We were very poor when we bought our home. That limited our choices primarily to "fixer-uppers". After seeing many that needed a lot of work, the realtor showed us THE ONE! Like all of the others, this home had been abused and neglected for many years. It needed a new roof, furnace, siding, windows, driveway, paint, and TLC. What made this home special though was a 12' X 20' powered shed deep in the back of the property. Visions of radio shacks danced in my head.
Through the years, we have provided the home the TLC it needed. It is now a very nice place. The shed has similarly been upgraded through those years until it is now a thriving workcenter of electronic design and production, and an active RF communication center.
--- My main station rig is an Elecraft K2. This rig is an all-band, CW & SSB, QRP Kit. It can output up to 10 Watts from 160M to 10M. It uses a dual synthesized VFOs, Variable bandwidth IF, switchable AGC, 10 VFO Memories, and an internal Keyer with memory. The receiver in this radio is rated one of the best of any rig available today.
Installed options are: Separate Receive antenna Jack/160 meter coverage, SSB operation, Audio Filter w/ real-time clock, and a Noise Blanker.
---KD1JV's ATS-3B. The first time I heard of one of these rigs, I thought "another CW-only rig for $200? He must be kidding". Then, when Steve made another run recently, I took another look: This a 6-band HF rig, CW-only, but with AGC, DDS-Tuning, 4 pole IF filter, up to 5W out, and capable of being powered by a 9V battery! On a whim, I ordered one; boy, am I impressed. The entire rig fits into two Altoids Tins: one for the rig, one for the band modules. I could fit an entire station including antenna, feedline, power source, rig, and tuner into less space than my main station rig takes. Quite impressive!
I plan to take this rig along on vacations this year and see if it's as portable and convenient as I expect. If so, I'll finally have an emergency/mobile rig.
---KK7B R2/T2 - The R2 is a modern Phased Transceiver that I am driving with a quadrature output DDS. It is capable of up to -45dB opposite sideband rejection with a transmit output of 1dBm to drive a power amp. The basic architecture allows it to be used on essentially any band you can make a VFO for. In my case, strictly HF.
It is known for its outstanding dynamic range and very low noise. The design started as an exercise in high-performance receiver design.
---ICOM IC-725. My previous high-powered rig was a Ten-Tec Triton. I never much cared for it...especially after the VFO tuning started "jumping" on me. So, this past year I started hitting the hamfest circuit with $500 in my pocket. It took several hamfests, but I finally hit my gem at the Cortland (NY) hamfest. This was on the hood of an OMs car with $375 on it. I got him down to $300 and walked away with the rig and a matching mic. I finally have a synthesized all-band 100W rig. It's pretty nice so far!
---Ramsey FX-146 2 Meter FM Transceiver. I love to build kits. This one seemed the perfect way for me to get on 2 meters cheaply. At around $175, this provides me with 12 channels that can be reprogrammed easily and 4 watts out. No frills, just a decent FM transceiver.
**Note: When first designed, the receiver on this rig was WAY too wide and subject to overload from a variety of radio services. Within a year of it's release, Ramsey offered a free receive filter mod that helped the problem dramatically. This mod is a board with 3 poles of filtration (in addition to the 2 already on the rig) using stripline inductors and variable capacitors.
--- Baofeng UV-82 2-Meter and 440MHz FM Transceiver. I paid $49 for this at the ARRL centennial convention. It is a basic HT with a huge feature set for very little money. It has 128 channel memories at 5W out. The receiver is broad enough to listen to the FM broadcast band. Heck, it even has a built-in flashlight.
---Jim Kortge's (K8IQY) 2N2/40. Built entirely by me from plans provided by Jim Kortge (K8IQY?). This rig was an entire issue of QRPp, the journal of the NorCal QRP club. It's a 40 meter transceiver with variable IF and about 1 watt out. The only semiconductors it uses are 2 zener diodes, 3 Varicaps, and about 20 2N2222s. It's relatively basic, but has a "HOT" receiver, and works quite well.
***Note: I recently re-made my 2N2/40 with several improvements: I replaced the varactor tuning with an actual reduction-drive mechanical capacitor. I wanted the stability that the capacitor provides. I also made it entirely out of surface mount components. I hope this will provide some stability to a VERY hot IF amp, and reduce extraneous noise some. As it is, the rig is 3" by 4" by 1.5" high. Very compact and it seems to work quite well.
