combined with the embedded menus and lack of controls, it could get frustrating at home and in the field.

I mentioned in a previous post that I purchased a used FT-817ND from my buddy, Don, in October, 2020. I do blame Andy for this purchase. Indeed, I hereby declare him an FT-817 enabler!

FT-817 Buddy board

When I told Andy about my ‘817ND purchase, he asked if I’d like to help him test the FT-817 Buddy board versions. How could I refuse?

Andy sent me a prototype of his Version 2 Buddy board which arrived in late November. I had to source out a few bits (an Arduino board, Nokia display, and multi-conductor CAT cable). Andy kindly pre-populated all of the SMD components so I only needed to solder the Arduino board and configure/solder the cable. I did take a lot of care preparing and soldering the cable, making sure there was no unintentional short between the voltage and ground conductors.

Overall, I found the construction and programming pretty straight-forward. It helped that Andy did a remote session with me during the programming process (thanks, OM!). Andy is doing an amazing job with the documentation.

I do love how the board makes it easier to read the frequency and have direct access to important functions without digging through embedded menus. While there’s nothing stopping you from changing the program to suit you, Andy’s done a brilliant job with this since he’s an experienced FT-817 user.

The Nokia display is very well backlit, high contrast, and easy very to read.

“Resistance is futile”

I mentioned on Twitter that, with the backlight on, the FT-817 Buddy makes my ‘817ND look like it was recently assimilated by The Borg.

Don’t tell any Star Trek captains, but I’m good with that.

Andy has a rev3 board in the works and it sports something that will be a game-changer for me in the field: K1EL’s keyer chip!

For more information about the FT-817 Buddy, check out Andy’s website.

Of course, we’ll keep you updated here as well. Many thanks to Andy for taking this project to the next level. No doubt a lot of FT-817 users will benefit from this brilliant project!

Bill’s 1 Watt Wood Box QRP Beacon

Many thanks to Bill (AA0RQ) who writes:

I’m running an attended beacon on 7041.8 kHz–the ID is VVV de AA0RQ/B AA0RQ/B AA0RQ/B 1 watt…

Often after running the beacon I plug the beacon crystal into the little 6L6 single tube transmitter.

Been having a number of QSOs with the bread boarded radio…

Below is the 40 meter 6L6 transmitter:

Thanks for sharing, Bill–I love the wooden box enclosure as it reminds me of early 1900s wooden box homebrew radios.

We’ll be listening for you on 7041.8 kHz!

micro-BITX: a homebrew general coverage SSB/CW QRP transceiver

Image Source: uBITX)

Many thanks to Pete (WB9FLW) who shares the following:

Farhan VU2ESE Does It Again!

http://www.phonestack.com/farhan/ubitx/ubitx.html

A compact 10 watts, easy to build, general coverage SSB/CW transceiver for HF bands

Homebrewers have traditionally avoided making multiband transceivers as they can get extremely complex and difficult to make. There have been some remarkable successes in the past, the CDG2000 (designed by Colin Horrabin G3SBI, Dave Roberts G8KBB and George Fare G3OGQ)is one such design. The SDR route as followed by several designs offer some simplification at the cost of bringing digital signal processing and a PC into the signal path.

On the other hand, many of the homebrewers do need a general coverage transceiver on the bench as well as as a base transceiver for bands beyond the HF. I ended up buying an FT-817ND that has been a reliable old warhorse for years. Two years ago, I attempted a high performance, multi-band architecture with the Minima transceiver. The KISS mixer of the Minima, though a very respectable receiver front-end, had serious leakage of the local oscillator that led that design to be abandoned as a full transceiver. Over months, I have realized that the need for a general coverage HF transceiver was wide-spread among the homebrewers. Most of us end up buying one.

While achieving a competition grade performance from a multiband homebrew is a complex task as evidenced by the works like that of HBR2000 by VE7CA, it is not at all difficult to achieve a more modest design goal with far lesser complexity. The uBITX shoots to fulfill such a need. It is a compact, single board design that covers the entire HF range with a few minor trade-offs. This rig has been in regular use on forty and twenty meters for a few months at VU2ESE. It satisfies for regular work, a few trips to the field as well.

A key challenge for multiband transceivers has been to realize a local oscillator system with such wide range. Silicon Labs has now produced a series of well performing oscillators that solve this challenge trivially : You connect the oscillator chip over a pair of I2C lines and it is done. The Si5351a is one such a part that provides 3 programmable oscillator outputs in a small 10 pin TSSOP package. We will exploit this chip to build the multiband transceiver.

Having exclusively used homebrew transceivers all the time, I get very confused whenever I need to use a commercial radio. There are too many switches, modes and knobs to twirl around. The uBITX use an Arduino to simplify the front panel while retaining all the functionality in a simple menu system that works with the tuning knob and a single ‘function’ button. The rig supports two VFOs, RIT, calibration, CW semi break-in, meter indicator, etc. In future, more software can be added to implement keyer, SWR display, etc.

Click here to read the full description of this project and download diagrams/schematics!

This is brilliant!  Thank you for sharing, Pete!

Ken’s PCB holder makes for a great weekend project

Thanks, Ken (WA4MNT), for bringing this very cool and simple project to our attention.

Click here to download instructions–parts are available from Ken for $23, or components can be home-brewed (I can imagine the plastic components can be replaced with wood).

Check out some of Ken’s other projects at www.qrpbuilder.com.

 

The Das DereLicht QRP transmitter–A bright idea

Make Magazine’s blog recently featured the Das DereLicht–a QRP transmitter made almost entirely from the electronic components found in within a CFL Bulb. The transmitter, was designed by Michael J. Rainey (AA1TJ) who was inspired while changing a defective CFL bulb in his kitchen.

For some reason, I began to wonder if it would be possible to build a QRP CW transmitter using the electronic components salvaged from this derelict lamp.

Indeed, I’m pleased to report that a perfectly serviceable transmitter may be constructed! The only additional components required were the quartz crystal, and four of the five components needed for the output lowpass filter. The resulting transmitter produces up to 1.5 watts on 80m.

Michael, thanks for creating such a cool, simple, little QRP project. I’m ready to (carefully) tear into an old CFL bulb and give it a try!

The perfect key to use when you’re in a pinch.

I think this homebrew key by Laurent Dumas (F8BBL) is simply amazing. It’s portable, easy to make from spare parts lying about the house and can serve you well if you’re in a pinch. (Sorry, I just can’t use this pun enough).

Admittedly,  I think there would be some serious operator fatigue if you tried to use this key in a contest. But for emergencies–it certainly fits the bill!

If you can’t see the embedded video below, simply click this link.