Handbook or no handbook, that is the question...

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by WA3PRR, Aug 28, 2012.

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  1. WA3PRR

    WA3PRR Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hey all,

    Ever since getting my general license in July, I've heard a lot of opinions on a lot of topics from a lot of amateur radio operators. One that always seems to come up is the ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications, and it also seems to be among the most contentious. Some hams I've talked to regard it as a holy book, while others regard it as little more than kindling, with very few opinions in between. I'm thinking of buying a copy, so I figured I'd solicit a few opinions here. What do you think of it as far as being useful for someone new? Is it something I'd actually use and refer to, or would it become another dust collector on the bookshelf? Is it a good learning tool, or just a rehash of stuff easily found online? And if I should get a copy, do I buy one now, or wait a couple months for the 2013 version?

    Thanks for your help and opinions!
  2. KA5ROW

    KA5ROW Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Save some money and get the 2012 the ARRL some times offer them late in the year at a discount. If you decide on a 2013 I would get the hardback edition. I have the 1956 my birth year, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010 all hard back except the 2000.
  3. KY5U

    KY5U Subscriber QRZ Page

    One thing hams have is lots of opinions. Some stumble-bum ham gets something in his head and he'll argue his hair brained notions till the cows come home. And while one of our strong suits is the diversity of opinions, it really hurts where radio theory is concerned.

    The handbook has always printed the latest wisdom on subjects. It can change over the years, but most of radio theory as it applies to AR is pretty much wrung out. Just remember some stank ham can look important by bucking something like the handbook with his voo doo logic. It's fun,it's comical, and it should be mostly ignored. You'll make friends and learn who to trust and who is full of pinto beans and beer.
  4. NA0AA

    NA0AA Ham Member QRZ Page

    To me, there are several books in the need to own category, at least from the ARRL, and the Handbook is one of them:

    Handbook. I know, but it's a very useful all around reference, particularly for the beginner. Older versions available for a few bucks at hamfests are still useful, and often have interesting homebrew projects in them if you ever want to build your own tube gear, for example. You don't need a new one every year, that is true.

    Antenna Book: Again, a good useful book with theory and practice, and almost something for everyone. Note that there are a bunch of smaller, more specialized antenna books and they can be useful as well, I bought some of them before I bought the big book. Again, you don't need every version. I have not seen as many used copies around but no reason and older one won't be equally useful. One thing I found great about this book is the huge variety of designs portrayed - It helped me to figure out how I might layout antennas of various designs in my yards. Designs also that I'd never even heard of when newly licensed.

    Low Band DXing by ON4UN: Perhaps not the last word on the subject but it's pretty exhausting. Not everything in it is made of $50 bills taped end to end. Again, this also shows so MANY designs to give you food for thought as you plan your antenna farm.

    Those are the three that I recommend you start with and then once you have gotten enough out of them, you can move on to more specialized works.

    And of course, there are many, many other worthy books, I just picked three commonly available league publications. I've got a small book by the RSGB, and the only complaint I have about them is they are expensive here in the states, I thought.

    If you stumble on a copy of anything by Jerry Sevick, it's worth looking at - used particularly, he wrote a couple of good books on Baluns/Transmission Line Tranformers, one on theory and one on practical construction. Others will be along to suggest their favorites.
  5. AE1PT

    AE1PT Ham Member QRZ Page

    The answer to this question is variable. We have a contingent of "OOBies" that are not interested in anything except getting a rig out of the box, assembling the antenna and once the wires are connected talking to someone. Personally, I think that EVERYONE should have at the least a relatively recent copy of the Handbook, and for those just coming into the hobby the ARRL Operating Manual.

    Having a printed ham reference library is a good thing--regardless of its size. The difference between the established printed matter and the internet is that chances are the printed material is peer reviewed and vetted by years of practical experience. While some really great internet stuff exists--including forums--the trouble is that one question can lead to five divergent answers of varying quality from three different sources... :rolleyes:

    Like KA5ROW, I too have the handbook from my birth year (1957), 1968-69 which I nearly wore out learning electronic and radio theory and circuits, several 70s, 90s, and the latest is the 2010 handbook. Add to this several antenna books, electrical theory (a choice one from the 1950s on power distribution), tube and semiconductor manuals, so on and so forth. One can also create specialized 3 ring binders for information garnered from the web which is not sheer voo-doo-doo...