---MFJ 9406 6 Meter SSB/CW Transceiver. I've always wanted to try 6, but didn't want to lay out a Kbuck just to try a band. Along came MFJ with this rig. New, this rig is about $250, but I got lucky at a local hamfest and picked one up for $150 with the microphone and optional CW board.
---BitX20 10W 20-Meter SSB Transceiver. Askar Farhan, VU3WJM, developed this transceiver as a way for people in third world countries to easily build their own equipment and join the amateur community by using only readily obtainable and substitute-able parts. Many people worldwide have refined the original design, and offer a few versions of it as a kit. I purchased the kit being sold by KI6DS. I put it into my own chassis, added a frequency counter (of my design) as the frequency readout, and added some minor modifications. It still has a few flaws, but it's a nice little rig!
---Homebrew NorCal Sierra. By the time I discovered the Sierra, it was older and not commonly available. So, I made my own. It's a multi-band QRP CW Transceiver that uses plug-ins for the band changes. My version doesn't work properly and will need to be "modded" at some point. But, the receiver works well, so I currently use it for receive.
I doubt I'll ever buy any more antennas; I've been burned by buying an antenna. I purchased the Isotron 80 in the hopes that I could run it on my small lot. It didn't perform nearly as well as the manufacturer claims. In fact, while it could hear fairly well, NO ONE could hear me. I'd probably make as many contacts running into a dummy load.
Thus, all of my antennas are homebrew (except 2 verticals I inherited from my grandfather). The list is currently:
2 Meters- Ringo Ranger 5/8 wave Collinear Vertical. I usually don't like to run commercial antennas, but this came from the collection of my grandfather, W2IDM. I like it because it has a smaller horizontal footprint than my homebrew quad. Yard space is at a premium here, and since I rarely get on 2M, the space this antenna requires nicely matches the usage it gets.
6 Meters- Recently Rebuilt- A Moxon Rectangle. It uses many parts obtained from old Lawn chairs. At only 7 feet wide, it's a wonder for its size! I can't say absolutely what the specifications are, but when rotated, it produces a noticeable null to the sides and rear.
10 Meters thru 80 Meters - Trap Dipoles In order to make my antennas as tall as possible, I needed them to perform double duty supporting my mast. If I used separate inverted Vees, I would have needed 8 antennas. Instead of the mess of 8 separate antennas dangling from the peak of my mast, and trying to find places to tie the resulting 16 ends, I grouped them into 3 Trap Dipoles: 10-15-20; 12-17-30; and 80-40. These three antennas are all up over 30 feet (better than the previous 22ft I had!!) and made from #16 silver-teflon wire. The traps are shameless copies of SotaBeam's Trap Kits.
I wasn't sure whether to put this in antenna or accessories. I am the owner of an AB-155 mast. It's an old guyed military mast system. Goes up to 40 feet. Fully portable. Two people can erect it in about 45 minutes (most of that time is spent untangling the guys). When torn down, it's stored in a 5 foot by 1 foot by 1 foot canvas package.
---I use a homebrew PIC-based digital Power Meter, and a separate Homebrew PIC-Based SWR Meter. They both use LCD displays. The Power meter is capable of reading from 1mW to 1KW. and the SWR meter has both a numeric display, and a bar-graph display for at-a-glance display of SWR.
---The station is powered by an Astron PS-20 that can provide up to 16 Amps continuous. I also use two 12V 7.2 Ah SLA gel cells as battery back-up powered by about 10 watts of solar panels. I obtain the batteries from my local Burglar Alarm installer...they always have several that have been swapped out of alarm systems that have a lot of life left in them!
--I utterly revamped my radio operating position and upgraded my computing power to an older XP desktop machine. I added a USB wi-fi adapter to it and now I have a fully functional XP machine with internet connectivity. I use that, along with my logging program, as my station keyer. Now I simply type my Tx CW instead of using a key or paddles.
---Resonant Speaker. Filtration is the key to any radio equipment; a receiver is filtered at RF, IF, and Audio. Keeping in that "theme", why not have the speaker itself filter signals as well? Ed Loranger, WE6W took that theme and ran with it. He developed an enclosure that would filter the sound output of a small speaker, while making it's sound much louder than ordinary. The result is a system that bandpass-filters to less than 100Hz.
As far as I can tell, this is accomplished by making the enclosure both in front of, and behind the speaker resonant at the center frequency, while also making the rear of the enclosure reflect the speaker's rearward-emitted signal in-phase with the forward-emitted signal. This makes the two signals add together and provides nearly twice the sound output of a typical speaker at the frequency of interest.
