All posts tagged Elecraft

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 must here explain what an Elecraft K1 is.. Though it sounds like some fighter plane name, it is a receiver/transmitter (a “transceiver”) which transmits, and receives CW (Continuous Wave) Aka “Morse Code.” It is very small, and covers up to four Ham radio bands. Mine has two, 40 (7Mhz) and 20 meter (14Mhz). The power output is fairly low (7 Watts), but that is sufficient to bounce your signal around the earth.. Imagine seeing a 7 Watts light bulb thousands of miles away! Somehow, it works. CW punches through further than “phone” (voice). The K1 is in a class of radios called “QRP,” meaning low power, usually 5 to 10 Watts. It is only sold as a kit, so if you want one, you must build it, or find a used one.. I chose to build it..

Elecraft K1

Elecraft K1

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! Shit! 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..

Elecraft K1 inside

Elecraft K1 inside

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!).

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 (CW is no longer required). 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.com, 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, like they say over there, “Everything is fine in the best of worlds.” 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..

After my semi-success with the DC20B, I decided to tackle the Rock-Mite from Small Wonder Labs. I also got the Mighty Box. The kit is very small and has no toroids to wind. It does however have a surface-mounted integrated circuit. Winding toroids is actually very easy. I don’t know why people make such a big deal of it. Maybe they just haven’t tried. Soldering the SMT circuit, while not that hard, was stressful. That being out of the way, the rest of the kit was a breeze. Being fairly confident of my abilities, I installed the circuit board in the box without trying it first. This way, I could use all the connectors for testing. To my satisfaction, it worked the first time!

My goal with this Rock-Mite is two folds. First, it is a stepping stone to building an Elecraft K1, which I have just started, and second, it provides me with a small emergency radio for my bug-out bag.

I can’t really compare the DC20B to the RockMite as far as performance is concerned, but building the Rock-Mite is easier, and there is no tuning required. The circuit board is slightly smaller. I replaced q6 with a 2sc799. R18=2.2 ohms for a little more power. The keyer is the Pico Keyer from http://www.hamgadgets.com.

I am very exited about building the K1. More on that later…

I decided to build an Elecraft K1. What the hell is that You might ask.. Though you probably guessed it is a radio. I’m on a roll. I know, I know, I just finished building a small one (DC20B) and am waiting for another tiny transceiver called a Rock-Mite. You need to learn to walk before you can run.. Why not buy something already made? It isn’t more expensive.. Well, the Elecraft K1 has an excellent reputation, and it isn’t sold assembled. If you want a new one, you must build it. I am good at that stuff, and do enjoy the process. Still, I could find a working Ham radio on Ebay for the same price; but that would be a used item. Not to mention that the K1 is the cutest little radio (did I just say that?).

There is one peculiar thing about this radio, aside from all it’s qualities, that is, you can’t talk in it.. Morse code only! Also known as “CW” (continuous wave). So I am learning Morse code, and it is far from easy. Why bother? First, a Morse-only transceiver is much simpler and smaller than an SSB (voice) one. It draws less current, which becomes very important when operating on batteries. The K1 will happily work for days on eight AA batteries! For example, a Yaesu FT-817ND draws 450mA on receive. The K1 draws 55mA! More importantly, when propagation conditions are bad, a CW signal will punch through the ether when another mode won’t. In an emergency, being heard might be a life-or-death condition. Even with no cell phone coverage and no satellites overhead, there is a good chance the K1 will be heard somewhere, even thousands of miles away. Yes, thousands of miles directly, on eight AA batteries! What else can do that? It doesn’t mean I won’t take my cell phone or a Spot when hiking far from civilization. However, cell phone coverage is spotty in the North West, and with the Spot, you can’t specify the type of emergency, and can only use it for dire situations. If I need anti-venom after a snake bite, it won’t do me any good to get picked-up by a helicopter if they don’t have the serum with them.. A radio allows you to call for a specific kind of help. Like any other gear, if it is too heavy or too big, you will most likely not take it with you. Light and small is better when you need to carry it on your back.

My plans are to first complete the 20/40m model with no add-ons. Then, I will build the built-in antenna tuner. This option allows you to use a random wire as an antenna without risking frying the transmitter. If you lost your antenna and all you can find is a length of barb wire, the tuner can save your bacon. Just hang it up a tree, press the tuner button, and seconds later, if you’re lucky, you will be having a conversation. I might add a noise blanker later.. One item I decided against is the built-in battery pack. You can’t charge the batteries while they are inside the case, so what’s the point? I heard it is a flimsy add-on anyway. I don’t think I’ll need more than two bands, but time will tell. The antenna I chose is the Par EF-10/20/40 MkII end-fed dipole. Also on my wish list is a solar panel (PowerFilm AA Battery Solar Panel Charger) to charge those AA rechargeable batteries. For EMP protection, I decided to get some TechProtect Faraday bags.

I will document the build and post it. Average build time is about thirty hours, but I am pretty fast with a soldering iron. I will start next week-end (June 9th), stay tuned for the article, and maybe a video. Hopefully by then I will have learned a few more letters of Morse!