    Good reference works--regardless of how basic--are the foundation to knowledge building and study. Surprising how a quick look for something can lead to a hour or more of reading and comprehension capacity about something completely different--or perhaps just a better understanding of something one thought they already had a grasp on!
  6. K7MH

    K7MH Ham Member QRZ Page

    I have about a dozen or more handbooks mostly from the 70's as I got my novice license in 1970 or 71. I have several other ham related books as well.
    What I have is a drop in the bucket compared to many other hams! I never regretted buying any book that was about some aspect of ham radio or electronics. I sure regret having given several out on inadvertent permanent loan though!!
    I don't think you need a new ARRL Handbook every year but a fairly recent one is sure handy as are some older ones as well. They do cover a lot of territory!!
    I used to have a 1970 ARRL Handbook that was like a worn out RAG from use. I replaced it with one I found pretty cheap at a hamfest.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2012
  7. WA4BRL

    WA4BRL Ham Member QRZ Page

    They only change slightly from year to year, and not all too much from decade to decade. The theory sections change nary a bit. It's the constructions projects that change year to year , and perhaps info on new digital modes as they come out.

    But the ARRL Handbooks are all excellent sources on communications information whether you're a newby or old-timer in the hobby. I find those printed in the 1960's and earlier written better -- easier for me to understand when trying to learn on my own -- but that may be just me.

    And the ARRL Handbooks are not necessarily the last word in communication theory. The Bill Orr W6SAI (now deceased) handbooks and the RSBG (Radio Society of Great Britain) handbooks are excellent in their own rights. Each, including ARRL, has their strong and weak points.

    The only series I do not like are the A. Frederick Collins Handbooks, sold throughout the decades just like the ARRL book. Collins even used the exact same title as the ARRL: "The Radio Amateur's Handbook" over all those years, at least until ARRL started changing their title every few years starting in 1985.

    The ARRL started publishing their's in 1926.
    1926 - 1984 "The Radio Amateur's Handbook" (59 years)
    1985 - 1990 "The ARRL Handbook for the Radio Amateur" (6 years)
    1991 - 2003 "The ARRL Handbook for Radio Amateurs" (13 years)
    2004 - 2012 "The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications" (9 years)

    You can find any of the many handbooks at used book stores throughout the country by searching and purchasing through Abebooks.com, Amazon.com, or at private auction sites like Ebay.com, as well as at hamfest flea markets. I started out buying the 1971 edition ARRL handbook when I got my Novice license and then bought a new one every now and then. Later I set out to get one from each decade. After that I got the collector bug and am working on getting one of each edition. I'm only missing four of them now. Indeed, I continue to improve the collection with better quality books when I find them. I sell those that are excess to my needs at local hamfests.

    Here's a photo of my display at the Winston-Salem hamfest.

    My advice: pick up a current or recent copy for now. The year of the issue is not too important when it comes to learning the theory. You might also want to find one from the year you were born just for grins. Then one from the sixties or earlier. Be careful of the collector bug though, it bit me hard! :) No matter though, they all fit on five standard shelves on a six-foot bookcase. And that includes several Orr and RSGB handbooks too. One great thing about the ARRL Radio Amateur Handbooks published 1971 and earlier is the advertizing section. They're a great source of photos and info on boat-anchor era rigs and accessories. Geez I miss those Handbook ads. ARRL, why did you have to stop that?
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2012
  8. K9STH

    K9STH Ham Member QRZ Page

    For antenna theory, the older, smaller, editions are definitely better than the later ones. The newer editions just don't have anywhere near as much.

    Glen, K9STH
  9. KL7AJ

    KL7AJ Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I have around 40 editions. The only way I can see it be a dust collector is if you're a total appliance operator. If you have any interest in experimentation or technical competence, I can't see not having a copy...or two...or three....or four.

  10. KA5ROW

    KA5ROW Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Another good handbook to have is the Radio Handbook 23 edition printed in 1987 by the late Bill Orr. Has a lot of good information. On how to build amps, antennas, and other things for the hobby.
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