--Microphone - A co-worker was cleaning out his father in-law's garage and happened on a unique-looking microphone. Knowing that I dabbled in electronics, rather than toss it out, he gave it to me. It turned out to be an Electrovoice 644...highly directional, very wideband mic. It sounds excellent. The bandwidth is dead flat from 50 Hz to 10KHz. I mounted it about 6 feet from my operating console pointed straight at me, but away from the fan on my computer. I hope this will help my contesting efforts!
Oscilloscope - My first, and favorite oscilloscope was a Heath SO-4552 that I had for over 20 years. The fourth time the horizontal section blew, I again tried to repair it, but exact replacement parts weren't available any more. The substitutes left the time base very distorted...no fun! On a whim, I looked up Digital scopes on Google and found a company in the next city over selling a 60MHz digital hobbyist scope for less than I spent on the old Heath scope 20 years before. I have since upgraded to a 100MHz version of that same scope. I love the technology that makes a 150MHz storage scope available for less than $500!
RF generator- Rather than use separate generators for RF and Audio, I use a single DDS-based generator. It loosely follows AA0ZZ's IQ-VFO. I used a 20MHz clock and the 15X internal multiplier of a AD9854 to provide a 300MHz master clock signal. This allows me to put out any frequency from 1Hz to 150MHz continuously. With the addition of a single high-speed op-amp, I have a complete signal generator with better specifications than anything available on the hobbyist market for nearly no cost at all!
**At some point in the future, I will place this item in the "Projects" area of this page.
Function Generator- My homebrew function Generator is homebrew based on a Maxim MAX038 IC. It will provide <1 Hz to about 10MHz in 4 ranges. It outputs SIN/TRI/SQ from 0V to about 6V pk-pk. I also included a digital frequency counter to know the precise frequency, and a low impedance output to drive speakers.
LC Meter- I built a homebrew version of AADE's LC meter. It works quite well. I also have the NJQRP club's release of Elsie the LC meter. This came as a kit of parts for the 2004 Atlanticon show.
I recently purchased an overseas L/C meter from e-bay. It appears to work similarly to the design I already have, but claims greater accuracy and is considerably smaller. What the heck, for less than $15 I now have another tester.
Frequency Counter - My main Freq. Counter is a Heath IM-2420. I lucked out and found this gem at a local Hamfest for a mere $15. It is a 512MHz counter with an oven-controlled timebase clock. It has two channels and can do period as well as frequency.
DVM - I got the greatest deal ever: A calibration house called my workplace saying that they needed to sell "a large quantity" of Fluke DVMs for them to get a very large bonus from Fluke. The bonus was so large, that they could sell the meters for $1 and still make money. They offered us brand-new Fluke 87Vs for the cost of calibration...about $75. These meters are $350+!! Thus, I have retired my old Radio Shack meter, and now use a NIST traceable calibrated Fluke meter!
'Tenna Dipper - Several companies make all-in-one antenna testers. These are simply low-level VFOs tied to a SWR bridge and/or an impedance measuring device, and can typically run $250 to $300. A fellow QRPer, Steve Weber, KD1JV devised a much simpler version of one of these devices. It uses a 74C4046 PLL IC as the VFO. The particular '4046 he chose can go as high as 46MHz; perfect for an HF meter. This VFO is tied to a resistive SWR bridge whose output is fed to high impedance DC amp. The display device is a Hi-Intensity LED.
An added bonus to this circuit is a "Stinger singer" frequency counter provided by Dan Tayloe. This counter tells frequency in CW and can either "display" with the push of a button, or continuously. Speed is adjustable from around 27 WPM to 15WPM. The counter makes this circuit even more useful to me than some of the higher priced commercial units.
The kit simply comes with the PCB and parts. The recommended enclosure is an Altoids tin. Using the Altoids tin only allows for the antenna jack to come out of the enclosure. To change bands or even turn the device on, you must open the enclosure. While this approach is desirable when hiking or camping, for my needs this was a little spartan. Thus, I enclosed it within an aluminum two-piece enclosure. While I was in there, I replaced the 4-pole DIP switch, Hi/Lo jumper, and power switch with a 3p10t rotary switch. The PCB is soldered straight to the chassis mounted BNC connector that protrudes through the top. (**Note: The "TUNE" pot and "PGM" Switch are covered by the battery on the internal view picture.)